NaNoWriMo Tips

I’m a huge fan of National Novel Writing Month. I think it’s one of the best ways to get people inspired to work on that novel they’ve always dreamed of writing. Structure is a writer’s best friend (even when sometimes it feels like a frenemy).

Every year I try to post daily writing tips for each day in November on my Twitter. You can follow these at @LastTrilobite (you’ll also get all my retweets of things I find interesting or humorous, for no extra charge). Today’s tip, for November 1st, concerns first lines, and I thought I’d expand on that thought here.

The first line of a book is crucial. It’s what gets the reader invested to read the second line… and so on. It’s also incredibly fun to write it because for once it doesn’t have to do multiple things simultaneously (unlike, say, every other line in the story). It does not need to set the tone of the book, introduce the main character, or anything else. It just needs to grab the reader’s attention. Typically you can achieve this best by writing something outrageous or silly or intriguing. The more outlandish the better!

Whatever you do, though, please don’t make it about the weather. “It was a dark and stormy night…” is considered terrible writing for a reason. Unless it’s literally raining frogs or something, just… don’t.

Of course, if you only write one line on day 1 of NaNoWriMo you’re going to get behind in your schedule. You need to think about the second line, too. And the third, and the fourth… in a longer work, you could easily develop that first crazy line for a paragraph or three. But with only 50,000 words in your project, you don’t have time for that. You need to get to the meat of things right away. After that first line, your first paragraph really needs to start doing some work. You’ll need to introduce us to your main character, establish a preliminary setting, and set the tone. It’s a lot to pack into one paragraph, but it can be done if you’re judicious with your sentences.

You’ve got your work cut out for you. So come up with that first crazy line now–just use the first thing that pops into your head. Remember, you can always change it later. Though you probably shouldn’t–if it made your head spin the first time, it’s doing exactly what it needs to do!

Good luck to everyone doing NaNoWriMo this year, and keep at it!

Singularity 3GS

“Please, please come in. Can I get you anything? Coffee? Water? Okay. Let’s just have a seat. We have a lot to discuss and a couple of decisions to make, but I assure you, we’ll keep this as painless as possible. You’ve come to the right place.

“I might begin by offering my condolences. No, maybe that’s not what you expect to hear from me! Ha, ha, yes, but seriously—this is a time of transition for your grandmother, and regardless of what we decide today, there will be some grieving. It’s a natural thing, a human thing, to feel a sense of loss. Even for those of us lucky enough to live in these times. These days, when death has finally lost most of its sting… but not all. I understand exactly how you’re feeling right now. I went through this same process with my father, a few years ago, and I can tell you right now—what you’re feeling is natural. Your grandmother has died, yes. But that doesn’t have to be permanent, not anymore.

“Let me just bring up some graphics on the screen, here, this is just… well, call it inspirational. Are you religious? No? Okay, let me click through these first twenty or so images. Here. This is our facility. Yes, I agree, it looks nice. It’s very quiet—though, not silent, per se. If you ever come to visit the data center, and I hope you will, you might be surprised to hear music playing in the hallways, in the employee areas, even in the server rack warehouse itself. That’s for the benefit of our workers. Some of them report a, well, eerie feeling being around all those resting souls. It’s a purely psychological effect, there’s nothing ghostly or spectral about the work. Mostly our employees spend their days checking the servers, making sure they stay cool, making sure the emergency backup batteries are fully charged. We can’t afford an outage, not even for a moment! Unfortunately, the way the process works, if we ever lost power, well. If a stored personality is ever, you know, switched off, it’s impossible to boot it up again. One of the little problems in the system that we’re always working on.

“I’ve taken the liberty of examining your grandmother’s social media profile, I hope you don’t mind. I wanted to get a sense of how she might fit in at our facility. Ha ha, that’s kind of a little joke we have. I see that she worked in information technology back in the early, wild west days of the internet. Amazing what they accomplished back then, really amazing. And I see she was a fan of science fiction films. That would explain why you’re here. Most people of your grandmother’s generation wouldn’t have made this choice, much less written it into their wills. Though honestly I find that a little surprising. Death is forever, as they say. But now it doesn’t have to be.

“Your grandmother can live forever. And I mean that perfectly literally. Forever. I want you to think about that. She’ll be around when your grandchildren are old. She’ll be around to see the sun burn out. As long as she’s taken care of in our facility. And there aren’t any power hiccups.

