Saturday, May 26, 2012

Author Interview - John Zelenski

This week's author interview is with John Zelenski.  Mr. Zelenski's novel Walker's Vale is about one man's struggle to come to terms with the uncertainties of life.  John recently took the time to sit down and chat with me about his book.  Here's what he had to say.

Q: Tell us a bit about yourself.

A: My name is John Zelenski and my debut novel is Walker's Vale.  I live in northeastern PA with my wife and two children and enjoy writing and reading (what a surprise)!  Besides writing and working as a VA Certifying Official, I enjoy collecting and selling sports cards and memorabilia (Big Phillies and Eagles fan).

Q: How long have you been writing?

A: I've been writing on and off since high school (20+years ago, ouch)!  but only got serious about getting published within the last 5 years.

Q: What is Walker's Vale about?

A: Walker's Vale is a Christian-based supernatural / suspense / paranormal / horror thriller that follows a man who is running from his relationship with God and a host of other doubts that he is having a hard time coming to terms with.  He moves his family to the seemingly quiet town of Walker's Vale, PA only to find that the very things he's been running from, are awaiting his arrival.  He comes to learn that the term "the devil is in the details" takes on a literal meaning of sorts.

Q: How did you come up with the plot?   

A: The plot is mostly imaginative with some real-life elements taken from a supernatural experience I encountered as a child.

Q: Tell us about James Cooper.

A: He is essentially a doubting Thomas of the modern age that believes everything in this life needs an explanation.  His character, at the heart of it is a good person who would do anything to protect his family and those he holds dear.  I think he represents any of us who have had doubts or questions about faith, God, the universe, and even ourselves (which by my calculation should encompass the entire human population).

Q: What do you feel sets your book apart from others of the same genre? 

A: I am certainly not the first person to write in Christian-based horror/ thriller genre, but I think what might slightly distance my book from others is the fact that I try to focus more on Christian ideals as the magnifying glass to showcase the good and the evil that not only is mankind but also present in the unseen or invisible world around us.

Q: Did you have any specific goals when writing Walker's Vale? Any themes or ideas or concepts that you wanted to get across to the audience?

A: Just that it's OK to have doubts or questions about anything.  Not everything can be explained.  I think we'd be lying if we claimed to understand why everything happens the way it does.  However with faith in God, all things do eventually work together for a good purpose.

Q: How long did it take you to write Walker's Vale? Did you hire any outside help such as a cover artist or editor?

A: Walker's Vale was written in a little over a year I believe.  As an author published through Tate Publishing, they handled the editing and cover design.

Q: Who has been your biggest supporter in your writing aspirations? How do they support you?

A: Definitely my family, to whom I am eternally grateful. They support with encouragement, prayer and (sometimes cash).  Seriously though, they've been supportive with the late nights working and what I call "Daddy's quiet time."

Q: As I'm sure you know, many readers like to find their favorite authors on social networking websites like facebook and twitter. Do you have any social network links you'd like to share?

A: Yes, readers can connect with me for right now via  

Q: What do you think of the changes taking place in the publishing industry?  With authors gaining more control over the creation and distribution of their work, what do you think readers stand to gain/lose?   

A: I think it's great!  I think it will eventually change the landscape of publishing just like the music industry was turned upside down years ago.  The public will decide what they want to read rather than simply relying on the opinions of a few powerful gatekeepers who control the literary world.

Q: Have you ever sat down to write a scene only to have the story take you in a completely different direction than you had planned?

A: Every time I write.  I kind of just put myself in the scene see where it goes from there.  I love to write, because I never know what will come next.

Q: And just for fun, favorite vacation destination?

A: "John Zelenski, now that you've won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, where are you going?"  "I'm going to Disney World!"

Thanks so much for sharing your work with us!  We look forward to seeing more from you in the future!

Walker's Vale

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Sample Saturday: The Patriots of Mars - Jeff Faria

Today's book sample comes from Jeff Faria's upcoming title The Patriots of Mars.  Mr. Faria was kind enough to give me a bit of insight into the concept of this book, and I must say I find it quite intriguing.  This week, we have Prologue II from The Patriots of Mars.  And of course, I'd like to thank Jeff Faria for sharing his work with us at Searching for Heroes.  Enjoy!

Charles Hammer’s Demonstration

Most weekdays, Chicago’s Michigan Avenue was heavily trafficked. But on May 7, 2051, it was closed for Dr. Charles Hammer’s big PR stunt. This required extraordinary co-operation from public officials, even in a town notorious for ‘anything at a price’. The fact that he pulled it off with so little trouble spoke to Hammer’s reputation, perseverance, money, connections, and personal magnetism.

The cynical and jealous media credited only his money.

A materials scientist, Hammer was renowned for one of the 21st Century’s game-changing breakthroughs: A self-folding, permeable polymer web that led to the world’s first ‘true’ artificial intelligence, and eventually, MOM. He’d promised the media an even bigger story today. Dapper, philosophical, and a publicity magnet, he was legendary for his speed with a soundbyte. Early in his career, when a critic dismissed him as ‘50% Thomas Edison and 50% P.T. Barnum’, Hammer quipped: “Edison was 50% Barnum too, so technically I’m 50% Edison and 100% Barnum.”

Fifty folding chairs were set out on a carpeted area for media and invited guests. They faced a short bamboo stage a meter above street level, topped with a curved metallic structure whose main purpose was to intimidate through the obvious expense of its manufacture. Almost incidentally, it also provided shade and acoustic enhancements. Onstage was a large ultradef display and a marble lectern from antiquity. On the street, at either end and in front of the stage, were two 18-wheel trailer trucks set in opposite directions. Hammer had wanted ‘bot drivers, but the local union bosses insisted on humans. The unions were hurting badly from the incursion of ‘bots, and wanted to use Hammer’s limelight to make a point. A 600-meter spool of ribbon, made from Hammer’s new discovery, had one end attached to the back of each.

Hammer held a sample of the ribbon up for his audience to see. A showman to his core, he’d deliberately made it as ephemeral-looking as possible, to strike a dramatic contrast with the burly semis. It looked like nothing more than a wisp of blackish toilet paper. He raised the ribbon higher to flutter in Chicago’s famous wind, declaring it “thinner than a politician’s promise, but much harder to break”.

Hammer explained the nature of the stuff. The big screen behind him showed an animated diagram of a continuous-fiber carbon nanotube, which for decades had been the holy grail of materials scientists. He said its extreme light weight and strength would enable a number of important product innovations, and promised to elaborate after the demonstration.

The trucks roared to life and sped off. A counter on the big vidscreen rapidly ticked off the length of ribbon that remained. Just before it hit ‘zero’, the stunt drivers bailed. The spools ran out and the ribbon snapped tight, sounding a deep, dynamic ‘thunk’ that rebounded smartly off the nearby buildings. Both trucks lifted off the ground and twisted balletically in the air, screeching and groaning as their kinetic energies sought avenues of release. Finally spent, they fell heavily to earth, but Hammer’s material did not yield.

