Papa Zulu’s 2nd Five Star Review!

papa_zuluWell folks, Papa Zulu has now been available through Amazon.com for just over a month. And thus far, two reviews have come in, and both are both highly favorable! I tell ya, it pays off to hold back on publication so you can make sure that everything is nicely polished and edited. And while I’m still waiting on a few more people to chime in on what they thought about the book, I am pretty happy with what people had to say so far.

Here are the reviews, with some minor omissions to make sure no spoilers were included:

(5.0 stars) So Good
By Rosie Reader

Lots of action and excitement once again; a great follow-up to Whiskey Delta! I hope there is another one in the series because I want more.

(5.0 stars) Excellent Sequel!
By S.O. “SO” (NY)

What can I say about this….except it’s an incredible follow up to Whiskey Delta! I almost wish I’d given WD a lower rating, just so I could rate this a higher one LOL. It picks up pretty much where book 1 left off, but it is written in such a way that if you didn’t read WD you wouldn’t be too lost. It’s not so much about the zombies this time, but the aftermath of that and the internal conflicts both within the Army and within each person.

(Spoiler, spoiler, spoiler)…

There are a few loose ends where the end of the book is concerned and to quote Braun “this can’t be the end…there has to be more…” His relationship with Saunders is brought to attention, there’s a traitor (or 2) in their midst, and his platoon might have a new leader.

You can check the full reviews by going to the books Amazon page, but I warn you, they do contain spoilers! And it might just be a coincidence, but I did notice a slight uptick in sales since the second review came in. So far, Papa Zulu has sold some 13 copies since publication, and Whiskey Delta and the unrelated Data Miners have even made some added sales. So, for obvious reasons, I am pretty happy right now.

And to my fellow indies, keep hammering those keys and pushing those books! Every copy we sell is a small victory and every favorable review is a big one. After all, that’s why we got into this business, isn’t it? To share what we love, think, and what inspires us, in the hopes that other people draw from it the same things we do.

Happy Anniversary!

fireworks1Today, I got an all=important notification from WordPress.com. It tells me that today is the third anniversary of this here blog, also known as storiesbywilliams.com. Yes, it was on this day, three years ago to the day, that I started this little enterprise in order to publicize my work, share what inspires me, and connect with other writers and bloggers out there.

And as with all anniversaries on this site, I’d like to commemorate this by sharing a few facts and figures, just to put it all in context context. Three years on this site has resulted in the following numbers:

  • 3 years
  • 1095 days
  • 8760 hours
  • 1576800 minutes

Or, to put it in terms of what I’ve actually done with that time, which seems much more relevant:

  • 410,057 views
  • 6,417 comments
  • 2,039 followers
  • 1,541 posts

And as usual, I would like to thank all those who helped make this possible. Since starting this blog, I’ve managed to publish all my works from 2004 onward. These include Source, the Legacies: Preludes collection, Data Miners, Whiskey Delta, and most recently, Papa Zulu. And in the coming months, I plan to release Flash Forward, and finish work on the long-awaited Yuva Anthology.

And, just as importantly, I feel I’ve learned a great deal, thanks to the personal and professional connections I’ve made. And wherever possible, I’ve tried to pass that experience and knowledge onward; and shall continue to do so whenever possible. This site is, was, and always will be about inspiration, and that belongs to no one and everyone.

So expect to hear plenty more from me, and be sure to make yourself heard as well – as often and as much as possible. Here’s to three years more, and to forever looking onward!

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200,000 Hits!

inspirationWell, well… another milestone has come, and it seems I missed it by about 48 hours! And that was after over a week of waiting for it to come. I am referring not only to reaching over 200,000 views, but also to the fact this blog is reaching the end of its second year. Just two months to go, and storiesbywilliams will be two! Ah well, I’m here now, and there are a few things I want to say to mark this occasion. Well, for starters, I would like to say thank you once again to all the people who have come by and made this milestone happen.

And then there’s the people who come by more than once, and on purpose. Those people deserves a thank you too! And third, there are the people who’ve come by, stuck around, and even offered supportive comments. Those people deserve an extra special thank you! Were it not of the enduring and consistent support of you fine folks – and you know who you are! – this blog would have flopped and gone under a long time ago.

fireworks2Yes, I know it seems like I’ve said this many times over now, but that’s the thing about marking milestones. They tend to kind of build up after the first few. First there’s your first 100 views, then 500, then 1000. After that, the milestones become fewer and farther between. But until you get into six or seven figures, they are likely to happen quite often. But I want to space things out a bit more, so I promise not to say anything until I reach 500,000 views.

Zombie_Apocalypse_by_geodexSo lets see, what’s next for this site? Well, I just published Data Miners, that was good, especially after three years of being in development. Pappa Zulu is also nearing completion, which will be nice because I plan to take that opportunity to go back, edit Whiskey Delta, and then release it! I foresee a zombie-fighting trilogy emerging, so stay tuned for more on that (still need a name for the third one though).

