First of all, shout-out to Nexus, which turns 1 today!
*waves and blows kisses*
*sheds a tear*
They grow up so fast…
I’ve been kinda quiet lately, huh? Having a day job tends to have that effect. Well, I should say having-a-day-job-and-coming-home-to-a-four-month-old-puppy-who-is-going-through-her-sassy-toddler-phase-and-requires-constant-supervision. And it’s not like I spent nearly two months totally engrossed in Fallout: New Vegas during every possible second of free time. No way.
(great game, by the way)
Anyhow, yes, having a day job does hamper my writing abilities a little, but not to the extent to which I’ve been letting it. My job is such that I’m not actually doing things 24/7 (or should I say 8/5) and I therefore have a reasonable amount of — I hesitate to say “free” time because that doesn’t seem totally accurate, but you get the gist — during which I have ready access to both my on-the-go notebook and Microsoft Word. I’ve got to start getting back into Just Do It mode, because that strategy ended up working incredibly well when Ronan was still in progress.
Wow, that seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it?
The whole #DayJob thing hasn’t been totally terrible either because, as some of you who follow me know, I put book posters up in my office. This was both a way for me to still feel “near” to my writing and a shameless marketing ploy. I’ve got hard copies of each book on my shelf and a stash of business cards in my desk. I’ll be honest – I’m totally fishing for questions…and it’s WORKING. One of the MDs (I work in a clinic) stopped by to ask me something a couple weeks ago and saw the posters. Turns out he’s a huge sci fi fan and loves Neal Asher. He ended up buying Dakiti and said he really enjoyed it, and he stopped by again a last week and said he couldn’t sleep the night before so he started Nexus. He says the stories have really sucked him in and he’s loving the characters. Other people have asked about the books too, and while some of them have said the genre isn’t for them, they’ve added things like “Oooh, I’ll bet so-and-so would like it!” So it’s great to feel like I’m still accomplishing something even when I’m not getting much actual work done. Naturally they’re moving me to a different office today though; there’ll be far less foot traffic but also a lot more wall space to hang up cool stuff, so maybe that will help balance things out. *crosses fingers*
Now listen to me blabbering on when the title of this post suggests I actually have important things to talk about…
If you follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and G+, you’ve likely already gotten the memo. I’ll confess that I’d actually forgotten about this after the Ronan release, but I’ll be releasing an omnibus version of my series for Kindle, The Ziva Payvan Collection. Sorry, no Goodreads page or anything yet. I’m pretty excited about this though. Sure, it’s just the same stories we’ve already read, but it was fun to put together a new, unique cover (fun fact: this face on the cover is also this face – huzzah recycled artwork!) and I want to try a couple new things in terms of interior formatting. The book will – obviously – include Dakiti, Nexus, and Ronan, and I’ll be including a few other fun little things as well.
The book will be released January 1, 2016. I had honestly wanted to get it done in time to release it today for Nexus’s 1-year anniversary, but alas, I procrastinated, and I want to do a thorough job getting it ready. It WILL be available for pre-order in late December, and it WILL be priced at $0.99 for a limited time. I’ll be posting more details the closer we get to the release.
I’ll admit the Kindle Countdown Deals I did for my books a few weeks back were poorly-timed, because I used up all of my KDP Select promotion days and therefore couldn’t do any sort of sale or free promo for the Nexus anniversary. But I’m hoping to make up for it with…EXCERPTS!
If you’ve paid attention to my sidebar, you’ll have noticed that I currently have three projects going, though I should use the term “going” loosely because I haven’t actually worked on them for…um…awhile (*shoves Fallout back onto game shelf* I’ve been doing a lot of reading too, okay?).
I’ve made the least amount of progress on my DREAMER project (the story will actually be titled “Dreamers” but yes, it is an acronym) because I still haven’t nailed all the logistics down. In fact, the majority of the progress I’ve made is in outline form and the excerpt included below is all the further I’ve gotten in the actual prose. I’ve had the idea in my head for a little over three years; it’ll be more of a near-future Earth cyberpunk/psychological thriller type thing…if I ever actually make any progress on it 😉
Due to popular demand, I’ve started a short story starring Kat Reilly (working title “I Am Reilly” – AKA one of her quotes from the end of Nexus). It will feature her working on Chaiavis solving one of the cases she mentioned in the main story.
The one I’ve been most motivated to work on – mostly because I’ve had scenes and ideas in mind since back before I even started Ronan – is what I’ve been referring to as my Secret Project. There’s been a lot of outlining going on here too but I’ve at least started writing up some of those scenes just to see how they work. I can’t say much about it, other than that it’s set in a familiar universe and will feature some familiar characters. Working title is “Embers” so I changed the word meter color to something more appropriate, but that shade of orange is kind of hideous so I might go back to red… And of course me being me, I can’t stay away from assassin characters for too long so that’s what the excerpt features!
