*Special* Author Myke Cole talks to us about Shadow Ops and its creation

I have a special treat for you today. A couple of weeks ago, I reviewed SHADOW OPS: FORTRESS FRONTIER, the second book in Myke Cole’s SHADOW OPS series (click here to read the review of that excellent book). In honor of its release next week, Myke was kind enough to pay us a visit.

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But instead of the typical interview, Myke is giving us a special treat by letting us see one of his first drafts of the first SHADOW OPS books! How cool is that? How often do you get to see an author’s first attempt? Not very, I would wager. I had initially asked Myke to discuss the magic in his books, but he had a better idea. From Myke:

You wanted to know more about how I conceived the magic system in the SHADOW OPS universe. I thought it would be fun to show you a snippet of my path to conceptualizing it.

I am attaching a 4,200 word snippet of the very first draft of CONTROL POINT, back when it was called LATENT. Instead of Oscar Britton, the protagonist was a Mississippi corporal named James Jolly. In this piece, I was trying to figure out how the SOC would determine magical schools for Novices in SAOLCC (sort of like the sorting hat from Harry Potter), and I came up with a device called the Tair.

In the end, it turned out to be . . . well . . . silly, so I abandoned it, but I thought it might be nice to revisit it here.

Anyway, it’s attached. Feel free to post it on your blog with this email, but remind your readers to take it easy on me! This is the VERY first attempt I ever made at a novel, so it’s a bit rough.

Hope you enjoy!

The piece is below; it’s really interesting to note the huge difference between it and the final piece that is actually SHADOW OPS: CONTROL POINT. We give a special thanks to Myke for sharing this, and urge you to check out the SHADOW OPS series if you have not already.

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The Tair was housed in what looked like a grain silo. The tower must have been about twenty feet high, and completely smooth. It was capped by a smooth dome with no apparent windows. In the morning light, it was hard for Jolly to determine if the surface was some kind of darkened glass or metal painted reflective black. Either way, the building seemed to shimmer and was hard to look at. Several other Covens were gathered around, shading their eyes and talking nervously.

“School circle!” Called Griswold, and urged the Coven to gather around him.

“Okay. This is going to take a while, this is the Tair for Covens two, four, six, eight and ten. So you’re going to have to wait a little before they get to you. It could be a few hours, so you need to be patient.”

Jolly looked up and saw Coven Two lining up to enter the tower through a small, simple door that blended invisibly into the building when closed. A PSSOPS Psionic, head-shaven with a bizarre atomic symbol tattooed on his forehead, stood outside, ushering the Novices in, and noting their names on a clipboard as they entered. Each Novice was inside for around fifteen minutes, some longer, but none less. As they started to emerge, the crowd gathered more closely and tried to spot the cards they waved over their heads. All bore rubber stamps of various colors. Some depicted a single blue wave, others an orange lizard, Jolly saw one that looked like the silhouette of a human head with a star inside. Most of these were greeted with joyous shouts. One Novice held up his card, stamped with a an old man’s face blowing a gale out of his mouth. “Air, baby! I got Air!”

But not all of the emerging Novices had looks of joy on their faces. A few emerged in tears, and at one was laughing, hugging himself and shivering. His coven leader glanced briefly at his card and began to lead him away, speaking soothingly to him. Still others waved cards over their heads reading: “RETURN FOR ESTIMATION”, looking either relieved or very disappointed.

“What does that mean?” Del Aqua asked Griswold.

“Well, it means one of two things. Either the Tair couldn’t determine them at the time, or they were misread. They’re either not latent enough to use their abilities effectively or they don’t have any abilities at all. Some of them might be mentally unstable. It’s subtle like that, but the Tair always finds the truth.”

“What happens to them?”

“Most go back and get properly determined the second time. A few get discharged and wind up with NIH. . . Oh shit. This is rare.”

Jolly’s attention was so absorbed by Griswold that he barely noticed a small window open up in the upper reaches of the tower and emit a thin tendril of black smoke. The whole crowd fell into silence and watched it dissipate, blowing apart on the wind. Shortly afterward, the door clanged open and two soldiers emerged bearing a stretcher. On it lay the remains of a man, charred beyond recognition and smoking horribly. The stink was almost unbearable.

“Oh Jesus.” Said Griswold, taking off his cap and rubbing his head. Britton unconsciously imitated the motion. “Oh shit. I wish you guys didn’t have to see this.”

Brown’s eyes were wide. “What the hell happened?”