And of course, there’s Yuva, which needs to get finished and go through a full-on edit. And somewhere in between all that, I plan to restart my old idea, Apocrypha, my first real attempt at speculative sci-fi that wasn’t set in the distant future. Man, these next few months are going to be busy!

apoc_soldiersAnd I hope you all stick around to see what happens. And of course, I promise to remain a committed follower and viewer of what you have to say and will consider myself flattered that you choose to involve me in your adventures, stories and creative processes. After all, sharing makes for a more richer life experience, if for no other reason than because it lets us know we’re not alone.

This is what we do, people, and this is why we do it!

New Anthology Sample!

gliese 581Hey folks! In the past few weeks, I’ve been working diligently to get my “works in progress” pile under control. This included getting Data Miners off my computer and onto the shelves, but also to get this anthology known as Yuva moving again. I’ve done my best to get more writings on the project, and actually managed to get some writing done myself.

As a result “The Torch”, the first chapter in the story which acts as the prologue, is coming long and is almost complete. After some months of letting it accumulate dust, I finally managed to get the third section finished and plotted out how I wanted it to end. The following sample is the next half-section, which is the just shy of the final chapter. I hope you like it, and enjoy the not-too-subtle tech references which I have been researching of late and knew I had to incorporate. This is, after all, taking place in the near future…

For the sake of preserving some element of surprise and mystery, I won’t say exactly what they are or where to find them. Suffice it to say, I think that flexible, transparent computer tablets and commercial space flight will be a reality in the near future. Based on discussions that took place between myself and Khaalidah, this story’s co-author and a major anthology contributor, we also figured that orbital satellites would be island estates of the future.

In addition to orbital banking replacing “offshore banking” – a la Cayman Islands, Isle of Man, Cyprus, etc – there would also be private estates in orbit where laws were laxer and people with money could do whatever the heck they wanted! It’s like international waters, but with the added benefit of low gravity and high-tech medical treatments which would never be legal planetside.

Anyway, no more spoilers! Enjoy!

*                    *                    *

From the spacious backseat, Muktari got quite the view of the Frankfurt skyline. The window’s active display matrix was sure to keep him apprised of what he was seeing as they passed along the Schaumainkai. The patterned lights – yellow, orange, white and opal – achieved a beautiful, glittering balance, drawing the eye and appeasing the senses all at once.

In truth, it wasn’t much different from the skylines of Dubai, Mumbai or Shanghai, or even London or New York for that matter. They all were a testament to the grandeur and excesses of humanity, how people could always be expected to build higher and higher when they had run out of room to expand sideways. Or, in other cases, to avoid pillaging the lands occupied by more traditional buildings and boroughs.

But this was always the challenge of such metropolitan centers. The inflow of capital, investment, new people and technological change; one always had to find places to put the new things. And places to put the things needed to dispose of. And every new age seemed to trigger a new wave of this process: redevelopment, rezoning, and redistribution.

The car veered left and began joining the highway. For many minutes, the skyline disappeared in the distance, replaced by the developments that ran south of the river. The window had a hard time keeping up, as there weren’t many heritage sites in this area, but plenty of modern buildings of note. He turned away finally, and began paying attention to his fellow passenger. She had shown up the airport to escort him, and he was beginning to sense this would become a pattern.

“You didn’t have to meet me,” he had said as soon as he reached the front doors.

“Escorts can be so impersonal,” she said. “Besides, my father doesn’t trust specialized talent to just anyone.”

“So I can expect you to be a noose around my neck then?” he said. He had been in a bad mood after the flight, admittedly. A restless sleep and an early morning flight was known to do that to people. And changing time zones and shuttling from one part of the Earth to the next was something he had been doing far too much of lately.

Now, seated across from her, he thought some polite conversation might be in order.

“So where is Mr. Harding flying me to?”

She looked up from her Tab and smiled. “To him,” she replied simply.

“To him? You mean to his private estate somewhere, or corporate HQ?”

She chuckled mildly and continued typing and stroking at her device. Muktari sighed heavily. He was hoping to be pleasant, but the way she was preserving the surprise was beginning to annoy him. Was it too much to ask that she help him plan his evening? If he were to be taken to yet another time zone and have to face the prospect of even more lag, he would like to know about it now.

“You know, I heard that Harding was not in the best of health lately.” He let the words hang, hoping to gauge her reaction. “I might suspect we were heading for the Swiss Alps, or perhaps some clinic in Brazil.”

She made a sideways gesture with her head, like a half shake. A denial perhaps, or an indication that she could not say either way.

“It would seem ill-advised for a man who was in the twilight of his days to still be chained to his desk.”

She appeared to be finishing up with her work and put the Tab aside. She looked at him furtively and said nothing.

“No?” he said, and nodded. “Very well, keep your secrets. But know that all this running around and pretense isn’t making me any more interested in what he has to say.”

She continued to stare at him, smiling in her usual way. It too was becoming very annoying.

“What?” he said at last.

“We’re here,” she replied, motioning to the window. Muktari looked out and spotted the strip that they were now parked upon. Less than a hundred meters to their right, a small Atmo was parked.

“We’re flying in that?” he said, gesturing to the craft.

She smiled.

“Where are we going?”

“To the stars,” she replied. “Have you been topside before?”

Muktari blanched. It was one thing he had assiduously avoided, and hoped to continue not to do in his lifetime.

“Well then,” she said, taking his expression to mean he had not, “you’re in for quite the treat.”

