ConQuest 46

Event details
Name ConQuest 46
Date May 22, 2015
Location Kansas City, MO
Bookstore Kansas City Marriott Downtown
Entries 14
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#1 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

The question is: Shallan from The Stormlight Archive being an illustrator herself, an artist, gave me an interesting opportunity to show the world through sketches and illustrations, is that something I thought about ahead of time?

In fact that was one of my big goals with The Stormlight Archive, I wanted to-- So I have this feeling on epic fantasy, one of the cool things about it is this sense of immersion, and then the epic fantasies that I have loved the most, things like Dune, if you count that as fantasy it's one of those hybrids, or The Wheel of Time, what they do is they really make this world real to you and that helps these characters, you know I will say that characters are most important but if characters are caring about things you think are silly or interacting in a world you think is not real, you aren't going to believe those characters. And so for me I am always looking for how I can enhance that sense of immersion, and how can I do that without burdening the reader with huge long paragraphs of descriptions of the world around them. And very early in the process of doing The Stormlight Archive I decided I wanted to base a character on Pliny the Elder, which is one of the early scholars in Western thought who did all these sketches and writings-- Back in those days a scientist was everything, right? Darwin did sketches and things like this. You are going to be drawing and writing and approaching all of the sciences and arts as one. Instead of being a person who makes food or stabs other people you are going to do all the other stuff. And that was a really interesting character for me because I was able to develop this idea of "We are going to put sketches in the books". Now The Stormlight Archive, one of the rules with myself is that these all, all the art and there's some thirty pieces of art plus in each book, all have to be in-world artifacts. That's the sense of immersion, right? I don't think we've lost it but it's become a cliche that every fantasy novel has a map in front of it. And that stretches back to Tolkien, but Tolkien's map was the map they used in the book to travel, right? It's the actual map. And I like that, it says "Here's this artifact from the world" rather than "Here is an illustrator from our world giving you this extra information". And so I've taken great pains to say what kind of art they would have, how can I get this into the books, why is it relevant, and how does it help? I found that this helps, particularly with Shallan being a natural historian, sketching out creatures that I don't have to maybe spend quite as long describing-- I still have to because a lot of people listen to the audiobook and I still want them to get the picture, but it just helps cement those things. Anyway, that was one of my big excitements about the world for years and years and it's one of the things propelling me to write it.

#2 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

So the question is: I use a lot of religion in my books how do I balance that with my own personal beliefs?

So, I'm a religious person and what this has done to me in specific is make me really interested in how religion affects people or how the lack of religion affects people. I find that the real fun of reading and writing, raising interesting questions, and approaching a topic from lots of different directions, is a thing that is really fascinating to me. I ascribe to a school of thought that I kind of-- this is a little unfair to these gentlemen but I kind of divide it among the Tolkien and C.S. Lewis line of those two were famously in a writing group together, and if you don't know Tolkien actually converted C.S. Lewis to Christianity, which is very interesting, and they were both deeply religious people, and they approached it very differently in their fiction. C.S. Lewis felt that fiction should be didactic and teach you a lesson and Tolkien repeatedly refused to tell people what he thought the themes in his books were. When they would come up to him and say "It's a metaphor for World War II, isn't it?" he would say "No, it's a story." And I am more a Tolkien than a C.S. Lewis.  I like with fiction-- I consider myself a storyteller primarily, and I hope that a good story is going to raise interesting questions but that has to be focused around what the characters are passionate about and what they are thinking about. And so I try to populate my books with people who are asking interesting questions from a variety of different perspectives.

I said on a panel I was on yesterday "Nothing bothers me more than when reading a book where someone has my perspective, there's only one person, and they're the idiot. Whatever it is that they are an idiot about that I agree with."  And I'm like ahh can't you at least present my side-- I want everyone who reads my books, regardless of their religious affiliation, if they see something like their own belief system in there I want them to say "Yes, he's presenting it correctly." And part of that means that I have to approach my fiction in certain ways, for instance, I like fiction that is ambiguous to the nature of deity, if there is one. I want-- If you can create a book with really cool atheist characters and then go "By the way here's this all powerful, all knowing benevolent god that he's just refusing to acknowledge" that undermines that character completely. And so I create my fiction so that the different people on the sides of the argument, just like in our world, have good arguments on both sides. And I think that if you present characters with interesting choices, making interesting decisions you will-- truth will rise to the top. That's kind of one of the purposes of fiction, is to discuss these issues. So that's kind of a roundabout answer to your question, that as a person of faith how I approach writing my books. I'm not sure if it's the right answer, but it's the answer I've been giving lately.

