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On Waiting for Acceptance/Rejection

Busy day today – sick kid, lots of work, snowing outside – so this post will be brief.

I’d like to dedicate the following song to the good people over at Harper Voyager books. I appreciate everything they’ve done for me, but their reticence to give me an up/down vote on one (or both!) of my novels is beginning to drive me insane. I, of course, desperately hope for acceptance, but I dread rejection, too.

Therefore, I humbly give you this:

Keep your fingers crossed for me, folks.

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The Year in Review (2012-2013)

WordPress has just informed me that it’s been another year of me writing this blog o’ mine. Seeing how I don’t have anything else pressing to discuss, this anniversary is fortuitous as it gives me something to write about, if only briefly.

I have pretty consistently posted about twice a week on this blog: almost always on Monday, and then again on either Wednesday or Friday, depending. I’ve doubled the number of followers I have and views on the site have varied from several hundred to fifty. This summer it has been around fifty pretty much consistently. This puts me behind the 2011-2012 view numbers, but that’s okay. I barely promote this blog and fifty views a day is enough for me to know that somebody is reading this thing and that I can be found if someone is looking.

While I enjoy blogging, my purpose here isn’t really to blog, per se. I don’t want to be a ‘blogger’ by trade or affectation. I’m a writer, and writing a blog is a way to establish that I exist to a digital world that is barely aware of me. This is, in essence, my digital office, wherein I make small inroads into making sure my name pops up in a Google search. I’m trying not to invest too much of my time into it, since the more time I spend here, the less time I spend actually writing. Of course, as somebody who has difficulty doing things by half measures, two posts a week are my minimum standard for maintaining this thing. If I’m going to write a blog, I’m going to write a blog; it isn’t something I’ll abandon on a whim. If I intend to quit updating for a while, you’ll hear about it.

On the subject of my professional aims, this has been a pretty good year in terms of writing. As of this moment, I have four stories accepted to various publications. Some of them haven’t supplied me with contracts yet, so I hesitate lauding them, but one of them is a really big publication credit to my mind (*cough* Analog *cough*). When I have a fixed idea of when these four stories are going to be released, I’ll be certain to let you know and prod you to buy/read them.

On the novel-writing front, things go well there, too. This summer I wrote the first third of the sequel to The Oldest Trick (mostly because I love Tyvian Reldamar, and for no greater professional purpose) as well as more than half of a new novel, which is currently titled simply Lych – it’s urban fantasy, which is a bit more saleable in the current market (I hope), and I hope to finish a rough draft by the end of winter at the latest.

This is me, kicking ass and taking names. You know, if I were a female war-angel and not a 30-something year old white nerd.

This is me, kicking ass and taking names. You know, if I were a female war-angel and not a 30-something year old white nerd.

The two novels I have finished and am shopping around (The Rubric of All Things and The Oldest Trick) are still under consideration at Harper Voyager books following their open submission call, which is a good thing. At last check, the editors told me they were both ‘very much still under consideration’, which I am taking as a hopeful sign one of them will be picked up. The Rubric of All Things, by the way, was the one that made Quarterfinalist for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. All good news!

Finally, on an ‘actually pays me money’ professional note, I have been promoted out of adjunct professor-hood to a full-time lecturer/faculty associate of English at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences University (whew! some title – I know). I start that new position tomorrow, which is very exciting as it will be the first time in my professional life I will have an office of my own (it may even have a door!). Go me!

So, in closing – thank you all for reading, and please continue to do so. This blog has been a great way to get the creative juices flowing and to share some of my ideas with whoever wants to listen. As a writer and a teacher, I do so enjoy hearing myself talk. I am glad there are at least a few people out there who do, as well.

Writing Updates!

writerSo, I just received word that another one of my stories will be published in Stupefying Stories sometime in the next year or so. Yay! I’ll let you all know when the actual issue is released. The story is another one set in Alandar, this time in the bustling, dusty city of Eddon at the western edge of civilization.

Furthermore, my novel The Rubric of All Things is a Quarterfinalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest. Go and download the excerpt and read/review it here. Good reviews help my chances of advancing, and there’s only a week or two left in this round, so hurry!

