d4: synopsis and my 3 favorite excerpts

I’m talking a close look at all of my blogs, making sure that they are up to date and that they represent my novels well. I’ve placed a few of my favorite excerpts from d4 on a page for permanent reference, and thought I would use them as a blog post as well. Enjoy!

d4 is the fifth novel in the collection 46. Ascending, which will ultimately consist of six loosely interrelated tales about five very different family members who each discover that they can do the extraordinary when circumstances require it. The stories are designed to be read in any order as they overlap in time and build upon each other in all directions.

This page contains a short description of the book d4 followed by three of my favorite excerpts from the first part of the novel. To read more, please purchase d4 at smashwords.com, at amazon.com, or at Barnes and Noble.

Book Description:
A clairvoyant young woman finds her visions of the future to be a nuisance, Ariel altuntil she discovers that she is hardly unique. An entire group of seers has learned how to profit from their knowledge in ways that Ariel has never considered. Another group is obsessed with using their talents to understand a dark future they cannot ignore.
An alliance with either crowd looks dangerous, given that they both seem a little crazy. There is no possible way to help them both. Worse yet, each group is convinced that Ariel is more than a potential asset; she’s the one thing that they must have in order to succeed.

Excerpt 1:
“You want me to move out of London? But I’ve only been here six months!” Ariel could hear the shrillness in her own voice, and she understood that it was not warranted. The company was well within its rights to ask her to transfer if she wanted this promotion and new assignment. It was just that it was such a surprise, and Ariel didn’t deal well with surprises. They almost never happened.

Yet if she had been paying attention she probably should have seen this one coming. The employees who had come back to work on the days between Christmas and New Years had all been talking about Gloria, a support engineer at the end of the hall whom Ariel had met at a few social events. Clyde Johnson, well known around the office as Gloria’s asshole boyfriend, had surprised everyone, including himself, by proposing to Gloria on Christmas Day.

Everyone knew that Gloria had already accepted a transfer to the Ireland office and guessed that Clyde’s strong dislike of both romance and commitment had been just barely overcome by his strong dislike of the idea of not getting to have sex nearly as often, with his main squeeze located on another island. Gloria had of course decided that she now needed to remain in London to plan the most wonderful wedding ever. Just yesterday she had rescinded her agreement to transfer to Dublin right after the first of the year.

That meant that the company needed someone else to go to Dublin immediately, and almost nobody wanted to go. The Ireland office was mostly about writing code because Ireland’s lower costs enabled Ullow to hire more young programmers while keeping the expenses down. It was something of a nuisance that a few clients insisted on being handled out of the Dublin office, and rumor had it than none of these were clients that would enhance a young engineer’s career.

In fact, Ariel had always picked up a sort of wink associated with these particular customers as well as a “you know, the Irish” tone whenever any of her bosses spoke about the Dublin office. What was it, exactly? Not condescending so much as it was a sort of unspoken understanding that the Irish would find ways to bend rules where the British would not. She got the impression that work that might raise an eyebrow in London was sometimes diverted to Dublin, where eyebrows were by custom less questioning.

Ariel had no objection to Ireland—she knew it had its charms. Unfortunately, she’d heard that the Ullow office was located in the greyest, bleakest part of town, far from anything charming. All of the company’s glamorous wining and dining was done out of the corporate headquarters in London, where the office itself was considerably nicer, the perks were greater and the chance to impress management was much higher. A transfer to Dublin was career limiting and everyone knew it. Only someone with little ambition, like Gloria, would volunteer to go there.

Ariel understood how she made the quickly assembled short list of those being considered to go instead. She was already thought to be bright enough to learn whatever she needed to know and yet, as a new hire being offered a promotion, she would have to go with little complaint. She fought to make her voice more pleasant as she reached for the manila folder that the HR man had been trying to hand her. She gave the man a weak smile as she took out the contents.

She must have touched something once handled by Gloria, because with the touch came the premory that there was a fifty-fifty chance that Clyde wouldn’t even go through with the wedding. With that came the knowledge that whether he and Gloria got married did not matter much at all, eventually not even to Gloria. What mattered was that one Ariel Zeitman, who until today had nothing particularly spectacular in her likely future, was now unexpectedly going to Ireland where she would almost certainly meet people and learn things that would change her forever.

Ariel picked up papers that held the transfer information, and ran her hands over them, willing any information to come to her.