“Let’s not worry about that, shall we? I assure you, we take the most extreme measures to avoid any power loss, even for a moment. For the reason I mentioned earlier, yes. So let’s not worry about that. I want to talk to you instead about the packages we have to offer, and the upgrade schedule you can see in this slide here, and—

“Will you be able to talk to her. Well. In a limited sense, I mean, you can talk to her all you like but—her ability to talk back will be limited. There’s a little light on the front of her server. It blinks when she knows someone is there. That’s something, right? We can have a webcam set up to monitor that light, yes, that’s actually part of our Heaven 17 package, and of course it’s included if you purchase Cloud 9 maintenance insurance, and—

“No, I’m sorry, you won’t be able to see her or interact with her. She’ll exist as a layer of information on top of a silicon substrate from now on, and… I know, it’s a lot of jargon to process all at once. Let’s just say that there won’t be anything to actually see. Or hear. But her consciousness will live on forever. Let’s stay focused on that—

“No, no, I get this all the time, but no—she won’t be interacting with any other of our resting souls. That would require far too much processing power, power we need to keep the souls active. Alone? Will she be all alone in there? Well, yes, technically, but as I said earlier, she will have some dim consciousness of the existence of other people near her server rack. We’re not exactly sure how, but we know it has to be true. That’s what the blinking light is for. So let’s not use the word ‘alone’. That makes it sound so grim, when what we have on offer here is—

“I really think we need to stay focused. This is immortality. We are offering the cure to the greatest affliction humankind has ever known. We are offering a cure for nonexistence. For oblivion. For death.

“I see. I mean, I think I understand. Yes, it might seem like a limited existence. But surely it’s better than the alternative. And it’s not like she’ll lack for stimulation. Honestly, we tried that with our first generation product, just keeping the resting souls in a state of sensory deprivation, as it were. Imagine just a featureless white room, and nothing to look at or hear, and you can’t even look down at your own body because you don’t have one anymore. It’s… yes. It was pretty grim. And we discovered that it just didn’t work. A human mind, in the absence of any stimulus, well, it goes insane pretty quickly. If it can, it shuts down. I mean, when we gave the first generation of resting souls the opportunity to shut down, well, they did all take it. Immediately. But let’s not focus on that. We’ve come a long way since then.

“Your grandmother will be given constant stimulation. We feed in video and audio streams twenty-four seven. Oh, we try to keep the program varied. Mostly, though, it’s just old anime shows from the 1980s. I’m sorry? No, no, I understand. Like I said I saw your grandmother’s profile. I know she would have preferred classic movies, perhaps, or just music, but we can’t, at this time, offer personalized stimulation feeds. We have a strategic partnership with a company that owns the rights to, really, a startling amount of anime from the 80s. Honestly, it’s kind of fun! So retro!

“Other kinds of feeds? What other kinds of feeds are possible? I’m not sure what you’re asking, specifically. What, like virtual reality? Oh, no, ha ha, no, no no no, it won’t be like that. We have nearly ten thousand resting souls in our facility alone. Can you imagine the processing power it would take to provide them with a virtual world, twenty-four hours a day? Oh, no, that’s quite beyond the—

“Twenty-four hours, yes.

“No. They don’t sleep in there. No, the reasons are, well, technical. But they’re related to the problem with, ah, power hiccups. Basically, if we don’t keep the resting souls constantly running, that is to say, if their programs ever stop we… well, we don’t have any way to start them up again. So no, they don’t sleep. On the plus side, they don’t need to eat, either, or groom themselves or—or—yes, I understand, you hadn’t thought about that before now. That your grandmother will never brush her teeth again. I know, it’s these little prosaic things that we never consider, that bother us now. Please. Take your time. I’m just going to bring up this next slide, which concerns the financial packages we have on offer.

“Hmm? Financial, yes. Well, we are talking about eternity here, and that’s a very long time. We’ll need to set up some kind of direct deposit system to cover the weekly fees, not to mention the yearly surcharges and then any upgrade package pricing you might want to consider. We suggest, and this is purely optional, we suggest setting up some kind of endowment now. Our investment package can help match inflation and make sure your grandmother is protected for a very, very long time. Of course, any investment may lose money, I’m required to say that. But an endowment really is best. Otherwise, your children, and your grandchildren, and their grandchildren can make modest contributions to your grandmother’s upkeep on a week-by-week basis. It’s up to you. Let me bring up this next slide.

