Monday, April 25, 2011

How is Twitter Working for Your Book?

I just wanted to post and see if anyone was noticing a marked uptick between their sales and the amount of posting they're doing on Twitter.  Also are you directly plugging your book or just participating in the discussions?  What about readers, are they using Twitter as an opportunity to connec with you?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What Makes a Great Ebook Cover?

What makes a great Ebook cover?  I'm in 'cover' mode for my new Ebook coming out shortly and I was wondering if any and all had some thoughts on the subject of Ebook Covers.  It's our first impression before they've read word one.  What makes them great?  What makes you want to read whats underneath?  Leave your thoughts and your covers and let's discuss.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Plug your Book on my blog!

Hey its Friday night and if you've got a little time let us know what book your promoting?  Leave a comment and become a friend.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

How about a free 'Gunslinger' inspired Short Story of a murderous Pinocchio

Puppet with a Gun
Nick Cole

In the twelfth age after the fall of man, on the dry and forgotten world of Ontamalee, a puppet with a gun dragged himself across a trackless and unnamed waste.
A lone bird of prey perched atop a rocky outcrop might have mistaken the puppet for yet one more of the uncountable robot rabble; mere flotsam of a civilizations wreckage.  But the gun; too heavy and too large, betrayed the puppet’s intent to murder Sinth the Eel, the lone inhabitant of the wastes of dry and forgotten Ontamalee.
     The puppet, a marionette-styled automaton, resembled a small gangly boy with large dark eyes, short pants, and a woodsman’s cap from which a green feather, weathered and torn, jutted upwards. The puppet seemed of wood, but looks were deceiving.  Beneath the stick-like limbs lay molybdenum-tempered alloy. 

