Blade Runner’s Video Room Scene: Can it be better?

I’m obsessed with Blade Runner. It continues to be one of my favorite movies and the Final Cut stands the test of time 40 years later. It’s one of the great stories in science fiction. Some say it’s the perfect movie, and I’d be hard pressed to disagree.

And yet.

There are a couple niggles. One in particular has always bothered me. It’s the “Video Room” scene, where Bryant and Deckard are viewing video of the four escaped replicants. The screen writer falls into exposition to explain things to the viewer but the problem is the characters are discussing things they already know well. It’s awkward, and makes what follows the exposition weak.

Here’s a short clip of the pertinent part of the scene:

There are two issues the screen writer was addressing here:

  1. Replicants have a 4-year lifespan
  2. The life span was to protect against replicants developing their own emotional responses – and thus becoming too human.

The problem is that Deckard was already one of the best Blade Runners. The whole reason he’s brought to Bryant by Gaff in scene two at the White Dragon Noodle Bar is because Holden failed to bring in Leon.

He’s [Holden] not good enough, not as good as you. I need you, Deck. This is a bad one, the worse yet. I need the old bladerunner, I need your magic.


If Deckard had brought replicants in previously, and he had the “magic,” then he already knows about points 1 and 2. But I understand the need to get these two pieces of information to the audience. This is something that can be very tricky to write.

I took a crack at a rewrite to accomplish the following:

  1. Get across the points about life span and emotions.
  2. Establish concern these four may be developing emotions since they are close to the end of their lives. If they have, they are more human-like and dangerous harder to bring in.
  3. Set up Deckard for why he is going to Tyrell to put the Nexus 6 on the Voight-Kampff machine.
  4. Explain why Deckard would worry the machine won’t work on the Nexus 6.

The scene is quite short to read. I’ve listed the background chatter of Holden interviewing Leon as a placeholder.

Original Scene

[Leon/Holden VO in background]

Bryant: There was an escape from the off-world colonies two weeks ago. Six replicants, three male, three female. They slaughtered twenty-three people and jumped a shuttle. An aerial patrol spotted the ship off the coast. No crew, no sight of them. Three nights ago they tried to break into Tyrell Corporation. One of them got fried running through an electrical field. We lost the others. On the possibility they might try to infiltrate his employees, I had Holden go over and run Voight-Kampff tests on the new workers. Looks like he got himself one.

[Leon/Holden VO in background]

Deckard: I don't get it. What do they risk coming back to earth for? That's unusual. Why--what do they want from the Tyrell Corporation?

Bryant: Well you tell me pal, that's what you're here for.

Deckard: [funny look]. [pause] What's this?

Bryant: Nexus 6. Roy Batty. Incept date 2016. Combat model. Optimum self-sufficiency. Probably the leader. This is Zhora. She's trained for an off-world kick-murder squad. Talk about beauty and the beast, she's both. The fourth skin job is Pris. A basic pleasure model. The standard item for military clubs in the outer colonies. They were designed to copy human beings in every way except their emotions. The designers reckoned that after a few years they might develop their own emotional responses. You know, hate, love, fear, envy. So they built in a fail-safe device.

Deckard: Which is what?

Bryant: Four year life span.

Bryant: Now there's a Nexus 6 over at the Tyrell Corporation. I want you to go put the machine on it.

Deckard: And if the machine doesn't work?

As noted above, Deckard seems unaware of the life span and emotional issues (or they are being needlessly stated), and it’s a little confusing why he is going to Tyrell to test a Nexus 6.

Let’s take a look at my revised scene. The changes are in red.

Revised Scene

[Leon/Holden VO in background]

Bryant: There was an escape from the off-world colonies two weeks ago. Six replicants, three male, three female. They slaughtered twenty-three people and jumped a shuttle. An aerial patrol spotted the ship off the coast. No crew, no sight of them. Three nights ago they tried to break into Tyrell Corporation. One of them got fried running
through an electrical field. We lost the others. On the possibility they might try to infiltrate his employees, I had Holden go over and run Voight-Kampff tests on the new workers. Looks like he got himself one.