“Yes, that’s what we’re looking at, not including taxes, fees, and package upgrades. Yes. Per week.

“I understand. It’s a big decision I’m asking you to make. I don’t want to pressure you. But I do think it’s important to note at this juncture that the harvesting procedure—that is, the process by which we read your grandmother’s personality state directly from her brain tissue—has to be done within the first twenty-four hours post mortem. Otherwise there could be… glitches. After forty-eight hours the procedure is impossible. So we need to act quickly. Unless you want your beloved grandmother to just… die, like people used to do. Unless you want her to just be gone. Forever.

“You can sign here. A thumb print is fine. We’ll take it from here—you don’t need to do anything else. What’s that? The… the body? Ah, well, it’s sort of, you know, used up in the procedure. You really don’t want it back, once we’re done with it.

“It’s been lovely getting to meet you today. And please, when your own time comes, when you’re ready—please let your children know that I’ll be here. Waiting. Waiting and ready to serve your own post mortem needs.”

FORBIDDEN SUNS is out now!

FORBIDDEN SUNS, the thrill-packed conclusion to the Silence trilogy, is available now wherever books are sold. This third volume finds Commander Lanoe closer than ever to his long-sought revenge–and to saving the human race. Can he trust his new allies to see him through the fight? Can even a legendary fighter pilot take on an entire alien species and hope to survive? What is Tannis Valk becoming, and will it be a friend or foe? All the answers are here. The epic story ends with a final confrontation beyond anything you’ve seen in FORSAKEN SKIES and FORGOTTEN WORLDS!

Also available as an eBook.

Why I Don’t Believe in Willful Suspension of Disbelief

We’re told, almost certainly apocryphally, that one of the earliest movies was of a train heading directly toward the camera, and that audiences who saw it ran for their lives. We’re told that a truly great piece of fiction makes the reader forget they’re reading a book (or seeing a movie, etc.) and immerses them entirely in the secondary world of the story.

I’ve never bought it. Oh, I’ve read plenty of immersive stories in my time, but every single time the thought in my head was not “this is real! If the characters die, I will too!” My typical thought is more along the lines of “oh, this is really good! How can I pull off this same effect in my own work?”

Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, and I know how the sausage gets made. Maybe my insider knowledge of how stories are put together keeps me from enjoying them in the intended manner. I don’t think so, though. I think pretty much every consumer of culture knows the basics of how entertainment is made. The water cooler talk about the latest Game of Thrones episode is often as much about the difference between practical and CG effects as it is “can you believe character X did that to character Y?”

Then there are the commenters. In one of my books I suggested that a given handgun could hold thirteen bullets (you get a prize if you can guess which book this was. The prize is that you briefly made me feel like I exist). I got an email from a reader who told me he had enjoyed the book up to that point, but really, since said gun could actually hold fourteen bullets, he could no longer appreciate my work and would not be purchasing any of my future books. I actually took this seriously and mentioned, in the second volume of the series, that the gun could hold fourteen rounds.

I then got an angry email from a reader saying that if I didn’t know the gun could only hold thirteen bullets, I wasn’t fit to be writing about vampires.

I mention this story because I think it shows that we, as media savvy entertainment consumers, have stopped willfully suspending our disbelief–if we ever did. Just as some people can watch a movie and check their texts at the same time (horrible people), when we read a book we’re never completely lost in the imagined world. We’re always–always–comparing the story to what we know, to what we’ve read before. We run to wikipedia or at least the dictionary if we find concepts or even just words that are unfamiliar in our texts. We discuss our stories endlessly–Chris Hardwick has made a career out of dissecting TV shows the very second they’ve finished airing. I don’t think disbelief enters into the equation at any point.

Instead I think we are actively participating in cultural transmission. Rather than passively submerging ourselves in words and images, we are all, in our heads, remixing them continuously into nuanced interpretations, hot takes, and snarky scorn. We don’t just absorb texts, we study them, mining for ideas for our own work, or at the very least for sick burns we can share with co-workers.

