*Ye Stars That Shudder | Snippets

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*in case you missed it last time, it’s a post-alien invasion re-conceptualizing of the King Arthur myth

Jake Uther had been dead for five years, according to popular belief. An easy mistake to make, too – people tended to think the worst after you fell off the planet for that long. Every now and then, for a fleeting handful of seconds, he wished they were right.

Then he remembered just how spiteful and petty he was, and the feeling turned into something smug.


“Dyethrin,” Arthur repeated. “The Vees?”

“I admit to not knowing why you chose ‘Vees’ as their moniker,” said the Metroid. “But I assume you mean the outside force you also refer to as ‘aliens.’”

“We call them Vees because it’s short for Visitor,” said Kay sharply. “It reminds that’s what they’re doing. Visiting.”

Arthur blinked. “I actually didn’t know that,” he muttered.

Hec’s eyebrows drew together. “Where you been, kid?”

“I don’t know, too busy to make etymology inquiries?”


Arthur settled back in his seat and watched the corner of Kay’s face in the rear-view mirror. He imagined he knew less about Kay and Hec than most kids did about their parents – but then, Hec was the only one old enough to have actually fathered Arthur, and neither of them were related. Hec was thirty-nine – almost forty, Arthur realized. It would be a good day of razzing, that birthday. Kay was only thirty-four, probably a decade Arthur’s senior, but between the two men it always surprised Arthur that Kay was by far the more mercenary.

To look at them, anyone would assume it was the other way around – Hec had that look, one Arthur could only describe as ‘been around the block.’ Kay almost looked softer – a softer mouth, lighter eyes. Always clean-shaven. If not for the jewelry in his eyebrow and the intimidating width of his biceps, you might assume he was the friendlier of the two. Not that Arthur would call Hec friendly. Reasonable, up to a point, though.


Twilight had melted into night when Kay finally found a place to turn around on the winding mountain road. Arthur glanced at the clock – it was fun to be able to tell the time when sitting in a car – and whistled.

“What?” asked Kay, resting his free arm out the window. He looked in his element, which was weird, Arthur considered, given he hadn’t thought much about Kay’s life before they met.

“We drove fifteen minutes out.”

Kay’s mouth curved, his signature almost-a-smirk-but-not-quite. “Calm down, I’ll have you home by midnight.”

“If you weren’t looking at the road I’d roll my eyes, but you wouldn’t see it so just know I rolled them. Hard. That’s half an hour of gas we just wasted.”

“Pretty sure your idea of liquid measurement is off there,” Kay remarked, slowing down for a sharp curve.


He pressed his lips together, his expression still neutral, and that’s when Gwen realized it wasn’t difficult to read – the more emotions he was having, the less he seemed to actually emote; as if his feelings were on tap and he had to shut the water off to keep the sink from flooding.


“I was beginning to wonder if I had killed you by accident,” said a voice. It might have been fairly monotone and robotic, but Arthur recognized it.

“You wrecked the car,” was the first thing he blurted, then shook his head. What the heck, Arthur.

            “I did wreck the car,” the Metroid agreed, folding its long arms. “An odd choice of vehicle; I thought the van much better suited to your needs.”

“The Ferrari wasn’t for our ‘needs,’ it was just a quick joyride,” Arthur sighed.

“Joyride?” The Metroid sounded puzzled. “A ride for joy?”

“For fun, anyway. You probably don’t get that concept.”

“I do not. I do understand another concept, however: stubbornness.”

Arthur blinked. “Good for you.”

“You have it in abundance.”

“You try living with a couple of ex-military hardasses and see how stubborn you get.”

“It is not in your best interest.”

“Well, that’s your opinion.”


He couldn’t tell the Metroid where the sword was – that would mean telling the Metroid where Hec and the girls were, and he still didn’t know what the Metroid wanted. They were known for killing people in the blink of an eye. He couldn’t risk it. He couldn’t tell him.

He shrugged as well as he could with his arms tied behind his back, trying a bluff. “Is that supposed to scare me?”