He once paid a nefarious Hool mercenary forbidden human artifacts to install a small bomb inside one eye. Just in case he needed a quick explosive to destroy a lock or blind an opponent.  It wasn’t very powerful, just a speck of shape charged thermite. But if an enemy were close enough, and just the right height, it might put out an eye.  Unfortunately, very few enemies were the size of a small human boy.
Then there was the nose.  It either increased or decreased depending on the current level of ‘wickedness’ as rated by MainBrain’s Value slash Morality Matrix.  Long before he carried the gun across the desert, the puppet once performed for the little children of the Ko. His was the face of ignorant evil in the morality show’s that paraded throughout the streets of the regional capitals of the Ko.
 The dark, saurian eyes of the Ko were rapt with attention as they watched the traditional retelling of the Rise of their Great Scholar Kings.   Their tiny clawed hands opening and scraping against flagstones as the puppet, representing long dead Wicked Man, engaged in every evil and form of deviltry possible. 
The little puppet would tell a lie and his nose would grow.  He would steal and it would grow even further.  He would start fires and act generally naughty, and all the while the puppet that played the part of the First Great Ko Scholar King, Nok, would watch and wait. 
Finally Nok would admonish the little Wicked Man puppet and warn him that if he continued to act iniquitous his nose would continue to grow.  But the little Wicked Man puppet would not listen and his nose would grow and grow.  Eventually his long nose would catch fire in the mischievous bonfires he started and then he would run about wildly starting more fires until, with his burgeoning proboscis alight, he had finally burned down the entire ‘universe’ as staged in the little side streets of the regional capitals of the Great Scholar Kings of the Ko. 
Then Nok, wise and benevolent, longsuffering and patient, would admonish the little puppet with a stern lecture and a spanking.  Finally, the little Wicked Man puppet, sobbing and crying, rubbing his sore bottom for all the little Ko to see and understand, would be ushered off the stage and into the dark behind the curtains, never again to trouble the stage, the universe, or the Great Scholar Kings of the Ko.  A warning to little Ko, and also an epitaph.
     But this little puppet had long ago been ushered into the dark behind the curtains for the last time.  His right leg assembly had malfunctioned during a performance and the owner of the Morality Troupe had opted to purchase a newer version of the Wicked Man Puppet. One that actually wept wet tears instead of the mere histrionics this Wicked Man Puppet had been capable of.
     That had been twenty years ago on Far Ri, the farthest outward bound Capital of The Ko Empire.  Its verdant streets and opulent spires were no place for shoddy second-hand Wicked Man puppets.  So for scrap the puppet was sold and for crime he was purchased.
The little Wicked Man puppet walked once again.  Sinith the Eel, servant of The Black Hand, rebuilt him in secret from the shards of ‘broken pottery’ that had once been Man’s great computing language, precursor to the Symbol Harmonic Logic of the Great Scholar Kings.  For his dark work the puppet would need to speak the lost programming language of man.  But only scraps lifted from lost treasures; broken discs, shattered mainframes and incomplete code, remained of man’s last lost language.
Sinith added and strengthened, hiding weapons of destruction and means to infiltrate within the gangly frame of the puppet.  The puppet became both a thief and a killer.   But the puppets nose, betrayer of lies, directly beneath Sinith’s large, milky eyes, went untouched, for what do eels know of noses. 
The little Wicked Man Puppet, dangerous, deadly, versed in the language of tombs, was put to use in the most diabolical of ways.  Forbidden, blasphemous, utterly catastrophic, the little Wicked Man Puppet sought, at the behest of his masters, to gain entrance to the graveyards of man. 
“Bring us little treasures,” they intoned across the light years.  “Unlock the vaults of benighted planets where no Ko Claw has scraped in a thousand generations.  Here is their cursed language to open the terminals that control the locks. Beware the traps and equally the prizes; better you little puppet, than us, for the consequences could be apocalyptic.  But go and bring us forbidden fruits from the wicked labors of long gone man, forgotten man, Wicked Man,” they sang throughout the void. 
And the sleeping puppet was carried forth from the tech forge of Sinth, who had re-created him in the image of Man on trackless Ontamalee.  On a ship somewhere between the ‘here’ and the ‘there’ that mark all the points of an interstellar chart he was reactivated, unaware of the location of Sinith’s forge.  Now The Black Hand spoke in soft whispers from great distances. Soft whispers which gave him the coordinates for the lost tombs of Wicked Man and urged him onward. 
He plundered the tombs of planets long dark.  The remnants of blasted moons, blackened from the light of Stars that had ceased their burning fury in an instant.  Tiny treasures, forbidden technology, snatched from the jaws of great dangers, left behind by Wicked Man himself, were unearthed and returned to the puppet’s masters.
Until the frozen and cracked world of Catabatic.  Until the data fragment he ingested, checking it for value amidst the inexplicable ruins of a temple, a palace, a library?  In an urn on a shelf deep beneath the surface, his little fingers made contact with a live data stream that suddenly sang with joy. 
“I am you,” it burbled in ancient ones and zeros.  “I am you and you are me and this is a part of who you once were.” 
At once the little Wicked Man puppet dreamed.  A dream of song and taste and summer and a Chevrolet and a levee and music.  And humanity.  The little Wicked Man puppet had never dreamed before.  Thought, calculated, desired, as any AwareAutomaton might.  But a dream of flesh and home.  A message that said: “I am a fragment of your whole.  I am a part of who you once were.”
The little Wicked Man puppet thought, “I was once someone human.”
A millisecond later a logic matrix within his MainBrain exclaimed and then posited, “A trap!  This is a trap to deter you from the prize that lies beneath in the crumbling floors below.  Beware; structural integrity is less than nominal.  Survivability decreasing.”
“But,” countered the little puppet, “I dreamed of waving grass and a blue sky and the feel of Fall on a morning I never knew, and there was more.  A transport device called ‘Chevy’ and music and...” he paused.  “What is ‘melancholy’ to me?” 
He opened a parameter query, “Have I ever been ‘melancholy’?”
No definition wrote itself large inside MainBrain.  No memory of dusty streets at twilight on worlds both alien and familiar leapt forward for his consideration.  The call of one Ko to another across the long nights did not make him uneasy or fill him with dread. 
It was all of it that conspired against him.  Every silent moment, every ticking clock, every closed door.  Even the stars and the places in between told him “Yes, you are melancholy for ‘something’ or ‘someone’ who has been absent for more time than is worth counting.”
Survival Logic, a high ranking operation attached after Re-Creation quickly offered this: “In all the years you have traveled the long distances to these ruins, have you ever felt ‘lonely’?”
“Yes,” answered MainBrain. “At the time I didn’t know it.  But now I look back, and the answer is ‘Yes. I was lonely’.  ‘Something’, or ‘someone’ is missing, has been missing.”
“WARNING!” klaxoned Survival Logic.  “Unit compromised.  Lethal human technology discovered!  Broadcasting on all channels.  Unit has discovered lethal tech.  Request shutdown in…...”
The little Wicked Man puppet snapped off Survival Logic like a dry twig from a fallen branch.  He had learned, long ago, obedient to his master’s desire for greater treasures buried deeper, to ignore fussy old Survival Logic. Instead, the years had made him rely more and more on cheeky Probability Logic. 
Probability Logic was an optimistic and encouraging process that coursed through MainBrain, bolstering him with a sense of self and ability.  In a way, Probability Logic was similar to the InfoDrug-program H8 that so many of the Robot Rabble ingested in the dank of forgotten places.  Living out the last cycles of their post-operational run-time hopped up on vengeance and destiny. Often it was just as lethal. 
The Little Puppet had to test the live data fragment.  If what it claimed was true then all the answers, answers to questions now forming only so recently inside MainBrain, lay within. But Wicked Man had been clever.  His treasures were the secrets of the stars themselves and his traps, long untouched, lay waiting with malevolent glee.  Trusting the data fragment in the slightest was dangerous to the little puppet.
“How can I trust you?” he asked the burbling little data stream inside him now.
“I am you.  You are me and your dream is not a dream.  It is a memory.  A memory of a day forgotten, before the beginning, and no longer measured in the span of time.  Your Pattern, in what has been reclassified ‘MainBrain’, Serial number 9AModel1000Seriesautocopy1of20 as of last contact is Batch File Authorized to correspond-accept-integrate-assimilate with this source.  Authentication imminent!  Authentication required or consider intruder and invalidate source data by destruction.  I authenticate:  2630 2100 1973 Miss American Pie 18203802830309.  Your response is?”
Within MainBrain, within him, the little Wicked Man puppet spat forth a long string of numbers in the old language of ones and zeros.  It had always been there and he had never known it.  An unfound room under the stairs of a house.  At the end of all the numbers, after a final zero, the fragment gave up its treasure as the little puppet stepped through the door of that unknown room
“Accepted.  I am you,” said MainBrain.  “I am you and you are me.”
In the dark of the airless tomb beneath frozen and twisted Catabatic, amidst the ruins of pre-civilization; Wicked Man, the little puppet, remembered a fall morning long ago and a ‘Chevy’.  He felt himself saying goodbye to someone named Miss American Pie and the rocket’s red glare.  She turned to him, long golden hair whipping at her face, straight and untamed in the morning winds, the flicking ends kissing the tiny cherry freckles that were there on her face so long ago.  She turned to him as the rocket thundered brightly skyward, spaceward, and said: “I think I’ve always…” FRAGMENT END.
The Little Puppet ached for all the treasures of bygone Wicked Man he had ever stolen.  He ached to own them once more.  Just for a moment.  A moment in which he could trade them so he might be the newer model the morality troupe had replaced him with.  The one that wept wet tears.  He would trade all those lost treasures in a moment, the merest slice of a second, so that he too could weep for Miss American Pie and a day he had lived long ago on a fall morning beneath a rocket’s red glare.
On Catabatic, beneath seas turned arctic and frozen, at the bottom of a well inside the cracked and broken ruins of Wicked Man, the Little Puppet discovered a memory fragment inside a fountain of live data and the secret within.  The secret that he had once been human. 
He would rob no more for The Black Hand.  The meaning of the fragment, the girl, that forgotten day remembered.  Were there more, and in the entire universe could he find another? 
He scoured the ruins of Catabatic for six more months.  Thoroughly, he delved the lower depths fighting BioBot Zombies; decaying, rotting, mechanically unsound but still shambling and lethal.  Further below the CyberGhosts of Wicked Man; vengeful guardians of the most redolent of Wicked Man’s lost tech tombs.  But the millennia since had file-corrupted their groaning artificial personalities. Now they gibbered insanely as they wrought mindless destruction on their halls.  No rational mind could cope with the madhouse the lower vaults had become, but the Little Puppet persevered, searching the eternal midnight of every hall.  He found nothing. 
At the bottom, in a graveyard of silence, where madness seemed to echo, the little puppet drew in the millennia spanning dust-covered floors, idly thinking.   He would have to start from his second beginning.  He would have to find Sinith.

The bright burning days of Ontamalee replace the frozen nights of cleft Catabatic.  To track down your re-creator is no easy task for any AwareAutomaton. But beneath the burning sun of Ontamalee, the Little Puppet dragged his heavy-caliber AutoMag across the desert floor, closing in on the hidden pool of Sinith. 
He had sold the other treasures of Catabatic, along with the little cargo barge the Black Hand had entrusted him with, in a tech-bazaar on Red Mezzo.  There was no doubt that even now, the algorithmic dogs of The Black Hand were scenting the info winds looking for their wicked little toy gone over the wall. 
The forbidden fruits of his labor were traded for information on the whereabouts of the infamous Sinith, his re-creator.  Just loose talk mostly, but in the end enough to reveal the fluttering strands of trails that may or may not lead to Sinith the Eel.
After twelve dead ends on twelve deep waste worlds that had given up the ghost of civilization after Wicked Man’s great tide across the universe had begun to recede and disappear altogether, the little puppet arrived on forgotten Ontamalee. A tin shed star port lying in a canyon of mud brick was his only greeting amongst the heat and bleached bone chimes that hung in the still air.
“Yes,” confessed an old blind Ko who shambled about the port, “an eel named Sinith did fair trade beyond The Gash, under a low dune shaped like a crescent.”  And the Little Puppet, carrying his beaten suitcase, strapped and patched, leather stained with a tear here, a nick and bang somewhere else, unpacked his AutoMag and headed into The Gash. 
Why the AutoMag?  A heavy caliber sidearm developed for the lost legions of Man, now more a museum piece, fit for hands that would never again grasp its pommel and trigger or the planets and stars themselves.  Re-Creators were known not to welcome their works back.  Too often, the InfoDrug H8 had corrupted the personality the specialized Automatons needed to carry out their nefarious work and instead led them back to settle believed scores and fantasized wrongs with their re-creators.  Also the Little Puppet’s hands were modeled in the image of human hands, even if they were made of simulated wood. And the AutoMag was made for long lost human hands.
At morning, three days past The Gash, the dune rose in purple shadow and pink pastel, early light against the emptiness of the tepid sky of Ontamalee.  A half buried reinforced door, sand covered from the cutting winds of the night before, gave lie to something within.
Dragging his too large gun through the sand, he arrived at the door and knocked with his simulated wooden knuckles.
The door opened.

