THE DEAL

A Travel Agency story

I wrote this as an exercise in exploring the technology of the Travel Agency universe and as a treatise on the limitations of an Earth-centric view which has been discussed in popular science off and on for some time. I hope you enjoy …

DR FIONA BOON GAPED; SHE COULDN’T HELP herself. Glancing at her companion, she was pleased to see she wasn’t alone.

“Sixteen, seventeen thousand kilometers, equatorial?” She queried.

The man shook his head without taking his eyes off the glorious view of Earth. “Closer to twenty. This can’t be real!”

Fiona turned slowly, taking in their surroundings for the first time since they had stepped out of the closed box Mohamed Jones had called an ‘elevator’. He was off to the side, waiting patiently.

She took it all in with a mounting sense of dread. Impossibly light and airy, the platform on which they stood was a tube of bright steel and huge panes of glass. The elevator had docked with it at a slim collar which seemed insubstantial for the pressures she knew were at play.

The man stepped up to her shoulder.

“Gravity,” he said simply, and she suddenly realized the other thing which had been bothering her.

Gary Polinsky was a professor of astrophysics and her bitter academic rival but right now all she wanted to do was hold his hand and stare down this impossibility.

They heard soft footsteps and turned to see Mo, as he preferred to be called, joined by a tall young woman who touched is arm affectionately. Only she wasn’t quite human. Her hair moved; by itself, ruffling like feathers. She looked directly at them and pointed over their heads. They turned to follow the direction of her outstretched arm and saw through the glazing of the lift lobby roof, the greater structure to which it was attached.

“I’m gonna be sick!” said Polinsky, softly.

***

“Fram Medellin Depso Tzu,” said the young woman, with a certain formality that presumed you knew who she was. Boon proceeded to start chatting, playing the gender card, such as it was.

Oh great, thought Polinsky, a politician! They seem to be universal. A veteran of every variation of the proverbial funding committee, he prided himself on being able to recognize politicians and bureaucrats at the drop of a pin. Fram was a politician, even if she wasn’t human. I’m having trouble with that also, he mused. The initial shock was wearing off now, though.

Boon seemed to be adapting to this insanity, too.

They were in some sort of conference center and Gary finally had a chance to regroup and review. He had serious suspicions about the events of the last month and would have loved to take it all out on Boon, but she was as gobsmacked as he felt. And she was no actress. They’d sparred often enough for him to be sure of that. So, she’d been set up as thoroughly as he had. The invitation to speak at the opening of the University of Queensland’s new Physical Sciences Building was deliberately arranged to get him to Australia from the US. The free flights and accommodation had helped; he wasn’t rich by any means. He wondered how they’d dragged Boon out of her lab in Sydney.

His musings were interrupted by a new visitor. Clearly not human, this one looked like something out of a Tim Burton film, all elongated limbs and a strange loping elegance. The clothes were interesting too; leather, maybe and a style like something out of the sixties.

“Doctors,” said Mo, “this is Neelak. He’ll brief you on ‘why’ you’re here.” With that Mo and Fram left. Boon walked over to Gary and sat beside him.

Neelak nodded and touched a band on his right wrist. The conference table and chairs folded themselves away and left the two humans in their seats with a small workbench adjacent each. What looked like a parking bollard rose out of the floor six odd metres in front of them and Neelak stepped up beside it.

“I’ll be brief,” he started, “as each of you is probably bubbling over with questions.”

“You think?” said Gary with some heat.

Neelak smiled. All the pointed teeth took the wind out of the astronomer’s sails.

“Thank you, professor. There is a bonus here if you’ll be patient.”

Polinsky swallowed and then inclined his head.

“Excellent. You, professor, are a Big Bang skeptic and are here because we want to give you the evidence you’ve longed for. You, Dr Boon, despite your opposition to Dr Polinsky’s point of view have produced some of the most elegant and near-accurate mathematical proofs in human astro-science. Proofs which are tantalizingly close to reality. We wish to give you the opportunity to apply those skills to Dr Polinsky’s new data, to radically change human cosmology.”

“Why?” asked Boon.

“Because it’s time for human perceptions to shift. That can’t happen without better data. The cargo-cult methodology doesn’t work; we’ve tried. So, creative interference is our preferred option. You are the instruments of that plan and will be paid very, very well for your participation.”

“What if we don’t want to play,” offered Gary.

“Then you’ll be returned to Earth and nothing more will be said.”

“That’s it. No threats?”

“Unnecessary, doctor. Who’s going to believe you?”

Gary shrugged. He had to ask.

“How am I wrong?” asked Fiona.

“Wrong is perhaps inaccurate, Dr Boon. ‘Misplaced application’ would be a better term.”

Gary sniggered.

Neelak inclined his head slightly and his lips threatened that smile again. “Now, now Dr Polinsky. While correct, your speculations have only ever been exactly that, speculative. You’ve never been able to provide proof.”

“Ha,” said Boon.

Neelak adjusted his wrist band again and on the opposite side of the pole an image snapped into being, a perfect hologram.

“This is the Horsehead Nebula as seen from Earth’s most powerful radio telescope.”

After another adjustment, the image shifted into something equally spectacular but totally unrecognizable.

“This is the same region of space but free of the galactic debris and spectrum distortion from which you currently suffer.”

They rose as one and approached the display.

“How?” asked Boon, “filters?”

“No. We sent a survey vessel on Earth’s line of sight and took a multi spectrum image from five light years away.”

