NaNoWriMo Changed My Life

NaNoWriMo changed my life. that seems kind of over the top, i know. but it’s sincerely true. when i thought i was learning how to plan out a story and put one word after the other, i was actually learning how to bravely take on challenges and persevere in the face of uncertainty. i also learned how to plan a novel and put one word after the other, but that’s only minorly life changing in comparison.

what i didn’t know, or even realize until very recently, is that through doing NaNoWriMo, i gained the courage to take on big, intimidating challenges and keep going even if i think success is unlikely; even when i’m afraid of failure. my first time taking on NaNoWriMo, i did NOT think i would be able to finish 50,000 words, let alone do it in 30 days. i did not think that i would have anything that even resembled a story when i did so. i was scared that i would find out i was completely talentless and incapable and, most of all, i was afraid of finding this out publicly. (i am connected with my friends on the NaNoWriMo site, after all.) but i did it anyway. and even better, i won.

i wrote 50,000 words in 30 days and i actually had a story at the end. granted it’s no prize winner, but by God, it has a beginning, middle and end that actually makes sense.

and then, last month, during Camp NaNoWriMo, i did it again. and this time i didn’t write during work hours (giving me less time to work on it), and i finished it four days early. and then, having just bolstered my confidence with my success, i did something that still scares me whenever i think about it: i sent it to all my friends to read. and i did it with joy, excitement, and even a little bit of pride.

and that’s just my courage concerning writing. i’m now just as courageous with the rest of my life. what i didn’t know during Nano and Camp Nano, was that every day that i sat down to write, i was diving head first toward a goal that i had no idea if i was capable of achieving. and now, diving into the unknown, striving toward uncertain success, is still scary as hell, but it doesn’t stop me anymore. NaNoWriMo taught me courage. And that has changed the way i live my life.

so if you could go click the vote button so that NaNoWriMo can get a grant that would fund their programs for years to come, i would really appreciate it.

She couldn’t keep the argument from this morning from echoing in her head. She didn’t understand why she had to be born into a family that was so anti-tech. Was it not bad enough to have the whole world view her choices as freakish and fringe without the judgment of her archaic family? They still used the old world systems without plugs. How could you truly experience anything online without at least connecting to a perception filter?

She had hid her perception filter growing up, and only plugged it in behind her firmly locked bedroom door. She had absolutely reveled in all of the latest tech when she moved out into her own place. She sometimes wondered if she had in fact gone overboard, but when presented with all of the wonderful options with which to enrich an environment, how could you not take advantage of them?

“Wait… turn your head again,” her sister had said. That had been her mistake. If she hadn’t turned her head when she picked up her tea cup, she never would have noticed anything. The suggestion of the mind, as it was commonly known, was a very powerful thing. Scientist had learned decades ago that if you convinced the mind that a pencil being pressed to the skin was actually a hot branding iron, blisters would form on the skin in reaction to the heat. As a reaction to prolonged exposure to the Pharaplex in her elf-like avatar, her ears had begun to take on a more pointed shape. And when she had turned her head this morning, her sister had seen her slightly pointed ears.

“What?” she had said, hoping to feign ignorance and change the topic.

“Turn your head again,” her sister’s face, peering at her through the telescreen, was suspicious and carefully studying her.

“Why? You’re so weird,” Dalia said. She needed to move the conversation on fast. “What were you saying about mom’s new obsession with peanuts? She’s going to add them the farm?”

“Turn your head again, or I’m coming over there,” her sister had taken on the adamant tone that meant there would be no further argument. At least not a successful one. She reluctantly turned her head.

“Oh my god,” her sister’s voice sounded horrified and she didn’t want to turn back to face the telescreen. She didn’t want to see her sister giving her the look she had to deal with from strangers on the rare occasions she left the house.

“You’re a morpher,” her sisters voice came out hushed and breathless, like she was afraid to even say it. Like it meant something wrong and dirty and perverse. She finally gathered the courage to look back at the telescreen. Her sister’s face was pale and solemn and scared. Dalia’s apprehension was instantly replaced with anger.

“I’m your sister,” she snapped, her words clipped, shortened by her anger. “I am the same person. Don’t look at me like I’m some monster.”

Her sister struggled and stumbled over silent words before she finally stuttered, “How long have you been a morpher?”

“How long have I, your sister, a normal human being, been a citizen of the Pharaplex?” she noticed her sister wince at her words. It had been the desired effect, but it hurt her as well. Already her sister had distanced herself, classified her as something other. She was so disappointed that this was the reaction she was getting from her sister. Although isn’t this just what she had expected? Why else would she have hidden herself from her family if she wasn’t expecting precisely this reaction.

“A citizen of the Pharaplex,” her sister echoed, tears starting to stream from her eyes. “I have to go.”

