One-Hour Flash – Big Game

Here’s another installment of One-Hour Flash. Yep, another flash piece written in one hour that has been languishing on my hard drive for years. I’ve deemed all the stories in this series not quite good enough to submit (for various reasons), but there are elements I like in each one that might warrant revision or more likely expansion at some point.

Today’s story is called “Big Game,” and I’m pretty sure it’s the only piece of true military sci-fi I’ve written.

Big Game

General DeVeers walked at a pace Daniels found hard to match. The general’s longer legs and superior fitness ensured Daniels would be breathless and sweating by the time they reached the firing range. The general seemed unconcerned about the discomfort of the short, chubby scientist half-running and half-limping behind him, and he peppered Daniels with an unrelenting barrage of questions.

“Have you solved the issue with aggression yet?” DeVeers asked.

“We think so,” Daniels said, puffing. “The most recent batch have displayed a vastly reduced predatory instinct, although they still retain enough of it to serve our purposes.”

DeVeers nodded. “What about manual dexterity? The last batch of quickened had trouble holding their weapons. That put accuracy in the shitter.”

“Yes,” Daniels said and grimaced, and not just because he had to jog to keep up with the general. They’d almost lost their funding and the entire project when DeVeers had seen the test results. Luckily, the addition of a bit more human DNA to the mix and a little good old fashioned trial and error had ensured the latest batch had fully functional opposable thumbs.

“And intelligence?” DeVeers asked. “Are they smart enough to take orders and carry them out?”

This was Daniels’ own area of expertise, and he was pleased with his efforts. “Average IQ in the last batch was 105,” he said. “Outliers as high as 120.”

“Christ,’ DeVeers said. “That’s higher than a lot of human grunts. Well done.”

Daniels suppressed the smile blooming at the corners of his mouth. Praise from General DeVeers was like water in the desert—both exceedingly rare and potentially life giving.

They had reached the end of the three-mile-long passageway that connected the two halves of Luna Base. The massive steel door in front of them led to the labs, the holding rooms for the quickened, and the firing range. A pair of guards in gray blastek armor barred their way. They, like all military personnel on Luna Base, were on loan from General DeVeers, and they quickly stepped aside to let their commanding officer through.

The general waited patiently while Daniels punched in the door code, then brushed past him once the door opened with a soft hiss of escaping air. Beyond lay a maze-like complex of hallways, rooms, labs, and everything else needed for Project Sapia. The general took the lead, navigating the labyrinth easily despite only visiting Luna Base twice before. He had at least slowed his pace a bit so Daniels could walk comfortably beside him.

Daniels soon realized the general didn’t really know where he was going; he just followed the gun shots. The thunderous roar of a Simpson Autocannon is hard to cover up, even four miles underground with a hundred yards of steel and concrete between you and the shooter. The general had a slight grin on his face. Daniel’s surmised that the autocannon’s cacophonous blasts were familiar music to an old veteran like DeVeers.

The firing range was at the very back of the base and opened out onto a massive cavern—a vault, really—as big as a football field. A group of soldiers in gray armor and scientists in white lab coats clustered around a low wall set up on one side of the cavern. A figure crouched in front of the wall, an oversized Simpson Autocannon pressed to his shoulder.

The autocannon went off again, and Daniels clapped his hands over his ears. He’d forgotten his hearing protection and would be nearly deaf for the next couple of days. DeVeers had obviously come prepared, and Daniels noticed bright yellow foamcore earplugs in the general’s ears.

The general approached a group of soldiers and scientists, smiling widely. The soldiers turned to greet them, very careful to leave their own autocannons pointed at the ground. Their eyes shifted nervously back and forth between the general and Luna Base’s pride and joy, Subject 31, also known as Simba. They’d had to put down no fewer than ten of the quickened in the last six months, usually because something triggered a prey response. Daniels silently hoped they’d worked out that last bit with Simba and his brothers.

“That’s enough shooting, Daniels,” DeVeers said. “Let’s have a look at him.”

Daniels nodded and signaled to one of the other scientists, Martinez, who acted as the surrogate for the quickened. She’d raised each one of them from test tube to adult.

“Simba,” Martinez called out. “Come here and meet General DeVeers.”

Daniels couldn’t help but smile at DeVeer’s sharp intake of breath as Simba stood and placed his autocannon on the rack next to the wall. At eight feet tall and 350 pounds, he looked even bigger in his custom blastek armor. His head and face were a smooth blending of human and feline characteristics, alien yet somehow alluring. His fangs jutted just below his upper lip, and his eyes were large and golden, although the irises were round like a human’s rather than slitted like a cat’s. Simba’s mane was long and a tawny yellow; it almost looked like human hair in certain lights.

“General DeVeers,” Simba said, his voice a low rumble. “Mother says I am to serve you. To fight your enemies.”

General DeVeers nearly shook with glee, but when he spoke, the words were laced with still, tight and rigid. “That’s right, Simba. You and your brothers are going to be the finest unit in the entire damned United Military.”

Simba’s mouth fell open in a toothy grin. “We will be your pride. We will kill for you.”

Daniels nodded at Martinez. She put her hand on Simba’s massive forearm and led him away.

“Jesus, Daniels,” DeVeers said. “He’s perfect. If you’ve really worked out all the bugs, the rebels won’t know what hit them. What about the other quickened?”

Daniels grinned, relaxing for the first time since the general’s visit. “If you liked Simba, wait until you see Smokey and Shere Khan.”

So, what’s the issue with this one? Pretty simple, really. This isn’t a complete story. It’s a vignette or the opening bit to a longer piece. Honestly, I kind of dig the military sci-fi premise, and I like the characters too. That said, there’s more work to be done to turn this premise into something resembling a real story. Maybe I’ll flesh it out at some point.