So without further ado, here they are. Bear in mind that these are raw and unedited and may not perfectly reflect the eventual finished products…
The room beyond the window was dim, with muted gray walls the same color as the concrete floor. A single, harsh light dangled from the center of the room, illuminating the four reclining chairs. Each contained a prone form – two men and two women, it appeared – dressed in thin white medical attire. Bulky goggles attached to each chair obscured their faces, and glove-like contraptions similar in design covered their hands. Wireless electrodes dotted their skin, sending data streams to monitors on the wall. Each of those screens was paired with another one that showed a live, first-person video feed. One user was driving a car. One was on the computer. One was walking through a house, and the other appeared to be out on a run.
He managed to pry his eyes away from the window when the sound of stiletto heels clack clack clacking on the floor echoed through the hall. He turned and found a woman in a sharp navy pantsuit advancing toward him, tablet in hand.
“Mr. Hollander, Nora Morgan,” she said, offering a perfectly-manicured hand. “Sorry to keep you waiting. I trust your tour has been informative.”
“Fairly.” He returned her handshake, impressed by her grip. “Your facility is extraordinary.”
“We’re one of the nation’s leaders in VR tech,” she answered with a nod. Not a single strand of her strawberry blonde hair came loose from the knot at the nape of her neck. “And of course that tech is what fuels the DREAMER Project.”
I Am Reilly excerpt:
The interior of the restaurant was darker than he’d expected. Upon further consideration however, he wasn’t sure what he’d expected, if not this. He could have guessed that entering a dark alley and descending a set of dark stairs into a dark tunnel would have led him to a similarly dark space.
He paused in the restaurant’s entryway and swept his gaze over the cramped space, unable to fathom how anyone could stand to eat here. It occurred to him that this trip had taken him far outside the borders of Chaiavis’s prestigious Government District. Here in the Endion Entertainment District, the lower-class citizens had lower standards to match. He coughed against the musty scent of some unfamiliar smoke and reminded himself that he’d come all this way for his own protection. The thought brought him minimal comfort.
The restaurant’s layout was circular, just like the only-slightly-more-reputable club above it. It was late in the day for lunch but too early for dinner, and thus only a handful of customers occupied the space. Some of them looked his way when he entered; despite the fact that he’d dressed down per his contact’s suggestion, he still felt conspicuous standing there in his polished boots and unsoiled jacket. He forced his shoulders to sag a bit in an attempt to mimic the posture of those around him.
Maintaining a low profile was not his area of expertise. It was his job to stand out and be in plain sight. But at the moment, his career, his family, maybe even his life…they all depended on his ability to stay out of the spotlight. That’s why I’m here, he reminded himself with a sigh.
He forced his feet forward, hoping he hadn’t been standing there as long as he felt like he had. The bartender, an older woman with tired eyes and a mop of ragged gray hair, glanced his way and jerked her head toward one of the booths on the far side of the room. He hesitated, but she shifted her gaze back down to the damp cloth she was wiping back and forth over the counter.
A figure occupied the booth she seemed to have indicated, so he cautiously resumed his circuit around the room, ready to reach for his concealed pistol at a moment’s notice. He’d been expecting to find some sort of world-weary mercenary – probably greasy, probably armed to the teeth – waiting for him, so the sight of the stunning young woman sitting there came as a bit of a surprise.
“I was beginning to think you weren’t going to show,” she said, nodding toward the vacant seat across from her.
He took one last look around and then, against his better judgement, slid into the seat without bothering to size her up any further. Anything was better than remaining out in the open any longer.
“Trust me, the harder you try to blend in around here, the worse you’re going to fail. Relax.”
“So I’ve noticed,” he muttered, slouching down far enough that the back of the seat hid his face from any onlookers. The fact that his back was to the door made him squirm, but based on the way the woman glanced periodically between him and the entrance, she’d be well aware if trouble arrived.
The slight accent he’d detected in her voice prompted him to take a closer look at her. She didn’t look it at first glance, but her voice was unmistakably Haphezian. Her skin was ghostly pale, and in the dim light it was difficult to tell whether her hair was extremely light blonde or actually white. She wore it bundled back in a thick ponytail, and he thought he caught a hint of silver when she moved her head. Silver. His attention shifted to her eyes, an intense icy blue. He bristled as the realization hit him: she was one of them.
The woman sighed and drummed her fingers on the table. “It never gets any easier.”
“Oh, you know, facing the shock people always seem to show when they realize I’m a Defective.”