#3 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

It is my pleasure, it has been an honor. For those who couldn't hear it was a thank you for releasing books somewhat faster and a thank you for finishing The Wheel of Time.

You know, I've been there. I picked up The Wheel of Time in 1990, my 8th grade year was '89, [...] yeah it's funny, I talk about The Wheel of Time. Everything I picked up while I was coming to love fantasy was all completed series or series in the middle of being written, and so as a kid I'm like "These are all famous series, I want to find one that isn't, what's going to be mine?" You want to be discovering, so I'd go to the bookstore every week to look at the new books coming out and try to find them and I remember grabbing Eye of the World, the first Robert Jordan book, and being like "Oh, this is a big book". I was a kid with not much money, so if you bought a big book it wasn't that much more expensive than a little book but you got a lot more reading in it. It was a good bang for your buck so to speak. So I bought that book and I loved it, and I thought "Oh this is going to be it, this is--" And I remember when the second book came out and they had trade paperbacks and my little bookstore didn't get a lot of those and I went "Oh, OH, something's happening" and then the third book was there in hardcover and I said "Ah-HA! I was right!" So I had this sort of pseudo-paternal instinct for Wheel of Time even when I was 17.

But then I do know what it's like to wait, and you know George [R.R. Martin] is a guest here [at ConQuest 46], I want to speak toward the fact that he has had a long career and given people a lot of books, he may be slowing down a little bit as he's getting older, we all do. And he just wants to make sure his books are all right. I get tired hearing people-- Because I heard people do the same thing to Robert Jordan, y'know cut George some slack. He spent years and years toiling in obscurity until he finally made it big. I'm glad he's enjoying his life a little bit and not stressing about making sure-- You know getting a book that size out every year is really hard on writers. Robert Jordan couldn't keep it up, nobody can keep it up. Stormlight Archive's every two years. Even I, being one of the more fast writers out there, I'm not going to be able to do one of these things every year, there's just too much going on in one. So thank you, I will try to get them to you very consistently but it's going to be about every other year.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt

Another thing to know about George is George cannot write outside his particular environment-- All writers have their craft and I'll ask [Brandon] about it in a second, but George with HBO sending him out to promote, and cons, he's not writing. Whereas Brandon wrote in his hotel room I heard.

Brandon Sanderson

On both nights.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt

And I often do that too. George can't do that, so that's a difficulty too. There are other factors involved. And people love to meet him but when you meet an author sometimes they're not even writing 'cause they can't keep focus. So let's talk about-- How fast do you write a novel...

Brandon Sanderson

My writing approach and how fast I write. I'm actually not a particularly fast writer, for those of you who are writers out there I'll go at about 500 words per hour. What I am is a consistent writer. I enjoy doing this and my average day at home will be I get up at noon, because I'm a writer not a-- I'm not working a desk job, I don't have a desk, I don't go to a desk, I go and sit in an easy chair with my laptop, and I work from about 1 until 5. And then 5 until 9 is family time, I'll go take a shower, play with my kids, eat dinner, spend time with my wife, maybe go see a movie, whatever we end up doing. By about 9 or 10 she goes to bed and I go back to work and then I work from about 10 until 2-4 depending on how busy I am. If I'm ahead on schedules and things at 2 I'll stop and play a videogame or something, that's goof off time, go to bed about 4. And it really just depends on what's going on. If I'm traveling a lot, that puts a lot of stress on the deadline, and I've been traveling a lot lately, so in those cases I try to get some work done while I'm on the road, and it usually is not nearly as effective. I'll get a thousand words out of 4 hours I can sneak out of the day to get writing done. When you're breaking that rhythm, artists are creatures of habit and that rhythm-- Sometimes shaking things up is really good for you, but if that shake up is also kind of tiring, tiring in a good way I like interacting with people and going to cons, but you get back up there I feel like I worked all day and now I have to work all day. It can be rough, and at the same time with the schedule I want to have which is my goal is to release one small book and one big book a year. That’s my goal. One adult book and one teen book, and sometimes those schedules get off so you get one one year and three the next year. Or sometimes I do things like write two books instead of one, I did that this year, or last year. I wrote two Alloy of Law era Mistborn books, the second era of Mistborn books, and together they are half the length of a Stormlight book. So sometimes you'll see three. But I want to be releasing consistently, I want to have a book for teens and a book for larger people who are teens at heart? I dunno. It's hard because you don't want to put a definition on them, I don't want people to go "Oh The Reckoners is for teenagers therefore I don't want to read that" and I don't want to discourage, I've had 7-year-olds come up with their copy of The Way of Kings--

