Update on attempting to get published

So I wrote a book called Gaia’s Dream, and it’s about an alternate world where retail space is won through corporate-sponsored gladiatorial combat. If a company’s team wins in the arena, they earn the right to lease retail space from the Rulers of the Sphere. The size of the retail spaces vary, and the wealthier corporations only go for the bigger spots, which are of course more expensive. But that’s only a small part of the story.

It gets really interesting when one of the main characters…I guess he’s a main character, named Gat Jones, starts killing people with shadows.

Have you ever read Philip K. Dick’s VALIS? Or the Nag Hammadi Codexes? Or any of Plato’s work? If so, you’re probably familiar with the idea of dual worlds. There is a perfect form for everything. You look around and see triangles. From whence do the triangles come? They come from the realm of forms, the perfect realm (I know I’m simplifying it, and I also make up my own words for stuff), where there exists the perfect triangle.

These ideas are reflected in ancient cultures across the world. For example, Norse mythology speaks of different levels of reality. We live in the middle world, and there are four above and four below. Even within these nine levels, there are different layers (think about dreams, and where your mind goes when they happen; or thought itself). In the bible, there are eleven different layers of heaven. And nine gates to hell.

Back to the dual ideology, there is the perfect realm, from whence all things come, and the imperfect realm, where all things exist. There is Light and there is Chaos. To tie this into the ideas of the Norse, there is only one layer of reality in Light, because that is the perfect realm, but there are many levels of reality in Chaos, where we humans, and all creatures and forms of matter, make our home.

The shadows that Gat creates in Gaia’s Dream are a reflection of the different layers of reality. Friendship City, where the story takes place, has drifted to become a shadow of itself. It is not fulfilling its true purpose. The shadows that Gat uses are the lost souls of those who might have had a life and had a purpose, if only the denizens of Friendship City had taken their true course, or line of destiny, or fate. And that is what motivates Gat. He wants to destroy the city, because he believes that it is too late to save it or change it.

Mary Gold, the gladiator who must stop him, does not really know what motivates her. She wants to stop Gat, but she doesn’t know why. It is as though she exists in a different layer of reality than anyone else, and therefore has no frame of reference from which to judge her own frame of mind. She looks around and sees fools, and knows that she is not a fool, but this knowledge does not come from the reality that she exists in.

So that’s a little about the book I wrote.

Query Letters are fucking hard

It’s true! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!

The book is easy to write, compared to the query letter. My book is solid, but I have no idea how to get someone else interested in reading it in under a page, without giving away too much. My wife says I should think about what I like about the book, and try to get that across.

So what do I like about it?

I like that I wrote it. I like the strong female lead (so few of those). I like the fact that the antagonist uses interdimensional aliens to consume souls. Maybe I should make that more clear, eh? Instead of saying he uses shadows, I’ll say cool thinks like “interdimensional.”

Or I can just repeat the same word over and over:

Raccoon raccoon raccoon raccoon.

Then the agents I send it to will just say, “Wow, this guy is so crazy, I just have to read his stuff!”

I guess it doesn’t work like that…

Back into the minefields!

Don’t worry. It’s okay. Really.

1st Draft GAIA’S DREAM query letter (book was originally titled Corporate Holdings)

Here it is! Please let me know what you think. Any critiques/suggestions are welcome!

________________________________________________________________________________

Dear Agent,

Hundreds of thousands of years from now, most of Earth is a wasteland. Its last beacon of civilization is Friendship City: a place where the rich rule from the highest levels of the super-structures, and where the poor struggle for survival in the basements. Society there has been stable for centuries, but one man is out to destroy it.

My science fiction novel, GAIA’S DREAM, is complete at 90,000 words, and tells the tale of Mary Gold. She is a veteran in the arena, where corporations hire gladiators to compete for the right to lease retail spaces from the Rulers of the Sphere. She is also the object of unrequited love from a loser fan of hers who makes a hobby out of stalking her. When the military hires her to hunt down the most dangerous person in Friendship City, the last thing she expects is that the suspect is Gat Jones, her stalker.

The military aren’t the only ones after Mary Gold. Colt Wild, the leader of the rebel group Gaia’s Dream, approaches her with a different offer: deceive the military and provide him with whatever information she gleans from them. Mary must decide where her loyalty stands. She knows the Rulers are unjust in their treatment of their subjects, and that the rebels, despite their violent methods, want a better life for those who live in the basements. Will she stand with Friendship City, Gaia’s Dream, or on her own two feet?

The ensuing adventure takes Mary and her squad of gladiators outside Friendship City, where few have ventured before and still fewer have survived. Slave traders, genetically manipulated bandits, and the wilderness of untouched nature take their turns in obstructing the team from completing their mission. The biggest challenge of all comes when they learn that Gat Jones uses shadows as a weapon, and erases his victims from existence itself.