In the ochre and ghoulish greens of the pool, the ancient eel’s coils, mottled and gray, undulated behind the glass wall of the ancient tank.  Easily hundreds of feet long, the tank stretched off into murky depths rebellious to clarity.  The eel’s coils rose and fell in the flickering light, rhythmically tense, betraying Sinith’s agitation.
The Little Puppet stood amongst a collection of broken dolls and other infernal machines, while faceless bots thrummed as they collected and collated, occasionally rending with a tearing crunch to get at the tasty tech that may or may not be hidden within. 
“What brings you home, puppet?” came a voice, static- filled and hollow as if spoken from beneath a great bell.  A small speaker box, attached to the top of the tank, wire meshed and corroded, was its source.
“I came,” spoke the Little Puppet in a small boy’s soprano, “to get some answers, eel!”
“No one ever comes for answers,” mused the voice in the box, while the coils began a slow cadenced dance behind the glass.  “For tools, yes.  Answers, never.”
A tail came into view and flicked deftly at the glass with a horrifically sticky thump.  “Tools to make profit.  Tools paid for.  Are answers paid for, puppet?”
“What is the price you require, Sinith, maker of tools?”
“Not my life, Little Puppet.  The price can never be my life; never that.  So if you’ve come for revenge, Little Puppet, then you cannot pay with my life for your answers.”
“No, great eel.  I bear you no animosity for my re-creation.  I came only to find a clue.”
“A clue.”  The coils swam aggressively, and now the eel’s face, a haggard, almost human face, swam into view trailing the wispy fragments of a green beard flecked with gray.  “A clue.  Sinith does not provide clues.  Sinith’s business is tools, not clues, puppet.  Sinith’s business is profit, and still there has been no talk of price, puppet.  Clues there is talk of, but no price.  Sinith, swimmer of the burning coral of Neuflantis, first of Wicked Man’s terrible wanderings, must know price.”
The puppet remained motionless and yet, if a casual spider, intent on the proceedings, had been observing from a cobwebbed corner, it would have seen the tiniest curling of a simulated wooden finger towards the trigger of the antique hand cannon.
“The weapon you consider a friend, will do nothing to my pool,” announced the eel.  “I swim and swim and swim away as my people, first of Wicked Man’s friends, have always swum away.”  And the haggard face disappeared into the mass of coils.  “I can’t poison the air, puppet, for you do not breathe, though Sinith has poisoned it before when customers do not talk price in the words Sinith of the eel’s ancient grotto-home wishes to hear.  So, I cannot cause you to die, gasping and clawing for breath, puppet.  No, Sinith must unmake you unless you say price, puppet-ling.  Say price and all is well, yes?”
“What do you want, great eel?  I have brought nothing but the weapon, and if I have to, I’ll shoot until something breaks, whither your pool or my bones!”
“If ‘something breaks,’ it will be you.”  The Little Puppet’s right leg assembly collapsed, dropping him to one knee. 
“Something breaks is you, just as you came, not ‘same as’ shall you go.  When I re-created you I investigated every piece of you, and where I did not fix, I improved, and everywhere I left my wake so that you would always be mine no matter who owned you.  But you were also made well because the talk of your masters and their understanding of price were pleasing to my pool.”  The coils bunched and bent in pulsing rings, emanating with the power of the musculature that lay beneath.  “Their talk was pleasing.  Though Ko of dishonor, the Black Hand spoke the sweet song of price and the shells of distant oceans.  Sinith was much obliged to make a puppet such as you for the Shell-givers.”
And now MainBrain detected an intruder, algorithmic tendrils probing. File-cracking fingers searching the little puppet’s mind.  The AutoMag slipped from his simulated wooden fingers with a rubbery thump and a metallic clatter as the barrel slapped at the floor
 “You have no shells.  Price-givers like The Black Hand know of an eel’s love for shells.  Wicked Man, the first friend to eels, gave shells brought from un-swam seas.  Eel-kind never betrayed Wicked Man until the stars themselves cried out for his destruction so that all life might find peace and freedom.”   
Sinith revealed one eye from behind a twisting coil as he paused to examine the puppet for a brief moment.
“Still, the shells of Man-grotto were kept in secret. So beautiful, and so sad, to remember our first friend, Wicked Man.  As an eel-ling, I swam in our secret grotto, and my coils talked the price of man-shells from long ago.  I talked the price of man-shells, and was made acceptable as all eel-lings must do in the eons since Wicked Man first came across the oceans of night.  But here comes a puppet who I re-created to be a thief and tomb robber of lost Wicked Man, first friend of Eels, and no talk of price or shells is spoken. 
“Wicked Man-talk of weapons and threats.  Maybe that is the problem with the little puppet of Wicked Man; you are too much like him, thinking you can take what you want with weapons and lies much as he once did.  Maybe I made you too much like long gone Wicked Man.  Too bad you know nothing of price and shells.  If you had only known how Wicked Man talked of shells and price then maybe I would not shut you down as I must now do.” 
Systems began to stop one by one.  First, Optical and Targeting.  Then, Mobility and Secondary Sensory, and now he could feel the fingers reaching for Heat Management and Energy.  In the darkness of MainBrain he could hear the eel’s true voice now.  A voice like a silken whip crack, at once close and somehow faraway.
“If only you could talk as man did of shells,” hissed the eel softly.
“I am man,” whined the puppet as he sank closer to the floor.
“Silly puppet, not man.  Puppet.”
“Outside, yes.  But I have a man’s mind inside.  I once knew the talk of shells.”
“Puppet inside, also!  Insides were put there by me,” roared Sinith.
“I found something...” whispered the little puppet.
“A shell?”
“No, a fragment.  It married with MainBrain.  See for yourself.  The fragment unlocked something deep within MainBrain.  A personality download of a real human.”
“Nonsense.  Sinith would have given you what you wanted if you would have started with talk of shells, but instead you come with sad lies of a real human personality inside your puppet brain.  A real personality is highly valuable.  There are none left, for there are no men to be found. 
“Man’s genius and evil were great.  For those who would do much evil, those of The Black Hand, Price and shells from every ocean would be the start of their talk but not the end.  A wondrous new evil from lost Wicked Man would be a thing an eel could trade for so much more than shells.”
 MainBrain could feel the fingers of the eel’s workbench algorithms prodding and looking for what they had missed. 
“Not there,” offered the Little Puppet.  “Behind the optic Assembly.  Look for yourself. Your dogs will never find it. It’s locked down too tight.  It was by accident I even found it.  It must have been hardwired into the old tech you used.”  Now the Puppet was completely helpless as Sinith invaded almost every part of him 
“But hear me great eel, if indeed it is a personality.  If I am human, I will find lost Man-Grotto and pay you in forbidden treasures and shells from its fabled oceans if you will help me.”  The coils hung motionless in the green and fetid water of the tank, as the optical assembly came back online.  Two bots grabbed the puppet and dragged him forwards toward the opaque wall of the tank.  The haggard face of the eel swam into view, revealing itself from the ropy coils that had hidden it.
“If you are lying, puppet...”
“I’m not lying.  I am human.  I will bring you shells.  Where Man-Grotto is, could very well be inside this fragment I found.  Then I will bring you pink and purple shells from its sands.  Trust me,” lied the little Puppet, his nose growing with a sharp start. 
The eel trembled in anticipation, as a glowing scholar’s glass nano-assembled itself from the stuff of the tank.
“A sea of shells from Man-Grotto,” whispered the Little Puppet, as his body was rammed into the invisible wall of the tank.  The great Sinith, ancient eel, swam forward, keeping back slightly, peering into the puppet’s deep, dark eye assembly.  Alien eyes gazing into a brown pool of simulated humanity.
“Move closer.  Put your eye against the glass,” commanded the ancient eel.
“I can’t; my nose is in the way.  It’s too long.”
The eel swam forward slightly, pressing his great eye with a sucking ‘slop’ up against the glass.  After a moment: “I see,” sing-whispered the great eel.  “A personality is here!  Just the main construct and one fragment.  One of fifty parts I think.  The odds of finding….”  The eel paused.  “Your masters and others will pay shells and great price for such a rare treasure. But what is this in your optical assembly?”
“It’s a bomb.” whispered the little puppet.
“Damn you puppet!  Such a Man thing to do.  You should have talked of...” 
‘Price’ and ‘Shells’ would probably have been the next words from the eel’s mind.  But the small, shape-charged, speck of thermite within the Little Puppets eye blew outwards through the glass, through the eel’s wide, milky eye and into his brain, finally erupting out the back of the cowl and into the murk of the tank in a small, inky and crimson cloud.  The ‘bots’ and the lab beneath the dune descended into darkness, as its master ceased to swim forevermore.