“Why?”

“For the two of you to examine.”

Gary and Fiona looked at each other and then turned as one to face Neelak.

“You’re kidding,” said Fiona.

“Not at all.” Neelak adjusted his wrist band again and the display morphed into a flat projection of astronomical calculations and diagrams. Gary recognized half a dozen principal equations but knew he’d need days to wade through the rest.

Fiona scanned the display for a few seconds and said, “No, no … Doppler shift doesn’t work like …”

“Yes?”

“What’s a Slipstream?”

***

Half a day later, Gary flopped into a human-style sofa in one of the many observation lounges on Regulator 2. They’d just finished a two-hour session of general orientation and his mind was struggling to process all they’d seen and heard. The information was fragmented, a puzzle for which he was yet to see a whole pattern.

A young woman who seemed vaguely familiar approached him, “Dr Polinsky. I’m Vicky Jones. Spare a minute?”

Gary stood and shook hands, “Sure, grab a set, miss.” Aussie accent, he noted.

A passing group of who-knows-what, to Gary’s mind, began to chitter and all nodded at Vicky. She grinned slightly, inclined her head and spoke in the same language briefly.

“That was weird,” said Gary.

“You have no idea,” laughed the young woman and Gary relaxed despite himself.

“You’re Mo’s sister?”

“Yes.”

“Right, what can I do for you, Vicky?”

The young woman smiled again, “More the other way around, professor. I’m the investor Neelak spoke to you and Fiona about. The business entities which will allow the two of you to operate are my creations. I’d like to kick off discussions on the details if you’re feeling up to it.”

“What are you,” said Gary, incredulously, “twenty?”

“Twenty-one. Last month. Big party and all that. I brought my friends up here for a rave. It was a blast. And my personal wealth dwarfs the US economy by an order of magnitude. And yes, I’m human. Also, very lucky and thanks to my brother very well connected. A few years ago, I invented something which had great value. I didn’t do it for the money but that came regardless. Now I’m stuck with it and have to find ways to amuse myself. Does that about cover everything?”

Gary snorted a laugh, “Yes. Sorry. I’m still struggling.”

“Fair enough. Now, to business. Who do you think will see your new expertise as profitable. What sort of market segment can we access …”?

Gary’s mind churned, and many pennies dropped as one. “OK. Frame of reference is the key to this I believe. If, as part of an asteroid mining operation we were to put observational equipment out near Jupiter’s orbit ….”

***

The conversation continued for over an hour and Vicky was well pleased. She’d had Neelak listen in via her communications implant and he had in turn fed her relevant questions without alerting Gary to the less-than-private nature of the discussion. Fiona was also present at the other end but under strict instruction not to contribute.

Vicky wound things up and took her leave. She traversed from the lounge across a connecting tube to the operational area. The journey of ten odd minutes wasn’t actually necessary; she could have hole-conferenced, but she wasn’t ready yet to abandon face-to-face meetings.

Fiona Boon was literally jumping with questions when she arrived.

“Why the cloak-and-dagger? Don’t you trust him?”

“No. he’s a scientist for hire after all.”

“That stopped a nearly decade ago. He settled down.”

“True. But before we include him further, he has to prove he’s left those attitudes behind. This last session has done that, I think?” She looked at Neelak who had been standing nearby quietly.

“Yes,” he said, “The bio-metric monitors confirm his sincerity.”

Fiona’s eyebrows raised and stayed there for several seconds.

Neelak smiled ever so slightly and said, “You passed.”

“Great! Now what?”

“Now,” said Vicky Jones, “you both get to see the big picture. Pack a bag.”

***

It took two days and if Boon and Polinsky thought their minds had already been blown, this trip disabused them of that notion. They surveyed the asteroid belt and cruised a moon of Jupiter on the journey out of the solar system.

Now, they stood in an operational annex of the Slipway, a ring-like construction one sixth the diameter of Earth’s moon.

“I’m numb,” said Polinsky.

“Roll with it, Gary. What else are we going to do?”

“Yeah! I don’t know. The scale of it. Look at that! The inner race of this ring thingy is two hundred meters wide. For fuck’s sake, Fi … the scale.”

The ring thingy started to glow.

“What!”

“Activation commencing,” announced Neelak, who had taken over the annex when they arrived. The two scientists stepped eagerly up to the viewing area, another expanse of glass-like material which seemed too large to withstand the pressure differential. Boon reached out and touched it tentatively. It was a reflex by now and she didn’t really notice.

The ring race changed color.

“Inbound reinsertion in five seconds.”

Polinsky peered at the space he judged to be the middle of the ring. It seemed impossible to him, but he could just see the other side of the ring’s glow nearly six hundred kilometers away.

Without warning a massive ship appeared in the space he was watching, continuing to move to the right as it completed its inter-dimensional journey out of the seam of gravitational resonance which was the Slipstream.

“Jesus H … it looks like it’s only a few hundred metres away.”

Neelak laughed, “Yes, it still is an impressive sight, no? I never tire of it. And here on the Sagittarius Arm we are a very long way from the nearest connection point. The craft must be robust.”

“How far away?” asked Boon.

“The third arm; eight thousand light years.”

Neither scientist spoke.

***

Victoria Jones joined them in the lounge an hour later after they’d exhausted themselves peppering Neelak and his staff with questions.

“Hi Vicky,” said Fiona, “I could die happy now. Well, after I published a few papers, anyway.”