Bryan Thomas Schmidt

They're strong.

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah they're strong. My 7-year-old can barely read the Pokemon video game, so-- we played that-- and so I don't want to discourage anybody from picking up a book they think they are going to love, but I do want to be releasing one quote-unquote teen book and one quote-unquote adult book. By the way, since I've started writing teen, I started distinguishing them and it's really hard to say "I write teenage novels and adult fantasy." *laughter* That term does not always evoke the right image I want… I've been introduced sometimes at conventions that are outside my circuit, writing conferences, as the fantasy guy. They say "Here's our fantasy man" *Brandon makes a shocked/confused face prompting laughter* Okay I can take that.

#4 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

*Following a reading* That's called Adamant, and the premise that made me want to start writing it was this idea of basically Silence of the Lambs in Space.

Right after this humankind is going to be betrayed by the "nice" aliens, who have given them this sidejack technology and helped them in their war against the violent Knockers. And it turns out they've been played the whole time, the "nice" aliens just wanted a nice race of obedient soldiers. They turn off the sidejack, it knocks out the entire command staff of the Armada and that leaves Jeff, who doesn't have one, who's not really a commander, in charge. He's able to grab the flagship and fly away with the Centurion in the brig, who is the greatest military mind that the galaxy has ever known. So what follows is the story of him trying to get the Centurion to give him advice on tactics in the war against the quote-unquote nice aliens while the Centurion is trying to figure out how to escape and get away from him.

It's a very fun story, but it's not ready to be released. One of the things I'm thinking of doing is if I can maybe slide this into the Cosmere, I haven't decided yet. It would be really fun to get it in there, I think it could, I would just have to lose the Shakespeare line. That's kind of hurting me because I like that line. So we'll see if I can get it in or not...

Bryan Thomas Schmidt

Is it part of a series?

Brandon Sanderson

What I'm going to do is I'll probably do four or five novellas that build-- So it's like a novel told in novella form. I kind of imagine doing some episodes quote-unquote, right? And then have a six-episode season with the last episode being the end, so a mini-series basically. Kind of like what was done with… Wool, that's what it was… I think the the serial has a chance of coming back because of ebooks and things like that.

#6 Copy

Vaidd (paraphrased)

What's the approximate ratio of Epics to "normals?" Is that number increasing, decreasing, or staying roughly the same?

Brandon Sanderson (paraphrased)

The ratio of Epics to normal folks is about 1 in 10,000. Brandon then clarified, without prompting, that was pre-Calamity population and the ratio is much higher now because so many normal people died. He then gave an example of Newcago, which has about 1000 Epics in a population of 250,000, so in that particular case the ratio is 1:250.

#7 Copy


I asked the question about chromium vs a Compounder with both Invested and un-Invested metals in both their stomach and piercings.

Brandon Sanderson

What it boils down to is this:

1) Yes, the piercings will get burned off.

2) The non-Invested metals go before the Invested ones. He said that because Invested metals are harder to affect, it takes a little extra time and effort to get them to burn off. So a Leecher trying to clean out a Compounder would have to get a good grip and hang on for a few seconds.

3) Chromium burns about as quickly as duralumin, so if you're trying to burn off a lot of metals, it is possible to run out of chromium before your target is clean. This would probably only be an issue when dealing with larger pieces (like jewelry) rather than your standard metal-flakes-in-the-stomach deal.

