THE PRICE OF REDEMPTION

Okay. This is a bit of an experiment and, for me, a scary one. I am going to be posting my first draft novella THE PRICE OF REDEMPTION in parts to this blog. The scary part is that I am only halfway finished writing the thing.

So I am going to be posting one part every week and hopefully by the time I get to where I left off I will have written more to post. And if I run out of material, well then I’m just going to have to write by the seat of my pants and hope that it all makes sense in the end.

The final version will eventually be available as an e-novella from Rage Machine books. That version will be different from the one posted here on the blog (better written, more coherent one would hope).

So, why am I doing this? Partly to get myself motivated to finish the thing. I could give myself a deadline but I am usually far to forgiving with myself when it comes to those. Involving the readers of this blog seemed like a better way to go about it. I’m also hoping to get some feedback.

Also, since this is a prequel to my novel THE MASK OF ETERNITY, I am hoping to gain some cross promotion and generate some interest.

So, here it is, part one of THE PRICE OF REDEMPTION:

1. URWALD

“DeLacey! What in the name of the Eternal Void do you think you’re doing?”

Solis DeLacey started when the Lieutenant’s voice shouted into her earphone. She looked up and saw the shuttle coming through the bay doors, headed right towards her and knew that she had just made the biggest and the last mistake of her life.

She’d pulled a zero-g rotation in the shuttle bay. She’d been assigned to one of the Empress Jade’s maintenance shifts and had spent the morning harnessed to the wall of the docking bay, moving from station to station, checking readouts and effecting minor repairs when necessary.

That was when her harness became tangled. She unhooked herself from the guide ring and hadn’t hooked a second one beforehand — standard procedure. While she was busy trying to untangle her harness she had floated into one of the shuttle laneways.

Now the Lieutenant, a JG whose name she didn’t know, but who everyone just called “Black Pete” was shouting into the earphone of her helmet, and death in the form of an 82,000 pound shuttle was hurtling towards her and there was nothing that could stop it.

She felt the collision sooner than she expected it hit her in the side, knocking the wind out of her. Suddenly she was hurtling out of control. The hanger bay was tumbling around her and she lost all sense of up, down, backwards and forwards. She spun around and saw a splash of red, then something covered her faceplate and she couldn’t see.

She felt hands grabbing at her, it seemed from every which way. There was a confusing cacophony of voices in her headphones — shouted crosstalk that sounded like gibberish in her ears. She heard Black Pete shout “Oh, Dear God, No! NO!” but the rest was an indecipherable jumble.

The hands were slowing her spinning. She had closed her eyes to prevent vertigo but opened them now and everything was red. She tried to wipe away what was covering her faceplate but a hand grabbed at her arm, stopping her. A small part of her faceplate was clear and she could see a helmeted face in front of her. The face’s mouth was working but she could not hear what it was saying. It must have been speaking into a different frequency.

Then she was turned around. She got a brief glance at her arms and legs. She seemed intact, but there was something red all over her suit. She looked up and saw little red globules floating all over the hanger deck. She caught sight of a wall that was streaked with red and realized that it was blood.

She felt a hot panic burning in her head. Was she injured? She didn’t feel injured, she felt fine. Then what…?

Suddenly she could hear Black Pete’s voice in her earphone “Get her out of here! Get that stupid bitch out of my hanger deck!”

The hands pulled her along and that was when she saw the crushed atmosphere suit floating amongst the red globules, The suit was torn open and inside she could see more red — a deeper, darker red — almost black.

That was when a black fog seemed to swallow her up.

***

She woke up in the infirmary. She had a brace on her neck. She blinked her eyes open and Bruno Varagas was by her bedside. “You really screwed up this time, Kid,” Bruno said. Bruno was her shift leader. He was handsome and affable and had taken Solis under his wing right from her first day aboard the Empress.

“What happened? she tried to ask. Her neck hurt like hell and her throat felt closed up and dry.

Bruno got a cup of water from a spigot and she drank gratefully. “You didn’t put on a secondary hook,” Bruno said. “How many times have I had to remind you about that?”

The accident came back to her then and the sight of the suit leaking dark blood. “Who was it who… who…” she couldn’t finish.

“Her name was Hannah Callin.”

“Callin? Oh, God…” Lord Admiral Callin was the father of the Terran Fleet, His family had built Earth’s space navy from the early days of contact and expansion. If your last name was Callin you were destined for greatness in whatever field you chose.

“Yeah. She was one of Lord Admiral Callin’s nieces. She was an exemplary cadet with a near perfect record. Needless to say no one is very happy at the moment.”

Solis felt tears welling up behind her lids. “Why didn’t she just let me pay or my own mistake…?”

Bruno shook his head. “I don’t know. Personally I think the Callins are wound too tight. That, and they think they’re invincible.”