When the applause and chatter subsided, Hammer offered illustrations of potential uses for the product, such as reinforced concrete, faster planes, and crash-resistant automobiles. Referencing the latter he said, “The trucks you just saw were reinforced with a web made of our product.” The underside of a truck appeared onscreen, and a zoom-in revealed what looked like a bird’s nest made of swizzle sticks. “Had we not done this, at least one of the trucks would have had its back end torn off. You’d be thinking our vehicle was faulty, and we’d be off chasing the remnants down the street.

“Don’t ask me how we know that, by the way. I’d only have to lie to protect the guilty.” The audience tittered knowingly.

“We call our product Carmōt.” A logo appeared onscreen. “‘Car’ for the element ‘carbon’. Our product is pure carbon, just like the charcoal in your grill or a diamond ring. ‘Mot’ is French for ‘word’, and a word is a group of letters given meaning by placing them in a specific order. ‘Carmōt’ is carbon given strength by the order of its structure.

“Over the next two weeks, a dozen licensees will announce their own products based on this material. These will bear a ‘contains Carmōt’ label. As we find ways to lower costs through production scale and other efficiencies, we expect that many more products will come to market. We’ve been seeing a great deal of interest in Carmōt. In fact, it’s been a bit overwhelming.

“But there is one use for Carmōt we’re developing ourselves, and that’s what we’ll discuss for the remainder of our time today.”

Video clips of flying cars from Star Wars and The Jetsons came onscreen.

“There are two great technological lies of the past hundred years. The first is that, one day, you would drive to work in your flying car. The second is that we entered the space age back in the 1960’s.” Famous pop-culture spacecraft, from 2001 to Star Trek, flashed across the vid screen.

“We have made some use of space. We have satellites feeding us communications. That’s fine, but calling it a ‘space age’ is like calling a trip to the local deli a restaurant tour. Our ‘space age’ has had about as much to do with space as the Radio Flyer did with radio.

“Why is that? Well, like the flying car, our model for getting into space and back again just isn’t practical. Oh, we have ways of getting into space all right, but they don’t scale to a viable, practical, profitable space-based industry. If our basic transportation model was as impractical as our space model, none of you would even have cars.

“How do I know our business model for getting into space is broken? Because if we did have a reliable and pragmatic means for getting to space and back, we’d have a space-based industry right now, today. But that’s not what we have. What we have are satellite launches, and that’s about it. After all these years, we still can pick only the lowest-hanging space fruit.

“We have a crying need right now, today, for a mature, viable space-based industry. Among other things, we’re running out of metal, water, and minerals. Our planet is tapped-out, and we’re trapped on it to boot. We know that at least some of the resources we need are sitting out there for the taking, out in space, right now. We know exactly where they are, and we do want them - but we don’t go get them, because we don’t have a means to go after them that doesn’t cost more in resources than we could recover. That’s the hard truth. We can kid ourselves about that - actually, we do kid ourselves, and have for a long time - but there’s no getting around it.

“Our plans for extending human enterprise into space have never been plans at all. They’ve been government-funded stunts, sci-fi entertainments, and wishful thinking. We’ve been idly fantasizing, for decades, about how we’ll build an ocean with a thimble. That’s why, a half-century after 2001, we still have no Space Odyssey. We need to stop dreaming and start doing.”

Hammer paused while quotes like these appeared onscreen:


‘It's a very sobering feeling to be up in space and realize that one's safety factor was determined by the lowest bidder on a government contract.’

- Alan Shepard, astronaut


‘I always considered every launch a barely controlled explosion.’

- Aaron Cohen, NASA administrator


Hammer gestured at the screen and resumed: “Let’s face it, this is no way to run a space railroad. Speaking of which: If we had waited for government to build the railroads - or the telegraph or anything else vital to the growth and well-being of our country - we’d still be waiting today. So then - why are we waiting for the world’s governments to lead us into space?

“Now as you’ve probably guessed, we are here to do something besides complain about this. Some of you may know that in 1895, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky first conceived the idea for a space elevator.” Concept art, some of it charmingly antique, appeared onscreen behind Hammer. “It’s a simple idea: A large satellite orbits a planet, while attached to the planet with a cable. The space elevator rides up and down that cable, which reaches high enough to escape most of Earth’s gravity well.

“Until now, no suitable material existed for the cable. It’s a long, long way up into space, so anything strong enough for the task would break under its own weight. That’s been the big hold-up, pardon the pun, until now. Carmōt is the breakthrough that will enable the space elevator and, at last, a true space age.

“If you were an investor, would you want your money in a business where valuable goods and personnel were routinely placed atop a ‘barely controlled explosion’ every day? Or would you prefer a business where key resources took a safe, predictable elevator ride to their destination? For a serious investor, the business of space has never added up. There has never been a sound business plan for space exploration. Space spending has always been justified by invoking adventure, vanity, national glory, Star Wars fantasies, and scientific research. But the investing world, which wants an actual return on equity, mostly considered space ventures as money thrown down a rathole. In our secret hearts we’ve always known this was true, and government’s the first resort for lost causes. That’s the real and shameful reason we’ve always instinctively turned to government for space enterprise funding.

“One perk of amassing a personal fortune like mine is not having to wait for anything. That’s why we’re not waiting for someone with an interest in space to approach us. We as a species cannot afford to wait a moment longer.”

A map appeared onscreen as Hammer continued. “We’ve built the base foundation for the world’s first space elevator in this area not far from O’Hare. Here it is, in this aerial photo. NASA, who we’re trying to put out of business, has graciously lashed together some decom’d satellites for our counterbalance, and nudged them into a geosync orbit about 38,000 km over the base. A Carmōt cable has been manufactured in an automated orbiting factory we’ve built, and one end has been attached to the satellites. Over the next few weeks the other will be lowered into contact with the base.

“We’ve obtained permits to operate a small, experimental version of the elevator. Should this be successful, as we expect, we will immediately begin work on a full-size version. Eventually we will construct a number of these on Earth, and subsequently on the Moon and Mars.

“As important as enabling a true space-based industry is, it’s not the only reason for this initiative. It may not even turn out to be the most important one. Exploration, on any meaningful scale, has always been linked to the expansion of commerce and profit. With exploration comes frontier, and as frontier expands so does personal liberty. In fact, I dare say that only the expansion of frontier or the collapse of institutions has ever expanded liberty.

“I don’t want to turn this into a political or philosophical forum, but I do want to make a few closing observations. It’s clear to me that we live in a world where the hand of government reaches deeply into nearly every human endeavor. The U.S. is moving steadily toward a de facto one-party system, which in turn is controlled by enormous multinational corporations and a handful of individuals far more powerful than any king who ever wore a crown. The rest of the world is in even sadder shape than we are. For the average man, there’s very little frontier left anywhere.