Data Miners Published!

Dataminers_3It’s finally happened. After three years of writing, editing and constant picking, I finally got around to pushing Data Miners through publication! As you can see, I decided to go with the black and green cover, which I feel highlights the lines of code best. And I also made sure there’d be print on the side. I feel there should be demarcation between the front and back covers, hope you agree.

And here is the precis I decided to go with on the back of the dust jacket. Hope it encapsulates the story without giving too much away:

“Prad is a member of the DeMarchy, an elite society of data miners dedicated to finding the patterns in chaos and exposing the lies that permeate our society. Or so he thinks. In reality, he’s a second-rate programmer working for a faceless company and obsessed with a woman he can’t possibly have. Until one day when a mysterious package arrives that plunges him into a mystery ten years in the making.  If he can crack the code, he just might be able to save his friends and himself.  If not, they’ll lose everything: their jobs, their freedom, and even their lives. Like everything else in Prad’s wireless world, the answer is out there, just waiting to be mined!

But to give my loyal followers are more in-depth survey, the book was inspired largely by the works of William Gibson and his exploration of technology and its effects on society. But for my own purposes, I wanted some serious espionage and spy thriller stuff, the kind of things people would expect from a techno-thriller. After all, one of the cornerstones of the digital age has been fears about the loss of privacy, the dangers of government surveillance, and the threat posed by insidious people with the wrong kinds of talents!

Add to that the concept of Democratic Anarchy, a west-coast libertarian perspective, and some real history – which I shamelessly exploited for the sake of fiction – and you’ve got Data Miners. In time, I will be producing the sequel, Data Pirates, which focuses on the darker side of hacking and libertarianism, and a finale, entitled Data Moguls. But those will have to wait for my current workload to cool down a little…

In the meantime, look for Data Miners on Amazon-Kindle! It will be appearing on my author page for the ebook price of 4.99, or for free if you’ve got a Kindle Select membership. My first full length novel is out, Yaaaaaay! Follow the links below if you want a copy:

Amazon Author Page

The Next Big Thing: Blog Hop!

Yeah, apparently there’s this new thing making the rounds known of late. Lord knows this here internet is filled with memes, but when you get tagged as part of a new one, you gotta go play. My thanks to Casey Sheridan for being the one to tag me, and now I go on to spread the word! Of course, it behooves me to post the rules of this particular meme. Here they are:

  • Give credit to the person/blog that tagged you (already done!)
  • Post the rules for this hop (in progress!)
  • Answer these ten questions about your current WIP (Work In Progress) on your blog
  • Tag five other writers/bloggers and add their links so we can hop over and meet them.

And now, here are the author questions which I shall begin to answer in sequential order:

  1. What is the working title of your book?
    Data Miners
  2. What genre does the book fall under?
    Thriller/suspense, but with some clear science fiction elements since a lot of it is speculative
  3. Which actors would you choose to play your characters for the movie rendition?
    C.S. Lee (who plays Vince Masuka on Dexter) as Yamal Pradchaphet, Lyndsy Fonseca as Agent Righetti, and Mila Kunis as Angela Thompson.
  4. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
    A second-rate programmer by day and hacker by night finally stumbles onto a real-life conspiracy that is ten years in the making.
  5. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
    Self-published to begin with, with the intent that it will be represented at some later date
  6. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
    Three y
  7. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
    If pressed, I’d say Neuromancer, Cryptonomicon, and Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates, the works that most directly inspired it.
  8. Who or What inspired you to write this book?
    Reading plenty of William Gibson and other thrillers about technological trends, cryptology and espionage.
  9. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
    The book explores the mysteries of the human mind, with inspirations from Arthur Koestler, B.F. Skinner, and Gilbert Ryle; the concept of digital immortality; and several ongoing questions about what really happened to the Stealth Fighter that was shot down during the Kosovo War.

And last, but certainly not least, are the five people I want to tag next. Naturally, this is 100% volunteer participation, so if you can’t join, don’t worry about it:

Rami Ungar – http://ramiungarthewriter.wordpress.com
Nina D’Arcangela – http://sotetangyal.wordpress.com
Nicola Higgins – http://nicolahigginsfiction.wordpress.com
Lesley Carter – http://lesleycarter.wordpress.com
Margaret E. Alexander – http://addictivestory.wordpress.com

Thanks again to Casey, and hope everyone has a good week!

My First Attempt At Writing Romance

Hey all. Today I thought I’d share something from my editing pile that got me thinking. In my line of writing, I don’t get many chances to write romance. It’s not that I don’t want to; in fact, I’d kill for the opportunity to write some more smutty scenes! It’s just that science fiction and stories that focus more on the social and existential questions don’t call for a lot of love and/or sex scenes, not generally at any rate. Somehow, things like sex are expected to be just part of the background, unless the material truly calls for it.

Luckily, since I began writing modern-day fiction, I’ve found that opportunities for a little love play and eroticism have increased. Unfortunately, I found myself kind of fumbling with them since they just weren’t something I was used to. But I managed to soldier on, write them as best I could with an eye towards speaking from the female perspective (the plot called for it), and tried my damnedest to make it as hot as possible.

