Updated Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday

Thursday, September 30, 2010

404, Daily: Chapter Thirty-Four

Hello folks!

Well, we're nearing the final chapter and things are looking dire indeed for Marco and Jess. They've come a long way, survived so much... but what happens next will shake them to their very core. The end is coming to meet them head on, their enemy soon to be revealed in full.

There's only 6 chapters left and time is running out.

Which leads me to a bit of sad news:

Unfortunately, due to the fact that chapter 35 contains some massive reveals, and the final episode is going to be one long, huge spoiler, it looks like we've come to the end of the Dailies for my novel '404'.

I want to thank everyone who's taken time out of their day, popped on by my blog during their lunch break or after work; stopped me at get-togethers or sent me emails to congratulate me on this little endeavour of mine.

Moreso, to think that so many of you would throw your support behind me -- that you would pay out your own hard-earned money in these trying times to support an unknown writer in his work... well, I'm truly humbled. Your feedback and your encouragement, from week to week, episode to episode, has been an amazing and profound experience.

To all of you, I truly hope that you've enjoyed sharing in this experience with me. I know it's not exactly an idea most writers would get behind -- showing their 1st draft work (let alone online) -- but I like to think that by sharing my process with you that, maybe, just maybe, it's made it a bit more of an engaging and intimate experience.

Yes, as you may have realized, my grammar isn't always up to snuff and I certainly have a few 'fall back' words when my mind is seized up in the mud... but at the same time I think it's granted me a certain sort of freedom as well. Freedom from myself.

Freedom from that nagging little perfectionist in my head that would normally never let the light peek in.

Posting a new Daily, every day -- while not always easy -- has been something that I've looked forward to because instead of sitting there, pondering every word, rewriting each and every sentence a thousand times... it's forced me to move on; made sure that, no matter what, I'm moving forward from day one.

And now, here we are... almost done. The Finale looms.

And while the easy route would be to simply say 'Thank you for your support' and leave it at that, I want to do an extra something special to reward you for your faith in me.

Those of you who've subscribed to my novel, please keep an eye on your inboxes when the final episode of '404' rolls in next week.

Hopefully you'll like it.

For the rest, thank you once again for following along with me over the last couple of months -- and if you're interested in seeing how it all ends you can still subscribe up top in the corner there. Otherwise, the final version of the novel will be released at the end of October for $9.99 CAD.

Anyways, without further ado, here's the Daily for Chapter 34:

Cheers,
Brandon
________________

*Please Note: What follows below is only the FIRST page of Chapter 34 and is considered to be 'Raw Footage' -- unedited, first-draft material that may be subject to change (even in its entirety). This is designed to keep you in the loop with my story as well as, hopefully, intrigue you enough to want to buy the full, finished episode at the end of the week.

Warning: there will be SPOILERS and coarse language as well, so please keep that in mind before you read on.

Episode #7 (which collects the finished and polished versions of chapters 31-35) will be available on Sunday, October 3rd for 99 cents CAD.

You are encouraged to offer feedback and/or interact with me as this process unfolds. I'd love to hear what you like, what you don't like and what you'd love to see more of.
________________

CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR

The stench of ash and death wafts through the air as Marco and Jess watch in silent horror at what lies before them. From their perch on the deck they watch as the carrier trundles past a massive flaming pit in the earth; as men in heavy gas masks and Hazmat suits shovel the still-decomposing bodies of men, women and children inside.

The carrier picks up speed as it crosses the bridge and Jess slaps her hand to her mouth, fighting back a sudden need to vomit: as far back as they can see, off into the horizon, are more flaming pits, each tended to by its own Hazmat-suited crew. Bodies are piled high beside each of them as massive dump trucks back up and deliver more.

“What is this?! What the fuck have you done?!” Marco calls out to the Commander, his fists clenched, ignoring the guns digging into his back.

“What is done is done, Mr. Temura. No use crying over spilt milk,” the Commander says, his gaze fixed on the road as the carrier rolls past.

“Spilt milk?! How fucking dare you?! How dare you wear that uniform and say that??” Marco yells, anger washing over him as Jess puts a hand on his shoulders.

“Marco, don’t,” She whispers. “They’re just looking for an excuse to kill us…”

He stops, anger muted for the moment, his hands shaking as he tries to contain his rage. “Look at them, Commander! Look at what you and your people’ve done!” Marco’s eyes burn with hatred, spittle forming on his lips as he lunges toward the Commander, receiving a solid boot to the gut for his efforts. He collapses to the ground, coughing as he fights to get back to his knees, still reaching toward the gray-haired man.

The Commander turns and looks down at him with contempt, as if recognizing a gnat, before nodding to a soldier. Marco receives a gun-butt to the head, a swift blow that lays him out and rings in his ears.

Jess puts her arm around him, trying her best to comfort him as the machine speeds down the hill, toward a wide, squat building: The Pentagon.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

404, Daily: Chapter Thirty-Three

Hey all!

Not much to say today... though apparently the sex trade is legal now in Ontario? Wow, how the heck did that happen?

Let us pause to get a reaction from the Conservative Party of Canada:


Right. Those who're still amongst the living, please take a moment and check out the Daily for Chapter 33!

Cheers,
Brandon
________________

*Please Note: What follows below is only the FIRST page of Chapter 33 and is considered to be 'Raw Footage' -- unedited, first-draft material that may be subject to change (even in its entirety). This is designed to keep you in the loop with my story as well as, hopefully, intrigue you enough to want to buy the full, finished episode at the end of the week.

Warning: there will be SPOILERS and coarse language as well, so please keep that in mind before you read on.

Episode #7 (which collects the finished and polished versions of chapters 31-35) will be available on Sunday, October 3rd for 99 cents CAD.

You are encouraged to offer feedback and/or interact with me as this process unfolds. I'd love to hear what you like, what you don't like and what you'd love to see more of.
________________

CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE

Marco looks to the rooftops above him, to the figures in military camo staring down at him. Through their gas masks they watch Marco and Jess, silent and unmoving; sub-machine guns leveled. Alex laughs, a high-pitched jackal's whine followed by a loud yawn, his eyes drooping from the blood loss. "I got you… I got you…"

Behind them several more men in military garb enter the alleyway, parting to make way for a well-built, gray-haired white man. He comes to a stop a few feet from Marco, his chiseled face letting loose a blip of concern as his gaze falls on Alex. He looks to Marco and then to Jess, contempt forming behind his eyes.

Jess scowls as she looks the man up and down. "Are you the CO? What the hell's going on here? Where is everyone??" She stalks toward him and he backhands her in a single, smooth motion, sending her spinning into Marco.

"What the fuck!?" She nurses her cheek as several more guns draw down on her. She puts her hands up, shaking with anger.

The Commander walks past them, shaking his head at the wounded man and the blood pooled around him. He stops, moved by the sight before him. After a long moment he speaks, his voice filled with reverence. "Mr. Wong. I'm afraid you don't have much time. Even if we were able to airlift you out of here… I'm sorry, you're not going to make it."

Alex nods as if underwater, his face pale, eyelids half-closed. "I… know…"

"Help this man to his feet!" The Commander barks and several soldiers rush into the alley, lifting and supporting Alex. "Forgive me, sir, all I can offer you is a Hero's death. But I promise you this: you will be remembered. Children will speak your name with reverence."

He draws his gun, cocking it and stepping back. "Deshi 'Alex' Wong, thank you for your --"

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

404, Daily: Chapter Thirty-Two

Ugh. Rain.

Looks like we're going to have rain all week too.

Not that I can really complain -- certainly not when you look at some of the flooding and such going on around the world (Red Cross: Donate for Pakistan relief) and our streets could definitely use a good washing... yet I always find my focus fading on rainy days. As if my attention span begins and ends with each and every tiny rain drop.

Luckily, today's been an exception to the rule. I'm not exactly sure why; maybe it's something as simple as me having a daily goal, making sure I'm getting my chapter done no matter what. I dunno. But today I've been a focused like a laser beam.

And I think this chapter turned out pretty darn good in the end.

Anyways, here's the Daily for Chapter 32, hope you enjoy.

Cheers!
Brandon
________________

*Please Note: What follows below is only the FIRST page of Chapter 32 and is considered to be 'Raw Footage' -- unedited, first-draft material that may be subject to change (even in its entirety). This is designed to keep you in the loop with my story as well as, hopefully, intrigue you enough to want to buy the full, finished episode at the end of the week.

Warning: there will be SPOILERS and coarse language as well, so please keep that in mind before you read on.

Episode #7 (which collects the finished and polished versions of chapters 31-35) will be available on Sunday, October 3rd for 99 cents CAD.

You are encouraged to offer feedback and/or interact with me as this process unfolds. I'd love to hear what you like, what you don't like and what you'd love to see more of.
________________

CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

"So. You made it," Alex grimaces, looking up at them through dull eyes, his body slumped against the wall of the alleyway. "Heh, for a while there I thought I was the only one." His leg is drenched in a thick coat of blood as it drips down from the ragged mess of his right arm. He shifts and groans, the makeshift sling unable to contain the entirety of his twisted, jagged limb.

"That looks pretty bad," Marco says with a sincerity that causes Alex to laugh then wince.

"Yes, I've gone and done it now." Alex's voice trembles as he looks down at the fleshy remnants of his knuckles.

Marco looks to Jess, she meets his gaze and nods -- an unspoken message passed between them. He hands her the gun and steps forward. "Alex, you're going into shock. You've got a compound fracture there and severe blood loss -- we need to get you to a hospit--"

"Can't. Doesn't matter." Alex slurs, his head shaking from side to side. "No one left. We took care of that. One of the first things."

"What do you mean?" Jess asks, her voice strained but calm. She tenses, hand clenched around the grip, resisting the urge to use force.

Alex looks up at her, his glazed eyes clearing. He regards them for a moment before taking stock of his surroundings. "Where am I?"

"Washington. There was a crash. You're not doing so well," Marco says, kneeling beside Alex's arm. "We need to get you out of here. Can you stand?"

Alex shakes his head. "I remember the wing exploding. Something crashed into me." He looks down at his destroyed arm as if seeing a stranger. "I put my arm up to stop it…"

"Alex, what happened here? Where did everyone go?" Marco asks, unsure that he wants to hear the answer.

"Relocated," Alex says, his voice distant, head starting to dip.

Monday, September 27, 2010

404, Daily: Chapter Thirty-One

Well, it was a nice week off -- with the exception of one event that truly pissed me off. This last weekend I went out to do some grocery shopping with my wife and, somehow, I managed to lose the USB key I always carry around with me.

It's not much, just a little one-gig thing but its contents are quite precious: it's got all of my writing for the last 4 years on it.

Now, it's not as bad as it could've been, I learned long ago to back up anything I don't want lost forever... but still I can't help but feel bothered by the fact that years of my work is just floating out there in the wind like that.

That said, I used a little techie-trick involving creating an autorun.inf file so that should anyone plug it into their computer they'll see a little message from yours truly. Something like 'If found please call' and then my cell #.

It's a useful little trick, so, for those of you who would hate to have this happen to you, here's how to do it (this works on PC, not sure about MAC):

Right-click and create a new text document. Rename it to 'autorun.inf' and put it in the root of your flashdrive.

Edit the text file and put in the following:
icon = .\
label=Return For Reward! (xxx-xxx-xxxx)

The 'icon' bit is whatever .ico file you want represent your drive when it's loaded. Put the file into the root of your drive.

The label can be pretty much anything, but it'll cut you off after about 30-ish characters.

Hope that helps (and may you never lose your flash drive!).

Oh, and here's the Daily for Chapter 31!

Cheers,
Brandon
________________

*Please Note: What follows below is only the FIRST page of Chapter 31 and is considered to be 'Raw Footage' -- unedited, first-draft material that may be subject to change (even in its entirety). This is designed to keep you in the loop with my story as well as, hopefully, intrigue you enough to want to buy the full, finished episode at the end of the week.