“I’d like to think about it for a day.” She said it as calmly as she could manage.

“We’d like to get the paperwork started before the end of the year,” the man from HR said. “Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve, so you have your day. Barely, because we need to know by noon since we are going to close the office early.”

“Sure,” Ariel nodded. “Let me just take this information home with me and I’ll give you my answer first thing in the morning.”

As she stepped outside for some air, she had a pretty good idea of what her answer would be. The nice man from HR hadn’t noticed how firmly she had placed her hand against the wall after handling his manila folder, and he had no way of knowing that it was to steady herself against the kaleidoscope of new visions that came rushing at her while a tiny percent probability of a transfer turned into an almost certainty.

“Holy crap.” Ariel muttered it softly again and again as she made her way out of the building, her eyes half closed as she tried to calm her mind. “Holy crap.” She sat down on the cold concrete steps to steady herself. “Holy crap.” She couldn’t quit saying it.

What Clyde didn’t know, couldn’t know, would never know, was that in making his proposal he might have changed the fate of the human race. Ariel saw herself months from now, learning that thanks to Clyde Johnson’s sex drive, she was somehow being given a chance to play a role in the very survival of the humanity.

There was so much confusion in the premory. She couldn’t see how, she couldn’t see when and as the flashes of little specks of her most distant visions whirled their way through her brain, all she got with any clarity at all was that this decision mattered. A lot.

Yes, she thought she’d accept the transfer.

Excerpt 2:
“Slumming today?” Jake asked. He was one of the senior coders in the group, and loosely considered the coordinator for all work being done on Baldur’s project. He was one of those tall, chubby men with curly hair and a gentle way about him that made the comparison to a teddy bear inevitable. Ariel had already established a friendly working relationship with him, even though he had pointed out more than once that Ariel spent too little time with the programmers.

“Just wondering if you guys will ever actually finish what you’re working on,” Ariel teased him back. Frankly she would like to ask him many more questions about his work, but Eoin had continued to discourage their interaction in myriad little ways.

“Of course we won’t,” Jake answered cheerfully. “Will Microsoft ever stop releasing frustrating new versions of Word? Will Google stop reinventing itself? This programming gig is long-term job security, baby. Better than building roads because you never run out of a place to put new software. You just buy a bigger computer.”

Ariel gave him an appreciative smile back. She liked Jake for his sense of humor and for the fact that he seemed impervious to office politics.

“Do you have a little time to tell me more about the current direction of Baldur’s latest requests for modifications?” Ariel asked. As she did so, she reached out in what she hoped was a friendly, sisterly way and touched Jake’s arm. “Because I really am trying to be of some use here, both to our company and to our mutual customer.”

Jake nodded, apparently impressed by Ariel’s sincerity.

“Okay. I’ll let the front office people in on some of the secrets.” He winked. “As you know, Baldur is mostly concerned with better tools for making quicker changes to his own parameters. Seriously, one minute he wants the defaults to go one way and two minutes later he wants to be able to change them to do something else, at least under certain conditions and then three minutes later he wants it all to go back to the way that it originally was. It sounds insane, because no one, I mean no one, has worthwhile new information on anything related to stocks that changes that rapidly.”

“So why is he bothering with these requests?”

Jake gestured for Ariel to have a seat in his office as he got up to close his door. He lowered his voice just a little. “Seriously? At first I thought that he just liked fooling around himself with the software, you know. But after a while I realized that he was spending far too much money on our services for that and, frankly, he doesn’t seem like the kind of guy that thinks play time is all that important.”

Ariel had to agree. “So do you think that the man is a little crazy? I mean, he must have convinced himself that he does need to make changes that fast.”

Jake nodded. “I figured he was maybe, kind of, you know, harmless delusional. One of those weird really smart guys that isn’t totally in touch. So I looked more closely at his trading history. We’ve got all sorts of records from him and his company, so that we can run tests using real life data from the past. I thought I’d look at it and establish that this stuff he was asking us for was basically frivolous, in case, you know, sometime down the road we couldn’t meet his demands. Then I’d have some ammunition to point out to my bosses that this man was asking for a degree of speed and flexibility that just weren’t warranted. I saw it as a kind of CYA thing.”

“I’d be careful,” Ariel warned. “I don’t think Eoin would like the idea of you being able to prove that one of his big clients was asking for things he didn’t need.”