 “Publication is going to have to wait, I’m afraid. You’ll have to make do with money.”

“What?”

Gesturing, she said, “Your orientation to date has been deliberately vague. But the crux of things is that all of this is run by an entity called The Trade Directorate. It’s what passes for governance on a galactic scale. It’s been in place for about ten thousand years. Mo and I are directors in a sub-department of that organisation called the Travel Agency and we’re intending to expand. When we first met, Gary, those passing people I spoke to were tourists returning from an adventure holiday on Earth.”

The young woman adjusted a bracelet at her wrist and the coffee table erupted into a holographic display of the Milky Way galaxy.

“We’re here,” she said, and a red dot blinked into existence. “A lonely little water-world on the fourth arm of the galactic wheel.

“Most of the star-faring peoples of the galaxy live here.” A yellow mist oozed into view covering large sections of the other galactic arms, thinning as it moved towards the rim.

“A few years ago, my brother and his friends shut down an illegal operation which was using an unregistered Slipway here.”

Another red dot blossomed on the fourth arm but much closer to the center. A thin red line snaked away from it to a similar point on the third arm.

“Six months ago, the Trade Directorate granted the Travel Agency exclusive control of that previously unregistered Slipstream. The terminus is ten thousand light years from Earth. Between there and here are four hundred and five industrialized planets, most of which have never had off world contact.”

“Four hundred …”

“… and five … worlds.”

“Yes. Just shipping tourists to those worlds alone, will triple the Agency’s current revenue. But the opportunities for trade will make Earth a Galactic power within three centuries. There’s a planet a few light years away called Cuvalla; it’s volcanic and produces exotic metals like we produce corn. Some of those metals can form the control mechanisms in the drives of the ship you just saw.”

“Aliens will invade and take it all away,” said Gary.

“No, they won’t,” answered Vicky, “That’s not allowed. More importantly, it’s enforced. The Trade Directorate has been around for so long because they know how to do business.

“Fifty years from now, the Agency will stage-manage First Contact on Earth. What we’re doing now, hopefully with your help, is prepare for that. Are you in or out?”

Polinsky and Boon looked at each other.

“In,” they said as one and turned back to look at Vicky. She touched her wrist again and the hologram vanished. Taking a clear slate from nearby she handed it to them.

“Sign here.”

NEW PROJECT

THE SILVER PATH & THE GOLDEN BELL

The ideas for this series of novels/novellas have been around for over 5 years but with the completion of the third Shehkrii book, I’ve started thinking I might jump into a new universe and play there for a while.

So, what’s it about …

In a nutshell –  it’s set in Sydney, Australia and on the surface is a police procedural. The protagonist is a (almost) 17 year old computer prodigy who is the core resource in a police criminal intelligence unit which targets organized & international crime. The reality is that the boy, Jackson (Jax) has manipulated all involved to create the unit to track down those responsible for his murder.

Seventeen years ago, there was a double killing at Rose Bay, a trendy Sydney harbor-side suburb. A middle aged man and woman were shot in broad daylight by a man of Arabic appearance. As he died, the male victim was able to flick a knife into the face of the attacker who subsequently fled. The dead man was unusual in many ways but in particular he was a practitioner of an ancient Chinese form of astral projection. It was not a skill he acquired willingly but the discipline had served him well and he kept those skills keen.

In the panic and pain of death, his soul had fled to the astral plane and traumatized, he railed against the inevitable. At the same time a six month old child miles away, passed peacefully from a once-in-a-million combination of circumstances as his terrified mother froze on discovering her dead newborn.

The man detected the child’s passing and reached out in desperation, reviving the boy and finding himself in the body of a baby.

Weird, eh? It gets better.

While the man appears middle aged and in good health he’s actually much older; early nineties to be precise. How did this happen? Well, for the sake of brevity I’ll have to stop there and ask you to read the first installment. Salesmanship, don’t you know?!!!

But what about the woman who was killed with him. She was the assassin’s real target but neither of them knew that at the time. The reason for her murder was mundane in part but driven by a backstory almost as fascinating as her lover’s.

iDM

Image copyright – WALLHERE

MY PROCESS

Other than “Where do you get your ideas from?”, the next most asked question to aspiring writers is often, ”How do you do it?”

“How long have you got?” pops its head up again here.

American commentators have categorized a dichotomy that, in my view, is quite accurate. You are either a PANTSER or a PLOTTER.

A Pantser writes by the seat of their pants i.e. randomly, and a Plotter creates a plot or plan of the story and then writes to that plan/plot.

Sometimes it’s a hybrid.

I started out as a Pantser courtesy of Kate Grenville’s THE WRITING BOOK. She proposes a solution to the question, “where to start?” called piling; making small ‘piles’ of story. Whether it be character studies, action pieces or conversations, write what’s in your head. Do this enough and eventually you’ll have sufficient piles to start stitching together the bones of a story. That narrative critical mass will then feed off itself. Hopefully!

As my stories evolved I found I gravitated towards more and more plotting. If I’m stuck, I’ll write randomly but it’s usually not long before an overall strategy intrudes. Can’t complain, it’s made getting the word count up a whole lot easier.

I’ve found that a multi-part story structure works for me; 7 parts generally.

From David Trottier, the Magnificent 7 Plot Points are:

Number One. The Back Story haunts the central character. Sometimes referred to as Introduction or Exposition. It sets up the characters and at least hints at the premise of the story.

