Beware the Well Fed Man, first chronicle of Ebon the Waste is up and available for purchase on Amazon right now. It's getting positive feedback so far, and the sales are just now starting to get through the first round of readers.
BEWARE THE WELL FED MAN
As I'm finishing up these first few books, I'm getting a timeline together for the history of the past three centuries before the Year of Forgiving Rains. And I've also got a lot of short stories and supplemental world building material that I may or may not find a format for.
Also, just because I have to write every day, I've been building some stories that take place in the same world as Ebon, but before the great dissolution of society. Here's a short story serial I'm working through as sort of an ongoing serial following a man named John Newlywed as he struggles to survive as the world prepares to end.
The Adventures of John Newlywed in Somalia just before the second global nuclear war.
You're probably wondering why you can hear this voice talking in your right ear right now. Well, you're probably wondering if anyone else can hear it. And if they can, what I might tell them. What could I tell them?
"Ay, John?" the teenage warlord Ghedi Josef said leaning forward on his tattooed hand. The hand was weighed down on his knee by a .357. The gun was too big for the man, that much didn't take years of CIA range training to determine. The boy man was smiling, but John knew it was to project the illusion of confidence.
Maybe that smile was enough to convince young recruits to join his cause, but John had seen many smiles over the course of his time in New Burhakaba dìjíshì, Somalia. Pushers, soldiers, pimps, work house matrons. And of those smiles, he couldn't recall believing a single one. The smile spoke again, spilling thick lightbulb drawn narcotic smoke from teeth too young to touch alcohol stateside, "I say, what do you think of my army?"
"Barabara," John said, lapsing into the boy's native Kiswahili as if it were normal for him, "But you say the amount will have to be in Somali Shillings. Are you sure you wouldn't prefer Euros?"
John read the tattoo traced along the index finger's side of his right hand as the left held the pistol pointed casually around the room, making a line from the muzzle to many things. A three legged dog, an aquarium full of newspapers, John's head. The tattoo on the other hand said archange. But the right said something different.
Ghedi flashed his teeth in another false smile, shaking his head and adding a chuckle to accompany the rest of the illusion,
"Non merci," he said as he reached with the diable hand and lifted a coiled glass tube from his wicker footstool, "I have little confidence in Euro futures."
"But you will accept a currency that hasn't existed in almost a century," John said with his own false amusement as he watched the soldered power cell on the mercury filled lightbulb send a weak current down into the base where it crackled and nebulized a thin gel swimming deep within. He guessed the mixture to be made up of a cocktail of home grown crystal meth and all American barbituates.
"The currency of this country's next century," Ghedi said leaning back with the smoke trailing from his nostrils, "Is up for grabs. Whoever installs the next government will be able to decide what money we use. And if you are paying in a currency that does not exist yet, then I guess it will cost you nothing but paper and ink. Do you see the wisdom in my investment?"
Autodidactic revolutionaries. Figures they'd let neuro-enhancers become fashionable.
That last bit was from his left ear. He knew the source of that one easily enough. It was a radio transmission from the jeep parked outside, and the men watching the dizzying video feed tracked from his eye as it twitched around the room.
File says he's not this smart, John. Ask him what he's smoking.
Once upon a time they had been trained to use slow swooping eye movements to observe the world around them. The technique was called 'drifting.' As in, 'if you don't start drifting when you're trying to steal glances at la presidenta's cleavage, I'm going to throw up and then fire you.'
But that was before news of optical implants got leaked to every newspaper in the world. Now he had two pinpoint sized blind spots in his vision just below the center - and a bad habit of making people mistrust him when he tried to make slow eye contact. His eyes unfocused and glittered from side to side - a sure visual cue to maintain radio silence. Communication via eye movement gave John a headache, but if it could stop one more lane of communication in his ear canal, he'd find some way to tough it out.
The truth was, revolutionaries had always been this smart. This smart or smarter. But the voice in his ear hadn't always been this chatty.
"I see what you mean," John said, "If we pay you in a currency that is defunct and then agree to facilitate that currency post facto, you can charge whatever you want."
"But most importantly," Ghedi said pointing the gun awkwardly in John's direction, "It will cost my clients nothing. So you see we have your best interests at heart."