#11 Copy

Kaymyth (parapharased) (paraphrased)

I asked another question about the population levels of Mistings, Ferrings, and Twinborn.

Brandon Sanderson (paraphrased)

The numbers in the [Alloy of Law Mistborn Adventure Game] supplement are off. (It states the occurrence of Mistings/Ferrings is 1 in 50 people.) He said that they're not terrible, but they definitely are shown as somewhat more common than they really are. But he also said that they're not nearly as rare as people seem to think; for example, he stated that virtually everyone would know at least one Coinshot. So there are definitely a lot of Allomancers around.

And the occurrence of Twinborn would not be a normal statistical spread (alas).  As folks opined before in this thread, the Terris folk do tend to keep somewhat to themselves, so there's not a huge amount of population mix.  So Twinborn will be rarer.

I did point out that there had to be some mix, else we'd be seeing full Feruchemists around, and to that he mostly just smiled and looked mysterious.  As he does.

#12 Copy

Esmale (paraphrased)

I asked Brandon if Sazed will resurrect Kelsier at some point in the future, since Brandon has pointed out that Kelsier's soul has stuck around and is still tied to Scadrial.

Brandon Sanderson (paraphrased)

His response was "Sazed is not going to resurrect Kelsier. Keep your eyes open." And there was a verbal emphasis on Sazed's name.

#13 Copy

Brandon Sanderson

I had a teacher, when I was in 8th grade--this is true, her name was Ms. Reeder *laughter* yes, she's now a professor in California-- and I was what we call in the industry a reluctant reader, that is a fancy term for "me no like-y books" and she couldn't get me to read. I was one of these boys-- it happens to a lot, more boys than girls, but it happens to a lot of kids between about 5th and 7th grade, they fall out of reading. And for me I suddenly found books boring during that era. I joke about it in one of my books actually, these books with the awards on the cover with the boy who has a pet dog and then the dog dies and that's your story. And I thought these were boring. I did try Tolkien, but if you're not a good reader trying The Lord of the Rings, I bounced off that so hard, had no idea what's going on. I got to like the barrow-wights scene, like "Euhhh what's going on? This is boring..."

That was a few years before my 8th grade year where my teacher, she realized I was struggling.  And she realized that I was faking my way through book reports.  And so she called me up after class and she said "The next book report is going to be a book that I have read and then you are going to read and we are going to talk about it." So she took me to the back of the room and teachers have these racks of ratty paperbacks… it's like a hundred kids have read these books, they're stained with school lunch spaghetti sauce and things like that. But these were some of her favorite books that she loaned out to students, and I browsed through those and I found a book called Dragonsbane, Barbara Hambly. Nowadays kind of a lesser known classic of the genre, it's fantastic, I love it. It has this gorgeous Michael Whelan cover on it. And it was longer than books I had tried before but it also looked more interesting. So I dove into that book, and you know the weird thing about this book is that it should not have worked, right? If you've read Dragonsbane it's about a middle-aged woman who has been told that if she would just dedicate herself to her magic-craft she could be one of the greatest practitioners ever. Her teacher keeps saying to her "Look you just need to dedicate yourself more". And at the same time she has a family, several children and a husband who in the book is called to go and slay a dragon. He's like in his fifties now, he killed one once when he was twenty, he's the only living dragonslayer and the story is sort of about him going "Oh I've got to go and kill this dragon" and her saying "Uh… You're in your fifties, you're going to get killed." It's a really interesting story, told through this woman's eyes and it's basically a middle-aged woman having a mid-life crisis, having to choose between her career and her family. Not normally what you would give to a 14-year-old boy and expect him to absolutely love it. But this is the power of fantasy, it's why I love the genre, it's why I came to love it.

