Pandora: From Near Future Dystopia to Sci-Fi
The very first scene I came up with in Pandora was when Riff wakes up in the prison after the riot, realizing that he’d gone crazy and thinking he was all alone, trapped with the dead. I was writing in a chat group at the time and I shared a snippet with my friends and we all felt that I really had something on my hands. The second scene I wrote was when Riff finds Zed in the infirmary. The condition he was in didn’t change for the final story. So I had these two scenes but no world to put them in.
I set it aside and figured out Riff and Zed’s characters and background. What their crimes were that sent them to prison and what their careers were before they were jailed. Riff has always been a medic, though at the time he was an EMT, and he’d always murdered the men who killed his lover. Zed was a mechanic with a gift for engineering, though he wasn’t working on spaceships. He did have his own shop though and liked building vehicles from spare parts. His crime hadn’t changed either and he was always innocent of that crime. The other point that stuck was what caused the madness. I knew that from the beginning too.
Everything else changed. I can’t remember what Riff’s driving goal was beyond getting out of the prison, but I knew Zed wanted to find his niece and make sure she was safe. I was thinking that this was going to be a post-apocalyptic tale where the whole world had been infected. There were some people like Riff and Zed who’d recovered. There were many others still crazed and killing. There were supposed to be these packs of wild children running around. [Zed’s niece was going to be one of them and they would need to find a cure to help her.] Basically, the whole world was in chaos and they were on the run.
I messed around with this story for years. I can’t even tell you how long. Probably close to a decade. I loved the characters. I loved the problem. But I could not make it work in this world. It was too big, too broad. I’d write a couple chapters and then put it away again. Then a bunch of friends and I were in that chat room and Elise Logan brought up the idea of doing a dark science fiction anthology. At first I resisted. I love science fiction, but I wasn’t sure if I was capable of writing it. I was working on Other Side of the Line at the time and that was taking a good chunk of my creative energy. And I suck at writing short stories.
Then it hit me. What if my prison story was really a science fiction story, not a near future dystopia? It was like lightning in the bottle. Before the day ended I knew the setting, the extra characters, all those other details that had kept escaping me before. I wrote the initial rough draft in three months, which is unheard of for me. I had a near decade of pressure behind my muses. There were bits I had to sacrifice, like Zed’s niece who is important to the background but doesn’t make an appearance in the actual story. And there was a scene when they come across this house at the beginning with a dead family in it. Zed and Riff take the time to bury the family and the scene revealed a lot about both men. Character qualities that did make the jump, but in different ways.
But, in the end, Pandora became the book it was supposed to be. And who knows, maybe Riff and Zed will make it on to another planet someday with packs of wild children. Their universe is strange enough for it.
I thought I’d share with you one of the bits I deleted. Riff and Zed had escaped from prison and are heading toward Birmingham, Alabama to search for Zed’s niece and trying to find answers to what the hell is going on. But the first people they run into had barricaded the road and were in a shoot first frame of mind.
“They don’t seem inclined to answer our questions.” Riff frowned and drummed his fingers harder on the door frame until they seemed to hit a particular pattern that echoed in his mind. He forced his hand to still. It must be really bad if they were shooting first before waiting to see what Zed and him were up to. “Let’s stop at that house up ahead. We should switch vehicles. I don’t want to ride around with the windshield half shot out.”
Zed tightened his jaw and then nodded. “Maybe somebody will be there that you can talk to. Anyone ever tell you that curiosity can be dangerous?”
Riff shrugged and watched the house intently as Zed pulled into the driveway. Curtains hung over the windows so it was hard to tell if anybody hid behind them or not. “Drive around the back. I don’t want anybody to be able to see us from the road.” He didn’t like the feeling of being exposed, of being watched.
The back door was unlocked and a frisson of unease had Riff touching the butt of the gun on his hip. “It’s pretty still,” Zed cut in with a soft voice. “I don’t think anybody’s home.”
Zed sounded about as unsure as Riff felt. “I’d rather it be an empty house than what was waiting for us back on the road.” Riff nudged the door open with his toe and stepped into the kitchen. Flies buzzed around food left out on the table. It looked as if a family had just sat down to eat and were interrupted. Riff counted five place settings. Nothing looked as if it had been touched in days.
“Electricity is still working,” Zed muttered under his breath as if he needed something to break the silence yet was afraid to break it too harshly.
“Hello?” Riff called, taking a few steps deeper in to peer into the next room shrouded in shadows. “Is anybody home?”
“Maybe they all left when the crazies hit.” Zed said, opening cabinets. “Hey, Riff, look there’s a baby here. They have formula.”
The dread deepened as Riff remembered all those broken bodies at the prison. It was one thing seeing fellow prisoners done like that. He had no wish to see smaller victims. “Why don’t you grab some supplies and I’ll check upstairs, make sure nobody needs our help.”
Haunted by the screams of the men he murdered, ex-Marine medic Riff Khora is serving a life sentence on board a prison ship. Seeking more punishment for his crime, he strikes a deal with the corrupt Captain Vidal—an exchange of pleasure and pain—and forges a new life leading the team that surveys space wreckage for salvage.
Ship engineer Zed Jakobsen’s psychometric abilities make prison a sentence worse than death, and the barrage of emotional stimuli is an unending torment. His only regret is that he didn’t kill the monster who sent him to prison, and only a glimmer of hope to escape a judgment he doesn’t deserve keeps him clinging to a brutal existence.
When they board derelict ship Pandora and discover a lone survivor, the hell of prison life plunges into abject horror. An epidemic of violence and insanity consumes their ship, driving the crew to murder and destruction. Mutual need draws Riff and Zed together, and their bond gives them the strength to fight a reality they cannot trust. But Vidal possesses the only means of escape from the nightmare, and he’s not letting anyone leave alive.
Marguerite has been accused of being eccentric and a shade neurotic, both of which she freely admits to, but her muse has OCD tendencies, so who can blame her? She loves writing stories about the beauty of love with all of its fascinating quirks and the strength of family, whether it’s the family you’re born into or the one you create. Marguerite was born in New Hampshire, grew up as a military brat, moving from one end of the U.S. to the other before settling down in Southern Maryland. She married her next-door neighbor and best friend, and they have one son and two cats who rule them. To her dismay, she has failed to convince her Alabama born husband to move north, where being a passionate Red Sox fan is perfectly normal. She runs Apocrypha Comics Studio with her husband and they often trek off to comic book conventions on the weekend where they celebrate all manner of geek culture. In her spare time she loves reading novels of all genres, enjoying a table top role-playing games with her friends, many which end up on the Role With Us podcast, and finding really good restaurants where she can indulge in her love of food and wine.
Social Networking Links: