New Short Story; Buddy’s Eye

Tonight I released a 30 page short story to Amazon Kindle called Buddy’s Eye. It’s the first story set in a much larger universe and I am very proud of it. It’s priced at $2.99 and you can get it here.

You can sample it through Kindle but I also wanted to make it available for the same price here if you want. Just click on the donate button to the upper right and I will be happy to send you a .PDF or .MOBI of the story.

Here’s a preview of the first bit of the story:

 

 

 

“Is he ready?”

[WE HAVE TOLD HIM AS MUCH AS IS POSSIBLE. WE HAVE TAUGHT HIM AS MUCH AS IS POSSIBLE.]

“Is he ready?”

[HE IS READY. HE WILL SOON HAVE A COMPANION. WE HOPE FOR HIM. HE IS A FRESH NEW LIFE. HIS MIND IS FILLED WITH WHAT YOU CALL LOVE. HE IS UNLIKE ANYTHING IN OUR EXPERIENCE.]

“You found him. It was your idea to use him.”

[WE FOUND HIM LIKE WE FOUND YOU. WE USE HIM LIKE WE USE YOU. YOU BOTH HAVE BEEN GIVEN GIFTS. THERE SIMPLY IS NO MORE TIME. WE HAVE DONE WHAT WE HAVE DONE.]

“So that we all may live.”

[SO THAT WE ALL MAY LIVE.]

-A conversation on the planet Mars.

***

Buddy smelled like popcorn, Klevik’s mother always said. Klevik had never had true popcorn, nor was he certain his mother had either. Klevik would bury his head in Buddy’s fur and breathe deeply, trying to understand his scent. To him, Buddy smelled like dry air filters. He smelled heat and life and love in Buddy’s fur, but it smelled mostly like air filters. His mother insisted it was a popcorn smell.

She had a silly song she would hum or sing to Buddy whenever he was around. She tried to sing it again to him with her last breath, as Klevik sat next to her in the hospital. He was in a stupor of fatigue and grief. His mother had spent her last few days detailing for him as best she could what she knew of the location and defense rings encircling the asteroid base his father had made as a home for them. It was called Buddy’s Eye.

Buddy was a golden retriever.

***

Decades later, the entire solar system was tearing itself apart in civil war while Klevik parked a heavily armed corvette a hundred kilometers away from Buddy’s Eye. He’d been gone for twenty five years. Now he was back home. Almost.

The corvette was officially named Long Hammer. Not a bad name as names go, but Klevik had already decided on a new name: Iiyama. It would be a while before he would be able to paint and rechristen the stolen Sol Defense Force attack ship, but they were unlikely to miss it with their current travails losing a war to the chrome lepers. Besides, he had already changed all the internal computerized ident broadcasts with a manufactured ship registry and the new name. That mattered more than someone getting close enough to see the paint job.

Iiyama. It was a name his father would have chosen, with his love of old Earth Japan. He was obsessed with names, Klevik’s father, and believed they spoke to the soul of individual things.

The center command chair almost swallowed Klevik as the holoprojection of the asteroid loomed in front of him. Under normal circumstances the bridge of a ship this size would have a four person crew with another five at other parts of the ship, but he’d managed to automate enough systems that he was able to steal the ship himself. Besides, he didn’t want any partners in this particular venture. Stealing an SDF corvette made for a type of business partner well outside Klevik’s comfort zone.

Although an older ship, the Iiyama was actually fresh off the Ganymede shipyard refit line. Given her previous name, she was ironically christened. Squat, only slightly longer horizontally than vertically, with her weapons mostly suited towards interdiction of supply ships and the typical small pirate vessels that used to plague the Belt when Klevik was younger. Visually she was more anvil than hammer. It was one of the reasons he chose the ship: it very much resembled the ones that broke up his father’s pirate fleet twenty five years ago.

Klevik was a Belter. He wasn’t modified either genetically or mechanically. He was quite literally a dying breed. A Belter at forty years old was like one of the Earth clan newborn at one hundred and twenty. No, his wasn’t a political or religious choice, like it was for a few fringe cases. He was simply too old for genetic modification out here in the Belt, and no one Beltside had chrome at a price he could afford. Never mind that the benefits would still be needed to have started from birth to be the most effective.

Klevik didn’t care about the war outside the Belt. He did have a very vested interest in his own survival, and that’s what brought him back here to his home, to where he grew up. Not to mention nearing forty and starting to acutely feel his age, he wondered about his father’s research project so long ago. Potential secrets in the rock.

The asteroid sat still in the projection before him. Decades before, his father had stopped its natural rotation. The mining and modifications caused a sheen of dust to form in a small circular cloud around the two kilometer wide rock. It looked like a light brown iris around the black pupil of the asteroid’s dark side.

It looked like one of Buddy’s eyes.

