There are a few different ways to pull excerpts from a novel. One way is to make use of a subplot. The following tells a side story with one of my supporting characters. It begins on a camping trip, when a member of the underground has an attack of conscience and develops his own symbiont.
(These excerpts from Martian Divides are copyrighted (2009) by author Phyllis K Twombly; used by permission.)
Vince’s mind wandered off again. So it was true, they had perpetrated violence against someone who was completely innocent of anything except being different. He staggered to his feet as the hamburgers he’d eaten earlier came back to haunt him.
Skye stopped reminiscing and looked up. “You look sick.”
Malcolm grinned as Vince doubled over some nearby bushes. “Vince has such a weak stomach he passes out at the thought of blood.”
Skye nodded slowly. “So that’s why they told us not to bring him along.”
Malcolm nodded. “Yup. He would have fainted as soon as you pulled out the scalpel.”
Skye snorted. “Scalpel? You know I had to use a laser saw. It took a while to cut through those hideous things.”
Malcolm shivered in spite of himself. “Not a pleasant memory.”
Skye grinned and handed him a plastic bag. “It’s all in a day’s work. Here, toast another ‘mallow.”
Malcolm patted his swollen belly. It threatened to burst his waistband. “I guess I need one to improve my figure.”
Their banter was well within Vince’s hearing. He wondered how much of the blood on their hands had been passed on to him. He looked at his left palm. A small red swirl had begun to form. He suddenly felt much better. He closed his hand and hoped they wouldn’t notice. He stood up straight and cleared his throat. He tried to maintain the appearance of looking ill.
Once on the road, Vince sighed. “I’m really sorry to take you away from the party…”
Malcolm waved a chubby hand in the air, momentarily causing the van to drift. “Nah, don’t worry about it. Skye’s a great underground agent but she’s kind of abrasive for my taste. She considers herself to be someone who ‘cuts to the chase.’”
Vince winced. “Too bad she doesn’t see how mean she is.”
Malcolm turned a corner. “I’m used to it. Besides, with her temper someone else can be the one to tell her how others see her.”
“I don’t think it will be me.”
Malcolm chuckled. “You’re a smart man. How are you feeling?”
“A lot better. Thanks for taking me home.” Vince shivered. “I hate sleeping outdoors.”
“But Skye insisted you come, right?”
“She swore that it was imperative for anyone who had not gone Martian to attend.”
Malcolm laughed and then nearly gagged. “Give me a moment.” He engaged in a bout of throat and airway clearing before he spoke again. “Half the time she thinks I’ve ‘gone Martian’ because I keep seeing a doctor who has a symbiont. He’s a dwarf…”
“Don’t you mean a ‘little person?’”
“Whatever. Anyway, that little guy is the best regardless of the symbiont. He’s cured a number of my former associates…most of whom developed the symbiont shortly afterwards. It’s why I don’t let him cure my health problems. But he’s an entertaining guy and he keeps giving me access to human medication. His specialty is people without the symbiont.”
“Doctor Buddy Sloane?”
“Oh, you know him? I guess you probably would. There aren’t many doctors willing to take us seriously these days what with not having the symbiont.”
Vince rolled up his sleeve. “See my arm? It got sliced up at work but Dr. Buddy did such a good job there’s hardly any scarring.”
Malcolm glanced over. “I don’t see anything at all. Are you sure he didn’t use his symbiont on you?”
Vince realized he could no longer see the scars that had been on his arm since the accident. His mind raced as he clenched his left hand involuntarily. “I didn’t think so…do you suppose he could have done it without my knowledge?”
“Maybe. He’s a tricky little rascal. But I think he’s usually honest. You should just ask him.” A dark look came over Malcolm’s face. “Or maybe you’ve developed a symbiont.”
Panic squeezed Vince’s chest. “Me?” he squeaked. “How would I develop a symbiont?”
Malcolm rolled his eyes towards him. “I’m just kidding. You’ve got to learn to relax. Or the Martians might get you!” He released the wheel and menaced Vince with hands poised like claws.
All the color drained from Vince’s face. His eyes bulged out.
Malcolm slipped his hands back onto the wheel just as the van began to veer to the right. “Relax, Vince. I’m kidding. I thought you were going to pass out. You really are high strung.”
“Please don’t do that. I thought I was going to have a heart attack.”
“Mr. Stoker, it’s so nice to see you again. What can we do for you today?”
Vince held up his palm. Red swirls formed within seconds. “I think it’s time you and Doctor Buddy started calling me ‘Vince.’”
