Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Caiaphas, ch 4


The reaction he recieved when he first gave his name to the man standing guard outside of the array of tents was neither the expected nor the desired one.
He gave it again, a little slower, just in case the man was addled.
The man scratched his head with fingernails, he noted, that were already filthy.  "I'll tell him, but don't expect much.  I've never heard of you."
He was almost nervous, waiting alone at the gate - if he could have ever admitted permitting himself such an emotion.  He was not used to being alone, and he was not used to being unknown.  It was disconcerting.
But those fragile doubts vanished as soon as the man came back with a look of sheepish chagrin.  "He welcomes you, and asks that you follow me."  The guard nodded to someone behind him, and thus the watch was continued and the man that would have been emperor followed his guide to a childlike construction, a tent made solely of matresses and sheets.  But seated inside, frowning copiously and looking anything but childlike, sat the only person who could help him.
"Have a seat," said Hugh Vaughn.
"Thank you," Servilius Osanthos replied, and took his own seat on a matress.
Hugh made a sign, and the men standing at the corners of the room silently took their leave.  Servilius was so used to this that he made no sign of even caring to speak until the men were long gone from the room.
"Thank you for welcoming me here," he said.  "I was beginning to think I was alone in this place."
"You're not welcome," Hugh said shortly.  "I just like you better where I can see you, and don't even dare to hope otherwise.  Why are you here, Servilius?"
"I just told you, I didn't have anywhere else to go."
The other man was instantly on his feet, eyes blazing with a rage that Servilius hadn't even seen a glimmer of.  "Not here, in this miserable excuse for a camp.  On the ship!  What are you doing on the Caiaphas?  Last I Heard of you you were making the colonists of Tala VI quake under their beds for fear you would be invading."
"That was the plan.  It just got a little... sidetracked."
Hugh looked at him for a long moment, then laughed, all signs of anger gone.  The emotion was still there, Servilius reminded himself.  Still there, always.  Just hidden.
"The Blood Emperor himself, sitting right in front of me in my lovely home.  I'm sure we could go on for hours about nothing worth mentioning, so let's cut to the chase, shall we?"
He grimaced at the title, but nodded.  "You know why I'm here, and that's the reason I chose to came to you.  You're by far the smartest man on this ship, and it's not idle flattery.  I need you."
Hugh smiled, little more than a thinning of his already razor sharp lips.  "Honesty.  What a refreshing change of pace!  You couldn't believe how many times I've been lied to already in this hideous waste of space."
"You requested that I cut to the chase."
"Yes, and you need me.  I'm quite willing to hear anything else you might have to say."
"I shouldn't have to say anything.  You already know why I'm here."
Hugh leaned forward, the bright gleam in his eyes and the deeper signs of the anger that he had already seen once the only telltale signs of his madness.  Servilius hated that he was here, that it had already come to this.  But what choice did he really have?
"I want to hear it," Hugh said, and the man who would be emperor shuddered at the longing in his voice.
"I desire a partnership," Servilius said flatly.  "Nothing more, nothing less.  I've already seen firsthand how little I'll be able to accomplish on my own, and there's too great of a possibility that I'll fail before I even begin."
"I see.  You have lost Coda, haven't you?"  Servilius knew that he gave no sign of the question meaning anything to him, but Hugh was keen enough to know his answer anyway.
He leaned back, giving a satisfied sigh as he did so.  "I may be the only man in the known universe who has heard you admit that you can do nothing on your own.  What a blissful moment of my life."
"I'm so happy for you.  Are you going to help me or not?"
"Help you?  God no.  What am I, crazy?"  The madness sparkled again in his eyes.  "I know what you can do, even if you don't, and I refuse to have any of that on my pure white conscience."
"You'll do nothing to aid me?  Or are you going to destroy me yourself?"
"Now there's a possibility.  I just might be doing the world the greatest favor since Pilate ordered Jesus crucified."
Servilius licked suddenly dry lips.  "You couldn't."
"I could do it myself with my bare hands and enjoy it.  I'm in here for a damned good reason."
"I have too much to offer you.  You didn't think I could come to you empty handed, did you?"
At that the elder of the Vaughn brothers sat back on his matress and laughed so hard that one of the guards stuck his head in, alarmed.  When Hugh came to his senses he wiped the moisture from his eyes with a low chuckle.
"You," he said to the guard, still laughing a little.  "You'd better be out of this camp before I'm done with this gentleman or I'll kill you.  I ordered us not to be disturbed."  The criminal, youngish and with only a blue shadow of stubble on his face to give him any other kind of identity, paled and closed the sheet behind him hurridly.
"I offer you the same deal," he said to Servilius, after they were once again alone.  "Just do me a favor and get out of my camp, and I won't have to destroy you."
"You aren't going to hear me out?"
"I don't have to.  You have nothing to offer me, and I refuse to even be seen pretending to consider the possibility of anything otherwise.  Get out."
It was now or never.  Servilius made a last, desperate bet.  "Hugh, listen to me.  You know who I am.  You know what I've done.  I was two days from being Emperor, Hugh, and if you've heard otherwise they're liars.  I got arrested less than twenty four hours ago.  My people... Hugh, you cannot understand what my people will do to find me, once they know that I've been taken.  They didn't even send me to trial.  I was packaged up and brought aboard this ship as soon as they got me abck to homeworld."
Hugh was listening with a small grin on his face.  It wasn't the most encouraging of replies, but at least he wasn't trying to kill anyone at the moment.
"I'm not done yet.  Not yet, Hugh!  I was too close for it to be all gone, and that's not just wishful thinking.  My armies span the stars... with me gone, they'll want me back.  You know they will.  All I want from you is an alliance, and your name will be remembered along with mine until the end of the universe.  I'm not asking for anything from you except a chance."
There was silence between them for a while.  Then Hugh stretched his neck and stood up, looking down at him.
"I want you out of my place," he said, and Servilius stood up as well.
"Is that your answer, then?" he asked.
"No.  This is: you keep your life, you slimy bastard.  I know in my deepest of hearts that we're going to die out here, but if there's even the slightest chance otherwise... after my fool of a brother fails to kill me, I might even have a chance to go back.  No, I won't kill you."
"But you won't help me?"
"I am helping you.  Now get out."