Elsewhere, I’ve got a bunch of stories under consideration at a bunch of different magazines, so fingers crossed there. I’ve got one story in process, and I swear I’ll have time to finish it someday soon. Not to mention those novels I’ve got waiting to go. And those other stories in need of finishing. Gah! Best not to think about the stuff I want to do right now, and focus on what I’m actually doing. Though traffic has dropped off around here a bit of late, I appreciate the support I’ve had for my work from this little blog of mine, so thank you all.

Onward and upward! Back to the keyboard!

Amazon Quarterfinalist Needs Your Help!

I want YOU to review my excerpt and help make my dreams come true!

I want YOU to review my excerpt and help make my dreams come true!

As it happens, that quarterfinalist is me. From what I can gather from the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest rules (and they do their best in avoiding lucidity there, let me tell you), the internet, by which I mean all of you people, may visit Amazon and download excerpts of the novels (for free, of course) and review them. If I get lots of good reviews, the likelihood of me making the next round increases.

Soooo…

Here is the link. Go there. LIKE it, damn you all. LIE if you must (well, no–don’t do that), but review. REVIEW AS YOU HAVE NEVER REVIEWED BEFORE!

In the meantime, I will keep writing like a good glacier and spending the rest of my time cooing over my brand new baby daughter, born this past Sunday.

And maybe, just maybe I’ll grade a student paper or two.

Citizens of a Fictional World

So, I’ve been writing a lot of short fiction recently. Well, I am usually writing a lot of short fiction, but I’ve been thinking about it more than usual. Planning my strategy, as it were.

Like a lot of writers, finding inspiration for a story is a key part of the process. I’ve a wide variety of ways I do this, many of them too arcane and fuzzy for me to accurately describe. I do, however, have a pretty tried and true method for producing work, much of it quite good. What I do, in a nutshell, is set a story within a world I’ve already developed/am in the process of developing.

Hmmm…what if I have *this* planet inhabited by hyper-intelligent fungus people. Yeah! There’s a story in there, somewhere!

This serves two purposes. First is world building, which is essential in any good fantasy or sci-fi novel. To paraphrase David Eddings, you need that 1000 pages of stuff before your world is likely to seem real, so you need to get cracking, right? Second is that is gives the story a sort of built-in background. It anchors it and allows it to seem more alive, better situated.

So far, my most successful stories to date have been the ones I’ve written this way. Now, I can’t say for certain that this method is the cause of that or, indeed, if this method of mine is holding me back or propelling me forward – I haven’t had enough success yet to tell – but I do think it makes it easier for me to produce material. Besides, I happen to love Alandar… and the Frontier universe, and the Quiet Earth, and the Multiverse of the Rubric. I’m at home in these places, I know them, and you’re supposed to write what you know, right?

Well, anyway, I’ve got some more stories cooking, some set in Alandar, some set in the future, some set in parallel dimensions, but all filling out a kind of grand map of my worlds. Perhaps, if I’m very lucky, some fan of mine will sit down and map them all out on some kind of branching timeline. That would be cool. Especially when I go and compare their timeline to mine.

 

Humans’ Special Power

Seriously, wouldn’t all you people rather be elves?

So, the other night I was at a party (for the release of Croak by Gina Damico) and I had a conversation with my friend, John Perich and various others about the portrayals of humanity in fantasy and science fiction stories and games. He brought up the whole trend that puts humans in the role of the ‘default’ race and that all other races (be they sci-fi aliens or the cohabitants of a fantasy world) have built-in qualities that define them somehow as ‘other.’ Dwarves are stubborn, Klingons are violent, elves are beautiful and noble, Vulcans are logical, etc, etc. Everybody’s got their schtick–everybody, that is, but humans.

The reason for this, as I pointed out in the aforementioned conversation, is that it is phenomenally difficult to portray alien species as anything other than slightly more specialized versions of human beings. This is because we have no other analog for intelligence or sentient beings and, even worse, have no way to think or conceive of things that are alien to our own way of understanding. Much as we might like to claim to ‘understand’ a dolphin, we do not and cannot. It’s thought process, no matter how advanced, is fundamentally alien to our own. Therefore, in order to get our head wrapped around it, we start with a human intelligence, remove some parts, add some other parts, and we get our dwarf or elf or Ferengi or whatever. Of course, such beings aren’t really alien in the same way that a 2010 Corolla isn’t a wholly alien object to a 2008 Corolla – same basic framework, but with a variety of cosmetic and minor functional differences. Even if we try really hard, the best we wind up with is a comparison between a Corolla and a Ford Mustang. If we really want to talk aliens, we’d need to find a way to compare the Corolla (us) with a blimp (them). Good luck.