“Thomas Jefferson wrote that, in the course of human events, times come when governments become oppressive and must be altered or abolished. Those are fine and famous words, but what we’ve forgotten is that Jefferson never did alter or abolish the government that was oppressing him. The plain truth is, he and his fellow colonists were in no position to reform the British Empire. They were outmanned, outgunned, and outmonied. But they were able to get beyond the king’s reach and begin again. And we – all of us today, the entire human race - are immeasurably better off for that legacy.

“It is human nature, unfortunately, for institutions to grow corrupt and overbearing, and for ideals and dreams to grow weary and stale. It is also human nature to find new frontiers and refresh the collective soul. History tells us that when one oppressed man - one single man - is freed, all men eventually benefit. So you see, it hardly matters whether those of us gathered here today go on to the moon and Mars, or if others do so after us. What matters today is that, after so much self-deception, and so many false starts, the day of change has finally arrived.

This,” he said, his slightly-trembling hand holding the fluttering Carmōt sample aloft one last time, “paves the road to prosperity, freedom and hope. This holds the promise for the future of humanity. And like every great breakthrough in history, this comes along precisely when we need it most.”

Hammer’s small audience stood and, for the next ten minutes, cheered and whistled and applauded. In hotels facing the street, where more media and well-wishers watched out windows and on large ultradef displays, hundreds more followed suit. And around the world, where the event had been broadcast live, billions felt an unfamiliar, warm swelling of hope.


Nearly two hundred years after Charles Hammer’s demonstration, and a week after the miners’ escape, a dozen pressure-suited figures wearing Mars-themed masks entered a Hammer-designed space elevator. On reaching the top, they broke into an enormous freighter in a Martian space dock. Overpowering the guards on duty, they proceeded to the cargo hold. There they found a shipment from Earth waiting to be unloaded, and dumped it into space.

Some of the containers passed through the old artificial Van Allen Belt, leaving a shimmering trail that was seen all the way from Earth.


For more information on The Patriots of Mars and the latest from Jeff Faria, click here: The Patriots of Mars

Friday, May 11, 2012

Author Interview - J.A. Beard

Today's interview is with J.A. Beard, author of The Emerald City.  A fresh take on the classic story of Oz, The Emerald City takes many of the elements of the classic story and gives them a unique spin.

Q: What inspired you to write The Emerald City?

A: I happen to like musicals. A few years back, I was fortunate enough to have the Broadway touring version of Wicked roll into my town. For those unfamiliar with the musical or the book that it's based on, it's a revisionist take on the Wonderful Wizard of Oz from the perspective of the Wicked Witch of the West.

It was a great show and I thoroughly enjoyed the performance. After leaving though, I also found myself a bit more interested in Oz in general. I decided I wanted to write a YA book in the setting, an age demographic which is, I suppose, older than the original target audience for the Oz books but younger than the target audience of Wicked. I didn't want to do a straight adaptation. Instead, I liked the idea of more playing with the archetypes in a contemporary setting. Thus, The Emerald City, a sort of Oz-in-a-modern boarding school story, was born.

Q: Tell us about Gail Dorjee.

A: Gail Dorjee is a sarcastic and somewhat impulsive sixteen year-old from Topeka, Kansas. After her parents die in a car wreck, she lives with her aunt and uncle who are a bit put out having to take care of her. Depressed and bitter over her parent's death and her relatives' less than loving treatment of her, she ends up getting sent to a boarding school in Seattle.

Now, although much of Gail's combative nature is a sort of emotional shield to prevent her from having to deal with her grief, there's a core of concern for others that pokes through all of that and really helps motivate a lot of her actions. She's not one to stand by while somebody is picked on. She's also very loyal to her friends.

Q: How did you come up with the plot?

A: Well, it's a very loose adaptation of the original Wonderful Wizard of Oz, so there are certain very broad strokes that were borrowed from that book, but my story definitely isn't a one-to-one correspondence to the other story. I liked a lot of the archetypes more than the individual plot points. Though there are a few things that are a bit more direct shout-outs to the original book.

So instead, I knew the three major plot points I wanted, and then just generated connective scene tissue, as it were, to get from A to B to C.

The overall plot from first to final draft didn't change that much, though there were a few things that got adjusted. For example, originally the main character, Gail Dorjee, was a bit of a juvenile delinquent. She was sent to Osland Academy after stealing a car. Her wealthy aunt and uncle use their leverage to get the charges dropped in exchange for her getting sent to a boarding school.

In that scenario, the car was going to be some made-up brand, a Tornado (though there are a few actual Tornado cars I found, too), to link in with the original Oz story. I decided I didn't really like starting Gail out that way, so instead I kept a lot of the sarcastic and combative personality, just with less grand theft auto. In the new version, she's still brought to Osland by a twister...a cab from the Twister Cab Company.

Q: How long have you been writing?

A: I've been writing on and off for many years, but I didn't get serious about until about three years ago. That was the point I sat down and started seriously studying the craft, spending a lot of daily time writing, et cetera.

Q: Tell us a bit about yourself.

A: I'm married and have two children. I've lived a fairly kind of all-over-the-place kind of life. I was in the Air Force for a while, did corporate programming, and now am finishing up a stint in graduate school where I've been messing around with virology.

I find a lot of things fascinating but have a particular interest in science and history. The former is unlikely to heavily influence my writing, but the latter has lead to an interest in producing some historical works.

Q: Did you have any specific goals when writing The Emerald City?  Any themes or ideas or concepts that you wanted to get across to the audience?

A: Well, first and foremost I wanted to tell an interesting story. Second, I wanted to explore grief. Gail lost her parents six months before the story begins. She's dealing with a bit of survivor's guilt in addition to the sadness that naturally comes with losing love ones. I tried to do a good job of exploring some of the emotion that comes with such tragedy and some of the implications, both through Gail, and, ultimately, through another character who has dealt with similar issues in a much more unfortunate and tragic way.

Third, I wanted to explore, as corny as it sounds, the power of friendship. Although this is a story mostly about Gail, she befriends a number of people with various problems and issues. On the surface, Gail is the strong one. She's the one who disrupts the status quo of the unpleasant social environment of Osland Academy and spends a lot of time sticking up for other people and helping others. At the same time, though, their friendship helps her. 

Q: Would you mind painting us a picture of the Osland Academy?  The sights, the sounds, the environment?

A: Osland is an elite boarding school in Seattle. The campus itself is covered with a a veritable forest of evergreens. There are a lot of brick paths (yes including a main yellow brick road) connecting the various gabled and ivy-covered red-brick buildings. There are fountains everywhere. The green uniform-clad students make a nice contrast with both the red-brick and yellow-brick paths around the school. At the center, right in front of the main building is a small statue of a Cairn Terrier, the dog of the school's founder.

The dog was named Africa. There's an Oz joke in there that relies on knowledge of 80s soft-rock. I'm dubious if very many of my target audience will get it, but it was fun to insert it in there.