Excerpt from yesterday’s writing:

 “Our current mission involves the targeting of a serial killer, who has so far kept his activities within the borders of this mega-structure. He has evaded the action squads, the police investigators, and ourselves. I want to show you a video.” The major looked at the wall behind Mary. The wall became a hallway in one of the middle levels of the building. Mary recognized the scene; it was outside one of the largest shopping centers in the entire city.

The time must have been late at night or early in the morning. The holographic sky was black and littered with stars. A few people milled about, mostly homeless and hobos coughing in corners against the walls. Trash was everywhere, as was normally the case in any popular section of any building.

A man wearing a hooded cloak entered the scene. He walked down the hallway at a quick pace. Mary noticed that the shadows of objects and other individuals were faint, the streetlights casting them in several different directions. The cloaked man had a shadow that was solid black.

He had yet to pass near another person. When he did, his shadow, like pure night, reached out to cover an old man who had passed out against a wall. When the shadow returned to the shape of the man’s figure, the old man was gone. No sign of him remained.

“What the hell?” Mary said, unable to hold the curse back. “What happened? And how did you get this video? Is this real?”

“Please, just watch for now,” Mike said. Major Tom was intent on the content of the holographic screen.

Mary hesitated before turning around to watch. The hooded man continued his walk without even a turn of his head toward where his victim had lain. When he passed the people in the hallway, the shadow reached out toward its prey, seeming to erase them from existence. Ten, maybe twelve people, gone into nothing, not even dust, before the cloaked man walked out of the view of the camera. The wall returned to its normal concrete face.

Major Tom sighed. “I’ll answer your last question first. Yes, this is real. For your first question, we don’t know. As to your second, there are cameras planted all over Friendship City. Some of them are ours. The others are privately owned surveillance cameras that we have the legal authority to tap into.”

“You just watch us for fun?” Mary said. Her eyes burned into Major Tom’s.

“We do what is necessary to protect this city. The last thing I wanted was to take you in on this mission. Specifically you is who my superiors asked for. I understand their reasoning, but my attempts to show them why they are wrong have failed. So, here we are. Either you can listen up or you can walk out to an uncertain fate.”

“That’s a threat.”

“It’s a true statement. Listen to what we have to say, or you will go back to just being a gladiator, a tool of entertainment to control the populace.”

Just being, Mary thought. She calmed herself and heard her heart beating in her eardrums. A cold feeling formed in her stomach. Just being…

Corporate Holdings: Chapter One

Mary Gold and her team stood at the gladiator’s entrance to the arena. Here, underneath the stadium, the roar of the crowd was reduced to a dull drone.

“Four left on the second team that entered,” Mary announced to her teammates, using the device on her wrist to check the captains’ scoreboards. “Check your weapons, safeties off everyone. Keep your heads and don’t get shot. Let’s make this quick.”

The remainder of the six man team assented via shouts and cheers. One of them shouted, “Take it off!” Either Ricard or Johnny, but revenge wasn’t worth the attention. They all moved, back and forth. Janet jumped up and down, unable to contain her energy. Mary thought of a writhing snake that reared its head before the attack.

“We go in through the hallways first,” Mary said. The judges of the match had provided her with a map of the arena’s setup for this battle a few minutes prior. She now displayed the map to her team in a holographic model that the device on her wrist projected. “The staircase is to the north, five hundred meters. We make it there in five minutes, got it?” Her team nodded their assent. “From there, we’ll have a time of it getting to the hold. They have a random set up on top, meaning we’ll have to search for it. Keep an eye out for—”

The arena doors opened. The noise of the crowd was louder, and light flooded the tunnels.

“Move in, let’s go,” Mary commanded. “Don’t wait!”

Enemy fire began the moment that they crossed into the arena. Mary and her team found cover behind short concrete barriers. Bullets struck the walls, and their impacts created bits of concrete shards and dust.

The next few moments were a hellfire of bullets, as Mary’s team returned fire against the enemy. “Bastards were waiting for us,” Jamaal said, raising his voice over the din of the battle.

“Cut the chatter,” Mary ordered. “Ricard, go. Everyone else, cover him!” She sighted an enemy and fired.

Ricard dashed out from his position. The enemy fired on him at once. Mary and the rest of her team took advantage of this diversion to take better aim.

A bullet struck one of the enemy gladiators in the shoulder and he fell back onto the floor. Mary saw on the scoreboards that he was auto-disqualified for dropping his weapon. “Five left,” she called out.

Ricard sprinted toward the enemy position. He unpinned his sole grenade and threw it toward his target with expert aim before rolling behind a pile of concrete blocks. The explosive detonated just as Ricard ducked behind cover.

“One incapacitated, one dead,” Mary said. Each gladiator’s vital stats were displayed on the scoreboards and were updated automatically via the biometric monitor that was a part of their armor. “That’s three. Let’s move out before the next team enters.”