Was he being that transparent? “If I’d known Briggs was going to set me up with you, I wouldn’t have agreed to this.”
She lifted an eyebrow. “Charming. If you want to find someone else who can do this job in time and keep your predicament under wraps, be my guest.” She zipped her flight suit and picked up a helmet from the seat beside her, ready to leave.
“Wait,” he said, not prepared to grovel to the likes of her but too desperate to let her just walk away. “I need you to do this.”
“Better.” She set the helmet back down and considered him for a moment. Despite the intensity of her gaze, there was a kindness in her eyes that – if only for a moment – made him feel sorry for being rude. She produced a small data pad from her pocket. “Let’s start with the basics. Kellen Stice, age thirty-five. Hailing from Haphor, you’ve been transferred between offices a total of seven times throughout your twelve-year career with the Haphezian Special Police.” She tilted her head. “Must be your sunny disposition, right?”
Kellen ground his teeth. “Where are you getting all of this information?”
“Relax. It’s my job to know everything I can about you. You don’t get to know much about me; it’s for your own protection.”
His gaze shifted between her eyes and hair again. “I know all I need to know about you.”
“You know nothing about me.” She didn’t raise her voice, but the words were said with enough force to make him regret his jab.
She stared him down for several more seconds before taking another look at the data pad. “You were transferred to the Haphezian embassy here on Chaiavis as a disciplinary measure.” Her arched eyebrows and pursed lips gave him the impression she was restraining herself from making another snide comment.
“Been on the embassy’s security detail for the past six months,” Kellen said.
The woman set the data pad down. “And I’ve lived here for twenty-five years. Been on the streets for seven. This is my turf, and you’ll follow my lead. Got it?”
Just go. Run.
The front door of the empty house was just a few more strides ahead. His legs were pumping as fast as his heart was beating. He wasn’t even sure if his pursuer was still behind him, but he was in no mood to find out. To his delight, the door was already unlocked; he punched the controls and slipped inside, taking a moment to catch his breath.
There was no doubt in his mind that this hunter was hoping he’d lead them to his father, the real target in this situation. He was merely a decoy, a distraction to occupy this assassin while the rest of his family fled the city. So far the plan seemed to be working, but the thing about fishing was that it never worked out so well for the bait. If he failed, The Assassin would not hesitate to kill him, regardless of whether he was the quarry.
Once his racing heart slowed a bit, he carefully turned and risked a look out the window. The clearing outside was bathed in brilliant silver-blue moonlight that seemed nearly as bright as the daytime sun. He scanned the tree line for several minutes, watching for any movement or shapes that seemed out of place. Just as he’d made up his mind that he was finally safe, a shadow detached itself from the foliage and stepped into the clearing, striding purposefully toward the house. He shuddered and his heart collapsed into his stomach. This was the same shadow that had just pursued him for three kilometers through the forest, the one that had already killed his sister in an attempt to reach his father.
He was unarmed and The Assassin knew it. Otherwise he doubted they’d be so quick to come out into the open. If they were trying to get inside his head, it was working. Purposely putting themselves in such a vulnerable position was just a reminder of how powerless he was. He had no idea whose house this was, but chances were slim that there were any weapons available. Anything that could be used for self-defense had likely been taken during the evacuation. He at least had the presence of mind to lock the door, and he stood there listening with bated breath as footsteps approached outside.
This house seemed bigger than others in the area and was well-decorated with a variety of expensive-looking objects. The owners were probably well off and had no doubt been some of the first to leave the city. Large pieces of furniture were stacked up nearby, giving him the impression that the front door had recently been barricaded against any attackers. He considered trying to move the stack back to the door, but even if he could move it himself, there was no time. He slowly began to back away, looking wildly about for some other means of escape.
A soft clicking just outside sent him scurrying down the hallway. Based on the skill The Assassin had already shown, he didn’t doubt their ability to breach the lock. Even so, the sound of the door sliding open came far too soon for his taste. He darted into the first room he came to.
It appeared he had entered some sort of study or sitting room. A plush sofa and matching armchairs were arranged around a low table, and a desk and large cabinet were positioned against the far wall. He ran to the cabinet and flung it open, finding it empty except for a couple of deactivated data pads and an old blanket. The bottom shelf was clear, so he ducked down and crawled inside, pulling the door shut as quietly as he could behind him.
There in the confined space, each breath and heartbeat sounded horrifyingly loud. He leaned forward and rested his head on his knees, watching the room outside through the narrow crack between the doors. The moonlight poured in through the window, giving him a clear picture of the area. He strained to hear, willing his pulse to slow. He’d been able to hear nothing but himself since leaving the front door, and he had no idea where The Assassin had gone.
