Having never stopped writing stories since I was old enough to hold a pencil , and having released three novels between 2014 – and 2016 (my debut space pirate trilogy, the Orbit Series) it feels slightly weird not having anything new ‘out’ in nearly three years. It’s not that I’ve been idle. I’m not sure what would happen if I ever actually stopped writing, and appearances and sales at conventions have been numerous and tremendous amounts of fun. But I am currently negotiating the previously-unchartered territory of agent-pitching and publisher-researching. Anyone with any writing or publishing (lucky you!) experience will tell you that this takes time, patience and perseverance.
So whereas I’ve done a fair amount of writing in the last few years (for example, completing book 1 in a brand new SciFi Series, currently called the Waste series, and subsequently working my way through a list of potential agents with it) there’s not been much to share or show. At least on ‘paper’ (or on screen! Well, except my Christmas Ghost Story The Highwayman – thanks to everyone that read & enjoyed!).
Whilst that process ticks on, I have begun work on book 2 in the Waste series. I’m a firm believer that if you don’t stop moving forward, you’re bound to get somewhere, even if it’s not where you originally planned to get to…and maybe go on a few interesting detours along that way. I’ve also made some tentative ventures into the realms of the LBGT Romance novella, having read a fair few in my time and always enjoying the prospect of a challenge and trying something new. I’ve written two so far, with a third almost done. The first two are still waiting for homes but I have relatively high hopes for the third. Watch this space!
(I may consider serialising the romance novellas on here if they aren’t picked up elsewhere. We’re talking vampires, murder mysteries and police procedurals in the romance vein, so a good mix of genres, themes, and settings, so hopefully there’s some genre-fiction appeal in all of them)
My short story Ash, originally published by Dagda Publishing in the short story collection Tuned to a Dead Channel, has also had a spit-and-polish and been submitted for potential inclusion in the second instalment of Harvey Duckman Presents, the first in a series of collected works of suspense and mystery in the genres of science fiction, fantasy, horror and steampunkery edited by the wonderful people over at Sixth Element Publishing. I have my fingers crossed for that and will share any news in due course. In the mean time, head on over to Amazon to get yourself a copy of Vol 1, bound to be up the street of any discerning SciFi, horror or steampunk fan.
I’ve always enjoyed having several projects on the go, so I’m having an absolute ball behind the scenes, but not having anything to share with readers still feels a teensy bit on the self-indulgent side. Especially when so many people ask me when my next book is out, what are you working on now, when can I buy the next one?
Sadly that is quite genuinely out of my hands, but in the meantime I thought I might share the opening to the new novel just to tide things over. If people are interested I’ll share a bit more another time and will, of course, be shouting it from the mountain tops as soon as it looks to me being made available in a more formal capacity.
Read on for more!
To quote my query letter, Waste is ‘Indiana Jones meets Mad Max’, the story of Tomikoa Ru, a Reclaim Expert and Wreck Diver commissioned to retrieve an old document from the sparsely populated wasteland that now covers a significant portion of the planet. When a mysterious police detective investigating the murder of a prominent businessman turns up on the scene wanting to tag along, Ru’s life goes from complicated to controversial and, of course, nothing goes quite according to plan.
We have LGBT elements, romance elements, quad bike races, blood, bullets, kidnapping, abseiling, murder, mayhem the lot! Hopefully it won’t be too long before I get the chance to share the whole story with the world. In the mean time, enjoy this little snippet.
It was summer. The air was hot and full of moisture. On the lower levels, where the vines were thickest, the leaves spewed humidity like stale sweat. Everything smelt like living rubber, mixed with the cloying, syrupy smell of the blooms.
The vacuum panes of Rannick Reclaim HQ kept out of the worst of it, and most of the noise from the Conditioners. But I could feel the thick, wet air, heavy with the endless roar of the over-taxed appliances, pressing in behind the polyfibre like water closing in around a sinking ship.
I’d been living in Kanto for over ten years by that point. When I first arrived, I’d told myself I’d get used to it. Now, as I watched the Pruners firing lasers into the newest lengths of vine, still very far from used to it, all I told myself, over and over, was that I was surely, by now, due some luck. Overdue, even.
