The Portable Vibe

Every so often I take a look at the phone that seems to be universally in my pocket – as though it’s some sort of symbiote lifeform that can only exist when attached to me – and wonder how it came to be there. It’s hard to remember at what point the phone ceased to be a tool, a thing that I thought to look for whenever I had a call to make or a haphazard, press three times to get c, text message to send.

But, like the caterpillar to the butterfly, the phone has metamorphosed from a hear-and-there curiosity to an indispensable part of our ecosystem, pollinating our days with endless information dust. 

This, it may not surprise you, fiction ramifications. Reading on one’s phone is getting increasingly popular, and before you stop me and say no, sir, I will not be reading Anna Karenina on my Google Whatsitbot 9000, I must add that this is not our forefather’s reading. At least in my opinion, and apparently in several others as well, mobile fiction’s proliferation is a different art form.

You can slap a novel onto a phone. I’ve tried it. I’m still doing it: you can snag one of my novels on ibooks and read the whole darn thing on the subway, in the air, or waiting for that date to get to the restaurant (they’re not coming, might as well drink all the wine yourself). 

But! Much like a bike is not the optimal way to traverse an interstate, a phone may not be the optimal way to read a literary hulk. Instead, consider the few minutes here and few minutes there you’re prompted to take out that buzzy little device and read it. Are you like me and do you spend that time ruthlessly scanning familiar corners of the interwebs looking for dopamine hits?

What if, instead, you took that time and dove into a quick little tail with familiar folks? What if you let yourself get sucked away from your office’s dry tedium and into 500 words of random entertainment? 

I’m not hinting at anything here. I’m also not not hinting at it. 

Anyway, new chapters drop today around the webs. STARSHOT Wednesdays, I believe it’s called, wherever stories by the chapter are sold. Or rather, given away. You know where to find it. Seek, read, rejoice.

I’ll Have The Sake, Sir

We begin the week with a stiff reflection of the cocktail menu. Laid out, its sections clear and spaced with twisty, elegant black on white paper, a stock that looks just flimsy enough to suggest the restaurant has enough spunk to change its menu every now and again, the drinks on offer seem to cover a vast range.

Who are we tonight? This week? This year? This lifetime?

Are you the nitro ale, splashing into the mug with a frothy entrance, dark and rich, leaving the bite to the cold outside? What about the house red, a staple cabernet from a nameless vineyard whose greatest accomplishment is hitting the price-to-quality bullseye? Perhaps a flight of something stronger, a variety showcase full of potential, provided you even remember any of it after you take the sips? A sugary sweet cocktail, fruit juice flourishing amid flavored vodkas in a wistful dance with not-so-distant springtime?

Or, devious risk-taker that you are, dare you order off menu? Ask for the bartender’s choice and take the leap into unknown air? Do you keep things safe and order the old standby, what’s got you along all these years and has never let you down?

Tell you what I order: whatever’s on special.

It’s a Monday, it’s a new week and after a weekend with more eventing than I’m used to, my body and soul need time to recover. Splendid in so many ways, exhausting in so many others, it nonetheless left me with a sniffly nose and a smiling face. Hard to complain about that. Harder still to find the energy.

It’s a Monday, which means there’s new Blast’em chapters up at the Patreon, which I’ll remember to link one of these days. As a story, that one snuck up on me. It’s still sneaking up on me (I see you, part two). What was supposed to be a short, snappy thing to exercise a different story vein turned into a snarling mess of a tale demanding to be told. So now I’m telling it, here and there. It’s kinda like WILD NINES, albeit with a more military vein. I’m deliberately writing this one without much of a plan, so we’ll follow these mercenaries into the dark and see what happens.

Anyway, the cats are yowling at the moon and dinner needs to be made, and in this restaurant, I’m the chef. At least the prices are decent.

Second Round: Lead Paint and the Lego Movie 2

After a new pregnancy’s immediate shock, the next nine months turn from a celebratory journey into a caustic minefield littered with warning signs proclaiming just how many ways your choices to this point will destroy the coming little one.

Bought a house? It’s probably got a million and one ways of turning kiddo into kibble.

Have a hobby? Nah, bro. All those board games you’ve been filling your murder-house with are gonna choke baby to pieces.

Have a shelf? What, you thought you could keep your games if you put’em up out of baby’s reach? No way! Little kid’s going to have the grip strength and tactile ability of Spiderman at five months to go with approximately zero knowledge of physics and he’s gonna bring that shelf, and those games, down on his precious head.