“It does scare you,” said the Metroid. “I can hear your elevated heartbeat.”

“I bet you say that to all the kidnapping victims.”

“You are my first.”

Arthur opened his mouth, then shut it, and shrugged.

“I will damage your friend until you talk.”

“He’s not really my friend,” Arthur drawled, his mouth dry with fear. He was seconds away from watching the alien robot murder Kay, he could feel it under his skin, and he didn’t know what to do. “He’s more like a weird surrogate dad. Maybe an uncle. Hec’s more the dad type.”


She cleared her throat loudly. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“To find Arthur.”

“Sorry. You can’t leave the tent.”

He couldn’t look over his shoulder without more pain, so he turned to fully face her. “Watch me.”

She snorted. “Says the guy I could probably cripple with a well-aimed pillow.”

Kay’s mouth twitched. He was tempted to like her – probably would have, under different circumstances. Right now, he just wanted to be able to snatch the gun from her hands, and he seriously doubted his body would let him.


She was followed by a man who looked more pirate than civilian. His long hair was pulled away from a leonine face, and he lowered a cigar from his teeth when he saw Kay.

Then he grinned. It wasn’t a wide expression – more like a smirk with teeth, but it rubbed Kay the wrong way and he felt an immediate desire to punch the guy in the face.

Cool it, he said to himself.

“Where is Arthur?” he asked, keeping his tone even.

“About thirty feet that way.” The man gestured outside the tent, then made a sweeping gesture with his cigar, indicating Kay’s frame from head to foot. “You look like you tried to wrestle a tractor.”

“He doesn’t have a good sense of humor,” said the woman. It took Kay a second to realize she was talking about him, not the man.

“Ah.” He lifted the cigar to his mouth, the tip glowing orange before he blew out a long stream of thick, sweet-smelling smoke. “I wouldn’t be either, if I looked like that. Makes me miss aspirin just looking at him.”


“What are we going to do?”

“Leave a note and head out.” He shrugged, wiping gasoline off his hands with a rag.

Elaine stared. “We’re just leaving?”

“Don’t look at me like that; we’re going to look for ‘em.” He shook his head with an incredulous frown. “Geez.”

She released a pent-up breath. “Okay. Great, I feel better.”

“You always go around assuming the worst like that?”

She snorted. “Like you don’t?”

His eyebrows drew together. “Maybe, but I’ve seen more shit. You’re a kid.”

“A kid in the apocalypse.”

The corner of his mouth lifted slightly in a near-grin. “Eh, good point, I guess.”

“And I’m not a kid. I’m twenty-one.”

“You’re a kid until you stop saying ‘I’m not a kid,’ trust me.”

“Oh, yeah?” She wanted to be annoyed, but she couldn’t find it in herself.


“Most new cars are harder to siphon gas from,” he said. “They don’t have a cap over the gas tap, so you have to put this in there first, then use the guide tube.”

“Wow.” With equal parts appreciation and apprehension, she asked, “Where did you learn that?”

He grinned a little and crouched down, putting the pieces into the open toolbox at his feet. “What, you mean did I learn it in prison?”

“No,” she said quickly, grimacing. That was exactly what she’d meant.

“Well, I didn’t learn it in prison.”

“Ah.”

“I learned how to make a shiv in prison, though.”

Gwen raised both eyebrows and glanced at the garage door. “Oh.”

He looked up. “That was a joke.”

“I was really hoping it was,” she admitted with a laugh.


Hec turned right, heading farther up the mountain, and Gwen blinked. “You think they went this way?”

“Yep.”

“Aren’t the roads better the other way?”

“Yep.”

“So…”

He glanced at her. “You’re a couple of guys driving a fast car for the first time in six years, you gonna take the safe boring route?”

“Good point.”


“So are you really okay?”

“Yeah, I’m all right,” said Kay easily.

“Who patched you up?”

Kay’s clear eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Why?”

“Because I want to ask them how you’re doing and see if they say ‘yeah, he’s all right.’”