My hand tightened around my solder wand. I looked up from the drop into neon-studded darkness under the window to the tall, vine-free spires glinting against the skyline. I visualised, for the millionth time, or perhaps the hundred-millionth, the view from the apartments, design offices and laboratories on the topmost levels. I imagined the clear light, the cool, filtered air. I imagined the educated, wealthy, influential people that lived and worked there. Designers, engineers, splicers, commerce dealers.
I knew I’d do well there. My early tutors said I could read wires like other people read story-mags. I had learnt circuits almost before I’d learned to speak. But I was born with entirely the wrong strains. In entirely the wrong part of the world. To entirely the wrong people.
As I looked toward the spires, I, again, prayed to gods I didn’t believe in for a chance. Any chance.
Looking back, I wonder what I would now give to have never heard Li Ava’s name. To have never have heard of the original Algunac. To have never been given the opportunity to earn more yang in one job than another thirty years in salvage and repair work would have got me.
Hindsight’s a kicker, ain’t it? Though, to be fair, no one ever said otherwise.
I slammed the lid of the projector unit shut and slouched to the store room. Dropping myself in a chair and putting my feet up on the desk, I rubbed my tired face.
“Good evening, Tomioka-sama.”
I started, blinking. “For the love of…really?”
A slim, dark-haired figure stood behind me, smiling his perfect smile and bowing respectfully. “Forgive the intrusion, Tomioka-sama – ”
“I blocked you from work,” I growled, tapping keys on the info station. “I triple blocked you – ”
“ – but I have been authorised to inform you of a special deal Haku Enhancements is running at this time. For just one reasonable down-payment of ten thousand yang, you could be eligible – ”
“Quiet your hole,” I growled, scanning the code flying across the screen.
“Forgive me sir,” the holo-ad continued to croon, perfect smile unwavering, black, almond-shaped eyes shining, “but we really couldn’t let this opportunity pass you by. Your nominated requirements – ” He held out his arms and turned in a slow, circle, sending me a far-too-familiar look over his shoulder as he did so, “are within our ability to provide. All we would need would be a competitive down payment of – ”
I swore, roundly and at length, causing the genetically-enhanced me to put his fine head on one side and examine me with an indulgent smile. I took the profanity level up a notch then let out a long breath as I finally spotted the gap in my adblocker code and plugged it. The holo-ad flickered and disappeared. The room seemed dimmer somehow.
I stared at the floor where he’d stood, the image with my height, my build but with the face and hair I’d need to even think about applying for a position in the northern quarter. I felt something go out of me and dropped back into my chair, turning on the netscreen in an attempt to fill the air with something other than the absence of the hologram.
The channel was showing a serious-faced woman, with dark hair that looked real, reporting the latest on the assassination of business executive Solomon Ran-Jo. My ears pricked up briefly when they mentioned the sizeable, private reward being offered for the capture of the main suspect, but then the report turned to details of the struggle between the victim’s kazoku and the state over who had the right to his company name and gene patents, as well as his reportedly extensive and priceless collection of pre-Wrack artefacts and curiosities.
I sighed disgustedly and flicked to a backdrop channel. The image of soft clouds bumbling over a sky too blue to be real filled the screen as the soft sound of music drifted from the surround sound. I wheeled the chair over to the workbench and pulled over a half-built metric analyser. The tangible nature of the work soothed me. I didn’t exactly relax but at least the chrono ticked towards the end of the day without me thinking about throwing myself out the window from sheer frustration.
I had, in fact, almost managed to completely turn my mind away from of everything I liked most to forget, when I heard the sound of Rannick muttering in the lobby. I sighed and paced through to meet him.
“Ru,” he started, gesturing at the walls where the 360 image of peaceful woodland wobbled and flashed with white streaks. “What going on?”
“I’ve tried, sir,” I protested. “The projector needs a new image pane. I’ve re-routed the old one more times than anyone sensible would.”
“You can see the cracks,” Rannick gestured up at the ceiling where splits in the paint could be seen. A tentative finger of vine had starting to force its way through the gap.