Have a friend who can keep those games so that you can rid your house of shelves, and everything else? Don’t even think about it – friends have germs, and germs are surefire doom missiles aimed right at kiddo’s fresh, smiling face. Ditch’em.

You can see my mental state had progressed to a frightening place, and in the middle of it all, we discovered that our house, built in the YEAR OF OUR LORD 1928, had lead paint splattered around its basement concrete walls, in myriad colors. What schemes or rituals were enacted down there that prompted such white, blue, lighter blue, and lightest blue coloring, I don’t know and am scared to speculate on.

The ghosts might be watching me.

Anyway. Like most things kept in basements for nearly a century, the paint wanted to escape and had begun chipping off the walls like a poisonous blizzard. We needed it out, but doing this in the Wisconsin Winter has proved a ridiculous escapade. People came, dealt with it, but in our need to clear the remaining smells from the house, we’re huddling in the chill, windows open in January, like sane people.

All for you, kiddo. All for you.

Also, the Lego Movie 2. It’s a film. It distracted us from the lead paint, which was much appreciated. I laughed some. The end credits were fun. Batman, as per usual, makes a better Lego character than a real one.

STARSHOT dropped new chapters across the web and Patreon yesterday, if that’s your thing. More to come, if we survive.

A Chill Monday

For what it’s worth, it is indeed chill in these Wisconsin environs. January decided it was time to finally do something and attacked this past weekend, spraying snow and ice across SoWis (as nobody calls southern Wisconsin) and turning my driveway into something of a deathtrap for unsuspecting visitors.

It’s winter. That’s how it’s supposed to be.

Nonetheless, the words must continue. BLAST’EM drops new chapters today, as it will every Monday until it runs out of chapters, by which time I hope I’ll have written more. Nothing like a creeping deadline to keep the butt in the chair and the fingers tapping away. Deadlines also have the habit of turning work to utter crap unless they’re fine-tuned to the needs of the author and the assignment, so I guess we’ll see!

Beyond that, the Oscars came out with their 2020 nods today, and yet again I’ve apparently got a lot of work ahead of me to watch all these movies before I don’t bother with the ceremony. Not that they’re a bore, exactly, it’s just, well, there are other things I’d rather do. And other things I’d rather watch. It’s going to be delightfully bad, I think.

Thus, in the dedicated interest of keeping these posts short and snappy, so my words can go where they’re most needed, I shall close. One of the cats is calling, as is a cozy fire, and such things cannot be denied.

2020’s First Pour

New decade, new theme. Somebody said that once, I’m sure.

Why the change?

Too many pictures, too much time. Love the art, but didn’t love squeezing in Photoshop to the end of the day, nor the uploading, formatting, and other hassles that go into making something explode with picture punches to your face. So, we’re taking this back to where I came from. Straight text, no filler.

Know where you can find pictures, if you crave colorful pixels?

Lots of places, actually, but fewer that let you get a heaping story spoonful with the bargain. My Patreon’s hanging out, dishing delectable story morsels in the form of exclusive BLAST’EM chapters every week. And if you’re of the donating kind, you’ll get STARSHOT and PARAGON’S FALL dished out too, along with other random goodies as the story chef continues to cook’em up.

Beyond that, there’s things a-happenin’. I’m knee, hip, and elbow deep into the sequel to PARAGON’S FALL, which is just a bundle of superhero-esque fun. And DRAMA, because that’s what happens when you get a bunch of villains together who all happen to hate each other. Who knows how that’ll end up, but I’m guessing NOT WELL.

WILD NINES, that first novel standby, is at that bargain price of $.99 just about everywhere, so if you’re looking for a quick little adventure, it’s out there for the taking. Get it with your latte, or your scotch and let the lasers keep you warm in the winter. Doctor’s orders.

INTERLUDE: My personal beverage of the week is a Glenfidditch 18 year that we picked up during a random run to Scotland a couple years back. Managed to sneak it into the US under the beverage limit because, well, it came in the tiniest bottle. 200 MLs will make you feel like a champ, because it vanishes so fast. As for the scotch itself, it burned enough going down, though I personally could do with a bit more moss in my drinks.