Warning: there will be SPOILERS and coarse language as well, so please keep that in mind before you read on.

Episode #7 (which collects the finished and polished versions of chapters 31-35) will be available on Sunday, October 3rd for 99 cents CAD.

You are encouraged to offer feedback and/or interact with me as this process unfolds. I'd love to hear what you like, what you don't like and what you'd love to see more of.
________________

CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

"Hello?" Marco calls out, feeling a cold wind blow through him as he gazes across the road, to a large, faded sign: Constitution Ave.

"Hello!?" Jess yells in the other direction, shaking her head at the silence. "This is nuts…"

"Yeah, tell me about it." Marco walks past her, around the side of the wreckage.

"Where're you going?" she asks, falling in step behind him.

He passes the overturned cockpit, running his fingers along the scratched and torn metal, feeling the thick crevices and long patches of seared white paint as he makes his way toward the passenger's entrance. "There's one person who'd know what's going on and if he's still alive, I'm going to find --"

Marco stops as the tail-section of the plane stretches out before him, bent at a firm ninety-degree angle like a 'V' -- the entire rear end crumpled and twisted, laying in a bed of shattered glass. From where they stand, he can see that many seats have been dislodged from the floor, now resting -- or embedded -- in the roof and walls.

"I don't seem him," Marco says, dropping to his knees, peering through the shattered windows. "No blood, no nothing…"

"Over there!" Jess points to the remnants of the emergency exit. She runs toward it, pulling a strip of fabric from the door.

Marco approaches, keeping a look out, watching for any movement. "You think he blew out the back during the crash?" He takes the fabric in hand and realizes it's soaked in blood.

"Maybe," She says, getting close to the ground. "On second thought, check this out." She swipes a finger along the pavement, holding up a bloody finger. "Faint, but it's there."

"So… He survived the crash, bandaged himself up… and took off?" Marco walks over to the tiny blood trail, squinting, trying to see where it leads. "Yeah, look at that." He points ahead, to small dark splatters as they lead away from the wreckage.

"Jeezus, he's on the move!"

Friday, September 17, 2010

404 eNovel Cover Contest

Starting today -- and running until the launch of my finished eNovel in October -- I'll be holding a contest for all you hardcore artistic-types out there.

What I'm looking for is this:

I want to get a professional-looking, eye-catching cover that I can use for the final digital and print versions of my novel.

Off to the side there, that's the cover I have right now.

Think you can do better? I bet you can!

The prize, which I'm still figuring out in its entirety, will include:

Full credit for your work and a link to your portfolio/website in the finished novel and, most likely, a cash prize.

I'm not all that rich right now, so I'll have to figure out exactly how much that will be, but I'll try and find some other cool things to gift you with as well.

Image-wise, I will need to hold the rights to the artwork for purposes of promotional use and for the covers of the Electronic and Print versions. Outside of that, all things are negotiable.

If you're interested, or know someone who might be interested, please feel free to share and participate. It costs nothing to enter and the final, winning cover will be chosen by popular vote and myself. (So tell your friends to vote in the comments section).

Rules:

- Your cover must be in standard novel size (about 8 1/2 inches tall by 5 1/2 inches wide)
- Your cover must have a high resolution version available (300 ppi or higher).
- Your cover must be visually striking. Design the kind of cover that would make you stop in your tracks, whether it's if you're scrolling through a digital catalog or walking past it in an airport.
- Your cover must be ENTIRELY your own work. No part of the cover may be made from digital pictures that you do not own the rights to. If you do so, and are caught, you will be immediately disqualified. When in doubt, ask then look around -- or use TinEye (reverse image search).

More rules to come as they need to be laid out.

Send your entries to my email address (located on the right-side panel).

In order to help you with your designs, here are some facts about my story and my world.

Also, you can read the first 5 chapters here.

The Setting of the story: 404 is set in a post-apocalyptic landscape brought on by the total economic collapse of the USA. On Christmas Eve 2011, the USA suffered a massive cyberattack that wiped out Wall Street and attacked the country's nuclear reactors (amongst other things). In an effort to save their nation, the US government threw 'The Switch' and disconnected the country nation from the Internet. While this 'saved' their union in the short term, it pushed the country over the edge and into economic ruin as many American companies -- their funds and, in some cases, their livelihoods lost in the aether -- were forced to shut down.

The story begins in San Francisco, California - a place decimated by riots, where a great deal of the infrastructure has been utterly destroyed. Even things like cellphones don't work properly due to constant network congestion. Life is hard and gangs run rampant. Those who have jobs work for little more than safe shelter and food in their stomachs.

My tale follows Marco Temura, a young TV journalist working for the newly-minted MSFoxNET news team, as he's drawn into a world of fear and corruption; as he peels back the layers to discover the horrible truth behind the Switch, the perpetrators of the attack and the fate of the country.

Any questions? Feel free to ask away in the comments!

Cheers!
Brandon

404, Daily: Chapter Thirty

Hey all!

Chapter 30 is complete and that means only 2 episodes left until we reach the end. Pretty darn snazzy!

That said, unfortunately, can't post a Daily for chapter 30 because, well, it's about as spoiler-riffic as they come. Pretty much the whole thing is full of reveals and such.

So, well, it looks like you'll be getting a few more deleted or alternate scenes today -- that is until you pick up Episode #6 this Sunday night.

Again, next week we'll be on hiatus so there won't be anything 404-related going on -- story-wise, at least.

Keep an eye out for a cool contest that I'll be running all next week.

Cheers!
Brandon

______________________
*Please Note: What follows below are ALTERNATE SCENES and are not a part of the story proper.

Also: Episode #6 (which collects the finished and polished versions of chapters 26-30) will be available on Sunday, September 19th for 99 cents CAD.

You are encouraged to offer feedback and/or interact with me as this process unfolds. I'd love to hear what you like, what you don't like and what you'd love to see more of.
_______________________

This deleted scene is from chapter 15 – I was originally going to add Freya to the group as a friendly character early on in the story but then I realized that adding a SysOp to the party would be something far too powerful for the group as a whole (let alone how easily it could derail my story).

I did spend a good amount of time figuring out a backstory for her but in the end, I had to cut this part of the story out.

* * *

Jess slams the car door shut and locks it as a door behind her opens -- the young woman, Freya, jumps into the plush back seat "Give me back my 'book!"

She dives for the thin, black netbook sitting beside Jess but Jess turns and puts a gun in Freya's face. "In or out, make up your mind. If it's 'in' then shut the fuck up."

Freya throws herself backward into the plush leather seats, crossing her arms, her eyes narrowed in anger. "Fine."

Jess slams the gas pedal into the floor, wheeling the car around, spitting up gravel as they peel away. The body guards give chase, continuing to unload round into the car as it speeds down the cracked and bumpy road.

---

--- SPOILER ---

This scene is also from chapter 15. Originally, I was going to kill off Aang because, at the time, I liked the idea of him being killed by his own men. However, after reading it over in context, I came to realize that I was ripping off my characters in not allowing them to have a real interaction with the man. And so Aang lived… at least for that moment.

Also, as a story note, I'd forgotten that Jess had left her cellphone back in the fort -- so, yeah, that didn't work for another reason.

* * *

Marco holds the netbook close as he steps out, rounding his way to the back of the car to see dozens of bullet holes in the rear-end. Jess holds the trunk open and he looks inside to see that Aang is quite dead.

“That’s a few more bullet holes than what I put in him.” Jess shakes her head. “What the hell’re we going to do now? That bitch ain’t gonna ta-- what’re you doing?”

“I have not come all this way, been put through all this shit just to be stopped by a corpse. Aang knew Alex Wong, which means he’s got to have some sort of contact information with him. Probably on his phone.” Marco, with slow, determined, careful movements, pushes his hands onto Aang’s body, trying to avoid the bloody bits but not succeeding.

He stops, looks at the blood on his hands, gags then continues the pat-down. Reaching into one pocket, he pulls out a wallet. Reaching into a holster, he pulls out a gun. At the bottom of Aang’s waist, just below a gaping gunshot wound, Marco slides his hand into the pocket, feeling the soft caress of ragged meat on his wrist -- and his stomach lurch -- as he fishes around inside.

After a long moment he pulls out a blood-soaked cell phone.

“Jeezus!” Jess watches as the red fluid drips from the end of the phone. “That’s never going to work, and even if it does, I’m not using it.”

“That’s okay,” Marco smiles, sliding the back off of the phone, fishing out the battery as he slides his finger along the backside, pulling out a small white card. “We’ve got his SIM card. Here, put this in your phone.”

He hands her the card and looks for a place to wipe his hands.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

404, Daily: Chapter Twenty-Nine

Hey folks!

Well, Chapter 29 is wrapped and things are getting intense for Marco. I'm not sure if I'm going to be able to post a Daily for Chapter 30 as I'm not sure I can post it without spoiling a whole lot of things.

We'll see how it goes...

Until then, here's the Daily for Chapter 29.

Cheers!
Brandon
________________

*Please Note: What follows below is only the FIRST page of Chapter 29 and is considered to be 'Raw Footage' -- unedited, first-draft material that may be subject to change (even in its entirety). This is designed to keep you in the loop with my story as well as, hopefully, intrigue you enough to want to buy the full, finished episode at the end of the week.

Warning: there will be SPOILERS and coarse language as well, so please keep that in mind before you read on.

Episode #6 (which collects the finished and polished versions of chapters 26-30) will be available on Sunday, September 19th for 99 cents CAD.

You are encouraged to offer feedback and/or interact with me as this process unfolds. I'd love to hear what you like, what you don't like and what you'd love to see more of.
________________

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

Jess points the gun at Alex and he skitters backward, dragging his bleeding foot behind him, pushing himself into the wall of the plane.

She smiles. "You know, a lot of people think that pulling back the hammer on a pistol… that it's only for intimidation; that it's… just for effect." She clicks back the hammer on the gun, her eyes unwavering, focused on Alex. "And, certainly, there's something to that. I mean, that… click. You hear it? The locking mechanism snapping into place, holding that little, quarter-ounce piece of steel about an half-an-inch from the chamber?" She stares across at the whimpering man, the gun steady in her hand. "But what most don't know is that without the hammer pulled back, the trigger has to complete a dual action -- pull back and release. With half the work already done, with that much less -- a fraction of a second less -- to travel, the trigger… it can just… fire. One simple, little 'click' giving me far improved reaction time and accuracy." She chuckles. "Such a simple thing..."

She turns her head to Marco and tosses him the parachute with her free hand. "Put this on."

Marco fumbles with the straps, slipping his legs through the loops and pulling them tight. Freya helps him put his arms through the straps, tightening everything down and snapping the buckles.

"You ever gone skydiving before?" Jess asks. Marco shakes his head, feeling the weight on his back pulling him down. "When you get out there, keep your eyes shut at first -- you don't have any goggles and the wind can be a nasty bitch. You don't have an altimeter so the moment you get out and away from the plane, you pull this string here --" She grabs the green cord hanging from his left shoulder. "-- Then hang on to these handholds here."

Marco nods. "So how do I do this? Do I strap you two in? We should find some rope or cables or…" Jess smiles, a sadness in her eyes.

"That's not how it works. You can't have three to 'chute… hell, even two is pushing it without a proper harness to go tandem." She takes a deep breath, trying to keep her emotions in check. "I'm not coming with you."

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

404, Daily: Chapter Twenty-Eight

Hey folks!

A crazy busy day today -- been finishing off my work with that TV series bible project... for now... while writing a new chapter. Also trying to swing that whole 'working 9 to 5' thing at the same time.

On the bright side, there's going to be a great cliff-hanger as we go into next week's hiatus -- so those of you following along, well, sorry about that. ;)

Anyways, I'll keep it short and sweet today -- here's the Daily for Chapter 28.

Cheers!
Brandon
________________

*Please Note: What follows below is only the FIRST page of Chapter 27 and is considered to be 'Raw Footage' -- unedited, first-draft material that may be subject to change (even in its entirety). This is designed to keep you in the loop with my story as well as, hopefully, intrigue you enough to want to buy the full, finished episode at the end of the week.