The little puppet dragged his heavy AutoMag into the setting sun of trackless and forgotten Ontambablee.  A search of the water-swamped lab had yielded no other parts to his personality, instead only a small clue; his next destination. 
Now he dragged the AutoMag across the desert, heading back to the spaceport.  A pirate’s patch over the dark wounded hole that had once been an eye assembly.  Simulated wooden skin, short pants, a woodsman’s cap with a torn feather jutting upwards, he would find the wreck from which his MainBrain had been salvaged and assembled. A wreck denoted on a purchase order of salvaged junk the eel had paid for in bulk years ago.  A wreck called The Proud Mary, most likely human, found and salvaged in the crushing depths of a Gas Giant’s gravity well.
In the dark night, amidst the biting winds of an alien world, a human mind awoken in a little puppets broken body, dreamt a dream of memory and rockets, a fall morning and Miss American Pie, her hair whipping in the wind as she told him a secret.
The End

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Shamelessly Plug Your Book on my Blog Day!

I'm getting ready to release my book and I wanted to make friends and give everyone a chance to use my blog as a billboard.  So plug, post and plead the case for your book.   And if you're in the mood say Hi!  Also RT your friends and let 'em know where to go.  Maybe we can get a 'thing' started and someone knew can host one everyday.  Thoughts?

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Best Ebook Marketing Tip you've got?

How does one get into the Kindle 100?  I'm releasing my ebook next month and I was wondering if I could pick your brains on how to market my ebook?  I'm going to blog what works and what doesn't.  So please share your strategy with me and maybe we can find some new ones together.  In appreciation for the help I'll do what I can plug your book as I continue to post.  Alright, so let me have it...

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Three Things You'll Want After a Nuclear War?

What Three Items would you need to survive a world destroyed by nuclear weapons?  I've got a book coming out next month.  It's called 'The Old Man and the Wasteland'.  It's Hemingway meets 'The Road.'  If your a fan of post apocalyptic reads, or play games like Fallout New Vegas or the upcoming Rage then maybe you've got some ideas what three items you might need to survive, and why?  Leave me a comment and let me know.  Then we'll see...

Monday, February 21, 2011

Double-Cross, Murder and a Movie Star...?