In the back half, I’d like to note that any of you visitors who happen to partake of web fiction can also snag some of my stuff, and a wide variety of other fascinating material, at such scribing hives as Royal Road, Moonquil, Scribblehub, and Webnovel. STARSHOT and PARAGON’S FALL are on a slow rollout there, so if you want to take a peek, journey over that-a-way and see what’s going on.

Lastly, wow. I don’t think I can leave this blog post behind without recommending the fluffiest dog movie I’ve seen in a long while. Hiding square on the big banner when you log into Disney+ is TOGO, and it’s like Balto but real and better. Willem Dafoe does his cranky old man thing, except here he’s cheering on sled dogs the whole time and it’s just magical. Not much CGI pupper action here, which does wonders. It’s not quite a tear-jerker, but makes for a great way to enjoy a winter evening.

That’ll do it for this week. More to come. Stay warm out there.

A Change In The M.O.

Being a writer in these rapidly changing times, after literally thousands of years spent in a system built on writing the work, getting someone to publish it, then getting on with the next, requires being nimble. Trying new things, understanding what you do and don’t like about the current process and how to improve it, and so on.

It’s like a business, in other words, instead of a fanciful reflection from one’s mind.

For a while now, I’ve played (to some degree), the Amazon game. And while that’s been fun, limiting my work to Amazon alone has always kinda sat ill with me. I started ‘wide’, with my stories available all over the place, and I’d like to move back to that model. Yes, it’s far easier to only manage a single storefront, but if a little bit of upfront work means readers on all sorts of platforms get a chance to find a story they love, it’s worth it.

So, while it’s going to take another month or so to fully proliferate all my stuff across retail channels, if you’ve been waiting for STARSHOT or RIVEN to come to Google Play, Barnes and Noble, Kobo or Apple, it’ll be coming.

Along with that, I’m making some other adjustments too, mostly because… why not?

First and foremost, I’m announcing a new book and a new series today, both (conveniently) titled Paragon’s Fall. It’s a superhero sci-fi saga that explores a world in which those with superpowers decided to take the reins from those without, and the consequences and chaos of those decisions decades later. Check out more on Paragon’s Fall here.

As part of rolling out Paragon’s Fall and these series of changes, I’m also starting a Patreon page. These, as the name suggests, are ways for readers (or anyone) to support a creative or business apart from buying their products. In my case, what you get based on the level of support is, generally, access to cool new stories while I’m writing them – if you’ve been enjoying things like The Recruit and Blast’em here, they’ll be migrating to Patreon. This is still a bit in the early days, so plan on seeing all sorts of new stuff hitting there.

Lastly, for those of you who prefer reading your stories in bite-sized bits, you’ll see new links appearing on Black Key Books to sites like Royal Road and Creative Novels. These places let readers browse and read for free, with few gatekeepers. They’re neat places to go if you’re looking to explore a wide variety of genres that don’t often make it to your neighborhood Barnes and Noble. If that sounds like you, you’ll be able to find my books there (gradually) too.

I’ll go more into each of these changes in the coming days, so stay tuned. I hope you take a look at Paragon’s Fall, or even read some of its chapters on the Patreon, and keep your eyes out for more stories hitting soon!

Paragon’s Fall: The Recruit – 3

You’re not sure what’s going to happen when the leaders ditch the lot of you underground. The eleven others in your group stare at the elevator along with you as it whisks away the only guidance you have, leaving your squad to determine who gets which of the scattered bedrooms, who gets a hot shower, and which of the assembled bags of clothes goes to whom.

“Our first challenge,” announces an intrepid girl as it becomes clear nobody is going to be offering commands. “We have to act like Paragons and work together.”

“Work together to do what?” a boy says, and while you notice the wide diversity of skin tones, hair styles, and body sizes, the omnipresent blue uniforms have a way of blending everyone together. “Choose our beds?”

“That’s exactly what I mean,” the girl replies.

“Maybe they want us to fight?” another girl says. “Like in those movies. The winner gets out alive?”

The words kick off a cascade of ideas, from a powers competition to forming teams to a full-scale breakout, a push that gains traction until everyone remembers they’re in the middle of nowhere and it’s cold outside.

You’re pretty tired, so in the silence that momentarily takes hold after that dismal revelation, you decide to speak up and throw your lot in with the first girl, who’s looking a little miffed on one of the two couches in this otherwise sparse living room.

