EVER THE TWAIN SHALL MEET
Give me a new world, a place where what I feel and what I think twirl with abandon across an endless dance floor. Give me the two-way waltz, a mind-body concert never-ending.
“Give me more cereal,” whines Jesse, his nine-year-old face glaring from across the kitchen table, his tone demanding instant maternal resolution.
I segue from dreams to corn flakes, dump a handful in his bowl while recognizing that breakfast has little to do with his mood.
“Did you finish your homework last night?”
He runs fingers through shoulder-length brown hair and smacks at the cereal with his spoon. A flake sails through the air, lands on our ancient Formica countertop.
“I could do my homework better if we moved somewhere else.”
The heart of the matter. I maintain an even tone.
“You have friends here.”
“Mom!” The word contorts with exasperation. “I don’t have friends like Danny does in Missoula. He’s got like six thousand friends.”
“Yeah! Real friends.”
“Finish your cereal.”
I pour milk in his bowl, hoping that will be the end of it until I get home from work and the complaints begin anew. All of them center on our living here in Wildbunch, a cloistered Montana county that went dry-sci decades ago.
I want Internet.
I want to watch TV like you did when you were little.
Why can’t we move to a wet county?
Why can’t we live in the real world?
The real world, where the gulf between feelings and thoughts grows wider with each passing day. At least in Wildbunch, there’s hope for synthesis, hope for body and mind to trip the light fantastic.
Or so I tell myself.
My husband Joe and I settled here in 2029, in this ancient farmhouse not used for its original purpose in generations. Joe was an early adapter of the dry-sci movement and a founder of the Rationalist Ecostatic Cooperatives, lobbying for global limits on technological development. When I was three months pregnant with Jesse, he dragged me to a REC convention in San Francisco.
The daily panels were boring but we had wonderful nights. On the third one, coming out of a Fisherman’s Wharf ballroom after a delirious evening of dancing, we blundered into a street battle between Army special forces and a Paratwa assassin.
Joe was among the 27 soldiers and civilians who died that night, victim of a stray energy beam from the assassin’s co-he wand. I brought his body back to Wildbunch and buried him in the field behind the old barn, in rich Montana soil said to perpetuate serenity.
The drive into town takes 15 minutes. I endure more of Jesse’s complaints and pleas to relocate to Missoula, where friend-rich friend Danny moved last summer and from where letters extolling that city’s virtues pepper our mailbox. I’m thankful when we reach the elementary school and my offspring exits, still breathing fire.
Five minutes later I’m at the courthouse, making my way through the ugly cinderblock monstrosity toward sanctuary, the office of the prosecuting attorney.
“Mornin’ Mizz P.A.,” drawls Sheriff “Stone-Boy” Bobb, strolling through the door of my private domain before I can even hang up my jacket.
Stone-Boy adjusts the twin revolvers strapped to his flabby waist and shovels his 300 pounds onto my sofa. Today, Wildbunch’s law enforcement honcho wears faded blue jeans, a Nascar-emblazoned windbreaker and a Pirates baseball cap a size too large. The cap, like Stone-Boy, is an original, acquired before terrorists nuked Pittsburgh and the team relocated to Erie.
“Something wicked this way comes,” says Stone-Boy, solemnly quoting from some obscure tome.
Fantasies of a stress-free day at the office dissolve. It’s obvious he’s here with bad news.
I pour a cup of coffee, my one and only for the day. The troubles in Africa and South America have launched coffee prices to an all-time high. I hear the Starbucks in Missoula now charges $18.95 for a tall.
I’m not hurting for money. The java discipline is at the behest of Doc Zilken. On a recent checkup he noticed I was becoming edgy. He suggested I cut back on caffeine.
I haven’t noticed a difference.
Stone-Boy squirms on the sofa, trying for bulk comfort. “You know the Rip-Rip Tavern?”
Everyone knows the Rip-Rip. Over the years, it’s had many nicknames. Fight Club and House of Broken Jaws are current favorites.
“Had a really bad one last night. Three dead, two critically injured.”
“Why didn’t you call me?”
“Didn’t want to trash your evening too. Besides, five of my off-duty deputies happened to be in the place for a birthday bash. They tasered the perp as he was trying to escape.”