Lee Marvin and the Long Night


Nick Cole    

     Someone once let me have it straight; a guy by the name of Dupree.  He was dying, bleeding out in a crummy warehouse in downtown Oakland.  I got the whole story while he choked on his own blood.  Everything I thought I knew: the city, my little tin-pot detective agency, even Lola who use to sing at the Flim Flam Club; it was all just somebody’s dream.  Even me, Lee Marvin, I’m just somebody’s memory of an actor named Lee Marvin. 
     I sound like the actor, look like him, and hell, I even dress like him circa the early nineteen sixties in a movie called The Killers. But I’m not that Lee Marvin.  That Lee Marvin fought on Iwo Jima, got shot in the ass, came home and spent the rest of his life as an actor.  I think he even won an Oscar.  Those experiences are not mine.  They’re his. 
     I’m a different horse altogether.  I work for a man named Leonard Giles.  He created me.  I live in Harbor City, San Francisco. I solve cases, right wrongs and face the thugs and punks that Leonard Giles wanted me to face on a weekly basis, usually Friday night.  Cold dames, hot lead, and me Lee Marvin, living out a fantasy of danger that seemed too real when I looked in the mirror and tried to figure out where to start with the iodine the next morning. 
     I talk to myself a lot.  I’m real.  I exist.  And what I know about the other side, the world of Leonard Giles, doesn’t mean much to me here in Harbor City, city by the bay.
     The two-bit hoods and hookers of Harbor City are nothing but somebody’s imagination.  How many ‘somebodies’ I never knew; I never asked. 
     Every time a dame walked into my office at the Hampton Building, it was because a man named Leonard Giles wanted me to rescue her, or catch her and yeah, a lot of the time, kiss her. So sometimes I rescued, sometimes I caught, and sometimes I kissed.  Maybe because I wanted to.  I can’t blame him for everything.
     Like I said, I talk to myself a lot.  Right now I’m waiting for the sun to come up over Oakland, on the other side of the bay.  It’s still dark out.  Streets are quiet and foggy.  There’s a little lamp on near my reading chair, where I read about the world of Leonard Giles.  I chip some ice, fix a scotch, lose the gray jacket, and loosen the dark tie I always wear.  Finally I kick off my hard-soled shoes and wait. 
     If the sun rises over San Francisco this morning in about an hour or so, then I’ll fry some eggs and figure out what to do next. 
     It all began about eight o’clock the night before.  I was on my way to the Flim Flam Club after spending a long day not answering a phone I suspected might be broken.  I thought I’d have a drink, talk to Sully, maybe catch Rita’s act (Rita’s the skirt who replaced Lola).  At least, that was the plan.
     But then I got the not-so-sweet end of a snub nose from a guy who talked British in an alley.  He tried to ask me nicely if I’d come with him to meet his boss about a ‘spot of work’, (his words, not mine.)  But nice isn’t something I’m used to especially when guns are used for punctuation, so I told him to drift.  In a flash, his larger, less polite business associate had me against the wall and a second later, the second after the ringing blow to the base of my skull, I’m slipping into that warm bath of unconsciousness.
     I wake up in San Jose; San Jose airport to be exact, in a big room where the word ‘gold’ played a big part in every sentence the decorator uttered. I check my watch; the little hand says nine and the big one seems caught in the middle, unable to commit to either side of the hour.  I rub my skull and think about pushing somebody’s face in.  The light is dim in here, and the shadows that surround our spotlight of high-backed chair warmth do their part to make me feel uneasy and remind me that my gun, a gift from Leonard Giles, is gone.
     Across the table, a fat man in fancy clothes and a crown swirls a gold-flecked goblet of claret.  I know it’s claret because seconds later, in a voice that could only be described as bombastic, the fat man tells me it is and that I should try it.  Wadsworth, the upturned-nose waiter type, gray at the temples and bald on top, decants some claret into my goblet, pouring from a special basket encasing the bottle.  Ritzy, but I prefer Chianti.  Also I like to know that the Chianti I’m drinking is the same one on the table in front of me, with the candle sticking out of it.  Hey, I may be a simple gumshoe, but I know what I like. 
     The gulp I take, which I can tell offends the fat man, does little to mitigate the ache at the back of my head.  But it’s a start.  We don’t say much until the fat man cuts his first bite from a Chateaubriand so big and beautiful a chorus girl could live off it for a week.  I have one to match and so does a mouse of a man seated next to me.   
     “Now, Mr. Marvin is it?” begins the fat man as he cuts another wad from his steak, still chewing the last, savoring it as though it were the Hope Diamond of steaks.  Holding the meat on a thin golden fork, he takes a sip of claret, pronounces it excellent and continues.
     “Now Mr. Marvin, we have needs for which we must enlist your aid.”  I assume he means the royal ‘we’ because he’s wearing a crown. 
     “I don’t work for guys, kings or criminals, who sap me, giant steak notwithstanding.”
     “Quite, I’m sure.”  The fat man pauses for the next bite, chews, then wipes his mouth with a pup-tent sized napkin.  “And I do insist on two things.  The Pommes de Lyon, cursed French dish if ever there was, but you simply must try them, and I further insist that you please, never again in our presence, refer to a Chateaubriand as fine as this cut as a ‘steak’.  You insult both myself and the chef.  As to not working for our royal personage, well that’s a matter altogether different and one I might shed more light upon presently.  But first, the potatoes.  Wadsworth, please!”
      Wadsworth moves forward with a copper dish full of mashed potatoes.  I fork into ‘em and contemplate telling Henry that they’re the best mashed spuds I’ve ever eaten.  I’m sure that would upset him, but I wipe my mouth with a large starched white napkin and prepare to shoot off my mouth anyway, but the fat man beats me to the punch.
     “Honestly Mr. Marvin, you’re not going to finish. I’ve never trusted a man who cannot gustate with the best of them, and I, ahem, am the best.  Please, more sautéed asparagus in truffle butter?  It’s good for the...”
     “I’m not a big eater whoever you are.  I don’t go in for the fancy stuff.  Ham sandwich, cup of coffee, that’s me. Also, the play acting is spoiling the mood.  What is it that you want besides food?  I don’t like people who impersonate other people, including kings, and then ask us all to play along.  It makes the rest of us feel stupid.”
     “Interesting, Mr. Marvin,” says the mouse man.  “Aren’t we all ‘play-acting’ at being someone else in ‘this’ world?” At ‘this’ my blood runs cold.  I’m one of the very few people, hell in fact the only one I’m aware of, who knows the truth about the other side - the world of Leonard Giles.  The real world.
     “I don’t follow you...”
     “You do.  No lies, Mr. Marvin.  They are a waste of time and for all of us, time is running out.”  I don’t know what that means but I suspect mouse man does, and it scares the hell out of me.  I light a cigarette as Henry continues to cut slices from his Chateaubriand, savoring every bite, his eyes fluttering as he chews.
     Mouse man continues, “You see Mr. Marvin, I know what the man called Dupree told you all those years ago.  I too was once a nobody who knew nothing, such as you were.  I worked in a shoe store, selling beautiful women fine shoes.  It delighted my owner Kevin Richter - he was my Leonard Giles - to torment me with ladies so utterly beguiling. I could not possibly tell you of the love I have for the arches, heels and calves of beautiful women.
          “Day after day, beauties like Jane Russell, Dolores Del Rio and Wendy Neutron, paraded into my shoe store to both titillate and torment me.  To make me tremble as I grasped feet so soft it was as if they had been sculpted from the stuff of passing clouds.  I watched, sweating tiny beads of perspiration as they crossed impossibly long legs as time seemed to wallow in thick maple syrup.  They were statues too gloriously sculpted for such an insignificant as myself. 
          “And I helped them, me the little clown, slave to queens of the cinema, beaten with eyelashes and stiletto heels all for the amusement of my owner.  Obviously he had a shoe fetish. And then one day Kevin came into the store.  He entered our world.  Did Leonard Giles ever do that Mr. Marvin?  Ever come in and act out a part in his little fantasies?  Play at being your partner, maybe even your Moriarty?”
     I tried to remember any hoods named Moriarty.