“You have to go?” she was enraged. “Where do you have to go, dear sister? You bugged me for weeks to schedule a telescreen chat with you and now you have to go? ‘We’re sisters’ you said. ‘We should talk far more often.'” She quoted her sister’s words back at her.

“You are not my sister,” she screamed back. “You’ve changed yourself into one of those filthy freaks.”

“How dare you-” but her sister had disconnected. She was staring at the logo for the telescreen company.

She replayed this exchange now, over and over again. And it hurt anew every time. The ever-refreshing pain of it somehow dulled the harshness of her surroundings. She was walking, ankle deep, through the stinking muck of a manmade swamp. Technically everything in the Pharaplex was manmade, being that it was a digital world, but there was a difference between lands that were set to develop organically and places like this one, which had been built to be dank and miserable.

Every step was difficult and tiresome and loud, as she had to pull her boot out of the suctioning muck with a thwack each time. Her boots, lovely, ornamental things that were meant for firm ground and gentle grasses, had been ruined after only a few steps into this sludge. She had been expecting unpleasant surroundings, but nothing this treacherous. She had to tread carefully to not trip over rocks and tree roots, gingerly finding her footing again and again in another pile of muck. She moved as quickly as she dared, wanting to be back in one of the safe worlds as soon as possible.

She focused again, toward the bottom of her vision, looking at her username. It was a standard system issue, cold numbers. She usually kept it out of her view. People use it to keep track of which avatar they were wearing, and since she only had one avatar, she didn’t need the reminder. But she kept the ugly, empty numbers in view now as a motivation to keep going.

A number would never be able to represent who she was in the Pharaplex. The ability to make a custom name could be bought at a premium from the system. A premium that she couldn’t afford.

Finally she stopped, coming to the spot where the transaction was to take place. She had followed the instructions precisely and traveled, on foot, exactly two miles. She wasn’t accustomed to walking this far anywhere, not outside or in the Pharaplex, and she could feel the fatigue setting in to her limbs. She would need to get a refresh boost as soon as she transported off of this stinking planet. She hadn’t seen the rest of the planet, but she had the impression that it’s entire surface was covered in this awful muck.

She studied the trees settled into the steadily rotting muck that lay before her. She was in a clearing. A clearing that was covered in muck, but was absent of tree roots to avoid. She saw no sign that anyone was near or that anyone had been here. She turned up her ears to see if she could hear someone standing in the trees beyond her vision. Perhaps she had misjudged her pacing trudging through this mess.

She heard footsteps behind her, coming fast. She turned to see a hoarder, his black armor gleaming, quickly closing the distance between them. Her eyes came across a dense, flat dagger in his hand, and could suddenly focus on nothing else.

This was an ambush. She had been lured here by this hoarder; this psychopath. There were people who would set up things like this to kill you. Avatars, like people, were one of a kind, and if you harmed them, they could die. Someone could kill you. She was to be the latest addition to his hoard of bodies.

She cursed herself then, the gravity of her situation dropping onto her heavily. It would be worse than losing her avatar. She hadn’t disabled her perception filter. The filter that made it so that her body truly experienced everything she felt here, the one slowly reshaping her ears, was still solidly connected to her body in reality. She had been so busy counting her paces and trying to keep her bearings that she had forgotten to disable it; a basic safety precaution when traveling to foreign unsafe worlds. There was no time to navigate to the menu and take it offline now.

She watched the dagger as it moved, positioning to stab her upward, under her ribs. She reached out, numbly feeling her body in the real world mirror her action. She fumbled, quickly, desperately.

The dagger bit into her and she gasped and flinched away from the pain as in the same moment she grasped the plug and yanked.

She was on her back on the cold, hardwood floor, panting. The momentum of her body flinching along with her desperate yank on the plug had knocked her out of her chair. She could feel the burn of pain in the center of her abdomen with each heaving breath. She touched the place where the dagger had begun to cut in and immediately pulled her hand away from the sting of pain. Her fingers came away bloody.

DISCLAIMER: i know this story sucks. there are problems with its integrity, i know. and usually i would fix them. but this story features the characters from Theta as i originally imagined them, before they even had names. their original versions are cool and all, but now they’re both much stronger, faster, smarter, and way more believable. all growed up in a way. not to mention their past, present, and especially their future is far more interesting (and complex). it was hard to write these characters as they are here because, well, the Vena and Rander from Theta would totally bitch slap the two from this story. for so many reasons! seriously, there would be slapping for nearly every sentence. so, with that in mind, try to enjoy this for what it is.