So today, I thought I’d share a sample chapter form the upcoming Data Miners that I dealt with all that. Occurring later in the novel, it is a scene where two FBI agents, while on assignment, have an opportunity to explore their growing mutual infatuation. As always, the timing is not quite ideal, but as we all know, things like love and attraction do not wait for ideal circumstances. The following scene is the first time they experience something more than the usual kinship. But first, some background…

Agent Nina Righetti (told from her POV) and Angent Winston Heinlein have just finished burning the midnight oil in the Boston hotel where they are staying for the night. Before coming to town, they had already been on their first “date”, which consisted of a quick meal before being forced to look into the possibility that one of their own was spying on them. At this point, they are of the opinion that their investigation might be the result of a total set-up, and that they are co-conspirators in bringing this to light. After finishing their little tete-a-tete, Winston is all set to head back to his room so they get some sleep before their early morning.

Enjoy!

*               *               *

 “Well… thanks for the late night dose of outrage. We must do this again sometime.”

Winston turns around in the doorway and laughs. The file folder hangs in his right hand, his jacket in the other and draped over his shoulder.

“Yeah, should have brought some food, I guess.”

“Hmm, yes, we seem to be good at that.”

“Good at what?”

“Mixing work with dinner.”

Winston blushes. “Oh yeah. We still could get dinner, if you’re not opposed to getting some overpriced room service.”

“Well, the bureau is footing the bill…”

Nina checks her watch. The sun is disappearing outside, and according to the concierge, the kitchen doesn’t close until eleven. But one look at Winston scraps that idea. His hair is disheveled and sticking up at the back, like an alfalfa sprout. Her own blouse is tousled and untucked, her hair no longer behaving. Through their little soirée, they managed to work up a bit of a sweat. Not the best circumstances for a second date, and in a cheap hotel room no less!

“Think it’s a bit too late for that,” she says. “I think I’ll just catch a shower and tuck in.”

Winston nods. He looks just the slightest bit disappointed.

“Right, I think I might too.” He gives his underarm a sniff, recoils comically. They share a brief chuckle. Then comes the pause, the nice, long, awkward pause as he stands there, neither one of them knowing what to say or how to break off this moment.

“Then I guess this is goodnight,” he says. Nina nods, and given a few seconds to ponder what to do next, puts out her hand. Winston gives her a funny look but takes it, shakes it heartily.

“Well, good night then, agent Righetti. See you in the morning.”

“Bright and early,” she says. Another pause. She notices his hair again and can’t stop fixating on the spike at the back. She can endure its presence no longer.

“I’m sorry, this is bothering me,” she says, and reaches out to flatten it. Her hands land on around his head, the warmth and slight tinge of dampness registering on her plans. She can smell him too now, the faint scent of aftershave and detergent punctuated by a little of his musk.

And now she’s completely still. His hair is fixed, but her hands are still there. She looks up at his face and is caught there, caught in the limits of his smell, of his embrace. She could pull away, but something is keeping her there. The feel of him, the scent of him, pulling her forward. She notices for the first time that they’re not green like she previously thought. There’s the small ring of hazel in there too, and they’re boring into her. She recognizes that look, imagines her brown eyes are staring back at him with that same expression.

She feels the touch of his lips then, warm and gentle against hers. They are locked there for what feels like hours, a tingling sensation spreading throughout her body. She can feel little else except for her panties melting away. That and her legs going wobbly.

And then… they pull apart, slowly. She’s embarrassed, at least until she sees the look on his face. It’s the kind of face Garrett makes whenever they’ve fucked. That happy, stupid vacant look a man gets after he’s come, but Winston also looks surprised. Happily surprised, like he wanted to kiss and is amazed she’d want to do it back. She suddenly has the impression that it was her who fired first, though it’s hard to tell.

Winston clears his throat. “Um… well… goodnight.”

She nods and puts her hand to her lips. With the return of normal sensation, she can feel the hot tinge of blood rushing to her face. Most of it appears to be returning from other areas of her body.

“Yes…” she says, clearing her throat. “Good night.”

Winston steps back, turns sideways, and begins to walk away. He stops, turns around, pardons his mistake, and walks the other way. She has to resist the urge to laugh. Watching him pace off, one would think he’s forgotten how. Either that or he’s been unable to maintain enough blood flow for both his heads. She watches him go a second longer and then seals herself back in her room.

Leaning up against the door, she can feel her face flushing again and again, waves of hot blood rolling over her. Her legs still feel a bit weak, prompting her to slide further down the door. The slight tang of sweat she was feeling before has become a lot more potent now. And it smells different on her too. No longer just stress and anger, there’s a new scent there overpowering them all.

I need… a shower… she thinks. A nice… long… hot shower.

Naturally, this is not the last time the two will have a romantic run in, but it was the first scene that I wrote of its kind. Ladies especially, I would like to know what you think of it. Does it capture the essence of a romantic encounter, as told from a woman’s point of view? If not, what needs to change to capture the hotness factor?

More on that front as the book nears completion. And stay tuned for my review of the new Batman movie as well. Processing, but expect it to hit the page by tomorrow morning at the latest!

Data Miners – Chapter 12

“Jesus-Aged-ClusterFUCCCCK!”