Though small (the entire student body is only a little over two hundred students), Osland Academy is a very beautiful place. The social environment is decidedly more ugly. The senior class president, a girl named Diana Ohume, has her own social clique, the Winged, who have no problem making life unpleasant for anyone who stands up to them. The teachers, for the most part, seem to be good-hearted but oblivious to some of the cruelty going on at the school.

There are also more than a few strange things at the school. Gail figures out early on that she's physically incapable of cursing. A teacher's dream, for sure, but also a bit unsettling for a feisty and occasionally rebellious teenager.

Q: As I'm sure you know, many readers like to find their favorite authors on social networking websites like facebook and twitter.  Do you have any social network links you'd like to share?

A: Well, the main places I'm active are:


Q: What do you think of the changes taking place in the publishing industry?  With authors gaining more control over the creation and distribution of their work, what do you think readers stand to gain/lose?

A: Publishing has been a very stagnant industry. Certain business practices, such as the return and pulping system, date back to the Depression! In other words, it's definitely an industry in need of a little creative destruction.

That being said, publishing is filled with people who love books and have spent years bringing that expertise to the editorial improvement and distribution of books. Not every author wants to take on all that responsibility, nor do I think they should have to just because they want to tell a story. There's a strong role for all types of publishers and publishing options.

I think it is, in general, a good thing that authors have more options concerning creation and distribution of their work. Those options, in turn, create competition that can help shake up the publishing industry and help them look into better ways to help out authors and readers while still preserving their bottom line.

Readers benefit from all of this in that they have more choices. A lot of times traditional publishing can limit the scope of what's being published for practical economic reasons. There may just not be enough people interested in a particular niche to justify the outlay involved with taking a book from initial manuscript to final product.

A significantly dedicated author, on the other hand, doesn't have to deal with as much overhead. This means if they write a book that isn't necessarily mainstream, they can still publish it and get it to the people interested in that sort of work. The author gets to tell the story they want to hear, and it's easier for readers to find certain types of books that are harder sells for publishers, even some smaller publishers with lower overhead.

All that additional choice, though, is also a two-edged sword. There's more general "noise" in the system that has to be cut through. There's always potential quality concerns when there are fewer barriers to entry.

That being said, the former benefits outweigh the latter costs. Reviews, sampling, book bloggers, et cetera all help contribute to ameliorating quality concerns. Despite the internet and e-reader revolution, surveys continue to indicate that the single most common way people find books is the same way they always have: recommendations from others.

In the end, this publishing change is just like the rise of the internet itself. There are billions of websites, yet people still manage to find interesting and high-quality ones.

Q: What is the most important piece of advice you can give to the other authors out there?

A: Seek out objective feedback. It's the only way you'll grow as a writer and unless your name is Gabriel Garcia Marquez, you have plenty of room to grow. I know I do. Writer and critique groups are great for feedback. Plus, in interacting and analyzing other authors' works, you'll learn to better appreciate the mechanics and techniques you're trying to apply in your own.

Q: Who has been your biggest supporter in your writing aspirations?  How do they
support you?

A: My wife. She's encouraged me and helped convince me I do have something interesting to share with the world.

Q: What book could you read over and over again and never get tired of it?

A: None. There are many books I love, but there are more books in existence than I could ever read. As each book is a unique experience, I'd rather read a new book than re-read one that I've read before, even if I did love it.

Thanks for taking the time to tell us about your work!

Thanks for having me.

 The Emerald City

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Pointless Sex

Now that I have your attention...

Laura had me watch "Water for Elephants" the other night.  It wasn't a bad movie, but it wasn't exactly one I'd rush out to buy, either.  It's about a guy who is set to graduate from school and get his license in veterinary medicine.  His parents die in a car accident, their assets are seized due to debts, and he suddenly finds himself homeless.  With nowhere to go, he winds up with a traveling circus taking care of the animals.

Three-quarters of the way through the story, there is a sex scene.  Nothing graphic or over-the-top, just your regular could-be-aired-on-TV sex scene.  While it was playing, I started thinking about sex scenes as a storytelling tool.  And I've come to a conclusion:  I don't understand them.

Whether in books, movies, TV shows, or video games, I just don't see the purpose.  From a storyline perspective, they don't accomplish anything.  It's not like sex means anything to the average person anymore.  What was once the most intimate expression of love between a husband and wife is now just as commonplace as shaking hands.  So I'm not sure what purpose these scenes serve.

Watching this one, I looked at Laura and asked, "Is this supposed to mean that they're passionately in love?  Because this is the same exact premise of '16 and Pregnant,' and we all know how those stories turn out."  A sex scene in a movie doesn't do anything to emphasize or define or characterize love between two people because - let's face it - the amount of people who have sex out of honest-to-God love is minimal these days.  Our entertainment, our media, and our society all glorify sex so much that it has lost any and all of the significance it once held.  It's an everyday thing now, an activity that takes place between two willing participants (That's really teh only requirement these days.  They don't need to be married or in love - they don't even need to like each other!).

So how is a sex scene supposed to have any impact on the story when it is something teenagers do simply to shed the dreaded "virgin" title?  When college students use it as a recreational activity?  When companies use it to sell products?  When girls have babies simply because they're lonely?  When men carry the number of women they've slept with as a badge of honor?

On the flip side, a story that emphasizes an actual emotional connection can accomplish wonders that sex scenes simply can't.  I become far more invested in characters who interact well, can play off one another's individual characteristics, and who always find their way to each other no matter what obstacles or circumstances stand between them.  At that point, there's no need for a sex scene because it would add nothing to the already established relationship.  Characters should be about character, not what goes on behind closed doors.

I realize that I don't speak for everyone.  But as someone who loves a good storyline, I can't think of a single instance where a sex scene has added anything to the depth or strength of a story that wasn't already there.  They feel like filler scenes to me - a chance to refill my soda, skip ahead a few pages, or change the channel.  You don't have to agree; I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who could do without a fantasy sword duel or sci-fi space battle.  Everyone's got their own thing.

The sex scene ain't mine.

God bless,

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Sample Saturday: The Patriots of Mars - Jeff Faria

Today's book sample comes from Jeff Faria's upcoming title The Patriots of Mars.  Mr. Faria was kind enough to give me a bit of insight into the concept of this book, and I must say I find it quite intriguing.  An author interview with Mr. Faria is forthcoming, but for now, I invite you to take a moment to enjoy Prologue I from The Patriots of Mars.  And of course, I'd like to thank Jeff Faria for sharing his work with us at Searching for Heroes.  Enjoy!