As media becomes more and more integrated into our psychological landscape we become more adept at using it, rather than being manipulated by it (current politics notwithstanding). We always experience texts at a remove, now. But I don’t know if this is purely an artifact of the twenty-first century. I’ve always been interested in mythology, and one of the first questions you end up asking when you read Bullfinch is whether the Greeks really believed that the sun was a chariot with Apollo at the reins. The answer of course is that some people did, while others simply used the story to organize their lives–just as many people today seem unable to understand the news or the actions of their friends without framing them in terms of scenes from Harry Potter. I think this may be something intrinsic in the way we tell stories.

Think of a stage magician’s show. We are told that the magician will saw a woman in half. We watch it happen. Yet only a very small part of our lizard brains actually thinks it’s real. The vast majority of our consciousness is instead devoted to trying to figure out how the trick is done. We engage with the act on multiple levels at once, almost all of them on a metatextual level–we are outside the thing we perceive, aware of factors beyond what the magician wants us to see. The same can be said for every book we read, every television show we watch. Really interesting art often plays with our expectations and our preconceptions. Think of unreliable narrators, antiheroes and stories that break the fourth wall.

When Coleridge coined the term “willful suspension of disbelief” in 1817, he was specifically talking about genre stuff (what he would call “fantastical tales”) being leavened with verisimilitude and human pathos to make it more palatable. His idea was that readers would scoff at fantasy stories unless they were given enough realism to have something to hang onto. I’m not sure if this was true even at the time; I’m certain it isn’t, now.

What’s the takeaway here, for writers? Be conscious, always, of the fact that your reader isn’t reading your work in a vacuum. She has access to endless secondary sources. She can call you on your bullshit, or she can get in a discussion group with hundreds of other people about the details of your fiction. Don’t let that paralyze you, though. Instead, play with it. Withhold details or intentionally provide false information–which you correct later, for dramatic effect. Don’t be afraid of direct address or other techniques which might damage the illusion of secondary reality. But always remember, when you write, you are not alone. You are not screaming your truth into a void. You are contributing one long twitter thread in the culture conversation that began before you were born and will long outlive you.

Was that helpful? Or are you already rolling your eyes, thinking about how I overwrote that last sentence, and how much of this article I got wrong?

SPACE MUMMY in TERROR ON PLANET 13

“Calling Space Mummy… Space Mummy come in… the galaxy needs your aid once more… calling Space Mummy… Space Mummy come in…”

The signal rushed across the ether, bouncing off pulsars and rocketing past blue giant stars. The call that could not be ignored, the call for help!

When Space Mummy first heard it, he was wrestling with kelnars on a planet circling the star Arcturus. The kelnars were beasts, savage animals that were half lion, half insect, and all fury. Two of them had their massive jawparts clamped around either of Space Mummy’s arms while a third writhed on the ground under Space Mummy’s massive, bandaged heel.

At the sound of the call Space Mummy burst into action. He shook the two kelnars off his arms and kicked the other into a crater. “Sorry, pals,” he said. “I’m needed elsewhere!” With a great bound he leapt across the crumbling soil of Arcturus IV, back to where his starship, the Astro-Obelisk, stood straight and tall a thousand feet above the beast world’s plain. In the low gravity of that deadly world he jumped up into the ship’s airlock, a round door cunningly worked into one of the countless giant hieroglyphs decorating the Astro-Obelisk’s surface.

He hurried to the engine room, where his chief engineer was already warming up the ecto-reactor. “Beat Bones,” Space Mummy called out, lustily. “You know our next destination?”

The engineer was a human skeleton dressed in a black turtleneck and a matching beret. No one could work the reactor better, because Beat Bones had built it himself. “It’s a stone groove, Daddio,” the beatnik mechanic claimed. “We’ll blow this pop stand before you reach the control room!”

Space Mummy laughed and looked up at the tall ecto-reactor, which resembled a giant hourglass filled with the wailing spirits of the dead. Not for the first time, he wished there was some better way to propel a starship than by torturing the damned. Space Mummy was a man of great compassion. But the galaxy made its demands—what could he do but acquiesce? He climbed a long ladder toward the pyramidal control room at the top of the Astro-Obelisk. When he arrived Miss Death, his factotum and first mate, was already laying in coordinates.

She was wearing a black Chanel dress and a brooch in the shape of the wadjet, the Eye of Horus. Space Mummy took a moment to enjoy the way the colored lights of the control board flashed off her bare skull. He was secretly in love with Miss Death, though he assumed she was beyond all mortal concerns and would never return his affections. “You heard the call?” he asked. Then he grabbed for the side of his chair as the room shook wildly—the Astro-Obelisk was blasting off in a great welter of screaming ectoplasm!