“Nice one, Ric,” Jamaal called out. He rushed to his teammate. Ric accepted Jamaal’s hand and stood, somewhat shaky on his feet. “Whoa, now.”

“You get to have all the fun,” Johnny said, punching Ric in the chest as he passed him.

“I can’t feel my legs,” Ric said. He walked a few steps, but lost his balance and fell down.

“They’re just asleep,” Mary said. She nodded at Jamaal and they each placed one of Ricard’s arms over their shoulders. “Keep flexing them.”

To everyone, Mary said, “Ninety seconds until the new team enters. Let’s move fast here, you lazy, inaccurate bastards.” Before Mary could move, a hand grabbed her ankle. She aimed down with a ready weapon. The arm belonged to a man whose face she recognized. He lay wounded under his fallen comrade.

“Gold, listen to me,” Andre Strong said, as the blood seeped from the left corner of his mouth. His voice was strong. “I tried to help. Listen to me, I wouldn’t harm you, not Mary Gold, with an unfair tactic such as this. I was after your teammates. Listen, you don’t know what you are up against, for the other team, it is the King Dragon’s.”

“Don’t try to protect me,” Mary said. Her trigger finger twitched.

“I wasn’t trying to protect you,” Andre said. “I was trying to protect the king.”

“Andre, let go or I will stomp you,” Mary said, her breath coming fast through her nostrils. Andre let go. Mary continued the jog toward the stairs with Jamaal, hauling Ric along with them.

“The fire in those eyes!” Andre exclaimed. “I can feel it burning within me as well now, giving me the strength I need.”

Mary turned her head and saw Andre push the corpse off his body, revealing the large wound that made his chest look like a charred slice of steak. He said, “That’s better, I can breathe much better now.”

Her face twisted, Mary shouted, “You jumped the grenade? You throw a newbie down for that! Are you trying to get yourself killed?”

“Mary, come on,” Janet said. She was the only one brave enough to give Mary orders. “Let’s go.”

Mary nodded and ran after her team. They had taken two turns through the maze of hallways and had made it about a third of the way to the stairs when the new team entered the arena. “They’re fresh,” Mary prompted her team. “Let’s keep moving.”

Ricard was now in condition enough to keep his balance and ran along with everyone else. Mary hoped they could outrun their competitors to the stairs. She knew that the first team to enter must have almost cleared the automatic defenses that initially guarded the hold.

The King Dragon’s team, she thought. He owns five buildings in Friendship City, each one housing millions of people. The wealth is incredible. Why the hell is he fighting in this match? May be best not to think about it.

“Team Wes Lively has captured the hold,” the arena’s speakers announced. Above the basement level, the crowd cheered with enthusiasm and excitement. “The countdown has started at fifteen minutes.” Only one person from each team was allowed in the hold at a time. The timer would continue until it reached zero, or it would freeze when an opposing gladiator contested the hold.

“Damn” Argus said. “We’ve got to get up there.” The rest of the team looked at him with malicious intent. Argus was the prospective retailer who had paid Mary and her team to represent him in the arena. The prospect whose team that won this match would own the right to lease a small storefront on one of the middle levels of the building.

Mary had needed a sixth gladiator for the match. While it wasn’t unheard of for prospects to fight in the arena, the practice was rare. Many of the fighters frowned upon it, because they had worked hard to earn their spot. Mary had decided that Argus’ experience in the military meant that he was able to follow orders. That ability was all that she needed from him, and for him to stay alive.

“After fifteen minutes,” Mary said. “We lose. Sprint, let’s go!”

Jamaal felt the tripwire before he saw it, and tumbled onto the ground.

Johnny shouted, “Trap!”

Ricard helped Jamaal stand just as the ceiling began to crumble and fall apart. Bits and blocks of concrete and iron mesh crashed down onto the floor. A cavity formed above them, and concrete dust billowed out from the structural wound.

Mary felt the vibrations and heard the whirr of a death bot. A ball of steel that rolled, found its targets by their heat, and attacked its prey with various blades. Two of them, and the dust made vision unreliable.

A gun fired on her right. The death bot made a correction, its engines letting off for a moment. Time enough for Mary to take aim, into the fog to her right and a little south. She fired, tap-tap-tap, gently and with little movement.

The death bot slid into her vision, and she fired a few more rounds into its core. It managed to extract a blade, aiming for Mary’s right arm. She emptied the contents of her magazine into the machine, refusing to give ground.

Another weapon joined in chorus with Mary’s to drive the death bot back. The force of the bullets pushed the machine, interrupting its charge and damaging it beyond repair.

“Good job,” Mary said to Argus. “Keep it up.”

“Right,” Argus said. “Thanks.” The dust cleared, and Ric and Jamaal dispatched the second death bot.

“Two, up ahead,” Janet called back. Small and easily concealed, she was consistently the perfect candidate to scout. “They’re guarding the stairs around the corner. These aren’t our typical mercs, boss. They fired at me.”