Number Two. The Catalyst gets the character moving. It’s a further part of the story’s setup.

Number Three. The Big Event changes the character’s life.   

Number Four. The Midpoint is the point of no return or a moment of deep motivation.

Number Five. The Crisis is the low point, or an event that forces the key decision that leads to your story’s end.

Number Six. The Climax or Showdown is the final face-off between your central character and the opposition.

Number Seven. The Realization occurs when your character and/or the audience sees that the character has changed or has realized something. Often called Denouement this is where you wrap up loose ends or drop breadcrumbs for future stories.

Regarding Number Four. James Scott Bell’s Write Your Novel From The Middle has been pivotal (yes, pun…) for me. His examples ring very true and when I checked my own work I found the stories fell into the patterns Bell describes. It was a very liberating experience and well worth the read.

The other aspect of story which arose early for me, was the balance between description and dialogue. I didn’t intend to do it but have found that I tell a story through dialogue more than the average. Or so it seems to me. There’s an inherent challenge in creating dynamism within dialogue that is my touchstone. If the conversation is not building tension in some way then I automatically step away and review it. I can be a very talkative introvert but sometimes I bore even myself, so … self-editing can be cruel but it is very necessary.

I’ve been complimented on my action scenes more than once. Where did that come from? Beats me, I just started doing it! It might have something to do with my history as an amateur gymnast and martial artist or it might just be a knack I have. Again, can’t complain and I look for opportunities to make that skill work. It has become a ‘beat’ for me, part of the rhythm of a story or a set of scenes. Jim Butcher does this very, very well and I enjoy reading it enormously.

Another touchstone for me, a conscious filter, if you will, is thematic content. Character development and esoteric information are the spices in my story stew. If I can’t get them in there then the story dies for me. Those aspects are the ENGAGEMENT mechanisms that I believe hook readers who share my broad interests and those who have similar sensibilities even if the specifics are new to them. Can’t remember where the advice came from but “… write what you would like to read,” remains a maxim.

I hope I haven’t bored you. If any of this helps, you’re welcome. I have benefited from the generosity of others so I hope to contribute in some small way also.

iDM

RANDOM TRAVEL PIX

This is a selection of pictures from places I’ve been over the last fifteen years. I LOVE to travel. Literally can’t get enough of it but with limited resources it’s always well spaced out.  Seeing other places and people is fascinating and sometimes, intimidating especially when there are language difficulties. But it never fails to inspire. I hope that comes across in my writing. The similarities and the differences reinforce the ‘One World, One People’ point of view I adopted in my teens. We all bleed and we all dream.

Post COVID I’m off to Europe, dollars permitting. I will see the Mona Lisa at least once!!!

THE GREEN ARMY

EXTRACT FROM THYLACINE– I.D. MARTIN c2016

Available in the Kindle Store at Amazon.com – https://www.amazon.com/Thylacine-Mr-I-D-Martin/dp/1541059786

This story grew out of my concerns for the longevity and effectiveness of the environmental movement in Australia. Having lived through the triumph of the Franklin Dam campaign and the rise of political eco-warriors I was dismayed that time had whittled away many of those gains.

I still am (dismayed).

The us-and-them mentality remains a significant divide both between the warring parties and within the green lobby itself.

The extremes of my story, I hope, will make people of differing opinions wonder how bad things have to get before reason can prevail over profit and ego.

EXTRACT:

Six hours later they were still waiting. The moon was high and the sky clear. An eerie light made everything look pearl grey. Mel had nodded off around midnight and was gently snoring. The others had rotated every hour and a half. There was a sense of endless waiting, and John remembered countless nights in the SASR and then the Elite Air Service, or Shadow Corps, or half a dozen other names for the organisation to which Atkins assumed he had belonged. He didn’t miss it. What he did now with the group he had formed, the Green Army, was what he most wanted to keep doing.

It had all started with Cambodia. And the blind eye his own government had turned to the whole thing. The Vietnamese were very appreciative, but when it was pointed out to his government that Australian companies were benefiting by proxy from massive environmental exploitation and had done nothing, then he got very, very angry.

Planning for the Green Army had started shortly after and, despite what might be termed an interesting life, he had never felt more alive and motivated than when he was in the field, not with fellow soldiers but with the dedicated housewives, tradesmen, and many others who made up his army. They had to get through his training first, though, so the numbers weren’t large. But quality counted, and they were all talented and tough.

Mel coughed and woke up. “What did I miss?” she mumbled.

“Not much …”

The first boulder landed short. Impact though, was like a detonation, rock on rock and a crack like a hundred whips.

Mel flinched and knelt up.

“Didn’t see that one coming,” murmured Brown.

“No,” snapped Atkins. “Anyone got line of sight?

“Incoming. Eleven o’clock long,” said one of the other commandos.

“Getting his distance. Target range?” demanded Atkins.

“Moving right, a hundred and fifty metres. Stopped at one o’clock. Incoming, short.”

John stood and drew his bow, aiming high. He fired, knelt back down, and waited five seconds before pressing a detonator on his belt. The explosion was muted but Borun let out an ear-piercing shriek.

“Gotcha,” said someone.

“Trident; track target and ready,” ordered John. The commandos moved as one, shuffling forward and then kneeling in a triangular formation – two forward, one behind. Their visored heads moved in unison.

“Twelve o’clock, one hundred twenty-five metres.”

“On line, rapid advance, seventy-five.”