“They’re out on the cutting frames again today, sir,” I said. “That should sort it for a while. And I managed to keep the logo focused,” I added, nodding to the bold Rannick Reclaim emblazoned in animated, red letters over the front desk.
Rannick’s glance slid to me and, to my surprise, a smile he’d obviously been trying to hide snaked its way up one side of his mouth. “Well, maybe I’ll just order us a new image pane. Maybe a whole new projector? And get ourselves our own Pruning contract whilst we’re at it.”
I frowned. “You hit your head on the flycar door, sir?”
His grin widened. “I have some news.”
I searched his face warily. “News?”
I blinked. “A commission?”
He folded his arms, hazel eyes shining. “Only the commission of the century.”
I couldn’t keep a smile forming on my own face. “What is it?”
“Our break, is what it is,” he said, smile widening. “Our big break.”
“How big, sir?” I prompted, following him into the storeroom. He opened the chill unit and started rooting around at the back.
He straightened holding up the last bottle of fruit fizz. “How does twenty thousand yang sound to you?”
I stared at him. “You sure you didn’t hit your head?”
He clicked the cap off the bottle and started pouring into plastic tea-beakers. He handed one to me. His eyes were alight. “This is the one. The one we’ve been waiting for.” He clacked his beaker off mine and swallowed down the drink in one go. “I told you, didn’t I? That we can deliver something no one else can, and that it would pay off?”
I froze, beaker against my lips, my buoyed spirits slumping like a mudslide.
“This is enough to get your eye sorted,” Rannick insisted. “Maybe enough for a deposit on your ear, too.”
“What’s the job, sir?” I didn’t whine only through the greatest effort of will. Rannick’s smile became a little strained as he re-filled his beaker. “Rannick-sama?”
“A long-haul Reclaim. A high-profile one. For Li Ava.”
I lowered the beaker. “Li Ava?”
“The very one.”
“Of the Li kazoku?”
“The very same.”
I swallowed. “But she…but they…”
“What did I tell you? This is the real deal, Ru. Not scratty Borderland retrieval or battlefield salvage.”
“What’s the package? Where’s the package?”
“Just slow down a moment.” He looked at me a moment. I kept my face neutral with an effort as I watched him bracing himself. “The Waste. Mandaal, to be precise.”
“We already did one Waste Reclaim this year,” I protested.
“Forty thousand yang, Ru.”
I tightened my grip on beaker. “Mandaal?”
“You’ve been before.”
“I remember. Vividly. It’s just…”
“I know. I don’t like it either. But just think of the money.”
“Sir – ” I started, but Rannick put his beaker down with a clack and folded his arms. A little hardness had crept into this round, friendly face. “This is what we do,” he said firmly. “This is what we offer that other salvage companies can’t. This is what is earning us the biggest payout of our career.”
I rubbed my good eye. “But it’s not that simple is it?” I tried, desperately. “We’re broke, Rannick-sama. What about prep? Supplies? All the yang in the world won’t be any help if we never make it back because we can’t afford decent transports or desert gear. And the inoculations have gone up in price this last quarter too, I know for a fact.”
Rannick’s smile was easy. “Li’s forwarding us all expense monies in advance.”
I blinked again. “She’s what?”
I stared at him. “What exactly does she want us to retrieve?”
The guarded look came into his face again. He fiddled with the control for the netscreen. “Well…that’s part of the catch.”
“What is part of the catch? And how many parts does the catch have?”
“Two,” he said, sliding me a look, tapping his lips then adding quietly: “I think.”
I dropped myself back in my chair and took a moment to martial myself. “I’m listening.”
“The first part of the catch is…I don’t know what she wants us to Reclaim.”
“You don’t know?”
“They wouldn’t tell me over the comm.”
“Blood and sand, sir. How do we plan anything?”
“Well, that brings me to the second part of the catch.”
“Which is?” I asked slowly.
He levelled me with another frank look. “She wants to meet you.”
“Me? What the hell for?” Rannick’s face fell slightly and I ducked my head. “Sorry, sir. I just don’t understand.”
For one of the first times in the seven years I’d known him, Rannick looked distinctly uncomfortable. “She’s heard you’re from there.”
I felt my jaw tighten. Blood rushed to my face. I took a moment to control my voice. “She heard…?”