“It’s not that bad, moron.”

“Look,” said Arthur, allowing the X-Caliber to rest on the ground and relieve the tension in his arm, “there are two kinds of guys who get hurt. The smart type, who recognizes they’ve been injured and should probably take care of it, or the dumb kind who pretends nothing happened and probably exacerbates the problem.”

“What the hell does ‘exacerbates’ mean?”

“Thus illustrating my point that you’re the dumb kind.”


“He doesn’t know how it works either,” said the Metroid, sounding miffed.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“No. Kidding isn’t ‘my thing,’” the Metroid retorted.

“Then why bring it to me? If you don’t even know how to use it, or what I’m supposed to do with it? Are you crazy, or are you just some kind of chaotic neutral?”

“I am a lawful neutral. I resent the implication I am capable of chaos.”

Arthur snorted. “What if I swung it at you, huh? If it’s so darn special, it could probably do some damage.”

“Try it, tough guy,” said the robot, sounding suddenly both paternal and annoyed.

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Ye Stars That Shudder | snippets

It’s been a hot minute since I posted anything about novel-writing (which is usually what I do around here). I took Ye Stars That Shudder, my post-alien-apocalypse retelling of King Arthur, back to the beginning and re-started it, as pieces had come together and the tone had shifted into ore of a finalized form. So, since I have almost three chapters completed in the new version, I thought I would post some pieces and re-introduce you!

Note: I get asked about the who’s-who re: casting choices and so the dramatis persona in these snippets include –
Arthur: Cole Sprouse
Hec: Jon Bernthal
Kay: Jai Courtney
Gareth: Charlie Hunnam
Archer: Garrett Hedlund

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Kay jogged down the stairs, his boots heavy on the bare wood. “Jackpot.” A dozen orange pill-bottles nestled in the crook of his arm, and he dumped them into the canvas bag on top of the gold necklaces.

“Guess it wasn’t a total loss,” said Hec, hitching his gun over his shoulder by the strap.

“Except they don’t have anything in there for crazy,” said Kay.

Hec gave him a questioning glance, but it was already fading into a knowing expression as Kay added, “Sorry, man; maybe next time we’ll find something to help you.”


After a few more seconds the door opened the rest of the way. The woman in the doorway was younger than Arthur expected; early twenties, his age. She was dressed in boots, jeans, and an oversized plaid shirt, like she had raided her father’s closet, but her hands holding the gun looked steady.

“Leave your weapons outside,” she said. “But you can come in.”

Kay got out of the van and walked up behind Arthur.

“Sorry,” said Arthur. “She said we had to leave you outside.”

Kay shoved his head forward in response.


“You hanging in there?”

“You bet I am. Don’t worry about me, kid, I’ve had a lot worse. You know that.”

“I know, you’re a badass,” said Arthur, with an extravagant roll of his eyes. “But you’re bleeding all over that girl’s couch, so I figure it’s an okay time to ask about your welfare.”

“You weren’t always sarcastic,” Hec remarked, a faint grin playing on his face. “Kay’s being a crap influence on you.”

“Oh, I don’t think we can blame Kay for that,” Arthur retorted.

“Heh.” Hec grinned wider, without looking up at Arthur. “Yeah, that’s all me. Do me proud, kid.”

“I try.”


“My name is Gwen.” She took a pair of scissors from her back pocket and began to cut at the shirt, pulling it away from the quills puncturing Hec’s side. “What about you two?”

“Hec.”

“Kay.”

“Your mothers were very original.” Gwen picked up the tweezers as soon as she had the blood-stained fabric out of the way.

Arthur pointed down at Hec. “Hector Vance, but he doesn’t really look like a Hector so nobody bothers.” He pointed at Kay. “Kay Sawyer. Don’t call him Sawyer.”

“He’s right,” said Gwen, looking briefly at Hec. “You don’t look like a Hector.”

“’Preciate it,” he replied.


Arthur obliged, backing up a few steps, lifting his hands in surrender for the second time that day. This woman wasn’t much older than Gwen, but she looked a lot more likely to do damage.