Nina winces and imagines just how far down the hall people could hear that one. Griswold has been on the phone with Cyber Division for a few minutes now, and from the sounds of it, things are not going too well. She waits until the thumping and muffled shouts are finished before breathing easy again. She also steps closer to the door and puts her hand on the knob, anticipating what’s to come when the phone is slammed down on its cradle.

“Righetti! Get the fuck in here!”

Griswold is surprised when the door pops open less than half a second later. He makes a noise in the back of his throat then motions at her to sit.

“I just got off the phone with Walters over at CCRS, he’s given me a heads-up on what they’ve learned, and it’s not much. They say they’ve found the entry point the hacker used. They used some kind of ‘breaker’ to get past our firewalls and some kind of program to cover their ISP address, whatever the hell that means! No doubt about it, we have got a serious clusterfuck on our hands here!”

Nina nods without smiling. The familiarity of the words on his tongue is patently evident. He doesn’t even bother to hide it. And the direness of the news would be a lot more convincing for her if he weren’t being so loud and profane about it. By now, she’s come to understand that the good ole CF is very popular in their line of work. Everyone in the intelligence services appears to use it; it’s kind of like their version of SNAFU or FUBAR. Funny how people in the military and intelligence community need standardized terms for fucked-up situations, she thinks. One would think they dealt with them all the time.

“I’m sending you over to DC, care of Cyber Division. You’re to pack up and head over immediately, call me direct to let me know if you need anything. Otherwise, you’ll be reporting to DD Domovitch, head of Cyber. Understood?”

“You want me there, sir?” Nina asks.

“Yes,” Griswold replies with a fair degree of annoyance, “I want your eyes and ears there, and I also want you to make sure we remind those dickheads exactly whose shit pile this is! Now who did you say brought this to your attention?”

“Johnson, sir. He was the one who got the call from the Post and gave me the file numbers on all those pics.”

“Fine, take him with you! Just get yer ass over to the capitol and make sure those fuck ups don’t screw this up any more than they already have!”

“Are we to drive ourselves, sir?” she asks semi-sarcastically.

Griswold sighs. “We still have a budget, sweetheart. I got a helicopter waiting for you outside. Now move unless you want to lose your job!”

Nina nods and turns to leave in great haste. There’s only so much of Griswold’s profanity she can stand, then she feels dirty somehow. Someday, if she were the litigious type, she might consider folding all of his curse words and offhand sexual references into one big harassment lawsuit. But right now, she’s got more important things to think about. For one, this whole hack job. It’s all a little confusing to her, naturally. She’s pretty sure Cyber crimes is not her business and that her involvement in this case ended when she handed her boss the photographic evidence of the hack. But Griswold’s paranoia is understandable. Their business has been violated and he wants someone from their department to oversee the attempts at redress.

One thing is for sure: they need to find out who did this and how. Then, they need to bring them in for some serious “questioning”. And Nina knows what will happen next, as per the Bureau’s policy. If they don’t kill them first, they’ll probably offer them a job. That’s how the whole industry works, really. If you can’t beat em, hire em!

Getting back to her desk, he picks up her phone and dials Mark’s extension. He is there, surprisingly. No voice mail and no call backs within fifteen seconds, which is his usual ritual. His voice is plain and professional too.

“Johnson.”

She is straight to the point. “Mark? Nina. You remember where my desk is?”

There is a moment of hesitation. “Yes, of course. What’s the problem?”

“No problem,” she says unequivocally. “We’ve just been reassigned to DC. Get your kit together and meet me downstairs. We’re to leave immediately, by chopper.”

She hangs up and begins dialling her next number before he can answer enthusiastically. A chopper ride is a rare privilege and she knows Mark is far more excited than she is to be getting out from behind their desks for a change. Her next call is to old unfaithful, just to let him know that she’ll be gone. That and his car privileges have been extended, among other things. She gets the answering machine at their shared apartment and leaves a message.

“Garret, this is Nina. I’ll be away for a few days. Car is yours and you’ve got the run of the place. Don’t do anything stupid while I’m gone and if anything’s broken when I get back – anything of mine, that is, you can start looking for a new best friend. Bye!”

Her tone is playful but Garret knows her well enough to know she’s serious. She omitted Garret’s title of “dumb shit”, and “with benefits” from her description of their relationship, for obvious reasons. She’s at work, after all. Some modicum of decorum must be maintained, especially since their boss has the market on smut talk cornered. Who wants to hear about a visiting friend she obviously doesn’t trust fully, who also happens to share her bed? Righetti is a saintly name, and she’s determined to keep it that way.

Reaching into her desk drawer, she grabs her FBI ID and her sidearm, putting both in her carrying bag and heading for the elevator to meet Mark below.

Data Miners – Chapter 11

Wednesday morning.

It’s been another hasty ride to work to get in on time. Prad hasn’t showered since Monday and is feeling the grime encroach on him again. His head is reeling from the dual assault of purple haze and not enough sleep. Working through code this morning is difficult, proceeding at one keystroke per minute. He has no desire to be looking at TPS reports right now or anything in Macro format for that matter. The few hours of sleep and the buzz he got from his last joint have not cured the case of busy-brain he contracted last night. He was hoping the light of day might make things a bit more clear, but if anything, it’s made it worse. Whereas the busy-brain kept him from sleep last night, it is now keeping him from work.