Anyway, because humans are the default setting – where we begin, necessarily and ultimately, to paint our picture of alien life – efforts have been made across the specfic genres to give humans something special to make them unique. After all, if there’s nothing special about us, that means we aren’t awesome, and we’re obviously awesome, right? The trouble is, when everybody else is better at certain things than we are (Klingons are better warriors, Vulcans are better thinkers, Betazoids are better diplomants, Ferengi are better buisnessmen…), whatever are we better at than everyone else? Here are some of the more common theories:

The Human Spirit

Yeah, we haven’t got super strength or wings or ageless lifespans, but we’ve got spunk, dammit! Humans never give up. They are adaptable, optimistic, and have that special something that gives them the edge over the competition. They don’t believe in no-win scenarios, man!

In RPGs, this is often represented as some extra skills or a bump in versatility. Sometimes it shows up as a variety of bland special edges that give humans mild statistical advantages over their buddies. In general, this one always bothers me because it’s based off of the principle that humans don’t like to lose and adapt themselves so they don’t. This, however, is fairly common with all successful lifeforms, since you don’t survive in the big, bad world without some ability to Outlast/Outplay/Outwit.

Human Ambition

Humans are always striving for more, see? They, above all things, desire power. Dangle a magic ring under their nose, and they grab it. They expand, like a virus, filling up their environment with all the stuff they accumulate and spread across the cosmos like a plague. They’re never satisfied.

This one isn’t bad, but it rather hamstrings the ability for humans to interact with other aliens, doesn’t it? Like, if none of them are as ambitious as us, then don’t they just kinda get pushed aside? In some settings, they do, actually (in my own setting of Alandar, in fact), but to rob all your aliens of the capacity to be equally ambitious makes it easy to either demonize or glorify humanity in a way that makes things unfair. In Avatar, for example, humanity’s ambition is demonized as destructive and cruel. In Star Trek, it’s glorified as the thing that makes us the leaders of the Federation. In both cases, we are seeing human uniqueness being used as a symbol for what the authors think of human behavior, rather than a realistic portrait of those cultural or physical qualities that make us distinct.

Hardy Vermin

One of the other popular ones is to have humans be pervasive, hardy, and numerous. This is an easy trick – humans happen to be physically hardier than other species, or reproduce faster, or what-have-you. I use a version of this myself in The Rubric of All Things, in which humans are extremely tough and disease resistant (we do take our immune system for granted, don’t we?).

Of the three ideas, I prefer this one myself, since it’s the easiest and most plausible. I don’t think it needs to be pigeonholed into humans being ‘hardier’, per se, but if you are inventing aliens, you can pretty easily make them all so physically different that their uniqueness becomes clear. In order to do this, though, you’re going to have to think harder about how your aliens work. So, like, if humans are the only intelligent bipeds around, what does that mean for how all those aliens construct their buildings and castles and spaceships? Stuff is bound to get weird fast (which is how I like it).

So What if We Aren’t That Special…

Ultimately, however, all aliens are going to be versions of ourselves – distorted reflections, if you will – or otherwise will be the unknowable ‘other’. Middle ground is extremely difficult to establish (though I’m trying, believe me!), and is the subject for some really profound and interesting stories. Still using other species as metaphors for aspects of humanity has a long and colorful history, and I can see no good reason to stop, so long as it’s kept fresh.

News from the Writing Front

So, I got an e-mail yesterday from a publisher I’d sent my manuscript to. The editor was intrigued and wants to see the full thing. This is incrediblyawesome news. I spent a good ten minutes flexing like a professional wrestler in my apartment after reading the e-mail. The Macho Man would have been proud.

Rest in Peace, dude

What is even more incredible is that I have now sent or pitched this novel to three different publishers in the past two years, and all three of them have expressed interest and requested the full manuscript or a significant chunk of it. This tells me, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I have a very solid idea for this book and that my query and first chapter are pretty damned solid.