The triangular formation moved forward in a quick short-paced trot. Atkins and John followed, flanking. At seventy-five metres they all stopped.

Mel watched, fascinated. She’d never seen John in real action and this was surreal as she listened in on the command frequency.

“Track?”

“Twelve o’clock, sixty.”

Another rock soared out of the brush.

“Shit,” said Brown from beside Mel, “… this one’s gonna hit. Move left, quick.”

Mel shuffled left as the small boulder smashed into the ground inside one of their makeshift walls. Shards went everywhere and Brown shielded her with his body.

“Advance and rapid fire,” she heard in her ear bud.

The trident surged forward, opening up with their silenced M18’s, the front two soldiers firing several seconds ahead of the rear one, to facilitate magazine changes. The bush was shredded and Borun howled and shrieked as he was hit multiple times. One of John’s arrows struck him in the shoulder and exploded, sending him spinning. The commandos were getting close and still firing.

“Halt. Maintain fire.”

Borun leapt up and back, just as another arrow sailed through where his head had been. He disappeared into the bush and could be heard rapidly retreating.

“Ceasefire. Withdraw to base. Leapfrog formation.”

John and Atkins started walking back to the camp in a sideways crab style, which kept their weapons pointed uphill and to the sides. The two leading commandos turned and quick-stepped behind the third, who maintained his bead in Borun’s presumed direction. Then they switched until they were back with Brown and Mel.

Sitrep?’ said Atkins.

“Smart prick,” answered Brown. The commandos who were back in sentry mode, sniggered.

John grinned.

Mel looked from one face to another. “Men! Jesus …”

John laughed. “Yes, well, not much we can do about that.” Looking at Atkins, he said, “Out thought us, didn’t he?”

THE INVISIBLE BOY

Reproduced from TIMBER – Stringybark Stories (2018) – Anthology

Strong language warning

A tale from Australia in the 60’s.

THE INVISIBLE BOY

My fingers touched the rusty iron cladding of the shed. My mind entered my fingers, became one with the sensory resonance of touch.

And I vanished.

Just as fucking well, ‘cos that prick Kelly and two of his mates came sprintin’ around the corner and would have been kicking the shit out of me if I hadn’t; vanished, that is.

Kelly swore. Better than I ever could. There were words I’d promised Mum I’d never use but Kelly didn’t have a Mum so …

Then he pushed one mate and tried to backhand the other. Nobody knew where I’d gone. Kelly bellowed and the rest of the gang came from both ends of the shed. He gave orders and they split up again. He was a smart fucker, was Bob Kelly. He set up concentric circles with his boys around the abandoned depot; maximised the overlap. There was no way I could run without havin’ them fifty yards behind me within seconds.

And they had Rizzo. He’d run me down in a minute flat.

Shit, shit, fucking shit! Why hadn’t I just flattened Kelly instead of backin’ off.

The touch started to slip and I drew a slow breath, re-establishing the dominant split in my concentration. Fingers caressed the rust; flaky pieces moved ready to fall; the heat of the day bled out in the slight shadow of the wall.

Sensei Takahashi would be proud. Of my control, at least. Not of gettin’ into this bloody mess in the first place.

“Hide your skills or they are wasted,” he said when we started all this training, seven years ago. It was my Dad’s idea. Him and Sensei went way back; the Korean War, apparently. I never really paid attention. They met when Dad was on R&R in Tokyo or something like that. And then Dad sponsored him to live in Sydney. Sensei said he owed my father a debt and teaching me was part of the deal. He and Dad got all serious about it when it came up and I zoned out. Old people stuff!

Not that I’d say so to either of them.

***

Rizzo came back. Skinny runt of a kid. Nasty temper but so bloody fast. His legs were like a threshing machine. Like, I was quick but Rizzo ran like the fuckin’ devil was on his tail. Might be, considering how Kelly kept at him; always windin’ him up.

Which was how this all started.

Rizzo had a thing for Gwen Brickmore. Strange, ‘cos she was nearly a head taller than him and the class weirdo. Or so everyone said. Dressed like a guy, didn’t take shit from anyone and kept to herself. Funny taste in music, too. What sort of name was ‘the Beetles’ for a band anyway!

But Rizzo had the hots and kept following her around. Kelly found out and started pushing him to ask her on a date.

So, he did. Right in front of Kelly and his crew. And me.

She told him where to stick it. Literally and, man, I’ve never seen anybody turn that red.

Then Kelly started.

***

Rizzo walked towards me, looking funny.

I checked my fingers, kept my breathing shallow, looked straight back at him, not caring.

He stopped, turned his head a little and then shook it. He spun around as though someone had crept up on him then swore.

Not very well, but he tried. Repetition seemed to work for him.

“If you’re going to use bad language, young man,” Mum had said, “at least add some imagination. “Saying ‘fuck’ fifteen times in two sentences doesn’t count.”

Jesus Christ, Mum!

I’d turned almost as red as Rizzo when she said that; in front of Dad and my little sister.

But she had a point. One Gwen seemed to have acquired from somewhere also. She said things to Rizzo which were not physically possible. I think!

That didn’t stop Kelly starting in on the guy though, which gave him a chance to get close to Gwen which was really the point of the exercise. I’d seen him stealing glances at her for weeks and it was pretty obvious now he’d used Rizzo as a, what did Dad call it, a stalking horse.

Rizzo wandered off to the right of the shed, still swearing his head off.