“I know. I didn’t exactly bring Eoin into this little experiment. Ariel, look, if you want me to stop talking now, I will and I don’t blame you. I don’t want to put you on the spot with Eoin and I don’t want to put you in a compromising position just to protect me.”

“It’s okay,” Ariel assured him. “There isn’t an employee in the world that doesn’t occasionally do a little probing on their own. I’ve got no problem with where you’re going.”

“That’s just it,” Jake said. “I’m not going there. I thought I was, but the truth is weirder. Baldur isn’t asking for tools he doesn’t need. Anyone else would be.”

Jake took a deep breath, like he was trying to decide if he should go on.

“Don’t you smoke?” Ariel asked.

“Yeah. Want to join me outside while I have a cigarette?”

Ariel nodded. This no longer seemed like the sort of conversation to hold in the office, and she was starting to have a funny feeling about how this tied in with the close-up visions she had experienced when she touched Baldur’s hand. A cigarette would probably help Jake and fresh air would definitely help her.

Once they were outside, Jake resumed.

“I ran tests using what Baldur tried to do with his current tools against what he would have been able to do if he had the tools he wanted. And then I looked at the same kind of information using Cillian’s investment history and I looked at it against the decisions made by two other big clients from the London office that I managed to get data on. Here’s the thing. If I improved the speed at which Cillian and the other two could have made their parameter changes, it wouldn’t have benefitted any of them. They’d win on a few new trades and lose a few that they originally won—just what you’d expect. You just don’t get new information that fast. Only it looks like Baldur does. He’d have actually done substantially better if he had the tools he wanted.”

“Really?” Ariel asked. “Is he getting some sort of insider information?”

“Not that quickly, he isn’t. And not on every stock traded. His parameters deal with trends. It’s more like he has a minute-to-minute sense of what whole segments of the market are going to do. He still needs us, our machines and our software, to make the millisecond trades, but the faster he can direct that software, even on a second-by-second basis, the better he does. We give him a few more seconds of speed and he starts to beat out everyone else past any statistical probability.”

Ariel’s funny feeling about Baldur Hákonarson was growing. “Jake, do you believe that somebody can, I don’t know, sense the future?”

“You mean like be some kind of psychic? No, I don’t. What I mean is that I didn’t used to believe in that kind of thing, at all. But facts are facts. I just don’t know how else to explain what this man can do.”

Ariel tried to make light of it. “In this case it has to be some kind of speedy crystal ball, doesn’t it, because I don’t think any psychic claims to predict things that fast?” She tried to redirect the conversation. “Is it a good thing? I mean should we be giving Baldur tools to beat out everyone else, even our other customers?”

Jake shrugged. “Maybe not, but I don’t see that it’s Ullow’s job to penalize Baldur for being exceptionally good at what he does. And just because I don’t know how he manages it doesn’t make it unethical.” Jake looked a little uncomfortable. “I haven’t come up with a good reason yet to share this information with anyone. Well, except with you today, but could this conversation stay between us, at least until I figure out more about what it is I’ve figured out?” Jake gave Ariel the same friendly brush back on the arm. “Please,” he said.

“Of course.” Ariel nodded. “Thanks Jake. I can do my job better if I know more, even if I don’t understand it either. Don’t worry, this doesn’t have to go anywhere. If you ever figure out how he manages this trick, I’d love an update.”

As she headed back inside, she knew two things. The first was that Jake had little role to play in whatever scenario Baldur was involved in down the road. At least, Jake’s touch set off nothing that sent up alarms. Secondly, next week there was at least a fifty-fifty chance that Jake’s wife would surprise him by bringing home a new puppy. A little chow chow, and a really cute one too.

Excerpt 3:
The work portion of the trip would all be at the end, so Ariel tried to enjoy the beginning of her little vacation. She packed a few good books and her warmest clothes, and delighted in a window seat as she watched the late afternoon sun set on her way into Iceland. She found a favorite song on her mp3 player and listened to the pretty shimmer of Ellie Goulding’s voice singing “Lights” as the giant Vatnajökull glacier gleamed beneath her when the plane dipped below the clouds. Ariel thought that perhaps she had never seen anything so beautiful as the various shades of blues that glistened off of the ice in the light of a sun moving low in the winter sky while the song played softly in her mind.