Just to put into a bit of perspective for you non-writer folks how big a deal this is, consider the following:

1) The vast majority of humanity can’t even write a novel.

2) Of those few who can write novels, about 90% of them are utterly, soul-destroyingly terrible (sorry, humanity, but you know it’s true).

3) Of those which aren’t terrible, a very large chunk of those never get past the query stage because, while they aren’t terrible, they also aren’t all that great.

I have now consistently made it past the query stage–very, very good sign. I, of course, am on step 4 of what is probably a 50 step journey to actual publication, but considering just how huge those first three steps are, I am very, very pleased.

With a little luck, a LOT of work, and a good chunk of determination, you folks will be able to read The Rubric of All Things yet.

 

OH YEEEEAH!

The Impossible

Author’s Note: In the interest of completeness (backwards, but still complete) here is an excerpt from the first chapter of  The Rubric of All Things, the book  which precedes the book from which “Hond’s Interrogation” was taken. I’ve been shopping this book around for a while now and had a few nibbles (two full or partial manuscript requests), but no full-on bites yet. I’m putting it here because, well, it can’t hurt and hopefully can give interested parties some idea of just how far the reader is taken from here to Hond’s non-room. Anyway, hope you enjoy it:

Cal’s heart pulsed in his chest like a diesel engine. The sweat on his face mingled with the cold March rain while his lungs, like a pair of steel-mill bellows, fed oxygen to the fires in his quads and calves. He was going full speed along the Charles river, blazing past casual joggers in an intimidating display of athletic prowess. He was the fighter jet and they were the two-seater prop-planes and ponderous jet-liners. They stayed out of his way.

            It was early, and the gray waters of the river shuddered and leapt with each rainy gust of wind.Calfelt good, even considering the miserable weather. He was on pace for a four-and-a-half minute mile, he guessed—not a personal best, but the best he’d done in a while. More than the time, though, was the feeling of getting back into the regimen of his morning run. At this speed his whole body felt like a well-oiled and tuned device, as simple as it was elegant. He wasn’t some messy pile of meat and juice wrapped around a jigsaw puzzle of bone struts—he was a functional, precise thing, like a watch or a bicycle. It meant a lot to him to feel that way. Things had been crazy lately.

              Cal’s cell phone broke into the first few bars of Suicide is Painless. It was the kind of sick joke a homicide detective would find funny, particularly one like Cal’s partner, who had selected it. Slowing to a manageable pace,Cal answered. “Lyons here.”

            “Morning, Superman!”Cal’s partner, Detective Theodore O’Brien, or ‘OB’, sounded cheery, which was generally a bad thing.

            “What’s up? I’m not on duty for another hour.”

           OB’s chuckle was mostly static over the phone. “You’re on duty now, buddy. We got us a good one.”

            “What is it?”Cal inwardly hoped it wasn’t messy—he and OB had just finished working a murder-suicide where an old woman had strangled her husband, drowned herself in the bathtub, and wasn’t found for two weeks. He had only just gotten the stink out of his jacket, and he had to buy entirely new shoes.

            “Well, see, that’s the problem—we haven’t decided what it is, yet.”

           Calblinked. “Whaddya mean? Have we got a corpse?”

            “He ain’t dancing, if that’s your question. Look, just get your spandex-clad butt over to Charlestown. You’re gonna have to see this for yourself.”

           Cal memorized the address.OB hung up with a giggle and a “We’re gonna love this one, Supes.”

 

* * * * * * * *

 

Cal sprinted home and changed without showering. Altogether, it took him a little over a half hour to get to the scene. It was on a narrow side-street, where the roads coiled around Bunker Hill like so much discarded rope, and the blank granite face of the obelisk that stood there watched over everything. The freezing rain drifted off the eaves and gutters of the surrounding buildings in misty swirls and umbrella-eviscerating gusts of wind raced down the alleys. When Cal pulled up, there was a cruiser blocking the end of the street and another parked just outside the entrance of a narrow building with worn concrete steps. This second car was parked just outside the tell-tale yellow tape that indicated the perimeter of the crime scene, which ran in a rough triangle in front of the building. Next to the second car, a huddle of uniformed police gathered around a single golf umbrella, which was doing its best to pull a Mary Poppins and sail into space. Cal got out, flashed his badge to the first uniform to challenge him, and then spotted the massive frame of OB chatting it up under the umbrella.