***

Training was fun. And hard. But mostly fun.

Keeping it to myself was the hardest. Not being able to show anyone what I could do! That was a bitch.

Dad explained it best. We went to the city one day and sat in this corner of Martin Place and ‘people watched’; that’s what Dad called it.

Took a while but what he was saying eventually made sense and I saw how we all gossip so bloody much. How we label and judge without thinkin’ anything through; without facts. And the biggest targets are the people who stand out.

“Envy has killed more people by a country mile than evil,” my Dad said and I reckon he’s right.

Which is why my training was so important. It was a leg up. But only if I kept it quiet; used it carefully. Sensei hammered that point over and over. The guys, and a few girls who came out from Japan to train with him said the same.

Thinking about them made me realise how lucky I was. They accepted me, challenged me and I was one of them, whatever that was. We didn’t have a name, it wasn’t a club or anything. And every time they came out from Japan it was like cousins were visiting. My Japanese was getting better too. I could swear in it now.

I had a few friends at school but not many. And that was cool. The gossip factory Dad showed me started young and we managed to keep out of it, mostly. Bit like Gwen, really

***

Kelly pushed her. Gwen moved with the blow and only needed a half step to deal with it but this was the obvious play. Kelly wanted to rough her up. Maybe she’d told him where to stick it too.

I really had no choice, there were five of them and maybe Gwen could look after herself but not against five.

I could, though.

But I had to be careful.

“The Chinese call it Drunken Monkey Style,” said Sensei Takahashi. “There is no Japanese equivalent. But … “

That was a year and a half ago and I was getting good at this shit. So, I stepped up and stumbled a bit, separatin’ Kelly and Gwen then leaning into the punch Kelly threw and ankle tapping him. I tried to apologise but one of the others grabbed me and I stumbled again but managed to trip him up and stomp on Kelly as I went.

“What the fuck are you doing?’ hissed Gwen from behind me.

I turned quickly, gave her my best serious face and said, “Run. Now”

She did. Smart chick. A quick thinker.

Turning back, I found Kelly almost on his feet and three of his boys about to swamp me.

It wasn’t hard to put all three down quickly without them seeing what I was doing but that was about it for keeping my skills hidden.

I ran in the direction almost opposite to Gwen. Slowly enough to keep an eye on them. I might have laughed a bit too, just to make sure they came my way and not hers.

It worked.

Unfortunately.

Kelly sent Rizzo wide to cut me off and I had to detour into the old store yards beside the railway.

Fucking Rizzo. I’m going to have to do something about him. Don’t know what but something.

Kelly came back.

***

“What I teach you, young man, son of my friend, is an ancient art. In the West, it is called Ninjutsu. Depending on where you are in Japan it will have other names. There are many forms but at the heart of them all is stealth.

“However, stealth is not always possible and then you must have speed and no mercy. If your skills are seen you become a target. Even when you fight plainly, you must conceal. Therefore, you will be faster, harder and impossible to see. This is the legacy of your father’s selfless bravery and his honour. Teach my son to defend himself, is what he asked of me. I have done that and more. But you will dishonour my debt if you use your skills to kill. So, if you must be seen, if circumstance, and honour will not prevent it, leave no man standing and make them terrified of even your shadow.”

***

Kelly yelled for his boys and they came running. They couldn’t find me and Kelly was spewin’. He started telling them what he was going to do to Gwen and how they’d hunt her down now and nobody could stop them. He kept at it till they were all as horny as hell. Kelly really knew how to wind people up. He was good. And he liked it. Standing there, a few yards away it was easy to see.

I’d never seen anything like it, the hate …

My fingers touched the rusty iron cladding of the shed. My mind was as one with my fingers, in rhythm with the sensory resonance of touch.

My fingers came off the tin.

EXPLAINING WHAT A STORY IS ALL ABOUT!

Because I write what can be loosely called ‘cross-genre’, sometimes ‘mixed genre’, it’s often difficult to explain to people what a story is all about.

“How long have you got?” is often my first response.

Anyway, short answers are difficult, so I’ve tried a number of times to break things down to basics. It’s been a learning experience! As the author you know the story intimately and have a grab bag of assumptions which your polite questioner doesn’t have. It’s very easy to become boring quickly and put people off.

So … I’ve learned that to do the work justice and keep people interested you have to tell a little story. It ends up (for me) being a bit longer than a traditional blurb or pitch but hopefully, like all good stories, it hooks the listener.

Here’s that pitch for the second story in the SHEHKRii series – The Curse. I would love to know what you think of it.

PITCH: SHEHKRii – The CURSE

One of life’s little burdens is never being exactly sure if someone is telling you the truth. Imagine if you could SEE the truth.

And pretty much every other emotional state – anger, lust, joy, fear.

What if everyone could do this? Much of the baggage of our emotional lives would drop away – lying to one another would simply not be possible. You would have absolute honesty; absolute perception.

This is the doorway to the SHEHKRii –those who have returned to the path of intended human development. On top of which they can see other things – like speeding bullets, infrared and ultraviolet light, magnetism … and gravity. All of which they can influence and manipulate.

So how is this possible? No drugs, radiation or alien tech.  They can do this because they are HUMAN; perfectly, optimally human. And we all have within us the code to achieve this state but it has been tragically jumbled.