“I think she’s right,” you say, proud that your voice isn’t trembling in the slightest. Exhaustion breeds a disregard for consequences. “Why don’t we pick out the beds, grab some clothes, and if you want a shower, take one.”

Questions and demands come back at you, and the spotlight makes you wince. But you’re still tired, and you still want a bed, and yeah, maybe a shower too. So you shut them up in the new way you’ve learned, the way that brought you here.

You breathe, but more than that. Targeted, and as your lungs fill with the scrubbed air, your mind fills with the feelings of everyone in the room. Like instinct, like intuition, you know who said what, and you know why.

The girl in the back, still demanding a fight, is doing that because of a lifetime spent scrabbling with her brothers for every toy and after-dinner dessert. The questioning boy is too frightened at being away from home, being ripped away from his family to accept anything right now. He’s craving certainty, is too afraid to accept it.

You parade through the rest of the room in an instant, and then you exhale and all the buzzing fades from your head. Everyone’s quiet, too, until you send them back their voices, their mouths open like gulping fish. They start coughing, one laughs in a shrieking, scared sort of way. The girl whose side you’re on, whose only thought when you looked her way seemed to be an exasperated frustration with her fellow recruits, gives you a steeled appraisal.

Showing your gift, though, turns out to be a huge mistake. Even with the insights into each and every one of them, your knowledge proves to be a poor weapon against the desire to show off. One kid after another pops their power, and eventually you grab your clothes, slink off to the shower, and collapse in a bed with the sounds of crackled lightning, laughter, and future problems echoing the halls of your new home.

Paragon’s Fall: The Recruit – 2

The plane takes a while to land due to some exiting storms, which means you disembark in silver shadows from the runway’s glow lights. No off-ramps here, only stairs down to crunchy gravel. Atlantis, apparently, doesn’t give its future Paragons the flashy treatment.

Your skepticism must have made it to your face, because one of the people greeting your flight – looks to be about six of them, one for every ten of you – aims a flashlight in your eyes and asks if you’re happy to be here.

“How could I be?” you reply. “I don’t even know where here is.”

“Here is where you belong,” the man says, full of authority, as though some god has deigned to give him absolute power over this little airstrip. “Here is where you, all of you, will learn how to make the best use of your abilities. You will become heroes, here. You will become Paragons.”

You wonder how many times he’s given that little speech, but keep the estimate to yourself. The man loses interest in you, turning his bright lance on the next bumbling one to get off the plane. Another of the soon-to-be Paragons bumps you, and when he mutters a sorry, you ask where he’s going.

“Aren’t you listening? They’re calling names.”

Five of the hosts are, anyway. You hear yours, and shuffle over to the growing crowd. A combination of excited eyes and those just awakened from various naps surrounds you, all clad in the powder blue uniforms of Paragon trainees. The clothes aren’t uncomfortable, but do little to keep out the chilly Fall weather, and you miss the apple cider that would be in your mug at home.

Still, this is the opportunity that 99 percent of the world doesn’t get. You try to keep that in your mind as your host calls your group off to one of the buses on the side.

These, at least, are newer models. No drivers, and their batteries keep the inside warm in a soundless way that’s always struck you as mystical. Your parents keep saying the world’s magic now, with the Paragons leaning on a few key members who produce innovations like you produce annoying habits.

Guess you’ll be getting rid of those too. The Paragons are for heroes, and it’s about time you started being one.

Paragon’s Fall: The Recruit – 1

The anomaly on your left whispered that you’d crossed into Canada. Not that Canada existed anymore, but changing a name doesn’t change the feel. Atlantis this side of Niagara Falls seemed calmer, more serene with all the trees — there’d been a big push, you recall, to reforest a lot of this territory as food production ramped up efficiency — than the urban streets you came from.

You ask the anomaly how she knows, because there’s no maps inside the plane ferrying all of you to Atlantis’ training facility. You’re all mashed into seats without much for entertainment, presumably as some bonding measure, but all you really want is a chance to stretch your legs, but the bulky dude to your right conked out ten minutes in and you don’t want to risk shaking up the snores.

You’re all anomalies here, and there’s no telling what the guy might do if you wake him up.

“That’s my gift,” she says. “You want to know where we are, I can tell you. Great, isn’t it?”

You suspect sarcasm, but you’ve never met her before and she’s still looking out the window as she talks, so you play it safe and say, “Is it?”