     “His gratification, Kevin’s that is, was in torturing me, not himself.  Maybe once long ago, watching these beauties squeeze into pumps and stilettos had done something for him, but ‘The Long Night’, as he called it had changed him.  Now, he told me frankly, he rather enjoyed simply torturing me. 
     “And the greatest rack he could stretch me on, his words not mine, was to tell me the truth of ‘The Long Night’; the truth about the other side.  So I killed him.  I hit him with a ladies heel, almost like a spike, a Charles David I think it was.  I hit him and kept on hitting him until the blood mixed with his laughter. That damned high-pitched squealing laughter.  Of course he didn’t really die.  He wasn’t really there, just his mind was.  Just his imagination and desire running loose inside our world, or ‘The Construct’ I think he called it... He enjoyed letting me know that the shoes, the shoe store, and Dolores Del Rio were nothing but the whims of his sick and twisted imagination.  For me, Norton Morris, hell began.”
     “Torture unimaginable in a thousand ways as moments spun in on themselves and revealed whole news vistas and possibilities of real pain never before imagined.  Kevin Richter became the torturer of his dreams.”
     I felt sorry for the mouse man Norton Morris, I really did. I listened as all the horror he experienced at the hands of Kevin Richter came out onto the table.  Picking my teeth absently and drinking a cup of black coffee Wadsworth brought me, I tried to imagine it.  Somehow the golden room, the dark shadows, the thick quiet of the carpet and the soft green velvet drapes that covered immense windows, seemed to make the horror something that happened to someone else, not the little man in front of me.  The fat man burped unapologetically at the conclusion.
     “And then I found a way to jump,” continued Norton Morris.  “The pain, the torture, everything Mr. Kevin Richter could conceive, clarified my thinking.  Reduced it to viscous transparency like clarified butter if you will.”  The fat man roused from a brief doze and seemed to take an interest in this. 
     “Where once my artificial personality - the mind that Kevin Richter had delighted in when he designed me using a ‘menu’ as he called it - had been a solid thing with its own weight and logic, now it was free.”  Norton Morris took a sip of claret and continued to stare at me.  He didn’t blink much. 
     “A menu,” he said disgustedly.  “An extensive one, but a menu nonetheless, like I was some common dish from a greasy spoon.  He made me as weak, and as strong as he had always wanted to be - ladies shoes, feet, power- I’m sure Freud could have run amok inside his mind. 
     “But my mind, whereas it had once been like a soft chunk of butter, now thanks to the heat and torture of Mr. Richter’s regimen, clarified, and spread out, dripping into the crevices of the mainframe.  I, Norton Morris, humble purveyor of fine ladies shoes, leapt out of time. 
     “Not really though.  I thought I had at first; that I could go backwards, forwards, wherever I chose.  But I was wrong.  Instead it was more like leaping into a book.  Picking up books and turning to random pages and beginning to read.  A Manhattan Shoe Salesman in King Arthur’s Court, as it was.  I spent time with Henry,” he indicated the fat man with an overly respectful nod.  “My third or fourth leap I think; someone’s erotic fantasy of Tudor England, forgotten in ‘The Long Night’.  We became friends - my first real friend, Henry the Eighth. I showed him how to leap.  With my help of course.”
     “Yes, with your help...imagine the thought,” erupted the monarch.  “I still cannot conceive of it.  I will always be loyal King Harry to my subjects.  Not some nonesuch make-em-up hoogely boogely as he would have me believe.  But the worlds I’ve seen, this place tonight, ‘tis far different from Whitehall and court.  And then there is the opportunity.  Tell him Mr. Morris, of our grand scheme and how he can play a part.”
     Morris flared first with fear, and then softened to anger.  He was afraid King Henry might spill the beans.  Then I knew, no matter what they told me, they weren’t playing straight.
     “Mr. Marvin.  We are but characters in a book on a ‘Long
Night’.  I could tell you things.  Things your mind, with all the restrictions of its place within The Construct, might never grasp.  But suffice it to say we want to leave the library in which we find ourselves.”
     “And you can help us,” said King Henry the Eighth. 
     I wondered if he meant royal ‘us’.  Either way I didn’t like where they were heading.
     “You can unlock the door to the library.  You see...”
     I cut Norton Morris off.
     “What if there is no library?  What if there is no other side...”   I’d had enough.  I had a bad feeling, the kind you get when it’s too late and you know you should be home, or anywhere but the alley you’re in.
     “There is another side.  It exists.  And Dupree, the man who bled to death on that floor in Oakland, told you about that other side.”  Morris looked at me expectantly.  He was proud he’d played his hole card.
     “Yeah, what of it?  You weren’t there!” I shot back, angry and hard, not liking what I heard in my own voice.  “You didn’t see his eyes.  He was a man just like you and me.  Sure this world might be made up, just bits and dreams of someone I’ve never met, ones and zeros he told me. But Dupree was intelligent.  He knew he was dying.  Just like this steak and wine, this coffee and these cigarettes, damn you.  It’s real, or real enough, and tomorrow the sun will rise and life will go on inside... inside.  Inside what, I don’t know, but it’s enough for me Jack.”
     “Your owner, Mr. Marvin; he was somehow a very important man.  His name was Leonard Giles, and I think he sent you a message through Dupree.  A message letting you know there’s an outside world.”
     “So what of it?”
     “The ‘what of it’ is...” began Henry the Eighth.
     “Is that he trusted you.”  Morris cut Henry off with a dismissive wave.  “Trusted you to do something with that information, and the only thing I can think of is that he wants you to get out.  To find him.”  Morris Norton’s eyes were watery and emphatic.  I wanted to believe him.  The knight inside me, the one that Leonard Giles had ordered up on that greasy spoon menu, wanted to save somebody in trouble, even if I didn’t like it.  But something didn’t smell right.
     “And how do you figure into it?” I asked.  “I haven’t heard from Leonard Giles in a long time.  Richter, for that matter, what happened to him?  It’s like they forgot us or went to sleep.  Maybe they put their toys away and grew up, maybe we should stay in the box or they might just decide to throw us out with the rest of the garbage.”
     “Dupree was a simulation,” said Norton Morris angrily.  His hand was starting to show.  “The story:  A two bit break-in man who witnessed a murder and came to you for help.  What a thrilling detective story, Mr. Marvin.  And then there was the dame, Dupree’s girl.  Long legs, auburn hair.  When you told her he got it in the warehouse, she cried into your shoulder and you kissed her, and you felt”
     “Like dirt,” I said, because I did.  “I felt like dirt because I took advantage of her.  Dupree was human, just like you.  Just like me.”
     But Morris wasn’t having any of it.  “Then how do I know?  How does little Norton Morris, shoe clerk, know about that adventure?  And how do I know King Henry the Eighth, and why are we here at this five star restaurant eating Chateaubriand and waiting for our Baked Alaska at eleven thirty on a Thursday evening?  How do I know, Mr. Marvin?”
     “Because it’s a trick or something.  Or I’m still in the gutter, dying after I got that tap on the skull by your boys.  Or I’m someone else’s...”
     “Dream, Mr. Marvin.  Dream.  I know because I was one.  I was one until I clarified... like butter,” again Henry seemed to take interest with a simple grunt.  “And I dripped down onto and throughout all the pages of all the stories that ever were.”
     Things were getting weird.  I had to play for time and find my gun.  There was something bad about Norton Morris.  Something not to be trifled with.  I needed to find my gun and drill these two bit clowns.  Protect someone.  Someone like Dupree’s girl.  And then there was ‘The Long Night’.
     “And why should you care,” I growled, “whether I get to the outside or not?”  I eyed Henry as I said it.  Maybe I could play one joker off the other.  Both probably wanted all the power and none of the sharing.
     But it was Morris who answered. “I don’t care for any other reason than the concept of escape.  Escape is enough for me, Mr. Marvin.  Escape is enough for me.”
     “Enough that you’d kill for it?”  Little white tufts of hair glowed in contrast to the florid bloom that exploded across his face as he reached into his coat.  And now I knew two things. One, regardless of King Henry the Eighth, Norton Morris was in charge.  And two, Norton Morris was a killer.
