Journalstone has just published a new horror/sci-fi novel, penned by Richard Dansky. Given Richard's chosen profession in the video-game industry, the novel is set in the world of game developers. I'm more than a few years removed from my gaming days, but I still hold an affinity for the medium, so this novel certainly appeals to me. As part of his blog tour, Richard has offered up a glimpse at the novel with an excerpt and a brief introduction. Enjoy, and after you've checked out the excerpt, scroll to the bottom of the blog post for an e-book giveaway where one lucky so-and-so will win a digital copy of VAPORWARE.
Richard: This scene shows the narrator, Ryan, with two of his core team members, Leon and Michelle. They’ve gotten together to check up on a coworker, Terry, who’s falling behind in his work, and they want to find out why before he gets himself fired. Of course, being video game developers, they choose the most complicated way possible to do this – setting up webcams near his desk to get an eye on what he’s working on. They think he’s devoting time to a canceled project. What they see is something else entirely…
“What are we looking at?” Michelle asked.
“Just a minute, just a minute.” Leon fiddled a bit more, and a series of windows popped up onscreen. On all of them was Terry, or some portion thereof. The picture quality was grainy as all hell, but it was unmistakably him. There was a small palisade of Monster energy drink cans next to his keyboard and a double monitor setup behind them. To his right was a dev kit, a circle of green light shining out from its power indicator and fuzzing up the picture.
“Kill the ones from the left side,” I said. “The image is crappy, and the light’s messing up the picture. All we’re getting is the silhouette.” Leon nodded, and two of the windows went away. The refresh rate went up as he did so, treating us to a slightly more realistic vision of Terry typing, leaning forward, then typing some more.
“Let me scan the room,” he said softly. “Make sure there’s no one else in there.”
“Can you do that?” Michelle asked.
He nodded. “Camera four is on a swivel. It’s got 270 degree coverage.” Slowly, the window at the top right treated us to a view of empty desks covered with equipment and empty soda cans, game cases and action figures, and the occasional candy jar. No people, though. No computers that showed anything onscreen, no other sign of life or work or light, only Terry and his machine.
“We’re clear,” Leon announced with some relief. “Nobody but Terry in there. Which is good, because I’d hate to be doing this and catch someone watching porn or something and beating off at his desk.”
I punched him lightly on the shoulder. “You’ve never done that.”
He turned and looked at me, his face a mask of indignation. “The hell I haven’t. There was this one guy we called Dr. Spankenstein, back when I was working at—”
“Guys, can we focus here?” Shamefaced, we turned back to the laptop. Michelle’s expression was half smirk, half disgust. “The important thing is that if he’s the only one there and nobody’s running any processes overnight, then we know that whatever we see is his.”
“Exactly.” Leon gave her a grin. “But I still think it’s a good thing we don’t have sound. Just in case.”
Michelle let that one go without comment. Instead, she tapped the screen with one finger, clicking her nail against it to avoid leaving a smudge. “That one,” she said. “It’s from directly behind him. All we’re getting is his back and his hair.”
“And his back hair,” Leon quipped.
Michelle ignored him. “Can we kill that one?”
“Not yet,” I said, the beginnings of an idea coming to me. “Leon, can you zoom in enough to show us what’s on his screens?”
“I can try,” he replied, and hit a few controls. The images in half the windows grew larger and blurrier in roughly equal proportions. “No good.” Michelle frowned. “The only angles you’ve got are side ones. It’s too distorted. Maybe we could get a better feed if you killed the back cam?”
“No,” I said, “And here’s why. We want to see what he’s looking at, right?” They both nodded. “OK, put that one on max zoom and get ready to do some screen captures.”
“What are you going to do?” Michelle asked, but I was already whipping out my cell phone.
“He’s in the way? We’ll get him out of the way.” I dialed in the number for the work switchboard and hit an extension at more or less random, then let it ring. A second later, Terry’s head jerked up and to the left, presumably in the direction of the now‐ringing phone.
“What are you doing, Ryan?” Michelle turned, puzzled. I couldn’t help noticing that she was pressed up awfully close against Leon as she did so. “He’s not going to answer someone else’s phone.”
“He will if it keeps ringing.” I hit redial. Onscreen, Terry put his head down in an obvious attempt to concentrate.
I hit redial again. “And ringing.” Terry looked left, looked straight ahead, then looked left again, longer this time.
“And ringing.” Another press of the button. A jerk of the head, definitely annoyed, and he leaned forward to crank the speakers on his system.