[Leon/Holden VO in background]

Deckard: I don't get it. What do they risk coming back to earth for? That's unusual. Why--what do they want from the Tyrell Corporation?

Bryant: Well you tell me pal, that's what you're here for.

Deckard: [funny look]. [pause] What's this?

Bryant: Nexus 6. Roy Batty. Incept date 2016. Combat model. Optimum self-sufficiency. Probably the leader. This is Zhora. She's trained for an off-world kick-murder squad. Talk about beauty and the beast, she's both. The fourth skin job is Pris. A basic pleasure model. The standard item for military clubs in the outer colonies. 

Deckard: Incept date of 2016... they’re near the end of their four year life span. These replicants are supposed to be copies of human beings in every way except for their emotions. They way this group is acting... 

Bryant: Tyrell worried replicants might develop their own emotional responses. Hate, love, fear, envy. You think these have? 

Deckard: Maybe. They’re dying and desperate. If they've developed emotions, they'll appear as much human as replicant. They’re not going to be easy to find. Or bring in.

Bryant: That’s why your next stop is the Tyrell Corporation. They’ve got a Nexus 6 over there. I want you to go put the machine on it. Maybe it’ll give you the edge you need.

Deckard: And if the machine doesn't work?

In my revised version, Deckard uses his knowledge of the life span and their emotion to reflect on their odd behavior – which he’d already commented on earlier in the scene (why are that going to Tyrell?)

Bryant states (instead of tells) Deckard something they both know–the designers were worried about emotions evolving in replicants. Then he guesses at Deckard’s concern. Have these replicants developed emotion?

Deckard notes the possibility combined with being close to their deaths as problems in finding them and bringing them in. They may act very close to humans. And THAT is why Bryant wants Deckard to go to Tyrell and test out the Nexus 6. Maybe it will give him an edge, some insight he can use.

Finally, it makes sense then for Deckard to question what happens if the machine doesn’t work.

What do you think?

It’s a little presumptuous for me to set out to improve a science fiction classic, right? But I think this works. What do you think?

Creative Inspiration: The Company Wars worlds of C.J. Cherryh

My first inspiration to write came from reading amazing books, most notably, Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. I’m sure I’m not alone! It makes sense that no matter what creative outlet you enjoy, the masters of that craft serve as inspiration. We want to be like them, right? Early attempts to forge ahead (especially when we’re young) often end up as (poorly done) copies. But that’s how many of us began.

In the science fiction world, few authors have been more inspiring to me than C.J. Cherryh. One of the first books I read of hers was Rimrunners, the story of a space marine who ends up on a “spook” ship hunting her old comrades.

This was one of the first books I returned to for a re-read during the lockdown, and it was just as enjoyable as ever. I can’t recommend her Company Wars series books enough. But what is it about this book that is so inspiring?

I took 3 lessons away:

  1. Few authors have made me feel like I was truly on a space faring ship. Without over explaining or excessive detail, Cherryh makes you intimately familiar with a space faring experience. I learned to give readers just enough good information to help them feel immersed in my world.
  2. A strong female lead. I learned from a woman writer how to write a strong woman, and It’s not about having her carry guns and kicking ass. Bet Yeager makes her own choices without a man to lead her around or influence her. She stands on her own. And her character leads with her personality, needs and conflicts–not her looks.
  3. Keep it moving. Once a Cherryh story gets going, the tension never lets up. Even in moments of retrospection or breaks in action, the story moves forward to the final conflict. Besides feeling real and being complex and interesting, the books are real page turners and great fun to read.

Also, I highly recommend the Company Wars books. A great start is Posted in Blog, Creative InspirationLeave a Comment on Creative Inspiration: The Company Wars worlds of C.J. Cherryh

Where do ideas come from? 10 Techniques to get you writing.

Every writer gets asked the age old question “Where do your ideas come from?” It’s easy to either discard the question as impossible to answer or to lob the easy answer “everyone is different.” Maybe because it’s not an easy question to answer without a lot of self reflection and effort. 