She gave him a big grin. “Then you should call me Fern. When did this happen?”
“Last night. I was at a secret meeting with other underground members. We were sitting around the campfire discussing awful things. It made me sick to hear it. After I threw up I noticed these swirls in my palm and then I began to feel a lot better…”
Buddy walked into the room. His curly brown hair was a darker shade than Vince remembered and his bright green eyes were now a brilliant shade of blue. The bottom of his white lab coat nearly dragged on the floor. “You’ve developed the symbiont. How do you feel about that?”
“I don’t know. That’s why I came to see you. How am I supposed to feel?”
Buddy shrugged. “The initial bit of euphoria takes a few months to wear off. After that how you feel is entirely up to you. But you seem troubled.”
“I guess I am. I don’t deserve one since I was against you guys for so long…”
Fern patted his shoulder. “Those of us with the symbiont are very forgiving. You wouldn’t have developed one of your own without a change of heart. What was it?”
“I guess it was when I realized how cruel the underground had been. I’d heard they’d cut off Lucille’s wings but I thought it was done with anesthetic…”
Buddy crossed his arms in front of him. “Lucille has a symbiont. It spits out most drugs. It’s almost impossible to sedate someone who isn’t cooperating if that individual has the symbiont.”
“That poor girl…”
‘And it was probably your empathy that allowed you to develop the symbiont.’
Vince looked down at Buddy. The words hadn’t been spoken, but they were as loud and clear in his mind as if they had been. “Telepathy?” he asked.
Buddy smiled. “I was just testing. We have to be sure your symbiont can communicate without drowning out your own thoughts.”
“Does that happen a lot?”
“No. It’s mostly a matter of learning control. It will be take you a while to learn how to use telepathy but generally the better a person you are, the more cooperative your symbiont will be.”
Fern guided Vince to a chair. “Now, what’s your real reason for coming here?”
“Oh, right. I’m worried about the underground finding out about this. I didn’t understand how dangerous having a symbiont might be until I realized the scars on my arm were gone. I went to show them to Malcolm and he only glanced at my arm. I don’t think he thought anything of it at the time but what if he figures it out? Will they try to kill me?”
Buddy rolled his eyes. “The underground isn’t usually dangerous…”
Skye watched the rolls of paper spin on their route to becoming currency. She eyed a counter top with completed bundles of bills. “Just how unimportant will cash become?”
Vince grinned as he thumbed a wad of bills with his large hands. “Thanks to Martianomics, it’s already this unimportant.” He tucked the wad inside his jacket and did the same to another few bundles. He handed her a few more. “Go ahead and stick them in your purse. I promise nothing will happen.”
Skye looked around. Security couldn’t possibly have missed the obvious crime but none of them responded with any concern. They were grinning.
She crossed her arms in front of her. “Won’t that put your totals out at the end of the day?”
Vince shrugged. “Those guys all have the symbiont. Money doesn’t matter to them. You see…” He glanced around and lowered his voice. “The symbiont doesn’t really care about cash. Consequently, Martians and humans with the symbiont don’t care that much either. The ‘new economy’ everyone keeps talking about doesn’t require exact accounting. Martianomics is based more on good will generated by the symbiont. It’s a way of ensuring that no-one starves and no-one goes bankrupt. In that sense the whole world has sort of ‘gone Martian.’”
Skye winced at hearing the term. “And they don’t know that you haven’t?”
Vince felt his symbiont squirm under the skin on his back, a sensation he equated to a symbiont form of laughter. He smiled. “So long as you’re not thinking hostile thoughts about them the Martians pretty much leave you alone.”
“Sure, with the exception of recreating world politics after their own pattern and making computers less accessible to people like us.”
Vince shrugged. “You have to admit the world has been a much safer place for humanity since they made themselves known a few decades ago.”
“If they’re so honorable, why did they hide for so long?”
Vince recoiled. He didn’t think he’d done anything to arouse suspicion. “Why ask me?” he stammered. “They’re the ones who kept their presence a secret.”
Vince seemed intrigued. “No symbiont interface? You mean, none of us has to ‘go Martian’ to access this data? We can just read the files in English?”
Malcolm cleared his throat. “‘Affirmative,’ as the computer would say. You sound like you might want a piece of the action, Vince.”
“You know I love technology. I can’t believe you didn’t tell me about this right away.”
Skye cocked an eyebrow. “We’ll send you something to work on.”