Occasionally, that which was meant to be, surfaces. Think back to your school days; remember the really smart kids, the ones who didn’t have to try to do long division, they just did it. And the jocks, the guys (& girls) who could hit any ball thrown at them; make any football play work no matter how complicated. That’s the code, just poking its head above water momentarily.  Put all that together in one person and you start to see what might be; what should be.

So, what’s it like to be SHEHKRii? How does it change your life? Dramatically, obviously.  Most of the ‘rules’ go out window. And you see life very differently. You also become aware of Terra. 

The Earth has a biosphere; a thin layer which we think of as Life. But it is the whole planet which lives: from the super-dense stone at the heart of its molten core to the electromagnetic web at the top of the stratosphere.  And since all complex life has consciousness, we have Terra.  The sum of us all and more. The heart, soul and Purpose of life on Earth.  And we are her children, her instruments. And she’s a bit pissed at the moment.  Things are not going to plan.

So what do you do if you’re a Planetary Consciousness and someone’s messed with you? 

You fix things.

But Terra works in ages and epochs; individual lives tend to lose focus for her. But this problem needs fine tooling, so a very delicate, very human instrument is needed.  Someone to take the dying flicker of humanity and fan it into the furnace that it should have been – a keeper of this human flame – Mahk-te-heh-pankukhan.

A thousand years ago, Terra started the process that would produce her ultimate instrument.  In 1903 he was born. Male, because mobility and aggression would be needed; Immortal because the task would be long and the reward must match the risk; Unique, because he must be more than what was intended in order to achieve it. Nathan Chalk, born to an Irish mother and Breton father, carrying the accumulated heritage of all humanity; his birth, an eon spanning journey that started with his ultimate grandparents, a crippled Hindi girl and a shaman from the hordes of Genghis Khan.

A magnificent future from an unknown heritage – all of which has to be kept under wraps in order to succeed.  If only …

Into this planetary drama stumble two very unusual people, Mark Todd and Lindsey Keough.

Todd is an Australian journalist – a drunk but brilliant financial analyst with a mouth to shame any sailor. He has tripped over a particular SHEHKRii and is obsessed with tracking him down.

CIA agent Keough too, has seen the SHEHKRii but in her original form as Sun Wu Lin, the last descendant of Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese military genius.

They collide in Canberra and Sydney, chasing Todd’s original quarry but soon discover much more and begin a global journey which will take them to places they never expected to go – places beyond Death … beyond Love … into the very soul of a planet.

iDM

BOOKS WHICH HAVE INSPIRED ME TO WRITE

Link to first novel, The Flame, in the SHEHKRii series at amazon.com – https://amzn.to/3rdOWk0

Over many years I’ve bumped into these books and kept them close. Something in each of them has inspired me and kept me on the writing path. With some, the connection is obvious and others refuse to explain themselves but touch my soul regardless.

iDM

SHEHKRii – Novel series

WHAT IF ALL MYTHOLOGIES WERE BUT A PALE AND DISTORTED SHADOW OF THE TRUTH AND CIVILIZATION A CURSE UPON HUMANITY?

WHAT IF YOU DISCOVERED THE TRUTH NOT BY ACCIDENT BUT BECAUSE IT SOUGHT YOU OUT!

HOW DO YOU RECONCILE PEOPLE WHO HAVE GODLIKE POWERS BUT CLAIM TO BE NOTHING MORE THAN FELLOW TRAVELERS ON THE SCIENTIFIC PATH? A SCIENTIFIC PATH THAT MODERN TECHNOLOGY HAS NOT YET INVENTED INSTRUMENTS CAPABLE OF MEASURING.

DO YOU TAKE IT ON FAITH, SOMETHING YOU’VE SWORN NEVER TO DO OR DO YOU ACCEPT THE EMPIRICAL DATA PLACED SQUARELY IN FRONT OF YOU?

NEIL CARLISLE AND HIS TEAM FACE THIS DILEMMA. AND THEY’VE MADE ENEMIES OF A VERY POWERFUL RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATION WHOSE INFLUENCE IS BOTH GLOBAL AND DEADLY.

INTERPOL MAGISTRATE, JOHAN LUTZ DOESN’T FACE THE SAME PROBLEMS. HE LIVES THEM. RAISED WITHIN AND WITHOUT THE COMMUNITY KNOWN AS THE SHEHKRii ( shay-cree), HE WALKS A CONVOLUTED PATH OF NORMALCY AND THE EXTRAORDINARY. BUT HE TOO HAS ACQUIRED POWERFUL ENEMIES AND WILL NEED THE HELP OF HIS MOTHER’S FORMIDABLE FRIENDS.

WELCOME TO THE WORLD OF THE SHEHKRii. THE WORLD AS IT WAS INTENDED TO BE BUT WAS KNOCKED OFF COURSE BY A RANDOM STELLAR ACCIDENT WHICH INTERRUPTED THE PLANS OF AN ENTITY MORE THAN FOUR BILLION YEARS OLD. AN ENTITY WHO IS NOW SEVERELY PISSED THAT HER LIFE’S WORK IS THREATENED. AN ENTITY CAPABLE OF CREATING AN EXTREME SOLUTION TO HER PROBLEMS. A SOLUTION NAMED NATHAN CHALK, A MAN A THOUSAND YEARS IN THE MAKING, WHO CAN LITERALLY CRACK MOUNTAINS BUT WOULD RATHER BUY YOU A GOOD DRINK AND SHARE A JOKE TO CONVINCE YOU TO DO THE RIGHT THING. BUT WHO CAN STILL SINK A CONTINENT IF THE DRINK DOESN’T WORK.