By ten thirty, he examines how much work he’s actually done and decides it’s futile. He half-wishes he brought the book with him just so he could peruse it. Then he wouldn’t be so fixated on it! Somehow, the mind had a way of obsessing over the things that the body didn’t have immediate access to.

He needs a distraction. Minimizing his work in his task tray, he pulls up his email and checks to see if anyone has written to him since yesterday. Sure enough, they are a couple new hits in his Inbox. One from Sa’id, one from the adult dating site, and even one from Angie. A few spam mails between, more offers for downloadable software and movies. He’s too excited to move these to his spam folder and goes right for the one from Angie. The subject line says it all.

>To: Prad123@yahoo.com
>From: AngCpr@gmail.com
>Subject: Bit weird huh?

>Hey Prad. Sorry for the misunderstanding last night. Had no idea you got a copy of Germaine’s book too. I suppose I can understand your >confusion, it was a bit weird of him to just start reaching out like that, right from the blue? Anyway, no worries, Scott and I kind of got a kick >out of it. We were also a little worried after you left, figured you might have been embarrassed. One other thing, have you heard anything about >the dear old prof? I was kind of wondering if he was still with us. It might be nice to find him and say hi one last time.

>Anglmrk

Prad feels incredibly warm and giddy inside all of a sudden. He notices she didn’t use his first name, but oh the tenderness implied in that email! And the fact that she thought to write him the morning after! The time on it indicates that she wrote it less than an hour ago, most likely while bored at work. He reads it again and notices the mention of Scott, the royal we that follows in his wake too. He could live without that, but even the presence of that five letter fun stopper can’t spoil his mood now. He opens up the one from Sa’id next. A sense of fraternal duty tells him he should do this before composing a gushy response to the boss-lady.

The subject line of Sa’id’s email is quite telling. He notes instantly the diminished punctuation and grammar as well. Clearly a step down from Angie’s message.

>To: Prad123@yahoo.com
>From: SdN72@hotmail.com
>Subject: thanks dude!

>hey dude thanks again for the ride home last night woke up with a wicked hangover how bout you. My landlady sez i made terrible noise last >night must have been when i woke up to puke my guts up good time all around though. shit that things got a bit heavy there for some people >isn’t it hate to see our people not getting along but have you heard the news? The fecking feds just made a release bout the whole dangle thing >and say that they think the >whole thing was faked but wont say nothing about how they got them or where the leak came from. dumbasses >huh only make things worse for themselves! ps what was with that whole thing in Angie’s room why were in there second time around i mean I >know what you were doing the first time pervert! take care, can’t wait for five oclock to roll around

>Sandngrr

Now he feels momentarily sidetracked. He did not hear that, must have left the radio off in his car this morning, or had it tuned to music. He really can’t remember. The only other time he ever catches the news is on the web, or by word of mouth. And on both fronts he’s been a little out of touch, at least for the last twenty four hours.

The email from the dating site now looms in his field of vision like a burning bush. He desperately wants to check it, to see who took an interest in his profile and what they look like/have to say for themselves. But he doesn’t want to keep Angie waiting. A message from her in his Inbox is like finding her at his front door, or so he imagines. Leaving her waiting would be nothing short of criminal. Going back to Angie’s message, he hits the Reply button and begins composing. He does his best to emulate the proper style with which she emailed him, not to mention the tone he established last night. If acting mature gets her to email him, he’ll ride that pony to the ends of the earth!

To: AngCpr@gmail.com
Subject: Re: Bit weird huh?

Hey Angie. Don’t worry about it. It is I who should apologize for breaking in on you like that. I suppose these things happen. Sad to say, I can’t tell anything new about the prof. Last I heard, he got diagnosed and decided not to go the treatment route. Sad huh, but what can you do? One question though, are you absolutely sure he was the one who sent those books? I suppose it stands to reason, but why didn’t he send a real note or at least a return address? Oh well, talk to you soon. Take care, say hi to Scott.

Thaiwrrr

He grabs the mouse, his finger poised above the “Send” button. That’s when he realizes that his own inquiry is worth following up on. Not just idle chit chat, someone really ought to see if anyone else who was in their class or studied under Germaine at MIT also got copies of that book. He checks his address folder to see if he has any old email addresses. He’s still got the names of a few old friends there, but most of the addresses are old IST accounts. Prad shakes his head. Those accounts probably haven’t been used in over five years. Someday soon he must do a cleanup of his contact folder.

Luckily, he still has some hotmail and yahoo accounts for some people he used to hang out with: Lena, Mark, Josée, and Andrea. They were all pretty cool, but not too cool. They hung around with him, after all. If ever he were to be completely honest, he would admit that they were the people he fell in with because of his inability to get in with the truly cool crowd. Nevertheless, they are all MIT alumni and people who studied under Germaine. Surely they would be on his contact list if he wanted to start sending gift packages around. Clicking on the box beside each of their names, he adds them all to the recipient’s field before typing off a friendly generic message.