Because having a gift replicated by every Tama on every wrist on the planet doesn’t seem high value. The anomaly, who looks near enough your fourteen years, droops her shoulders a bit and sighs.

You understand that sound.

From the moment the test comes back positive, life’s a whirlwind of doctors, Paragons, parents and choices to be made before you’re ready. You barely processed the doc labeling you an anomaly before the nurse had you pressed back on the chair, the tracer getting shot into your arm. They don’t take any chances anymore – too many rogues running around to give people any freedom. 

Classes, careers, those get realigned over the next year. You fill out surveys with your interests, your teachers fill out forms about your ability, and then you get slotted. One of your parents mentions it being like drafts in the old days, something your great grandparents dealt with. A collection of confused, scared, and forced youngsters getting involved in matters too heavy for them to understand.

But you’re here now, and as the plane starts going down, you’d be lying if you’re not a little bit excited. You’ve grown up listening and watching the legends perform, and now you’re going to get the chance to be one. Your ability might not be as cool, but it’s something, and you think, in the right circumstances, you could make a pretty good name for yourself.

“I don’t know,” she finally says. “They think so. It’s not just where I am, but it’s where things are in relation to me. Like, I know you’re exactly twelve centimeters away from my right arm.”

You lean back against the seat’s hard cushion. Consider what she said. Whether a power like hers compares to yours, and whether the fact that she’s in your group means good or bad things for your Paragon prospects. Whether it’s bad you’re even thinking like that.

Because you’re part of the machine now, and the introduction video made that much clear: You are nothing without the Paragons, and the Paragons are nothing without its people.

Insertion Part Nine: Sideline

Three shots. Count’em. And Aurora said Eponi didn’t do enough when Sever started fights.

Not that those three shots — blistering bolts fired from the small spitter DefenseCorp regulations made Eponi carry — seemed to bother the swamp creature. Sever’s pilot watched from the front nose of the drop shuttle, steadily losing its war against the loose sludge drawing it down, as Gregor, Sai, Rovo, and Aurora dashed around tentacles and splashed through goo to try and figure out how to hurt the thing. The whole scene felt like a bad flick, one of those where all the budgets went to special effects and nothing to the plot.

“Why is this thing even here?” Eponi said into the squad’s channel between a warning call from Aurora to Rovo and a curse from Sai as his sword stuck again into the mud beast’s side. “Out of this entire swamp, we happen to land right on top of it? What are the odds?”

She aimed the spitter as a tentacle swept up Gregor, pulling the big man towards the top of the beast’s bulk. On the side of her weapon, a yellow strip slowly shifted towards green as the spitter sucked spare electrons from the atmosphere, charging up its own batteries to, well, spit death back out. Tech that’d started in weapons like this and then made its way to the racers she loved, giving way for days-long contests where managing battery power took as much skill as navigating the course. The prize purses for those… she’d get back to them.

“You chose the landing spot!” Rovo bothered to reply.

“Kill it!” Aurora played her part, shut down irrelevant conversation. “Eponi, help Gregor.”

Eponi squeezed off another yellow bolt towards the top of the beast. It vanished into the mud with a sizzle, doing nothing to assist Gregor as the mud beast threw him into a nearby tree. Gregor hit the trunk, a rotting thing that looked more like a harbinger of horrors rather than a plant, and broke it, landing on the tree’s gnarled roots below. Eponi grimaced—that looked like it hurt—and stood. Gregor didn’t move, except for his right leg’s slow slide towards the muck. Guess she could help him avoid drowning in the disgusting swamp.

With the boosters kicking, Eponi leapt off the nose of the drop shuttle and flew over Sai’s swinging blade, a sliding tentacle, and Rovo’s scattershot spitter blasts. For a hot second, the roots seemed like they might be beyond Eponi’s grasp, but, as ever, the helmet’s calculations proved correct and Eponi landed right in the middle of the green zone her visor had highlighted. Racers had strict limits on their autopilots, their computer assists, so natural skill took precedence. Out here? The less DefenseCorp could leave in the hands of its soldiers, the better. Took a lot of the thrill away.

“You alive, big guy?” Eponi said, reaching Gregor and dragging—with the help of energy augments in her suit—him away from the liquid. She sent the words through the touch-comm, a near field link that’d send the sound right to Gregor without muddling the squad’s open channel. “Fight’s still going. They could use your hammer out there.”