The Incident
Ten klicks underground, a girl was screaming.
MOM dutifully delivered the sounds to the miners’ aural implants. But Josh Reynolds, at 12 the youngest on the shift, thought he heard her right through his bubble. He had MOM flip the local/common ‘dim feed off and on and off again. Sure enough, he could hear her despite the thin Martian air. She was nearby, he only had to follow her voice. He began moving toward it, grateful for a clear-cut task to focus on, since everything else had become surreal.
Time was either moving too fast or too slow - he couldn’t tell which. The clarity of a few moments - minutes? hours? - ago was gone as if it had never existed. The world was all pastel shadows now. It felt like a dream. More than that, Josh knew, it felt like his dream. He flipped his ‘dim feed back on again to keep tabs on the others.
The crew wasn’t sure what to make of - whatever was happening. Then there was a stillness. ‘Is it over?’ they wondered. The answer came in the form of a fresh explosion and another rumble of falling rock from some corner of the vast space. Then there was a great clash of metal that seemed to come from everywhere at once. Suddenly they knew what it had to be: It was the thing they’d been assured could not happen - not again, not here, and not to them. But it had happened, and it was happening. ‘Of course,’ thought Josh, ‘The thing they tell you can’t happen is exactly what happens. It’s just not the way you expect, is all.’
The mine was collapsing. They felt the sudden certainty of it in their stomachs. The soupy haze in the air turned a shade darker. The enormous Staging Area they occupied - ‘the largest man-made excavation in history’ as the owners billed it - began to feel claustrophobic. They were gripped by a sense that fresh danger could emerge from anywhere, at any moment.
Two things stoked the fear. One was inexperience - this all-teen shift had never been through a collapse. They’d endured all the simulations and drills the law required, but none of it prepared them for the real thing.
The other was that the miners didn’t carry air tanks. Most days, tanks were a cumbersome nuisance. Instead, air was pumped in along dozens of bundled pipes running everywhere along the walls, and the miners hooked their hoses into the feed wherever they went. But now at least some of those feeds were broken, and the rest were buried. No one knew which feeds still worked, or how much air remained. Their pressure suits held about fifteen minutes reserve, max.
Josh kept following the cries piercing his bubble, but his local ‘dim connection now threatened to drown them out. His fellow miners were unconsciously streaming their bargains with God, appeals to absent parents, and bursts of uncontrolled sobbing into each others’ heads. They were tumbling into panic. Josh shut down the channel.
His path was lit by electrical sparks, swaying light fixtures and miners’ lanterns trying vainly to pierce the dark. The shifting light made the ground seem unstable - which for all he knew, it was.
Josh was amazed that a cavern this size - clear and well-lit a short while ago - could fill so quickly and completely with this clingy floating muck. It was as if it had been tucked away somewhere waiting for this moment. He remembered one of the owners saying Mars was ‘just a ball of dust stuffed with money’. No doubt he was right on both counts, though Josh could only vouch for the former.
Since it posed such headaches for the owners, new miners had to sit through a lecture on Martian dust. Josh recalled it as he pushed ahead.
‘Eons before man declared Mars a god, it was covered with a dust that had nothing better to do but blow around and sandblast the planet. Which it did - hour after hour, day after day, for years beyond imagining. The result is the most finely-milled naturally-occurring substance ever found, and it’s proved to be the biggest obstacle we’ve encountered. It gets into everything. You’ll smell it, taste it, live with it.’ All of which was true enough, and Josh had heard endless complaints about breathing it, rashes from it, killer storms of it, and the slipperiness of it. Since he was Martian-born he was accustomed to the dust, but it drove newcomers to distraction. He remembered an Earth-Firster in the Phase 2 Dome saying, ‘If God had wanted man to get a foothold on Mars, He wouldn’t have made it so greasy.’ It was a popular expression among that crowd.
It grew murkier. The ceiling-mounted enviro-scrubbers were outmatched, if they were working at all. The dust was reclaiming a piece of Mars that man had literally carved out for himself.
To his left, Josh could make out a group that seemed to be trying to escape through one of the access tunnels. Josh knew that was a mistake - his dream had shown him that. He thought about trying to dissuade them. But as he looked over, he felt no pang of urgency. He assumed that meant something would keep them out of those tunnels, so he kept moving.
There were only two women in the crew. Josh hadn’t asked for a location out of fear of learning it was Emily in trouble. She’d known mine collapses - her family went back generations in the West Virginian mining culture. That’s why she was on Mars. In fact, it was why her whole family was there, and why there was a shift just for people her age. ‘She’s not one to panic, but who knows?’, he thought. He was about to ask MOM for her location when his proximity alarm went off. As it did, a small silver-and-black Armor-Dillo tag on his torso glowed a bright, hot orange. An electric jolt passed through him, and he went limp. At the same time, the exoskeleton woven into his suit tucked him into a ball with his hands over his head and his knees bent. As he fell, his suit’s outer layer puffed out into resilient curved ridges. A ‘fetal Michelin Man’ was how Kat had described the pose to him, though Josh had no idea what that meant. The process took under two seconds.
One of the giant scrubbers had torn loose from the ceiling over Josh, its fall triggering his Armor-Dillo. As the scrubber struck the nearby ground the ‘Dillo released its grip, leaving him shaking and with little control of his limbs. The hulking steel box shuddered and bounced his way. It groaned and tilted menacingly over Josh, casting a great shadow over him. He flailed about with rubbery arms and kicked at the ground as if to swim away. The grit he churned up pinged musically off the approaching intake grille. Finally, the scrubber lost momentum and settled back with a great metallic clatter.
Josh rolled to his side, coughed and spat stomach acid into his bubble. ‘Great. On top of everything else, now I’ll have to smell that.’ He felt dizzy and his hands and feet buzzed. Then Kat’s voice was in his ear. “Hey. You OK?”
“Who,” Josh croaked, his throat sore from the acid, “who thought that was a good idea?”
“The ‘Dillo? Well, the ‘Dillo guys made it worth the insurer’s while, the insurer reached out to the Party, and the Party leaned on the owners. You know: Same way anything else gets to be a good idea around here. You forget who you work for?”
Josh rolled his eyes. “That thing wasn’t going to hit me. Even if it was, I’d rather have taken my chances with it than go through - that. Ugh.” He could not get the vile taste of the acid out of his mouth, and knew he probably would not get a chance to do so for hours. ‘Unless it’s the last thing I ever taste,’ he thought.
“So, this is ‘the doors’, right?” asked Kat. “Where we have to build new ones?”
Josh had told Kat about his recent dream, where he was in a dark, murky room with many doors. Most of the doors didn’t work, and the few that did led nowhere. The only way out was to build a new door, on top of the old door. Somehow the new door made the old door work. That was the riddle. Josh hadn’t understood its meaning when he’d told Kat about it. Now he thought he did, and apparently so did Kat.
“Right. We need to make new doors.”
“It’s ten kilos, you know, to the surface. Most of the heavy equipment is buried in the side tunnels. We don’t have the tools or the time.”
