Chapter Seven

They sent her back. Louise couldn’t believe her luck. The Coatracks sent her back to before it all went wrong, and she had one more chance to make it right. She didn’t wonder why.

It was exactly the same. Of course it’s the same. It has to be the same. Becky was sick, and Margaret had let her go to take a nap instead of finishing her schoolwork. Margaret had a headache too, and was resting on the couch in the meantime. Louise didn’t feel too hot herself, but she had work to do.

She knew it would happen this time. Lacing up her boots, she tried to remember just how it was before. Couldn’t they have given me more time? Just to talk to Becky, that’s all I want.

She almost thought to take the gun, but decided against it. It has to be the same, or it won’t count. Guns won’t hurt them anyway. The weapon became a flashlight in her hand. That’s right. I can’t have anything I didn’t have before. But I have to win this time.

Taking a deep breath, she opened the door. I’m still safe. They don’t come out until I get to the barn. What if it isn’t the same? It has to be the same, or it isn’t fair. They’re giving me one more chance, I can do it this time.

It almost seems real.

It is real.

You know it’s not.

It was real then, and it’s real now.

It was never real. You made it up. You know that.

Don’t say it’s not real. Who are you to say that? My daughter is dead.

Ah, that part…

Louise was at the barn already. How did that happen? Why did I come here again?

To fight shadows.

But why did I come the first time?

Does it matter?

It has to be the same, or they won’t come.

So you want them to come after all. If they never came, Becky would still be alive. Margaret would still be alive.

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Sat-Chat!

Ugh, I hate myself for titling it that.

So we’re coming up on a likely hiatus, this week or next. Read it at your own pace, but don’t hesitate to let me know what you think! Personally, I feel like this past chapter was a little lackluster, but I got some exposition out of the way and introduced a bunch of characters. Any thoughts?

 

Chapter Six

The doors of Dan’s boardroom exploded open, audibly straining the hinges.

Children?! Excuse me, gentlemen, but Dan here only listens when I make him blush in public. An army of children?!

“Good god, man, what do you think you’re doing?” Besides looking the part, Eric King had the tact of a neanderthal.

“Why, I’m just pleading my case. I don’t know how you expect me to keep the peace with a bunch of nine-year-olds.”

“They aren’t all that young.”

“No, some are younger.”

The worst part was, King was right. It wasn’t exactly the army Dan would have chosen either. Sure, the kids could shoot, which was fine as far as it went, but anything bigger than a rifle or a shotgun was right out, even for the oldest teenagers. Their biggest asset was their suicidal obedience, but it apparently came at the price of any human intelligence.

“You need to be thinking long term. They’ll grow up, won’t they?”

“And who will teach them to fly a plane? Sort of an important part of the modern military.”

“Knock it off, King, if you know what’s good for you. Besides, we have planes. You have planes, and pilots.”

“So I do. In fact, I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say ‘we’ have planes at all.”

“Dangerous talk, General.”

“Hmmph.” King adopted a look of condescending patience.“Look, Dan, I’m not against you. I’m sorry if I was out of line. I’m just saying, you gave me a grade school and called it an army. I don’t know what you expect from me.”

“You can start by keeping your mouth shut.” Dan was livid now. Who did he think he was, barging in here? And he’d been invited, like he’d been invited to all of the other staff meetings he never turned up for. This is how he decided to make his appearance. “I don’t like your tone. I don’t like you, King, but I need you. And you know that. You got me there. I have to say, though, I think you’ll find you need me even more when I hand you over to the Coatracks.”

There was a polite cough in the corner. “Gentlemen, please. We must not forget who is the enemy. If we in this room can’t get along, what chance do we have to save our species?” A small man, Milton Fronz looked like an action movie star built at three-quarters scale. He was CEO of Mercury Medias, and he had been instrumental in the local information blackout, particularly in taking down the net. Though he’d maintained strict control over the internet in southern California, pirate servers were commonplace throughout much of the country. This was a troubling reality, but Dan had instead tasked Fronz with discovering the secret of the Coatrack technology. His was the only corporate entity on Dan’s side with an even remotely related R&D department. In a patient, quiet voice, Fronz continued.