A cold sweat coated his forehead and he shivered, though whether it was due to nerves or an actual drop in temperature, he wasn’t sure. The idea of having been left behind was beginning to take its toll on him. Per his father’s plan, there was a small shuttle waiting for him at the spaceport, but the trek through the forest had taken time he didn’t have and he doubted the pilot would have waited this long for him. Most of the personal transports had either been destroyed or taken during the evacuation, but maybe there’d be something left that would at least get him up to the orbital transfer station. The trick now would be to just make it to the port in the first place.
An unfamiliar shape caught his eye and he leaned over to peer through the crack again, shuddering when he realized The Assassin was standing in the doorway of the room. The galaxy only knew how long they’d been there. He swallowed against the bile rising up in his throat and clamped a hand over his mouth, mostly to keep himself from crying out. His skin crawled as The Assassin took a couple of slow, silent steps further into the room. The moonlight turned their dark clothing a silvery-gray and illuminated severe facial features, and he was surprised to see that the person was a woman. She wore her dark hair pulled back and surveyed the room with eyes that appeared just as dark in the shadows. She had a long combat knife strapped to one thigh, and in her left hand she gripped a suppressed projectile pistol.
The Assassin stood so still that for a while he wondered if she was simply a figment of his terrified imagination. But then her head moved, and she turned to look directly at the cabinet. It was all he could do to keep from squirming. Surely there was no way she could actually see him, but although he couldn’t see her eyes clearly, he was almost positive the two of them were making eye contact.
She knows you’re there, and she wants you to know it. After everything he’d seen, he wouldn’t put such a manipulation tactic past her, but he sat there shaking his head as discreetly as possible, hoping she couldn’t sense the movement and trying to convince himself there was no way she could possibly know where he was.
He nearly wet himself when he saw her take a step, but she simply pivoted and strode from the room as quickly and quietly as she had entered. He leaned forward, straining to see through the crack and hoping he’d catch sight of her passing by the doorway as she searched the remainder of the house. He held his breath and listened for her footsteps but was met only with silence. Then, after what felt like years, he heard a beep followed by metal scraping on metal. The front door had opened and closed. She was gone.
He was torn then between waiting to make sure she didn’t come back and rushing to a window to see if she was setting up an ambush outside. He settled on a happy medium and sat there counting under his breath for three minutes before easing the cabinet door open. When he was sure everything was still quiet, he crawled out, crouching until the circulation had returned to his legs. He moved across the room centimeter by centimeter, half-expecting The Assassin to appear in the doorway again. The journey out into the hallway remained uneventful however, and he breathed a sigh of relief when he saw that the path to the front door was clear.
He stepped out, mentally running through all possible routes to the spaceport from here. He dreaded the thought of going on foot but he hadn’t the foggiest clue how to break into a car and doubted he’d find one available for breaking into anyway. Running wouldn’t be so bad; it would enable to him to hide and maintain a lower profile. But running would also require him to cut back through the same forest he’d just been chased through, and he had no idea where The Assassin had gone.
He wasn’t entirely sure which came first – the explosion of pain at the base of his spine or the realization of exactly where The Assassin had gone. Perhaps he had heard a sound or seen something in his peripheral vision; he couldn’t remember for sure. The next thing he did remember was striking his head on the floor.
Something warm and wet was spreading at the small of his back and he could feel it pooling under him. But there was no pain. He didn’t think he could feel his legs.
The floor behind him creaked and the rough tread of a boot sole came to rest on his shoulder. He drew a sharp breath in through his nose and was blinded by hot tears as a powerful leg flipped him over onto his back. The woman was nothing more than a dark shape hovering above him, distorted by his swimming vision. Though he couldn’t see her face, he could once again feel her icy gaze drilling into him.
She stood there observing him silently for several seconds before bending down and shining a small spotlight directly into his face, blocking his view of what – if anything – she was doing. He did his best to keep his eyes open, not wishing to be caught unaware again, but the light burned and sent pain stabbing through his head so he eventually allowed his eyelids to shut. He wanted to beg for mercy, offer to disappear and tell no one about this incident, but his throat seized up and the words eluded him. He guessed the effort would be futile anyway.
The light shut off after a moment as if she’d finished studying him. He thought he heard her release a disappointed sigh, though it was difficult to hear over his own raspy breathing.
“You shouldn’t have run,” she said.
Her voice was a far cry from what he’d expected. It was low and smooth, and despite the circumstances he couldn’t help but be soothed by it.
I know, he wanted to say as tears spilled down his cheeks. I know that now.
“Please,” he managed as she rose back into a standing position. The moonlight glinted off of the casing of her pistol as she took aim for his head.
He shut his eyes again, reveling in the darkness. There was a soft pop followed by a brief burning sensation in his head, and then…nothing.