This year I accomplished a goal I’ve had for a little while: to give NanoWrimo a go. I wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy it or be any good at it: I’ve never done any writing before, but I gave it a shot and I’m glad I did because it was a lot of fun. I’m sure my writing sucks, and I didn’t ‘win’ the challenge (I got ~34,000 words out of the goal 50,000); but I may have found a new hobby! I’ve attached the introductory chapter of my story here as a taster for the kind of writing I was going for: I wanted a cliché-filled cyber-punk noir detective tale. I started out pretty well, but the cyber-punk elements sort of faded into the background as I tried to write as quickly as possible to get closer to the finish line. It turns out that coming up with sci-fi elements and describing a world are much more difficult to do on the fly than just simply writing with a default context that everyone today would understand by default. I’m definitely going to give this another go next year; hopefully to completion this time! The goal is that I’ll look back on this next year and cringe.
A Castle In The Dark - Chapter 1
The soft yellow lights shone up through the grates by the walkways of the only park on Station 17. They provided just enough light to see by, just enough to illuminate the edges of the deciduous trees that dotted the parkway, and to silhouette the few figures here and there on their way through the park. It was, like most nights on Station 17, a still night. The light breeze only causing some quiet rustling in the grass and trees. It was cold too, as evidenced by the clearly visible breath of the various lonely walkers in the park. The park had originally been installed as a way to improve morale on the station. A change of scenery, something reminiscent of Earth - or for most on the station, the stories they had been told of Earth. They had gone so far as to model the ground to simulate a natural lightly wooded area, complete with little brooks and rolling hills. A piece of paradise on an otherwise grey and industrial station; or at least that was the intent. Station 17 was far less important now than it had been in its glory days, far less profitable. When the colonisation of near space began in earnest, governments and corporations saw it as a new age, a way to increase their power and profitability without much risk - space was vast after all, and there were fortunes to be made out among the stars. Predictably, they got too greedy, went too far, too fast. Promises and pledges were broken, and far-flung colonies and stations were not viable with the state of space travel - the bubble burst. People and corporations withdrew and eventually formed a more practical new world, a ring of civilisation reasonably maintainable from the Earth, and Mars. Meanwhile, Station 17 which was once a frontier, a gateway to the future - had become a backwater on the edge of inhabited space. Cassie lay on a bench somewhere near the middle of the park, long coat pulled tight against the night chill. She took a slow pull on a cigarette, savouring it, then gently exhaled. She watched the smoke drift lazily up towards the transparent roof of the station high above. There wasn’t an awful lot that Cassie liked about Station 17, it was cold, industrial, poorly lit. Here in the park, however, she almost felt at home. The stars shone down through the skylight high above like a beacon, pointing the way to better things. She sighed, then sat up and cracked her neck. This was Station 17. And she was supposed to be working. Taking in her surroundings properly she took count of the figures in the park. She had a good vantage from here, her bench was up on a slight hill, giving her a good place to watch for her mark. A small woman walked away from her on the opposite side of the park, towards the exit. Meanwhile, three shadowy men in the centre were engaged in loud conversation; enough that she could almost make out the words. She watched for a while, then jumped as the bushes rattled ahead of her. A squirrel scurried up a tree just in front of her, then stopped and watched her from its bows. A staring contest ensued, until out of the corner of her eye Cassie saw a lone figure in a hat and coat enter from the eastward side of the park. Right on time. She looked back to give a farewell nod to the squirrel and it scampered off up the tree. Cassie smiled, and put the cigarette out between mechanical fingers, tossing it into the gutter as she stalked away through the park.
