SNIPPET: Warpaint (or How Cadence Drake woke me at 3 AM)

So there I was, sleeping, and into my mind crept the image of a glowing map, across which stains of blood slowly crept.

As dreams go, it wasn’t much, except that it woke me out of a sound sleep at 3AM, and told me something I’d desperately needed to know about Cady, the world of WARPAINT, and how they found out…well…what they found out.

I’m not going explain what this is. If you’ve read Hunting the Corrigan’s Blood, you’ll probably extrapolate. If you haven’t, you’ll still get the gist of this.

(And for anyone interested in WARPAINT’S progress, this morning’s session put me over 18,000 words out of 80,000 total.)

NOTICE: This material is copyrighted, unchecked raw first draft, probably buggy. Please don’t post typos or corrections (I do my edits at the end of the first draft of the project and will not see your comments when I revise). This material may not survive to publication. Do not quote or repost anywhere or in any format. Thanks.

The map appeared across the forward viewports, suspended in the air, glimmering. Every known point in settled space was a glowing pale blue dot, and new blue dots kept blinking into existence, filling in black areas, spreading the map outward.

The map was a beautiful thing. It reminded me of dropping into the atmosphere above a big surface city at night, watching the lights glittering beneath me, knowing that those lights were the proof of human existence, of civilization, of the countless little comforts and joys that made life not just tolerable but good. Little red dots winked in and out across all of settled space, but in the first minute, two minutes, three minutes, nothing stuck.

At minute four, though, something changed. A red ring appeared around one pinpoint out near the dark edge of the map. And stayed.

And was joined by another, also out along the rim, this time a semicircle because nothing lay beyond the point of light.
And then a third.

By minute five, fourteen clear circles hung out along the periphery, limned out by multiple simultaneous connected hits, and I could see the sketchy shapes of red circles building around other settled areas closer to the civilized core.
Around me, I heard indrawn breath. From my own throat, a tiny whimper.

The map looped, and once again space was clean, marked by tiny flashes of red that that were coincidental. Or were related, but not yet definitive.

“Don’t make me watch it again,” the statistician begged. “Please.”

I understood. We had our proof that everything we loved had been invaded by a disease that was killing it. We were watching the death of not just one world, but proof of the danger to every point of human life, everywhere.

“Shipcom, stop loop, move map to final second of minute five and freeze.”

We stared at the end of everything.

Eventually I found my voice. “How does that match your numbers?”

“Six months may be optimistic,” one of the mathematicians whispered.

“We’re done,” the statistician said. “If someone had understood what this was the second it was invented, if someone had created countermeasures then, it could have been stopped.” He turned to me. “You want a timeframe?”

I nodded. “We have to know.”

“Please have the shipcom split out the final year-four frame, and the final year-five frame, and overlay them, and have the year-four redlines changed to green.”

The ship said, “Captain, do you approve the request?” The statistician jumped.

“Yes,” I said, and told the folks around me, “This ship has the best AI available. As long as we’re in emergency lockdown, it won’t even get you a glass of water without my approval…but it will understand your requests, catalogue them, and run them past me. And I have it set to listen to and record everything everywhere.”

I’d had bad experiences born from assuming I knew who was on my ship, from assuming my security was sufficient. I didn’t make assumptions anymore.

The split maps overlay each other. The contrast from year four to year five was terrifying.

The statistician waved a hand over the map, muttering. I realized he was scanning the data points manually, which made sense since I had direct data access locked down.

He tapped his wristcom, and started muttering under his breath, and after a moment said, “Figuring for geometric growth without anything that pushes additional acceleration, we have four months, three days, twenty-one hours, forty-two minutes, eleven seconds Standard to total Darkout.” He looked from one to the other of his assembled colleagues, and said, “It has been a pleasure and an honor knowing you.”

And then he crunched something in his jaw, and his eyes rolled back in his head, and he fell to the floor, foaming at the mouth.

I picked him up—years of living and working at three Gs made him at the one G I’d set for my visitors a totally manageable, if floppy weight.

I ignored the shrieks. The shouts. I walked to the back of my deck, and hit the flat red panel in the wall, and my personal Medix slid up from the floor. The lid opened, I dumped him in, and while he was still twitching, jammed it closed. “Save him,” I told the ship.