I decided to give the question some serious thought and come up with 10 techniques you can use right away to help you come up with ideas. Some of them could be whole articles on their own, but I’ve tried to give you enough to get started. There’s nothing here revolutionary, but each one is a good piece of a larger strategy that has worked for me all my life. 

1: Reading

Stephen King said “If you want to be a writer, read a lot and write a lot.” He’s a pretty good guy to listen to, and that quote has techniques #1 and #10 in it. Everything you consume during your life is raw material for a writer. Ideas beget ideas and stories beget stories. Your brain works associatively. It’s really good at taking one thing and morphing it into another, or combining it with something else. 

Reading excites your imagination. You exercise your brain by picturing things how they might be in real life (see #7), and you learn to do that with your own ideas. When you see what other writers are writing it can spur you to your own ideas. Vampires became very popular at one point. Justin Cronin came along and rewrote the vampire story in a very different way. He took something that existed and made it his own.

While you do want to read the genre in which you want to write (because you should be very familiar with it and it helps to know what’s out there) don’t limit yourself. Good ideas come from mixing things up. Read from genres you wouldn’t normally pick up. Read fiction and non-fiction. Read widely, and then read deeply. Fun books are great, but dig into serious topics, too. Psychology and philosophy are incredibly useful topics to help you understand how we as humans behave. The more you know about humans, the better writer you’ll be. 

2: Life Experience

The truth is, you’re already full of ideas. You have both unique experiences and those common to the human condition–and both are important. Pay close attention to the events of your life as they unfold. Ask yourself why they happened. What motivated that person to act in such a way? Why did some organization do the thing they did? How did your recent argument/trip/date/work experience affect you? Real experiences are a great source of ideas, especially because people can identify with them. And they don’t have to be your life experiences, either. (See #5) 

3: Intellectual Inspiration

I’m using the term intellectual as in “given to study, reflection, and speculation.” What interests you? I’m very interested in artificial intelligences and where technology is taking humanity. I’m also deeply interested in human psychology and philosophy. Whatever your interest, find ways to increase your knowledge of those subjects. As you do this, you’ll find you are opened up to parallel or complementary fields or topics, and you can dig into those. Podcasts, TED talks, YouTube videos and documentaries are all good ways to feed these interests. Everything you learn (even a new skill related to work) might be an important input into a story idea.

As you learn about new things, they become possibilities for any and all ideas you have. Your new knowledge becomes another lens to view things through. The more of these lenses you have, the more varied and interesting your ideas.

4: Movies

I’ve read writers who disagree here, but to me there’s not such a great difference between reading a book and taking in a movie. A movie (or a good streaming series) is quickly consumed, and you can take in more of them in a shorter amount of time. Even with movies that aren’t particularly good, you can take away interesting ideas. Since movies start with a writer producing a script, you can also read the screenplays. Movies have to move along much quicker than a book. There’s an economy of story that has to take place. How did they do it? Why did they do it that way? Think about the emotional impact produced by scenes in the movie. Why did they affect you that way? What inspired you? What disgusted you? 

In particular, indie or small budget movies often tell very interesting stories that can be inspiring. The movie Moon starring Sam Rockwell (spoilers ahead) deals with an energy collection base on the Moon that is staffed by clones – except they don’t know their clones. How might you construct a similar concept where a person is living their life completely unaware of a critical piece of information, that when they learn it, shatters their world?

5: Conversations

People live amazing lives. Make an effort to sit down with people and have a conversation, and really listen to their stories. Not only will you learn interesting things, but you’ll hear viewpoints that are different from your own. It’s good to know how other people think instead of always reinforcing your own beliefs and positions. It will be difficult for you to write varied and interesting characters if you are only aware of your own small worldview. So don’t just sit down with your close circle of friends. Have coffee with someone at work that holds opposing views. Talk to a friend of a friend you don’t know at all. Speak with that weird neighbor you’ve been avoiding. He might be weird for a really good reason.