A hammer that, Eponi noted, still occupied prime position in the mud thing’s crown. Though it seemed like Sever had made some headway – much of the mud had been burned or cut away, revealing a grassy-green set of scales and fur, as though the creature had blended a bunch of species and chosen the ugliest parts of each. The fight’s good news did nothing to spur Gregor; the man stayed still.

“Clear to wake him up?” Eponi tossed out to the channel.

“Clear!” came Aurora’s reply.

“Sorry, buddy.” Eponi pressed in on a tiny pair of notches beneath Gregor’s helmet, against his neck.

Those notches ran a quick verification scan against Eponi’s gloves, making sure she had friendly credentials. Her visor screen split into halves, the left green and the right red. Eponi winked with her left eye, and when the visor flashed all green for a microsecond, she let go of her teammate. Stepped back and watched as Gregor’s suit hummed to a whining, glass-breaking sound. At the noise’s apex, Gregor twitched, his hands and feet flaring out followed by a heavy sigh. His eyes opened, found Eponi’s, and then shut again.

“I hate that,” Gregor said on their near-field channel.

“How many times?”

“Lost count after a dozen.”

Eponi stopped herself from noting DefenseCorp regs suggested all kinds of harmful effects linked to repeated shock-jock tech. Sever held a fuzzy relationship with DefenseCorp, and that may as well extend to this too. Impossible missions demanded impossible compromises, or something like that.

The mud creature let out its first real noise of the fight, a gibbering, wet cough arising from its middle as Sai finally managed to get his sword through the creature’s liquid sludge armor and cut into the good stuff. As death rattles went, Eponi had heard far better screams from pilots as their racers plummeted into endless crevasses or slipped into lava rivers. Aurora and Rovo apparently agreed, taking advantage of the creature’s distress to boost their way near Sai and concentrate their fire into the fresh wound. Like a poorly chosen microwave meal, the heat built up through the middle of the monster before it exploded, raining prodigious muck and worse all over the squad.

Except for Eponi, who’d taken Gregor’s rise as an opportunity for cover and crouched behind the large man. Guts and glory splattered around everyone except her, and Eponi didn’t give one single damn. She’d lived, made it one step closer to that pay day.

“Look at you,” Rovo said roughly five minutes later, as the squad turned to unloading essentials from the drop shuttle. Aurora tasked Eponi and Rovo with the foodstuffs, which they were throwing into expandable buoy-packs, so named for their negative pressure pockets designed to repel gravity enough to make heavy weights an easy carry. “All clean. The rest of us have some natural camouflage.”

“Just doing my part,” Eponi replied, shoveling micro-energy bars by the armful into one of the gray packs. “I’ll draw all the fire.”

“Fire from what?”

Eponi had already forgotten Rovo had the rookie disease — all threats were hypothetical, because Rovo hadn’t experienced them yet. Not outside of a simulator, anyway.

“Did you miss the skiffs?”

“They weren’t that dangerous, and we made it away from them.” Rovo filled his pack to the brim and tugged on the taut string towards the top. The pull triggered the pack’s closing mechanism, and the buoy-pack compressed around the more substantial meal packets Rovo had chosen, creating a rounded cube the Sever, with Eponi’s help, slotted into a pair of back notches on his armor. “If that’s all we’re dealing with, minus the swamp monster, I think this ought to be simple.”

“We don’t get simple missions. Don’t know what they told you when you signed on with Sever, but we’re here to handle what DefenseCorp won’t touch with its legitimate squads. That means high risk, high reward.”

“Is that why you’re here? The reward?”

Seeing someone’s expression through their mask required x-ray vision, so Eponi couldn’t quite tell whether Rovo had asked the question honestly or not. Then she realized she didn’t care.

“I’m here. That should tell you the reward isn’t all that good,” Eponi replied. “But we get to stay away from the rest of DefenseCorp’s crap, and we can ditch out whenever we want. No contracts, no clauses, no complaints. That’s enough for me.”

“Kind of hard to ditch out now.”

Eponi finished her own pack, and as Rovo slapped it into place on her back, Aurora made the general evac call. Time to get away from the drop shuttle, march through the muck, and figure out where this VIP happened to get himself stuck.

“That’s the real secret,” Eponi said as she punched in the drop shuttle’s self-destruct code. It’d take a couple hours to go off, long enough for Sever to get far enough away from any eyes attracted to the fire. “Once you’re a part of Sever, there is no way out. Not alive, anyway.”