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Looking Back

Good morning everyone!

We’re five weeks in, and I have to say, it’s been really awesome so far. Not a single day has gone by yet where at least one person hasn’t checked it out, and I’ve had several days with at least 50 distinct viewers, which is amazing. I know most people haven’t made it all the way through, but that’s perfectly fine – it’s not going anywhere. I haven’t gotten a whole lot of feedback yet, but it’s satisfying enough to know that people are aware of it. I do have a favor to ask, though – if you read a chapter, just take a second to rate it on the star rating system down at the bottom of every page. (You actually don’t have to read it to rate it, but I wouldn’t want you to be dishonest.) Also, though this probably doesn’t apply to many people, make sure to “like” the Facebook page if you haven’t yet!

I wrote the first version of Jessica MacHennessey’s chapter a little over a year ago, as a member of the illustrious, but tragically short-lived Text Pistols (Hi guys! We should really get together again!). It was originally just a sort of scene-building exercise – it wasn’t meaty enough for a short story, and the scope was too small to make it a chapter in a novel. I had a vision of an alien abductee as a modern Pocahontas, uncertain of the future both for her people at home and herself in a strange new world. Dan was a character, but only referred to, as was John Smith, and I was calling them “Coatracks” from the start. The nature of their technology was different, and the thing ended up meandering into an exploration of the aliens’ gender roles (don’t worry, that’s coming!), but most of the pieces were there. I’ve rewritten this chapter several times, and I have to say, I’m pretty proud of how it turned out. Having transcripts of John Smith and Jessica’s conversations was an epiphany.

What do you guys think? These chapters, and a few with Dan, are probably going to be the only close look at Coatrack psychology – how does it strike you so far? I really want them to be coming off as fundamentally different, but still logical and understandable in terms of how their society works. Of course, I haven’t gone too far in depth yet, but are there any first impressions?

Seriously, everybody, thanks for reading. This is a whole lot of fun. I still have a couple of chapters tucked away, but I’m getting pretty close to catching up with myself. Colony might have to go on hiatus sometime in June, but I’ll try to stave it off until July? In any case, I’ve now introduced just about all of the major settings and characters – at least, all of the ones you need to know about right now. We’ve got Louise, Amy, and Harold in Vermont; Columbus, and Dan and company in Los Angeles; David, his family and his friends also in Los Angeles; and Jessica and John Smith up in outer space. Does anybody have a favorite character yet? I’m just curious.

You guys – you guys are the best.

Reuben

Chapter Five

John Smith: Hello, Jessica. Did you enjoy your dinner?

Subject: It’s fine. That’s all there is, right?

John Smith: We have other varieties. There is one with flattened chicken, and one with fish compressed into a cylinder. But you did not like them.

Subject: It’s fine, really.

John Smith: Good. I would not like you to be uncomfortable. As you requested, this conversation will be transcribed in your language.

Subject: Thank you.

John Smith: You’re welcome. It pleases me that you are becoming more comfortable with us. Columbus believes it is impossible to make your race understand us without [untranslatable] activation, but I believe we two understand each other quite well.

Subject: I guess so. Do you know that the screen says “untranslatable” when you say that word?

John Smith: It does? I suppose it would. We knew there was no [untranslatable] network on Earth, or we would not have been able to install our own. That you don’t even have the concept in your language is remarkable.

Subject: Well, what is it?

John Smith: How can I say it? It is a network of minds. Each of us is linked to all of the others.

Subject: You mean you can read each others’ minds?

John Smith: Read minds? I don’t understand. You read a book, correct?

Subject: It’s an expression. It means you’re psychic – do you know that word?

John Smith: That we know what one another is thinking. Yes, this is true. Though it would be inaccurate to say this is the purpose of [untranslatable].