“Want to hear the kicker?”
“Perp says he knows you. Rufus Poe?”
I sip a dollar’s worth of coffee, try to hinge a face to the name.
“Doesn’t ring a bell. Maybe he met me at a party somewhere?”
“You don’t go to parties.”
“What do we have on him?”
Stone-Boy pulls out an ancient iPad. Like the few telecom devices legally permitted within our borders, the device has a special interface that allows Internet access.
“White. Five-foot-seven. Twenty-four years old. No known priors. Lives by his lonesome on the west side of Clamor Mountain.”
The boonies. Wildbunch is isolated enough but west of Clamor is for dedicated hermits.
“No friends, no lovers as far as we can tell. On the job, keeps to himself. Third-shift maintenance tech at the Bleecker Street Transjam.”
The Bleecker, one of five transjam arrays scattered throughout the county, contributes to Wildbunch’s dry-sci status. The big antennas sweep the skies 24/7, scrambling and neutralizing all unauthorized signals. The transjammers, along with Stone-Boy’s border patrols, keep satellite and over-the-air influences at bay, especially Internet and TV transmissions.
We’re not Luddites, despite what much of the world prefers to think. We generate our own electricity – hydroelectric, mainly – and employ numerous modern conveniences. Contrary to rumor, we’re fans of indoor plumbing.
It’s just that we believe that humans can live a saner existence disconnected from the global infostream. We also restrict intra-county transmissions except those necessary for municipal and emergency services. Land-line phones are permitted, but only as a closed system within our borders.
Stone-Boy continues. “The fight broke out around 10:30. Apparently, Rufus Poe was having dinner, minding his own business. His assailants were drunk. Bunch of cretins from the coast, imported as cheap labor on that Wilkins Dam upgrade project. Anyway, one of them started giving our perp a hard time. Mr. Poe did not like that.”
“Recover the weapon?”
“Poe wasn’t packing. Victims all had knives, not that it did them any good. He tore ‘em apart. The three DOAs had their necks snapped. The two survivors got off with multiple broken bones. In serious condition but expected to pull through.”
“Sounds like our perp had military training.”
“Got a call out to the DoD.”
“What does Rufus Poe say?”
“He ain’t talking, at least not to me.”
“Nope. Refused counsel.”
Stone-Boy heaves himself off the sofa and waddles out the door. “Insists on chatting with you and you alone.”
* * * * *
An hour later I’m down in lockup, hoping to elicit a confession and cycle the case straight to trial. On paper, it’s a no-brainer – a minimal charge of manslaughter should be jury-proof. Even Wildbunch’s libertarian attitudes toward self-defense have limits when it comes to savagely killing your assailants.
Still, it would be nice to have some background on our perp. Rufus Poe is a cipher. The DoD has nothing on him. He acquired a social security number upon immigrating to our county three years ago. Prior to that, there’s no record of him.
That’s not unusual, of course. Dry-sci counties like Wildbunch tend to attract off-the-grid wanderers, gypsy bohemians and hardcore survivalists aching for the Apocalypse. Among those core groups, not surprisingly, is a hefty percentage trying to escape shady pasts.
I enter the interrogation room. One look at the handcuffed Poe seated across the table and I know this won’t be an easy interview. He’s way too cool, almost looks bored. Not the demeanor of someone in serious trouble.
“Good morning, Wendy,” he offers, as if he’s known me for years.
“Good morning,” I reply, certain we’ve never met.
He’s tall, lean and well-muscled, with a mop of blond hair combed straight back. Hazel eyes regard me with amusement as I sit and open my briefcase, ready to review our preliminary case.
“Wendy, would you please switch off all monitoring and recording devices.”
“That’s not our policy.”
“An informal discussion between the two of us will clarify the situation.”
“The situation is that you’re facing manslaughter charges.”
“No, Wendy. That’s not the situation. Not at all.”
I don’t like the idea of going off the record. But his confidence unnerves me. Something’s going on here, something I’m missing.
I turn off the recorders, rationalizing that it won’t harm the prosecutorial case. I can always flip them back on if he starts feeding me a line of perp-crap.
“Thank you, Wendy. I assume that by now you’ve made online inquiries about me?”
“We know pretty much everything.”