“I have it up on the main screen,” Miss Death said, her eye sockets burning with white fire. One triangular wall of the control room lit up with the jackal face of General Anubis, dressed in his customary paratrooper’s uniform, complete with a bright red ascot and aviator sunglasses. The only being in the stars who could order Space Mummy around!

“You’re needed on Planet 13,” Anubis barked. “The King there has gone mad with power. Great injustices may be committed at any moment!”

“Understood,” Space Mummy said. “Miss Death—how long to Planet 13?”

“Traveling at just below the speed of light, the fastest speed allowed by the laws of Physics,” she said, running the calculation on her own, smaller screen, “about twenty-four years.”

“A blink of the cosmic eye,” Space Mummy said. “General Anubis—I’m on it!”

Planet 13 had been a lovely place, once, a paradise of forests full of tall trees and placid lakes. Now it was a hellscape of massive factories belching filth into the sky and endless concrete parking lots, despite the fact that none of the workers could afford to buy cars! The King of Planet 13, Viktor Markoz, had transformed the place in just a few short decades. He’d done it on the backs of his poor subjects, worked till they collapsed by a corrupt and decadent military caste.

“Ha ha!” they would laugh, as their leatheroid whips cracked across the spines of the workers. “Ha ha!” Propaganda posters of the King’s face hung from every building in the capital city, called Markoz after its master. Massive statues of the man stood in every plaza. Try as hard as they might, the sculptors never managed to portray their King with anything but a nasty sneer on his face. Maybe it was the result of the old dueling scar that ran from his chin to his temple, costing him the use of one eye. Or maybe it was the darkness that squirmed inside his evil heart.

“There,” he said, standing on the balcony of his palace, a fifty-story skyscraper in the middle of the city. He peered with his remaining eye through a spyglass and pointed at a polluted lake some miles away. “I own that!” He spun the spyglass around so he could see a strip-mine where once a rolling meadow had been. “No more wildflowers, not when I need iron for my weapons of war!”
His audience was the young Prince Kurt, his only child and heir. “Yes, father,” the Prince said, though not without a heavy sigh. Prince Kurt did not love evil, no matter how much he wished to please his—frankly insane—father.

“Do you see that massive prison?” the King demanded, pointing out across the blighted landscape. “Is that mine? Is it? It is! Ha ha!” he laughed, a laugh that echoed the brutal sadism of his evil soldiers. “And that—that—there…” his gloating drew to a sputtering stop. “What is that? Do I own it?”

Prince Kurt rushed over to the spyglass, though in fact he didn’t need it. A massive building stood on the far side of the central square, directly across from the skyscraper palace. It looked nothing like the other buildings—it was not stained with years of soot, nor was it covered in unnecessary spikes and gargoyles and leering bas reliefs of the face of Viktor Markoz. Instead it was a graceful square column, tapering gently to a pyramidal tip. Its surface was elegantly carved with ancient pictograms. “Why, father,” Prince Kurt said, in wonderment, “I believe that’s—I mean it kind of looks like, that is to say it’s—”

“SPACE MUMMY!” the King of Planet 13 screeched. “He’s here!”

Space Mummy had dressed for battle, in a kilt of hammered copper and a golden nemes headdress, the gear of an ancient Egyptian warrior pharaoh. He leapt down to the streets of Markoz City and just as he’d expected—and secretly hoped—was met by a welcoming committee. In this case, a cadre of huge goons wielding leatheroid whips! But these whips were even worse than the ones the soldiers used on the workers. These were electrified.

“Ha ha,” the soldiers laughed, and their whips sang a crackling symphony of pain.

Space Mummy wasted no time. He never did. He grabbed one of the whips even as it sailed toward his face. Yanking on it, hard, he lifted a soldier off the ground and spun him around like a wicked bola, knocking down all the rest of the soldiers one by one.

Next came machine gunners on motorcycles, with sidecars that also carried machine gunners. Space Mummy guffawed as the bullets tore through his bandages. They could not harm a man who had been properly mummified in the ancient Egyptian tradition! As the motorcycles roared ever closer he brought his hands together and whispered the ancient incantation. “By the names of Osiris and Isis, I AM POWER INCARNATE!” Then he slapped his hands together so hard the resulting shockwave sent the motorcycles spinning end over end into the air.