***

Klevik was six years old when his father surprised him with a golden retriever puppy for Christmas. The initial work had just been completed on what would become their home, their safe place. Within the solid rock of the asteroid, a ring rotated to create gravity. The asteroid’s own slow spin, ineffective at creating a strong gravity field, had been stilled by rocket motors a year before. They remained in place to fire occasionally and assist in the ring rotation.

The new graviton manipulators—developed on Earth and replicated independently in the Enclaves—were too expensive for the Belt. As mounting tensions meant the first priority was the military, the remote slow turning asteroids of the Belt were left by the wayside for the application of such technology. So his father had improvised. The ring had been spun up to near Earth gravity over the past week while the family sat in the spartan and cold metal framework. They’d fashioned a living area for themselves with a few mattresses and a threadbare couch. The room was cramped but comfortable enough.

“This is just for a while,” his father said, “these are what will become emergency shelters if we ever need them.” Eventually they built out proper living areas.

The Christmas tree that day was a hologram but a convincing one, complete with fake pine scent. Klevik had never smelled natural pine, but he knew it meant Christmas. His mother had grown up with the simulated sights and smells of holidays and had instilled them in her son too. Were it any old style celebration on Earth he would have been right at home with the traditions. Projected tinsel hung on the metal walls; they had the nice old couch to sit on. There were presents wrapped in festive colors, and some of them were real, not projections. When one box under the tree kept shifting and had a conspicuous sound and smell, Klevik opened it first. A Puppy.

His father in the end was furious at the name. “Buddy? Buddy? Naming a companion is one of the most important choices we have,” His father fumed to Klevik’s mother while the boy held the squirming golden in his hands. He knew he’d somehow let his father down.

“You wanted this thing originally for your purposes,” his mother said, both annoyed and amused, “You should have chosen the name if you wanted something majestic.”

“What I wanted was something that speaks to his purpose.” His father replied, already relenting. “Buddy…it’s not a name that strikes terror in people’s hearts, or inspires hope or–” he trailed off.

For his part, Klevik had simply chosen the first name that popped into his head upon seeing the beautiful dog.

“But maybe, ‘Buddy’ is the dog’s purpose,” his mother said.

“You’re sure this is the name you want?” His father asked Klevik.

Klevik nodded.

“So be it. But you have to clean up after it.” His father said.

“Seems to me you both should clean up after him, since he’s for both of you. Besides, it’s easier now that the gravity is on,” Klevik’s mother said softly, “You’ve had the poor thing in stasis for a week.” She looked at the puppy and smiled. “He is a handsome dog.”

And so Buddy came into Klevik’s life. Bright eyes, a toothful grin, and reddish blond hair: that was Buddy the golden retriever. The cost to bring him to the asteroid was astronomical. The pleasure he brought Klevik’s family more than made up for it. Despite his initial reaction to the name, his father grew to like it as it suited the dog’s playful nature.

It was a good life. In many ways Klevik’s father was a visionary. He foresaw the lax protections in the Belt, the loose black market economy that allowed the mining industry to function, and where he could both legitimize and exploit his position. But Klevik’s father, unlike Klevik’s mother, was not born in the Belt. He was born on Mars. Klevik’s father had fled that planet, after having everything his parents had worked for ripped out from under him by the new government during the Mars Colony Revolt. He was not going to ever let himself be put in a position of uncertainty again.

A year after that Christmas, Klevik’s father tossed a ball against a bulkhead and Buddy snatched it in midair to bring it to him. As the dog stood up to face Klevik’s father, sitting in his new favorite chair in his study, he grasped Buddy by the face and studied the dog’s eyes intently. Buddy’s tail wagged in great sweeps as Klevik’s father smiled and said “Buddy’s Eye.”

“What?” Klevik’s mother asked.

“His eyes look like our home when we approach from the far side dock, that light brown dust circle. I’ve been thinking of a name for a while now. This is our home as well as a base of operations. It’s where we’re safe. I’ve been trying to find something mysterious or majestic to name it but what I think of always sounds so pretentious,” he laughed. “But I’ve got it: We will call our home Buddy’s Eye.”

“What about striking terror into the hearts of people? Or some academic name inspiring hope?” she chided.

“Now I’m thinking a little misdirection might be in order,” he winked at her.

***

 

If you liked this preview of the story, please buy it on Kindle or use the donate button above to get the rest!

7 comments

  1. Always willing to support another writer, particularly one of your talents, Stephen.
    Straight: $2.99 for a 30 page story is a bit much. Even Stephen King or Chuck Palahniuk charge .99 for a story of this length, and I openly admit that I’d throw down $3 for 30 pages of their stuff, but they aren’t asking that. You are.
    I bought your story and though I have not read it, I’m sure it’s well written and compelling. If you can market it en masse at this price, more power to you.
    I do wish you all the best in your writing endeavors but do consider the marketplace.