“It’s the King Dragon’s team,” Mary said. “They’re trained well, but we have an advantage in that they’re not used to facing an honest fight.”

“I like the way you think, boss,” Janet said. Her grin was almost too large for her face to contain.

“Are we just gonna stand here?” Johnny said. He was a five foot six brick of muscle, almost as wide as he was tall. His fearlessness intimated the calmest fighters, and his ugly, twisted face only added to the effect.“I’m gettin twitchy.”

“Your turn, Johnny,” Mary said.

“I’m gonna enjoy this.” The rest of the team sprinted after him. They all dashed around the corner and came under immediate fire.

Johnny forged his way ahead. The rest of the team provided cover from behind the obstacles in the hallway. With six guns against two, the enemy fighters found themselves in a difficult position. Mary wondered if their plan was not to defeat her team at this moment, but to delay them until the third team caught up.

Mary gave the signal to push ahead after Johnny, who picked his way forward with speed. The team followed, forcing the two enemy fighters into a slow retreat.

Not once did the enemies turn their backs as they slowly backed up toward the bottom of the stairs. This was something that Mary took note of. They timed their reloads well, so that one would continue to fire while the other exchanged magazines. After a few moments, two of their comrades appeared at the top of the stairs.

“Down,” Mary ordered. She ducked, but the rocket was a miss, passing her team and landing further down the hallway. The shock wave of the explosion ripped past her and knocked the wind from her lungs. What are they doing? she thought as she recovered. The third team can’t be that close, not yet.

A pair of the enemy fighters reloaded the rocket launcher, while the other two fired on Mary and her team. They aimed the weapon again down the hallway. Mary’s team was scattered about; their distance from one another was enough to prevent any single explosive from affecting more than one of them. A second rocket streaked by, striking a spot closer to the stairs than the first.

“They’re trying to collapse the hallway,” Mary shouted to her team. “Charge them now, get up there!”

Mary led the attack, sprinting from the rear and passing the rest of her team. She forced her eyes to adjust for the dizziness and shaking from the shock of the second blast. The weapon in her hands became an extension of her existence, a form of her being. She fired remarkably consistent, for one who moved while shooting.

The enemy could do nothing against such an onslaught, and retreated up the stairs. They managed to pack the rocket launcher before they turned tail back toward the hold. Mary urged her team forward.

“Ten minutes until end of countdown and team Wes Lively victory,” a voice said over the loudspeakers. The announcement was difficult to hear over the roaring crowds, who now leaned over their railings, screaming in an ecstasy of gore. They waved their banners and jostled each other with cups full of beer and grease.

Thousands of people watched from the stands. Millions more watched from home, on their holovision sets that were fed by the cameras that hovered all over the arena and streamed the action live. Everyone was eager to see if Mary Gold would be the first to defeat the King Dragon’s team.

“Injuries?” Mary said to her team when they were all caught up. They gathered a short distance beyond the opening of the stairs, behind a concrete wall. The first floor contained a series of the walls were placed at short distances from one another and at random angles. The ceiling here was the ceiling for the entire arena.

“Jamaal,” Janet said, “you’re shot.”

“Oh shit, my arm,” Jamaal said. He examined the wound. A small rivulet of blood leaked out from his armor and toward his hand. “Didn’t feel it.”

“Fix him up,” Mary told Ricard, who was the most qualified medic on the team. “Johnny, you stay by the stairs and keep an eye out for that third team. Delay them as long as possible.”

The sound of bullets hitting concrete struck Mary’s ears and whipped her head around. She pulled Argus down, who had been peaking over the wall. “Check your head,” she said. “They’re on us now.”

Argus said, “The hold is to the northeast.”

Mary said, “Fine. Ric, Janet, Jamaal, you three are going east. Argus and I north. Johnny, you retreat to the northeast and figure it out when you get there.”

“This is my favorite part,” Johnny said. “Time to light ’em up.”

“Go,” Mary commanded. She led Argus north. Mary gripped the edge of the wall and launched herself across the opening to the next wall. She motioned to Argus to do the same once she had crossed.

They pushed north in this fashion. Progress was slow, as the enemy now knew their position. Each time they broke their cover, bullets sprayed down on them. Mary was careful to watch for enemy fighters before each dodge from wall to wall; she had yet seen none.

Mary and Argus perched in a spot about fifty meters from the hold, behind a wall. Gunfire sounded to the east, where the other part of her team was located. Mary heard footsteps on the other side of the wall.

Finger on her lips, she gestured Argus to remain still and silent. She crept around the wall and aimed her weapon, ready to fire. Nothing.

“Behind,” Argus whispered. Mary heard the footsteps again and turned toward them.

Around the corner came, “Johnny,” Mary whispered. He aimed his weapon at the friendly pair. She turned again, too late.