6: Meditation

I’m not talking about the mindfulness practice, but rather the idea of “continued or extended thought; reflection; contemplation.” Thinking is something of a lost art in modern society where we’re always filling our time with activities or media. To meditate on something means to retreat within yourself and really contemplate. Let’s take general artificial intelligence as an example. What might that look like when it has free reign in a human-like body? How would two such entities interact? You can contemplate an idea like this for some time. When you start thinking something through, questions naturally arise that will lead you in other directions–often directions you had no intention of pursuing. This is incredibly helpful in generating new ideas beyond what you normally think about.

7: Mental Iterations or Daydreaming

This might be my favorite technique (See The Idea Walk: Grow the Seeds of a Great Idea) Let’s say you have an idea, or even a scene in mind. I like to begin this process by taking a walk, but I’ve done it in the shower, while mowing the lawn, while exercising and even driving (careful with that one!) This is thinking again, but it’s thinking directionally. What will happen if my hero does this thing? Play the scene in your mind–literally daydream about it–play it as a movie in your own head. What would it look like? You come to something you don’t like. Change it. Play it again. Better? Good, what’s next? You need a good 15 minutes at least to do this right. A good long walk, say 60-90 minutes, is great for really sorting out ideas. I wrote my whole novel using this as a primary technique to sort out ideas.

8: Understanding Story

It helps to get a little academic and know about the nuts and bolts of story construction. Learn about the hero’s journey and the monomyth. Explore The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. Learn about Jungian archetypes. Dig up Pixar’s 22 rules of storytelling. Dig into ancient myth and fairy tales and examine how they were written. All these things are tools to help craft and generate ideas. For example, take the rule “You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.” That might lead you to think of a character who is a local hero not because he has ever succeeded at anything, but because he tries harder than everyone. What kind of town is it? What is he trying to do? Now you move to the Daydreaming technique and start working it out.

9: Understand Yourself

What are the things you want in life? What part of your life is currently unfulfilled–or completely satisfactory? What has made you happy, angry or sad lately? Any answer you give to these questions is common to the human experience. Using meditation, dig into yourself and really contemplate some of these questions. What if something were to change? What if you were to suffer a loss–or a windfall? What if you got what you actually wanted–but you’ve changed from when you first wanted it? Thought experiments like these lead you down paths you would not normally walk and are great for generating ideas. 

10: Writing

Lastly, the very act of writing might be one of the best ways to come up with ideas. It sounds counterintuitive, especially because some writers are daunted by the white page. But this is what “discovery” or “straight ahead” writing is all about. Take an idea from a thought experiment and start writing. Where might this character go or what might he do? It’s a combination of thinking about it and writing down what comes to mind and repeating the process. It’s going to be messy and that’s perfectly fine. Because as you start stringing these ideas together, the story you are building creates new possibilities. The more you write, the more raw material you have to add to and modify. Eventually you’ll edit and delete things or rewrite them completely. When all else fails and you think you are stuck, sit down and start writing on the first thing that comes to mind. Look out your window. You see a rabbit chased by a squirrel–that’s the start of your story. Why is the squirrel chasing a rabbit? It’s up to you!

I hope I’ve shown you that ideas don’t just manifest themselves out of nothing. They are part of who you are, what you think and how you live. The techniques here will help you engage with that and pull out the great ideas that are just waiting to come out.

Pick a technique here that’s new to you and try it out. Let me know how it works for you!

A Personal Tome

Adrien stepped away from the Bentley to marvel at the small but elegant bookshop as his driver shut the door. 

“Shall I wait, sir?” asked the driver, a young man completely defined by his oversized chauffeur’s uniform. He could have been anyone. 

“No,” replied Adrien, fingering the invitation in his left hand. “Pick up my dry cleaning and return  by seven thirty. We’re expected uptown by eight.”

The driver nodded, already forgotten by his charge as he quickly re-entered the dark gray Mulsanne and sped off.

The man remained standing at the curb of an unknown but posh district of the city. He’d never been here before, even though he’d grown up in the exclusive penthouses overlooking the waters and parks of the metropolis.

He was impeccably dressed in a charcoal suit with wide peak lapels, black calf leather double monk shoes and burgundy tie. In his right hand dangled a forgotten cigarillo as he pondered the situation, an ash worm slowly bending toward the sidewalk in despair.

How had he never known about this place?