"That's very considerate of you," John said, rising and stretching his arms high over his head, popping his back and cracking his knuckles with a sigh, and a yawn. The movement would offend the general. It was designed to. It was just the sort of offense he could afford to make in this meeting. He continued, "And I think we'll be able to work something out. You're a clever man, Ghedi. I think I can understand how you got to be where you are today."
"I am a man of Burhakaba," Ghedi said as he depressed the homemade button on the side of his nebulizer again and sucked ivory vapor from the bubbling concoction tarnishing its bottom, "And I make friends easily enough. Whenever I can."
That last bit was subtle, but not subtle enough for the situation.
"You make lots of friends, then," John said.
"Lots of friends," Ghedi said.
John nodded, depressing his middle finger with his right thumb to time stamp the moment. As he turned, Ghedi called after him again, the timber of his voice quaking a bit as it deepened. It must have been the drugs, eating away at some part of his composure, letting a thin quiver of passion spill into those words,
"You remember I make lots of friends, John Newlywed."
Reaching down to pet the dog on its belly, John smiled as he looked over his shoulder back at the young general,
"I'll be in touch, my friend."
Outside on the street, John unbuttoned his coat to pull sunglasses from his inner pocket and tapped his wedding ring against the thick steel hull of his jeep.
The door sang its hydraulic song as the door opened and a young man chewing gum pulled him in. In 48 hours there would be a hole where this camp had been. And that hole would extend to the political chess board of Burhakaba. The Chinese would soon be very displeased. And that made John smile. But even as he smiled, he wondered if anyone seeing it would believe it to be real.
I'd believe you, John.
That was the voice in his right ear. Either someone was trying to plant the seeds of paranoid delusion to justify having him eliminated, or it was the voice of God. He tended to believe the latter. No one would believe he'd live long enough to waste resources on killing him.
Yes. That was what shook John's enthusiastic atheism most of all. It wasn't fear of damnation, or a numinous awe at the scale of creation as he pictured Jupiter as a fleck of dust spiraling through endless night. These all seemed details more than indicators of a cynical and calculating superpower.
It was God's sense of humor. Give a man a computer and he may craft for you a world that fits most descriptions of an illusion of reality. But he would be helpless to capture the sheer irony, the impending punch-line of every drop of water and flake of skin that was John's world. For something as old - as indomitable as a God, he mused, humor would be the language it would choose. Mathematics, music, pictures. These were man's feeble attempts at the divine. But it was humor - - no - It was irony that gave John the faith to handle snakes and speak in babbling tongues.
"We can have this whole place vaporized in two hours."
Victor Juliet Tango. Six-five-six.
That was the voice in his right ear - the voice of God. His mind flared up at hearing it. It grew numb, reminding him of the experience of the drug therapies he had undergone to determine his susceptibility to nerve agents - things like aerosol Phencyclidine, Sodium Thiopental, and Lesergide-91. Anything they might try to administer to him under false pretenses to gain disobedient compliance - hack the meaty computer of his thoughts.
I wonder when this happened. That wasn't in his ear. It was his cerebellum, trying to pull a fading curtain down in his mind, trying to remember how he had been compromised. They had done something to him. Someone. Somewhere. He had forgotten so many days, been offered hospitality by so many people under the false politics of diplomacy. Hands had reached into his mind, stringing puppet thoughts down long corridors where they met with an unseen hand.
Up ahead a column of brightly colored fabric and dark skin was writhing in protest. Hundreds of workers roused from their peaceful protest by the unexpected presence of a truck wearing the logo they had learned to notice. The first thing to hit the windshield was a glass bottle. Then, shouts from a hundred men and women.
The language was Mandarin - Chinese as the president had erroneously referred to it, the trade language of this region. The language of emerging global trade. It was fast becoming the language of a diaspora of ethnicities now bound together in common cause and with a singular voice that vibrated John's shoulder blades. Teeth sneered and fists pumped the air rhythmically as a brick shattered across the windshield.
"They're telling us to go home," the kid in the front seat said, laying his palm on the horn, "But they're blocking the freeway."
"Huí jiā, Huí jiā!" the crowd chanted. Mandarin had always sounded strange to John. Tone, inflection, realms in western ears that would ordinarily convey emotional meaning or the subtle pretext of diplomatic empathy were reserved for the words themselves. There was only one way to intone the words Huí jiā - one perfect uniformed way. And they were all saying it in unison. The effect was strange on the crowd. It added to the meaning of the word now in ways English might not be able to. It was crisp, a lockstep march of words spilling from a thousand throats, gathered up by the corporate fingers of the labor houses, crushed into a single sound.
