Fiction (Excerpts)

T&M deleted scene 3

This one’s from the second story in the collection. Specifically, it’s my first attempt at an opening. It didn’t quite work the way I wanted it to, but it was fun to write and I think it had some amusing parts, so I’m sharing it here! Enjoy!


The four hundred credits Hildy paid into our account for the single day of work were enough to pay our rent and buy food for the next week— and not much else. Certainly not enough to start paying off the debts I’d left behind in Sol, and when we paid Doc Amil for stitching Tanner’s leg back together it was painfully obvious we couldn’t wait long to find our next job. Not long enough to Tanner’s leg to finish healing, despite the limits that put on what sort of work we could take.

For example, hiking all over the rougher parts of the Outlands was out of the question. I called that a silver lining. Tanner grumbled and pointed out that it wasn’t my leg with eighteen stitches in it.

“So, what did you find?” I asked, tossing him a bottle of painkillers and a fresh bandage before retreating back to the bathroom to brush my teeth while he doctored his thigh. We were back in our rooms on the third floor of Teddy’s, the large boardinghouse and hotel on the eastern side of Coville. Tanner and the eponymous Teddy had come to some agreement in the year Tanner had spent here on his own, which I suspected was the only reason we could afford the monthly cost for the place. The rooms were both small and comfortably furnished, and connected by a small shared bathroom, giving it the feel of a full suite.

“Lots of jobs we can’t take until I heal up. Three that would have the Rangers on us before we were halfway through. Eight—” he broke off, pausing while I imagined all his attention went to wrapping the bandage around his leg, “—eight that would pay us pennies and drive us out of our minds with boredom. And two that look promising.”

He knocked on the door as I finished brushing my teeth. I opened the door and stepped back to my room to throw my hair into a lazy braid. “Only two?”

A mouthful of toothpaste muffled Tanner’s voice. “Two’s lucky. It told you most of the work’s in the Outlands.”

I made a face. “You did, didn’t you?”

He grunted and spat. “Commpad’s on my bed. The one I like is on the screen.”

Squeezing past him through the bathroom, I snatched the device from where it lay on the pillow and scanned the message displayed on the screen. “Where’s Oriole?”

“Southwest,” said Tanner, appearing over my shoulder. “Technically in the Outlands, but you can get there by vehicle. Hovermule, in this case.”

“And who is…” my eyes tracked back up to the line containing the sender, “Ava Loesan?”

“No idea. Never met her. Teddy said she came by a few days looking for freelancers, though, and he referred her to us.”

“Nice of him,” I said.

“The rent comes on time when I have more work. And he likes me.”

“Poor fool.”

Tanner aimed a slap for the back of my head, but I ducked out of the way, cackling.

“Keep that up and I’ll have him charge full price for your room. Then where will you be?”

I sighed. “Slumming it in some cheap flophouse. Can’t be worse than when I got to the stations.”

“Oh, but it can. The stations don’t have rats.”

“Shows how much you know. The nastiest rats I’ve ever seen were on the big station around Luna.”

“The only rats you’ve ever seen,” said Tanner.

I continued unperturbed. “This long,” I said, holding out my hands a foot apart for reference.

“With or without the tail?”

“Big, sharp teeth… a taste for human flesh.” I paused, grinning. “So, kinda like your sheep.”

Tanner aimed another strike for the back of my head, but I was already out of reach. He settled for a dirty look instead.

“Then in the interests of staying in lodgings that don’t have a large rodent problem, I’ll tell her we’ll take the job.”

“Sounds good to me. Wait— you said there were two possibilities. What was the other one?”

Tanner shrugged. “Some guard job down at the Landing Fields. Usually means you’re working for some offworld snob who thinks it’s the Wild West out here. They’ll pay alright, just not enough to offset having to talk to them.”

“Oh,” I said. “That kind. The Oriole job it is, then.”

Fiction (Excerpts)

T&M: deleted scene 2

Another deleted scene from the Tanner and Miranda story I’m working on at the moment. I thoroughly enjoyed writing it, but it didn’t fit with the pacing for the story.