He raised the invitation to a pale, clean shaven face with hazel eyes. It was printed on what could only be hand-made paper, dyed a deep rich red. Golden foil lettering raised up to meet his finger as it brushed across the rough but pleasant surface. The single-sided invitation had a short, simple message:

Ceartas Books
Requests the pleasure of your company
For the presentation of your personal tome
In appreciation
Thursday, April 13th
Tea and presentation at 7 p.m.
622A Stormwater Blvd. 

He’d never heard of the place. When he shared the invite with his social circle, nearly all pleaded ignorance and feigned disinterest as envy attempted to hide on their faces. Only Jude claimed he’d heard rumors of an exclusive affair that catered to the elite. 

Then again, Jude was a liar.

He returned to the invitation. The wording was so odd. A personal tome? In appreciation? Appreciation of what?

Adrien looked up from the invite to the facade of the bookstore. It mirrored the richness of the paper. The narrow storefront stood apart regally from its neighbors. The deep red paneling of the storefront was bordered by rich mahogany trim. A large window of leaded glass with gold lettering stated “Ceartas” in arched gothic lettering. The entrance was a single ornate gilded door with an old fashioned crystal knob. Above an open transom were the gold numbers 622A.

He stepped closer to the large window. The glass had a mirroring effect. The reflection of his dark hair created a hole in which he could see flickering candlelight. 

He turned to look up and down the block. Aside from a cab waiting at the curb some ways uptown, it was strangely deserted for the early evening. Adrien shrugged off any misgivings, flicked the remains of his cigarillo away and stepped to the door. He was acting the weak-minded fool. He was here and his time was valuable. He refused to waste any more time here than necessary. 

He extended his hand to turn the knob and entered the shop. 

Immediately the scent of an unfamiliar spice acquainted itself. It was not unpleasant. The interior was narrow, as the outer facade suggested, and the undersmell of wood permeated the air. The candlelight he’d observed through the window resolved itself as flickering white candles in ornate sconces on the walls. Surprisingly there was no front desk or checkout terminal. Two red leather chairs, heavily grained and studded with gold sat at angles to the front door like door wardens watching for visitors. 

But the dominating feature were two floor to ceiling bookcases extending the length of of the store, ending in a wall of rich dark paneling with a red door. Each bookshelf bore intricate scrolled trimwork and was filled with rows of leather bound books. Each book was made of the same dark red leather lettered and trimmed in gold. He wasn’t yet close enough to read the titles. 

Down the aisle between the two bookcases hung dim candelabra, and below each was a small round table with three legs ending in carven clawed feet. A single red rose in a white vase sat atop each table. 

Just as he began to look for a bell or some means of calling for help, the red door in the far wall opened and out walked a short, brownish man in a white tuxedo. His gray hair ws cropped close to his skull and his large nose protruded in sharp contrast to his small, narrow bright green eyes. He carried a small gold tray on which sat a steaming cup of tea. 

Adrien didn’t know what to make of any of it. If the atmosphere wasn’t so refined (you don’t see a man in a white tuxedo with a gold serving tray every day) he’d likely be up in arms about the strangeness of it all. Hell, he’d fired executives for less. But he had no more time to consider, as the  small man approached and made the slightest of bows. 

“Mr. Hamilton,” said the man with a smile. “Six fifty-eight! Thank you for being punctual. Tea?”

It was at this point that Adrien’s normal temperament returned. It was early evening and time for martinis and shots. Tea? This was starting to look to be a waste of his precious time. 

“I don’t want tea, thank you very much. And I am not used to people playing games with my ti…”

“Apologies,” said the yet unnamed man. He set the platter on a small side table near one of the red chairs that Adrien would have sworn was not there a moment ago. “I can assure you this is no game. I am Mr. Yalden. I will be happy to bestow upon you the honor of your t—”

Yalden?” interrupted Adrien. “You’re not Ceartas?”

The man tilted his head and smiled. “An easy assumption to make. No, that is the store itself,” he said as he gestured around to the narrow space.

Adrien’s watch chimed. He glanced down then tilted his wrist to dismiss the message. 