She made a roundabout route through the park circling the edge so as to come up on the pathway a good distance behind her mark. She didn’t intend on being seen tonight. She could make him out from here, a man of average height and build with a woollen hat and a large thick coat. Just a regular joe. It was a routine job - watch him as he goes about his business, report back to her client in the morning. Her client was, in fact, his wife, and his business was an alleged mistress, or so she’d been told. It was shit work - but Station 17 was a dirty old mining station, and she’d take what she could get. Cassie pulled her chin into her coat collar to keep out the cold. She’d let him get a little too far ahead for comfort - from what her client had told her he had only one aug; his right leg from the knee down. It certainly didn’t impede him, as he set a blistering pace through the park. Nervous maybe? There’s no way he had seen her yet, but if you’re in the business of cheating on your spouse I guess it’s natural to be paranoid. The man set a course out of the opposite side of the park, straight towards the outskirts of the main population area of the station. Station 17 was built as a mining outpost, and that meant that most of the space was taken up by processing facilities, machinery, warehouses, and what the locals referred to as the castle; a gargantuan sky-piercing tower, and the local headquarters of Zenith Industries. Zenith was the only remaining inter-planetary corporation still operating on Station 17; they had stayed for the mines and easy access to raw materials, or so they claimed. All of this meant that there wasn’t much room to actually house people, and as in most situations when there just isn’t enough ground to go around - people built up. The city was a sprawling mess of cobbled together towers, sky-bridges, and countless corridors and alleyways. It was a multilevel jungle of concrete, metal shafts, and dim yellow lights. In the mess of the city, it was easy to get lost, and some never made it back out. Her mark exited the park and made for a nearby set of steps up to a bridge across the tram system below. He jogged up the steps and made swift progress, not looking up from the path ahead of him, or checking his surroundings. He knew where he was going, and he had gone there many times before. Cassie momentarily lost sight of him as he descended the other side, but it wasn’t far, and she knew the area well. As Cassie came down the opposite end of the bridge she saw his coat-tail disappear around a corner to her left. As she suspected he was heading toward the red-light district of the city. Cassie turned the corner and as she did so, caught her breath - the footsteps had stopped. Her mark stood ahead, nothing but a shadowy figure from her point of view. She slid back around the corner as she noticed another two men, all in black, just ahead of him. A mugging. Of course; no job was ever simple in this city. The figures surrounded her mark, one in front, one behind. They didn’t intend to leave empty-handed. But Cassie had business with this man, and she sure as hell wasn’t going to let a couple of thugs get in the way of her business. Of course, if she wanted to make sure that tonight hadn’t been a waste of time she couldn’t be seen. But that was okay - she’d just have to call in a favour, and as a private eye Cassie had a whole list of ‘favours’ to call on. People who owed her. Maybe she’d done some free work for them, maybe they owed her money, or maybe she’d seen something she shouldn’t have, and they had bought her silence. Right now Cassie knew just the man. Cassie immediately called him through her right-eye implant, it had an old-school low tech wireframe display. The best she could afford here on the station, where tech didn’t come cheap. His name was Konrad, just Konrad as far as Cassie knew, she’d never heard anyone give him a second name. But sometimes people called him “The Thug”, he wasn’t quite so bad as the name implied, however. He was really just a landlord, but being a landlord in the outer slums of the city meant more than just collecting rent. Konrad had a whole team of “enforcers” to help keep the peace. The city didn’t have a universal police force per-say and so each district had its own way of doing things, of keeping people in line. Konrad was this districts. And he owed Cassie for a little free espionage she had done for him. The tone ended, and a gruff voice answered - it was time to call in the favour.
Minutes later Cassie saw Konrad’s enforcers approaching from the other side, across the long straight pathway ahead. The muggers had noticed too, in the time it had taken them to arrive they had managed to get some change off her mark, what they really wanted was his leg - which would have meant killing him. Messy business to get up to in the middle of Konrad’s district, and at the first sight of the enforcers approaching down the long corridor they put their knives away and scampered. Amateurs. A more experienced crew would have had him dead and dismembered in seconds. Cassie had seen some impressively efficient butchery in the slums. Well - she wasn’t complaining, and her mark sure as hell wasn’t. He continued on now at a much faster rate, he was obviously spooked. He ascended a ladder up to a stairwell just out of sight around a small outcropping in the building ahead, and she followed. This area was much darker than the one below, the neon signs of shop windows gave way to very sparse underfloor lamps that shone up through the midnight fog with a dull but somehow still harsh white light. Then she made her mistake. Cassie took a step at the top of the ladder, right into a puddle of water. She froze, hoping he hadn’t heard. She wasn’t so lucky. The man immediately spun and saw her with a look of horror on his face. “Shit!”, he shouted as he turned and sprinted through the mist. On any normal night, this would be the point at which she would give up. You can’t usually get the intel you need from a mark that knows you’re coming. Tonight, however, Cassie was desperate; she was low on funds - she needed this money. “Shit.” she agreed, as she threw herself into a run.