Vena forced herself not to look at anyone in particular as she waited for the elevator doors to close, hoping no one would get on with her. Even when they did close, she couldn’t allow herself to let out the sigh of relief she had been waiting to release. She knew that there was probably someone watching her on a monitor somewhere. She couldn’t afford to look anything but calm, confident, and most of all, like she belonged there. Rousing even the slightest suspicion could lead to her death. If she was lucky, it would be a quick death and they wouldn’t try to torture information about Theta out of her first.

It took a moment for Vena to identify the emotion she was feeling but finally she pegged it: fear. This was the first time she had ever felt frightened during a mission. Of course she had felt apprehension and nervousness before. That was only natural. There was always a chance that a choice she had made had been wrong, or that something unpredictable would happen, and that she would end up dead because of it. But this was different. For the first time, she was alone.

She had done plenty of missions by herself. Most of her missions she’d done by herself, in fact. But there was a big difference between doing a mission solo and being alone. There was no Method nearby that could provide backup, there was no one to call if she found herself in a corner, no one even knew where she was. If she didn’t survive this mission, there would be no one to come save her. And even if Theta did somehow figure out where she was, they wouldn’t send anyone to save her anyway.

She had gone rogue. In an Agency hub. To save a Method that was considered a double agent that had gone back to the Agency. If Theta sent someone to get her, it would be to kill her for defecting and turning traitor. It would be assumed that she had been corrupted by Rander and joined the ranks of the Agency.

Also, for the first time, if she failed the mission, she was dead. If she didn’t acquire the target, there would be no coming out of this. If she couldn’t manage to get Rander out alive, she wouldn’t make it out alive. Besides the fact that it was unlikely she’d make it out of the building without Rander, if she did make it back out without Rander, again, she would be assumed a traitor and killed by her own people. She had to succeed at this mission or prepare to die.

And, if she was honest, she was scared for another reason: she was scared for Rander. She was scared that she would be too late and that there was no one left to save. She wasn’t sure what would be worse, finding out that he was an Agency double agent, or that he was dead. She didn’t think she would be able to handle either scenario. She told herself that he was alive and not a traitor. It was the only possibility that would leave her alive and sane.

The bell on the elevator finally rang to announce she’d arrived at her floor. The unfamiliar fear made her hesitate for just a moment. She hoped that hesitation wouldn’t end up being lethal. She had to get her fear in check, and fast. She would probably run into Agents in the hallway, and if they got the slightest impression of fear from her, she was dead. Fear to Agents was like blood to sharks; a swarm of them would descend on her in a frenzy if she didn’t keep herself under control.

Lucky for Vena, she had practiced getting her emotions under control within moments her entire life. By the time she was three steps out of the elevator, she had stowed her fear safely away in a deep dark corner where it wouldn’t surface until well after the mission, if it surfaced at all.

She was almost there. The hallways were eerily empty. She could hear nothing but the muted thud of her footsteps, which she forced into being slow and steady. She would only have a precious few minutes once she opened the door. And in fact, the countdown until she was discovered as a spy had been running from the moment she had swiped her ID card at the front turnstile. The building’s system would be matching her identification with all the other data in the system. It would take a few minutes, but eventually it would figure out that the ID of an incapacitated Agent had made an impossible 3 hour jump from Australia to here. At which point she had better be on her way out.

The fact that the Agency was willing to put aside pretenses and put up the out of place turnstiles in the lobby was not a reassuring sign, either. It meant they weren’t expecting an attack and on the odd chance that there was one, they were sure that they would be able to squash it with no trouble. Vena had been to several Theta headquarters, and none of them were that confident. It was completely rational that she had found herself afraid, albeit unsettlingly unfamiliar and inconvenient.

She prayed that she hadn’t been mistaken when she had chosen her ID and that it wouldn’t raise an alarm as she swiped it in the doorway. Rander was a high profile prisoner. He had been in the higher ranks when he’d deserted the Agency, and he had turned traitor and risen quite a few ranks after doing so. From the Agency’s perspective, he was a trove of enemy secrets and a huge liability. Unless Rander had been a double agent, they undoubtedly planned to kill him as soon as they got information.

The click of the bolt in the door sliding open was the only thing that happened after she swiped the ID card. She forced herself to casually open the door and step in instead of rushing in the way she was compelled to do.

As soon as she heard the door click shut behind her she dropped all pretenses and rushed forward.

It took her a moment of Agents not attacking her, alarms not going off, and torture devices not being employed before she realized she was in what looked like a rather spacious hotel room, with a man sitting in a chair and admiring the view displayed through the large, curtainless windows.

Her heart sank immediately. All had been for naught. She had made a mistake and come into the wrong room. Soon the system would discover the discrepancies with her ID and she would be killed, never knowing whether she had even been close to saving Rander or if he was already dead.

She was about to sink to her knees and fall in despair, waiting for her inevitable capture and death when she noticed the man’s reflection in the window.