“The trick is knowing where to dig. Only certain ‘doors’ will open. I think it means large parts of the existing tunnels and access-ways are clear - but we have to find the right sections, ones that are near other clear sections, that lead to other clear sections. It’s a giant puzzle. We dig from one to another till we’re out. But first I want to know who’s doing all the screaming.”
“It’s not Emily. I just spoke with her.”
Josh felt relieved, and also guilty for feeling relieved. “It’s Mary, then. I’m going after her. If I don’t, no one else will. When I find the spot for the first ‘door’, I’ll call you.”
“Need me to do anything in the meantime?”
“Grab any utility pods and light converters you can get your hands on. We’ll need them when the lights go out.”
“The lights…?” Kat was about to lecture that the lights couldn’t go out - they were military-grade and drew power direct from MOM thru the interdim. Even a completely collapsed tunnel should have working lights. But before he could launch into his spiel, the lights flickered. In a rare moment, Kat fell as silent as if some Omniscient Being had toggled the switch.
“Forget who you work for?” Under different circumstances, Josh might have relished the modest karmic payback.
“Right. Pods, lights. Later.”
Kat rarely missed a chance to display the world-weariness of all his 17 years, and Josh thought that, of all the things in the world to mock, his imaginary (or at best, unseen) ally should have been near the top of his list. Yet he never condescended to Josh for being half a decade younger, and he never slighted his visions or The Guide.
As he walked, Josh called MOM for stats with a bit of body language, as people did when they had no device at hand. A backward tilt of the head, an upward lift of the eyes, and a small upward open-palm movement brought him MOM’s attention. The data he requested floated before him as he went along. Flipping through the panels (sent from MOM to Josh’s ocular implant, via his comm-pod) his hand left swirling trails in the clinging smog around him, and his fingers made small dents and ripples in the data where MOM determined he’d ‘touched’ it.
• Your location: Acidalia Planitia (Mars) Chinese/US Martian Mining Consortium’s Mine No. 1, 10 km below grade. [map]
• July 6, 2231, 11:10 AM U.S. Eastern Time. [option: Mars time]
• Local seismic activity and an explosion detected. [map]
• Maintenance-bots battling an ongoing fire in an oxygen-feed passageway. [map / vid]
• 30 workers assigned to the current shift are in the mine. [list]
• All pressure suits are intact. [inventory]
• Smoke has been detected in the vicinity. [map]
• Oxygen conduits throughout the mine have <20% pressure. [diagram]
• There is a possibility of additional explosions from the ignition of oxygen trapped in crevices. [more]
• All elevators are inoperative. [damage report]
• The full extent and cause of the collapse is undetermined. [status report]
MOM confirmed that the trapped female was Mary, and showed her exact location. Josh noticed her Armor-Dillo had kicked in, too. ‘Maybe she had more luck with it than I did,’ he thought. ‘Maybe she’ll walk out of here and become their company spokesman.’ She was just in front of him, to his right, but her muffled voice seemed further removed. As Josh drew nearer, he saw she had been cut off by the collapse. She was behind a pile of rock - or beneath it.
Her pleas had devolved into frightened little animal sounds. She was giving up, withdrawing. Josh tried to coax her back with assurances that he was right there with her, digging her out. He told her more help was on the way. That was a lie, but he was losing her. He even looked around to see if anyone might really be coming, but no one was. Everyone had their own urgent agenda. Their pressure suits, designed to glow in a crisis, were ghosts drifting through a foggy graveyard.
Josh pulled out a tool all the miners carried. It was a collapsible, hydraulic-powered claw that fit over his hands and arms, attaching to the exoskeletal threads and conduits woven into his suit.  As it snapped in place, a pattern of varying-sized glowing hexagons formed over parts of his limbs and torso. His pliant suit assumed a rigid structure that supported and powered the claw. This let him grip the rocks powerfully, and he began to shove them aside.
The comm-pod woven into his belt buzzed against his skin. A message labeled ‘Alert from the Chinese/US Mining Consortium Management’, popped up before him. Josh hated his employers’ passive-aggressive, broken-English corporate-speak. He began reading: ‘Dear workers in our beautiful mine...’ It was a waste of time and he flicked it away, annoyed.
They would probably all run out of air soon. Maintenance-bots should have been out among them by now, toting spare tanks and making their presence known, but for some reason they’d made no appearance. That was no big surprise to Josh, who figured they were either out of order or rented out elsewhere for a few quick bucks. There were emergency tanks along the walls, but most had been buried in the collapse. There was no telling how much air they held, or how many still worked at all. Even MOM wouldn’t know for sure. Odds were, Josh knew, if they stayed here they wouldn’t survive ‘til the molebots could find them.
Assuming that molebots would be sent for them. With the amount of construction taking place all over Mars, the big diggers were in short supply.
Signaling MOM to switch back to the common/local band, Josh heard the others searching for and fighting over the backup tanks. Morale sounded about as bad as before, so he figured he hadn’t missed any good news.
On a hunch, Josh re-checked Mary’s location. She’d been whimpering like a puppy, and he imagined her curled up in a fetal position. But she wasn’t still, as he’d expected - MOM showed her moving. She was already a few meters away from where he’d started digging.
Josh tapped one of MOM’s floating info panels to check her physical condition again. Her suit had lost structural integrity, and her bubble was losing pressure. She was suffocating, yet she was moving.
Josh knew what had happened: The rats were taking her.
Rats had been on Mars almost as long as humans. Lacking predators, they had naturally-selected their way to the size of housecats. They could even survive on the surface for short stretches. They nested mostly in the bygone passageways and temp structures that had been eked out and then forgotten by man as he secured his foothold on Mars.
The rats liked the mines especially. They lived in tunnels that had been plundered of treasure and closed off. Usually there was enough trash and air left behind for a smart rat to get by on. And they had learned to sniff along fresh trails of O2 leaks to find food.
All the miners carried small pellet guns to keep the rats at bay. But actual encounters were rare, and no one Josh knew had ever used one. He wondered now if Mary had used hers, and if it had made any difference.
Mary stopped making sounds, at least any that Josh could hear. She no longer had a heartbeat. MOM showed that she was still moving, but Josh knew she was not so much moving as being moved.
 Josh stopped digging, and removed his ‘claws’ as he asked MOM for the location of the shift supervisor. He was the only one older than a teen on this shift, and they should have heard from him by now. For just a moment Josh feared the worst, but MOM found him out on the surface. ‘That figures’, thought Josh. He’d been known to blow off a shift. Sometimes he’d take a buggy and joyride around the dunes, pretending he was on MarsRace. ‘No point getting upset,’ Josh told himself, ‘He’d have been useless anyway.’
MOM told Josh that Emily had checked his location and was headed toward him. Josh checked his O2: Seven minutes before he’d have to recharge. He knew he should head for the spare tanks and battle or beg his way to a nozzle, but he had other priorities.