It's the answer to your question, because I feel that in fantasy and science fiction we can blend the sense of the fantastic with the sense of the familiar and we can learn about people around us while having an awesome story at the same time. I remember a few years ago there were books that would come out, it was for parents to fool their kids into eating vegetables, they would say "You can mix this vegetable with this food and they won't taste it". I kind of view fantasy a little like that. You can have this awesome adventure that's really fun and exciting and at the same time you can deal with lots of interesting real-world issues but not be pretentious.  You know there are a lot of great books in a lot of genres, but I'll read some that are "realistic" fiction and they just hit you with this moral so much that you are sick of it after the third chapter. Whatever the reason-- I know what the reason is that this book connected with me. My mother graduated first of her class in accounting in a year where she was the only woman in the accounting department. After doing that she had received a scholarship to go get a CPA and she had made the decision that "You know what I'm pregnant, I'm going to stay home with my son while he's a little kid until he goes back to school and then I'll go back to a job." And as a kid, you know, when I heard this story as a teenager I was "Well of course she did, it's me". Right? When you're a teen everything is about you, "Well obviously that's the right decision". In reading this book and seeing where it wasn't accounting it was magic I was like "Woooh that's how my mom feels about accounting and she gave that up, it's not an easy decision, it's not the obvious decision. Both decisions are right, she just picked one of the two and she did it for me". And so I get out of this book, this goofy fantasy novel about killing a dragon, and I understand my mother better. And that blew my mind as a kid. I ran back to my teacher, "there have to be more books like this" and so she took me to the library, which I had not spent much time in, and I just went to the card catalogue… the cards in a line, you read them by title and the next book in line was Dragon Prince by Melanie Rawn so I got into those books, and then the next book after that in line was Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey. That was my introduction to fantasy. I spent the next months reading every Anne McCaffrey, Barbara Hambly, and Melanie Rawn book I could get my hands on, to the point that when someone handed me David Eddings that summer I said "I don't think guys can write this genre." *laughter* I was really skeptical. That was my mentorship, those three ladies.

#14 (not searchable) Copy

Brandon Sanderson

I have the novella [Adamant] completed but I have no idea when I’ll be able to release it because it needs a lot of attention--in fact I’m going to skip one of the scenes, which is broken right now--and it’s me doing space opera.  So yay.

Brandon Sanderson

Explosions shattered the void of space spraying vibrant reds, yellows, greens.  Each firework made Jeff flinch, but he maintained an even smile.

“Quite the show, eh?” the shuttle pilot asked.  She had a southern accent, which sounded pretty authentic, but who was he to say?  It had been over a century since anyone had heard a real one in the flesh.

“It’s lovely,” Jeff said, hoping she wouldn’t notice his wince as another large series went off near the shuttle.  He couldn’t hear the detonations--not flying through the vacuum of space--but he imagined them. Or were those other explosions, from another time?

“You could say this is all for you sir,” the pilot said, then glanced at him.  She was pretty, with short blonde hair and a prim blue Armada uniform. A silvery sidejack gleamed on her left temple, just back from the eye.  “I’ve never flown a hero before.”

“It’s war, Lieutenant,” Jeff said, “We’re all heroes.”  The shuttle flew through a ring of vibrant red light, sparks bouncing off of its shielding.

No," the pilot said. "Sorry sir but it’s not war.  Not anymore. Not thanks to you,” she smiled broadly.  And she was right, the war had ended.  Those weren’t explosions, they were signs of celebration.  Vigilance and Valor, it was actually over.

A flight of fighters zipped by in battle formation.  Two slower Obstructers on the outside, four Interrupters inside them, carrying a precious Carrier at the very center.  Today that Carrier dropped lines of fireworks instead of bombs. Jeff found himself smiling in genuine appreciation of the festivities.  He didn’t need to give the crawling darkness a place inside of him any longer. It was done; now the fun could begin.

The shuttle banked around the side of a large gunship, finally bringing the Adamant into view.  The massive flagship was a wedge of steel and lights tipping the front lit the enormous wings sweeping backwards, almost like a pair of crashing waves.  Another sequence of fireworks burst around the Adamant, and Valor, their size must have been incredible for him to make them out at this distance.  Through the light show he got a nice view of the ship’s Impeller plate at the back.  The plate stretched long and wide, like a massive radio dish. An EDB detonation in the center would shove the ship directly into Negspace, letting it travel a great distance in a short time.  Of course if the detonation was off, the blast would irradiate the entire ship and kill everyone on board.  That was the risk of modern space travel. Fortunately, mistakes were very, very rare.

“So how’d you do it, sir?” the pilot asked, “If you don’t mind me asking, how’d you know what the enemy would do?  You must be one hell of a strategist.”