Oh, and I can’t remember why I called this one “Big Game.” The title doesn’t really work for the story, but it was certainly something I latched onto in the desperate seconds between finishing this story and posting it for the one-hour flash fiction contest. I know, I should have called it “Lions, Tigers, and Bears,” right? 🙂

If you’d like to check out the previous installments in the One-Hour Flash series, click the links below.

Ranks of the Rejected: Mitch Malloy

In the past, I’ve interviewed writers and editors for Ranks of the Rejected, but as it turns out, they aren’t the only creative folks who get rejected. I’ve worked with a fair number of freelance illustrators in my professional career, so I thought I’d get the skinny on the trials and tribulations of that line of work straight from the horse’s mouth. I turned to the very talented Mitch Malloy, an illustrator I’ve worked with recently. Mitch was kind enough to answer questions about his work (and provide me with some awesome samples) and tell me about rejection for the freelance illustrator.

Be sure to check out Mitch’s website and gallery right here:

1) Tell us a about your work. Who are your typical clients?

My work is all over the place. Generally, my style is contemporary realism, but I do a lot of stylized work too and some hybrids of those two. I prefer realism most, though. The lion’s share of my work is science fiction and fantasy. I mostly do work for clients in traditional gaming and video games, but I occasionally do book or publishing work. I’d like to do more book work for sure.

I do most of my work digitally since that was what I learned on, but increasingly I’ve been working toward incorporating more oils, gouache, watercolor, and graphite pieces into my professional assignments.

2) How do you typically get contracts as a freelance artist? Do you send your portfolio out to potential publishers, like writers do with submissions? Or does the work come to you at this point?

I’m lucky that most of my work finds me at this point. But every other season work dries up, and I’m back to slinging my portfolio at art directors and hoping something sticks. A lot of work gets lost to cold calls, so I go out of my way to try and figure out a specific email address for an art director to be sure somebody at least sees my work before throwing it out. It’s worked, but I’m not sure they don’t hate it.

3) You and I worked closely on a project recently, the cover of Red Sun Magazine #3, where you illustrated my story “Caroline.” It’s not typical for an illustrator to work directly with an author (as cool as it was), so what is the usual process?

Normally, once I’m on somebody’s roster for work, it takes a while for the right project to roll around. When it does (whatever that project is), an art director or outsource manager reaches out, asks about my availability, and negotiates a rate. Then I receive a brief, which has specs and a written description of the assignment. Usually things like the focus and mood of the piece are called out, which helps me nail a specific idea earlier. Sometimes it’s nebulous, and I have to shoot a bit broader in my ideation. My absolute least favorite is when a client calls to deliver this information instead of writing it out in an email. I like things clear and concise so I can dive right in, but most conversations of this nature tend to be unfocused, and it immediately gets me out of my groove.

Anyway, once I get a brief, I do thumbnails for myself, pick my best ideas, and refine them for presentation. The client narrows it down to one option, then I gather my reference and work up that comp with color, a drawing, etc., working toward a final and reviewing along the way.

4) I assume that anyone working in any creative field will get rejected in some fashion. What does rejection look like for the freelance illustrator?

For me, rejection has often been silence. So many unreturned emails, ghost clients, or cold call emails lost to the void. I get rejected by going unanswered. Otherwise, I might get a form letter or (rarely) a handcrafted bit of rejection. I’ve also been subject to a lot of rejection once clients find out my rates. I work some great-paying gigs at this point. I don’t usually want to work the cheaper ones (with rare exception). A lot of potential clients flee when they find out I want a fair wage for my work, which I’m okay with. Makes it easier to focus on jobs that will pay fairly (though they’re rarer).

5) What have you learned from rejection? How has it helped you grow as an artist?

Rejection usually pisses me off so much it sends me into a self-improvement spiral. One of the ways I handle rejection is to just grind until I prove to whoever that I am capable of the work. It’s not like I can get better on a timeline that would make them notice. It’s irrational. But rejection fuels a lot of my study. Thankfully, more and more, I just do studying because I’ve found the love for it. Every once in a while that letter comes in and I get swept up in the fury again.

(It probably isn’t healthy)

6) Got a favorite rejection? Memorable, funny, mean, just straight-up weird?

I once was told in a client meeting that I couldn’t offer feedback on their product until I was capable of doing the work myself. The work wasn’t very good. I could have done it myself. It freaked me out so much I went and worked my ass off to show them up. They later told me they were impressed by my growth, so I guess it worked?

On a more lighthearted note, I was once rejected because somebody thought I was the singer/songwriter Mitch Malloy. When they found out I wasn’t, they were no longer interested in commissioning me to do a painting for them. For reasons I’m not sure I’ll ever understand.

7) Okay, plug away. Tells us about your latest project and where we can run out and see/buy it.

Most of my latest projects are for clients I can’t talk about for another few months or even years. This is my life! But if you want to see a really wonderful fantasy setting with great fiction and RPG supplements, go check out Aetaltis. I’m the art director for the project, and it’s a huge passion for me. Check out what we’re doing here:

Mitch is an artist with a deep passion for craftsmanship and storytelling. He has over 5 years of experience working as an artist in games. He is currently at Riot Games where he works as an illustrator. Outside the office, Mitch is a freelance artist for novels and traditional games. Mitch lives in the greater Los Angeles area with his lovely wife, his adorable son, two cats, and a dog.

Mitch’s clients include Wizards of the Coast, Riot Games, S2 Games, Privateer Press, Modiphius Entertainment, Onyx Path Publishing, Mechanical Muse, Posthuman Studios, Conceptopolis, Fantasy Flight Games, Present Creative, Super Genius Games, Wyrd Miniatures, and Broken Egg Games.