Draft One: After Ice: TRADE
by Pauline West, ed. by Stuart Rickard
They stand in the shadow of the Brotherhood’s spaceships in the Ni Chee Desert, some three days outside Phayara Khado, the greatest city of Phyrnos. The Phrynosian has ducked away from negotiations with Brotherhood leaders taking place aboard the main ship. Their meeting is hasty, in secret.
The man, Robert is brave, loyal, softspoken. He is selling illegal zuulite to Abtin in exchange for the release of his friend Walker, recently captured by Phyrnosian slave traders. If Walker is not released, he will be sold as a gladiator or a slave. He might also be used to grow organs and limbs for the black market. But Robert is a soldier and a philosopher: he knows better than to try to intimidate the Phyrnosian. The Brotherhood of the Rush is still weak on Phyrnos.
Abtin is advisor to a Phyrnosian warlord, Eriphet. He is meeting Robert to procure zuulite for Eriphet, a junkie. He is the warlord’s uncle, and comes of a powerful house.
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Camera sweeps over the dunes to the silhouette of a man walking towards ships.
Cut to: Robert (quietly): “Abtin?”
the Phyrnosian, Abtin: “You must be Robert.” (he looks him up and down with disdain.)
Robert (lightly): “Never seen a human before?”
Abtin (sneers): “You’re small. Have you brought it?”
Robert (pats his belt, where a small bag hangs by its tassel): “I keep my promises. Where’s Walker?”
Abtin (steps closer. In a low voice): “They will change the guard when the suns set. I will distract them.”
Abtin (holds out his hand, wriggles his fingers twice): “The zuulite. He’s waiting.”
Robert (puts his hand on his belt, covering the contents of his bag: three vials of an illegal drug called zuulite): “And Walker is unhurt?”
Abtin: “He’s unhurt.”
Robert: “You haven’t run any tests?”
Abtin doesn’t answer.
Robert: “I know where you sleep, jelly.” (He smacks the bag of vials into Abtin’s hand.) “You know, you could just use blanks for the tests. (holds up his hand) I get it. What could be more decadent than a garden of men? Sell them on the black. Extra leg here, change of face there. Untraceable, too. Lots of us willing to pay for that. We need all the edge we can get here.” (he hisses) “And we have what you want.”
Abtin: “On Phyrnos, it is kill or be kill. The sharper the claw, the cleaner the carving.” (he whispers) “And you are soft.”
Robert (tightly): “See you tonight.” (He stalks away.)
Abtin (smiles after him, creasing his heavy jowls. His teeth are long, uneven, like a crocodile’s): “See you tonight.” (he pockets the zuulite, walks away. Camera follows him, coming close to his back and then glances up at the sky, the two suns of Phyrnos glowing low, like dying embers. There are the silhouettes of huge, leathery birds crossing the sky. The suns fade, become the following:
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"I pressed up to the bar and a woman sloped over. She had silky black hair and silver rings pierced in a row up one of her cheeks.
“What’ll it be, gents?”
"Skin shots," I said. I would endear myself to the Valkyrie. He had his vices, and so I had mine: it is important to never seem too pure. The pure cannot be trusted by those who are powerful. “Put your arm up, lord.”" p 11, Astra
"I’ll have the heart of him yet, I will, or burn me. You’re the enemy of me enemy, are you then? We’ll get along. I like your metal.”
“I find it is as important to study your friends as closely as your enemies. Have you noticed this in human culture?” Dai said.
The Phodiine priest dipped his head, excusing himself. “I must return to my duties. Enjoy your stay, brothers, sister. Should you want for anything, I am never far away. You need only ask.” He scuttled away.
“That I have,” the captain said, musingly. “That I have.” p. 62, Astra
Also, I reworked an old idea of Nietzsche's:
The Rule of Blood: The true value of a thing is often what it has cost others.
Not sure where I'll fit that one in yet.
Still slouching towards Bethlehem. The editing continues...
Dai Lumen has become a mercenary employed by the Phyrnosian military. After a long, sunny conversation with my neighbor, the poker playing philosopher, I decided to give Dai a code, similar to the one the Philosopher uses in Vegas. I’ve sprinkled it throughout the text.
Rule One, of Staying Wild: to be free, you must desire nothing.
Rule two: Cloak of the Hog. Pretend to be as greedy as those around you.
Rule three: Glove of the Thousand Hands. Stay your hand until the time is right. (It’s a heavy glove.)
Rule of the Sphinx: Say nothing. Never explain, never apologize. Never say goodbye. A mystery is fast on his feet.
I’ve been fascinated by rules & proverbs in fiction ever since I noticed Pynchon doing it in Gravity’s Rainbow. Naturally, I can’t touch his proverbs. To wit:
Proverbs for Paranoids:
1. You may never get to touch the Master, but you can tickle his creatures.
2. The innocence of the creatures is in inverse proportion to the immorality of the Master.
3. If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about answers.
4. You hide, they seek.
5. Paranoids are not paranoid because they're paranoid, but because they keep putting themselves, fucking idiots, deliberately into paranoid situations.
-- Collected from Gravity's Rainbow, V237, 241, 251, 262, & 292
They give a nice structure to the text. Good bones. I’ll keep fiddling with mine. A girl can dream.
I’m also trying to work in more organic descriptions, & give a sense of deep history to Phyrnos:
“The wind churned the dunes, revealing skeletons of her planet’s distant past: gladiatorial rings, wing’ed ancients, temples worn soft by time. All worlds are built upon the apocalypse of everything which has came before it. When a world exists, it seems eternal, and it is difficult to imagine it as one in a succession of many. Yet the present must forever consume its past, or die.”
“He dismissed her with a nod, and Losira broke again into her seamless run, disappearing into the maze of ancient architecture. Qabal looked at its horizon. He had taken pride in the skyline of Phayara all his life: The minarets etched against the sky like horn and claw; the way the suns seemed to catch and then bleed against them, so that when night fell it came heavy as death-
A dome in the distance crumbled and fell. Qabal felt the heat edge deep between his scales, burrow through his flesh. He put his hand on Eriphet’s shoulder. “Quickly,” he said. “To the temple. Quickly.”
“It was the station’s interior I was worried about. It would take half a lifetime to learn the routes of its interior water management system. Thrillseekers came from all over the galaxy to race ships through its watery, narrow chutes; at any given moment there could be hundreds of people inside it, diving & gliding and even swimming. If things went south people would take refuge in the tunnel system and execute us from beneath the streets.”
But the ending is still abrupt and cheap. Lots of work to do there.
Pauline West's first novel, EVENING’S LAND, is a Library Journal Self-e Selection, winner of the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation Award and recipient of the Carol Marie Smith Memorial Scholarship for the NOEPE Center of Literary Arts.
Pauline West's books on Goodreads
Candlemoth: A Holy City Romance
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Candlemoth Volume 2: How To Spend It
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Candlemoth Book 3: A Twist of Fate
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Stalker: A Gothic Thriller
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