“No, actually,” Jeff said, still forward in his seat to get a better view through the shuttle window, “When it comes to tactics I barely know my flanks from my rearguard.  I’m a xenopsychologist.” She gave him a blank look. “I study aliens,” he said. “That’s my life’s work, both the <Shivana> and the <Alkour>.”

“The <Alkour>?  You mean the Knockers?”

“Sure, the Knockers.  I made a study of them. It wasn’t too difficult to decide what the Centurion would do once I teased out the specifics of his race’s psychology.  I passed word from my lab on FS21 to Armada tacticians, and they fortunately accepted my conclusions. So here we are.”

“Wait, you’re a--” she cut off, blushing, “You lived on a station, sir.”


She glanced at the colonel's insignias on his uniform and then back out the window.  Jeff ignored the slight. He wasn’t surprised that she expected the Hero of Broken Sky, as the <sidecasts> were already calling him, to be some swarthy general and master tactician rather than a short, pale scholar from a remote station.  Armada prejudice against staties was silly, and most of the Armada people he met seemed to know it. In a way, Jeff really didn’t care what this woman thought.  The anticipation of the moment was too thrilling. Decades of war finally over, the Knockers defeated in a resounding final conflict. More importantly, in the fury of the battle the Armada’s forces had accomplished something even Jeff had never thought possible.  They had captured the enemy general.

“Well that seems good,” the pilot said.  Jeff glanced at her; they were in the shadow of the Adamant now, cruising along its side.  Being so close only emphasized how massive the ship was, bigger than some stations Jeff had lived on.

“What was that lieutenant?” Jeff asked.

“Hmm?  Oh I was talking to the docking attendants.  Didn’t they give you authorization to basic Armada side-channels?” She glanced at him and seemed to noticed for the first time the scar on his left temple, and the complete lack of a sidejack there.

Jeff rubbed the scar.  “Jack didn’t take for me.”

“That can happen?”

“It has at least once.  What did they send you?”

“That we are free to dock in 14OB, sir” she blushed again, bringing the shuttle into another sweeping turn toward one of the smallest of the docking cubbies.  “There should be a reception committee there for you sir, though I think you’ve missed a lot of the festivities.”

“I’m not here for the party,” Jeff said, “I’m here for an interview.”

“Debriefing?” the woman asked.

“You could say that.”

The Adamant’s side here was gouged with hundreds of holes, like a field after a heavy artillery bombardment.  Most ships couldn’t enter <Negspace> on their own.  Even the massive gunships would need a transport to carry them interstellar distances.  The flagship, and other transports of its class, were like hives. Each carried its own fleet of tiny fighters, larger shuttles, mid-sized assault-craft, and powerful gunships.  They all floated separately for the moment, arrayed to watch the festivities. Parties would be happening on each gunship, whose crew was like their own smaller borough within the city that made up a transport fleet like this one.  Jeff’s shuttle pulled alongside a boxlike cubby and then slid in like a peg into a hole, locking into place.

“Good luck with the <GAF> sir,” the pilot told him.

“Oh I’m sure Robert and I will have a good time catching up,” Jeff said, noting the look of shock in her eyes when he called the Armada's commander-general by his first name, “but my interview isn’t with him.  It’s with the Centurion.”

She paled even further, “The Knocker general?  We caught him?”

So it wasn’t common knowledge. Good.  Jeff had asked for the information to be kept quiet, despite Robert’s insistence that parading the Centurion about would improve morale.  “Yes,” Jeff said. “That’s classified information by the way.” The lieutenant nodded quickly; he wondered if she’d stay quiet. Well, discovering that his request had been followed was worth the potential leak.  He didn’t really care if people knew, he just didn’t want Robert using the general as a showpiece. A glorified carnival act. During their years of war, taking a Knocker captive had been a rare occasion, and to have the general himself…

The docking process finished, and light above the airlock flipped to green, indicating the seals were in place.  Jeff reached up and put on his stiff, formal service cap and headed toward the door.

“Good luck sir,” the pilot called to him, “With the Knocker, I mean.”

“Aliens are rarely a problem for me lieutenant,” Jeff said, the doors sliding open, “It’s humans that give the trouble.”  He smiled politely, then stepped off of the Adamant.