Servilius was escorted, gently, out of the meagre complex of frail tents, suddenly even more aware of an alternate meaning of Hugh's last words.  Hugh had some people here already, some loyal friends, prehaps people he knew when he was in prison on homeworld.  His younger brother, Charlie, would also have people who knew him and had served him before.  But right now, they were still all spread out.  Scattered, all over the ship, masterless.  And even if they had wanted to reuinte with their old masters, word would be traveling frightfully slow until more connections were made.
Which meant that if he played his cards right, and was himself as he had known he was in the glory days of his early campaigns, he still had a chance.  Only if he didn't sleep, maybe for the next week or so, but wouldn't that be worth it?
Only once he was surrounded by loyal people again would he feel comfortable.  Guards, real ones - not these pathetic boys playing at being soldiers.  Murderers all, but still weak of mind and spirit.  He needed his own men around him.
But wouldn't there be any here?  He had lost loyalists before, and there was a good chance some of them would be aboard this very ship, if they had been actually tried for murder instead of being summarily executed.  All he would have to do is find those places with high concentrations of men, and make himself heard.  It went against everything he had learned in the intervening years of trying not to stand out and get himself killed, but if he couldn't be strong enough to draft some men into his service even here, of all places, then maybe it meant that he shouldn't be the emperor at all.
Bolstered, he walked forward with even greater purpose.  It was just too bad that, of all the old comrades in arms he might find on this ship, not one of them would be able to take the place of Coda.
Hugh had been correct in his assumption that he had been lost, and a damnable loss it was at that.  Coda was the perfect second in command, his right hand in all things.  In another time and place, he might even have called the man his best friend.  But in these times and in this place, he was nothing less than a stellar officer.  And they had been seperated.
Servilius had to wonder where the man had been taken, or if he had been taken at all.
Surely they would know better than to put him on this ship.  Of course they wouldn't, not even if they knew that the two of them were going to die in the thing.  Would they?
Would they?
His feet on the metal floor beat out a flurried tattoo as he tried not to run through the halls.  There was a chance.  And if there was a chance, he would win.
He always had.