           OB saw him coming, and ducked out from under shelter and into the rain. His trenchcoat was sodden and his Red Sox ball cap was looking a shade darker than usual. Still, good humor was evident on his broad, meaty face. He clapped his hands together. “Beautiful morning, ain’t it?”

            “I hate this crap.”Cal said, and added, “You interrupted my run.”

           OB shrugged. “Get your high like everybody else—drink coffee. Come on.” He led him over to the two other officers under the umbrella. “Boys, you know Detective Lyons.”

            Officers Amaral and Lopez nodded. Lopez added. “How’s it going, Superman?”

            “Fine, Mike.” Cal resisted the urge to roll his eyes. He liked to think they called him ‘superman’ because of his stellar work at fighting crime, but the fact was that ever since everybody on the Boston Police had gotten wind of his competing in the Ironman triathlon a couple years back, the nickname had become permanently affixed. He tried not to let it irk him—he knew it was done in good humor—but the fact was it simply reminded Cal of how a lot of guys on the force would never accept him as one of their own. The smarty-pants kid from the suburbs turned city cop would always, in their eyes, be analogous to an alien from the planet Krypton.

           OB pointed at Amaral. “Steve found the guy this morning on a call from one of the local residents. Mike was in the area, so he helped him secure the scene.”

            Amaral nodded. “Nobody’s touched anything since we got here. There were a couple bystanders, but it’s still early and the weather sucks, so…”

             “…so what happened?”Calcut him off. “What have we got? Accident? Murder? What?”

            The three of them exchanged glances and then turned around and looked. Cal followed their gaze. Just past the tape and dead center in front of the building’s steps was a telephone pole adorned with a skirt of bright yellow police ponchos affixed at waist height. This perplexed Cal at first, but his initial confusion melted away as soon as he noticed that around the base of the pole was a puddle that was much too red to be pure rainwater.

           Cal looked at OB, who took a deep breath, reached forward, and tore back the ponchos. Then all Cal could do was stare.

            The corpse was a white man in his mid-sixties, wearing a cardigan sweater, tweed jacket, and half-moon spectacles. His lips were pulled back into a grimace, as though he had just stubbed his toe. He had not. He was, rather, impaled through the exact center of his torso by the telephone pole and was suspended three feet above the ground. A human ka-bob.

            Cal said nothing. Everything—the rain, the wind, the cold—seemed to fall away from his notice. It was just himself and the spectacle of the corpse. He scanned the telephone pole from top to bottom—no cuts, wires still intact at the top. The body was not mutilated; the man’s clothes didn’t even look mussed. It was as though he had simply materialized inside the telephone pole, realized his error, and died instantly.

Vaguely, he heard Amaral talking. “…him this morning. No witnesses—nobody was walking around in this crap. Called the coroner, but we couldn’t figure out how to get him out, so we called public works, too. Then we were waiting on you guys.”

           Cal pulled on a rubber glove, never taking his eyes from the bizarre body. “ID?”

            Lopez pointed. “We think that’s his wallet on the stairs, but we didn’t move it.”

            OB, gloves on, retrieved the sodden leather wallet while Cal gently prodded the dead man’s ribs. Amaral asked, “How do you think it happened?”

            “I have no idea.”Cal answered as he walked around the pole, looking at the corpse from every angle. “Can you guys knock on some doors and ask if anybody’s power or phone service or anything went out?”

            As the officers dispersed, he looked up at the top of the pole, twenty feet up. “Maybe somebody disconnected the wires, stuffed our man down the pole, and then re-connected them. Whaddya think?”

OB snorted. “Gimmie a break, Cal—what’d they do, rent a goddamned telephone truck? There isn’t even any blood on the damn thing above his body.”

            Cal threw up his hands. “You got another theory? Did they show up with a giant robot, lift the freaking pole out of the sidewalk, and stuff him up through it?”

           OB shook his head, still staring at the telephone pole. “Jesus. Could this be an accident or something?”