“It happens once in a blue moon, and I mean that, so don’t go AWOL on me here. He just lost it. Strong latency, no control, maybe just a little unstable, something serious in his past. It can build up until you pop in rare instances. I’ve only seen it twice before, but it spooks me every time. Don’t worry.” He responded to the obvious nervous reaction of the Coven. “You have nothing to worry about. It’s not going to happen to you.”

The faces of his Coven didn’t look reassured in the least. The crowd began to shift agitatedly as their respective Coven leaders began to offer their explanations of what was being witnessed. Jolly’s stomach turned a somersault. He looked over at Britton, seeking some sort of reassurance, but the Novice’s face was stone, set and focussed. Del Aqua looked positively ill. Truelove began to make nervous, stumbling jokes, but only succeeded in irritating everyone, until Brown quietly told him to shut up.

It’s not going to happen to you. But what if it did? Even if there was a one percent chance, there was still a chance. Jolly glanced at Britton again, but there was nothing more to see.

“There was a block fire, back home.” Del Aqua murmured, her eyes distant. “This department store was burning and the top of it. . . sort of fell off and landed on this guys car. When they pulled him out. . . he looked like that.”

“Jesus” Ramierez muttered and crossed himself, eyes still fixed on the stretcher.

Jolly looked up at Del Aqua, and was almost gratified to find her eyes on him for the first time since breakfast. There was no accusation in them, no mockery, only the familiarity of shared experience. I see this too, they said. The looked defied sex appeal. She was simply beautiful, and Jolly was stunned.

“Where are you from, Del Aqua?” Jolly finally managed. He half expected Britton to try to cut him off, but the Novice only looked at her, clearly interested in the exchange.

“L.A.” She replied. “You?”

“Gulf Port. It’s in Mississippi.”

“You don’t have an accent.” Britton noted.

“I do when I get angry, you should hear me on the phone to my folks.”

“Hah. That would be. . . “

“Coven Six!” The Psionic outside the tower entrance bellowed. “In alphabetical order now. Britton! Brown! Del Aqua! Jolly! Levine! Ramierez! Takehashi! Truelove! Washington!”

The Novices lined up as their names were called, and Griswold stood alongside the line, tapping them on the shoulder and offering reassuring nods. Surprisingly, apart from the usual butterflies, the real fear engendered by the sight of the burned man did not return, and Jolly found himself instead, joyously expectant, dying to know what was going to happen next, to him, to all of them.

The door swung inward of invisible hinges, not even making so much as a rasping. The surface of it seemed to almost melt away, and while Jolly was aware of the depth of it swinging inward, it still left him with the queer feeling that it had not so much moved as disappeared, simply sinking into that pooling, reflective black surface until it was gone, leaving an open portal to face him.

“Britton, Oscar!” The Psionic called. Britton stood forward, his face set and betraying no emotion whatsoever.

“Card?”

Britton handed his card to the man and stepped inside. The door rose to a seamless join with the rest of the surface and the black tower swallowed him. Fifteen minutes ticked away as the Coven stood a nervous watch outside. At fifteen on the minute, almost exactly, the door dissolved away and Britton stepped back outside, his face much as it had been when he entered. The Psionic handed him his card with a smile and Britton headed back to the line. They held their curiosity as long as they could manage, but after Britton stood staring at them for a moment, it was clear that he was drawing the moment out for the maximum dramatic effect.

“Dude!” Chided Brown, “Tell us what you got!”

Britton held up his card, stamped with a green tree with its roots delving down into rich loam. “Earth.” He smiled. “Apparently, I’m a patient guy.”

This broke much of the ice and resulted in clapping and handshakes from the Coven. Griswold smiled and gave the Novice a quick hug. “You and me are going to be doing some work together.” He grinned.

“Yes, sir.” Replied Britton, clearly pleased. Del Aqua gave him a hug too, and Jolly was proud of his ability to suppress at least any outward signs of envy.

“Brown, David!” Brown stepped forward with dramatic clam, handing his card to the Psionic and mock jerking it away at the last minute. The taller man set his teeth and closed his eyes, the tattoo on his forehead glowed briefly as some invisible hand pushed, no, swatted Brown through the open door, which heaved to with a silent clang. In fifteen minutes the Novice emerged with all smartass pretensions completely erased from him. He looked badly frightened, but otherwise unharmed. His card was stamped with the orange lizard. Fire school. He’d gotten his wish.