As much as I wanted to complain about it, it was impossible to deny that the Outlands were beautiful. Harsh and unforgiving if given the chance, but truly stunning. In the simplest terms, the whole area is a tangled network of canyons running between steep red cliffs and narrow mesas. Fortunately for us, most of the canyon floors were flattish and relatively simple to traverse. Unfortunately, there were some that weren’t, and those were the ones that seemed most likely to take us towards the drone’s last coordinates.
Of course, if it were that easy, no one would pay us.

It started out well enough. Part of that was the fact that the first stretch was downhill, not so steep that a missed step would send me rolling to my death, though plenty steep enough for me end up windmilling my arms several times, to Tanner’s audible amusement. Something about me spending too much time on space stations with boring, flat floors and no way to practice my dexterity. Lies, all of it, not that the truth did me any good.

I didn’t get into any real trouble until it evened out for a bit and lulled me into false sense of security. One second I was stepping forward, trusting the tread of my boots to keep me from slipping. The next, the rock I’d assumed would hold my weight didn’t, and the whole world spun. I careened past Tanner. Only a miracle kept me from cracking my head open on the way down. And despite what it felt like, the tumbling and spinning didn’t last long either. I skidded to a stop in a sort of awkward crouch and tried to convinced my heart to slow to a couple hundred beats a second.

A scrambling sound from the direction I’d just come suggested that Tanner was following as quickly as he could, probably for better teasing opportunities. And to make sure I was still functional. But mostly for the teasing. That was my fault. If I’d let myself fall flat on my face, I might have gotten some sympathy. Though I suppose I’m grateful my thick duster and boots kept me from anything worse than ugly bruises and wounded pride.

“You know…”

I squinted upward and towards my brother’s voice. I’d meant to glare, but the sun was brighter than I expected. “Don’t say it.”

“You shouldn’t do that. It hurts.”

I growled. “I know.”

“Any real damage?”

I shook my head. “Nothing I can’t walk off. Tell me it’ll even out soon?”

Tanner laughed, and I shot him another scowl.

“What?”

“This is the easy part.”

At least he had the good grace—or the common sense—to look a little sheepish. And to reach down and offer me a hand up.

“It should get flatter, though. More rocky, but you won’t roll as far if you fall.”

In reality, it wasn’t even that bad, though I didn’t mind being pleasantly surprised on that count. Which isn’t to say that it wasn’t difficult, but the flash of adrenaline I’d gotten when the whole world spun out around me was enough to flush most of the remaining lag from my veins.

Not that it was easy, per se. By the time we were another hour into the trek, every bruise from my fall had decided it was too easy for me to ignore the ache and throb, and I felt it with every step. Sure, the damage was minor, especially when compared to what I’d dealt with in the past. It still hurt. And Tanner was setting a brutal pace. If we hadn’t been in relative shade beneath the canyon walls I wouldn’t have made it. Not that I was about to tell him that. I could push through just fine and save myself the trouble of admitting how much I’d been spoiled by my years on the Stations.

Unless he already knew and was waiting to see how long it took me to give in. In which case it was a toss up for which of us would win. Battles of stubbornness in the Griff family never had a foregone conclusion. They were always funny, though.

This time, I got lucky. Tanner got hungry (meaning ravenous) before I gave in and asked him to slow down. Just before. If he’d held out another couple of minutes, I’d have admitted defeat. Instead, I got to use the precious seconds he spent digging a ration bar out of his pack to catch up and tramp along next to him, red-faced and panting and pretending he hadn’t almost gotten me.

He grinned at me through a mouthful of food. “Almost had you. Good thing I didn’t over-commit and pass out. You’d have had to drag me back home.”

I grinned back. “I’d have left you. You jerk.” My breath came out in little wheezes. “We’ll regret this tomorrow.”

“We’ll be fine. You recover fast and I’m used to it.”

“I used to recover fast. Eight years ago. I’m out of practice.” Then again, the slower pace had already worked wonders.

In fact, for the time being, our greatest delay was going to be caused by the fact that we needed to find somewhere to refill our water. We were still in the shade, so it was cooler than it would have been anywhere else, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t hot and dusty. And between that and our impromptu race, we had emptied our canteens steadily through the morning. I might have been worried, but Tanner said he knew a place. A spot, really, since the little spring of cold, sweet water was nothing any human could take credit for.