Emily suddenly appeared at his side, her emergence startling them both. It was getting difficult to see beyond a meter. “Tell Elvis, Big John and Kat to find me. I need them to help me dig to the next section. Anyone you find with ten minutes or more of air, try to get them to come to me, too. Say I’m taking us to the next O2 source, and they can be first-in. Tell everyone else who’s short on air to follow my comm-flag after they find some. Say I found a way out.”
“You did?”
“Not yet. But I’m about to. I don’t want to broadcast that and start a stampede. If you tell them a few at a time, it may lower the panic level a bit. By the time they reach me, I’ll have something going on. But get Elvis, John, and Kat first.”
Emily turned and went. She was 4 years older than Josh. He flashed back to when she was a little girl and played at being his mommy. She’d been better at the role than his real mother. She hadn’t asked how he planned to find a way out, though Josh supposed she more or less knew.
Josh called up a map of the Staging Area. They weren’t far from the cargo elevator they’d come down on, but that had been demolished. He looked at the connecting tunnels and other passageways, especially those with backup O2. They were lucky the shift had just begun, and they hadn’t yet moved into the smaller, narrower tunnels where the actual material extraction took place. Many of those had caved completely, and they could have been buried alive. Unfortunately, most of their excavating equipment was in those tunnels, and could not be easily reached.
With a backhand sweep of his arm, Josh enlarged the floating map so it overlaid and correlated to the actual space around him. It formed a glowing wireframe-matrix that seemed to float in the dark mist. Now he had something he could see and follow. He walked over to the debris blocking one possible route, and stretched his arms over it. A sick fullness in his gut told him this could not be gotten through in time. He glanced around the room for something more promising, but though he could see the glowing matrix clearly, there was too much smoke and confusion around him. He’d have to walk the space and get near the right spot before he would know it. But that could take a while, and time was growing short.
He found a happier-feeling spot on the third try, at the same time Elvis and Big John found him. “Here,” said Josh, moving his hands over the rocks like antennae as he looked for the exact place to begin, “is where we dig. There are O2 tanks not far beyond this pile, and I think they’re operational.”
“OK, let’s start digging,” Elvis said, climbing up the pile.
Josh stopped him. “No, not there… here,” he said, pointing to a rock near the bottom. “Why?” Elvis complained. “If we pull that out, all the stuff on top will fall on us. Besides, that one’s got the weight of all the other rocks on it.”
“If we all grab it we can pull it free and still get clear of the slide. This is where we need to start. Please don’t touch anything else.” Josh guided Elvis down off his perch, put his hands on his shoulders so he bent down to his height, and touched their bubbles together ‘til they flattened slightly. Through their connected bubbles he said, “Humor me.”
They pulled out their claws and fitted them over their hands. The three pulled together and yanked the keystone free. Or possibly Big John pulled the rock and the others free. Either way, four of their six feet left the ground. They all stumbled backwards, which cleared them of the resulting slide.
As they regained their footing, Kat showed up, hauling equipment. They watched the rocks slide loose. A support beam that had been buried came into view, keeled over and jammed in the falling debris, forming a crude archway. The remaining loose rock settled and locked it into place.
“Old door/new door,” said Kat. “Neat!”
“That’s about halfway through to a small anteroom. There’s still a few meters of rock to get past, but we should be able to shove most of it into the space behind it,” Josh said, moving to the rocks to run his hands over their new configuration. Divining the key point, he said, “John, I think you can move this one, but there’s no ‘grip’ to it. You’ll need something to use as a lever. Let’s look around.”
Soon they broke through to a small enclave housing working, portable oxygen tanks untouched by the cave-in. This was just in time for Josh, as MOM alerted him he had a minute of air left. He signaled Emily that they had reached a new oxygen supply. “If you need air, guys, load up before the others get here. This buys us some time. Now we have to figure out where to dig next. Kat, I think there are some explosives stored back there. That’s your department. John, how about you and Elvis moving the portable tanks out so everyone won’t fight to get in here? Anybody know if they’ve started the molebots down?”
“No,” snapped Kat, “It’s like when that Chinese crew got trapped a few years back. The bosses are dragging their feet - they won’t risk a molebot until they know what caused the cave-in. Molebots are expensive, we’re expendable. And they never liked having a teenage shift anyway.”
Josh noticed the other miners gathering around them. MOM displayed all their names, which appeared to float in front of them. You could barely recognize someone inside a pressure suit even on a good day, and this was not a good day. He signaled Kat to set the lights up. Then he switched to the common-local ‘dim, and signaled for the others to do the same. “Here’s where we stand,” he said. “We’re in the most stable part of the mine, and we’re all together. So at least we’re not pinned down in the side tunnels. We’ve got O2 now, so there’s no immediate crisis there. Lots of connecting tunnels start from this spot. All we have to do is look for the right path out, and we’ll find more air along the way. We’ll be fine, we just have to get rolling.”
Big John, who rarely spoke in public, spoke. “They want us to stay put.” Elvis made a puzzled sound. “The bosses texted us a little bit ago,” John explained. “They said wait for the molebots.” Murmurs among the group suggested others were also leaning towards following orders and simply waiting for a rescue, now that there was air to breathe.
Josh replied, “Remember the Chinese crew that was buried alive down here? Two hundred of them. What do the owners call that? Not ‘the tragedy’, or even ‘the accident’. If they acknowledge it at all, they call it ‘the incident’. Well, there’s only fifty of us. To the bosses, we might not even rate as an ‘incident’.”
Kat chipped in: “Maybe the Chinese were told to wait, like we were. It doesn’t take an explosion to kill you down here, you know. You could just die of old age waiting for the bosses to act.”
Josh went on: “Remember last year, when they replaced all that steel we knew was faulty, even though they denied the problem? Maybe they know there’s a structural issue behind this collapse, and they’re willing to bury us along with the evidence.”
“There’s something else,” Kat added, “MOM’s showing a rising level of ambient oxygen throughout the mine. We catch a spark, we could have a fireball in here. Emily knows about fires in mines. On Earth, coal gas gets trapped in pockets and explodes. Same thing could happen here.”
“He’s right,” Emily said. “Waiting around while the O2 builds up is not a good idea.”
Murmuring and disagreement among the assembled group increased. One of the opposing voices spoke up: “The Chinese didn’t have a staging area this big. The leaked oxygen will disperse, and everything that’s going to collapse already has. You’re asking us to take risks we don’t have to. We’re safe enough here.”
At that moment, the lights faltered and everyone fell silent. The lights rallied at a fraction of their former wattage, but Kat had placed his backup units strategically near Josh, creating a spotlight around him.
In the newly-minted quiet, Josh continued his pitch. “Look. We work down here, at least most of us do, because we don’t have anybody on our side to help us get something better. That’s the sad truth of it. We’ve all learned to play the victim. We’re spending our lives waiting for someone else to do what we ought to do for ourselves. Well, we can learn to help ourselves, starting now, or keep on waiting like we’ve been taught to. I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of waiting. I want a say in what happens to me, and since no one will give it to me I’m ready to take it, any way I can.
