My first published book, “Take the Star Road”, involved a protagonist named Steve Maxwell. It’s grown into a five-book series, which I titled the Maxwell Saga. A few months ago, I asked my readers for their views on suspending that series, because I’ve gained a lot of experience, and the limitations inherent in any first effort can be constraining on future ones. (See an artist’s paintings for another example; his first few will seem amateurish compared to his later work.) Your feedback was generally that I should write more challenging works, and bring Steve Maxwell into them as a supporting character, if that’s what worked for me.
So far, so good. I’ve been pushing forward, working on the next Western in the Ames Archives series, planning the final book in the Laredo War trilogy, developing concepts for a new military science fiction series and a fantasy series (probably at least trilogy-length in both cases), and noodling on a space detective series that I’ve been tinkering with for two or three years. I just couldn’t get my muse to settle on one project and make the threads come together, to help me focus my efforts on one book and bring it to fruition.
Well, the fickle bitch has struck again. She’s led me down the garden path of the space detective series, then pointed out sweetly that this would be a very logical tie-in to a sixth Steve Maxwell novel. I can start with Steve, segue into a section describing the events that lead the space detective co-protagonist to discover something important and seek help from the Lancastrian Fleet, and then have him and Steve set about solving the case. In the process, that can both set up the space detective for more of his own books in future (if I want to go that way), and perhaps offer a new direction for Steve Maxwell, moving away from his roots so far and opening up new vistas for him.
I’m now almost 40,000 words into the “fusion book”, as I’m mentally calling it, and the story is flowing just fine. All I want to know is, where did it come from, why has it taken over, and what happens next? I have no idea. All I know is, my muse has struck again! (Oh – and while I’m doing all that, I’m completing the first draft of a short story for another anthology, and discussing a collaboration with another author. Who says life is boring?)
To whet your appetite, here’s a brief excerpt from the new book (as yet untitled).
Twenty minutes later he got off the bus on a street lined with strip malls. Cheap eateries, pawnshops and used clothing stores vied with each other for the meager income of the workers living in the run-down low-rise apartments and tenements behind the malls, interspersed with a few individual dwelling units and duplexes.
Tom paused to get a quick meal at a take-out stall, not because he was hungry but to gain time to survey his surroundings. He hurriedly shoveled the food out of the box and down his throat, not bothering to taste it as his eyes scanned all around him. He made a mental note of a robocab rank across the street in case of need. A block further down the road a nightclub was already blasting the evening with a thudding bass beat, noisy groups of teenagers jiving under the awnings of the adjacent shops in the strip mall as they tried to persuade the bouncers to admit them.
He tossed the empty container into a garbage can as he walked down the road towards the tenements, dimly lit by intermittently working streetlights. The driving rain pounded on his hat and face and ran down his overcoat in streams, soaking the bottoms of his trousers and his shoes. He cursed softly as drops of water dripped from his hair, creeping past the upturned collar of his coat, finding their way into his shirt, running down his back, making him shiver. He consulted a map on his comm unit and made his way deeper into the maze of side streets. Only an occasional vehicle passed, most of them autovans making their last deliveries of the day, bumping over the badly-maintained, rutted road surface. In this area there’d be few private vehicles, he knew.
He turned a corner and glanced down the road, counting building numbers. More than half of them weren’t clearly posted or illuminated, as required under municipal regulations, and the street’s lights were all out; but he could see enough to estimate that his destination should be in the next block. He set off towards it.
As he approached, a small van coasted silently to a halt in front of him at the head of a narrow alley separating the two blocks. It wasn’t showing any lights. Moved by a sudden impulse, Tom shrank into the doorway of an apartment building, peering out into the gloom. He saw the van’s interior light come on as two doors opened on its far side. Three figures got out, closing the doors behind them. The driver remained behind the wheel, power unit still humming gently, watching his companions as they walked down the block. Tom took advantage of his preoccupation to move closer, crouching behind a dumpster on the corner, wrinkling his nose in distaste at the smell coming from the garbage inside.
The three figures stopped outside a small house, glancing at the illuminated ‘327’ on the postbox at the gate. Tom suddenly realized that it was the same address he was seeking, even as they drew black objects from their pockets. One opened the gate and they filed through it towards the front door of the house.
What the hell do I do now?, Tom asked himself feverishly as his hand went to his overcoat pocket, coming out with his silenced pulser. If they’re also armed, there’s no way I can take on four of them!
He waited on tenterhooks behind the dumpster, straining his ears. He thought he heard a door open, followed by a couple of muffled thumping sounds and a scuffle… then silence. The van driver continued to peer down the street, his hands below the level of the window so Tom couldn’t see whether he was holding a weapon. Better assume he is, he cautioned himself grimly. I doubt those other three were taking calling cards out of their pockets.
Three seemingly endless minutes passed, until one of the shadowy figures reappeared at the gate of the house holding a flat object wrapped in what looked like a plastic garbage bag. He hurried down the sidewalk to the van. As he approached, he hissed, “We got them both. Here’s the painting. The others are checking to see if there’s anything else worth taking.”
The driver called back softly through the open window on the far side of the van, “Put it in the back, out of the way. Don’t want anyone sitting on it, do we?”
The other laughed curtly as he walked to the back, fumbling with the catch on the cargo door. Tom moved to the rear of the dumpster, watching as he lifted the plastic-wrapped object, which looked to be about half a meter long by a third of a meter wide, and laid it carefully on the floor of the load compartment.
As he straightened and reached up to close the door, Tom stepped silently out from behind the dumpster and clubbed him hard behind the ear with the butt of his pulser. Without a sound the figure folded forward. Tom grabbed him and laid him silently on the roadway, then closed the cargo door. The driver hadn’t noticed anything over the sound of the wind and rain. He was still staring down the sidewalk towards the house, paying no attention to the rear of the van.
Tom moved soundlessly down the side of the van until he was at the driver’s door. He shifted his feet to be sure of his balance, then reached for the handle and yanked the door open suddenly. As the driver started in surprise and began to turn his head, Tom reached inside with his left hand and grabbed his collar, hauling him halfway out of the door as his right hand came down. The butt of the pulser thudded hard between his eyes, and he moaned aloud. Instantly Tom hit him again, even harder, in the same spot. His eyes rolled up and he slumped, only his seatbelt holding him inside the van. Tom reached over his limp body and pressed the catch, releasing the belt, allowing him to tumble out of the seat onto the road.
He glanced through the van towards the house. The two remaining figures were coming down the path from the house to the gate. There wasn’t a moment to lose. Tom jumped into the van, slammed the door, and gunned the still-running power pack. With a squeal of tires on wet pavement, the lightly loaded van jumped out of the alley, lurching over to one side as Tom hauled the wheel around to head back in the direction from which he’d come.
He heard shouts from behind him through the open windows on the other side of the van, followed by a couple of popping noises. The rear window shattered, spraying shards of safety glass in all directions, and a hole suddenly appeared in the windscreen in front of him as a pulser bead blasted the length of the van. Tom ducked, keeping his foot hard down on the accelerator, and hauled the wheel over again. The van ducked into another side street. He twisted left and right through a few more streets, trying to head in the general direction of the main road, cursing to himself as adrenaline coursed through his veins. It had been a long time since he’d last been under fire. I’m getting too old for this crap, he told himself bitterly.
I hope you liked it. Look for it soon!