Technically, it was out of our way. Not by much, only a half hour detour or so, but enough that it was an even more natural point to stop and take a break and eat something more than the trail bar Tanner had. Once we got there, I told Tanner this was enough to make it all worth it. The spring was beautiful. I think I’d know that even if I hadn’t spent so much of the last decade on something as thoroughly artificial as a space station.

This would be something I learned about this planet. It looked like as much of a desert as anything on Earth, like the places they filmed for all those old Westerns, all dry dust and red dirt, harsh and inhospitable. But huge stretches of this planet were like that. And, as near as the scientists could tell, they had been that way for centuries. Or possibly millennia. Maybe it was harsh, but it was not so harsh as you might think by looking at it. Water was never that far away, not if you could reach the underground rivers.

The spring trickled out of the red rock and fed a pool cut into the stone below. I had never seen such clear water. I had never seen much naturally pooled water. But even if I had, this would have surpassed it all. It was almost circular, three or four meters across, and hip deep at the center. And there was green. Plants clung to all the rocks beneath the surface of the water, and things like bushes grew all around it. It was incredible.

And I must have been staring.

“Bet you’re glad I made you hike out here now.”

“Hush.” But I smiled. “Maybe.” It was just a shame I already had some idea of how much I was going to be hurting the next day. And the next three days after that.

As much as we would have liked to, we spent less than an hour there. Just long enough to eat our rations (dehydrated meals are nasty, but they feed you) and rehydrate ourselves. It was peaceful. So peaceful, and in a way that it couldn’t ever been on a space station. It was peaceful even though there was a strange moment when we were both convinced something was watching us. I couldn’t say why. I might have heard something, or it might have just been the prickling feeling on the back of my neck. We looked around. My hand reached for my gun. But we didn’t see anything. And the feeling went away.

“I thought you said there weren’t aliens out here,” I said.

“There aren’t,” said Tanner, but both of us were questioning that a little. Only a little. But enough that neither of us minded getting moving again. And fortunately, the feeling faded quickly. Just not quickly enough for either of us to be anything less than fully alert for at least the next hour.

Fiction (Excerpts)

[Excerpt] The Shattered and the Infinite

One of several possible intros for The Shattered and the Infinite, my project from last November. Enjoy!

Complexity Jones must have slept, because the soft green numbers on the bedside clock read 6:12 AM. It had been just after three-thirty the last time she had looked and given up hope of getting any rest, but maybe that had been what did it. Besides, these days two and a half hours was the best she could hope to get. Even so, her body ached. Whether that was because of the physical work she had thrown herself into the day before or just the wages of however many months of lost sleep she couldn’t say. And it didn’t matter. Either way, the result was the same.

On the other side of the bed, Kemp still slept, his breathing slow and even, a comfort in the quiet morning. She’d given up envying him for it. Better that one of them get a little rest than for both of them to exist in this miserable, exhausted haze. And she was used to it. The nightmares had started shortly after the Distortion had first appeared, and she hadn’t slept well since then. Five years, give or take. No wonder the dark circles under her eyes made it look like she’d lost a fist fight. No wonder her body rebelled whenever she had a day off, and she spent twelve hours in dreamless blackout.

But this wasn’t her day off. And there was no reason to try to beg and borrow and steal another useless moment with her eyes shut and her mind spinning and awake when it wouldn’t do her any good. Better to start the process of coaxing her body back to something functional.

She swung her feet to the floor, ignoring the complaints from her back, her neck, her shoulders. They always fussed. The pain always eased with movement. Coffee helped too. It would have helped more if it was the real stuff, but that didn’t exist anymore. Not here.

Her foot brushed against a pile of clothes as she moved through the bedroom. The twinge of guilt and the impulse to clean were quiet these days, a trivial concern at the end of the world. All things considered, it seemed better to use every chance she had to lie in Kemp’s arms and talk about the things they had thought they would have a lifetime explore. Let the apartment be a little messy. It would be the least of her regrets. Nothing compared to what she would feel if the end came and she thought she could have spent more time with anyone she loved.