“I know the bosses said wait. But they’re not down here. And things might get worse if we stay. We could have more explosions. This could be the calm before the storm. I say we have a right - no, we have a duty - to decide what’s best for us. That’s more important than what anyone says.” Josh tried to read nearby faces through their bubbles, but with the haze and the lights shining in his eyes that was impossible. There was still a fair amount of uncertainty, and in the murmur of voices Josh sensed a lingering uneasiness about disregarding the bosses’ orders. If anyone spoke for the ‘silent majority’ here, he thought, it was John. He’d worked the mine longest, and the others quite literally looked up to him. “John, what do you say? Should we take our fate in our hands, or sit here and hope someone will save us?”
“No, I’m with you. Gotta look out for yourself,” said John. “Wanted to hear you say it, is all.”
The fault line of opinion began to shift, and a consensus emerged that they would find their own way out. A moment ago the bosses were authority figures looking over their shoulders, and obedience meant security. Now the bosses seemed far away because obedience meant being left behind.
With Josh divining the strategic passages, they worked their way toward the surface. Ten hours later, they encountered a molebot sent to find them. After all that time, it had burrowed only 500 meters. Kat said, “They must have thought about the PR of not sending a molebot for their workers after two cave-ins. Once they realized we were most of the way out anyway, they went into butt-covering mode. Now they’ll tell the world their molebot saved us. Yeah, it saved us - it saved us about an hour’s work.”
The exhausted group spilled onto a small grotto that opened onto the surface. A few of the miners approached Josh to thank and congratulate him. Emily noticed, and took him aside. “See, you’re a hero!” she said. “Depends on your point of view,” Josh replied. “To the bosses, I’ll be the one who staged a mutiny.”
“Oh, come on. They’d have to believe you now,” she said.
Josh knew full well no one had to believe him, or any other 12-year-old he’d ever heard of. But this was always her answer - that his life would be better if everyone knew about The Guide. “Joan of Arc told people she talked to spirits. Look how that worked out.”
“If people knew, you could change your life! You don’t have to be stuck in the mines like us. You’ve got a gift.”
“If people knew, I’d have to explain it. How can I when I don’t understand it myself? Besides, The Guide shows up when he wants to, not when I want him to. My own mother thinks I have an imaginary friend, or maybe a strange personal religion. The best thing to do is keep it quiet. I’m fine with that. I only talk about him with you and the guys, and that’s all the support I need.”
Kat approached them. Since he was a friend, they both saw a pop-up note informing them that Kat would be added to their conversation. “The buggies should have been here waiting for us,” he said. “But they’re not. That proves the bosses planned to bury us down there, along with whatever caused that mess.”
“You’re giving them too much credit,” countered Emily. “If they seriously planned to get rid of us, they’d have had the buggies waiting so they could be seen doing the right thing. They’d have sent the molebots right away, too, and arranged for them to not find us. Let’s face it, our bosses don’t plan anything past lunch.”
Kat mulled it over. “Yeah, maybe. Maybe they’re just incompetent.”
“No ‘maybe’ about that,” Josh agreed.
Satisfied for the moment, Kat smiled, said “Later,” and walked off.
Josh turned back to Emily. “I’ve been thinking about your offer to go back to Earth with you and your family when your contract runs out. I think you’re right. There’s no future here.”
“Really? Where’s this coming from?”
“You’re kidding, right? We almost got buried alive down there. Besides, I just spent ten hours inside a bubble I barfed in. That’ll change your worldview right there. You’ve been nagging me about this for months, you want to talk me out of it now?”
“I don’t nag,” Emily huffed. “And I’m surprised is all. You usually balk for one reason or another, and now you’re ready to pick up and go - just like that. Usually you bring up the Program, or your Mom…”
“Hey, nobody likes the Program. Even you complain about it.”
“OK, sorry. Look, you know we want you to come back with us. You’re family. I just want to see where your head’s at. What about your Mom?”
“I have to make the decision for her. You know that. So I’m making it. Maybe it’s the change she needs. That we both need.”
A moment passed while that reality sunk in for them both. Then Emily said, “I wonder what happens next.”
“The owners need a scapegoat. I’m sure they’re making a list right now.”
You’re not on it, if that’s where you’re going.”
“Why not? After what happened last year, they’d love to get rid of me. Make an example of me, even.”
“They won’t be able to blame you. Everyone who was down there will say you led them out. You’ll be a hero.”
Josh thought about it. “Maybe. So they’ll move to the next name on the scapegoat list. Or pay the Party off to look the other way, like they did last time.” He paused to think about that. “Scapegoats are cheaper than bribes, though. I wonder who else is a candidate?”
“Maybe the shift supervisor.”
“No, he’s connected. That’s how he gets away with being AWOL all the time.”
“I know! Industrial espionage!” Emily declared.
Josh laughed. “Yeah. I don’t think they’ve tried that one yet.” Then he turned serious. “They won’t forget that I undermined them. They’ll pay me back, you’ll see.”
“Do you resent it, sometimes?”
“Resent what?”
“This isn’t the first time The Guide has shown you something that’s helped others. But when it’s over, the best you can hope for is to stay out of trouble.”
“I’ve made my peace with that. I do wonder why he talks to me, and not someone else. Or anyone else. I wonder what he wants from me. Sometimes I think he just does this to amuse himself.”
“I’ve never heard you talk that way. You used to say you were afraid you’d be leaving The Guide behind if you left Mars.”
“I did feel that way. But now I’m thinking I only need The Guide because I’m on Mars. Maybe I’d be better off someplace where I don’t need a Guide just to survive.”
“You saved your mother because of The Guide.”
“Maybe not,” said Josh darkly. “Maybe I just postponed the inevitable.”
“Well, you met me because of The Guide. What’s ambiguous about that?”
“You’re awful needy, for one thing.”
Emily snorted in surprise and laughed. “Damn you!”
A moment passed, then Emily said, “You saved lives down there, Josh.”
“We’ll never know for sure. If it did get worse after we left, they’ll never admit it.”
“Always a mystery, huh?”
“Yeah, it is. I don’t know what The Guide is, or what he wants, or why he shows me the things he does. So keeping it to myself seems like more than a good idea. It’s what I have to do to survive.”
“Why don’t you just ignore him, then?”
“Well… I didn’t say the things he shows me are bad. They’re just…” Josh searched for words, “inconvenient and weird, I guess.”
“They’re inconvenient because you keep them hidden.”
“No, they’re inconvenient because they’re inconvenient. Trust me.”
Their comm-pods buzzed. A pop-up message from management said the buggies were arriving. Josh flicked his message away: They could all see the dust devils on the orange and purple horizon, silhouetted against a rising sun. He called up an injury list. “Not bad. We’ve got three broken hands, some cuts, a couple of broken ribs, lots of bruises, and a whole lot of, uh, wet pants. We should save that ‘wet pants’ list. It might come in handy some day,” he said. Emily laughed.
The miners’ escape was the talk of Mars, and a fair part of Earth, for an entire week. Then a far larger story took hold.

For more information on The Patriots of Mars and the latest from Jeff Faria, click here: The Patriots of Mars