Due to Amazon’s business model being weird, Blackout is now available for $1.13. Give it a download, it might be good.
We’re in business! Blackout is now available at a number of fine stores online.It’s completely free, 30000 words long and I hope you enjoy it. If it’s good, tell your friends. If it’s bad, let me know.
Thanks for reading and enjoy your day.
The ground below Moussa’s car exploded. Spikes of black tar rose up like Hell’s own fingers to drag him to the abyss, the road bursting to life as they were ripped asunder. He’d seen bombs explode in his backyard, frames rain down from air-carriers and rip his countrymen apart like wet paper and some genetic engineer’s project rip up his town. This wasn’t any of those. This was something beyond the scope of anyone or anything he’d seen before, a fact laid blatantly bare as the ground under entire buildings rose to meet the sky. The Earth itself roared like a wounded animal; infected black pus oozed from the cracks in the ground.
The armoured feet of a war machine hit the ground with a metallic thud, a stone giving something to hit other the soggy, sooty ground. Rain rattled against the broad curves of the frame’s shoulders and back. The machine dwarfed nearby houses, its head reaching halfway into the third stories of some. It had the shape and swagger of a burly rugby player, bronze plates making an imitation of a tan. Under the heavy-set forearms sat shining axe blades, notches on the sharpened edge telling a number of war stories.
“Tango, activate forward lights.” A small head set deep within armour plating regarded the weapons with silent admiration, floodlights illuminating the way through snowy mist.
The pilot, eyes locked dead ahead at the screen relaying dizzying amounts of information, rested deep within the machine. Around their arms and legs hung braces, a framework of rods and rings that approximated some sort of metal skeleton. They recorded everything the pilot did, down to finger twitches, and forced those motions on the machine. This was the invention dubbed the Motion Matrix.
Another Lordframe dropped onto the scene, splashing mud in all directions. The pair grew in time to be a heavily-armed trio waiting outside a smashed wall several metres higher still than their machines. The buildings ahead were the ribs of the city’s upturned carcass, the machines vulture ready to venture in.
“This is Major Nathaniel Tomkins reporting in,” the first pilot said into his mic. “Time is exactly twenty-three hundred Eastern European time. We’ve hit the Blank Zone’s border in upper Donetsk.
“Blank Zone, sir?” the operator asked. Major Tomkins grumbled. A radio operator not knowing crucial information this early in a mission was a great sign.
“You didn’t pay much attention in history class, did you?” another pilot jeered with a hint of a laugh.
“Don’t mock him, Simon,” Tomkins said with a cool yet ominous tone. “The Blank Zones are the places your mother told you not to go. The cities and towns claimed by Pre-Event weaponry, radiation and all manner of other disturbances, deemed too dangerous to venture into and almost always devoid of human life, those are the Blank Zones. We’ve received reports of ‘monsters’ coming out of Donetsk. Now these might be the results of mutagens being released on the population or they might be rogue Lordframes, I don’t know right now. What I do know is that we won’t have prepared for nearly a year and flown from Leeds to not do a proper job. I’ll report in when anything of substance occurs. Until then, Tomkins out.”
Simon nodded silently, wise enough not to irk Tomkins. A veteran of numerous such sorties, his achievements still paled in comparison to those of the major.
A light scar twitched on the major’s dark brow as he scowled, tired of waiting around. “Best get on with it. Let’s move.” The massive machines whirred back into life, their red-hot hearts melting the snow on their backs. Tomkins shoved the ruined chunks of steel to one side, breaking through what was left of Donetsk’s border wall. The two accompanying frames swiftly moved to flank Tomkins, their war machines smaller and lighter than their bulky frontline leader. One of them, that belonging to Simon, clutched a long, tube-like firearm in its hands, always aimed straight ahead as the gunman surveyed his surroundings. They could ill afford to be ambushed by an enemy they had only anecdotal information on.
Frank and Maria’s daughter had been sick for a long time. But recently, the eight year old’s fever and cough had gotten much, much worse. In the middle of a stricken suburb with more focus on weapons than welfare, the couple was running out of options. There was no way they could afford suitable medication for Anne and there wasn’t a chance in Hell of them finding a doctor that would do them a favour. Anne’s issue was a mystery. She’d just as often have carefree hours outside with the other children as she would have those sputtering in bed. The sickness simply wouldn’t go away.
A knock came on the door and Frank, already on edge, marched there in a huff.
“We’re busy now. Come back later,” he said through an opened door not much wider than a slit. The man on the other side smiled, as if understanding their situation.
“I can help you, Frank,” he said. “I’ll take this issue off of your hands.” Frank glared at the man sceptically but he didn’t close the door. “I’m a reverend, a holy man with an eye for educating the youth. If you allow me to, I can take your children on for free.”