            “Yeah, sure. Telephone poles sprout up through people’s guts all the time.”Cal snatched the wallet fromOB’s hands. “Gimmie that.”

            “Easy there, big guy. Don’t have to get mad at me.” OB chided.

            “I hate when things don’t make sense.”Cal snarled.

            OB chuckled. “Cal, we’re in homicide. When does anything make sense?”

            The wallet contained a variety of paper currency from five countries, a smooth blue stone, a collection of business cards following no obvious pattern, and an expired license. It read ‘Aldous Hambury,’ and sported a picture of the dead man wearing a blue bow-tie and smiling wider than anyone in the DMV had a right to. Cal handed it back to OB, who looked himself.

            “Aldous? What kind of name is that?”

            “British, I think. Notice anything weird about that license?”

           OB held it up to the pale light. “No hologram—it’s a fake. Why would you fake an expired license?”

            “Why would somebody stuff an old man through a telephone pole?”

            OB snorted. “Screw that, Cal—how do you stuff an old man through a telephone pole?”

           Cal crouched down to get a better look at the underside of ‘Aldous Hambury.’ He was looking for…well, heck, he had no idea what he was looking for. Blood, guts, a calling card—some kind of explanation written in physical clues. What he found was that the telephone pole seemed to have neatly punctured through Hambury’s jacket, as well as his body. He shook his head. “This isn’t possible.”

           OB stepped forward and prodded Hambury’s side with a gloved finger. “Well, he’s here, ain’t he?”

            “The goddamned pole has to go through his spine, OB. The spine holds the body together. If he hasn’t got one then…” Cal trailed off, circled the body twice more, and wound up standing next to OB and staring down at Hambury’s strange grimace.

           OB nodded. “Fifteen years, Cal, and they just keep getting weirder.” He pulled off a glove and produced a small plastic box that rattled as he shook it. “Tic-tac?”

Hond’s Interrogation

Author’s note: What follows is an excerpt from my novel Queen in a Savage Land, the sequel to The Rubric of All Things. It is very rough and both novels are as-yet unpublished, so maybe I should have excerpted the first one first, but whatever. This was sitting in my documents folder, is reasonably self-contained, and I don’t have the time at the moment to prepare something else, so it’s what you get today. I hope you enjoy it.

The room, if you could call it a room, had no color in it. It seemed to exist only by the barest of margins, as though a simple push against the edges of its colorless, womb-like edges would be enough to find freedom. The room, though, was deceiving.

            Thagraddi had pushed, or tried to push his way out now for a long time. He could not find the wall—it was disorienting. He felt that he could see it—his three eyes were very sharp, and had excellent depth perception—but when his scampered towards it with his hind-limbs, he didn’t seem to get any closer. He could feel the ground shift underneath his feet, but that was all—nothing else changed. He remained oddly, incomprehensibly trapped. Was this a room? If not, what was it?

            “Hello?” He called, his mandibles clacking together nervously. “Who is there? Where am I?”

            Thagraddi couldn’t remember how he had come to be here. The last thing he was doing was…what? Feeding, yes—at the nectar-cracks in the upper galleries of Kshizak Hive, squeezing himself between the fliers and the drones that frequented those high places. He’d had to remove his badges of office just to fit, and the churls hadn’t even scraped aside for him when he’d approached. He’d have spoken with the guards, but there hadn’t been time. Something had happened. There was an explosion? No, quieter than that. His memory seemed blocked, unresponsive. All he could remember were sudden extremes of light and darkness, and of pink, fleshy monsters in long, horribly fuzzy garments streaming around.

            Ah, of course; Pallavarians.

            “Monsters!” He raged, clicking his foreclaws and letting his feelers go rigid. “Release me! I have done nothing!”

            Thagraddi was suddenly not alone. One of the Pallavarian beasts was there with him, wrapped in a long, translucent cloak that almost made him fade into invisibility in the non-room. The creature was tall, bipedal, with long arms ending in disturbing five-digit claws. It did not look armed, but Thagraddi knew better. The Heralds of Pallavar were never defenseless. Thagraddi crouched into a defensive posture, and spread his outer mandibles wide as they would go. “Who are you?”