[scrolling past the aforementioned “broken” scene]

So Jeff goes and meets the XO, or no the sergeant, one of the sergeants in charge named Chug and has a little conversation with Robert, the <GAF>, and gets to go meet the Knocker general.  He's wanted to the whole time, and is annoyed that people are not letting him.

So they go and they are now at the prison, where they are keeping him, and they have met a little marine who is sitting outside.


The marine looked Jeff up and down with a critical eye.  Tall, lean, and dark-skinned, the man surprisingly wore no armor and carried only a simple handgun as a sidearm.  In fact, he seemed far less imposing than Jeff expected of a marine, the Armada ship-to-ship boarding troops. The only distinctive thing about this man were his eyes.  They were… cracked.  Like a broken window.  Cracks spread across the man’s irises and whites, starkly visible.  Jeff had read about that effect somewhere, but for the life of him he couldn’t remember where.

“So you're him,” the marine said.  Vigilance and Valor, those eyes were disconcerting when they focused on him. It almost made up for the fact that the man was basically unarmed.  This is what they had guarding the most dangerous warrior in the galaxy?

“Jeffrey Salazar,” Jeff said, pulling out his hand.  The marine took it, surprisingly.

“Maddox. Nice work, sir.”

“Thank you,” Jeff said, uncertain how to interpret the pause.  “Why are you here marine, normally the brig isn’t your jurisdiction, is it?”

“There’s a Knocker in there colonel,” Maddox said.

“A prisoner.”

“With all due respect, colonel,” Maddox said, “that thing is the most dangerous monster we've ever faced.  Every step we’ve taken in this war, he anticipated.  We’ve been playthings to it all along.  Now it’s on my ship. So as far as I’m concerned, we’ve been boarded by a hostile force, sir.”

Jeff nodded slowly.  “I’m going to need to go in there and see him anyway, marine.  Can you call your superior and authorize us?” Maddox looked at Chug, and then back to Jeff.  He pulled out a datapad and checked it also.

No sidejack, Jeff thought.  Marines didn’t use them.  The <Shivana> had claimed there was little possibility of the enemy learning anything from one, but it was still Armada protocol to keep them off the marines, who had a much higher than normal chance of being captured.

“I can authorize you myself,” Maddox said, “I can’t open the door from this side though, as a precaution.  It will take me a moment.

“Commander Maddox is head of the Armada’s marines,” Chug noted as Maddox sat down in a chair beside the massive metal door to the brig.

“Commander?  Your uniform says airman.”

“Yeah,” Maddox said from his chair, “This body is my runner.  I need the stripes off in case boarders are watching for officers.”

“This body?”  Maddox went completely limp.  A second later, the blast door revealing... Maddox.  Only a much taller version, well muscled, and wearing full boarding armor and carrying a wicked looking gun.  Jeff glanced at the limp body beside the door. They were the same, only the less muscled body’s eyes were no longer cracked.  In fact, they stared sightlessly like the dead. “You’re a jumper!” Jeff said, finally remembering what the broken eyes indicated.

Maddox nodded, waving for them to follow.  Jeff hurried after, entering a small, narrow metal hallway.  Slits on the side revealed gun placements beyond. Jeff shivered.  Anyone trying to run down this hall could easily find themselves in a death trap, bullets spraying at them at every step.

“I didn’t think there were any jumpers left,” Jeff said, catching up to Maddox, “Didn’t the program get scrapped?”

“Yeah,” Maddox said, each footstep thumping now that he wore his heavily armored body.

“We kept losing soldiers sir,” Chug explained, “They’d jump from one body and never appear in a new one.  They just leave behind empty bodies staring sightlessly. No one ever returned.  Drooled a whole lot though.”

Jeff shivered.  “So each time you jump…”

“I might not arrive,” Maddox said, eyes forward, “But I don’t think about it too much colonel, I am what I am.  I simply make use of it the best I can.”

“I suppose if I could keep two separate bodies,” Jeff said, “I might consider it to be worth the risk.”

They reached the end of the corridor, and Maddox opened a door there and then turned to Jeff and smiled, “What makes you think I have only two, colonel?”