Hello all, sorry to drop in on you like this after such a long absence. But something’s come up with I feel concerns us all. I am, of course, referring to Professor Germaine’s illness. I’m sure you’ve all heard how our dear teacher is not long for this world. Last I heard, he’s got a few months tops before he… you know. Well, it may be that he’s decided to reach out to some of us before that happens. Angie and I both received copies of the millennial edition of Ghost in the Machine, the one with his foreword. We’re not sure, but we think he sent them to us. As fellow alumni sts, I was wondering if any of you got similar packages. If so, did it come with a note that contained more than just simple instructions? Angie and I would appreciate any info you have, as it would resolve this dilemma for us.

Thaiwrrr

He hits “Send” and moves onto his last message. It’s about time too. A response of this kind can only be exciting. His palms would be sweaty if he were a lesser man, or just a little cleaner. His pores are too clogged right now, luckily his armpits and crotch appear to be overcompensating.

>Prad123, you’ve received a profile message from Kittyhawk69:
>“Hi. Liked your profile, I think Asian guys are super hot! Come check >me out!”
>Follow the link below to see the full message and access their profile:

Prad immediately clicks on the site’s link to have a gander. Sure enough, for her pic, Kittyhawk69 lives up to the name. Her preferences send his heart into another tail spin: Hot chat, one on one, threesomes, toys and discreet relationship. His mind and libido begin the age old dance, the former insisting she’s a dude, the latter telling the former to shut up.

Yep, he agrees, too good to be true. But what harm can a little extended chat, via webcam to confirm she’s actually a woman, followed by a little meet and greet at a neutral site do?

You could end up with a disease, or finding a penis tucked under her ass! His mind tells him. But what has his mind done for him lately other than keep him in this dead end job? Another look at her preferences, cross-referenced with her other pics, ends the debate quickly.

Shut up, mind!

Data Miners – Chapter 10

3:13 am.

Prad is lying in his bed and wide awake. The sheets are becoming sticky and clinging to his legs. It just seems too hot for any kind of blankets. He’s tried sleeping without them but that’s too cold. He’s tossed and turned from one position to another, nothing seems conducive to nodding off. And then there’s having to be at work in less than six hours. He knows he’ll be useless if no sack time comes, but it’s no help. Too much on the brain, too many reasons to lie awake and ponder.

So it was good ole’ Albert Germaine who sent him that package? He’s a little let down, admittedly. But on the plus side he’s glad he’s not the victim of some crazed stalker or government spook. Still, it doesn’t exactly solve his problem. If the gifter was in fact Germaine, why the hell did he make it so anonymous? Why the odd choice of container and the cryptic note? Was there some kind of special intent there, a way of saying hello and goodbye to his old students before he kicked off? But if so, why not just announce that he was the one doing the sending? Why not give some more explicit instructions or include a letter or something? Knowing Germaine, it might be his idea of a joke. He was never really that funny, never got any of Prad’s jokes, that’s for sure.

Come to think of it, why the heck hadn’t Angie said anything about this to him and saved him a world of embarrassment? Of all the people in the Society, only they knew Germaine personally. Had it not occurred to her to mention that he had made contact with her, albeit in some roundabout way? Was she so distracted with that new beau of hers that she completely forgot about the little things that made for good discussion? Or did she like Prad so little that she didn’t even bother to think about how he might be affected too? He didn’t like thinking like this. If there was anything that could keep him up all night, it was the many reasons why Angie might choose to ignore him. An image of her and Scott making out on that sofa of hers gets stuck in his head. He bites his pillow and tries so hard to purge it, to substitute himself in there somehow, but comes up empty. Insomnia is very good at making things seem worse, especially matters of the heart. And at this moment, he hates Scott with a passion.

UGH! It’s no use! Finally, Prad gives up on sleeping and shoves himself up into sitting position. Legs over the side, toes touching the cool, thread carpet, he tries to give the matter some sober, wakeful thought. He’s a little perturbed about his behaviour earlier that evening, and the interview that’s coming up at the end of next week. He’s not in the mood to open the book the professor sent him; but then again, it might help with the insomnia. He chuckles at the thought, poor professor! The man is dying and he can’t even bring himself to read something he wrote, and can’t help but think it will be an incredibly boring exercise. But given what happened earlier, he really ought to read it and see if it can shed some light on things.

Or, he thinks, he could just roll a joint. That would help with the insomnia and would be a lot more fun. Lord knows he’s been craving it for hours now. No better way to relax than to give the body what it desperately wants. Ghost he can crack in the morning when things are light and he’s a little more clear. Nodding to himself, he gets to his feet and heads over to his desk where his box is waiting. He can feel the sticky sweet smoke on his tongue already.

His tongue is on the tab and the joint nearly rolled when the phone rings. Who the hell could that be? Who would call in the middle of the night? Someone who is looking to punish him perhaps? That list is short, for the moment. He eyes the freshly-rolled joint. There’s no way he can put it down now. Twisting it up, he stuffs it into one corner of his mouth and grabs the phone from the cradle.

“Kumustá, mama?”

“Yamal! This is your father!” a loud voice says in Thai.

“Sawat di khrap, bida,” he says, switching over and trying desperately not to sigh or sound annoyed. He already knows what’s up, and what he’s in for. Luckily, he’s well practiced in this field and has his responses on auto pilot.