“I’m a busy man,” replied Adrien. “I accepted the invitation out of curiosity, especially since I have errands to run in the area. But I don’t like having my time wasted. What’s all this about a tome?

The small man performed an obsequious bow. “I completely understand, Mr. Hamilton. I was merely following protocol, but I can get straight to the point.” He gestured to one of the red chairs with a smile. “Please have a seat. Our arrangement shall take up no more than a quarter hour, and I think you’ll be pleased. The honor that is mine to bestow is only given to a select few.”

Somewhat mollified, Adrien grunted and looked closer at the nearest bookshelf. He could read some of the titles of the first few books. One that stood out had a longish title:

Her Proclivity to Revel in the Reduction of Humanity 

What kind of book was that? There was no publisher imprint or author name that he could see. 

Might as well get this over with, he thought. He unbuttoned his suit jacket, turned and slowly sat in the regal chair. It was quite comfortable. 

Yalden put his hands together and moved to the center of the aisle to face Adrien. He began a formal and well prepared address. 

“Mr. Adrien Hamilton,” he said. “The tomes collected here are made up of the most influential and powerful moguls, aristocrats and Brahmans of the last millenium. Only those who satisfy very certain requirements are invited to participate in Ceartas.”

The wording of the little speech felt sort of odd, but Adrien couldn’t quite put his finger on what. Regardless, he wished the man would get to the point. Soon his car would be back with his dry cleaning, and he had important business tonight. Dark business. In fact this place had just the right sort of character for his clandestine evening dealings. He ought to look into buying the building. 

He returned his attention to Yalden, who carried on. “Your affairs became known to the board of regents, who after due consideration of your exploits deemed it only appropriate to extend our invitation to have you honored for posterity.”

More odd phrasing. What kind of place was this? 

“What affairs?” asked Adrien, becoming suspicious. “And what do you mean by exploits?” He was sure nobody affiliated with this odd little place knew anything of his real affairs. In fact, it would likely be disastrous for them if they had. “I’m not sure I like the tone of your speech little man,” he said as he moved forward to the edge of the seat, fixing a keen eye on Yalden—a look that generally sent men and women to trembling. But the little man only smiled and performed an odd sweeping gesture in return. 

“We do not mean to offend in any manner,” replied Yalden. “Please wait,” he said raising a hand as Adrien frowned and was about to stand. “Your moment is now at hand. Come, let us begin the presentation of your tome.”

The little man stood back and uttered a short phrase:

testis iustitia.”

As soon as the words left the man’s mouth, Adrien felt a warmth in his arms that quickly became a strong irritant. It was like a lingering severe sunburn. He attempted to scratch his arms through his suit jacket but it had little effect. He quickly stood, alarmed and angry. 

“What are you up to you foolish little man?” he spat as he took off his suit jacket and tossed it on the chair.

Yalden’s smile had disappeared entirely. His head was tilted and his small green eyes were distant. He shook his head slowly. “One might have asked you the same question, Mr. Hamilton.”

The irritation on Adrien’s arms had become unbearable, and suddenly he had no attention to spare. He undid gold cufflinks and yanked up his sleeves. What he saw there was so unbelievable he momentarily forgot his pain and had wondered if he’d suffered a mental breakdown.

His skin had begun to peel in large sheets. Jagged fragments flipped up like wet pages that had dried in the sun and were disturbed when he’d pulled up his sleeves. On each fragment were words etched in red ink. 

Avarice. Oppression. Extortion

Before his eyes, sheets of skin began to layer upon one other as more and more words surfaced.

Hater. Inveigler. Ingrate.

The pain returned and became excruciating. He wanted to scratch, but feared the sheets of skin would detach themselves from his burning limbs. Worse, the burning had now spread to his legs, his neck, his back—his face

Yalden indicated the wall behind him, nonplussed and seemingly unsurprised about the unfolding situation.

Adrien turned wildly and saw a gilded mirror. Another item he failed to notice. He stumbled to the wall, tearing at his shirt, exposing sheets of skin between broken buttons while his collar obstinately remained closed and secured by his tie. 