Warning: there will be SPOILERS and coarse language as well, so please keep that in mind before you read on.

Episode #6 (which collects the finished and polished versions of chapters 26-30) will be available on Sunday, September 19th for 99 cents CAD.

You are encouraged to offer feedback and/or interact with me as this process unfolds. I'd love to hear what you like, what you don't like and what you'd love to see more of.
________________

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

Gravity throws Marco forward as the plane turns toward the ground; he, Jess and Freya land with a thud onto the ornate wooden wall of the cabin.

"Alex! Alex, open the fucking door! Open it right now! I-I can fix this!!" Marco yells as he bangs on the door.

"You can?" Jess looks to him, wide-eyed.

"I played Flight Simulator when I was a kid…?" he says to her as he hits the door. "Let me in, Alex!!"

After a long moment, the door clicks and falls open. Amber lights flash on the dashboard as a 'warning' horn fills the plane. Through the bloody cockpit and the cracked and whistling windshield the ground rushes toward them -- postage stamp-sized packets of land becoming wallet-sized in the blink of an eye.

Alex cowers in the co-pilot's seat, white as a ghost, his eyes like saucers as he grips the sides of the chair. He speaks in Mandarin as he shakes his head, terrified.

Marco lowers himself into the cockpit, straining to unbuckle the dead pilot out of his harness and his seat. He slides in, feeling the slick of blood underneath him as he grabs the control yoke in hand. Okay, remember -- look on the dash for your horizon… thing -- look for blue and brown. You want the line in the middle of the blue and brown. He searches the cramped instrument panel and finds the display -- and realizes that the line is very, very deep in the brown.

He hears a series of loud crackles as the spider-webbed cracks around the bullet hole in the windshield start to spread -- long, nasty, vibrating cracks that soon cross the entire pane of glass. Alex shrieks.

"Get in that harness!" Marco yells to Alex as he works to buckle himself in; Alex scrambles, trying to make the pieces fit.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

404, Daily: Chapter Twenty-Seven

Hey there!

So I went out last night with some friends to a Writer Mafia TIFF party and had a great time! I met some new people and even got to schmooze a little bit.

Even better I got to pimp out '404' and I have to say that I was encouraged by the amount of interest this lil' project of mine has been building. A few people cornered me to chat about how I was pulling this off. The only fair answer I can give to that is to say that, well, I'm not doing it alone.

My good friend and Editor, Cameron Dixon, has been an absolutely integral part of this equation, helping me by taking the deluge of pages I hit him with daily and making sense out of it all. He's also a fount of knowledge when it comes to grammar and story and character -- and he's a wicked nice guy to boot.

So if you're enjoying this story as much as I am, make sure to give a nod to Cameron as well -- once I get his okay, I'll point you to some of his works!

Anyways, without further ado, here's the Daily for Chapter 27.

Cheers!
Brandon
________________

*Please Note: What follows below is only the FIRST page of Chapter 27 and is considered to be 'Raw Footage' -- unedited, first-draft material that may be subject to change (even in its entirety). This is designed to keep you in the loop with my story as well as, hopefully, intrigue you enough to want to buy the full, finished episode at the end of the week.

Warning: there will be SPOILERS and coarse language as well, so please keep that in mind before you read on.

Episode #6 (which collects the finished and polished versions of chapters 26-30) will be available on Sunday, September 19th for 99 cents CAD.

You are encouraged to offer feedback and/or interact with me as this process unfolds. I'd love to hear what you like, what you don't like and what you'd love to see more of.
________________

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

Marco hides behind the door as it swings inward, tensing as he sees a figure round the corner. It's Freya. She enters, holding a tray of drinks and muttering under her breath, shaking her head in defiance of some unsavory order.

She stops, confused; her almond eyes scanning the room as she spots Jessica but no --

Marco grabs her from behind, slapping his hand over her mouth, holding her close as she stiffens. Jess grabs the tray from her, lowering it to the floor.

What are you doing!? Are you nuts? They're going to kill you! His mind races as he pulls Freya close.

Great, you've got her. Now what?


"You and your friends have put me in a very tough spot, Freya." Marco whispers in her ear, an edge to his voice that even he finds unsettling. "You've backed a nice, quiet guy into a corner… ruined my life… and now… now, I've got nothing to lose. You wouldn't believe what I've had to do to survive in the last 48 hours… I've surprised myself, several times; scared myself too." Marco pulls her tighter in his grasp, her breathing quickens and he feels her heart pounding in her chest. "Why are they going to Washington?"

Jess stares at Marco, unsure of what to do. "Watch the door!" He hisses at her -- a wildness in his eyes that snaps her into action before she has time to think. She moves to the door and locks the handle.

He releases a bit of the pressure on her mouth, just enough to allow her to speak. "Who are Alex's superiors?"

"You have to promise to get me out of here," she whispers, her eyes darting around, frantic. "I am a prisoner too. A slave. You have to get me out of here."

"I can't promise anything -- I don't know how the hell I'M getting off this plane," Marco says, his tone softening. "But I promise, I'll make sure to take you with us if we figure it out."

Freya considers, still shaking, but nods from under Marco's hand.

"Alex was sent to deal with the Senator, retrieve me and tie up loose ends -- which, by the way, you two made infinitely more difficult when you killed Aang. Anyway, his job's done, he's going home." Freya whispers.

Monday, September 13, 2010

404, Daily: Chapter Twenty-Six

Hey all!

Well, Episode #5 went live last night and, man, it's a pretty action-packed addition to the tale -- some rather massive things are starting to be revealed and it's getting pretty tense for dear ol' Marco.

Just as a head's up, I'll be taking next week off as my editor's taking some vacation time and I, well, I'll be taking a bit of time to really nail down how to make the ending happen the way I want it. It's been an amazing experience so far, getting this train running in the first place -- writing a chapter a day, pulling it all together into a full-blown 'episode' at the end of the week -- if nothing else, it's kind of exciting to think that I can show up, every day and find the raw materials to make up an interesting (and exciting ) tale.

Anyways, enough beard-stroking (for now) -- here's the Daily for Chapter 26!

Cheers!
Brandon
________________

*Please Note: What follows below is only the FIRST page of Chapter 26 and is considered to be 'Raw Footage' -- unedited, first-draft material that may be subject to change (even in its entirety). This is designed to keep you in the loop with my story as well as, hopefully, intrigue you enough to want to buy the full, finished episode at the end of the week. Warning: there will be mild spoilers and coarse language as well, so please keep that in mind as you read on.

Episode #6 (which collects the finished and polished versions of chapters 26-30) will be available on Sunday, September 19th for 99 cents CAD.

You are encouraged to offer feedback and/or interact with me as this process unfolds. I'd love to hear what you like, what you don't like and what you'd love to see more of.
________________

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

Marco studies Alex's chubby face, taking in every detail as he watches the man's lips move, as the ends curl upward into a vicious smile.

"Once we land, we're going to make a proper show out of you -- yes, you're going to be a very famous man." Alex stands, patting the wrinkles out of his dark dress pants. "'The Man Who Killed The Internet,'" Alex says, envisioning the headlines. "You're going to be bigger than Bin Laden."

Alex turns and lifts a small wooden panel, revealing a tiny flat screen monitor. "I thought you might like to watch this -- we've had it running on a loop all day."
The screen clicks to life and, after a curt nod to Marco and Jess, Alex leaves the room with Freya in tow.

On screen, people run and scream for their lives as Tent City burns around them. A camera zooms in on a small, dirty child grasping for a flaming teddy bear, being held back by a haggard, weeping mother.

A gorgeous young blonde -- Marco blinks as he realizes it's Chantelle, the former receptionist -- turns to the camera, fighting to keep a brave face. "That was the scene in Tent City yesterday evening after wanted murderer and suspected terrorist Marco Temura detonated an explosive weapon, killing twelve respected members of the Armed Forces and igniting an inferno that razed Tent City to the ground -- leaving hundreds of thousands homeless once more."

Chantelle turns in her seat to face a dashing young man with slicked back hair and perfect, straight, white teeth.

"Haven't the people of Tent City suffered enough, Tad?"

Tad nods his head, his brow furrowed, attempting to look solemn. "That's right Chantelle, times are hard for everyone, but none as unfortunate as our beleaguered 'Tech' community. Surely --"

Marco turns away, trying to block the words from his mind as their bright, chirpy voices banter on about all of his 'atrocities'.

"You can still fight back," Jessica says, putting a hand on his shoulder. He shrugs it off, overwhelmed as he reads the feed scrolling across the bottom of the screen:

'Breaking news! Marco Temura reported as captured while trying to flee the country!'

"Now we must warn you, what's coming up next may be disturbing to some viewers," Chantelle says, her big eyes wide with warning. "But now, after the events of the last few days we here at MSFoxNET feel it is our duty to show you the fateful last interview with Senator Vanusen and the Journalist with a deadly, secret agenda."

Friday, September 10, 2010

404, Daily: Chapter Twenty-Five

Hey folks!

Been a crazy week, trying to keep everything on the up and up as I work on two projects at the same time... but it's such a great feeling to even be in that position that I can't complain at all.

Today's Daily is actually another huge reveal and so I just can't bring myself to post it and ruin the surprise. And so I'm going to share a couple more deleted scenes from earlier in the novel.

Cheers!
Brandon
______________________
*Please Note: What follows below are DELETED SCENES and are not a part of the story proper.

Also: Episode #5 (which collects the finished and polished versions of chapters 21-25) will be available on Sunday, August 29th for 99 cents CAD.

You are encouraged to offer feedback and/or interact with me as this process unfolds. I'd love to hear what you like, what you don't like and what you'd love to see more of.
_______________________

The scene below is from near the end of Chapter 3, I was originally going to expand this chapter to include Marco getting yelled at by his boss for not doing his job and interviewing the other victims but I felt that it was too much and that ending the chapter on Jess's advice to Marco would make a much more touching end to the scene.

---

Marco's cellphone rings inside his slacks, startling him to his feet as he rummages through his pocket.

"Hello?"

"I hate this fucking thing -- being trying to call you since it happened, can't get a call in edgewise. Where the fuck are you?"

"Mr. Richardson? We're still on site, just prepping--"

"Where are my interviews with the victims? The cops? The paramedics?! You better not fuck me on this!"

"No sir!"

"I want quality shit and I want it now - don't you dare come back here without it."
The line clicks, dead. Marco stares at the phone in disbelief.

Jess shakes her head.

"Jeezus Christ that guy's an asshole!"

* * *

This scene was originally going to be in Chapter 13, as I felt that the story had been going too hard for too long -- I felt that they needed a chance to rest and get their bearings.

Unfortunately this scene started to lead me into a sort of self-indulgent dream sequence (which I quickly realized I'd only get myself -- and the story -- bogged down into) and so I decided to cut it.

On the bright side, this did end up inspiring me to write that fun scene with them talking about 'pay day' in that same chapter.

---

He yawns in spite of himself, eyelids heavy, the last gasp of the day's adrenaline leaving his body. “How are you still so awake?”

Jess grins, “Years of practice, kid. S’okay, you catch some Zs, this’ll be here waiting when you wake up.”

She motions to the camera and he nods, feeling that inward pull as his eyes close.
“I’ll… just… take a quick…”

He curls into a half-fetal position, head resting on his arm, letting the gentle rocking of the water lull him as the begging for sleep becomes a demand, as his consciousness drags him down into oblivion.

Colours dance before his eyes, colours that solidify into characters on a computer screen. Marco, now over three hundred pounds, thrashes in his chair as he yells into his headset.

"No! You fucking idiot! Don't -- why are you --?!" Marco's hands grip the massive bottle of soda, sipping through a straw.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

404, Daily: Chapter Twenty-Four

Hey all!

A bit of good news for yours truly! I've been hired to consult on the creation of a TV series pitch bible.

