(The image above is courtesy the web site ImageAfter)
I went into Toronto today, to meet up with a few people around the OLA Superconference. The past few years, the superconference has been held at the end of January, but apparently organizers moved it to the end of February because the January dates were affected too often by winter storms.
How did that work out, guys?
The trip in was uneventful, mostly because I avoided the rush hour. Coming back, though, was a bit of an ordeal, thanks to accidents along the 401 backing up traffic. But I’m home now. And I had a good time.
It was a pleasure to meet fellow author Emily Pohl-Weary. It was just a social get-together at the Roastery café at the corner of Richmond and Spadina. We chatted about our writing, and we spent a little time working on and sharing our latest projects. It’s always nice to talk to a kindred spirit, and Erin and I look forward to meeting up with Emily again when she heads out our way.
As for Icarus Down, I spent some time today rewriting a scene. The story has been going well, and it now has a word count of 53,299, an increase of 5449 words since my last report, twelve days ago. It feels good, even though I expect to rewrite the thing completely once the first draft is done.
Honestly: I will print out a draft of the story, get a few good people to look it over and give me their opinions, and then I’ll set it down beside my computer and type in the thing again, making changes along the way. I did this for The Night Girl and The Dream King’s Daughter, and the level of improvement I was able to achieve was remarkable.
Anyway, here’s another scene from the late-middle of act one, taking place directly after this scene here. Simon has met up with Rachel and they go out on a date. However, as you can expect, nothing is quite as it seems. Enjoy!
I waited by the Junction: the hub of corridors near the Great Hall that gave access to Iapyx’s entertainment facilities. I sat by the small fountain, among other young couples sitting around and holding hands. I waited until the prearranged time, looking around, trying to spot Rachel among the walking crowd. She was late, and by the time five minutes had past, I was shifting back and forth on my seat, looking around frantically. Finally I saw her.
She was out of her nurse’s uniform. Her dress — still white — was simpler, more casual and showed where her leg curved out from her ankle. Her face lit up when she saw me wave, and she came forward quickly.
“Hey, Rachel,” I said. “Mmph—”
She’d wrapped her arms around me and was kissing me. Right in the middle of the thoroughfare. I heard passers-by chuckle and shake their heads and could picture them muttering ‘kids these days’. One older couple clasped hands as they passed us. Then I realized my priorities were off, and I needed to focus on kissing. So I did.
Rachel’s kisses travelled up my cheek, and then she whispered in my ear. “Did you turn out the lights?”
“What?” I stopped, my stomach dropping with the realization that there were ulterior motives to these kisses.
“Did you look over your shoulder?” She switched ears. “Were you followed?”
I kissed her throat. “Yeah,” I mumbled. “Someone’s watching my apartment, and I gave two battery boys the slip.”
“Better safe than sorry,” she whispered. “Keep kissing me.”
She didn’t have to tell me twice.
“There’s a chance they might still be watching us,” she muttered. “So, let’s go on with this date.”
Then she pulled away, clasped my hands and, speaking more loudly, said, “So! What movie are we to see?”
“Um,” I said, trying to match her volume, then giving up because it sounded way too fake. In my normal voice, I said, “Whatever’s playing.”
She took my hand and led me to the theatre, and we picked the first movie that would play. We got our crunch-wafers and our drinks and we sat in the theatre amongst a couple dozen other people, some in couples, some not, as the projector started up. The theatre showed both movies and stageplays, and right now we all focused on a large screen that had been placed in front of the curtains. The film jiggled in its sprockets and pictures began to play on the screen. Drums and trumpets played on the speakers as the picture showed spotlights swinging around a logo that talked about a fox that lived centuries ago.
The movie opened with scenes of rolling hills and trees. I drew back in my seat, struck by the beauty of old Earth, while credits briefly flashed and the movie’s name, Last of the Mohicans, was displayed.
My attention was jolted when Rachel leaned into my shoulder and breathed a kiss into my ear.
“There are two security officers here,” she said.
“What?” I said, too loudly. More quietly, I said, “What?”
“They’re in the last row,” she whispered before giving my ear a nibble.
I shuddered. It took me a minute to gather my thoughts. “How do you know?”
I hadn’t seen them at all. Whoever was following us, they’d stepped up from the two battery girls.
“What do we do?” I whispered. I shifted, about to stand up.
“Don’t leave the movie early,” she said, gripping my arm. “That’ll attract suspicion.”
“Okay,” I breathed. But the feel of Rachel this close to me, combined with all of the secrets, was making it impossible for me to follow the film’s plot, which seemed to involve a lot of depressing violence. I suddenly wasn’t in the mood for my snacks, so I set my bag on the floor by my feet. We waited until the film was over. Then we got up and shuffled down the steps with the rest of the crowd.
Rachel put her arm in mine. “Get ready,” she whispered as we neared the bottom of the stairs.
“For what?” I whispered back.
She pulled me to the edge of the stream of people, so that we walked close to the stage. Then she ducked up the steps onto the stage and lunged behind the curtain. I didn’t realize until I felt the pull on my arm and staggered after her.