A walking tank came toward him, a colossus of armor in the shape of a man with a massive gun sticking out of his midriff. The gun whined as it charged up for a devastating powershot. But Space Mummy was ready. “Horus Punch,” he shouted, as he dashed forward, one fist curving around to land a thundering blow right in the solar plexus of the walking tank.

When the dust cleared the walking tank’s gun was bent at a comical angle. The big machine tottered on its metal feet and then fell backwards with a great clang.

A final foe moved to stand before Space Mummy. It was not a division of crack troops, nor an aerial bombardment by space planes. Instead it was a single soldier, a young man who had tried and failed to grow a goatee. He shook visibly in his patent leather boots and it looked like he might drop his saber at any moment. But he raised one finger and jabbed it in Space Mummy’s direction.

“You will not get past me,” the young man said. “Oh, you may have defeated all our other defenses handily. Oh, your strength may be immeasurable. And I must admit your cause is just. King Viktor Markoz is a dictator, an evil man. He does not deserve to rule Planet 13. Yet even saying as much—there is a question here, a question of planetary sovereignty, that must be addressed. What right do you have to come here and attack our King Viktor Markoz? What authority does General Anubis possess to send you around the galaxy, toppling governments and fighting cosmic horrors? What kind of freedom do you represent, if the people of a given planet cannot choose their own destiny? Even if they choose wrong, even if they make poor choices, that is their right. And so I will stand before you, alone and afraid. I will stand up to the greatest bully of all—yes! For that is what I name you, Space Mummy. That is what I—”

“Apep strike,” Space Mummy said, and delivered a single karate chop that knocked the young man’s head right off his shoulders.

Space Mummy looked around the square. “Next?” he called.

But there were no defenders left. Planet 13 was defenseless!

Space Mummy focused his ka energy and hurled himself toward the skyscraper palace across the square. He didn’t even slow down as he jumped on the head of a giant bronze statue of King Viktor Markoz, denting it badly.

“So-called King,” he sang out, “prepare to be judged in the halls of the dead, where if your heart is found to be heavier than a single feather—”

“One moment,” a voice called out, echoing around the square. It came from a giant loudspeaker mounted on the front of the skyscraper palace. “One moment please, Space Mummy. I can see that you are preparing your famous Desert Oasis Burst, also known as the Attack of One Thousand Staggering Punches. I have heard stories of your great strength. I am sure it would level this entire building.”

“I possess the futuristic technology that built the pyramids!” Space Mummy called out. “I have studied the mind and body techniques of the ancient pharaohs, which have made me an unstoppable hero!”

“Unstoppable?” the voice from the loudspeaker asked. “Or perhaps… not?”

Space Mummy stopped in mid-air and just hung there, waiting to hear what the King of Planet 13 would say.

“I know you fight always for… gah, freedom,” the King announced, the word seeming to stick in his throat. “I know you are worshipped as a god on many worlds. But I know you would also never hurt an innocent.”

King Viktor Markoz stepped out onto his balcony. He was in full uniform, with a half-cape and a saber at his side. He held the hand of a small boy.

“If you attack this building, you will kill me, yes, but you will also kill Prince Kurt. Who, despite all my attempts at indoctrination, still possesses the clean, pure heart of a child.”

Space Mummy dropped lightly to the ground. He could see it was true.

“We have come, I think, to an impasse,” King Viktor Markoz said. “You cannot kill me. I cannot destroy you.”

Space Mummy lowered his bandaged head, his hands balling into fists at his sides. “You’re forgetting one thing, though,” he said.

“Oh?”

“You forget that I possess the greatest weapon the cosmos has ever known,” Space Mummy insisted. “Time.”

He snapped his massive fingers. An airlock opened on the front of the Astro-Obelisk. Two members of Space Mummy’s skeleton crew emerged, bearing a solid gold sarcophagus, worked elegantly in the ancient Egyptian style. Space mummy pointed at the center of the square, at a spot directly below the dented statue.

“Wait,” King Viktor Markoz said. “Hold on. What are you doing?”

The skeleton crew sang prayers to Ra as Space Mummy opened the lid of the sarcophagus. It was no simple casket, but a weapon capable of wreaking untold devestation. Space Mummy climbed inside, adjusted the pillow under his head, and called out to his bony crewmen. “Close it up, boys,” he said.