In the mirror he saw great sheets of skin hanging off his neck. If that weren’t alarming enough, his cheeks had curled and raised, exposing his now open mouth to the air. Words appeared on the slats of his cheek and face.

Liar. Contemptuous. Sneering.

He couldn’t scream. His voice was trapped in his throat as the flesh of his body swelled and peeled. Hair fell in clumps to the floor. 

Yalden moved toward him, pity on his face. “It won’t be long now,” he murmured. 

Adrien’s clothing disintegrated off his body and his muscle became exposed as great sheets of skin fell to the ground. The muscle quickly dried and mimicked the process of peeling off as red sheets of fine leather. Adrien fell to the ground, no longer resembling the man he was moments before. The items that had fallen off his body were now assembling themselves on the floor, as if they had a mind of their own. 

Exposed bone disintegrated and formed a fine golden powder, spiraling in the current of local mayhem. Adrien’s eyes were the last piece of his exterior consciousness to witness the awful truth before they liquefied.

A breeze gently picked up, flowing down the center aisle and rattling the fine chandeliers. The sheets and red leather continued to self-organize, stacking and assembling in quick succession. The fine golden bone powder mixed with the gelatin of the man’s eyes to form a golden ink which flowed gracefully around the new tome that was now nearly assembled. 

The cover attached itself and pages compressed neatly. Gold stitching appeared and the golden ink applied itself to the spine and cover. In a moment, the wind had ceased and the tome sat silently on the carpeted floor below the mirror. 

Yalden sighed, stooped and picked up the tome. He walked down the aisle and arrived at the “H” section where he found an open slot and carefully slid the new tome into place. He stepped back and read the title of the new tome:

His Desire to See Them Debased

The little man brushed dust off his suit and walked back to the front of the store to look down at the pile of clothing. He made a small, circular gesture and the clothing folded in upon itself, disappearing. 

Satisfied, Yalden looked up at the clock. It was seven fifteen. He nodded to himself. He knew the driver would return to find the store vacant and the city block returned to its more ordinary state of hustle and bustle. 

He stepped outside and looked down an entirely different street in a city nearly halfway across the world. 

She was due to arrive in fourteen minutes.

Stinger: Chapter 1 Draft

This is a rough draft of Chapter 1 of my upcoming short story Stinger.

Jimi awoke abruptly with the horrifying falling sensation that most hooshers experienced on a daily basis. The scattered remnants of horror-inducing nightly terrors clawed at the edge of consciousness. He flailed around for a moment trying to get his bearings, then banged his head into the side of the shipping container.

But of course, he remembered.

He was hiding out in an abandoned shipping container on the lower deck known as “purgatory” of the Sol United warship Canopus. Also known as “Deck G,” purgatory contained warehouses, kitchens, social services, sundry shops and a few pubs. It also contained civilian housing for the many non-military personnel. In short, there were plenty of nooks and crannies typical of a large warship in which one could get lost.

Purgatory achieved its moniker from the soldiers who visited the drinking establishments. It wasn’t only the quality of the spirits that made one feel like they were suffering the punishments of the mythical realm, but also the results of said indulgences. “Purging in purgatory” was the answer to the oft-asked question “Why did so-and-so miss morning muster?”

Jimi groaned. His fears were already rising within, trying to creep into focus. His blurry vision obscured his surroundings in the dim light and he squinted to make sense of it. A tattered blanket, various articles of decaying garbage, empty hooshcaps and a few rodent skeletons for good measure. A larger shape huddled in a protective posture in the opposite corner. He had no idea who it was.

Empty containers were often left for days in the corridors. They were often used by those who were sleeping off some ill-advised indulgence and other criminal activities. Sol United MPs continually fought a losing battle to clear them out. Star class warships were practically flying cities and war with the Andromedans occupied most of their time.

Jimi sat up and felt a sudden urge to vomit—another byproduct of his addiction. He grabbed for something to steady himself, but there was only the subdark of the empty container and he fell painfully to his knees. Muttering, he crawled toward the door which was slightly ajar, leaking in weak light. He took care not to disturb the shadowed hump whose shape slowly expanded and contracted in unconsciousness.