Johnny fired, dropping the enemy gladiator whom Mary had missed. The slain fighter’s eyes rolled into his skull, and blood seeped from the wounds in his body.

“Nice shot,” Argus said. “Thanks for that.”

“Chief woulda had him,” Johnny said, lowering his weapon. “I just like to take initiative.”

“That’s why I hired you,” Mary said with a smile. “Status on the third team?”

“Got two with a grenade. I coulda gotten a third, but I decided to let ’em play for a bit.”

“Good job.” The third team was now in a weakened position, but would still be on the first level to provide extra targets for the King Dragon’s team. “Let’s finish this up. Five left.”

They headed in the direction of the hold. Each push forward brought more enemy fire, and the attackers remained hidden.

Mary wondered if the King Dragon was among them. Andre Strong had seemed convinced that he was. Still, Mary had known Strong to be more than a little eccentric in the past, and found it difficult to believe that the owner of five buildings would risk his life in such a manner. She decided that Andre must have been mistaken, and then she saw him.

The Dragon stood behind a wall that was perpendicular to the one that Mary, Johnny, and Argus used for cover. He was taller than Mary had thought, and what skin she could see of his was dark and beautiful. “That’s him,” she said. What is it like to live under the sun?

“Are you sure?” Johnny said.

Mary looked at him. “You need to pay attention.”

“So you’re sure, okay.”

“Five minutes until end of countdown and team Wes Lively victory,” the announcer said.

Two of the Dragon’s teammates stood on either side of him. That left one in the hold and one unaccounted for. These three were preoccupied with the arrival of the third team, who took cover about twenty meters away.

The crowd watched the exchange of bullets with apparent relish, and their screams reached new decibels when Mary’s team arrived on the stage. They booed when Mary rolled out of the way of a grenade. They cheered when Johnny physically clubbed one of the Dragon’s teammates with his weapon. They cringed when their king retreated, taking a bullet to the calf on his way toward the hold.

Mary took cover behind the same wall that had protected the Dragon a few moments before. The third team launched a volley of bullets, but Argus and Johnny moved too fast for them to hit. “They’re timid,” Mary said, observing her opponents’ inaccuracy.

Johnny said, “They know it’s the Dragon.”

The third team pushed forward. The moment that they left their cover was the same moment that Jamaal, Janet, and Ricard fired their weapons. One went down, lowering their number to three, and that was it. The team had served their purpose well, as far as Mary was concerned.

“We saw you coming,” Janet said to Mary.

“It didn’t look like you needed any help,” Ricard said.

“Surprise is pretty key in these matters,” Jamaal said.

Mary said, “Enough talk.” A grenade interrupted her next orders. Everyone dove for cover. Its explosion stunned Mary, and perhaps a half minute, an eternity in the arena, passed before she regained her bearings.

“File through, one at a time,” Mary ordered. She led the charge through the open-roofed corridor that led to the hold.

The crowd became a savage beast that demanded a frenzy of gore and death. The stands shook under the mad stomping of the animal that occupied them. The roar carried the fighters through, inspiring their momentum for this final battle.

Mary charged out from the corridor, passed the enemy gladiators, and entered the hold, moving too fast to provide a solid target. She left her gun at the entrance and drew her sword upon crossing into the interior, for the hold was only won through melee combat.

“Team Mary Gold has entered the hold,” the announcer said. The crowd was wild. “The timer has frozen at twenty eight seconds for Wes Lively victory.” If Mary managed to capture the hold, then the timer would reset to fifteen minutes in favor of her team.

Two levels existed in the hold. The top level was a series of walkways that crossed above the ground floor. The ground floor itself was wide and open. Each corner contained a covered staircase, providing four places to stage an ambush. Mary stood near the center of the ground floor and scanned the area for Dragon’s holder.

“You can’t hide all day,” Mary said, calling out to whomever might have been waiting. “You have to come out eventually. Or are we waiting until the new third team arrives?”

Something moved behind her. The dirt that covered the floor was disturbed there. Mary stared for another sign of movement, something, anything that gave an indication of the enemy. She refused to go searching through the hold, as a dog hunts for its bone.

“Team Mary Gold has captured the hold,” the announcer said. Mary looked up at the crowd in surprise. All of the thousands of spectators chanted her name, so ecstatic were they to see this challenge against a king. She doubted if any of them had known it a few moments before. “The countdown has started at fifteen minutes.”

Mary stood in the center with her sword drawn. The third team would arrive soon. She checked the scoreboards and saw that there were still five of the Dragon’s team left, and six of hers. The sounds of a battle raging outside reached her ears in a diminished and quieter form. Her breath slowed and her mind was calm.

Some time passed. The announcer said, “Team Wes Lively has entered the hold. The timer is frozen at eight minutes and twenty five seconds in favor of team Mary Gold, and at twenty eight seconds in favor of team Wes Lively.”