It was hard trying to be quiet and fast at the same time, while wandering in a darkness surrounded by velvet curtains. Ahead of me, Rachel opened a door, and it thwacked me in the shoulder as I followed her into a room. I held tight to her hand as I stumbled in the dark. I stubbed my toe on a table and kicked over a chair with a clatter. “Where the— ow! Where are we?”
“Backstage,” said Rachel. I couldn’t see the back of her head as she pulled me on.
“Where are we doing here?” I whispered. “They’ll have no problem finding us; there’s no back way out!”
“Oh, yes, there is,” she replied. “Mind these boxes.”
“What boxes? Ow!”
She pulled me to one side, then pushed me back. This time, she guided my hands to a set of what felt like pipes attached to the wall. Rungs, I realized. A ladder. “Watch your step,” she whispered. “There’s a drop.”
My heart stuttered as my feet stepped out over nothing, and then found a rung with ankle-jarring certainty. “Thanks,” I grumbled.
“Don’t mention it. Go down. I’ll follow.”
I heard thumping footsteps behind me. People were walking on the stage. I descended. Moments later, when we were several feet down, I heard a click, and I looked up. Above me, beyond the silhouette of Rachel’s legs and skirt, somebody had entered the room and had flicked on the light. There was a sound of boxes being kicked about.
That’s when my feet touched solid ground. I staggered back and helped Rachel from the ladder. “Thanks,” she whispered. Then she took my hand and led me through another cluttered corridor.
“I didn’t know this was here,” I whispered.
“That’s because you never tried out for the drama program,” she replied. Hearing a question in my silence, she added, “A friend did. Elizabeth. She showed me the place.”
Behind me, I heard voices, and the clang clang of heavy feet descending the ladder, fast.
Rachel glanced behind us and swore. “They’re good,” she muttered. But then we turned a corner and came to a door. Rachel undid the deadbolt and yanked it open. The corridor outside was grey and smelt of steam and oil. We must have been in one of the utility levels, near the factories. We ducked out and Rachel closed it behind her, locking it with a key she’d pulled from her pocket. Seeing me stare, she held it up. “Also from Elizabeth. Come on; I don’t think they’ll be fooled for long.” And she took my hand and we ran.
We dashed through the grey utility corridors, past workers who stared at us, startled. We passed the spot where the steam pipe had burst — an area of the floor was still cordoned off with yellow tape — and we ducked under a ladder held by two startled battery boys.
Then Rachel pulled me aside. I was getting used to this, by now, and I followed her quickly, although my heart jumped to find me running headlong at what I took to be a section of corridor wall. But then Rachel ducked around an edge and, when I followed, I found myself in a maintenance shaft so narrow, I had to walk along it sideways. Rachel stopped, then, and caught me as I bowled into her. She held a finger to her lips, then held me, as we looked back the way we’d come, and waited.
For a moment, the scene outside in the corridor was normal, with people walking quickly to and from work, but then I heard footsteps. Two men in uniform rushed up, stopped, and looked around, looking very frustrated. I shrank back, but Rachel grinned, satisfied. The men looked around fruitlessly, whispered something to each other, then strode off the way they’d come. I let out the breath I’d been holding.
“We’ve lost them,” I said. “Now what?”
“Not far now,” said Rachel. Taking my hand, she led me down the maintenance corridor. The hiss of steam and the rattle of fans filled the air and it was uncomfortably hot. I loosened the collar of my tunic. Finally, we reached a point where the corridor opened up enough for us to walk in single file, facing forward. I tried to get control of my breathing. I was pushing the limits of my rehab stamina. “How much longer?” I said, between breaths.
Then suddenly Rachel stopped, turned, and kissed me.
There was something different about this kiss. It was more intense. It made me hold her and want to never let her go. As fun as the other ones had been, it felt like this one was something that she meant. All too soon, she pulled back. In my befuddlement, I hardly noticed that her cheeks were flushed.
She reached out beside her and knocked on a section of wall. Then she turned back to me. “I’m sorry, Simon,” she said, between breaths.
For a moment, I wasn’t sure if I heard her correctly. “Wha— What?! Why?”
“For all of that,” she said. She looked down at the ground a moment before bringing her gaze back up to me. “For the act.”
I felt like some giant rat was gnawing on my chest. “Hey, I-I’m not complaining. I enjoyed it.”
“It wasn’t fair to you,” she said firmly. “But it was necessary.”
“Wh-Why?” I said. Then all of my frustration, all of my bewilderment, rose up inside me. “Why was it necessary? Why is the mayor’s office following us? How did you know that they were? Why do we have to duck and hide all over the place? What’s going on, Rachel?”
She stood there and clasped her hands in front of her. Beside her, the section of wall tapped back, and a small panel opened, shining light on the both of us. Then Rachel gave me a sweet look. “What’s your first question?”
I frowned at her. “Who are you?”
She smiled and took my hand. “Good one. I’ll show you.”
The wall opened, bathing us in light and sound. Rachel led me inside.