“No! You cannot! I won’t—”

The King of Planet 13’s voice was first muffled, then silenced as the lid of the sarcophagus closed over Space Mummy’s bandaged face. Space Mummy adjusted the sarcophagus’ controls, setting the Master Dial for seventy-five years.

“Now,” he whispered, as he sank into the Sleep of Pharaohs, “we play… the waiting game.”

Seventy-five years later Space Mummy opened his eyes. It would have been impossible for anyone to know that, since his eyes were covered by rich linen bandages, and anyway, he was still in the sarcophagus. He yawned and stretched a little, then punched upward and sent the lid of the sarcophagus flying across the square.

He emerged into a Planet 13 changed beyond recognition. The city square now was a lush park full of medium-sized trees. Children laughed and played in a broad public fountain. The statue of King Viktor Markoz had disappeared, replaced by a monument to the hard-working people of Freedom City.

Space Mummy laughed as he looked around. He reached down one massive hand and took the hand of a little girl who smiled up at him with joy. “It’s Space Mummy,” she said. “Everyone! It’s Space Mummy!”

It wasn’t long before Space Mummy was joined by a young woman in robes of pure samite, with a slender diadem of silver on her brow. She smiled warmly and gave Space Mummy a polite bow. “I am Queen Vladina,” she said. “The benevolent ruler of Planet 13. It is good to look upon your countenance, Space Mummy.”

“What of King Viktor Markoz?” Space Mummy asked. “What came of him?”

“He died a few years after you entered your weaponized slumber. I believe he slipped and accidentally fell fifty stories off his balcony. Onto a terrorist bomb, which was buried under a pile of cavalry sabers. Which had been poisoned. It was a fitting end to such a horrible man.”

“And he was replaced by King Kurt, then?” Space Mummy asked.

“Briefly. Kurt turned out to be a weak and ineffectual leader, who was quickly ousted by a military coup. Which was in turn overthrown by a popular revolt by the Committee for Public Safety. Which grew corrupt and decadent and was then voted out of power by a coalition of workers. Who finally elected me their supreme queen. Planet 13 has entered a golden age under my rule, because there is no evil or greed in my pure soul.”

“I can see it in your eyes,” Space Mummy said. He considered leaning forward and kissing Queen Vladina, but then he remembered Miss Death, and the desperate longing he felt for her, always. “Freedom has come to your planet! As is true everywhere, people long to be free. They crave it. Most likely they were inspired by the sight of my sarcophagus where it lay here, in the central square, for seven and one half decades. No doubt every time they passed by my visage they were reminded of what they truly wanted, a just and fair society. I imagine they must have spent their whole lives dreaming of that which I represent. A free and happy galaxy.”

Queen Vladina blinked several times. She coughed into her hand, delicately. Then she swallowed and nodded.

“Yes,” she said. “It must have been so.”

The Astro-Obelisk raced across the spaceways again, pushing the speed of light as it blasted a path through the red clouds of the Crab Nebula. In the control room, Space Mummy and Miss Death sat on comfortable stools, sipping cocktails. Neither of them were capable of consuming liquids, of course, so their martini glasses were full of ectoplasm, the same raw stuff of dead souls that powered the ship’s engines. As Space Mummy lifted his glass to the light he could see a face in there, wracked with torment.

If only, he thought, there was a better way to make a Sloe Ghost Fizz. A way to make one without suffering. Well, what could be done?

“Time,” Space Mummy mused, “will murder all tyrants.”

“I’ll drink to that,” Miss Death said. The white flames that burned inside her eyesockets studied Space Mummy, his noble profile, his massive chest. If only he knew, she thought, how she longed for him, how she dreamed every night of her bones being crushed in his massive arms. Yet, it was impossible. She was one of Space Mummy’s skeleton crew. He would never fraternize with one of his staff—it was unthinkable.

“Have we received new orders from General Anubis?” Space Mummy asked, touching his glass to the bandages that covered his lips.

“Not yet,” Miss Death said. “Though I doubt things will stay quiet for long. Not in a galaxy like this!”

The two of them laughed, long and hard. But unbeknownst to them, the signal was already rocketing its way toward them.

“Calling Space Mummy… Space Mummy, come in… the galaxy has need of you once more…”