Mary faced the King Dragon, who was not Wes Lively but had no name for the commons. They stood apart twenty meters apart. He was so dark and so beautiful. Mary was pale and waxy. They were about the same age, but it was difficult to judge that fact on looks alone, for Mary appeared at least ten years his senior.

A moment passed while they stared, each assessing the stance and strength of the other. The Dragon charged. His sword drawn, he brought it against Mary, who had just enough time to gain momentum in her favor. They were locked into one for just a moment before breaking apart.

Mary came back, cutting from above her head. The Dragon raised his own weapon, and parried late enough for Mary’s edge to cut his hand between forefinger and thumb. A shock wave of blood frenzy tore through the crowd, and each of them screamed the air from their lungs.

She kicked him in the shin as he again raised his sword. He lost his balance, staggering backward and falling while retaining his grip on his weapon. He rolled out of the way before Mary could pin him or strike him with her sword, and stood before she could blink.

They crashed into one another, and their strikes turned into flails, and their attacks became swings of random might. Mary took a blow to the shoulder, and then hit the Dragon in his side. The Dragon struck Mary in the hip, and then barely dodged a cut to his head.

Minutes passed as they fought. The crowd almost became quiet, so absorbed was their collective attention in this battle. Mary’s team still fought the Dragon’s outside the hold. Both teams attempted elimination of the other by numbers, so that their holder would have an easier time of it.

The holders clashed in the hold. When one gained an advantage, the other rose up to the occasion and returned the playing field to an even setting. When one of them appeared to succumb to final defeat, the other made some mistake or misjudgment that allowed their opponent’s return to full strength. The battle was a question of endurance.

Mary stared her enemy down. They had arrived at yet another standstill. Each one lasted longer than the previous, as the holders grew tired.

Her attacks had all been met with equal or more powerful counterattacks. She could think of no new strategy that might quickly win the battle. Only two weapons remained in her arsenal of tricks, and those were her sword and her speed.

Come on, Mary Gold, she told herself. Almost done.

Mary charged, attacking left and right and up and down. The Dragon could only defend and wonder at this new energy that his opponent displayed. Mary struck down his sword when he tried to raise it, again and again, no matter the angle and no matter his strength. Mary pushed him back against the wall, and pinned him against it with her sword pressing his own against his face.

“You’ll do,” the Dragon said. He smiled and Mary frowned.

“Drop your weapon,” Mary said.

“No.”

The King Dragon thrust forward, pushing Mary away. He spun around and raised his sword. Mary returned the threat with a ferocious strike of her own.

Their blades met for a brief moment, and Mary’s edge slid along the Dragon’s. Sheer force of will made Mary’s sword crush the Dragon’s. His weapon crashed onto the floor. Mary’s point aimed at his neck.

“I’ll let you live,” Mary said. Sweat greased her face, and her blonde hair was brown with dirt. “I’m a nice lady, after all.”

The King Dragon grunted. Once a holder was defeated in the hold, their team was automatically disqualified. Without saying a word or giving a hint of any emotion, the Dragon left the hold toward the arena exit.

“Eight minutes until end of countdown and team Mary Gold victory,” the announcer said. The ravings of the crowd soared to new heights, and not one person was left sitting in the stands.

Jamaal was waiting for Mary at the entrance to the hold, but did not himself enter. “Janet is out looking for the approaching teams,” he said.

“Good,” Mary said. Her lungs struggled to keep up. “Eight minutes and we’re golden.”

“You’re golden,” Jamaal said. “No more work for you today. We’ll keep ’em out of here.”

Mary nodded, and Jamaal returned to his other teammates. Although the match wasn’t officially over, it might as well have been. Her team was known for their refusal to give ground. Mary stood in the center of the hold with her sword raised high until the match ended.

 

The crowd settled down before the end, returning to their seats after receiving their fill of a good fight. A few, here and there, left for the shops or the bars or work or home. Gat was not one of these, and he was not one of those who was determined to get the full value from his ticket. He was in love Mary Gold, and he watched her.

Gat was subscribed to the Supreme Arena Bundle on his Omnibus account, which allowed him to view any arena match on any of his devices. He was able to sit in his room at home and watch Mary’s face in close up, three dimensional detail. The view was better here, although the physical distance was quite far. He felt that the ability to see her in person was of greater benefit to him than watching some transmitted picture.

He imagined that he could smell her.

Mary had rejected him many times. Gat was undeterred. He felt that Mary just needed more time, and would eventually accept his advances as a welcome gesture. Time heals all wounds, and Mary had a wound in her heart. A hole was inside her chest, and Gat knew that he would fill it. He loved her.

Eight minutes passed much too fast…

 

First five pages of 3rd draft of Corporate Holdings:

Mary Gold and her team stood at the gladiators’ entrance to the arena. Here, underneath the stadium, the roar of the crowd was reduced to a dull drone.