“THE COMPLEXITY, THE UNIQUENESS OF THE MIXED VOICES, THE ENTWINED LOCATIONS AND TIMELINES, AS WELL AS THE LARGE CAST OF CHARACTERS AND THE BLENDED-GENRE FEEL, MADE THIS ONE UNIQUE TO ANYTHING I’VE WORKED ON.”

Zoe Markham, Editor (Shehkrii-The Curse)

IT DID DELIVER, AND I MAY BE GREEDY, BUT I WANTED MORE OF IT.

Beta Reader Jacalyn (Shehkrii – The Flame)

SKINS

EXTRACT FROM THE TRAVEL AGENCY – I.D. MARTIN 2014

Available in the Kindle Store at Amazon.com – http:/www.shorturl.at/tCGTV  

REGULATOR 4

CUVALLA – 6TH PLANET EXTANT TO STAR HHH-4/98.34.02

35,000KM STATIONARY ORBIT

EVERY ORIFICE, please, Mac.”

“Excuse me!”

“I assume you viewed the tutorial?”

“Yeah, yeah.”

Teegan McNamara looked down her nose at the tray held in front of her. She noted the surgically white patches which were sized to suit the aforementioned orifices … orificii? Whatever!

More interesting was the hand that held the offending tray.

Neelak was Scientific Manager for the Travel Agency on Earth. he coordinated the three space stations which orbited her planet. These in turn provided the staging points for the increasingly lucrative business of adventure holidays on a fringe world far from the civilized heart of the galaxy and the interstellar conglomerate called the Settled Quarter.

So what was he doing out here, four light years from Earth, orbiting a medieval world which was barely paying its way. She was yet to get a straight answer out of the ‘man.’ He was male, anyway. His hand looked sort of human but noticeably elongated. All of him looked that way actually.

She checked herself; this was only a distraction. She was dodging a bullet and it had to stop.

“Yeah, yeah. I’ve watched the video, had the bloody things crawl up my arm in test mode. Maybe it’s a human thing; fear of drowning or something.”

“Only one way to find out.”

“That’s what Darren said.”

“And he’s been in the tank for over an hour.”

“Yeah, yeah. OK, let’s do this.”

Delicately, she applied the patches to her naked body. Only her bracelets remained. She doubted the brass-like rings around her wrists could be removed. They were linked to the communication implant at the base of her skull and provided a defensive shield which could withstand a small nuclear blast. She didn’t want to think about losing them.

The patches looked like cloth, but as she placed them she felt a slight sense of suction. The nanites that made up the little strips attached themselves to her and began to mold to the more delicate parts of her body. The anesthetic effect kicked in shortly after and all sensation stopped. The strip across her eyes cleared and she could see again. Glancing at Neelak, he extended a hand towards the lifting platform next to a huge glass tank.

Via her implant she heard him say, “If you please.”

Taking a deep breath through the mouthpiece now blocking her throat, she padded over to the device. It slowly lifted her up four meters to the edge of the tank.

Now or never.

Stepping out onto the quivering emerald mass, it solidified under both feet, turning a pale turquoise half a meter around. She walked to the center of the tank and the color followed her.

“Miss McNamara, may I offer a suggestion?”

“What! Who the fuck are you?”

“My apologies, I am the master control unit for the SKIN system sub-mind. Before we begin, I am concerned about your stress levels and the harm you may do to us if you express your uncertainty.”

“How can I harm you, Emcee? And call me Mac.”

“As you wish, Mac. We are aware of your abilities and enhancements. They are similar to Lord NLii, but he has them under very tight control. If you were to unleash yourself while immersed in us, it could be … difficult. I would not normally communicate directly, but you are an unusual circumstance”

“Darren is like me? Slorssh said that before, when I was upgraded.”

“Yes. You both are quite rare individuals, able to sense and manipulate energies across the spectrum. Very rare actually. And quite dangerous if invoked while we are at work.”

“We?”

“You have viewed the tutorial?”

“I skimmed it ….”

“I see. Well, there are five thousand four hundred and seventy five trillion nanites in this tank. Each has the computing power of a human laptop within its sub-molecular matrix. That amount of intelligent capacity requires many layers of control. The ‘we’ I refer to are the nine hundred and three system-subminds which direct the nanite cluster. And myself, of course.”

“Oh. How would you suggest I deal with my stress levels?”

“There are a number of options. Sedation, of course, but my current readings indicate you could easily overcome this restriction. Optimally, I would rather put you at ease. If my presence would be sufficient distraction I am willing to accompany you throughout.”

“So, you’ll figuratively hold my hand for the next five hours or so.”

“Yes, if that will relax you while we work.”

“Work, yeah. I know the theory, but the idea of being encased in creepy-crawlies that mimic the appearance of another species seems too simple. Talk me through how this works in detail. Like, I know the history and all but …”

Mac sank slowly into the tank as she carried on this sub-vocal conversation. She noticed her immersion but chose to ignore it and focused on what Emcee was saying in reply.

Master Control, the newly named Emcee, noticed its current client noticing and was well pleased. They had learned much from the several dozen immersions of Lord NLii, Darren as Mac knew him. But he was saurian, and Mac was the first mammal of similar capability that the SKIN system had studied. Yes, much to learn. And, so far, the conversation was quite pleasant, which was just a bonus really.