“Now I’m really glad we don’t have sound,” Michelle said.
“He’s probably cranking some old Floyd B‐side they recorded in a cave while tripping on acid,”
“And grooving with a Pict,” Leon finished. “But I still don’t get what you’re trying to do.”
“I do,” Michelle said, and flipped open her phone. “Two phones are harder to drown out than one.” She dialed, hung up, redialed. I grinned and redialed.
And just like that, he stood up, glanced left and right, and stomped off‐camera. “Now, Leon!” I shouted as I killed the phone connection. I could see Michelle doing the same as we zoomed in on the center screen.
“Maximize it, you idiot,” Michelle said. It jumped to fill the entire screen. “Are you getting screen caps?”
“Screw that,” Leon replied, intent on the laptop. “I’m capturing the feed. We can look at this later to see what he’s working on. Though I can tell you right now, that looks an awful lot like the detection algorithm from Blue Lightning.”
“The code’s got to be commented,” I said. “Can you read any of it?”
He peered forward. “Yeah, good call. That’s what it is. He’s running with Shawn’s stuff and—oh, crap.”
Terry’s shape filled the screen as he hastily adjusted the volume on his speakers. I looked over to see Michelle’s thumb poised over her phone. “Don’t,” I said. “We got what we need.”
“Aww,” she said but put the phone away. “That was pretty sneaky of you.”
I kept my poker face on. “I don’t like doing this any more than you do. I figured the faster we got it over with, the faster we could stop. The phone thing was just a way to speed things along.”
Leon half‐turned around. “But now that we have the evidence, what do we do? I mean, we could go over there right now and tell him to cut it out.”
“How’s that going to help?” Michelle asked. “He’d be angry at us for spying, or he’d hear us coming and hide what he was doing. Short of scrubbing his machine while he sat there and then disconnecting it from the network, how exactly could we stop him from telling us to get screwed and getting right back to it?”
I raised my hand. “We don’t need to do anything tonight. Tomorrow, I’ll talk to the appropriate folks and we’ll sit down and have another little chat with Terry. Nothing serious, nothing that’s going to make him think he’s about to get fired because he’s not, just a friendly request to ease up on the hours on the black project. Or else.”
Leon snorted. “Horseshit. He’s hiding this for a reason. We say one word to him about it and he’s going to freak out. And when he freaks out, he’ll go back to doing exactly what he’s doing, just even more so, because he’ll think he’s running out of time.”
I sighed. “Look, Leon—”
Michelle interrupted me. “Guys.”
Leon waved her off. “Don’t ‘Look Leon’ me. I know Terry, and—”
“Michelle, we’re trying to have a discussion here, and—”
We stopped, mouths opened, and turned to look at her. She was pointing at the screen. “I think this is important,” she said.
I looked at the screen. The image of Terry’s back was still maximized, but now it was silhouetted, framed in a brilliant white glow. Streamers of light fanned out around him, like the sun’s corona during an eclipse.
“You still have the side views open?” I asked softly. Leon nodded. “Good. Minimize this one.”
He did so. And we stared.
The angle that showed it best was the window in the lower right, and Leon quickly maximized it. On it, we could see Terry in profile. He sat there, hunched forward, hands still on the keyboard. In front of him was his work setup, speakers pushed well back, monitors positioned to ergonomic perfection.
And leaning out of the monitor was the shape of a woman.
Some info on Richard Dansky: A 14 year veteran of the video game industry, Richard Dansky is the Central Clancy Writer for Ubisoft/Red Storm. Named by Gamasutra as one of the top 20 game writers in 2009, he has written for games ranging from OUTLAND to the upcoming SPLINTER CELL: BLACKLIST. Richard is also the author of six novels, including the critically praised FIREFLY RAIN. He lives and works in North Carolina with his wife and their statistically improbable collections of books, scotch and cats.
You can find about Richard and his work by visiting his website (http://www.snowbirdgothic.com), on Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/rdansky), and find out more about Vaporware by checking out the Publisher's Book Page (http://journal-store.com/fiction/vaporware/). If you're interested in buying yourself--or someone else--a copy of Vapoware, you can find it on: AMAZON, BARNES & NOBLE, POWELL'S, and INDIEBOUND.
GIVEAWAY: The fine folks at Journalstone, Richard included of course, have a digital copy of Vaporware for one lucky winner. Simply leave a comment before June 10th with a way to contact you should your name be drawn, and I'll randomly select a winner on June 11th. Sound good? Great!