The tears were rolling down her cheeks now. She reached up to wipe them away but her IV wouldn’t let her. “So what happens to me? Do I get bounced?”

“Well… not exactly.” Bruno pulled out a clip-pad. “They wanted to bust you back dirtside but we got a communique from a Kyann ship that needs some extra help. I managed to get your name on that list.”

“A Kyann ship?” Kyann and Terra were equal partners in the Commonwealth but they generally kept their fleets separate. “At least it’ still in the Commonwealth. I guess it’s better than being transferred to the Orion Hegemony.”

“Don’t laugh. There were some who talked about selling you as a slave to a Kruath ore freighter. They might have done it as well except Kruath has broken off diplomatic relations with the Commonwealth… again. You know how the Kruath feel about Terrans.” he said. Solis nodded. The Kruath hated Terrans with a particular vehemence.

“I argued for the Kyan because right now it’s your best chance to stay in the Void. Unless you want your sorry ass dragging in the dirt?”

Solis tried to smile. “Thank you, Bruno.”

“Don’t thank me. There’s little chance you’ll ever serve on a Terran ship again and you likely won’t be back to the Empress. Kyann ships emphasize discipline and there’s rumors that Kyannum officers still tear out subordinate’s throats to enforce it.”

***

The Kyann vessel Kr’kt’kt pulled alongside the Empress Jade. Solis was still wearing the brace on her neck, her unruly curls were still wet from the shower. She’d gone from the infirmary to her quarters to shower, change, pack a duffel and then rush to the airlock.

There was a small group of cadets and a few officers who were waiting for the airlock to cycle through. She stopped in the entrance. One of the cadets, a thin-faced young man with a sneer, turned and looked at her. “Hey look,” he said. “It’s a giraffe!”

Solis felt her cheeks go hot. She was certain that her face had turned scarlet as every eye turned to stare at her. At 6 foot two inches she had always towered over her fellow cadets and she took the occasional good natured comment, but this was nasty.

“Belay that, Hathan,” one of the officers, an older, balding man, scowled.

The airlock cycled open then and the group turned and began entering single file. Solis took up the rear. They filed out the Empress Jade’s airlock, through the interstice and into the Kr’tk’tk’s airlock. They bundled in and the airlock closed behind Solis. Then the room began to spin. It felt like the entire airlock were moving under her feet.

Solis had heard about the Kyann airlock designs. Instead of extending outwards like the airlocks on Terran ships, the Kyann had a swivel structure. That meant that the rear door now became the front.

The airlock stopped moving and locked in place, and the airlock hatch that had been behind her, but was now in front of Solis, began to cycle open.

Solis looked up… and up. The Kyann that stood in the open hatchway was a good foot taller than her and she was the tallest of the group. He was lean and muscular and his body bristled with fur. He looked down at solis with unnaturally green eyes.

“Welcome aboard,” the Kyann rumbled.

To be continued…

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THE SHORTEST WAY HOME IS THROUGH PHLEGM AN MUCUS…

The cold virus is really tiny — almost insignificant. Until, that is, the virus begins to multiply. Soon there is enough of it in your system to bring you down.

So here I am engaging chemical warfare against the little viruses, my body the ravaged battleground. The allied forces of Jack Mackenzie are combining an arsenal of weaponry — fluids, Contact C — and strategy — as much rest as possible — to route the enemy.

It’s working, fortunately. Unfortunately, as with most combat, it gets rather messy, especially around the beaches.

Also not so fortunate, with all resources going into the war effort, regular diversions, such as blogging, have to be put on hold while we make the final push to vanquish the enemy once and for all. Posts need to be rationed. You understand. There is a war on after all.

Hopefully I will be back in full strength after the armistice.

For now: “…we shall fight on the beaches… we shall fight in the fields and in the streets… ¬†we shall never surrender!

Over the top, boys! It’s D-Day!

THE INTOUCHABLES: THE RETURN OF THE MAGICAL NEGRO

I went to the movies last night. I thought I was going to see a French film, but what I saw was a typical Hollywood movie.

The Intouchables, while it is a French language film and set in Paris, is little more than an American Hollywood movie that recycles the overused trope of the magical Negro or, as Spike Lee dubbed him; “the super-duper magical Negro”.

Phillipe, a rich white guy, is a paraplegic who needs a helper. He takes a chance on Driss, a young black man from the street. Of course, in line with the magical Negro trope, what Phillipe needs is not a helper but to get back in touch with his mojo. As a paraplegic he is literally divorced from his own sexuality, but he is also emotionally uptight. It is up to the street savvy Driss to get him in touch with his “earthier” self. Driss re-introduces Phillipe to Rock and Roll, hookers, weed and fast cars.