    ML

    • Stepto says:

      I appreciate the feedback. I did in fact do a lot of research about pricing. One thing I noticed immediately: Author’s without major publishers charge more, not less. The idea that everyone should charge at the same, or less, than Stephen King is actually a bad idea: He can afford it. We cannot. Artisian works almost always are more than mass produced works. A micro brewed beer is going to be more than a Budweiser. A struggling musician will charge 15$ for the online copy of their CD over the 9.99 a studio subsidized group will.

      You see, they get paid advances and everyone else doesn’t. Amazon takes 70% of a short story, no matter how long it is, at $.99. They take 30% of one priced $2.99. When I chose that price (the story is actually more around 40 pages) I also chose to limit the DRM and make the story lendable so that people could freely share it. That was my balance as an author for the price.

      I also am an author who has to pay for professional editing. I could just write something and release it. But I believe in having my work professionally reviewed and critiqued by an editor, which costs 2 to 3 cents a word. Buddy’s eye was over $300 dollars to edit. That was a price I paid up front. It’s a better story because of it. But right out of the gate I’m out my time, and the changes via edits, and $300 bucks.

      Art for those who chose to go to their fans directly is more expensive. I would ask you to redefine your definition of “the marketplace”. Otherwise the only art that gets created is back in the hands of the corporate publishers. That’s not the worst thing ever, but isn’t it better that there’s a choice?

      • Zack Stein says:

        Ok, so months later I come back to see what’s happening. I see you’ve published a story (congratulations). But you do realize this person is a fan who purchased your story, right? I’m not so sure, as a writer, you’re aware of the tone in your responses. Do you think there’s a way to have explained this, maybe, in a way that doesn’t seem so defensive? I’ve seen this before, from people who were at one time a boss. It’s tough to not be the boss anymore. When you’re selling your talents to the public, your readers, fans, listeners – they’re the boss. On the podcast, I really, really enjoyed your presence. A gulf was left upon your departure. I know I really got bummed out at you calling children spawn, but I have wanted to just let that go and find a way back into following you again. You may have already written me off as a jerk or a troll. But read carefully my words. I’m not attacking you. I see you as this person with so much potential. But I wonder if those closest to you are not always so truthful. You have a very powerful personality and presence. With great power comes great… Ah, you know what I’m saying.

        • Stepto says:

          Well, certainly my apologies to Mitch then. He implied I had not taken the market into account, I merely wanted him to understand I most certainly did and the bar that he has set for pricing being below that of popular authors actually doesn’t work.

          Believe me, I never liked being the “boss” as you put it. :>

          • ActivityGrrrl says:

            For what it’s worth, I did not see Stepto’s response as out of line or hostile at all. Perhaps that’s because, as an artist, I’ve often heard people tell artists that they could get a similar poster at a mall store for $20 so the artists’ paintings should be $20. It’s astonishing how many people don’t seem to understand what it means to hand make, self-produce, and self-publish works and how much time, effort, materials, and SELF go into those works. If you could get a poster for $20, then go get a poster for $20.

            Do I sound hostile? I absolutely don’t mean to but I also don’t really care. I’m happy to support independent makers, artists, writers, and musicians when their work interests me. No one’s ever held a gun to my head. (I’m sure I’ll be criticized as one of those “close to” Stepto, but I assure you I’ve never actually had any interaction with him before purchasing this story and this is my first comment on his blog. I do not know anything of him aside from some tweets and reading this blog. But, I do know how the independent market works. I also know how the mass market works. And I do have two brain cells to rub together so I know that they are different markets. Yes, I know that last part may read a tad hostile and I do not apologize for it.)

            BTW, when I made a donation the other day, I gave more than he was asking. It was worth it to me. As a writer as well as mixed/multi-media artist, I know how much goes into creative work and how thankless it can be. That’s one way to let the market speak. If you’d rather not pay $3 for 40 pages, don’t pay $3 for 40 pages. You won’t hurt anyone’s feelings. Just, please, don’t be the guy who thinks it’s his job to tell someone else what their creative work is worth. They already know.

          • Zack Stein says:

            I hated being a boss too. It took me several years but eventually I “demoted” myself – to a much better position here in DC.

            Despite what is written below I never said you were hostile. I don’t think you’re a hostile person. I also took a risk with my post, understanding that the anonymity of the internet allows people to speak in a way they never would face-to-face, and that I would probably take some heat for it. But I knew my comment came from a place of caring.

            I know you’ve probably been asked this frequently, and I’m sure the thought has crossed your mind, but have you considered producing your own podcast? I think you, in an interview format, could really shine. I think you could bring to light areas of the industry that few of us ever see, but would find fascinating. Also, your love of dogs could allow for some great audio mixed in with whatever else is happening in your world. Just a thought…

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