Book Review - Black Diamond Death

Today, I’m reading BLACK DIAMOND DEATH by Cheryl Bradshaw, featuring Sloane Monroe, a female PI in the town of Somewhere, Utah.

It started out pretty well, really.  I was even playing around with the idea of giving it three stars. But then it all went downhill (pun partially intended). First, the idea of a woman being murdered on the slopes of this new ski resort is a joke to everyone involved.  The police laugh our hardboiled female detective right out the door, and her client (the victim’s sister) is ridiculed.  But the author goes to great lengths to tell us that the victim is a world class skier, the tree she supposedly crashes into is unmarked, and she doesn’t even have the kinds of injuries that crashing into a tree would give you.  It might be petty, but this is the whole premise of the book, and it doesn’t really make a lot of sense.  Those kinds of plots really pull me out of the story.  

Aside aside from some comma issues (think, “it’s nice to see you again Mr. Surname” over and over again... my brain just halts when I see that, but again, petty) the writing is fine.  Then, somehow and for no good reason, everything goes to crap.  Maybe it just took me too long to notice it, but the author often chooses the longest word where a shorter one would be better.  That’s a rule of writing that I particularly like... use the shortest word possible to say what you mean, or else you get lines like, “after some time my stomach indicated its discontent” and “he picked his drink back up and ingurgitated all of it”.  Sloppy writing.  Say what you mean, say what you’re trying to say.  Don’t beat around the bush.  The characters are one dimensional, and the current suspect (the cheating, lying, manipulative rapist ex-fiance) hasn’t shown one iota of positive attribute.  Sloane, the detective who doesn’t like to tell people why she’s asking them questions, and her client actually have a nice, bonding laugh over Sloane breaking his fingers.  I don’t know the law too well myself, but I just spent way too much time looking it up so I don’t have to be worried about calling this book bullshit.  It seems like most of the detective work has so far been illegal... too bad Sloane’s police detective boyfriend doesn’t set her right about trespassing, defamation of character and wiretapping.

Hours later, I finally finish it.  The writing improved again, inexplicably, and I got to pay more attention to the story.  I almost quit once, and that’s when Sloane’s pink suited feminine friend tags along to speak to a suspect (or whatever she is at this point... a loose end?).  I almost put the book down right then and there thinking about whatever kind of self respecting professional would let a friend come along just because they wanted to.  I admire even the barest attempt at realism, and this just kicked me right out of my suspension of disbelief.  I persevered, though.  The friend gets lost pretty quickly, but we’re not out of danger yet.  The first suspect is killed (spoilers!), no surprises there, and we get to see our main character derisively mocking the police for even daring to think that they could keep her away from the evidence, despite her prints being all over the murder site.  I couldn’t quite believe the audacity, and lost a lot of respect for her.  These men are the only ones in the book doing their jobs.

Then we find the killer, yadda yadda yadda, we’re left with a cliffhanger, and the book is abruptly over.  Like, really abruptly.  I turned the page trying to find the epilogue and there wasn’t one.  So I went back and checked again.  I toyed with the idea of starting the next book for approximately zero seconds.  

Final thoughts?  No really likeable characters, and all of them flat and predictable.  I knew who the killer was because she was one of about two suspects, and the other one had the good fortune to die off.  The writing... shifted.  It was really strange.  The beginning and ending were decent, no really big gaffes or goofs, but the middle was just chock full of them.  The examples I gave above were only a few of the many I saw that made me smile or even laugh out loud, and I feel like I shouldn’t be finding those things in a book that was the top of Amazon’s charts last week.  It was fine, sure.  But it was a little worse than mediocre... it was boring.

Next week, it looks like this weeks' winner is THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY, by Karleen Koen. Huh... this one actually sounds interesting. See you next Sunday!