Okay, I’ll be honest up front here: I’m not getting 50,000 words done this month. I checked in at NaNoWriMo.org last night with 22,571. There will be more, but not 28,000 words. More came up this month than I expected between necessities for a return to college in the spring and an extended (Internet-less) trip home this week for Thanksgiving. Even that wouldn’t be an issue if my laptop would stay functional for more than 10 minutes a time.
Excuses, excuses, excuses.
Okay, deep breath.
What I can tell you though, and what you probably already guessed by the title here, is that “Jergen,” the fourth story in the Ereptor series is done. Well, the first draft is anyway. I think I came out marginally happy with this draft, so hopefully I can have it done by the end of the year. I’ve been slow with that recently, but my time will vanish come January, so I’m going to try.
For those of you who have read “Siren,” you’ll at least have a passing knowledge of Jergen’s character. The full story may be top secret from now, but I think I can part with a sample to (hopefully) give you something to look forward to.
I closed the door behind me as I entered Pauper’s small office. A tiny lamp hummed in the corner, casting the room in an eerie glow. In the old days, I imagined the room blazing bright as the sun, but having the lights back on did not yet give us leave to again waste energy. Pauper ruffled through a mound of papers on his desk, seemingly at random. One upward glance told me he would be ready in a moment, but he seemed to have a better command of the situation than the man standing twitching at his side.
I knew I recognized the man from somewhere, possibly another Medic, but he did not have the look of someone who spent much time in the field. He was starting to forget, starting to fall back into the mundane monotony we all faced before the Fall. How long since he saw a loved one die before his eyes? How long since he looked at a human’s face–zombie or otherwise–down the sights of a gun? The left side of his face was swollen, though, bruised and purple. I wondered what happened to the man–did someone punch him?–but he kept his eyes down, hands unsure where they wanted to be as he rocked and shifted at Pauper’s side. The balding man sometimes raised his hand to his open mouth, and on the fifth venture I noticed the missing tooth. A canine as I recall.
“Okay,” Pauper said. I snapped my eyes back to the man, but I held my tongue. Pauper’s summons already made me nervous; he was more suited to research and development than made me comfortable. I hardly thought myself a surgeon, but I’ve done my share of combat medicine and triage. Perhaps a few more hasty amputations than I want to think on as well.
“I’ll be honest,” he continued. “It’s going to be rough.”
“We can handle it,” I said. A distant part of me doubted that we could. We were still recovering from a mission several months earlier, one where we lost a Soldier of our own and let the Valkyrie die. The Valkyrie died! And the Historian was the one left with her execution. Other squads were sympathetic to our failure, but I felt the weight of that special shame I carried each day. Since the Fall, we ingrained ourselves to believe the Valkyrie would be the last person to die, but there we were, riding back to Atlanta with tails between our legs after an aborted mission. Valkyrie and Soldier dead, Historian going through her own therapy, and another Soldier out on bereavement.
We could handle it. We had to handle it. We had a number of successful missions since then, but high command no longer gave us difficult missions. If we could not handle Pauper’s request, then perhaps we really were cursed, as I heard some of the men whispering to each other when they thought I could not hear.
“We need more samples,” Pauper said.
“Samples? I saw dozens on the way in.”
Pauper shook his head. “They’re no good.”
He glanced toward the balding man at his side before turning back to me. “Virus research is going nowhere,” he said. “We can’t cure it, and we can’t prevent it. We’re all lucky to be immune to the airborne variety, but that’s where it stops.”
“You’re dropping medical research?”
“Not quite.” Pauper splayed his hands wide on his desk, palms toward the ceiling. “We may find ourselves lucky, but I doubt it.” The man at his side fidgeted but held his silence. He opened his mouth for a moment, just long enough for me to see his tongue flick into the gap in his teeth, but then he was studying his feet again. “We’re looking into new weaponry.”
I nodded without understanding. “What does that have to do with me and mine?” I asked. We fancied ourselves long-range scouts, pioneers of a broken tomorrow. Yes, we had a handful of failures, but I imagined we were otherwise successful. We had bad luck with Valkyries, that was all.
We were a disgrace, even if no one would say so.
“It’s a, ah, unique mission. You won’t be clearing anything this time.”
I raised an eyebrow.