Frank grumbled. “I don’t see how that helps Anne.”
The man at the door narrowed his eyes, something Frank noted immediately as sinister. “Medical facilities, my friend. Specifically, my medical facilities. As a trained medical professional, I can provide whatever help your daughter needs.”
Frank held the man’s gaze, breaking it only to sigh. “Listen, we’re not friends, guy… but I don’t have a choice here. I’ll get my wife on board and then… then we’ll follow you to wherever the hell you’re from… you better be legit, or else.”
The man shrugged. “Fair, good sir, fair.” A lock of hair floated across the visitor’s face. “I’ll wait here.”
It didn’t take much to convince Maria and even less to convince Anne. The sickly little blonde girl was tired of being bedridden and, more importantly, tired of being a burden on her parents. They doted after her day and night and they didn’t deserve this. No less than she did. The girl tried her best to hold onto the strange new man with golden hair as he mounted his bike and rode off, followed suit by Maria and Frank on her bike. The trip took a number of hours, hours broken intermittently by fuel stops and breaks.
They eventually ended up where the Western Cape used to meld into the Northern Cape. Those days, it was just a uniform wasteland, like a bombsite the size of a community. Only a lonely church building still stood, surrounded by little shacks and outbuildings that seemed to expand from the building itself. The blond man motioned towards the church, as if to declare his ownership of the place.
Maria seemed on the verge of tears. “We’d love to visit this place more but… the fuel cost and the distance and…”
The man raised a finger. “It’s alright, ma’am, I understand. Rest easy, your child is safe in my hands.” Anne’s parents nodded, bidding their daughter teary farewells as they got atop Maria’s bike again and rode back home.
The man led Anne by the hand through the massive golden doors of the church, their bodies assaulted by dust flown along violent winds. The gates closed with an almighty clang, grabbing the attention of a dozen other people inside the church. They were all seated on pews, Anne noted as she lifted her head to look at them. They were all children as well and almost all of them were younger than she was, maybe six at the oldest.
The rest of the church’s main body was blackened and worn by time. Even a place as venerated as this was not immune to the passage of time. Despite that, the pews were noticeably clean and varnished. Special attention had been paid to them. The children sitting on them were as confused as Anne was, seemingly brought to the place as recently as she.
The man deposited the girl onto a pew, one shared with a raven-haired girl with an eye-covering fringe. Anne was missing any sort of familiar face amongst her surroundings… she’d have to make new ones.
The two women sat with their feet dangling in the water over the edge of a wooden bridge. The little stream remained a surprisingly clean fixture of the abandoned, overgrown garden, the water supporting ducks and all manner of local fish. The cries of birds signalled the coming of the early morning a bit more clearly than the slowly emerging sun for the two women, both fighting hangovers from the night before. It was particularly sharp for Maddie, fighting the tougher of the two headaches as her tooth-baring grimace attested. Putting her feet in the cold water provided some sort of relief and very definite contrast to the squeezing warmth in her head.
She didn’t really know the other woman too well, not being someone she’d normally hang out with, but out there in the dark, there was no way she was risking herself by going out alone. Being drunk made her way friendlier anyway… Maddie squeezed the bridge of her nose as if it was going to relieve her pain. No way am I giving into peer pressure again… Perhaps the vodka hadn’t been a good idea. It was a bit too late to complain about whatever she was doing the night before, but it didn’t make Maddie curse them any less. Continue reading
Angelfall, the day it all changed
Excuse the cliche above. I’ve introduced you all to the Apocalypse Seven before and if you haven’t met them already, here’s their introduction. Effectively, they’re the dream team for evil, edgy teenagers (note: I turn 18 in April. I’m allowed to make this joke.) Being entirely responsible for the state of the world as it is, the angels are the primary antagonists of the series. The Black Angel opposes the protagonist in Wyvern Diary, being a very personal enemy to him. Anything beyond that veers into spoiler territory. I personally love writing the Black Angel (pictured above) because of his ‘overacting’ and his destructive tendencies really test my descriptive skills.
With their high speed and the augmentative qualities of telekinetics, the best way to battle the beast is hand-to-hand, with the ubiquitous sword being more economical than the gun in any case. Characters in the novels fight with both in equal amount, one with one in each hand. Personally, I love the mental image of a dragon squaring off against a mech suit with squads of riflemen flanking both.
The story of the first novel revolves around Steven’s change from child seeking justice for the world to revenge-filled angry teenager, and the repelling of the angel as he invades Cape Town. Being South African, it gives me great pleasure to be one of the very few authors setting science-fiction novels there/here. I’ve dropped a few hints here and there in Wyvern Diary as to locations and such. Between action sequences which I have been praised in crafting and quieter character-driven plot, I hope Wyvern Diary ends up being exciting and wholesome.