Apparently they saw the Guide that I wrote (over there on the side) and liked it so much they asked me to come on board and help them with theirs.

Talk about your unexpected, cool turns.

You see, I wrote 'A Newbie's Guide To Writing a TV Series Pitch Bible' because a friend of mine was asking how to go about making one. Apparently he'd been searching high and low for a template or something -- anything to help him with the project he was trying to get off the ground.

I asked around and no one I knew had any idea of where to point him, so I started writing that little guide there.

Now, it's been updated a few times since then, added more stuff as I learned it (always adding) but one thing I decided on from the get-go was that my guide would always be free.

I'd keep it open for anyone who, like my friend, went looking.

Apparently that's paid off in a rather nice way.

Anyways, I won't keep you much longer, I just thought I'd share some good news.

Here's the Daily for Chapter 24!

Cheers!
Brandon
________________

*Please Note: What follows below is only the FIRST page of Chapter 24 and is considered to be 'Raw Footage' -- unedited, first-draft material that may be subject to change (even in its entirety). This is designed to keep you in the loop with my story as well as, hopefully, intrigue you enough to want to buy the full, finished episode at the end of the week. Warning: there will be mild spoilers and coarse language as well, so please keep that in mind as you read on.

Episode #5 (which collects the finished and polished versions of chapters 21-25) will be available on Sunday, September 12th for 99 cents CAD.

You are encouraged to offer feedback and/or interact with me as this process unfolds. I'd love to hear what you like, what you don't like and what you'd love to see more of.
________________

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

Marco grabs the netbook, his bloodied hands shaking. He opens it, testing it to make sure everything works, that the signal's still strong. Satisfied, he scours the tabletop, throwing the external hard drive and the power cables into a bag. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." He pulls the car keys from Frank's pants pocket and rushes from the room, not looking back as blood pools on the concrete floor.

Jamming the call button with his finger, Marco tries to catch his breath; a caustic mixture of adrenaline and exhaustion pushing him to the brink.

Images flash in his mind as the elevator arrives -- the final look on Frank's face not one of anger or sadness but understanding, acceptance. Through the bent and twisted hall he sprints out into the darkness, netbook and bag clutched to his chest, searching for the car parked nearby.

"Where are you? Where…?" His eyes light up as he spots the dented hood, rushing over to it, hopping inside. He opens the laptop beside him, watching the tiny blip on the screen as it moves. Marco starts the car, headlights illuminating the ruins of the building as he pulls away into the night.

"Shit. Shit. Fuck!!" Marco barrels down the streets, putting as much distance behind him as he can, hoping against hope to make it there before he's too late.

Eyes heavy, he turns on the radio, begging for anything to keep him awake as he crosses over onto the 101.

The sound of static fills the air as he searches through channels, hoping to find something. Spikes of low-powered community radios burst and fade on the dial as he rushes past, tiny blips of soft voices or cries for help or pop music.

After a while the 101 turns into the Bayshore Freeway and the laneways seem to open up before him. He pushes the pedal into the floor as the highway speeds past him, the ruins of flipped and crumpled tour busses pushed into the side, acting as guardrails between him and the bay.

Trivia Thursday!

Hey folks!

First off, an apology on my part! I thought I'd set this to automatically post at 12 noon, apparently it got saved as a draft instead.

If you came here at noon and there was nothing here for you, let me know and I'll see that you get a little something for your trouble.

Anyways, without further ado: here we go!

The rules are simple: be the first person to correctly answer 3 questions science/tech-based in the comments below, win a free copy of '404: The Story So Far'!

Pretty cool, no?

#1: The founder of which company recently went on record and called Apple 'a mutant virus' for which PC makers will find a 'cure' in the long term?

#2: What Vitamin has just been called 'a revolutionary new weapon in the fight against Alzheimer's Disease?

#3: Which young pop star's fan base activity currently takes up 3% of Twitter's entire infrastructure?

Good Luck!
Brandon

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

404, Daily: Chapter Twenty-Three

Hey all!

It would appear that the wonderful warm streak of weather we've been having has finally come to a close -- there's a chill wind out there right now and storm clouds on the horizon.

I guess it had to happen some time, but... man.

Tomorrow -- since I mistakenly thought Tuesday was Monday -- I'll be having a 'Trivia Thursday' event (normally, Trivia Tuesday) where the first to answer 3 incredibly easy Internet-based questions correctly (in the comments section) will win a free copy of '404: The Story So Far...'

Look out for the quiz to pop up at Noon tomorrow! Just in time for some lunch break reading ;)

Until then, here's today's Daily for Chapter 23!

Cheers!
Brandon
________________

*Please Note: What follows below is only the FIRST page of Chapter 23 and is considered to be 'Raw Footage' -- unedited, first-draft material that may be subject to change (even in its entirety). This is designed to keep you in the loop with my story as well as, hopefully, intrigue you enough to want to buy the full, finished episode at the end of the week. Warning: there will be mild spoilers and coarse language as well, so please keep that in mind as you read on.

Episode #5 (which collects the finished and polished versions of chapters 21-25) will be available on Sunday, September 12th for 99 cents CAD.

You are encouraged to offer feedback and/or interact with me as this process unfolds. I'd love to hear what you like, what you don't like and what you'd love to see more of.
________________

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

Macro stares at the black desktop with a stylized white skull on it, a few small icons litter the screen. Though still in Korean, it’s pretty easy to figure out what’s what. Frank giggles with excitement, his rotund waistline jiggling as he points to the small symbol in the top right-hand corner. “Look! There it is! Connection FOUND!”

Marco feels a nervous energy building in himself as well, noticing as his own hands begin to tremble. “What site should we visit first? We should find a news feed.” He nods, trying to keep it professional, above board. Inside, a tiny voice scratches on the chalkboard of his mind.

“The first thing we should do,” Ajeet says, “is clone her hard drive. Then we can start to test whether it’s the software or hardware -- or a combination of both -- that’s allowing her access. We can find out how she’s managed to get connected.”

Bill grins, a glimmer in his eye as he connects an external hard drive.

Are you just going to let them have it? The tiny voice echoes in Marco’s mind. It’s yours after all. Who are they to tell you when you can and can’t go online? You’ve fucking earned it.

Marco yawns, his eyes heavy as he tries to push the thought out of his head. “I think we should let it clone overnight, try and get some sleep.”

Ajeet nods. “Yes, we’ve all been through a lot today.” He goes to another large box and pulls out several plastic-wrapped sheets.

Come on! We don’t need these guys. We’re in now, we can run off, find Alex.

No. I’m not going down this path with you.

Think of how much email you have – how much you’ve missed. Hell, for all you know the last words of your mother or brother could be on there. Waiting for you all this time. Think about it: one last goodbye.

Don't you fucking dare bring them into this!

Bill offers a weary smile to Marco, stretching as he exits. "We'll pick it up in a few hours." He motions to Ajeet, who follows, dragging Frank along behind them.

Marco nods to them as he unwraps his blanket, unfolding it around him as he repositions himself on his box. After a few moments he relaxes against the metal shelf and closes his eyes, trying not to peek at the netbook, trying to push any thought of it from his mind.

Don't you shut me out! Don't you EVER shut me out!

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

404, Daily: Chapter Twenty-Two

So, though the Labour Day Sale is over, I've kept the compilation off to the side -- replacing the ol' individual chapter purchases -- for those of you who don't wish to be bothered to make 4 separate 99 cent purchases.

For those of you who've purchased all the individual episodes already and would like to get a copy of the compilation, send me an email and I'll send it to you, gratis ;)

Okay folks, here's the Daily for Chapter 22:

________________

*Please Note: What follows below is only the FIRST page of Chapter 22 and is considered to be 'Raw Footage' -- unedited, first-draft material that may be subject to change (even in its entirety). This is designed to keep you in the loop with my story as well as, hopefully, intrigue you enough to want to buy the full, finished episode at the end of the week. Warning: there will be mild spoilers and coarse language as well, so please keep that in mind as you read on.

Episode #5 (which collects the finished and polished versions of chapters 21-25) will be available on Sunday, September 12th for 99 cents CAD.

You are encouraged to offer feedback and/or interact with me as this process unfolds. I'd love to hear what you like, what you don't like and what you'd love to see more of.
________________

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

Several sets of fluorescent lights vibrate and pulse before filling up the room with a pale blue-tinged light. Marco steps out of the squeaking old elevator into the sub-basement of the half-collapsed apartment building. He scans the massive room, impressed at the tall shelves stacked full of boxes and computer parts.

Frank, Bill and Ajeet flood past him into the room. Each of them running their fingers across dusty labels, squinting in the light as, one by one, they find what they need and pull it down from the shelves.

"Wow, where'd you get all this stuff?" Marco asks, taking down an old video card, smirking at the flashy box and the banner that proclaims 'Now with 128 megs of ultra-fast DDR2 RAM!'

"Mostly from looters -- when the riots hit, a lot of people just grabbed stuff, not really knowing what they had. Some of it was junk -- like that card there. But some of it --" Bill smiles and holds up a small rectangular box. "-- some of it was a mighty fine find indeed."

Bill tosses it over to Marco who rolls the unmarked box over in his hands, opening the lid and marveling at the chip inside. "Holy crap! Is that the new 12-core--"

"The new 12-core processor that Intel was working on? Yep. I've got no idea how the hell it ended up here -- but since we gotta rebuild anyway, that's what I wanna use for the new backbone." Bill takes the chip back from Marco, sliding it back onto a shelf. "Unfortunately, I think we're going to be a ways off from that for a while."

"Okay, so tell me how you got your hands on a SysOp's computer?" Frank asks, sneezing as he blows dust off a box of computer parts.

"Let's just say they didn't give it up without a fight." Marco nods to himself as he inspects the black, sticker-covered netbook in his hands.

"May I see it?" Frank stands before him, his thick, calloused fingers quivering.

Marco is about to hand it over when he hears Ajeet cough behind him. "Are you sure that's a good idea, Frank?"

Frank looks to Marco, to the laptop, to Ajeet then back to the laptop. He licks his lips and gives a nervous laugh. His hand shakes a little more but Frank steps back, nodding; sweat beading on his brow. "No. You're right. You're right."

Oh my god. That's what I look like? The realization explodes in his mind as he watches Frank wipe his forehead on his sleeve and let out a heavy sigh. Frank steals one last look at the laptop then goes back to pulling boxes from shelves.

Marco feels the weight of the netbook in his hands, turns to Ajeet. "I'm afraid I'm not going to be much help for this next bit. I'm a net addict. I'm on a program, I'm getting help, but for what's coming next… it's better if you hold on to it."

He hands the netbook over to Ajeet who nods. "I'll keep it safe."

Monday, September 06, 2010

404, Daily: Chapter Twenty-One

No, Labour Day has not kept me away from the ol' laptop -- been writing today, trying to figure out the best way to carry on from the wicked half-way point reveal and, by golly, I think I've finally got it down.

Thanks to those of you who decided to jump on board during today's sale, very cool of you and I appreciate your support (don't worry, as my first-run supporters you'll all be getting a little something special once this's all said and done)!

One of the things I've been asked recently is 'what genre does your story fall into?' and I think, looking at how it's all developed, the best answer would be Action/Thriller. It's got a breathless pace, interesting characters and an ever-deepening plot. (Also, it's gonna have a wicked, wicked ending... but that's still 'hush-hush'.)

Anyways, once again, thank you so much for your support!

Here's today's Daily for Chapter 21:

Cheers!
Brandon
________________

*Please Note: What follows below is only the FIRST page of Chapter 21 and is considered to be 'Raw Footage' -- unedited, first-draft material that may be subject to change (even in its entirety). This is designed to keep you in the loop with my story as well as, hopefully, intrigue you enough to want to buy the full, finished episode at the end of the week. Warning: there will be mild spoilers and coarse language as well, so please keep that in mind as you read on.

Episode #5 (which collects the finished and polished versions of chapters 21-25) will be available on Sunday, September 12th for 99 cents CAD.