“That’s great! I have two weeks of free time coming up…”
Malcolm snorted. “Yeah, I guess they’re real slave drivers at the mint now that cash is more or less optional.”
Vince laughed. “It’s a brave new world my friends. We might as well take advantage of it. I’ll take everything the Martians are dumb enough to give me. That’s my definition of Martianomics.”
Skye clucked her tongue. “Who says the entrepreneurial spirit is dead?”
Vince knew he should be concerned. The blindfold over his eyes, the gag over his mouth, and the hushed voices of his kidnappers all pointed to alarming events in his near future. On the other hand the symbiont inside of him sent reassuring swirls throughout his bloodstream. Fear was little more than a memory, not something he felt at the moment. Instead of a panic attack he maintained a calm state of mind. It was almost pleasant until he remembered he was still a prisoner of the underground. More out of boredom and curiosity than panic, he strained to hear his captors’ conversation. He was amazed at how much better his hearing suddenly seemed. It was like turning up the volume on a radio.
Skye’s voice was the one he recognized. “…until we can find Malcolm…”
Oddly enough, Malcolm had a new connotation to it. Malcolm’s mind was within reach. Surprised, Vince realized Malcolm must have developed the symbiont too. He was still silently congratulating Malcolm when he felt Buddy’s telepathic touch.
Stay calm. We’re on our way.
Vince still wasn’t adept enough in using his symbiont to respond in kind. He could have answered verbally if only his voice had been available. He heard Fern’s thoughts next.
It’s okay. You don’t have to answer. We’ll still find you.
Vince wondered if there was anything he could do to help his rescuers. He felt he should keep on listening to the bits of conversation he could hear.
“…can’t believe Vince could destroy all the underground computers. I didn’t think he had that kind of technical expertise. He was just supposed to be a mint employee. Do you suppose the symbiont gave him all that knowledge?”
“Of course the symbiont gave him all the knowledge. He’s a clone!” Skye snapped.
Vince raised his eyebrows. It was the first he’d heard of it. The blindfold slipped almost enough for him to see.
“The real Vince Stoker must have been murdered and disposed of by Lucas just before this clone infiltrated the underground. This one must have been given all the data and experience downloads that would make him a convincing replacement. I just wonder how long he’s been reading our minds.”
“Do you think he’s reading our thoughts right now?”
Vince heard the sound of a seatbelt being unbuckled. He felt sudden terror as he braced himself for whatever might happen next.
The footsteps approaching him stopped. There was a pause before the puzzled voice he didn’t recognize spoke.
“Hey, where is he?”
Vince frowned. The blindfold slipped down enough for him to peer out over the top of it. The interior of the van was covered with faded brown suede. Cardboard boxes were piled up on the opposite side. A young dark haired fellow dressed in black was looking in all directions. He seemed to look right through Vince.
“He’s escaped! Stop the van!” the young man yelled. He rushed back to the passenger seat in the front and held onto it while the van squealed to a stop.
The boxes slid across the van’s green carpeting. One fell off a pile as Vince toppled over. He hoped the noise of his own fall would be masked by that of the box.
In the driver’s seat, Skye turned and glared at the interior of the van. “That’s impossible!” she snarled.
Her companion glared at her as she too failed to see Vince in the back. “Do you suppose they used their matter transfer device to remove him?”
Skye turned back to him. “Maybe; but it’s more likely he snuck out when you insisted we stop for burgers.”
“It was a Martian café. They make the best food.”
Skye rolled her eyes. “The human appetite will be its downfall. Look, if he did escape, we should go find him. He can’t have gotten far. You take that side of the road, and I’ll search the other.” She pulled the van onto the gravel shoulder of the road.
Vince felt his muscles relax. He was still trying to figure things out when the back doors of the van opened. He wondered why he was no longer afraid.
Fern and Buddy reached in and pulled him onto the ground. Fern undid the gag and blindfold while Buddy sliced through the ropes around his arms and ankles.
The police van resumed its leisurely patrol. Vince breathed a sigh of relief as he got up off the floor and sat down in a bucket seat. “Thanks for the rescue, guys. But there’s one thing I don’t understand. How come they couldn’t see me? Right at the end it was as if I was invisible to them. Did you do that?”
Fern looked at Buddy as they found seats.
Red swirls filled the doctor’s face. “No. Martians are able to blend in with their surrounding when they’re frightened but this is the first time I’ve heard of a human being able to. Your symbiont might have advanced capabilities.”
The preceding passages have been slightly edited for length. Thanks for reading. 🙂
Phyllis K Twombly