Another OSFW Christmas party last night, and while it was a good one, it felt kind of strange. The group has really changed. Many of the folks who were regular attendees when I started no longer show up with any regularity (if they haven't moved away entirely). Of the 20-odd people who showed up last night, less than a third were regulars when I started a little over, jeez, seven years ago now.
Which has me questioning the whole writers group thing, really. The first few years there, the group was an exciting place to be, with several old pros mixed with newer up-and-comers like Matt Reiten and Richard Cox and me. I was writing stories in different genres, stretching my wings, finding what worked for me and what didn't. And I was getting to know people in the sf/fantasy community.
But over the years, everything has changed. I lost confidence in everything and mostly withdrew from the writing community again. I rarely write short stories anymore, and don't submit the ones I do write for publication. I'm concentrating on blogging and on the occasional novel, though I'm really not submitting them either. Plus the disintegration that has happened in my personal life.
The point is, when I joined the group, I had a reason for joining. I wanted to step up to the next level in my writing career, and the group seemed like a way to do that (which it was, quite frankly). But now that reason's no longer there, really, and now it has just become sort of a social obligation. Now I just show up but rarely contribute, except with an occasional chapter or the roughly one short story per year I write now. I'm just questioning whether the group is worth the effort any more.
Anyway, as usual, here's my fragment from this year's contest. But first, a word about how it came to be. Several years ago, a bunch of the group's members colluded behind the scenes to write their fragments around a single theme to tweak K.D. Wentworth, who as coordinating judge on the Writers of the Future contest, was seeing a lot of stories with the same elements over and over again (I was not in on the joke, so my fragment was one of the few that didn't fit in). It was so much fun that in subsequent years, we decided to formalize a theme for all the entries--bad science one year, robots the next. Last year was steampunk.
This year, they decided to have everyone write from a plot seed rather than a theme. The seed: the phone rings, and no one's on the other end, but the person answering knows what the call is about anyway. I wan't a big fan of the specific seed, nor of the general plot seed concept, and was considering blowing the whole thing off this year. But one member who was also not thrilled with the idea proposed writing around a counter-theme, that being pirates. Which gave me the hook I needed to actually work in the seed and the theme, as well as probably breaking an unwritten rule by writing about the holiday itself, however obliquely. Because the Christmas fragments are almost never actually about Christmas.
Anyway, here's the fragment, entitled FORTUNE: DANGER!
The lozenge of plastic was only a couple of inches long, pink with the white face of Hello Kitty at a jaunty angle. Nikolai picked it up with blunt fingers and looked at the scarred man across the table from him. "And this is all of it?"
Junkers nodded. "IFF transponder codes for every air force in the northern hemisphere," he said.
"What about the southern hemisphere?" Nikolai asked.
"Exactly what major air power were you worried about down there?" Junkers asked, and Nikolai laughed, baring yellow, uneven teeth. "You should know," Junkers continued, "Warlord Motumbo has his men looking all over for you."
"He's still mad about the drugs," Nikolai said.
Junkers nodded. "It's harder to quash a rebellion when the rebels have access to medicines that the government withholds. People's loyalties can turn against you. He got wind of our meeting somehow, has had men tearing up the quarter looking for you. They're led by someone I've never seen before."
"What does he look like?" Nikolai asked, though he feared he already knew.
Junkers squinted, twisting the puckered scar under his right eye. "I've never used the word 'beautiful' to describe a man before, but this one is. Beautiful and scary, with blond hair that..."
The door burst open and several armed men ran inside, followed by a beautiful man with flowing blond hair. "...looks quite like that, actually," Junkers finished.
"Nikolai," said the blond man, "at last I have you."
Nikolai's smile was perhaps even more disturbing than the blond man's beauty. His round face twisted, making his whiskers jut out in random spikes, and there was a glint of wild madness in his eyes. "It's been a long time, Scratch, you old chicken-counter."
Nikolai's arm moved and there was a magnesium flash, accompanied by a ball of acrid smoke that forced tears from the assembled men. Machine pistols clattered, echoing harshly in the small room, and a man's scream was quickly cut off. Scratch wiped at tear-filled eyes and saw one of his men on the floor. Nikolai was gone.
"After him," Scratch shouted, "quickly!"
Nikolai thundered down the back stairs. Two men tried to block his way, but Nikolai was larger and had momentum on his side. He batted them aside as easily as if he were a bowler picking up a split. He heard footsteps coming from above and below and cut into the second floor corridor to try to confuse the pursuit. He dashed for the elevator, but it dinged open before he reached it. Three men stepped out with machine guns.
Nikolai ran the other way with the men in hot pursuit, when suddenly, a door flew open just as he ran past and a huge, scaly wing stretched out across the hallway, clotheslining all three pursuers. They fell to the ground, senseless.
Nikolai turned as a tall man stepped into the hallway, the squamous wings stretching up from his back brushing against the ceiling to throw both men into uneasy shadow. "Miguel," Nikolai greeted the man.
"Nikolai," the winged man greeted in return. "Let's go."
Nikolai followed the winged figure through the room and out onto a fire escape. In moments, they were standing on the ground in a narrow, dirty alley. Miguel turned to Nikolai and said, "That'll throw them off for a couple of minutes, at least. You're welcome."
"I didn't need any help," Nikolai said.
"You always say that, but it never looks that way," Miguel said.
"Looks can be deceiving," Nikolai answered. "Just ask your brother."
"Oh yes, Scratch. What was he after you for this time?"
Nikolai held up the Hello Kitty flash drive. "IFF codes for the Solstice Run."
"Are you still doing that?" Miguel asked in disbelief.
"It's a tradition," Nikolai said. "I've got to go. My ride's waiting."
Nikolai set a finger to one side of his nose and shot into the sky. Miguel looked up to see a sleek craft turning north before zooming out of sight. "Vaya con dios, my friend."
As Nikolai stumbled into his office, later, the phone rang. He picked it up. "Hello?"
There was no voice on the other end, no sound except for the creak of wood, the lapping of waves and the distant cries of gulls. "Captain Geisthammer, if I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times, I don't work for pirates," Nikolai shouted into the silence. "No-ho-ho!"