You are encouraged to offer feedback and/or interact with me as this process unfolds. I'd love to hear what you like, what you don't like and what you'd love to see more of.
________________

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

Screams rise over Tent City as the tornado-like fury of the helicopter’s rotors rip the polyethelene homes from their moorings, as people trample each other in desperate attempts to flee the assault.

And yet while many flee this nightmare, two small bands of people – one dressed in leather armor and chainmail and wielding wooden swords, the other dressed all in furs and wielding plastic axes – rush toward the chaos.

“For the Alliance!”

“For the Horde!”

Their battle cries are silenced, however, as they are sent tumbling backwards in the aftershock of the helicopters’ passing.

Marco watches as the Blackhawks head straight for him, in silent awe at the destruction being wrought.

“Come on!” Bill grabs Marco by the arm, pulling him toward a revving, beat-up old Smart Car. Marco jumps into the seat beside Ajeet, who sits at the wheel, a mixture of sadness and anger on his face.

Behind them, Bill and Frank jump into separate cars.

“We had accomplished so much. So much.” Ajeet hits the steering wheel, a momentary loss of composure before nodding to himself. “But we will rebuild. We know exactly what must be done now. Yes.”

He opens the large, modified glove compartment. “This is lead-lined. Quickly, put any electronics you have in here.” Ajeet slams the gas, pushing Marco back into his seat as the car speeds toward the wrought-iron gate.

Marco tosses Aang’s cell phone in and fights to stuff Freya’s netbook inside as the gate looms over them. Ajeet flips a switch on the side panel and the gate blows open, crashing to the ground as the cars drive over it.

Marco slams the glove compartment closed as the whirring of the helicopter blades grows louder behind them.

“Forgive us.” Ajeet says aloud, toward the sky. He turns to Bill, in the car beside him and nods. Bill holds up a trigger mechanism and presses the button.

404 Labour Day Sale!

Hey all!

So, since I'm officially now halfway through my novel, I thought I'd offer a bit of a nice jumping on point for those of you waiting in the wings.

Yes, I know a few of you have mentioned that you wanted to just wait around until the whole thing was done, and hey, that's cool. But if you're interested in getting involved with the 'interactive' part of the process now's a great time to hop on board 'cause now we're really getting into the good stuff.

Anyways, since 'Labour Day' is all about 'not labouring' - and I'm sure a few of you are looking for something to read whilst you lounge on your Muskoka chairs and beach towels - I've got just the thing for you.

Now you can pick up the first half of my novel '404' for the relaxing, one-day price of $1.99 CAD.

In case you were wondering, here's the premise:

---
In 2013, two years after the US Government threw 'the Switch', killing the country's internet connection and plunging the nation into a digital dark age, Marco Temura - a recovering net addict and newbie TV journalist - will uncover the truth behind the cyber attack that crippled the nation.
---

And just in case you think the concept is all sorts of crazy, this 'Internet Kill Switch' has actually been proposed by Senators in the American government. (Other interesting articles here and here)

You can buy '404: The Story So Far' for $1.99 CAD right here!



Cheers!
Brandon

Friday, September 03, 2010

404, Daily: Chapter Twenty

Hey folks!

We're officially HALF-WAY done now! How cool is that? It's all down hill from here... and, man what a wicked, wicked ride I've got in store.

I'm pretty psyched about it.

In other cool news, I'm going to be having a very special little deal for my those of you who've been wanting to follow along:

On Monday -- Labour Day, when you have every excuse to be laying around and reading -- I'll be having a special One-Day-Only sale, where you can get the whole 1st half of my novel for the low, low price of $1.99!

So, yes, please come on by and check that out on Monday.

Until then, here's the Daily for Chapter 20!

Cheers,
Brandon
________________

*Please Note: What follows below is only the FIRST page of Chapter 20 and is considered to be 'Raw Footage' -- unedited, first-draft material that may be subject to change (even in its entirety). This is designed to keep you in the loop with my story as well as, hopefully, intrigue you enough to want to buy the full, finished episode at the end of the week. Warning: there will be mild spoilers and coarse language as well, so please keep that in mind as you read on.

Episode #4 (which collects the finished and polished versions of chapters 16-20) will be available on Sunday, September 5th for 99 cents CAD.

You are encouraged to offer feedback and/or interact with me as this process unfolds. I'd love to hear what you like, what you don't like and what you'd love to see more of.
________________

CHAPTER TWENTY

A speaker box of on the side of the gate clicks to life as Marco stares at the sign, scratching his head. "State your business." The voice is stilted, as if spoken by a computer.

Marco jumps and looks around, his gaze settling on the camera above him.

The camera lens spins as it re-focuses, "State. Your. Business."

He squirms, unsure, "I'm here to meet with the, uh, San Francisco Kludge… Crew? I need to ask for their help."

Silence.

"That designation is obsolete. We are the Deep Web Collective."

"Alright. I would like to meet with the Deep Web Collective, then." Marco shrugs, looking around, realizing that he is standing alone -- while a large crowd mills around a few feet behind him, no other person dares to come this close.

A few standing near the 'edge' stare at him with nervous eyes.

"What is the One Millionth digit of Pi?"

Marco blinks. "The millionth digit of Pi?"

"What is the One Millionth digit of Pi?"

Marco's mind races as he tries to think of some way that he could possibly know the answer to this.

Oh, dammit! Why couldn't I have paid attention in math class? Wait a minute, I remember something… something about a web page -- what was it? Shit they were talking about… fuck -- the 'Billionth' number of Pi! I wonder if that'd work? Oh, what the hell, here goes nothing.

Marco laughs out loud, shaking his head. "Weak Sauce! I'll do you one better: The One Billionth digit of Pi is 9." He stands there, hands on his hips, trying to look as brilliant and condescending as possible.

The camera zooms in on his face, the speaker clicks but then is silent. The speaker clicks again and a brief sound of keys tapping on a keyboard can be heard.

Silence.

"You may enter." The gate buzzes and there is an audible, metallic 'snap' as the deadbolt slides away. Marco pulls the gate wide and steps into the compound to see four large, black tents, each one with its own intricate, hand-drawn silver pattern.

Just beyond them lie several dented and scratched Smart cars and the tall remnants of a telephone pole, covered with satellite dishes and solar panels of various sizes, pointing out skyward in all directions.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

404, Daily: Chapter Nineteen

Hey folks!

We're coming on up to the halfway point of the story and MAN I'm really starting to feel the energy! I've been building up towards a cool halfway-point reveal and now that I'm finally getting there, I just can't wait to get it down on paper.

Well, ePaper.

Come next week I'm going to have an extra something special for my faithful readers (and lurkers), so please be sure to come back on Monday -- a day with no Labour, supposedly -- for a 1-day-only cool-thing extravaganza.

(So exciting!)

Anyways, here's the Daily for Chapter Nineteen!

Cheers,
Brandon
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*Please Note: What follows below is only the FIRST page of Chapter 19 and is considered to be 'Raw Footage' -- unedited, first-draft material that may be subject to change (even in its entirety). This is designed to keep you in the loop with my story as well as, hopefully, intrigue you enough to want to buy the full, finished episode at the end of the week. Warning: there will be mild spoilers and coarse language as well, so please keep that in mind as you read on.

Episode #4 (which collects the finished and polished versions of chapters 16-20) will be available on Sunday, September 5th for 99 cents CAD.

You are encouraged to offer feedback and/or interact with me as this process unfolds. I'd love to hear what you like, what you don't like and what you'd love to see more of.
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CHAPTER NINETEEN

Dr. Higgs pushes the needle into Marco's cheek, suturing up the swollen laceration, "Listen, son, I don't need any trouble… I'll patch you up, good as new. But these people… they're messed up enough as it is. I don't need you going and making it worse by bringing the heat down on 'em."

"I swear to you, I had nothing to do with it -- in fact, that's why I need your help. There's this man, Alex Wong, if I can find him, he can prove my innocence. Hell, I've even managed to get his number, but the network's always -- ow!"

He feels a tug and his cheek pull as the last suture is secured. The doctor looks at him and rolls his eyes.

"I mean, c'mon, do I look like a professional assassin to you?" Marco deadpans.

After a moment of consideration the doc sighs, "If you go across the way, toward the East end, there's a bunch of kids that call themselves the 'SF Kludge Crew'… or something. They're… weird… but if I remember correctly a bunch of 'em used to work over in the valley. You might find someone there who can help."

And with that he steps back from Marco, admiring his work with a proud grunt. "You're gonna have a scar, not much I can do about that, but I've made sure that at least it'll look good."

"Look good?" Marco pulls a mirror off he desk and stares at his face, impressed by how much the swelling's gone down.

The doctor shrugs. "Ain't much use for a plastic surgeon these days, but it's nice to practice when I can." He hands Marco a small tube. "Put this on the swelling a few times a day for the next few days. You'll heal up just fine."

Marco takes the tube and hops off the table, still looking at his face. He opens his duffel bag, "I don't have much to pay you wi-- oh, wait!"

He pulls a few 100 Euro notes out of the stack and hands them to the doctor, who recoils. "What the hell are you doing with those? Didn't I just tell you about not bringing the heat down on us?" He pushes them back into Marco's hands, "Last thing I need is to get my ass hauled in for carrying illegal currency."

"Illegal currency?"

"You haven't been watching the news have ya? Words gone out from on high: Euros are criminal money, anyone caught with it…" he trails off, letting his silence speak for itself.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

404, Daily: Chapter Eighteen

Hey all,

Still feeling a bit of that whole 'lack of focus' thing -- though a bit better thanks to a helpful work-friend of mine who mentioned that it could be 'cause I'm dehydrated.

I'm not really one of those people that follows that whole '8 cups a day' rule but today I'm on cup number 5 and, other than a few extra trips to the W/C, I'm doing alright.

I think a good portion of it has been trying to make sure I keep everything moving along and on track, that I'm hitting all the beats I've set out for myself. Today, well, today was a hell of a lot more fun to write than yesterday's bit... so I'm sure that helped too.

Anyways, here's the daily for Chapter 18 -- and yes, if you'd prefer, just keep sending your comments to my email addy. I know a few of you weren't sure about it, but that's fine. I like email too.

And thanks for your feedback!

Cheers!
Brandon

________________

*Please Note: What follows below is only the FIRST page of Chapter 18 and is considered to be 'Raw Footage' -- unedited, first-draft material that may be subject to change (even in its entirety). This is designed to keep you in the loop with my story as well as, hopefully, intrigue you enough to want to buy the full, finished episode at the end of the week. Warning: there will be mild spoilers and coarse language as well, so please keep that in mind as you read on.

Episode #4 (which collects the finished and polished versions of chapters 16-20) will be available on Sunday, September 5th for 99 cents CAD.

You are encouraged to offer feedback and/or interact with me as this process unfolds. I'd love to hear what you like, what you don't like and what you'd love to see more of.
________________
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

"Heya! Welcome ta Tech City! Wanna watch a three-way?" The chubby, greasy-haired man emerges from the bustling crowd and puts his hand on Marco's shoulder, trying to lead him toward a dusty, homemade video wall of stacked-up CRT monitors. "We got Terabytes o'tha very best, stuff like you ain't never seen since they threw the Switch."

"No thanks." Marco pulls away, ducking under a low hanging-tarp.

"You're just sayin' that 'cause ya haven't seen our selection! We got big dicks in small ladies, big ladies on small dicks -- Big ladies with big dicks, whatever you want! Black on Latino, Asian on --"

"Seriously, go away." Marco glowers at the man as he shoulders his duffle bag. The man gives him the finger and disappears back into the crowd.

Marco works his way through the criss-cross of ropes and wires in the walkway as a small group of kids rush past him, yelling and hitting a fat little boy with broomsticks.

"Ow! Where's my Tank? Dammit! Will someone pull this fucking aggro!" The kid covers his head with his hands as the blows rain down, "Paragal, this isn't fair! I casted my invisibility shield! You can't see me!"

Marco walks closer, watching as every other adult in the area seems oblivious to the beating going on before them.