It was Rander.

She rushed to him, immediately taking his vitals and trying to figure out how badly he was injured. He didn’t even look at her. He must have been drugged.

“Rander,” she said in a hushed tones, although, realistically at this point it didn’t matter. “Rander, can you hear me? I’m gonna get you out of here. I’m gonna give you some adrenaline to counteract whatever they’ve given you, then we’re gonna get out of here.”

As soon as she took the syringe out of her pocket he grabbed it from her hands and threw it across the room.

“What are you doing?” she asked, horrified, studying his face. “Rander we have to go, we only have a few minutes, seconds maybe before alarms start going off.”

He continued to stare out the window, his eyes focused on a spot somewhere out in the distance. He didn’t seem to be injured, but he wasn’t moving. He was so still she had to glance at the syringe he had thrown to reassure herself that the movement hadn’t been a figment of her imagination.

She knelt in front of his chair and took hold of his face, forcing his distant eyes to look into hers.

He finally focused on her; the lively eyes that sparkled at the chance of danger were now dull.

“Go ahead,” he said, “leave me here. Hurry.” His voice had been drained of it’s vivacity and mischief as well.

She gazed steadily into his eyes as she said, “I’m not leaving without you, Rander.”

And it wasn’t just a sentimental statement either, although it certainly was that. If he didn’t go with her, she wouldn’t make it out. Escape was a two-man job.

“You don’t know what I’ve done. You wouldn’t be here if you did,” he looked down and away from her, tears started streaming down his face. “You still have time to make it out.”

“Just move Rander, come on,” she said, tugging futilely at his shoulders. “We have to go. Please.”

“This is what I deserve,” he said. “This is my penance. Go, before it’s too late.”

She felt the tears welling up in her eyes, but for once she didn’t hold them back.

“I won’t make it out of here if you don’t come with me,” she whispered. “I need you.”

He looked at her again, tears still falling down his cheeks. Tears falling down both of their cheeks now.

“Whatever it is, it doesn’t matter…” she trailed off for a moment, thinking the worst. She let out a sob and said, “You didn’t. You didn’t give away Theta.”

“No,” he said. “That’s not it.”

His face was so full of sadness, it made her heart ache as she looked at him.

“Then it doesn’t matter, but you have to come now. We’re out of time,” she could feel the tears still falling down her cheeks.

And then he started studying her face, and she felt completely bare and raw and exposed. For him to see her, open like this, scared her. She felt herself breathing hard and she had to force herself to not to flinch back and hide herself away.

“I can get out, but you have to leave ahead of me,” he said.

“I’m not leaving this building without you,” she said. “I’m staying until you walk out the door beside me.”

He stood up and checked his guns, and a hunting knife, which had been laid out on the bed. She would question him about this later, but now she stood up, wiping the tears from her eyes and composing herself.

“Ok,” she said, “You find your way back down, and I’ll keep the area clear.”

“Count 15 seconds once you get down to the lobby and I’ll be down there,” he said, holstering his guns.

She slipped out of the room and walked straight to the elevator, her hands rested on her guns, ready to draw. The hallways remained empty, which she didn’t take as a reassurance. She stayed wary for signs of an ambush.

As she stepped off the elevator into the lobby she did draw her guns.

“Everybody down!” she shouted. All but a few Agents immediately lay on the ground when they saw her drawn guns. One of the Agents reached for his gun and she shot him in the chest. She and the two crouching Agents froze until they saw that he didn’t move again. Then the other two Agents laid on the floor along with everyone else.

“Nobody move and everything will be fine,” Vena said, moving carefully to the center of the room where she could get a better view.

“When you find your way back down in one piece, then I’ll just be waiting here. Right here,” she whispered, keeping her back pressed against the concierge desk and constantly sweeping her eyes over the Agents and civilians laying on the ground at her command.

Five more seconds and she would have to start moving forward, trusting that Rander was there behind her.

At the end of the count she began moving forward toward the glass doors. She spun once, making sure everyone was staying down and no Rander. She kept moving forward and spun again to see Rander appear from the stairwell, walking with a wide, deliberate pace, and flinging a blade, slicing open the throat of someone reaching for a panic button on the concierge desk. Gone was the broken man she had left in the hotel room. He was again as she had always seen him; sure stride, fluid motion, and well dressed. She moved faster, putting her back to the doors once she had cleared the people in front of her. As soon as she turned she shot an Agent getting up with her right hand, and an Agent on the floor reaching for his gun with her left.

Rander reached the doors and she turned and they ran. Rander fell back just a pace behind her, not knowing which car to run to and following her lead.

She ran to the passenger side of the the blue convertible, while Rander jumped into the passenger seat.

“Inconspicuous,” he said.

“Fast,” she said, as she sped away from the curb.