In terms of characters, we have:
Private Steven Hail (16): A blond-haired idealistic boy tainted early by a family tragedy. Extremely stubborn and strong-willed, Steven will fight until he blacks out.
Sergeant Emmet Hail (16): Steven’s twin brother, a much more responsible and cool-headed lad but with a dark intelligence about him. Motivated equally to protect his brother and serve his PMC to the best of his ability, it may yet tear him up inside.
Private Sam Steenkamp (16): A red-headed jokester with no sense of seriousness, Sam provides a well-needed jest in the face of horrific battles and monsters. Coming from a scholarly family with heavy pressures on him, Sam discards it all, though how successfully remains to be seen.
Private Isa Claramond (16): Notable for her emotionlessness, stark paleness but otherwise remarkably pretty face, Isa is an enigma to most of the platoon and a deadly one at that. As probably the second best fighter in the platoon, she gives Steven a pointer or two in that department while hiding deep-rooted issues of her own.
Private Amanda Walker (16): Sarcastic and biting where her best friend is jovial, Amanda can barely be found away from Sam. Exceptionally brave and a no-nonsense professional, she prefers to bottle her emotions than express herself. Does that suit her, though?
Private Kyros Manis (15): A kind-hearted young lad born from a Greek father, he is far more jaded than his smile lets on. Blessed/cursed with the ability to create fire, Kyros is a talented telekinetic who fears his own powers. Despite his considerable utility to the platoon, he often doubts his place in the squad structure.
Lieutenant Damian Wolf (22): The devastatingly handsome, hyper-dangerous celebrity soldier in charge of the platoon, Wolf lives for battle and for the thrill. The sole survivor of the previous iteration of the 46th Platoon, he values the lives of his subordinates dearly, prepared to fight a god to keep them safe. Always looking out for the emotions of his underlings, he buries his own wants and needs deep…
Dragon Guild PMC:
Major Maxine Harris (24): Another survivor of the disastrous Congo expedition, Max is Steven and Emmet’s adoptive sister and a superlative fighter in her own right. While accepted by most of her family, she has considerable friction with Steven due to events in their youth. When these tensions reach a point, can she put duty above her personal issues with her brother?
Colonel Sheila Hail nee Henderson-Kramer (40): The premier one-on-one fighter in the Guild and an absolute hero. She is practically worshipped by her sons, especially Steven. But as to all heroes, there is a dark side, one that many refuse to accept…
Aube Rouge is an Australian-based PMC that provides the nameless goons for much of Wyvern Diary. Headed by an ambitious Black Angel, they invade Cape Town for reasons unknown.
The Black Angel (?): An enigmatic beast from realms far beyond, the Black Angel is supremely confident, overly dramatic and unbelievably dangerous. With close-combat ability besting even the most capable soldier, the Black Angel goes about his private agenda with stunning effectiveness, darkly mocking Steven as he goes. He’s a troll and a murderous one at that.
I hope that outlines things nicely. Thanks for reading and have a great day!
I ended up being busier than I wanted to be yesterday, so I didn’t manage to get one of these out. That said, I’m ready to move on…
Fall of Nations, Rise of Commerce
War gripped the minds of everyone on Earth much more strongly than before The Event and it became an everpresent fact of life. Even children become acclimatised to violence and death from an early age and the entire business model of commercial war sweeps all of society with it. On the plus side, at least rulers of a given area admit that they’ll invade somewhere for resources. Battle replaces sport as the primary font of entertainment and competition, leading to massive death tolls across the globe and daily casualties relegated to the realm of statistics.
Enterprising companies band together to form unions, coalitions and associations to replace the fading countries, shareholders replacing any sort of pure democratic process. With the human population falling dramatically, any sort of gender and sex based discrimination falls away and women join the wars as full combatants. In fact, in the story proper, Homeward Bound‘s protagonist and supporting character in Wyvern Diary, Sheila Hail, ends up being one of the best one-on-one fighters in the known world. Racial relations either fall away into harmonious cooperation or explode beyond their breaking points, flaring up yet more conflict. Glorified gangs aiming for extended racketeering masquerade as Private Military Contractors, the biggest and shiniest muscles on the world stage.
The nature of the beast makes war celebrated. Soldiers, especially effective and flashy ones, eclipse entertainers as the most prominent celebrities of the age. Between the hyper-effective but humble Damian Wolf taking it in his stride and Sheila Hail completely indulging in the star lifestyle, and the public supporting all of their habits, stardom ends up sticking to soldiers like glue. War pubs, with bets hedged on tactical shuffles, soldiers surviving and particularly exciting duels between combatants, make honest people turn to gambling to pass the time and forget the horrors. PMCs turn to slogans like “Justice Through Expansion” and “Success Through Sacrifice” to garner support and funding. This draws young men and women like our teenage protagonist Steven Hail into the whole culture, convincing them that they’re really changing the world. Other places are more proactive in their efforts to indoctrinate children. Chapel Six is one such example and one you’ll learn about in Blackout.