"We have a problem," John said calmly as he froze his hands in front of them and stared at them intently.
"You're not kidding," the kid said bracing his arm on the seat beside him to start rolling the jeep backward. They spilled backward back toward Ghedi's safe-house, spinning rubber and steel backward until they could spin around and start driving toward the river.
"No, we have a different problem. I think someone is trying to activate me."
Victor Juliet Tango. Six-five-six.
John's hand was moving up to his jacket pocket, reaching in and wrapping warmly - comfortably - around the rubber band wrapped grip of his Beretta 9mm. He shook his head once as he felt the battle in his thumb and his wrist. The thumb clasped too soon - too eagerly, and it clung to the palm of his hand as the other four fingertips grasped around the grip like they were alien tendrils belonging to some sickly ocean-borne specter. With that awkward formation of digits he reached in and pulled the pistol out, and let it fall onto his lap.
"John we don't have time for games right now," the kid said. He couldn't have been older than nineteen. John realized the kid had taken the time to memorize his name, and he hadn't bothered to return the favor. Of course he was also much older, and important to this mission. The kid was his driver.
"Kid," John said, "I'm telling you that I have been activated. If one of you doesn't deal with this situation, we're all going to be dead in a matter of minutes."
The man in the passenger seat unbuckled, turning his face to the side and looking into the eye tracking screen to see John's eyes resting on the gun in his lap. He must have had a vague notion of what was happening, because he used that opportunity to leap into the back, knocking over a box of ammunition with his arms outstretched toward John like a linebacker.
Good. Something inside John thought out loud as the linebacker leaped through the air and clocked John against the side of his face. The pain should have changed the situation. He was trying to knock some sense into the activated man. But then there was that irony again. John had been trained over the course of several years how to take pain - how to take a blow to the head without flinching. Nothing. It had been designed to stun, and not much more than that. John could feel the rubber in his hand. His thumb had taken the moment to sneak around. His index finger had plunged into the trigger guard, caressing the trigger while the thumb worked to snap the safety off.
The linebacker was at the medical kit, tearing it open and ripping the cellophane from a syringe packet, which he brandished in his hand.
"Hold still and I'll knock you out," he said - a command John wanted desperately to obey. The agent reached up calmly and was about to pull the trigger.
"Stop!" the linebacker shouted. John wouldn't have listened - not in a million years. Even if his mind hadn't been compromised, he was a man of resolve. Many people had yelled stop at him in his life. And he had never stopped. It was not in John's nature. It was like he couldn't hear that word.
But the driver heard it.
The jeep squealed rubber on the pavement as it lurched to a halt, knocking John's gun hand to the right with the momentum of the rapid deceleration. It went off, slamming the bullet into a control terminal where it buried into a warren of wires and smoke. The jeep filled with the smell of ozone.
The linebacker had lurched forward too, moving with a single deft movement into John's thigh where the needle found its mark with bull's eye accuracy. The plunger depressed, and heavy narcotics worked their way up his leg to do their work.
"Change state," John said, "I need something to change my mental state."
"Like what? Tell you a sad story?" the linebacker said.
"Interrupt me," John said as his conscious mind started to lapse back, allowing the animalistic control of his hand to return, "Joke."
"Tell you a joke?" the linebacker said as the kid squealed tires once again down the street away from the crowd behind them. They passed by Ghedi's safe-house. Spiraled back toward the river where they would not find a bridge. They were blocked in. The labor camp was designed to be like this.
"If the crazy bastard says to tell him a joke, do it!" the kid yelled from the driver's seat as he motioned for people to get out of the way. If they didn't see the massive gunmetal black truck moving through the streets, they weren't going to be likely to see his arm through the tinted windows. But the kid still waved, applying brakes frantically to avoid pedestrians.
"What's the funniest, most original joke you've ever heard?" John asked.
"Um," the linebacker said, cursing as his eyes moved between John's face and the gun laying slack in his writhing twisting hand. His mind was leaping through every drunken conversation, every faked laugh he had ever uttered, "Stop me if you've heard this one..."
"Don't worry about that," John said. The pistol was slowly raising.
to be continued...