In the living room, the big picture window looked out over Loborough. It was still dark, still predawn for a few more minutes, but not dark enough that she couldn’t see the scars the Distortion had left on the city. There were so many swaths of barren ground. Voids where there should have been buildings. Empty flats where there should have been parks. A shattering world where it should have been whole.

Fiction (Excerpts)

T&M: deleted scene 1

(If you happened to read last week’s blog, this is one of those deleted scenes I mentioned. For the pace of the story, I spent way too much time here on characters and events that have no real impact on anything else, but I still enjoyed them. I’m cutting the vast majority of this out of the next draft, but I still like what I wrote. So I’m sharing it here.)

We reached the top of the track leading to Rockmouse in another half an hour as flat plains gave way to the first red Outland cliffs. The friendly transport hauler we’d paid to let us tag along dropped us at the edge of the road and continued on his own way, leaving us to go the rest of the way on foot with our gear— camping things, rations, scanners, and our weapons— slung over our shoulders.

Despite the fact that we couldn’t see the tiny mining town from the road, it was a short walk to get there, only five or ten minutes at the most. And while I wasn’t about to admit it to Tanner, I was pleased to find that my legs and feet adjusted to the uneven dirt faster than I’d expected. I could only hope that the hike up into the wilderness would treat me as kindly.

As far as towns went, Rockmouse was less than impressive. It boasted no more than a dozen buildings, the largest of which was the modified warehouse that functioned as a sort of community center. Another appeared to be a supply and equipment store, though I was surprised they saw enough business to be solvent. The rest were various bunkhouses and cabins and other small residences to house the working population.

“Not much to look at, is it?”

Tanner laughed softly. “No. It’s more a base camp than an actual settlement. Still nice enough, though.”

And it was. It was dusty and sparse and not particularly pretty, but I noticed a certain reckless camaraderie in the air here that I recognized and appreciated. If nothing else, it made for interesting stories, and the small knot of scruffy looking townsfolk lounging in front of the community center looked like they already had several each.

“Is that who we’re meeting?”

Tanner squinted and peered down the street before shaking his head. “I don’t think so. She’s probably inside.” He squinted again. “I think I owe that big guy money, though.”

I raised one eyebrow. “You owe money?”

He shrugged. “Ah, not much. Fifty credits or so. I borrowed his hovermule last time I was out here.”

I was about to ask whether he’d asked for permission before he commandeered the vehicle when the large man in question happened to look up the road and notice us. As soon as he recognized my brother, his face split in a grin I could see even across the thirty yards that separated us. Or if I couldn’t, the enthusiastic wave he sent in our direction was enough to fill in the gaps.

“Hey, freelancer! Wondered when you’d be back on this side of the colony! Good to see you!”

Tanner returned the greeting with at least as much animation, and they caught each other in an exuberant handshake as soon as they were within reach.

“Oh, you know, there’s always something bringing me out here. How’s the place?”

“Dusty! But better since you chased those gangboys out. We managed to open up that south branch of the mine again, and we think we hit a new vein. What’s got you out here, though? And,” the big man nodded in my direction, “who’s this?”

“My sister,” said Tanner. “Came out here to watch my back and keep me out of trouble.”

“Miranda Griff,” I said, extending my own hand and just barely stifling my surprise as his massive hand engulfed my own. I’m not a particularly large woman, but I’d always considered myself roughly average when it came to size. Just then, I found myself revising my estimate downwards.

“Good to meet you, Griff. Sam Sawyer. Your brother here’s a good guy. Helped us out a few months back. Glad he’s got someone out here to help him out. Means he might be a little less likely to catch a bullet in the back someday.”

My lips quirked in a lopsided grin. “My thoughts exactly. Though he can’t be that bad, I suppose. He’s been out here by himself for a couple of years and he’s still in one piece.”

Sam leaned back and let loose with a belly laugh that made me think he doubled as Santa at Christmas-time. I couldn’t help it; I grinned too.

“I’m glad you two have hit it off so well.” Tanner’s look of mock chagrin didn’t hold up well against the twinkle in his eye. “But happy as I am to see you, we’re actually looking for Hildy. Has she gotten out here yet?”

Sawyer nodded and jerked his thumb back over his shoulder, towards the community center. Though now that we were closer, I had to admit it looked a lot more like a saloon than anything else.