Subject: What is the purpose of it?

John Smith: That is a large question. It is one of the foundations of civilization. Soon, humans will become a part of it. It is a means of connecting many beings into one being.

Subject: I don’t understand you.

John Smith: Each of us is only a part of the greater body of our species, and each plays the role to which they are best suited. I am suited to inquiry, and so I am sent to gather information. I go of my own volition, but my volition is that of all. And anything I learn is instantly known by all.

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Chapter Four

Louise was feeling good – purposeful for the first time since it happened. She felt guilty for her mood. But hers was the kind of personality that thrived on feeling useful, and she could outpace her guilt as long as she remained busy and needed.

She peeked in on Becky’s room, where the girl – Amy, she reminded herself – was sleeping again. Though Louise had been caring for her for four days now, she had only learned her name that morning. Amy, as it turned out, was not in high school as Louise had believed, but 23 years old, a college graduate, and a bookstore employee. After overcoming a brief initial shyness, the girl had proved talkative, charming, and genuinely grateful, though still somewhat disoriented.

It was good that Amy was asleep again, but Louise would be surprised if she wasn’t fully recovered the next day, or sooner. In celebration of her new friend’s health, Louise wanted to make something special for dinner. Margaret had always been the more domestic of the couple, but Louise could find her way around a kitchen as long as her guest didn’t mind a lot of butter. She was old-fashioned that way, and not in many others. Trying not to let herself remember Margaret’s cooking, she turned to the task at hand.

It was a special occasion, so they’d have to have meat, and it would have to be chicken. The pigs were big enough to slaughter, but since she didn’t know if she’d be able to purchase fresh piglets, it might be safer to breed the two they’d been keeping. On the other hand, they already had too many chickens for her and Margaret to care for on their own, and now Louise was all alone.

On her dad’s farm, she grew up knowing how to slaughter and feather a bird. She’d done so the same day that she’d found Amy, when she noticed Margaret’s giant pot of soup was running low. It had always been her job; Lord knew Margaret couldn’t stomach the blood, and Becky was turning out to be just like her birth-mother.

There’s a sick girl in there right now. Remember on your own time. What else for dinner? Mashed potatoes, that’s easy enough. Better. And I can fry up some greens on the side.

She filled a large pot with water and set it on the stove. She added some salt, and turned the burner on. Humming tunelessly, she turned on the oven as well, then set about chopping potatoes. Working methodically, she allowed her mind to wander.

The farm was far too much for one person to run, though it didn’t matter much since there weren’t any customers. With a lot of work, one person could probably support herself, but it would be so much easier with just one more. She could convince Amy to help her, maybe. And who knew how many survivors there were, really? If the two of them could make it, surely other people had as well? If she could find them, and bring them back here, they could help her re-build. Louise knew the daydream was an indulgence, but she needed to hope for something.

Setting the potatoes aside until the pot began to boil, she retrieved the plucked chicken from the refrigerator. She cleaned it, then dusted it in paprika, salt, and pepper. Nothing particularly fancy, but easy and reliable. Finishing up, she realized the water was still cold.

Shit. The burner wasn’t working, and neither was the oven. No gas. She sighed, and returned the chicken and potatoes to the fridge. But if Louise was anything, she was determined.

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Chapter Three – A Retrospective

Morning everybody! Sort of. I’ve actually been up since 7, but it takes time to prepare myself to address my hordes of adoring fans. So Chapter Three sees our first unequivocal hero, David. Does he seem like a realistic teenager? How about the chapter itself? When I’m trying to strike a darker note, does it work? Does it seem hurried at all?

Also, I’ve been thinking some about cover design – I have two ideas:

1. An old-timey looking chart of the solar system, with “Here There Be Dragons” style monsters in the corners.

2. Some sort of stylized, art-decoish image evoking the colonial era in America. Maybe a flag in the earth?

I think I like the first one more – any thoughts on these two, or other suggestions?