“Unlikely,” he says, his chuckle calling my bluff. “But the relevant fact is that by having instituted communications with the world beyond Wildbunch’s borders, certain outsiders will have become aware of last night’s incident.”
“I hardly think the word incident does justice to what you did to those men.”
“I didn’t want to kill. It was a… reflex action.”
“Where did you acquire such reflexes?”
He ignores the question. “These outsiders will recognize my signature.”
“The way I fight. I’ve done it before, enough times to establish a subtle pattern, a style. Those outsiders will read your report on the incident and recognize my signature. They’ll know where to find me. They’ll send someone to Wildbunch.” He pauses. “Someone to kill me.”
“Whatever trouble you’re running from, we can protect you.”
His smile dismisses my naiveté. He changes the subject.
“Doc Zilken says hello.”
I shake my head in confusion
Rufus Poe rises from the table. In addition to the handcuffs, he’s in leg irons. There’s no danger. Yet I don’t feel safe.
“Rub the salve on your thighs twice daily, Wendy. The skin rash should go away in less than a week.”
A chill goes through me. Word for word, that’s Doc Zilken’s remedy and prognosis for my recent ailment, uttered to me in private at the clinic two days ago.
“You stole Doctor Zilken’s files,” I blurt out, unwilling to consider the other possibility, the scarier one. But even as I search for a less distressing explanation, a mound of evidence reinforces my worst fears.
Doc Zilken came to Wildbunch three years ago, same time as Poe. The Doc is a loner too. He also lives out in the sticks, on the west side of Clamor Mountain.
Rufus Poe turns away, stares at a blank wall the color of dying wheat.
“You need to call the school, Wendy. You need to ask about Jesse.”
My hand shakes as I punch in a municipal access code on my phone. There’s an unbearable three-second delay as transjammer instrumentation processes my ID and approves the call.
Vice-principal Millie DeCarlo answers on the third ring. She sounds agitated.
“Oh, Wendy, I’m so glad it’s you. Is everything okay? Did you talk to Doc Zilken?”
“With the Doc. He didn’t call you? He said he was going to.”
“No. What happened? Is Jesse all right?”
“Doc said the antibiotics should knock the infection right out of him. Thank god it’s not contagious. The other students are in no danger.”
“Millie, what are you talking about? What infection?”
She relates the whole story. Doc Zilken came to the school and told Millie that the results of a recent blood test done on Jesse revealed he was harboring a dangerous infection. Doc took my son back to the clinic, supposedly to administer the antibiotics.
Heart pounding, I hang up and key the clinic’s number. The receptionist answers on the fourth ring.
“No, Jesse isn’t here. Doctor Zilken left half an hour ago without explanation.”
Rufus Poe motions for me to end the call.
My voice quivers. “I don’t understand.”
“Yes you do, Wendy. You’re just having trouble accepting it.”
Poe has received no visitors. Scanners and bug checkers bleached his body from head to toe before he was jailed. He wears no hidden telecom devices. That leaves only one rational explanation.
Rufus Poe and Doc Zilken are not two people.
They are one.
Poe/Zilken is a binary, a product of genetic engineering run amok, a single mind occupying two bodies. He’s a telepathically-linked amalgam of thoughts and feelings existing simultaneously in two locations. For the past three years, he’s been hiding within our population by pretending to be separate individuals.
Worse, Rufus Poe’s fight skills imply membership in that dark pinnacle of binary existence, the Paratwa assassins. Like the creature that killed my husband, Poe/Zilken – or whatever his real name is – has been bred and trained to slay humans.
“Jesse is safe. No harm will come to him if you do as I say.”
I sit on my hands to stop them from shaking.
“What do you want?”
“What we all want, Wendy. Freedom to be who we are.” He smiles. “But for now, I’ll settle for getting out of this cage.”
"Ever the Twain Shall Meet" continues in the graphic novel BINARY by Christopher Hinz and Jon Proctor, available through Amazon and Comixology.
Just finished the new screenplay yesterday after an intense, 4-to-5 month writing stint. Wrote seven days a week and didn't miss a day during the period. The advantage of such nonstop writing is that the story was never far from my mind. The disadvantage is that the story was never far from my mind. Will take a few needed recovery days of rudderless non-writing before plunging into my next project.