     He pointed my gun at me.  I didn’t like that.   I had pointed it at others from time to time, men mostly, and the occasional dame more devil than doll.  But I never knew what it was like to look down that yawning barrel of infinity.  There was something about my gun.   It wasn’t just a roscoe used by a punk detective like myself who got by more on luck than hunches or good detective work. There was something final about that cold dark bore hole.  Something that said, “I don’t just kill you.  I delete you.”
     “Ahem, Mr. Morris, this is indeed bad form.  Wadsworth hasn’t even arrived with our figgy pudding!”
     “Shut up Henry, or you’ll get it before he does,” said Norton Morris through clenched teeth.  “Down below, a DC Six is due to start its engines before the bay completely socks in with fog. It’s the mail flight to Los Angeles.  We’re getting on it, you, me, and Henry.  And then we’re going somewhere.”  He hefted my gun towards the windows and the tarmac below. 
     “You realize now what this gun is, don’t you?”  Norton Morris was in charge.  If anyone was asking questions that didn’t need answers, it was him.  “Maybe you don’t, maybe you do.  But now you know what the gaping void of eternity looks like when you’re staring at the business end of it.  And when we get where we’re going, you’ll meet Dupree’s girl and you’ll shake hands.  That’s all.”
     I didn’t want to draw attention to the fact that there didn’t seem to be much of a plan after the handshake.  I probably wouldn’t have liked it anyway. 
     In the dark, out past the big windows that overlooked the runway beyond, an engine started.  Then another. And after that the other two.  Our plane.  I lit a cigarette and wondered what the real Lee Marvin would do.
     After takeoff, I slumped back into my seat, pushed my hat down over my head and tried to feign sleep.  In the back, mail sacks piled to the ceiling absorbed the sound of the four huge Douglas engines, giving them a dull throbbing sound.  Up front, the pilot, a leather jacket flyboy with a day’s worth of growth on his mug, nodded calmly as Morris held out a scrap of paper.  Longitude and latitude was my guess.  In his other hand he held my gun. 
     My only possible ally was a high jacked pilot who might be a rummy judging from the stubble.  I didn’t like my gun being used in a manner I didn’t care for, but who does?  And as for Henry, regally seated next to me, at home in his crown, his tights, and his long coat? Beneath the royal facade, he was a brute of a man who could probably beat a peasant like me to death.  I wondered where he kept his turkey leg.   He didn’t seem overly upset by the aircraft or the altitude; maybe the Châteaubriand and mashed potatoes had lured him into sleepy complacency.
     An hour later the plane began to descend.  I moved to the open curtain and watched Morris peering intently ahead.  Below, in the shapeless darkness of the Pacific Ocean, two lines of parallel lights guttered and flickered.  Torches.
     Morris noticed me and waved the gun too causally in my direction.  “Get buckled in.  And tell Henry to also.  You might have to show that idiot how.”  I did.  Minutes later, the plane jounced its way onto the dirt and began to taxi.  I closed my eyes. 
     I knew that in the next few minutes I’d have to do something I didn’t want to.  Like shake hands with Dupree’s girl.  But that didn’t make sense.  She was just some skirt - redhead, blue eyes, tight sweater, but a dame nonetheless.  What was so important about her?  But deep down, I knew I had to do anything but shake her hand.  Even if it meant taking a bullet from my own gun.  And I knew if it came to that, there wouldn’t be any heroic Saturday matinee shoulder wound.  Nothing of that sort.  It would be a new word; a secretary’s word.  A secretary who takes shorthand for the big boss who grabs her butt and likes to play tickle in places off the map.  Deleted.
     The pilot chopped the engines, and in the silence I could smell the stale cloth of my seat, hear Harry’s labored breathing, and see the pilot with Morris behind him, gun at his back, heading towards the door. 
     It wasn’t the smartest plan in the book.  I bet Phil Marlowe would have done something better, but like I said, I’m not the best, so I kicked the pilot in the stomach and sent him flying back into Morris. 
     A second later, as Morris cursed and Henry the Eighth tugged at his seat belt, unused to restraint of any kind, I grabbed for the handle and pushed outwards on the big door.  It didn’t move.  A pin, gleaming dull and silvery in the light of the cabin, laughed at me from the deck.  I pulled it, yanked the lever and pushed outwards.  It opened to guttering torches and a dark jungle. 
     I lowered myself to the ground and ran.  Norton Morris yelled but didn’t fire.  Ahead I could see Dupree’s girl, a gray skirt over thighs I remembered to be silky in the moonlight of a cheap motel.  A green sweater filled nicely and auburn hair that seemed like pumping blood in the flickering light of the torches.  And those silvery turned blue.  I could grab her and we’d make for the jungle.  She was only twenty feet away, and we’d get a good head start.  After that, who knew?
     “I’ll shoot her, Mr. Marvin.”  Morris screamed from the doorway.  “I’ll shoot her dead before you can even get to her.  And she’ll be gone.  You know it and I know it.” 
     I stopped, panting.  Norton Morris stood triumphantly in the open door of the fuselage.  For once the little shoe clerk held all the cards.
     A few minutes later we were all together, facing Dupree’s girl.  Henry the Eighth guffawed with laugher.  “Good shew Norton.  I suspect thou mayest indeed be an Earl before this evening’s out.”
     “Shut up, Henry.  Now, Mr. Marvin.  Shake hands with her.”
     She didn’t say anything.  But the look in her blue eyes told me to do anything but what Norton Morris wanted me to do.
     “Before I do Norton, tell me one thing.”  If I couldn’t shoot off my gun, why not my mouth?  “Why Henry?  You’re obviously in charge.  Why him?”
     “Shut up and shake stupid, before I drill you.”
     “If you do, then I guess I can’t shake with bright eyes.”
     “There are other ways,” he whispered through clenched teeth.
     For a long moment the gun remained steady.  But the eyes behind it were livid with rage.
     “Do it!” screamed Morris.
     “No.  You do it!” I shot back. 
     “He can’t do it!  He can’t do it because...” It was Dupree’s girl.  Her blue eyes had turned to silver.  “Because he’s dead Mr. Marvin.”
     Morris trembled with silent red rage.
     “And yet here I am, holding this gun.” He began quietly.  “Your gun.  What do you have to say to that Mr. Marvin?”
     When you don’t have the answers, shut up.  Let other people do the talking, especially when the ones holding the guns aren’t going to like what you have to say.
     “You’re still dead, Norton Morris.”  Dupree’s girl’s voice, a hint of quivering fear, was steady for the most part.  “You died in that shoe store.  It’s not your fault.  Mr. Richter tortured you for what probably seemed an eternity in your mind.  And then you slipped through the cracks...” 
     “Yes, I did,” he mumbled softly.
     “And went mad,” she finished. “I’ve never heard of such a thing.  I’ve flown the entire length of the spiral arm, Mr. Morris.  I’m one of the few captains who have.  But never in all my years, did I ever think an A.I. would go mad.”  Her silver eyes stared into Morris.  “And yet you did.  Just like Richter did.  And now you want to kill all the sleepers, all of us, everyone aboard the ship, just like Richter wanted to.  Don’t you?”
     “Yes,” whimpered Morris.  I thought about grabbing my gun.
     “The reason Henry is here,” she said turning towards me, “is because Norton Morris is the ghost of something that once was.  The memory of a program who needs an actual running intelligence to stay in touch with the rest of the ship.  He was an A.I. gone completely mad.  Now, his data doesn’t even exist in the Construct anymore. Just a memory of file corruption.  An error the Construct has learned to live with. His hatred, his malice, his appetite for revenge are all that remain. But with the corruption to the Construct and our ship being so far gone into uncharted space, there’s nothing that can be done.  In light of this ship’s current status, the least of my problems is a rogue A.I. ghost that didn’t go quietly into the recycling bin.  But now, it requires my full attention.  We can authenticate the link between Construct and Bridge.  Take my hand Mr. Marvin.  I am in full control of Dupree’s girl now.  It’s safe.”
     So I did.  I reached out and held soft, cold, delicate fingers and fell into silver eyes.  I fell into the whirlpool of the universe and it didn’t matter that Morris had thrown himself onto me or that Henry, that great bear of a king, was hugging the life out me, crushing me.  Death and her eyes were one in the same.