His hand closed on the hooshcap he had discarded last night before he fell into a stupor. He shook it but knew it would be empty. He was far too gone to be so reckless as to leave a remnant of the good stuff in a cap.

Last night he’d spent the last of his units to buy hoosh instead of using the money for a meal—meager though it would have been. He knew he needed food. It was a bad sign. Addicts that started trading meals for hoosh were dubbed “gravers,” as in “engraving your headstone.” So decreed Benja the Wise, patron saint of hooshers. She had engraved hers years ago after dispensing pithy, oft-repeated phrases that only addicts would consider wisdom.

Jimi habitually looked down at his holoband on his wrist, but that had been sold—two weeks ago. Oddly enough, disconnecting from the SatNet had ejected him from his last tenuous link to life on the ship. He now shambled among the ghouls and ghosts in purgatory, practically invisible to those who continued to participate in their own lives.

Having no idea what time (or even what day) it was, he slowly poked his head out of the container. Not only was Jimi a “shipper,”—a junkie who took up hiding in shipping containers—he was also AWOL. When he was finally caught by the MPs—and he knew it would be when and not if—he would be prosecuted and likely deported to some backwater country on Earth, or worse, the penal colony in Eres belt.

Of course, that would only be if he lived that long. On his current trajectory, all bets were off. Jimi snorted to himself. What would be worse? Living in constant terror of his fears to which no amount of counseling or drugs seemed to assuage, or life in a penal colony? He wasn’t honestly sure.

Finding the corridor deserted and quiet, he stepped out into the sterile light and winced at the stab in his head. He also became aware of at least two new bodily pains of which the origins to him were unclear. He looked left toward the nearest intersection, leading back toward people who likely could get him what he needed, and felt a pang of shame.

Meanwhile, silently in the cold vacuum, an Andromedan strike vessel glided toward the Canopus in stealth mode.

Kill Switch

Illustration by Richard Johnson – @richardjohnsonart

Selena tumbled out of control beyond the orbital plane of Titan as remnants of her mining ship hurtled by. Her terror in the chaotic silence only punctuated by her ragged breathing.

This is how she dies.

Her suit had been damaged in the hurried ejection right before the engine core went critical. Coms were dead. Her oxygen tank was damaged. The only thing a rescue team might track would be her dead body floating toward the sun.

She looked at the wrist display. 187 seconds of oxygen left.

Three minutes to live.

How does one come to sudden grips of what a life could have been, ultimately was and then accept its end in such a short time?

A sound that could only be described as a “warble” carried through her helmet. Startled, she looked around frantically as Titan circled around her visor. There was a blind spot behind her, and debris was still threatening her already short existence, but she could not account for the sound.

159 seconds.

What had it been? It was like nothing she ever heard. Had the shock and loss she felt traumatized her mind? She was already shaking from the prospect of choking to death—if some sharp piece of wreckage doesn’t impale her first.

“Alpha Tango Jaguar forty-five,” she said unsteadily, “unlock kill switch.” Would it still be functional? She wasn’t sure how badly the suit was damaged.

There was a low chime. “To enable kill switch, please confirm,” replied the suit.

She paused. She had to. “Confirm.”

“Kill switch enabled.”

117 seconds.

At least she wouldn’t die in pain, then. A quick injection. She would need to give the command before she began choking. She looked at Titan as a support beam cartwheeled by, just missing her. It was a beautiful planet.

89 seconds.

The warble came again. What the hell was it? She turned herself around every which way but she was alone in the vacuum of space.

It had to be in her mind. She breathed deeply. Get calm. This is it. Make peace, you knew this could happen.

56 seconds.

This was as calm as she was going to get. But she could accept this. Had to accept it. She took another deep breath. James would understand. She’d miss him a lot.

27 seconds.

Almost time. What should be the last thing she sees? She looked beyond Titan to see a star brighter than anything else in her field of vision. She couldn’t know which one, tumbling the way she was, but she tried to focus on it. It was beautiful.

10 seconds. It’s time.

The warble came again. She’d never know what it was. She opened her mouth to give the command.

Then something knocked on her visor, startling her. Her eyes opened wide.