She joined her group at the Reykjavik airport for the evening flight on to Nuuk. The small band of mostly Icelandic travelers was quiet, but friendly, and she felt thankful to live in both a time and place where a woman could easily travel alone. Nuuk was just a quick stopover, and the next morning they boarded the pint-sized plane for Ilulissat, the main tourist destination in Greenland.

Ariel stepped off the plane to her first view of the barren rocks mottled with bright colored lichens that make up the tundra. She had never set foot inside of the Arctic Circle before. Tiny flickers and flashes erupted as her boot touched the ground.

My premonitions are stronger here, she noticed with surprise. The cold dry air? The earth’s magnetic field? There had to be a reason. She added it to her list of things to try to figure out later.

While they were waiting for the luggage to be brought into the waiting area of the airport, Ariel wandered off, looking for a bathroom. She turned into an office and noticed a man’s legs sticking out from under a desk.

“Are you okay?” She felt like she should say something.

She heard him chuckle. “No, I’m in serious need of somebody to grab the other end of this wire. One man doing a two man job.” Ariel saw that he was trying to get some sort of computer cable to go up through a small hole in the desk.

“Let me help.” She came over, pulled the cord through and by acquired instinct plugged it into the monitor where it was clearly intended to go.

“Thanks,” he said with appreciation, as he wriggled out from under the desk. Then he noticed that she’d connected the cable. “A helpful tourist and one that knows how to connect hardware.”

“I can manage considerably more than plugging in a monitor,” she laughed. “IT training here, though I don’t use it enough these days. I’m Ariel. Passing through trying to hunt down the ladies room.”

“You came all the way to the arctic to find a place to pee?” he teased.

She rolled her eyes and when he held out his hand she took it without thinking.

“Siarnaq,” he said and Ariel saw a small spark in the air before their hands touched.

Then for a few seconds, neither of them could have said a word if they had wanted to.

For Siarnaq, the images he saw were so much larger than those he was used to—close-up and huge, like looking at something right in front of your face with a pair of binoculars. Amidst the blur of something too big to take in, he knew that he was finally seeing the future from his own lifetime. The prospect filled him with joy, but the images were just so close that he had no way to make any sense of them, The accompanying knowledge in his brain seemed to be coming at him like hundreds of birds chirping. We must not be designed to see what comes in our own lifetime, he reasoned.

To Ariel, the flickers of the distant future went wild in the corners of her brain, like far off flashing lights too remote for her to see the images that they were illuminating. This man matters in a future too far off for me to see, she thought. I wish I could enlarge these images somehow. We must not be able to see past the next several months. I guess that makes sense.

He let go of her hand slowly.

“You’re a seer.” He said it like he knew it for a fact. He studied her red hair, fair skin and blue eyes. She wasn’t of the People, or at least if she had Inuit ancestors they were few indeed. Had he ever met a seer who wasn’t mostly Inuit? He didn’t think so.

“You get visions of the future?” Ariel’s heart was starting to beat louder. She had never expected to be asking this question, much less to be in this situation for a second time in her life.

The Inuit man laughed. “The world is full of seers,” he said.

I had no idea that would be so good to know, she thought.

Siarnaq added gently. “You have a lot to learn. You’re with the tour group?” he asked. She nodded, not trusting herself to speak. “Today, they give you time to shop and sightsee. Let’s go get a cup of coffee.”

If you could see the future, would you want to?

It’s a big choice. Move in together? Go back to school? Retire early, have a child, take the trip of lifetime, marry, divorce, or quit your job? All of our lives have a dozen or so of these pivotal decisions. We often aren’t sure which path to take, but we do know that whatever choice we make, it will effect us for as long as we live.

good sign 3So here’s the question. If you could see the future, would you want to? Let’s not go as far as having you see it every day. We’ll keep it simple. How about supposing that you have the option of being granted precognition only for each of your life’s major decisions. Say yes to my gift and you will be given premonitions for each remaining big choice you have to make. Do you want that?

Before you answer with that quick yes or no, consider. How does precognition work? (For the purposes of this discussion you do have to agree that it does work, at least in the imaginary world we are discussing.) What you probably want to know in each case is what decision will make me happiest.  Hmm. That’s complicated. Happiest when? At first? Overall, averaged over your entire life? Or would you rather go for comparing the single happiest moment along each path? Or how about the fewest miserable moments?