“Oh, I imagine you will be, don’t get me wrong, but that’s not the purpose. We’re sending you on a retrieval mission.”
I thought for a moment. “The target isn’t a group of survivors, is it?”
“You’re smart,” Pauper said. “That’s why we’re sending you, and damn the track record I know you think about. We’re sending you because you’re smart, you and your team, and I honestly know that you’re one of the few most familiar with the horror of it all. Oh, don’t make that face, you know I don’t mean offense. You’re a smart bunch, and we know you’ll be cautious. Can’t have you shooting the place up indiscriminately on this one.”
“But you already have samples,” I said.
Pauper laughed. “What we have is a bunch of bullet-riddled, thrice-amputated meatbags. All we can tell is that they’re filled with stem cells and that they can grow parts we’re not familiar with. Jergen, we’re looking for combat testing, but the ones we have are no good for that. Tissue samples, shit like that. We need one in here that’s at least less than half-rotten.”
“You’ll be hard-pressed,” I said.
“Again, that’s why we’re sending you.”
Pauper shook his head again, not daring to smile. “You and your team. That’s it. Everyone else is focused on clearing north at the moment, or they’re out in Alabama doing long-range settlement sweeps. Your team is still getting to know each other again after–” He hesitated, and I felt myself flinch. “After Drayton,” he finished. “This will be a tough one, but I’m confident that you can get it done. I’m giving you this because I have faith in you.”
Because I need redemption, I thought.
“Fine, fine.” It would be a chance to see how the new guys held up. Stargazer seemed a decent enough fit into our group, even if he did have his head in the clouds more often than not. Damn fine Soldier, though. Sledge was an excellent fighter as well, but I think Carter perhaps found him a bit… Well, pious.
“I have faith in you, Jergen. I think the seven of you can handle it.”
I looked to the man at Pauper’s side again, then back to Pauper himself. The other man remained silent. “Who is the Valkyrie?”
The man at Pauper’s side raised a tentative hand against the side of his head, stroking fingers along his earlobe before letting his arm dangle at his side again. He opened his mouth, probed his tongue against the canine gap, then raised his hand again to rub the palm across the bare scalp of his crown. It was altogether uncomfortable to watch.
“Come on, Jergen. You’re still hung up on that? How long ago was that?”
I said nothing.
“Patience,” Pauper said after a moment.
“Never heard of her.”
“She’s good,” Pauper said. “Keeps her head down, knows what she’s doing. Very professional. We know your preferences–trust me, you made that clear to all of us–and we’re making sure to send you with one of the best. Try not to make use of her abilities, though.”
“Great. You’ll be leaving in two days. Frankly, where you go is up to you. Find somewhere that’s mostly cleared but not completely. Remember that we need something whole if you can.”
I exhaled. “This is going to be a bitch, isn’t it?”
Pauper nodded. “You’ve got that much right.”
“We’ll get you the freshest zombie we can find then. You won’t even know it’s dead.”
With a soft laugh, Pauper stood and extended his hand across the desk. “Knew we could count on you, bud.”
I leaned and grasped his hand within mine, giving a few firm pumps before backing away. “You always can. Dismissed?”
I turned to walk outside again, and a hand came onto my shoulder as I grasped the doorknob. I turned to see the balding man looking at me. Someone put the fear of life and death into him and recently. “You’ll get us something we can use, right?”
I gave what I hoped was a winning smile. “You can count on us.”
The man nodded weakly, and I felt his hand tighten against my shoulder.
“Lay off him, Lloyd,” Pauper said. “He’s got you covered. She’s suspended anyway.”
Lloyd nodded and released me. I offered a small bow to the two men as I closed the door behind me, turning again to the fluorescent hallway outside. As the door clicked shut, I heard one word that refired my doubts about the success of the mission.
As it stands right now, “Jergen” is noticeably longer than both “Freya” and “Siren,” but it’s a little shorter than “Coward.” The way I’m looking at it now, it comes out to 96 pages, though I think Amazon will put it in the 75 range.
Anyway, I just wanted to let you guys know that the radio silence doesn’t mean that I’m slacking off. Granted, I have been doing that some, but work has happened. I’ll keep you guys posted, and hopefully the next information will include a release date.
As always, thanks a bunch, and I hope you guys enjoy.