The thing about this movie, and it shouldn’t be surprising, is how popular it is with older white audiences. This film got rave reviews around the office. As we were leaving the theater I heard an older gentleman remark: “You don’t need fake old Hollywood to have a good movie.”

Honestly, he couldn’t be more wrong.

Despite its Gallic provenance, The Intouchables is a Hollywood movie of the worse “feel good” variety. On the surface it seems very sympathetic to the black characters, but the subtext is very dismissive of the black culture. Driss is better off after he is removed from his dysfunctional, complicated family life. His young brother/cousin is in bad street trouble and Driss is ineffective as an authority figure. It is only after he has been exposed to the rarified atmosphere of rich white society that he is able to extricate his young cousin from that existence.

I this respects it falls in line with one of the more troubling aspects of the magical negro trope, in that it allows white audiences to like the singular black character but not the black society as a whole.

And Driss’s purpose in Phillipe’s life is to help him come to terms with his disability and to get a date.

Seriously?

Don’t be fooled by the French actors, the Paris backdrop or the subtitles. And don’t be fooled by the “Based on a True Story” label either. That doesn’t matter. (Some of the most dishonest films are based on true stories).The Intouchables is an American Hollywood by-the-numbers movie. It is a big-screen riff on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. One might as well wait for the inevitable American remake starring Robert Deniro and Will Smith.

…ARE YOU WARM, ARE YOU REAL, MONA LISA?

This is the Islesworth Mona Lisa.

For anyone with even a passing familiarity with DaVinci’s masterpiece it is obvious that this is not the portrait that currently hangs in the Louvre Museum in Paris. For one, the woman is much younger than the iconic Mona Lisa of DaVinci. There are other differences as well. The canvas is wider and we can see more of the framing pillars behind the figure. The background is different.

The Isleworth Mona Lisa was discovered just before World War 1 by an art collector named Hugh Blaker in the home of a Somerset nobleman. Blaker bought the painting and took it to his studio in Isleworth, London, from which it takes its name.

Now, the appearance of a Mona Lisa is not that unusual. Many have painted copies of DaVinci’s portrait. It is one of the most reproduced images in the world, after all. But there is a twist.

Blaker knew that Leonardo had started to paint Mona Lisa in 1503, but “left it unfinished”. This is recounted by Leonardo’s early biographer Giorgio Vasari. However, a fully finished painting of a “certain Florentine lady” surfaces again in 1517, shortly before Leonardo’s death and in his private possession. The latter painting almost certainly is the same that now hangs in the Louvre.

So what happened to the earlier attempt? Well, Blaker figured that the Isleworth Mona Lisa was that earlier attempt. He and other supporters claimed it to be the unfinished Mona Lisa, made at least partially by Leonardo and originally handed over to its commissioner. That would mean that the Louvre Mona Lisa was a later version of the portrait made by Leonardo for his own use.

The Isleworth painting has changed hands a few times between then and now. It is currently owned by a Zurich group calling itself the Mona Lisa Foundation. They unveiled the painting recently and reiterated the claim that it is an earlier DaVinci version of the Mona Lisa portrait.

That claim, unsurprisingly, has provoked a number of reactions in the art world. Some have come forward to denounce the Isleworth painting as a forgery.

So what are we to make of this younger and prettier Mona Lisa? Is it an authentic Mona Lisa? Should it replace the portrait hanging in the Louvre? Wouldn’t that be an appropriate comment on the age in which we live? The older, mature face gets replaced by one younger and prettier. That would be a sad story.

But here’s a better story, and maybe a sadder one. Did Leonardo DaVinci fall in love with the young, pretty wife of Francesco del Giocondo when he was commissioned to paint her portrait? He would have been 51 in 1503 when Lisa Gherardini sat for him. She would have been 24 years old, a young wife, making a home with her wealthy cloth merchant husband, their second child newly born.

Was the old painter sentimental enough to fall in love with her lovely smile? The smile is certainly more evident in this earlier portrait. Did it haunt him through the years? Did young Lisa’s face stay in his mind, aging gracefully in DaVinci’s imagination until he was compelled to commit her likeness to canvas once more years later, older, sadder perhaps, with an enigmatic smile? Did he paint it from memory or did she sit for him again, one more time, years later — just for him this time?

Did he know he was painting his masterpiece?

The later portrait, the one in the Louvre, was called by DaVinci “La Giaconda”, which means “The Jocular One” A pun, perhaps? A play on the name Giocondo? Or was DaVinci obfuscating to hide the fact that he had the portrait of another man’s wife in his possession? Was it love that compelled Davinci to paint La Giaconda? Was it a great and unfulfilled love that immortalized a young Florentine woman to the point that she is now arguably one of the most recognized faces in history?

We will never know, of course. This is just a story. But it is an appealing idea, isn’t it? That it was love — not money, or vanity, or the lust for fame or power — but love that was responsible for the most famous painting in the world.