And I turned to my future colleagues in saving the universe and said, “Anyone else want to be stupid? Because I’m not going to let you die. Mado Numbers might think the universe is already dead, but we’re standing here looking at each other, still aware and breathing, as proof that he’s wrong. And as long as we’re human and thinking and capable of taking action—any action—we’re going to act on the assumption that we still have time to turn this around. Until the instant in which we lose, we fight like we can win it all.”

Storm Rat said, “We don’t have a lot of time, people. So let’s get back to the labs and get to work.”

No one felt the need to say anything else.

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38 responses to “SNIPPET: Warpaint (or How Cadence Drake woke me at 3 AM)”

  1. Rivallien Avatar

    Something alike happened to me this nigh. I was lying in bed and thinking about a new thing that just a while ago came to me and the text started to pop up and I just had to take a paper and a pen and write. And it took me two hours.

  2. Benjamin Denverstone Avatar

    I am also a writer. I love the snippet. I have a little snippet of an unnamed novel on my site. Maybe you’d like it. It’s codenamed DREAM. This idea for the novel came to me as a dream. (For one, I am no longer in high school and two, I am way out of shape to play football.) I also am going to write a novel unnamed and codenamed IOU. Tell me what you think. I also get your advice through my actual name, Paul. ( Thanks!!!

  3. chingern Avatar

    This is really good. i love your work!

    1. Holly Avatar

      😀 Thank you.

  4. Danzier Avatar

    On my phone, the snippet displays only a few words per line.

    It reads like poetry. Crazy, insane, terrifying, reader-bait poetry.

    I’m hooked.

  5. Kit Russell Avatar
    Kit Russell

    Auuuugh, you can’t stop THERE! Evil author! (I can’t wait.)

  6. Donald E. Allen Avatar
    Donald E. Allen

    Only 849 words, but they are a good hook… pure gold. If you don’t want to boot the PC at 3 am, just carry a small digital recorder to capture those thoughts as they pop into your head at the most inopportune moments, in the car, in your sleep, in the loo … Don’t laugh, Martin Luther was always inspired in the loo.

  7. Grumps Avatar

    Judging by this excellent night-muse production of yours, I gotta start sleeping less – and writing more – though I’ll never reach your standard of expertise. Kudos in every respect, Holly.

  8. Nessa Avatar

    You definitely have me hooked. I am currently reading Hunting the Corrigan’s Blood so I’ll be ready for book 2 soon. 😉

  9. Therese Avatar

    Holly, that was awesome! I am completely hooked into this story now and can’t wait until the book is published!

  10. Martin Vavpotic Avatar

    Nice pace. You must be a professional. 😉

    Reading through taught me more about myself than about you, Holly. It showed me what my own writing was missing. I guess it comes with the mileage but I’ve got time.

  11. Eileen Avatar

    Love it.
    Did have to read twice on the 1G 3Gs sentence and was wondering what her Medix was.

    Lots of tension, great descriptions and suspense. Thanks for sharing it was a delight to read.

  12. Meg Avatar

    That was AMAZING. You get me so excited about writing every time I read some of your stuff. 😀 It’s amazing how you can make characters so clear in so little space.

  13. Donna Hernandez Avatar
    Donna Hernandez


  14. Wanda Hughes Avatar
    Wanda Hughes

    I love this! Hooked me by the throat and brought me right on board. Thanks for posting your ‘rough’ draft! Hope it makes it into the final cut. If only my polished work read as well as your rough. Guess I better get a’crackin’!

  15. Barbara Avatar

    Delicious!! Can’t wait to keep reading!!

  16. Ed Avatar

    Wow! This is great stuff, but then again, sometimes 3 AM is the perfect time for the Muse to spill the beans. I don’t even read sci-fi normally, but I am intrigued. I was also able to visualize everything despite not being familiar with Cady’s universe, though the only paragraph I had to chew on was the one regarding their weight when she dumps the body in the Medix.

    I’m so happy you had one of those “moments” with your Muse. I can’t wait to see what else you come up with. Better get back to my novel, now, too!