A little red-headed girl in muddy Hello Kitty overalls pushes the boy to the ground. "You shoulda watched your cool-down timer, Scott! You can't double-cast it like that."

"My name's FlameDagger!" He yells out, cowering under another volley of blows. "Aww c'mon! Stop!"

Scowling, Marco steps up to the kids, putting on his most dangerous growl of a voice -- one he hasn't called upon for a long time. "I am VoidCrawler, level 80 Grand Druid of the Wightblade Clan -- release him… or suffer!"

The red-headed girl looks to Marco, unafraid. "Ew. What happened to your face?!" Marco's fa├žade cracks for a moment, caught off guard. She smiles a wide, wicked grin, "These aren't your lands, ugly-Druid. Go away and leave us to our kill."

Scott gets to his feet, straightening his glasses, "You always do this Mandy! I said no PvP!!" He looks to Marco," I just wanted a Pyro-Crown to complete my set."

Marco nods and motions for him to leave, "Come, young FlameDagger, let's be off."

Mandy stomps her foot. "I didn't say you could go! I cast Vengeful Spike on you!" She pulls out a rusty nail and throws it at Scott. Marco steps in front of it, watching as it bounces off his jeans. Eyes narrowed, he steps forward, hand raised.

"Fine, then I cast 'Get-The-Fuck-Out-Of-Here-Before-I-Break-Your-Face-You-Little-Brat!"

Mandy screeches and runs away, the rest of the group following behind her as Scott watches them from behind Marco's legs.

404 - The First Five Chapters

404

Copyright © 2010 by Brandon C. Laraby

All rights are reserved by the author, and sole copyright holder, Brandon C. Laraby.

Please Be Aware:

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of my imagination or are used in a fictitious way to support the world I've created. I do acknowledge the trademarked status and trademark owners of the various products referenced in this work of fiction, all of which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners in any way.
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CHAPTER ONE

The hourglass spins on the screen, languid, almost as if pleading to be set free. After a long moment, the browser kicks back to a simple grey screen with the same tired old message:

Connection not found.

“Jeezus man, you don’t give up, do you?”

The teasing woman’s voice hovers from above -- a tangle of long, wind-tossed, dirty blonde hair peeking over her cubicle wall, smirking at the young man hunched over his tiny laptop.

“Screw off, Jess."

Marco Temura slams his netbook closed, patches of red-hot shame burning on his tanned cheeks.

“Aw, c’mon newbie! It’s kind of cute… did you get any email?”

"Just stop."

"Why don't you check your Facebook while you're at it?"

Sliding the plastic clamshell into his sidebag, Marco pushes himself back from the desk, damn-near spilling coffee all over his lap; standing face-to-face with a bemused Jessica Palmer.

"What's your problem?"

Jess steps back, aware she's offended him.

"Aw, c'mon kid, don't be like that. I'm just messin' with ya - gotta do something 'til my next segment's ready."

He gives her a dirty look and turns away.

"For some of us, it's not funny."

Marco walks down the hall, far from the cluster of cubicles and video cameras, dialing his cell phone.

"We're sorry. Due to network congestion your call cannot be completed at this time. Please try again later."

He sighs, tapping the cell phone on his forehead as if willing it to work.

"Please…"

He dials the number again.

"This is Thomas Givens, you know what to do."

Marco turns himself toward the corner, trying to silence the chatter of a crowd of passing interns.

"Tom, it's Marco. Listen, I… I did it again. I'm trying not to, trying to stay on the path, follow the steps but… dammit. I'm having a bad day. Please call me soon."

“Marco! Get your ass in here!”

He spins as silence overtakes the bustling newsroom, as every eye finds its way to his slim, now-nervous frame. A bleach-blonde receptionist -- Chantelle -- giggles with a touch of schadenfreude.

“Now!”

A sudden rush of heat overtakes him as he pockets his phone -- the armpits of his striped v-neck already drowning from the internal deluge as he slinks past the onlookers, toward the massive office.

“Sir?”

The words creak from a dry mouth as his body tries to blend into the door jamb; gaze darting from one framed award to another before landing on the sinewy, grey-haired legend.

“Have a seat.”

With tentative steps Marco crosses the industrial carpet, breathing in the deep sandalwood cologne, a touch lightheaded from the musk and fear. He slides into the proffered chair, sweaty hands forming miniature patches of condensation on the cold, plastic armrests.

“Where were you when they threw the Switch?”

The tough old man leans on his elbows, staring across the oak and marble desk – his piercing blue eyes scanning the young, half-cowering journalist.

“I-I… uh… I was at home, with family. Online, like most, you know -- not long after trimming the tree… sir

Marco’s knees quiver just below the man’s line of sight, shaking with nervous energy as he fights to steady his voice.

“I used to run a blog and I’m a bit of a gamer so I was prob--"

“We’re doing a piece on the 2nd anniversary, nothing hard -- these fuckers wouldn’t know a real story if it bit them on the ass -- just some pre-approved government bullshit. Can’t spare my big names so you’re up -- here’s your clearance and your list of questions.”

He slides the file folder across his desk with disgust.

“The Senator’ll be there, waiting. 1:30 at the Regency, we go live to air at 1:40. Better get your ass in gear.”

“Senator? Mr. Richardson, thank you! I wo--”

“Door’s over there."

Marco stands, dazed, his mind swirling as he crosses back to his desk -- an euphoric rush overtaking him as he runs his thumb across the plastic clearance pass.

Jess rounds the corner to meet him, hair now pulled back in a hasty ponytail.

“So, what’d he say?”

“He said you better go get the van – I’ve gotta be at the Regency in – shit! 20 minutes."

Marco holds up the clearance pass, a grin on his face as Jess’s eyes narrow.

“I’ll be down in a sec."

She disappears down the hall as Marco yanks open the bottom drawer of his filing cabinet, pulling out a brand-new white dress shirt and tearing it free of the plastic wrap. He strips off his now-soaked v-neck, revealing the soft, stretch-marked middle of a man once twice his size. Sliding the shirt on over his head he fiddles with the buttons for only a moment before rushing toward the stairwell -- price tag sailing behind him.

The MSFoxNET news van skids into view as Marco bursts past the security checkpoint and out into the dull grey light of a San Francisco afternoon. He dives into the van and it peels off into the bustling traffic of cars and carts.

“What the hell’s at The Regency?”

Jess moves to snatch the papers from Marco, but he deflects her hand – just in time too, as she swerves to avoid a stumbling homeless man.

“Eyes on the road! Thanks.”

He chokes down the acid in his throat as she skids her way around another corner.

“We’re interviewing Senator Vanusen for a second anniversary piece about when they threw the Switch.”

Jess tosses her head back, laughing and shaking her head.

“You got me all excited over that? Jeezus man, this’s as dead-end as you get."

“Hey! It could still be good…”

“Are you fucking crazy? Every decent journalist in the country’s been trying to get an honest word out of the government since it happened. You think some lil’ newb from, what, Hoboken -- talking to yet another monkey -- is gonna crack this thing wide?”

“What’s wrong with Hoboken?”

Marco grips the side of the door, feeling his gut yawn wide as Jess screams down a massive hill. He smiles, uneven, trying to hide the growing need to void his stomach, focusing on the task at hand. Flipping open the file folder, looking for any decent information, Marco finds two double-spaced pages of questions.

"What the…?"

He turns the file folder over in his hands before chucking it onto the dash in frustration.

“They gave me nothing on this guy! Who the hell is he? I don't know! I'm interviewing him in, what, 10 minutes and I'm flying blind. God damn, what I wouldn’t give for a search engine."

“Why do you care? Don’t you get it? You’re not interviewing him -- you’re there to read the questions, smile and let him blather on about how they’re ‘still working on a solution’."

“Yeah… sure...”

Marco stares out the passenger window toward the waterfront and the pier, watching as swarms of homeless drift through the massive, and illegal, Tent City. A stubble-faced young man, maybe 30, sits by the roadside in a stained and tattered blue dress shirt, his sign scrawled in permanent marker: Sys admin, wife and 2 kids. Please help, God bless.

“Hey, we’re here."

He turns at the sound of Jess’s voice, watching as the crowds part around the van, as people pound on the windows, begging to be heard. Jess leans on the horn and a piercing shriek drives them back. One by one they cover their ears and move out of the way, each waiting until the last possible moment before making their escape to the sidelines. Marco keeps his eyes fixed on the road, unable to look people in the eye as the van rolls past.

A rock bounces off the bulletproof glass of their windshield, then another. From the crowd a young man in dark green camo emerges, whipping chunks of brick at them. Jess slams the gas, speeding toward him, stopping just inches from running him down. She flips him the bird as he grins and saunters off, unfazed.

“Get a job, asshole! You see these pricks? Actin' like the whole fucking world’s come to an end.”

The makeshift gates around the hotel close behind them, the whirring of the machinery almost drowning out the drone of the automated warning:

“Please step back from the gate. These gates are hydraulically operated and will not stop. Please step back from the gate. Thank you.”

Marco exits the van, hopping out onto the cracked tarmac as Jess cuts the engine. Swinging her legs out onto the running board of the van, she slings a massive video camera over her shoulder then steps down to the ground.

“Well pretty boy, you ready to roll?”

CHAPTER TWO

The chaos in the hotel boardroom befits the likes of a visiting Senator as aides and security mill around, colliding with one another while each extolling the virtues of their own varied importance. Lights are dimmed and plants are arranged as each well-dressed, well-fed peon fulfills their respective duty.

Jess and Marco sit boggled by the drama unfolding before them, no less interesting than the days of Kabuki or Vaudeville and yet somehow far more bilious.

“Jeezus! And I thought we were all flash and no bang.”

“Shh! I think I see him.”

Marco cranes his neck, peering across the room, as a tall man in a navy blue suit strides into view and each little player in this charade dives to his side. The Senator stands amongst the crowd, a man apart and yet beaming with false humility. One by one he shakes their hands and nods with a smile that never quivers, standing resplendent in the recognition of his stature.

An aide – a squat, almost square Asian man in a black suit – waddles across to them, clipboard in hand, doing his best to look official.

“Mr. Marco Temura? I’m Alex Wong.”

Marco stands and shakes Alex's hand, wincing at the man’s vice-like grip.

“We’ve made a few changes to the questions you’ll be asking… here’s the new sheet. Also, please refrain from mentioning anything about his family life or the recent scandal.”

“Scandal?”

“Exactly. Please follow me.”

Together, Alex, Marco and Jess push themselves forward into the crowd; Alex beaming with purpose as he guides his charges through the bustling morass. Within moments they find themselves standing before the Senator. At just over six and a half feet tall, he looms over them yet turns to face them with that same unwavering smile. His brown eyes twinkle, belying the stiffness of his eyebrows.

“Mr. Temura, I presume? I’m Michael Vanusen, but you can call me Senator.”

He laughs in a short, rehearsed way that, in this place, surrounded by this theatre, seems somehow endearing. There's a natural, earthy charm about the man, an ease that shines through the layers of toxin pumped into his face. Even Jess seems overwhelmed by his presence, unable to meet his gaze as he makes his way to each of them, shaking their hands and telling them how grateful he is to meet them.

Alex turns, hand outstretched toward the mahogany stage.

“Are we about ready then?”

He leads them all to a comfortable space on the dais, where soft brown leather chairs are surrounded by a veritable rainforest of plants and American flags. The Senator waves to the crowd and takes his seat, American flag cufflinks shimmering in the limelight. Marco follows suit, putting in his earpiece as Jess runs up behind him with a pair of scissors. A quick snip and she disappears back into the crowd, stuffing a price tag into her pocket as she readies the camera.

Over Marco's earpiece he hears the prep for the live feed and fidgets in his chair.

“Okay folks, we’re going live in five, four, three…”

The red light on the camera blinks to life and all eyes turn to Marco.

Who gulps.

“Hi… Todd, thanks for that great introduction. I’m here with Senator Vanusen today to discuss a matter that I’m sure is on everyone’s mind.”