Unbeknownst to them all, the real gamechangers are around the corner…
I often get asked the question “What is your book about?” and I must admit, I’m very bad at answering it. My mind gets tangled in spools of plot, unnecessary details and assorted nonsense. With that in mind and with a self-imposed countdown to the release of Blackout mixed in there, let’s get started with a breakdown of the universe of Ira Draconis.
I’m going to try and do one of these per day. The below is copied straight from Blackout, the next set will be all new content.
Before the End and Immediately After
Mankind had lived like kings, spreading its seeds of civilisation far and wide as its population exploded. Industry and technology helped to feed and satisfy man’s greed; from the earth’s riches came lead and iron and from them came conflict. Humanity has always thirsted for competition, and between sports, war and corporate jousting, it’s had its fair share. For a long time, it seemed as if another global war, one of utterly cataclysmic proportions, was on the horizon. With titanic steel monsters and weapons of mass destruction under the fingertips of every head-of-state imaginable, it would not have been long before the tensions reached a boiling point and a warlike society more dangerous and more violent in its advanced state than anything the twentieth century had to offer was unleashed upon itself. There were smaller wars here and there, old rivalries and grudges springing up, but the global conflict would have been catastrophic.
Then it happened. Cities in Eastern Europe fell silent, their presence disappearing in the blink of an eye. The Europeans panicked, a course of action that became justified extremely quickly. London seemed to be sucked into a bright blue vortex of energy, a catastrophe that sapped the electrical power from the city in a matter of moments. In a moment, England fell into darkness. The world stopped to breathe… Then Abuja shut down.
The world was over. Electricity stopped. Running water stopped. Agriculture stopped. Life stopped. Those lucky enough to have food stocks and stored water became people of importance. Any prior ties or titles, after a while, became meaningless. And very soon, human life became meaningless. Without the pressure of the crumbling governments to police them, violent people started to band together and started to be a law unto themselves. Empty bullet casings, freshly spent from some conflict or another, very quickly grew in importance. Man has always loved symbols and the appropriateness of an empty cartridge representing blood money was too much to pass up. Every shot made someone richer, so people were looking for excuses to fight. Militant groups banded together and set up shop wherever they could, like old-school gangsters marking out their turf.
Violence, of course, breeds violence and, perhaps due to demand or through pressure, the militias became somewhat more formal. For a long time, the concept of private military contractors had been a dead one but with the shutting down of states and parliaments, the corporate animal was free of its chains. The corporate economy, shedding its government ties, took over land on its own and sovereign states were replaced by companies and unions. PMCs and enterprising businessmen were the new ruling class. Thus, drug dealers, gangsters and murderers took over the world.
Through the marriage of business and battle, commercialised warfare was born. Mankind has a knack for creating celebrities and who better to celebrate than the man protecting your way of life? A new age of decadence may yet have been on the rise, gambling dens and advertisers latching onto the life-and-death madness of warfare. With electricity and conventional power practically dead, the overworked civic beast of burden had to backpedal. Steam, bronze gears and iron hammers started to replace the ubiquitous industrial factories, giving the surviving dregs of humanity something to do. They’ve made the best of a bad situation and fifty years on, life started to take up some form of normalcy. Normalcy defined by constant war, famine and degeneration.
The bad guy is most often the most memorable part of any given piece of fiction. He’s given the best lines, has the most agency in the plot and basically ends up being, without restraint, a lot cooler than the good guys are allowed to be. This is why making a good bad guy is essential. I’m going to use male pronouns, but these are just as applicable for female and non-gendered antagonists.
1. Make him stick out. An author should make all characters memorable but this is vital for the antagonist if he is to have any staying power. He is the driving force behind the novel’s conflict so someone that important needs to be dealt with carefully. If he falls flat, the plot and conflict themselves can deflate.
2. Make him whole. Very few villains are in it for the lols and those that are have reasons for that. The most common mistake to make is turning the villain into a plot device rather than a person. Even animal antagonists have reason to be terrifying forces of nature.
3. Make him complement your hero(es). It’s strange to think that someone can be given the wrong villain, but there’s a reason Batman is paired up with the Joker, and Superman takes on Lex Luthor. These villain/hero pairs complement each other well, with the Batman/Joker conflict being as psychological as it is physical. Batman versus Luthor is an interesting intellectual battle but doesn’t resonate as well as the classic dustup. The more powerful it is, the more the conflict resonates, the more it will be enjoyed and the more it really captures the imagination.
Thanks for reading and enjoy your day.