Btw, the screenplay is DINOSAUR MEN. It's an original tale, not based on any of my published novels or comics. At heart, it's a forbidden love story between a prototype soldier enhanced with T-Rex DNA and an unorthodox Cajun therapist treating his compulsion to feed on enemy combatants. Suitably twisted idea, I believe, and thus ripe for Hollywood notice. The script flowed together better than I could have imagined. Have high hopes for a sale.
My fave football team, the Philadelphia Eagles, go up against the NY Giants a few hours from now. Eagles have one win, Giants none, so it's not exactly a battle of NFL titans. Still, I believe the Eagles under new coach Chip Kelly will get their act together and go on a winning spree. If the spree begins today, my condolences to the Giants. They're a team I usually pull for (when they're not playing the Eagles) and the only other root-worthy gang in the NFC East division.
A gloomy day here in Reading, PA. Perfect for a lazy afternoon of football, auto racing and more football!
Another long spell without an update. No excuse other than summer doldrums. Just glad the heat wave has broken here in the east.
Anyway, here are a few random items.
Being a big Philadelphia Eagles fan, it’s been a heartbreaking week. First, starting wide receiver Jeremy Maclin suffers a season-ending knee injury. Then a few days later, a video surfaces of Riley Cooper, his probable replacement at the position, using the “N” word in an ugly confrontation at a Kenny Chesney concert.
No excuses for Cooper’s action. I suspect he’ll be cut from the team before the season starts (a decision I’d support). If the Eagles elect to keep him, they’ll be sending the wrong kind of message to bigots everywhere (feel free to upchuck your ugliest thoughts in public). Not only that, but Cooper’s presence is sure to be a disruptive influence in a locker room that, according to many reports, was dysfunctional during last year’s horrifically bad losing season.
On a brighter note, podcast Scriptnotes just completed its 100th (and 101st) episodes. Whether you’re interested in being a professional Hollywood screenwriter or simply enjoy a behind-the-scenes look at how the writing/moviemaking scene really works, podcasting partners John August and Craig Mazin – both well-regarded writers with a number of successful movie credits – can’t be beat. They’re smart, funny and savvy about the industry, and particularly good at debunking some of the nonsense that passes itself off as good screenwriting advice in an ever-growing myriad of books and blogs. A library of past Scriptnotes episodes is available, including one mentioned in their 100th edition: an analysis of “Raiders of the Lost Arc” that was so smart and riveting that I ran out after listening to the podcast to track down the DVD. I watched it that very evening (probably for about the 10th time) but with a newfound respect for what went into its creation.
Finally, I’m nearly finished with my own latest screenplay, a contemporary sci-fi thriller. I’m very excited about how it’s coming together. Previous scripts, such as BINARY, DEAD CORPS and SPARTAN X, were based on my novels and comics. But the new one is an original, unrelated to any previously published stories. I believe it has fantastic potential. Keeping my fingers crossed.
Until next time…
Graphic novel BINARY is now available in digital format at a special introductory price through Comixology (www.comixology.com).
The 132-page book, published by Ilfeld Comix, reimagines award-winning science-fiction thriller Liege-Killer as a graphic novel.
The price: an incredible $3.99. As a bonus, it includes my first prose short story set in the universe of the Paratwa Saga.
Art is by Jon Proctor, the cover by Stephan Martiniere and letters by Comicraft. Stuart Moore and Marie Javins of Botfriend Productions handled editorial and production work.
Don't know how long it will stay at such a price, so if you're a looking for a bargain, download it today.
BINARY is also available in print through Amazon.
I'm thrilled to announce that BINARY, which reimagines award-winning science-fiction thriller Liege-Killer as a graphic novel, is finally in print.
The collaborative project was overseen by producer Etan Ilfeld. The art is by Jon Proctor and the cover by Stephan Martiniere, with letters by Comicraft. Stuart Moore and Marie Javins of Botfriend Productions handled editorial and production work.
BINARY is available initially through Amazon U.S. and Amazon UK. A digital version from Comixology is expected soon.
An article by John Anderson in Sunday’s New York Times (“As You Watch, Invasion of the Platforms” – 4/14/13) takes a look at “transmedia,” the combination of a narrative form with new technologies, such as tweeting comments about a film you’re watching or simultaneously playing the videogame version of a streaming TV show.