Marco turns to face the Senator.

“Senator, it’s been two years now since our government threw the switch that disabled the internet for the entire country. Why haven’t we been able to get ourselves back online?”

The Senator smiles and nods, a re-affirming tone already present in his voice.

“Well, Mr. Temura, we haven't been resting on our laurels, I assure you."

He turns to face the camera.

"We have had the best systems engineers in the country working to repair the damage caused by that massive cyber attack on Christmas Eve, two years ago. Restoring our stock market in itself has been a daunting task let alone ensuring the safety of our country's nuclear reactors. That we got our banks back up as much as we have – well, that’s just a testament to American ingenuity. Trust me, we've been hard at work, scanning millions of lines of code within our own infrastructure, looking for anything that might harbor a second attack. It was a hard decision to throw the switch, but in the end we did what we had to do."

“Sir, you didn't answer --"

The Senator scowls and Marco purses his lips as he glances at the sheet before him.

"Have we discovered who attacked us yet?"

"Unfortunately, no - not yet. We have our data forensics experts scouring whatever logs were created during the attack, but whoever did it covered their tracks well. We do know this, though: they were well-organized and had an incredible amount of skill and computing power behind them."

"When will we have our systems back online?"

"Unfortunately, I can't give a solid timeline. Simply put: we have a long road ahead of us and full recovery will take time."

“But, isn’t it as simple as just turning off the switch?”

Laughter erupts from the crowd – as if on cue.

“Oh, Mr. Temura, where do you get these silly questions? Of course it’s not that simple! Do you think we, your government, would go out of our way to destroy our economy – one that had only just started to recover from the housing crash – and put millions more Americans out of work if we didn’t absolutely HAVE to?”

The Senator settles back in his chair, relaxed, with a contemptuous smirk on his face.

Marco’s face reddens as his hands crinkle the sheets in his lap, a mixture of anger and embarrassment boiling just beneath the surface.

“The switch was designed as an emergency measure. We never expected to have to actually use it. Now that we have, it will take some time to recover.”

“But don’t you have any –“

His hands tighten around the script as he fights to keep his composure. Shifting in his seat he notices a blur of movement in the crowd. He spins to see it but it’s already gone. Remembering the camera he smiles and returns his gaze to the Senator.

Yet finds himself unable to speak.

He looks back down to the questions on his page, to the typed words that should be exiting his mouth, then returns to the forced smile plastered across that condescending, botoxed-and-lifted face.

"But don't you have any real answers for the American public? A plan for the millions of people left adrift as their very livelihoods were switched off?"

Marco feels his gut tighten and his mouth go dry and yet, like a log tipped downhill, he finds himself unable to stop as his words pick up speed and power.

"Why is there nothing being done for them? Where is the help for their homes and families? We don't want excuses, sir. We don't need your phony smiles. We need action!"

The crowd around him bursts into unexpected applause as the Senator shrinks in his seat, a frown attempting to form in his taut brow.

"What - What is this?"

Jess steps up onto the stage, moving closer, zooming in on the uncomfortable Senator. She looks to Marco, impressed.

The Senator squirms, staring at the red light of the still-active camera.

Under her breath Jess whispers "Holy shit, we're still live!"

Another flash of movement in the crowd as the Senator stands.

"I-I'm not an animal, I have a family too you know! We're doing what we must, we're doing it to protect--"

"Die Fascist Scum!"

A young man in a black suit and tie leaps out of the crowd, pistol leveled.

“Gun!”

Marco hears the alien word coming from his mouth as he dives into the Senator's side, slamming into him as the shot rings out.

CHAPTER THREE

A scream erupts from the crowd as the Senator crashes to the ground with Marco on top, the bullet grazing Marco's arm and leaving a thick trail of blood in its wake. The assassin spins to exit and is accosted by a stunned security force that struggles against the crowd's stampede to the door.

Bodyguards rush the stage, flying to the Senator's side, shouting to each other as they pick him off the floor and drag him from the room; their voices echoing down a hallway before being silenced by a slamming door. Marco gets to his feet, transfixed by the sight of the young man -- the same young man, he realizes, who was throwing chunks of brick at their van -- fighting for his freedom with a vicious display of Muay Thai, crippling each oncoming guard with a flurry of knee strikes and round kicks before rushing from the room.

Jess, also mesmerized by the battle, glances down and notices the bloody gash on Marco's right arm -- she turns the camera to him.

"Marco, you're bleeding!"

He spins to face her, a wild look in his eyes.

"C'mon!"

Marco sprints to the door, Jess following just behind him as a cacophony of voices erupt in his earpiece.

"What the hell just --"

"Share that feed right --"

"I don't care if it is Brad-fucking-Pitt, cut in! I want this on every goddamn channel!"

Down a trashed hallway, past broken tables and dazed guards, Marco works his way through the human terrain as Jess captures every fracture and gasp. Cries of pain followed by solid thuds and crashes reverberate toward them as they approach the end of the hall.

Stepping out, onto the landing of a grand staircase, they find themselves surveying the wreckage of a brutal battle, with the groaning bodies of security guards and bellhops sprawled across the foyer. Some cry and nurse broken arms, others squirm in fetal positions while coughing up bile.

In the distance sirens blare as the young man dispatches a heavyset guard with an elbow to the head. The man slumps, his legs snapping beneath him as his weight carries him to the ground.

"Hey!"

Marco yells from the top of the staircase, adrenaline coursing through him, oblivious to the blood pouring down his arm.

The young man turns as Marco grins.

"Smile! You're on TV!"

From behind the camera Jess waves as she zooms in on his face, capturing a brief scowl before he disappears through the revolving door. She turns the camera to face Marco as he looks down at his arm, noticing it for the first time.

"Holy shit, I'm bleeding!"

* * *

Police mill around the room, photographing evidence and interviewing victims. Marco wanders through puddles of blood and bile in a daze as a paramedic works to clean and suture his arm.

The young woman, one step behind him, struggles to keep the thread from stretching.

"Sir! Please stop moving!"

Marco stops, half-hearing the frustrated medic as he replays the events in his head; as he runs to the stairwell and yells; as the young man turns to look him in the eye. Yeah, that was a dumb move.

He winces as the medic pulls the suture tight, ties a knot and snips the excess. With a practiced motion she peels and smoothes a derma-pad over the wound.

"Keep it clean, you'll be fine in a week or so."

With a curt nod she collects her things and crosses over to a man with a dislocated shoulder.

"You know, kid, that's kind of a good look for you."

Jess approaches from the side, running a finger along his bandage, portable screen in hand.

"Thanks."

"Thank me in a minute."

She slides one of the hard drives from her camera into a port in the screen and begins to fast-forward through footage. Marco watches himself sprint in triple time, feeling a disturbing sensation overtake him as he sees the wildness once present in his own eyes.

"Here!"

Jess stops the playback, moving frame-by-frame now, as the young man's face turns to the camera.

"Jeezus! This kid can't be more than sixteen!"

Marco finds himself shuddering under the boy's gaze -- a snapshot of fury and determination that sparks a primal fear within him. He turns his head, pinching his tear ducts as he feels a shameful, burning sensation in his eyes.

"Fuck. He's seen my face… Oh. Fuck."

His hand quivers at first but soon turns into a violent shake as the notion takes hold of his mind. Jess switches off the monitor and places a comforting hand on his shoulder.

"Hey, just stop that right now. That's not gonna do you any good."

He takes a deep breath, trying to quell the storm inside him, remembering the rush of violence, the audible snapping of the unconscious man's legs. It's not working. Marco collapses to the floor, head in his hands.

"Oh shit. What did I do?"

Jess sits down beside him, silent for a moment before pulling a cigarette from inside her jacket. She taps it on the side of her hand and lights it there in the middle of the foyer.

"You know, there was this time when I was in Iraq -- the first time I was there -- damn, I was so green, I must've looked like I was hand-picked from the orchard. We were with this unit of 4th Marines, from the 3rd battalion -- great fucking soldiers all -- in Baghdad not long after they pulled down that statue of Saddam. The locals were losing their shit, rubbing their dirty shoes all over his face, screaming into the air. Fuck, I remember getting right in there with my camera, trying my damnedest to film the emotion of the moment. And then I noticed it… there was just this one man. This one guy who wasn't moving, he wasn't screaming, he was staring right at me from the edge of the crowd. So I went and got close, trying to get the reaction of this unflappable, brown, scarred man. I got in close, real close - his eyes never left me but he gave this Cheshire smile and said something in Arabic before disappearing into the crowd. I didn't understand him but I swore I thought I heard him… say my name… so I went to a friend of mine, asked him to translate it for me. Heh, I remember his face when he watched the clip; I've never seen a black man's face grow so pale. He refused to tell me what it said, and so, dumb bitch that I am, I went and asked someone else."

She stops to inhale from her cigarette, shuddering at the memory.

"He said: 'You have ruined us. You have bombed my home and killed my family. I see your face. I know your name, Jessica Palmer. Do not sleep or I will be there.'"

Jessica laughs, a little too high-pitched to be normal.

"And fuck… I didn't sleep. I was a wreck… for a long time. Hell, it's been, what, almost 14 years now and I still see his face, clear as day. I don't know where he found out my name -- if it was from hearing someone else talk… or if he got a look at my press badge… or…"

She sighs, letting the emotion run through her.

"I never found out who he was or where he came from but I never saw him again. Hell, for all I know I'd been living in fear of a dead man for years. What I'm trying to say is that you can't let it sit with you. You can't think about this shit or you'll put a bullet in your head."

Jess pats him on the knee, takes another drag from her smoke and flicks it over by the reception desk.

"Just live your life, kid; let the universe sort out the details."

CHAPTER FOUR

“Mr. Temura, there you are!”

A frazzled Alex Wong pushes way through the police, toward Jess and Marco, his lumbering body seeming one step ahead of his legs, as if carried forward by the force of inertia alone.

Jess intercepts the man, buying Marco some time to compose himself.

“Mr. Wong! How’s the Senator doing?”

Alex stops and attempts to catch his breath, dabbing sweat from his brow with a kerchief. Marco stands and shakes his hand.

“He’s well, thank you. In fact, I’m here because he’d like to speak with you – privately, of course.”

“Oh, of course.”

Jess rolls her eyes, glancing toward Marco as he grins.

“Please follow me.”

Alex turns, his demeanor now far more relaxed as he makes his way across to a bank of elevators. Marco follows behind, feeling his own apprehension growing with each step.

“I wonder what they’re going to do with this place – I mean, it’s not like there’s much chance for tourism anymore.”

Marco runs a finger down the dusty mirror beside the elevator, taking note of the cracked mural at the end of the hall.

“I’m sure they’ll open the borders soon enough, Mr. Temura. Once we get everything fixed. It’s just a matter of time, I’m sure.”

Alex nods to himself, affirming his own thought.

With a cheerful ding the elevator opens, revealing an area the size of a small bedroom. Marco steps in, shaking his head.

“Imagine all the people you could house here.”

Alex busies himself with his phone, pretending not to hear.

A soft melody wafts from the speakers as the elevator begins its ascent. That music, combined with the intricate wooden paneling, gives Marco a brief sense of warmth and comfort, a snippet of a moment long past, before such things became a decadence for all but a select few.

At the thirty-second floor the elevator dings once again, opening into an opulent Presidential Suite. Stepping out onto the black marble floor, Marco finds himself greeted by a brilliant vista of the city as massive -- if grimy -- windows look out over a wild growth of hills and dirty, crumbling buildings. Off in the distance tall smoke clouds stretch toward the sky. Somewhere inside he realizes just how long it’s been since he’s been so high up.

“Mr. Temura?”

Alex taps him on the shoulder, urging him onward.

“It’s so… different. I can’t remember the last time I even saw…”

Marco trails off, overwhelmed by the sight of it.

“I know, I try not to look.”