“Ru – ”
“Sir, I’m not from the Waste.” I stood, feeling hot all over. “You know I’m not.”
“I know that. But she doesn’t. And you look enough like it to get away with it.”
Blood thundered in my ears. What I was thinking must have showed on my face because he held up his hands.
“I don’t want to hurt your feelings, Ru, but let’s look at the facts. You speak the language. You’re the right size. You look like one.”
“I…” I couldn’t continue. Anger choked me.
“Look,” Rannick insisted, putting a hand on my shoulder. It was warm and he tightened it there for a moment, leaning in to look me in the eye, his lined, fine face filled with a warm earnestness that always worked on me. Damn him. “I know you’ve never liked it, but you can’t deny it. Especially not now, when you’ve been given the chance to make it work for you for once. For us.”
“Why does where I’m from make a damn bit of difference?” I managed to get out.
“I get the feeling she thinks only one of their own stands a chance of getting anywhere near the package.”
I frowned again. “I would struggle to get near Mandaal again,” I said, suppressing a shudder. “You know that, sir.”
“I’m sure you can do it. So is she. She’s some sort of expert on Waster history.” He either didn’t notice or didn’t care about me flinching at the word. “And she knows what she needs. Apparently that’s you.”
“If she’s that much of an expert she’ll be able to spot I’m not native.”
“Of course she won’t.”
“They have white hair.”
“So do you, under the dye. They shave theirs, anyway. You could – ”
“Sorry, sir, but I’m not shaving my hair.”
“Fine. But otherwise…you’ve got the skin, the eyes, all of it.”
“You’ve seen real Wasters, Cheng. You know – ”
“A layman’s eye, though,” he cut in, voice a little harder. I kicked myself for using his given name this moment of all moments.
“She’s not a layman, sir,” I said, carefully.
“This argumentative streak is not attractive, you know.”
I held his gaze, biting me tongue, feeling heat flush my face again.
“Don’t be offended,” he said, in a gentler tone. “At least, no more than you already are. But, honestly…anyone Tai would struggle to spot the difference between you and a born-and-bred Waster.”
“Seriously, sir?” I burst out, more desperate than angry now. “This is agreed to?”
“Nothing set in stone. Not until she’s met you.”
“One look at me and she’ll know.”
“We’ve got a week. Dig out some traditional clothing, research some customs. Who cares if you weren’t born there? We’ll pretend you were, do the job and walk away with her money. Isn’t that what we always do?”
I chewed on my thumbnail and stared at the floor.
“Please. Ru. Pretend you’re a Waster, for one meeting. Would that be so bad?”
I looked up. My throat was on its way to closing. “Can I think about it, sir?”
It wasn’t what he wanted to hear. He was regarding me with a mix of annoyance and regret. “Ok, Ru. I can’t do this without you, you know that. Take tonight. But don’t think too hard. You could talk yourself out of something that could change everything.”
I nodded, stiffly, staring at his boots. He patted me on the shoulder again and strode past me. I heard him shutting the power down in the lobby. The room dimmed as the projector powered down, the image of the forest vanishing completely to leave the cracked, white walls bear.
I sat at the work desk and prodded at the metric analyser blindly as Rannick activated the security systems and locked the stock chamber.
“Don’t work too late.”
I didn’t answer. My temper was still fluttering too close to the surface.
“Hey…Ru?” His voice was different. I glanced up. He was at the doorway with his bag. The familiar lines of his face under the straight, brown hair were set in an expression that was almost apologetic. “You…do you wanna come over tonight?”
I blinked. I must have looked truly pathetic. The small rush I felt in my belly at the idea made me feel even more so. Rannick and I hadn’t spent a night together in…months. Nearly a year. Over a year, even? He was seeing a woman, I knew he was. He’d even talked about getting Verified, and I had the impression it wasn’t just for the repo funding. I wouldn’t compromise that for him, no matter what either of us was feeling.
I forced a smile. “Nah, you’re ok sir. I’ve got some work to do at my place. But…thanks.”
His smile was warm but the flicker of relief I saw in his eyes hurt more than it should. He left, whistling, and I was alone.