However, if one is willing to consider older technologies, transmedia has been around for a while. Consider an early 1970s Star Trek fan on a land-line phone, discussing the merits of “The Trouble with Tribbles” with a fellow trekkie while both watch the episode’s nth rerun on their 26-inch “big screen” color TVs.
I believe transmedia falls under the wider category of interactive media, of which the most widely practiced contemporary form, videogames, enables a player to watch a preprogrammed story unfold while simultaneously impacting the course of the story.
Whatever you call it and however you define it, the blending of passive and active media experiences will continue to morph into new incarnations as technology continues its relentless advance. Perhaps a century from now, our cerebral implants will enable unprecedented multisensory adventures. Imagine streaking through an alien jungle on your anti-grav sled, feeling the wind on your face and smelling the rich scents of surrounding flora and fauna, all the while in the throes of an epinephrine rush of pure panic from being chased by a hungry schlock monster unleashed by the 23rd Galactic Republic.
You’d better fly fast (active) before the programmed schlock (passive) makes a meal of you.
Still, I believe passive entertainment (viewing/reading) and active entertainment (playing/interacting), no matter what technological advances propel them toward singularity, likely will remain viable as distinct pleasures. Here’s why:
Oliver, my 19-month old great-nephew, sits on my lap as I read him an illustrated children’s book. The experience is pleasant enough for Oliver to demand multiple rereadings.
His big sister, 4-year-old Avery, retrieves a game board from the closet, and we commence several mildly competitive excursions through the sweet labyrinth known as Candyland.
Tell me a story.
Let’s play a game.
I’m no neurologist, but I suspect there are subtle differences in the brain’s processing of those two modes of learning. The first can be considered essentially passive, the second active. Both are experienced by humans at a young age, which I believe programs us to enjoy each mode as a separate pleasure, only later enriching our delight through a myriad of combinations.
Then again, maybe technology will someday transform us to the point where Tell me a story and Let’s play a game are so intertwined – passive and active learning so fully melded – that children will no longer recognize them as separate entities.
What do you think?
BINARY, which reimagines cult favorite Liege-Killer in a style better suited to visual media, moves ever closer to publication with the completion of this dynamic cover by noted artist Stephan Martiniere.
Interior artist/colorist Jon Proctor has brought the story to life in 125 beautifully illustrated pages, while the good folks of Comicraft have done their usual fine job with the letters.
Overseen by publisher/executive producer (and passionate Liege-Killer fan) Etan Ilfeld, the project couldn’t have gotten off the ground without the relentless dedication of Marie Javins and Stuart Moore of Botfriend Productions. Handling all editorial and production aspects, the duo worked their “bots” off to make BINARY a reality.
Included as a bonus will be my first original prose short story set in the Binary universe. “Ever the Twain Shall Meet” features a protagonist who seems fated to a series of deadly encounters with the two-headed super-predators (aka, Paratwa assassins).
Expect publication plans for BINARY to be announced soon. As of now, it’s likely that the digital version will reach the starting line first.
OK, I admit, it’s been far too long between updates. No excuse other than the usual suspects: too much to do, not enough time to do it; late-winter blues; and unadulterated laziness. In the future, I’ll try to make more of an effort to inoculate myself against blogus interruptus.
First up, belated kudos to Glendon Haddix and Streetlight Graphics, designers of the evocative cover for SPARTAN X. Glendon and his online firm also handled the formatting for the multiple publishing platforms onto which the new novel was launched in late 2012.
The company was a joy to work with, professional from the word go, helpful throughout the entire process. Coupled with reasonable pricing and a vigorous effort to ensure that I was wholly satisfied with its work puts Streetlight on a short list of firms for which the notion of customer satisfaction is deeply ingrained.
You can check out a gallery of some of Streetlight’s work here.
In other news, BINARY, the illustrated story that reimagines the events of LIEGE-KILLER in graphic novel form, moves relentlessly toward completion. Stephan Martiniere has done an amazing cover, which I’ll be previewing here shortly. As things stand now, BINARY will be available initially on a digital platform, most likely Comixology.
That’s it for now. Hope you all have an enjoyable Easter weekend.