While you are reflecting on that, consider that your choices also have consequences for others. Would you like to know which decision results in the greatest happiness for the most people? Or maybe you’d just like to know what choice brings more joy into the lives of the the people you care about a lot.  By the way, can you even define that group? How about the ones you haven’t met yet?

Lucky for you, the make-believe premonitions I am trying to grant you are not so dependable. You don’t get statistical results. You get something akin to snippets of enhanced videos. You’ll experience a few seconds of the sights, sounds, smells and emotions you are going to encounter if you go down that path, along with a little knowledge about your situation at the time. I’ll make this easier by giving you an example.

You’ve quit your job and you are moving to a new location of your choosing. You’ve narrowed it down to three places. People, climate, opportunities and ambiance all interweave into different advantages for each.

If you take my gift, you’ll see yourself in one location, standing miserable in the rain. You did like the idea of Seattle, remember? The scene shifts. There’s you, surrounded by friends laughing. You don’t care that it is raining outside. You have a sense that this is a celebration, and one of something important. Oh no. Now your alone on your couch crying. Does it have anything to do with what you were celebrating? Maybe not. Wait. Your holding a bloody knife in your hand. What? You glance down and see that you are cleaning a fish. Good grief. You take up fishing in Seattle? Forget that.

What about Sante Fe? Charleston South Carolina? The images and feelings that go with them march through your brain. Is that baby your child? Your grandchild? Does this little person make you happy? Or does it matter if they do? Does this little person cure cancer? Is curing cancer really a good idea? Your head is starting to hurt and you’re thinking that this seeing the future was not such a good idea.

IMG_1105That’s because the future is what you always knew it was. A mess of events and emotions that will take you through highs and lows and all the boring stuff in between as you love and live and make the best of things wherever you are.  It is true that maybe Seattle or Sante Fe or Charleston would have brought you something particularly special or awful and maybe that would have been good to know.  However, odds are much greater that all three choices will bring some good, some bad and whole a lot of whatever you make of it.

So take my gift or not. The secret is in knowing that it doesn’t much matter whether you do or not.

(For more thoughts on how my characters’ superpowers might affect their lives see my post Not writing books about shallow people leading exciting lives.)

Paradise in Frankfurt

I believe that one telling characteristic of a person is the music they enjoy. So how could I not feel the same way about my characters? I think about what songs they like (and their favorite foods and favorite sorts of entertainment) as I am getting to know them early in the process of creating my novels.

Each main character from my five books has a distinctive list of favorite songs, many of which are woven into the story. I don’t want to infringe on the intellectual property of others, so I am careful not to quote lyrics but only to give the song title and the musician’s name. When my books appear on Kindle, I  link the song title to the chance to purchase it on Amazon.

My other electronic versions are distributed through Smashwords where no such link is allowed. I’ve tried various other approaches with each book, but with d4 I’ve finally found the approach I like best. For every song, I’ve found a live performance that I think shows a little of a the personality of the singer and the band. I’ll admit that I’ve had a lot of fun seeking these out. Often the quality of the video isn’t as good as the more glossy clips, but I’ve picked each one for a reason.

For Lana Del Rey’s haunting Summertime Sadness I found this wonderful clip from her Paradise Tour in 2013.  She’s performing in Frankfurt and her mike goes out near the start of the song. It is amazing to watch her recover her composure, stop the band, and then ask the audience to help her out by singing along with her loudly as she starts up again.  Of course they oblige, making for an interesting variation on this wonderful song.

Enjoy it here.

Here’s a short excerpt from Chapter 14 of d4, where Summertime Sadness is mentioned.

Over the next week a disgruntled Ariel spent a fair amount of time rereading the documents that Toby had given her while she tried to figure out the best way to send information back. She’d just walked away from a man with whom she had a special—no, make that a truly a unique relationship—and she’d done it based not only on how personally distasteful she found Baldur, but also because of Toby’s assurances that Baldur was hell-bent on taking over the world’s economy.

She had heard nothing from Siarnaq since she had bade him a cold goodbye a week ago, and she missed his ongoing funny, warm communications with her. One of her favorite musicians, Lana Del Ray, released a new album on the first day of summer. Ariel played its best single, “Summertime Sadness” over and over as she tried to learn more about the situation that had caused her rift with Siarnaq. In spite of her irritation with him, she had to admit that she was worried about him. She was pretty sure that any kind of collaboration with Baldur only ended well for Baldur.