            The Pallavarian pulled back the hood of its cloak, revealing the weirdly soft and smooth ‘face’ of what Thagraddi recognized as a human. He shuddered when it fleshy mouth worked over the words of the Sstimoi language. “Hail, Thagraddi, Guardian of Ui. I am Seppeter Hond, and I come in peace.”

            It would not do to offend a human. Many were the fools who had, and all of them were dead. Thagraddi let his feelers go slack and pulled his limbs close to his thorax. “Hail, Pallavarian. I wish to return home quickly—please tell me what I have done to be brought here?”

            “You stand accused of a crime, Guardian, and a serious one.”

            “I?” Thagraddi genuflected, “Surely there is a mistake.”

            Hond’s body rippled in a gesture Thagraddi didn’t recognize. He did his best to hide the revulsion at the human’s supple physique; one would not think creatures so puffy could be so dangerous. “Allow me to be more specific—one of your otherselves stands accused of a crime for which you are being asked to act as witness.” Hond showed his teeth, which Thagraddi reminded himself was a sign of friendship.

            Thagraddi felt somewhat more at ease. “Well then, what is it my otherself has done?”

            “Collusion with a dangerous anarchist, assault uponAlliancepersonnel, and theft ofAllianceproperty. The anarchist is one you know, or knew.”

            “My days of inter-world travel are long done, and my memory has little room for those days.” Thaggradi vented air through his thorax. “Why the abduction? Why bring me here? You know I will cooperate!”

            Hond waggled his head back and forth. His hairless pate seemed to shimmer in the non-light of the chamber. “We cannot be certain of these things in all instances. Have no fear—you are not far from where you once were, and will be returned immediately after you cooperate.”

            “Well, out with it—what help can I give? Who is this anarchist?”

            “His name is Draminicus, a dale of some reputation.”

            Thaggradi chattered despite himself. “Nonsense—he’s dead. I killed him myself, the arrogant louse!”

            “We know. Your otherself, however, did not—he and Draminicus are allies, companions.”

            Thaggradi quivered in disgust at that. “I am not responsible for perverse versions of myself or their actions. What is this to me? Want me to kill the fool again?”

            Hond produced a throaty, squishy bark of some kind—a laugh?—and again waggled his head. “No, no, but thank you for the offer. We, instead, simply wish to ask you a question and, please, answer honestly: if Draminicus were seeking a place to gather a large quantity of information and process it, where do you think he would go?”

            Thaggradi clacked his mandibles together thoughtfully. “Draminicus was always one to capitalize upon the seething ignorance of the masses, so I imagine he would go somewhere like that—somewhere dark and quiet, far away from you fellows, where he could hide behind a carapace of rumor and perhaps even fear. Daledas, I would guess.”

            Hond’s face wiggled. “No, not this Draminicus. He isn’t there.”

            “Well, that’s my opinion—what of it? There are a million million worlds out there. How am I supposed to pick the right one?”

            Hond regarded the Sstimoi warrior for a moment, and then waved his hands at him. “You are released.”

            Thaggradi meant to bow his thanks, but vanished before he could. There was no mark that he had ever been there before.

 #

Seppeter Hond drew the fadecloak around him tightly, allowing it to make him half-vanish from the pocket-world which served as his interrogation room. Touching the locus on his belt, he whispered to the Controller team on Ui. “Very well—have Kardav slip one over and bring in the next.”

            Time passed, but the period was unknowable—it might have been seconds, it might have been days—and then, without so much as a pop, the spiny, glittering, multicolored carapace of Thagraddi was there, hunching in the non-light. This Thagraddi looked meaner, more hungry than the last one—not a war hero, but a creature on the run, a desperate thing living on the outskirts of society. If reports were correct about Draminicus and his activities, this would be just the kind of creature he would approach. Hond let the beast scamper around a bit, and then revealed himself.

            “Who are you?” The Sstimoi chirped, its body crouching into the same menacing posture as the last Thaggradi.

            “Hail, Thagraddi, Guardian of Ui. I am Seppeter Hond, and I come in peace.” He said, bowing his head.

            This Thagraddi only hissed in response and backed away. “Maggots eat you, Pallavarian! I’ll die before I tell you anything!”

            Despite himself, Hond smiled. “Good—that means we’re getting close.”