He didn’t need to turn around to sense Kay had appeared behind him. “Lower that thing before I shove it in your eye.”

The woman raised an eyebrow. Instead of lowering the arrow, she only shifted it again, pointing it at Kay this time. “Gwen, who’s the guy with the attitude?”

“I don’t know,” Gwen called from the other room, “I think they all have attitude. That one’s Kay. He’s my least favorite.”


‘Control’ was the Vees’ name for the large, square building that took up a half-mile of Seattle. The building was five years old – one of the Vees’ impressive overnight additions to various skylines. It was nothing fancy to look at, but the inside was a different story. The first time Gareth had walked in, he’d felt like a comic book character, suddenly transported into superhero headquarters.

Yeah, that feeling had faded pretty quick.


“All Metroids are armed,” said the Vee flatly. “He is Zi-Class. He is, of course, deadly.”

“Right on, right on. Anything I need to know?”

“He stole a piece of our technology when he left. We require both the technology and the Metroid fully intact.”

Well, that made things more fun. “Understood. Any chance you’re gonna tell me what the tech is?”

“A sword,” said the Vee.

Gareth blinked again, but this time it wasn’t to clear his vision. “Right,” he drawled. “Robot with a sword.”

“Zi-Class Metroid.” The Vee sounded almost indignant, which amused Gareth. Of course calling a Metroid a robot was like calling a megalodon a goldfish, but as far as he was concerned, a robot was a robot.


The rogue Metroid’s designation was printed at the top of the page: MR-1-LN. “That’s a mouthful,” Gareth muttered, his eyes drifting down the page. It didn’t list the Metroid’s strength, everyone knew it was that of five or six men, if not more. They could use guns – any weapon they wanted, probably – but they came equipped with a weapon unlike anything Gareth had ever seen.

He had seen a Metroid corner a civilian before; the robot had clenched its right fist and pulled its hand back. The civilian’s body had gone from standing and alive to dead on the ground in less time than it took Gareth to draw in a breath – no visible weapon fired, no nothing.


| to be continued |

Ye Stars That Shudder (snippets)

Several years ago, while I was writing The Fading of the Light (the first novel in my futuristic science-fantasy Samurai Robin Hood retelling) I joked, “Just wait until I put a spin on King Arthur. ‘Camelot & Aliens.'” A few months ago that joke came full circle as I began to write Ye Stars That Shudder, a mostly-modern-day post-alien invasion version of King Arthur. I began it, wrote seven chapters in quick succession, and then had to put it on the back burner while art, the moneymaker, sat in front. I’m trying to find a way to write and paint, and at my mom’s suggestion I’m going to take up waking at 5:30 consistently so I can write for an hour/hour and a half before the workload starts. That said, it’s about time I introduced you to the current novel in the form of snippets!

YSTS

Arthur folded his hands and studied the scarred tabletop. Searching his feelings, he realized he felt oddly betrayed by Uther’s capture. Here in the mountains they were isolated but still received news – infrequent trips into so-called civilization for supplies, the scattered reports over the old radio in the corner. Since the Visitors landed three years ago, Uther had risen; a determined, stubborn beacon of hope shining through the fog of complacency and despair. Uther was the rebellion and the rebellion was Uther. Now he was captured, soon he would be dead.

It did not seem terribly irrational to Arthur that the rebellion might die soon after.


“Even so,” said Hector; his voice mild and his eyes hard, “they’ll be expecting this kind of thing. I won’t have you be the next well-meaning idiot who dies at the hands of the Visitors.”

“Well-meaning, yeah,” said Arthur. “Sometimes. But I’m never an idiot.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure,” said Kai.


“Thirty seconds and I’m leaving,” said Kai, blowing out a breath through his nose and looking at the door.