“In there. She’s probably been here less than half an hour, so you shouldn’t be in too much trouble.” He grinned.

“Technically, we’re still early. Unless you and the boys put her in a bad mood?”

Another of Sawyer’s belly laughs got loose. “We’d never.”

“Sure you wouldn’t. But just in case you’re getting ideas, here’s that fifty I owe you.”

Tanner dug into his pocket and pulled out a pair of coins, which he tossed to Sawyer.

“Oh, hey! I’d forgotten about that. Knew you were good for it, though!”

“Gotta make friends somehow, now, don’t I?”

Sawyer chortled again. “Good to see you, Tanner. And glad to meet you, Miranda.”

Fiction

The Monster in the Park

Something a little different this week! My sister and I have still been exchanging writing prompts (albeit at a slower rate than in July), and this is a recent result from a musical prompt.


They had forgotten about the portal. The thin space at the valley, the one that had started all this horror. They’d known it wasn’t sealed. But sealed or not, it hadn’t been the one belching out monsters and bleeding them into the world for the past three weeks, and they had ignored it in favor of greater threats. And so there was no one to blame. Not really. Which didn’t change the fact that there was now something more terrible there than anything else that crept and prowled in from the other doors to Elsewhere.

Siana was only there because that was where they were going to take the wounded. It was supposed to be a safe place at the eye of the storm, an island of peace in the rising chaos. It was supposed to be somewhere they could, if they were very, very lucky, save a handful of lives. Instead, it became a jagged opening into depths of Elsewhere itself, and the thing that stood silhouetted against the weird light of the rift was like every monster that had ever tormented her in her worst nightmares.

It was huge. Ugly. Terrifying, and yet magnificent. It—he—stood fifteen feet tall from the soles of his two massive feet to the plated crown of his head, and thick battle armor covered every inch of him. His eyes, cold blue and baleful, stared down at her. Why he chose to take notice of her she never knew.

She had no choice. It would make no difference, she was certain, save that it let her keep her honor. Her pride. She lifted her gun, only a handgun, and fired.

Fiction (Excerpts)

[Excerpt] The Easy Job

At the best of times, I am not the most patient of people. This was not the best of times. I was cold, wet, and hungry. I was tired– exhausted, even. I had watched a weekend that was supposed to be a welcome shred of rest go from bad to worse to something so unfathomably, irredeemably ridiculous that I could feel the hysteric laughter bubbling up the back of my throat. If someone said I looked like I was at the end of my rope, I would inform them that my rope had snapped sometime last week. Or I’d just cut to the chase and bite their head off.


Sometimes it’s just fun to write Miranda. Okay, scratch that. It’s usually a whole lot of fun to write Miranda. And the bit above is no exception. There’s a certain catharsis to getting inside her head when she’s about ready to start (or finish?) a fight, and if you said that might reveal more about me than anything else, I’d smile and shrug and admit that you’re probably right. And then I’d remind you that that’s half of what makes it so much fun.

Fiction (Excerpts)

[Excerpt] The Personal Job

“See if I let you go investigate anything on your own ever again,” I muttered. “‘I’ll be careful,’ you said. ‘It’s nothing,’ you said.” My mutter became a growl as I lost my footing on the steep slope and half fell, half slid a few feet down. Somehow, I stopped myself before tumbling off the edge and down the rest of the way to the canyon floor below.

Tanner wasn’t around to hear my rant, but that wasn’t about to stop me. With all the practice I was getting, once I finally got to deliver it to my brother’s face it was bound to be a rant to end all rants. It would remain unparalleled for all eternity. It would be the platonic ideal of a rant. Or at least one that would make him think twice about getting himself captured while gallivanting around without backup.

I tried not to think too hard about the fact that I was doing more or less the same thing.


Hey, look! An excerpt! This is one of the stories I’ve been looking forward to writing, mostly because it puts Tanner and Miranda in a situation that I haven’t played with much: on their own. But the question remains… do they get into more trouble when they’re together or when they don’t have each other to hold them back?