Together, they make their way past tall, white marble Corinthian columns into a cavernous den; each and every wall covered with pieces of fine art and HD Television sets; each floor covered in thick, hand-woven Persian rugs.

Several bodyguards in dark suits lounge on plush leather couches, a few wavering between sleep and waking as their heads begin to loll and then snap back to attention. Alex continues through the den to a set of heavy, black walnut doors and knocks three times.

“Sir?”

The door swings wide, opening into a large study where ornate, oak bookshelves line the walls and, at the far end, beyond the plush, high-backed chair, Senator Vanusen stands alone, looking out the window into the city. Now, with his jacket removed, he is hunched and thin, as if any power he once had had evaporated away.

He turns, nursing a steaming mug of coffee; a man shaken to his core.

“Ah, yes, thank you, Alex. Mr. Temura, please.”

He motions for Marco to enter as Alex excuses himself, closing the doors behind him.

“You know, I grew up not far from here – just over that ridge, there.”

The Senator points out the window, toward a smoldering patch of land. Marco walks across the room to join him, fighting the urge to lead him to a chair.

“When I heard about the riots… it never even crossed my mind… it’s been a year and a half and it’s still burning. I always figured that the firemen would be the last of them to go, but there are so few willing to risk their lives these days… and I can’t really blame them. What is there to save?”

“Senator, are you alright?”

“No, young man, I’m not. And I’m afraid that I haven’t been for a long time. Heh, no matter how hard you try, you just can never account for everything.”

He sips his coffee and turns his back to the window, an action that, somehow, to Marco, feels like a symbolic gesture, even if its exact meaning is lost on him.

“But we must live with the decisions we make, isn’t that right, son?”

The Senator sets down his coffee and slides the navy blue jacket back on, seeming to relax into the familiar weight of it; buttoning the top button with a still-trembling hand. He moves over to his chair, sitting down, getting comfortable, blowing the steam off of his coffee.

“Thank you, Mr. Temura, for saving my life today. Unfortunately, I’m afraid things are about to get very complicated for you.”

“I’m sorry, sir?”

“You’ve stepped into something… and there’s nothing I can do to help you. It’s such a sad thing… that your kindness would be repaid in this way.”

The Senator’s head starts to droop; he catches himself and snaps awake. Marco looks around the room, nervous, unsure of what to think.

“I appreciate what you’ve done, young man. It does my heart good to know… to know that I was worth saving.”

He drains the last of his coffee, holding the mug up in his hands, rolling it around in his fingers, feeling the warmth of it.

“It’s all in Washington, the truth… about what we did. I’m… so sorry… Mr. Temura.”

The Senator’s head droops again, nodding off, his aged body worn out from the day’s excitement.

Marco turns, feeling lost as every single event of the day fights for prominence, as the Senator’s cryptic words echo in his mind. Pulling one of the massive doors wide, he slips through it, closing it as the coffee mug tumbles from Senator Vanusen’s hand.

Striding through the den of slumbering bodyguards Marco makes his way to the elevator. He pushes the button, rubbing his face and trying not to look out the window. His resolve lasts mere moments and as he stares down into the crowded, trash-caked streets he feels a sense of sadness and longing tug from somewhere deep inside.

With that same cheerful ding the elevator opens wide, that soft melody inviting him in once more. He enters and, for a moment, he allows himself to enjoy the respite, running his fingers along the intricate walls, pressing his fingers into the thick grooves of the inlaid design.

“Man, they must’ve been tired.”

He speaks aloud, to the emptiness; smiling as he hears his words echo around him. Marco stretches out his arms, surprised at just how elated he is to be alone in this moment. He closes his eyes, allowing the music to flow through him, warm him. In another life, in another world, yes…

The elevator glides to a stop and Marco steps out into the din of the foyer as police and paramedics continue to try and make sense out of the chaos. Just outside the revolving door Jessica stands, smoking a cigarette, off in her own thoughts. Marco smiles and makes his way out of the hotel, approaching Jess as she stubs out her smoke.

“Hey, kid! What took you so long?"

Marco rubs his temples at the thought of it all.

“I need a drink.”

CHAPTER FIVE

“Marco, you're bleeding.”

“C'mon!”

Jess and Marco stare in silent shock at the dusty video wall behind the bar as the footage plays; as transfixed patrons watch every single second, drinks untouched, jaws agape. She watches the TV then turns to Marco as if considering something. Nodding to herself, Jess guides Marco past the group, past the filth-encrusted dance floor, into a shadowy corner. She pulls some chairs across, sliding them into a chipped and warped Formica table, offering one to Marco as he looks around the bar in silent disgust.

He dusts off the seat then sits, unable to resist fiddling with the uneven table as it wobbles back and forth under his fingertips. A small, high-pitched squeak grabs his attention and he turns, blinking in the darkness, focusing on a mound of tiny movement in the nearby corner -- after a long moment he realizes he's watching a small colony of carpenter ants work their way through a tiny, injured mouse.

"Uh, why'd you pick this place again?"

"Hey, I’m payin’ so it’s my pick. Don't judge. This place makes the best beer in the city."

"Sure thing."

He nods, distracted by this gruesome sight. Jess flashes him a reassuring grin then stands and crosses to the bar. Marco kicks a large ant off his shoe and slides his chair farther away from the wall, looking around, trying to keep his wits about him; watching cobwebs drift in the ambient breeze, rapping his fingers on the tabletop.

Off on the other side of the room, a soft glow in the darkness catches his eye -- a sallow, bearded man’s fingers fly on the keyboard of a small laptop, face and shoulders illuminated by the screen as he leans forward, squinting. Marco smiles, feeling a familiar urge creep up around the edges of his mind, pushing his other, more immediate, fears far out of firing range.

He stands, then stops himself, as the voice of his sponsor clicks on in his head -- as one year, ten months and six days worth of hard work and dedication push themselves to the forefront; as he spars with himself inside his own mind.

You know why you're going over there. Don't. It’s the stress. It’s making you weak.

Oh, c'mon, I know he's not connected. It's not possible.

And yet you can't help but wonder.

Well, I mean, yeah. But what’s wrong with wondering? Nothing wrong with that. I dunno... What if he’s one of those SysOps?

Even if that were possible, even if it weren't EXACTLY the kind of myth that people create when faced with an utter lack of something -- that someone, somewhere has it -- he'd want no part of you. Stop. Think. You know better.

Sure. Yeah. You're right.

Marco smiles, changing tactics for the mental battle inside his head.

We could just talk computers. You know, what operating system he's using. It's been so long since I got to talk to another techie. Maybe we could trade apps.

But you're not going over there to talk, and we both know it! You're going over there to spy. What would you do if he WAS connected? Think about that.

He pauses, frustrated by the wall of his own making.

Hey! I got freaking shot today! Cut me some slack. I deserve this. I promise, it’s talk. Just talk.

Marco--

And somewhere in his head the conversation is severed, a decision made. He begins to walk toward the other man.

"Hey! Where're you going?"

Jess returns, carrying a tray with a couple of frosty pints and a few shots of whiskey.

"I was… I just..."

Marco licks his lips, glancing toward the flickering corner. Jess sets the tray on the table, dropping a shot glass in the pint and passing him the drink.

"The bartender didn't know how to make a Shirley Temple so I got you a Boilermaker."

Marco's eyes are still locked on the faint glow but after a long moment he relents, turns to her and takes the drink in his hands.

"Ha. Ha."

He takes a sip and sets it on the table, unable to resist continued glances over at the other man; at his computer.

Across the way the man snaps his laptop closed, rises and walks towards the entrance of the bar. Marco jumps to his feet to chase after him, bangs into the table and sends his pint crashing to the floor.

"Shit! I'm sorry, I --"

"Kid, settle down, don't be so jumpy. That guy’s long gone, I promise you."

Marco tenses as he realizes he’d forgotten all about the earlier assassin.

The slender young waitress saunters over, shaking her head. She bends down, collecting the large pieces of glass onto a tray while ignoring the spilt beer.

"Fuck, I'm sorry, my nerves are -- I'm just… having a bad day."

The waitress nods, uncaring.

"You and me both, guy."

She stands and meets his gaze, eyes widening as she realizes it's the same man who's on the TV screen.

"Shhh…"

Jess puts her finger to her lips, her gaze pleading with the waitress to keep silent. The waitress stares at them then retreats across the grungy floor toward the bar.

"…shhhhit. C'mon, we better high-tail it, quick."

Jess rubs her hand across her face in chagrin as the waitress goes to the bartender's side and whispers in his ear.

Marco watches the bartender lean over the bar as the other patrons lean forward.

"Why?"

"Because, you saved the Senator from taking a bullet, you idiot."

Peering into the darkness ahead of them, the patrons of the bar stand up as one. The bartender flicks a switch and a small fluorescent light flickers to life above Marco.

Jess positions herself in front of him, a momma bear protecting her cub.

"Be cool, kid."

"Hey, I'm not --"

Marco sees the group of thick, bearded men crossing the dance floor and falls silent. One by one they form an arc, cornering the two of them as Jess tenses.

An old man with a barrel chest and long, gray beard steps forward, peering at them through beady, watery eyes; his sleeveless leather jacket dotted with bullet holes and silver-skull rivets.

"You that guy? The one on TV?"

Jess holds up her hands, trying to keep her cool.

"Listen, we just came here for a drink."

"Was I talkin' to you?"

The old man steps forward toward her, scowling; the stench of sweat and old booze rolling off him in waves. Marco walks up to Jess's side.

"Yeah. That was me."

The old man smiles wide, exposing broken teeth and inflamed black gums.

"You? You saved that piece-o-shit from eatin' a bullet?"

Marco nods, intimidated but holding his ground.

"Yes."

The group of men turn to one another, unsure of what to do about this infraction.

"L-listen, I get it. I do."

Marco squashes the fear as best he can, his voice still uneven.

"Times are shitty and no one seems to have any answers -- but, fuck, guys… We're trying to get them. We're reporters, that's what we're trying to do. That guy, that Senator, he's just a man. Does he deserve to die? I don't know, I didn't think about any of that. I didn't think about anything. I saw a horrible thing about to happen to another human being and I just reacted."

He pauses, gulping at the scarred faces of his impassive audience.

"And now here I am, I don’t know what the hell’s going on. I did one good thing, one good deed and now, supposedly I’ve gotten myself mixed up in… I don’t even know.”

He steps forward, gritting his teeth.

“I’ve had enough of this shitty day and this fucking bullshit. If you’re going to do this, don’t piss around. Do it right. Make it quick.”

The old man turns to look at the others, taken aback by this young man’s bravado. They shrug and he grins, rolling up his sleeves and smoothing out his beard.

“Oh, this is gonna be fun.”

Marco’s eyes snap to the video wall as intricate graphics cut into the feed:

“Breaking Update: Senator Vanusen murdered!”

Everyone spins and rushes back to the bar as the camera zooms into the news Anchor.

“We’ve just been informed that Senator Michael Vanusen and his retinue have been found murdered in the Presidential Suite of the Regency hotel.”

A boisterous cheer rises from somewhere down the block, roaring through the strip of buildings and taken up by the men as they begin to bang their pint glasses on the bar.

Marco and Jess look to each other and then hurry out of the bar while the others are distracted. Together, they burst out into the street as horns honk and cheering people gather into the streets.

He takes her hand and pulls her close, out of the way as crowd roars by -- but her eyes are fixated elsewhere, on the video wall in the bar. Marco turns to see his face plastered across the screens as security camera footage shows him walking from the elevator and out the door. His eyes move to the bottom of the screen, to the large words pasted across the screen in bold letters.

“Wanted: Marco Temura.”
___________________________

Thank you very much for dropping by and reading this sneak peek at my eNovel '404'. If you enjoyed this sneak peek, you can purchase '404 - The Story So Far' over there on the side for $2.99 CAD and follow along with the weekly episodes at 99 cents each -- or you can subscribe to the whole eNovel for $6.99 and have each episode emailed to you as they go live at the end of the week.

Cheers, and thanks again!
Brandon