Hector placed his spoon on the table. “You’ll do what I tell you, boy.” Kai raised an eyebrow, and Hector leaned on his elbow and pointed at him. “That’s what I said. Boy; which boggles my mind, personally, seeing as how you’re nearly thirty years old. And you,” he added, pointing the finger in Arthur’s direction now, “I made my share of bad decisions when I was your age, but twenty-three is plenty old enough to know what constitutes a fatal mistake. Savvy?”

“Savvy,” said Arthur, straightening. When Hector took that tone it always made him feel like he was slouching, even if he wasn’t.


                Kai set the bow down and lifted the rosin up to his face. “The only reason I’m not throwing this at your head is because I’m not done using it.”


“Uther would give it to me.”

“That doesn’t answer my question,” said Badge, in a slightly less-friendly tone.

“I cannot disclose the reason to you, but it is a good one.”

“Oh, well. As long as it’s good.”

“You sure you don’t want to shoot him, Badge?” asked a man with a bow and arrow standing several feet behind the other man. “Looks like he could use a bullet. Or an arrow,” he added, acknowledging his current weapon. “Whatever works.”


It was the most up close and personal Uther had ever been with a Vee – probably the most personal anyone still alive had ever been, probably. They breathed, he could tell that much; the suits emitted a rhythmic purring sound every couple seconds.

When they spoke, it was only in words typed onto a screen. They might not be able to speak, but they could read and write English. The same word had been staring at Uther in black, sharp lettering for the past twenty-four hours – W H E R E I S T HE S W O R D, unrelenting. Their concept of spacing was backwards, apparently.


Merlin lifted his hand to his face, touching his fingers to his forehead like an exasperated father. “There is a plan,” he said, “and I will tell it to you once you stop reeling.”

“I’m not reeling. Surprised, shocked, definitely not cool with any of this, but not reeling.”

“I wish I had the ability to blink,” said Merlin. “Slowly. To show my exasperation,” he added.


He reached into his back pocket, holding his other hand out. “Don’t hit me, love, I’m just getting my business card.”

“You have a funny way of making sales pitches, I hope you realize that.”

“It’s not exactly a sales pitch,” he said, holding the business card out between his fingertips.

She took it from him with a sharp glance and read the name. Tristan Troye, Private Investigator. Collaborator. She looked pointedly at him and let the card fall from her hand onto the floor. “You look like a Tristan,” she said with a disdainful sniff.


“What guy are you?”

“I don’t know,” Arthur snapped. “I’m the guy who makes sarcastic comments on things and has existential thoughts.”

“Oh, yeah? Today should be right up your lane then, mate.”

“Ha; you’d think, but no.”

“Says the guy who was griping at me earlier for not caring about the world at large,” Kai retorted. “Now you’ve been told you’re like some kind of angsty superhero and you don’t want it.”

“This isn’t exactly what I meant,” said Arthur, tasting bitterness sharp on his tongue. “This is like wishing for firewood and having a tree fall on your house.”

“Hey, wood is wood.”

“Oh my gosh, go away.”


Wayne Gaheris could never remember to turn his phone off, which was why its ringing woke him up at three forty-seven in the morning. He answered automatically with a groggy, “Deputy Gaheris.” Only then did he look at the clock and fight the urge to swear at the caller.

“She got away. She ran off.”

“Tristan? Who ran off?”

“Vivian Atwater! She’s got a hell of a roundhouse. I took one in the knee.”

“A what?”

“A kick, man, a kick.”

“Are you telling me a sixty-seven-year-old woman incapacitated you and then took off?”

“It’s a terrible truth and I’m ashamed, but yes.”

“You’re a disgrace.”

“I shall wear sackcloth and kowtow fifty times at the alter of your disapproval, but as I’m currently en route to the hospital you’ll have to accept a postponement.”


Hector broke in, his voice rough with barely-suppressed anger. “Hang on. You’re telling me you brought this all on our heads without knowing if you had your head on straight?” He took a step toward Merlin but the robot did not back up; he only turned his head unnaturally far to the right and replied, “Yes.”

“I should grind you into dust right now.”

“Try it, tough guy,” said Merlin, in a voice that sounded suddenly very human, very old, and very annoyed.