Jeff raised an eyebrow but didn’t press for more information. He was growing excited about what would come next.  Together with Chug and Maddox he stepped onto a large causeway that ran around a steel box of a room two stories high.  Marines in full armor stood at mounted guns here, spotlights shining from the ends and pointing at the floor below.  At least they were taking proper precautions. Jeff counted two dozen marines here, not including the ones hiding behind the kill slits in the corridor.

Maddox stepped up to a female marine who had been guarding the door.  She saluted him. “Any changes?” he asked.

“No sir.”

Maddox waved Jeff to follow him and led him down the causeway.  A row of cells covered one wall below, but there didn’t seem to be anything in them.  If the Adamant had been carrying any other prisoners before today, they had all been shipped out.  That meant their sole prisoner was in the cells underneath Jeff’s feet. He suppressed a shiver, though he couldn’t tell if it was born of excitement or nervousness.  Maddox led him along the causeway as his soldiers shuffled their feet in an odd pattern, several of them stamping while others slid to the side and set up their guns in new positions. To keep the Centurion from knowing where they ended up settling, Jeff realized. If the monster somehow escaped it wouldn’t know exactly where to target its attacks.  How disorienting would it be, gunfire falling on you, blinded by spotlights, trying to escape?

I’m sweating, Jeff realized as they reached the small lift with open sides.  Maddox pointed for Chug to wait above then lowered himself and Jeff down to the floor below.  They hugged the wall and rounded it to stand before the empty cells, facing towards the ones under the causeway they had crossed above.  These were deep and dark, but Jeff could make out a hulking form inside the middle of the three. Something shifted in there. Valor, it was huge.  Maddox made a fist, and one of the soldiers above shined their spotlights into the cell. Jeff got his first in-person look at one of the Knockers. Its head brushed the ceiling of the cell, which had to be seven feet tall. The Knocker probably could have stood taller if it hadn't been forced to stoop.  It’s entire body was covered in silvery bits of metal. They actually grafted it onto their skin somehow, melding with it and creating armor plates that attached to their body. Indeed, as it stepped forward, trailing a ripped cloak that matched its deep red uniform, Jeff could see that it had long, knife-like metal spurs sticking out of the wrists and extending along the backs of the hands.  Its head was enormous, covered in bits of iron plate. It looked vaguely reptilian, with golden eyes and deep leathery skin underneath the grafted on bits of steel. The back of the skull bulged out in five wicked knobs. The hands were big enough they could’ve palmed a watermelon in each. Jeff had to resist taking a step backwards as the Knocker general walked to the bars of his cage, squinting, focusing despite the spotlight on it.

“You,” the creature said softly, “are the Lurker.”  It spoke English well.

“I…” Jeff’s mouth was dry.

“Yes,” the Centurion said, its hands, which had metal bits embedded along the fingernails, scraping the bars as they moved along them, “I can see it, Lurker.”

Time to assert myself, Jeff thought.  He stepped forward, meeting the thing’s eyes.  “I’m Jeffrey Salazar and I’m the one who defeated you.”  Now the creature would either bow before his dominance or rage against him, seeking to destroy him.  He waited for it, curious to see which--

[missing audio]

“I…” Jeff licked his lips.  Why was his mouth so dry? “I challenged your authority, you must respond.”

“My authority?” The alien raised its enormous hands towards the cell.  “This authority?”  He shook his head, “We’ve been bested, you and I both, and so it ends.”  He looked at Jeff, and then, in a distinctly chilling move, he smiled.

That smile, there was so much wrong with it.  Why would a Knocker use a human facial expression?  How much did this creature know, and why was it quoting Shakespeare?  The Knockers were brutes, driven by instinct, that’s what he’d written, that’s what he’d learned, it--  

The alien’s smile deepened, and he closed his eyes again, “The game is done,” he whispered, “Farewell.” Jeff stumbled back, feeling sick.  He’d been wrong. whatever he’d thought he’d known about the Knockers and their society, he’d been wrong. His expertise has supposedly won this war, but it turned out that he had no idea what he was talking about.

“Take me away,” he said to Maddox, “Now.”

Event details
Name ConQuest 46
Date May 22, 2015
Location Kansas City, MO
Bookstore Kansas City Marriott Downtown
Entries 14
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