“Were you sleeping?” his father asks impertinently.

“Yes, bida. But it’s okay.”

“Dee, kuman,” he says happily. It’s really just a courtesy, he already knows he has permission to chew his son’s ear off. A son can never deny his father that privilege, not where he comes from. “So how is work?”

“Work is fine, bida. I have been promoted.”

“Promotion?” his father asks. “When were you promoted last? What do you do now?”

Prad searches his memory, trying to remember the chronology of his lies. Has it been six months since the last time he claimed a promotion? Seems about right, so that’s what he says. Last time, he had become a senior programmer, so he’ll need to come up with something more austere this time. “I am a manager now, great responsibility.”

“How many people are you responsible for?”

Prad has to think about that one too. It’s a lucky thing he knows someone who is a manager, someone who’s reasonably close to, but doesn’t answer to. He tries to remember how many people Rohit has working under him. At least half a dozen names come to mind and it’s a nice round figure.

“Six people, bida. I have six people who work for me now.”

“What are their names?”

Prad takes little time in reciting the ones he can remember. Those he can’t, he fills in randomly. Manipulating or inflating the truth has become easy for him thanks to years of practice. It’s gotten to the point where he’s relatively quick on his feet now, quite proud of that fact too.

“Is upper management considering you for promotion?”

Prad hits the button on his torch and lights the tip of the joint. Before sucking in a small cloud, he opts for an ambiguous answer. What else can his father expect from him at this point in his career, or this hour in the morning? “They know of me, bida. But I cannot say for sure if they are considering me for an upper level position yet.”

His father grumbles. “How old are you now Yamal?”

Prad lets out a cloud of acrid smoke and tries not to grumble himself. “I am twenty-eight now, bida.”

“Do I need to remind you that when I was your age, I was entrusted with the management of an entire branch office?”

“No, bida,” Prad replies. He has heard this story many times and knows it backwards and forwards. The great Chanarong (“The Warrior”) Pradchaphet, oldest boy of the Pradchaphet clan, who left home to become a senior executive in a foreign land. By his late twenties, he was working in Luzon, where he met Prad’s mother, incidentally, and got married. By his thirties, he had moved them all to the Pacific Northwest where his work and career in electronics and software had continued apace. Prad and his brothers had all received the majority of their education here, studying engineering, computer sciences and marketing, all with the intent of following in their father’s footsteps. His sisters’ paths were slightly different; being girls and having a different set of cultural expectations to deal with, they had all been able to go their own way. By the time all his children were old enough to leave home, Chanarong had moved with his wife back to Thailand to enjoy a working retirement. And he never let any of his children forget who had spawned them or what he done for them.

“Well then,” his father continues. “Just be sure you are doing all you can to get recognized.”

“Khap khun, bida,” Prad says, thanking him formally.

“Are you dating anyone?” his father asks next. Prad smirks and takes another puff. Ordinarily, his father covers all aspects of his professional life. His personal life is usually the province of his mother. He can only guess that she’s unavailable or his father is stalling until she can come and interrogate him herself.

“No, bida. I have not yet met a woman of sufficient quality to marry,” he replies.

“No nice Asian girls where you work?”

“No, father. My position makes it impossible for me to date the people I work with.”

Prad is surprised. Usually, his father likes to beat around the subject of what constitutes a “nice” girl. He knows how it works, the boys must marry girls who fit their family’s background, culture, expectations, etc. Prad’s elder brother, Khemkhaeng, has already performed this duty, hence Prad now receives no quarter in this area. As the second oldest son, he can expect this kind of harassment for years to come; until he either capitulates, or elopes and never talks to them again.

“I see,” his father replies. “What about going out? Are you getting out? Have you met nice girls at Temple?”

“No, bida. Not yet.”

He almost loses it there. His eyes have not seen the inside of a Buddhist temple for years and even if they had, he’d have no interest in a girl who attends. Not unless it is strictly out of familial duty. Where would be the fun? He even coughs a little in the process. His father is quick to notice. The signal is too clear for him to blame it on a bad international connection, damn telecommunications!

“Kuman! Are you smoking?”

“No, bida,” he says, coughing once more. “I am getting over a cold.”

“You are sick?” his father says with newfound concern.

“Yes, bida. But I still must go to work tomorrow. I need to sleep.”

His father pauses and comes back a little deflated. Smoking up seems to have paid off tonight. “Ko di, kuman. Ratri sawat, then. I shall pass along your love to your mother.”

He might be imaging it but he thinks he hears some scorn in the last words. A hidden reminder of what he called her not too long ago.

“Have a good sleep, kuman.”

“Khap khun, bida,” Prad returns. “Rātrī s̄wạs̄di̒.”

There’s a click and the signal goes dead. Prad returns the phone to its cradle and takes a few more puffs of the joint before stubbing it out in the small bowl that sits by his computer. The bottom is burnt in many places from the many roaches it’s held over the many months it’s been there. Yet Prad cannot bring himself to buy an ashtray. Somehow, that would seem like a breach of the buildings no smoking policy.

He feels a mild sense of euphoria set in and he yawns. A good sign. He gets back into bed and pulls the covers up to his chin.