“Four left on the second team that entered,” Mary announced to her teammates, using the device on her wrist to check the captains’ scoreboards. “Check your weapons, safeties off everyone. Keep your heads and don’t get shot. Let’s make this quick.”

The remainder of the six man team assented via shouts and cheers. One of them shouted, “Take it off!” Either Ricard or Johnny, but revenge wasn’t worth the attention. They all moved, back and forth. Janet jumped up and down, unable to contain her energy. Mary thought of a writhing snake that reared its head before the attack.

“We go in through the hallways first,” Mary said. The judges of the match had provided her with a map of the arena’s setup for this battle a few minutes prior. She now displayed the map to her team in a holographic model that the device on her wrist projected. “The staircase is to the north, five hundred meters. We make it there in two minutes, got it?” Her team nodded their assent. “From there, we’ll have a time of it getting to the hold. They have one of—”

The arena doors opened. The noise of the crowd was louder, and light flooded the tunnels.

“Move in, let’s go,” Mary commanded. “Don’t wait!”

Enemy fire began the moment that they crossed into the arena. Mary and her team found cover behind short concrete barriers. Bullets struck the walls, their impacts creating bits of concrete shards and dust.

The next few moments were a hellfire of bullets, as Mary’s team returned fire against the enemy. “Bastards were waiting for us,” Jamaal said, raising his voice over the din of the battle.

“Cut the chatter,” Mary ordered. “Ricard, go. Everyone else, cover him!” She sighted an enemy and fired on the low end of a deep breath, sending a few rounds to hit their cover.

Ricard dashed out from his position. The enemy fired on him at once. Mary and the rest of her team took advantage of this diversion of fire to take better aim.

A bullet struck one of the enemy gladiators in the shoulder and he fell back onto the floor. Mary saw on the scoreboards that he was auto-disqualified for dropping his weapon. “Five left,” she called out.

Ricard sprinted toward the enemy position. He unpinned his sole grenade and threw it toward his target with expert aim before rolling toward cover. The explosive detonated just as Ricard ducked behind a new, smaller concrete barrier.

“One incapacitated, one dead,” Mary said. Each gladiator’s vital stats were displayed on the scoreboards and were updated automatically via the biometric monitor that was a part of their armor. “That’s three. Let’s move out before the next team enters.”

“Nice one, Ric,” Jamaal called out. He left his cover and rushed to his teammate. Ric accepted Jamaal’s hand and stood, somewhat shaky on his feet. “Whoa, now.”

“You get to have all the fun,” Johnny said, punching Ric in the chest as he passed him.

“I can’t feel my legs,” Ric said. He walked a few steps, but lost his balance and fell down.

“They’re just asleep,” Mary said. She nodded at Jamaal and they each placed one of Ricard’s arms over their shoulders. “Keep flexing them.”

To everyone, Mary said, “Ninety seconds until the new team enters. Let’s move fast here, you lazy, inaccurate bastards.” Before Mary could move, a hand grabbed her ankle. She aimed down with a ready weapon. The arm belonged to a man whose face she recognized. He lay wounded under his fallen comrade.

“Gold, listen to me,” Andre Strong said, as the blood seeped from the left corner of his mouth. His voice was strong. “I tried to help. Listen to me, I wouldn’t harm you, not Mary Gold, with an unfair tactic such as this. I was after your teammates. Listen, you don’t know what you are up against, for the other team, it is the King Dragon’s.”

“Don’t try to protect me,” Mary said. Her trigger finger twitched.

“I wasn’t trying to protect you,” Andre said. “I was trying to protect the king.”

“Andre, let go or I will stomp you,” Mary said, her breath coming fast through her nostrils. Andre let go. Mary continued the jog toward the stairs with Jamaal, hauling Ric along with them.

“The fire in those eyes!” Andre exclaimed. “I can feel it burning within me as well now, giving me the strength I need.”

Mary turned her head and saw Andre push the corpse off his body, revealing the large wound that made his chest look like a charred slice of steak. He said, “That’s better, I can breathe much better now.”

Her face twisted, Mary shouted, “You jumped the grenade? You throw a newbie down for that! Are you trying to get yourself killed?”

“Mary, come on,” Janet said. She was the only one brave enough to give Mary orders. “Let’s go.”

Mary nodded and ran after her team. They had taken two turns through the maze of hallways and had made it about a third of the way to the stairs when the new team entered the arena. “They’re fresh,” Mary prompted her team. “Let’s keep moving.”

Ricard was now in condition enough to keep his balance and ran along with everyone else. Mary hoped they could outrun their competitors to the stairs. She knew that the first team to enter must have almost cleared the automatic defenses that initially guarded the hold.

The King Dragon’s team, she thought. He owns five buildings in Friendship City, each one housing millions of people. The wealth is incredible. Why the hell is he fighting in this match? May be best not to think about it.