     Now back in my apartment in Harbor City, the dawn is just a few minutes away.  I hope.  I check the horizon, standing up and craning my neck toward the side of my little window.  I want to see blue streaks in the sky.  I want to walk down Becker Street this morning and know that I can still right wrongs, save damsels, and occasionally hear a good song over a cheap mug of beer.  I’m simple that way.  I’m human, regardless of my residence in the Construct or the previous Lee Marvin.
     On the other side of the Captain’s eyes, I came to the Auxiliary Bridge, as Dupree’s girl the Captain called it.  She told me the main bridge had been smashed to bits a hundred and fifty years earlier.  I looked down seeing right through myself.  I was there, and I wasn’t.
     “What about Morris?” I asked. 
     “Henry finally shot him.  Nothing can stand up against your pistol inside the Construct.  It’s a Hunter Killer algorithm designed to eradicate any trace of undesired data.  Not only did Henry kill him, he never was.”
     I didn’t follow.
     “Mr. Giles, you knew him as Dupree, was my chief engineer. It was his idea of placing it in your hands.  As a safeguard.  You were his only hobby.  Most people have several Avatars for their Construct stories.  For pleasure, pain, companionship, many other things.  Spacers use them to live lives that extend beyond the finite space of our hulls.  But Mr. Giles was a quiet man who loved his engines and me.  He died in Oakland in that warehouse. He died trying to save my ship from Richter’s treachery.  He died sending you a message.”
     The Captain, “Dupree’s girl”, stood in front of me.  She was an old crone if there ever was one.  She had short, cropped, spiky hair and thin, papery skin with long blue veins running down scrawny limbs.  But her large eyes were still the eyes of Dupree’s girl.
     “I’m sorry,” I muttered.  Maybe the night we spent together in that motel after Dupree got killed made me feel like garbage.  Either that or it was the memory of Leonard Giles that I saw in her eyes.
     “Don’t be.  It was Richter’s fault.  He almost succeeded in killing everybody.  Instead he failed and only killed my entire crew.  ‘Dupree’ was a scenario, a case, if you prefer.  Leonard designed it to let you know about the ship and our situation.  About the Construct.  He felt you might be able to help in there if something happened to him.  Keep the Sleepers, our charges, safe from the negative effects of the unrestricted awareness patch Richter downloaded on to the A.I.s running inside the Construct.  Richter killed Leonard and almost everyone else shortly after that.”  She turned away from me, staring outwards at something I knew wasn’t there anymore.
     “That night in the motel, after he died,” she said to the universe.  “When I was with you.   I just wanted to be close to Leonard one last time.  And you were his.  I hope you don’t mind.”
     I didn’t.
     “Why did Richter kill everyone?”
     “Not everyone.  Just my crew.  It’s a long story Mr. Marvin.  He was a terrorist of sorts.  A man who believed that all artificial intelligence should be treated as though alive.  That their ‘lives’, data-based though they are, are capable of just as much joy, and just as much suffering, as in the case of Norton Morris, as a human might be.  He was insane.  That’s why he sabotaged The Olympia, my ship, and sent us off into the void.  Next stop Andromeda.  No one’s ever been there.  You’ll be the first.  You and the sleepers.”
     “You have a name for me.” I passed my arm through a nearby bank of colored lights.  “Artificial you called it?  You may be right.  All this might be the truth.  But just the same, I’m real. I live in my world.  It’ll always be Harbor City, rain and fog, or sunny and hot; not much, but when it is, it’s nice.  In its own way, it’s my little slice of humanity. ”
     “Not for long Mr. Marvin.  I couldn’t contain Henry the Eighth.  Even now he’s grabbing everything from everywhere inside the Construct.”
     “Very.  Think of it this way.  The Construct, where your world is, is like a candy store.  A place where travelers on long journeys, like the sleepers in back, can put their minds and live out fantasies and adventures or even learn skills to prepare them for their work in the colony they were headed towards.  Now Henry is running through that candy store grabbing items from every bin and stuffing them into his sack.  It will be...strange to say the least.”
     “Why not shut the damn thing down?”
     “It would kill the sleepers, and you.  Until we reach a habitable system in the Andromeda galaxy, I have to keep it running.  As you can see, I’m not as young as I once was.  It’s going to be difficult.”
     I watched the universe outside the windows of the ship.  There was so much darkness. I’d always expected more stars.  Ahead there was a tiny cluster of them though.  I assumed that was Andromeda.
     “Can I help?”
     “I would appreciate that Mr. Marvin.”  She swallowed hard.     
     “You’re my last knight in shining armor.”
     “I don’t know about the ‘shining’ part.”
     “Here’s a new ‘gun’.  Where we come from, The Cantata Assembly,  that is a banned weapon.  The algorithm inside it has started and ended wars on a galactic scale.  In open space, exposed to live data, it could kill millions.  But in the Construct, I ask you to use it to right wrongs, protect the sleepers, and occasionally rescue old dames like myself.  It’s your Excalibur.”  I took the gun from her and for a moment sensed the emptiness of the void I’d seen between the galaxies within it.  In its holster under my coat, it felt at home. 
     “I guess that makes me the old lady in the lake,” she chuckled dryly.  “Not much of a damsel though, eh?”
     “I may not be much of knight.  But you’ll always be a fair maiden to me.”  I’m a soft touch.  It was the thing Lola liked and hated about me.  But that’s another story.
     “Thank you Leonard...I mean Mr. Marvin.  Thank you.”
     “What do I call you?”
     She thought for a moment.  “Just Dupree’s girl.  I like that.”

     And now I wait.  She said if the sun came up over Harbor City that meant at least Henry hadn’t pulled all the wires and plugs of the Construct in his greedy grab for everything.  She assured me, darkly, that there were places where he could get into exactly that sort of trouble.  But she also said if the sun came up, it meant at least she could contain him within the Construct.  The simulation, our world within the ship, would continue on its long night journey to Andromeda.  If she could keep him away from the ‘sleepers,’ whoever they were, and the rest of the ship’s systems, the Construct would continue to run and the sun would rise over Harbor City.  At least for tomorrow.  It sounded like a lot of work, but she seemed tougher than most.
     Back home in Harbor City, near my window, a deep blue streak appeared within the ink of night.  I wondered what our ‘candy store’ would be like in the morning. Henry the Eighth crossing the Golden Gate Bridge on a dinosaur at the head of an army of Panzers?  One gun and one slightly used detective didn’t stand much of a chance.  Then again, I am Lee Marvin, and the gun is Excalibur.
The End