Fiction (Excerpts)

[Excerpt] The Dalton Job

Somehow, I managed to avoid venting my spleen until after we were out of Kemp’s earshot. Or until I thought we probably were. Or could argue to Tanner that I thought we were when it turned out he heard us—or rather, me—after all, and it came back to bite us. Not that he didn’t deserve every word I said, of course, but working with a butthurt and testy ranger would just be working for trouble.

So, I waited until we were out of earshot. Probably. And then I let loose with nine hours worth of frustration and righteous annoyance.

“…and he’s probably just working as a ranger so he can get filthy rich,” I finished. It didn’t sound right even as the words left my mouth, but I didn’t particularly care.

Tanner raised one eyebrow. “I’ll ask Paul next time we see him how that’s going for him.”

I glared at him. He would derail a perfectly good rant with a quick dose of logic.

Fiction, Fiction (Excerpts)

[Excerpt] Tanner and Miranda

“Miranda, get back in bed or I’ll break your other leg.”

That was my brother’s version of compassion for the wounded. But, as I was only ninety-nine percent sure that he wasn’t serious, I muttered something derogatory about his bedside manner and limped and crutched my way back to my sickbed and dropped back onto it. I also let my crutches clatter to the floor in a noisy protest. It was an exercise in cutting off my nose to spite my face, of course, since I was going to be the one to have to pick them up next time I wanted to get around the room, but for now, I allowed myself to take some pleasure in annoying my brother.

“I’m not useless, you know,” I said. “I can still help.”

Tanner didn’t turn around as he answered me. “Sure. Right until the pain meds kick in. We went through this yesterday.”

And the day before, and the day before that. Though, granted, yesterday had been the worst.

“Fine,” I grumbled. “But don’t come complaining when you can’t find any leads.”

Musings

[Blog] Snippet!

It’s so nice to feel like the bones of a story are decently solid. Most of what I’ve been doing so far this month is “editing”/fleshing out some sections that I’d already done some scribblings on, and the result has been very encouraging, if still moving slower than I’d like it to be, ideally. I’m proud of a couple turns of phrase in particular, actually, so by way of showing off, I’m including a quick excerpt below. Those of you who have been following me for a while might recognize this as very similar to the beginning of The Verdant Wildlife, which is because I’m in the process of completely reworking it so that it can take its place as the first story in the upcoming novel.

Anyway, without further ado, here is the promised snippet.


Our client had arranged to meet up with us at a small mining outpost near the drone’s last known coordinates and had offered to transport us out there on one of her company’s atmo-sprinters. It was a welcome gesture that cut our travel time down to a fraction of what it would have been otherwise. I spent the half-hour ride alternately teasing my brother and staring out the window as semi-developed plains gave way to wild cliffs and canyons.

Even before the sprinter’s pilot started edging the craft down between a couple of jagged cliffs, there was little doubt in my mind that our destination was less a spur of civilization than a small collection of humans trying to do without it. In Coville, I’d gotten the impression that the occasional showdown at high noon was a distinct possibility. Looking down at the approaching outpost, I would have been more surprised to find that such confrontations didn’t happen there with some regularity.

I leaned towards my brother. “I thought you said we weren’t going to get shot at. This looks like the sort of place that gets us shot at.”

“What, the mining camp?” He looked out his own window. “Good thing we won’t be spending much time there.”

I scowled. Now that our hike was more imminent, I found myself less excited about the prospect of tramping around the wilds of a new planet than I had been the day before. And given that I hadn’t been all that enthusiastic about it in the first place, that was saying something.

Tanner winked at me. “It’ll be fun. Like those trips we took growing up.”

I grunted, non-committal. “I hadn’t spent the last eight months crossing the galaxy when we hiked the Sierras.”

“We won’t be moving too fast. There’s a ton of nooks and crannies out here, and that drone could have crashed in any of them. You’ll be fine.” The look on his face was the same one he’d worn when he’d suckered me into exploring an old “haunted” warehouse with him. At night. About three weeks after I’d pranked him in front of all his buddies. But bringing that up wasn’t going to do me any good.

“Congratulations,” I said. “You just managed to make me feel better and worse at the same time.”

He winked. “I aim to please.”

Lucky for him and despite my complaining, I did still enjoy a good hike, if not under these exact circumstances. Not that I’d be caught dead admitting that to him just now.