  17. Megan Avatar

    I love how you introduced the end-of-the-universe plot here. I find it hard in my writing to do the same without it seeming contrived. It was clear and dramatic – great!

  18. Tim King Avatar

    Gaaa!!! Am so looking forward to this. I love the way you build up imminent cataclysm, always with the promise that life will go on. It’s inspirational.


  19. Pat Lockwood Avatar
    Pat Lockwood

    Stunned, Holly. Stunned. “First” draft, really? Gripping, to say the least. Thank you for the “lesson”.

  20. Mareena Avatar

    Love, love, love it. Can’t wait to read the finished book.

  21. Jimena Avatar

    I really love this snippet. Cadence seems like a bad person to cross! I almost feel sorry for that disease. I always enjoy your books enormously. As soon as I stop being broke and counting every penny I will buy Hunting the Corrigan’s Blood. Thank you for your amazing courses and wonderful fiction!

  22. Jim Avatar

    That is impressive. I’m looking forward to more of Cadence.

  23. SharonW Avatar

    This is great! Let’s see, you’ve given us a background situation worth defending, a terrifying threat to Life As We Know And Love It, an official expert predicting disaster who is modeling despair (and for some reason I’m suspicious that his motives are more treacherous than they seem), and an admirably decisive viewpoint character. I want more, more, more!

    1. Holly Avatar

      😀 I’m delighted. Thank you.

  24. Bruce Andis Avatar
    Bruce Andis

    Just can’t beat in media res.

  25. Camy Sussex Avatar
    Camy Sussex

    Wow! For a first draft at 3am I’m super impressed. I’m in the middle of your ‘Plot Clinic’ and reading this has perked my muse up a lot – quite apart from wanting to read the novel. Umm, didn’t you say somewhere novels should be 90,000 words minimum?

    1. Holly Avatar

      Novels intended for submission to commercial publishers should, in general, be around 90,000 words.

      I’m self-publishing this book (and bluntly, I’m running long as usual, with most of the chapters I’d planned for 2000-word scenes and 4000-word totals coming in at 5000 to 5500 word totals, so it may come in at 90,000 words in spite of me).

      But my intent is to do each of the nine books that completes the series at 80,000 words.

      1. Nessa Avatar

        Hi Holly:

        Is there a particular reason you chose 80,000 words?


        1. Holly Avatar

          Of course. Several, actually.

          1) I love writing stories that are between 70,000 and 90,000 words. This is my favorite writing length.

          2) I want to be able to write about three novels a year, and I can do so comfortably, with time for solid, in-depth revisions, while working at this length.

          3) It’s a nice reader length for series novels. Not short and thin, but not “I just committed my life to one 250,000-word epic, and there are nine more of them? Somebody shoot me,” either.

          4) I’m comfortable writing work that will sell for $3.99 per book at that length. If I went longer, I’d need to charge more to cover my time investment—and at the moment, I don’t want to charge more.

          1. Nessa Avatar

            Thanks for responding. I like when a choice/decision is made based on several sound reasons.

  26. Marti Verlander Avatar

    Wow! Edge-of-the-seat reading. Thank you for sharing this, Holly.

  27. John T. M. Herres Avatar

    Very interesting. I would keep reading at this juncture. Keep up the fine work!

  28. Kelly G in ATX Avatar
    Kelly G in ATX

    Wheee! I was hooked from the first paragraph. I can’t wait to read the novel when it’s finished. Thanks for sharing!

  29. DragonsLady (aka Francine) Avatar
    DragonsLady (aka Francine)

    Yep – doesn’t invite you into the story; it grabs you by the throat and makes you pay attention. As usual – a good hook.
    Now about that waking up at 3 because of a dream – you got me up at 4 my time. I really wanted to sleep in ’til five this morning. But, luckily, I didn’t see your map – that would have been way to eerie.

  30. John Avatar

    Damn, high-stakes game here.
    I’m intrigued by this disease, how it hops from world to world. If it just rides along with people, a quarantine would stop it, but from everyone’s reactions, I assume this menace is beyond standard measures of containment. Which is interesting. Nanobots? I’m banking nanobots.

    1. Holly Avatar

      Your guess fits the universe. I’ll neither deny nor confirm—but you get kudos for your suggestion.

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