“Team Wes Lively has captured the hold,” the arena’s speakers announced. Above the basement level, the crowd cheered with enthusiasm and excitement. “The countdown has started at fifteen minutes.”

“Damn” Argus said. “We’ve got to get up there.” The rest of the team looked at him with malicious intent. Argus was the prospective retailer who had paid Mary and her team to represent him in the arena. The prospect whose team that won this match would own the right to lease a small storefront on one of the middle levels of the building.

Mary had needed a sixth gladiator for the match. While it wasn’t unheard of for prospects to fight in the arena, the practice was rare. Many of the fighters frowned upon it, because they had worked hard to earn their spot. Mary had decided that Argus’ experience in the military meant that he was able to follow orders. That ability was all that she needed from him, and for him to stay alive.

“After fifteen minutes,” Mary said. “We lose. Sprint, let’s go!”

Jamaal felt the tripwire before he saw it, and tumbled onto the ground.

Johnny shouted, “Trap!”

Ricard helped Jamaal stand just as the ceiling began to crumble and fall apart. Bits and blocks of concrete and iron mesh crashed down onto the floor. A cavity formed above them, and concrete dust billowed out from the structural wound.

Mary felt the vibrations and heard the whirr of a death bot. A ball of steel that rolled, found its targets by their heat, and attacked its prey with various blades. Two of them, and the dust made vision unreliable.

A gun fired on her right. The death bot made a correction, its engines letting off for a moment. Time enough for Mary to take aim, into the fog to her right and a little south. She fired, tap-tap-tap, gently and with little movement.

The death bot slid into her vision, and she fired a few more rounds into its core. It managed to extract a blade, aiming for Mary’s right arm. She emptied the contents of her magazine into the machine, refusing to give ground.

Another weapon joined in chorus with Mary’s to drive the death bot back. The force of the bullets pushed the machine back, interrupting its charge and damaging it beyond repair.

“Good job,” Mary said to Argus. “Keep it up.”

“Right,” Argus said. “Thanks.” The dust cleared, and Ric and Jamaal dispatched the second death bot.

“Two, up ahead,” Janet called back. Small and easily concealed, she was consistently the perfect candidate to scout. “They’re guarding the stairs around the corner. These aren’t our typical mercs, boss. They fired at me.”

“It’s the King Dragon’s team,” Mary said. “They’re trained well, but we have an advantage in that they’re not used to facing an honest fight.”

“I like the way you think, boss,” Janet said. Her grin was almost too large for her face to contain.

“Are we just gonna stand here?” Johnny said. He was a five foot six brick of muscle, almost as wide as he was tall. His fearlessness intimated the calmest fighters, and his ugly, twisted face only added to the effect.“I’m gettin twitchy.”

“Your turn, Johnny,” Mary said.

“I’m gonna enjoy this.” The rest of the team sprinted after him. They all dashed around the corner and came under immediate fire.

This is what goes on in the privacy of a rough draft:

The below is wholly unedited. Good luck reading! Thanks!

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“There was something else that happened that you might be interested in.”

Mary leans in, whispers, tand they are close now, their noses within millimeters of touching each other’s hairs, “What was that?” she cocks her head a little bit, pretending to be uninterested, setting the lure…

“There were some shadows, people say…”

“Shadows? Like…on the wall?”

“no, shadows that were<‘ and the children look from the holotube to the bartender with jutted mouths, drooping faces, and empty drinks. They are a hairy bunch, their faces covered with tumor and beards growing from their eyes, and mustaches instead of eyebrows. Just think of the smallest, fattest, sweetest baby you have ever seen, like quintuple size it proportionally, and add a bunch of fucking hair all over it, and a couple of tusks jutting from the mouth, and then you have these children.

“Shadows?”

“Yes, and we must beware of the children.” The bartender looks over at the children, and so does Mary, and then the bartender gets them more drinks. “That’s better, now, let me lean in close to you, dear,” and the bartender does, right into mary’s ear, almost, whispering into the canal of wax and dry skin…

the bartender says, “the Shadows, they were moving around, like they were solid, and they were going after people. He killed two more others, that the action squad didn’t see and didn’t care to find.”

“There was…” mary drinks her beer, orders another, drinks it halfway down. “There was another dead? More dead? More than one?”

“Oh, yes, more than one, aren’t there always? We all know about the Shadows, around here…” The children look up at the bartender, and she gives them more shots of whiskey all around, and more beer for Mary, who had finished hers already. “They pervade our lives, they do, and they come after us. Now, if you don’t midn,” she whipsers into mary’s ear, almost tasting the low haning lobe.

“Right,” Mary finsihes the third beer and drinks a shot, orders another beer. “The children, we have to think about them.” on the holotube, there is a man shooting another man in the face on this week’s duel matches at the dueling stadium. The head and brains go everywhere, and Mary can almost feel a speck of flesh land on her cheek.