“Del Aqua, Theresa!” Jolly realized with a start that this was the first time he had heard her first name. Theresa. He liked the sound of it, it suited her beauty and bearing somehow. Del Aqua hesitated, her eyes still locked on Brown, assessing his fear, trying to determine a good reason for it. She looked as if she was about to ask a question, when the Psionic called her name again, this time with a more urgent edge. She cast a last pleading look at Jolly and walked through the portal. Jolly was stunned by the look, he glanced at Britton to see if he had noticed but the taller man was busy chatting with Griswold about his experiences as an Earth sorcerer. He savored that look, he treasured it. This time, she had looked at him for help. For help. What was she so frightened of? Jolly felt a sudden urge to rush after her, to rescue her from the depths of that dark tower. He stood tight though, and waited. He waited a long, long time. fifteen minutes turned to twenty and twenty to a half-hour. The Coven became restless and even Griswold and Britton stopped chatting and began to watch the tower. Only the Psionic seemed calm, silently awaiting the opening of the portal with closed eyes.

After a full forty-five minutes the portal opened and Del Aqua emerged. Her hair was tousled and her face tear-stained, but her uniform was crisp and Jolly could discern no marks on her. She looked exhausted, but still retained an ample beauty that was inspiring to look at. Griswold stepped forward, and she collapsed into his arms, throwing her arms around his neck and sobbing loudly. Griswold plucked the card from her hand and held it up over his head. It depicted a red heart with a white cross in the center. The rarest and most valued school of all. Healer.

Griswold stroked Del Aqua’s hair and looked over her shoulder at the rest of Coven, grinning. He indicated the card with a wave. This is good, he mouthed. He allowed her another fifteen seconds or so of comfort before he pushed her away roughly and admonished her to sharpen up and get a hold of herself, loudly enough to attract the attention of the other Novices and show them that he meant business. Del Aqua seemed calmed, but still shaken. Jolly wondered what in the world went on inside that tower.

“Jolly, James!” He was up. Jolly swallowed hard and stepped forward, determined to put on a brave face for his compatriots. The Psionic observed him, his thin face nodding, and the portal opened. Jolly handed him his card and stepped inside.

The first thing he noticed as the portal sealed behind him was the utter lack of sound. The wind in the trees, the soft whispering of dry leaves brushing against one another, bird calls and chirping insects, all gone. The liquid black walls of the tower seemed to suck up sound. It was nearly pitch black and Jolly could barely see the way before him. The floor beneath him was firm, but felt soft, almost as if it was covered in thick carpet. He was standing in a brief foyer that let out into a large circular room. The only source of light was a small cube, seemingly made of brass but glowing with a rich, yellow luminescence. The light emanating from the cube had a rippling effect, like the reflections of light off the surface of a moving body of water. But the ripples did not reflect off the walls, the shimmering ebony surface seemed hungry for light, and devoured the rays as traveled away from the square. The room was warm, and though Jolly guessed it was probably quite expansive, the shadows seemed to hang around him, thick and clinging, making him claustrophobic. The tight, womb-like ambiance of the chamber reinforced Jolly’s feeling of smallness, and of awakening fear. The air felt stale and empty.

The cube seemed to hang in the air, floating above a small dais, also of the same frictionless black material as the walls. Seated on wooden stools around it were three men, all in uniforms and almost utterly lacking the flamboyance of the run-of-the-mill PSSOPS officer. Jolly could see from their rank insignia that one was a Major, and two were Chief Warrant Officers. A fourth simple-folding metal folding chair, empty, sat before the dais, and standing beside it was another Psionic, who could easily have been the door-warden’s twin, right down to the eddying tattoo on his forehead. He surveyed Jolly with a grim, serious look that made the Novice all the more nervous.

“Jolly. Have a seat.” The close air of the tower made his voice sound arid. Jolly felt an urge to break and run. Here again he was walking into a situation that was dangerous, maybe even deadly, and bound by the rules of his little world to stand and take his chances. The thought made his fingers curl in irritation.

Jolly stepped forward and dropped down into the chair, feeling the warm, metal surface against his back and buttocks.

“Sit back,” urged the man behind him. Jolly felt his head cool abruptly as his hat was removed, and the man placed his hands on his head gently but firmly, his fingertips almost seeming to dig into the scalp. Jolly attempted to turn to look at him but the man’s hands were strong and they held him fast, head forward, facing into the cube. The other man sat still and upright, eyes closed, concentrating.

“Focus your attention on the Tair.” The Major said in a dead voice. “Don’t try to inhibit your feelings, if you’re afraid, be afraid, if you’re sad be sad. It’ll all get sorted out anyway. You may close your eyes if you wish.”

Jolly didn’t want to close his eyes. Seeing what was happening was the one thing left he could control in this situation. The cube, still hanging in the midst of empty space, began to slowly rotate, the light drawing wavy patterns on the faces of the men gathered around it. Jolly first expected to be blinded, but found that the rich, soft quality of the light didn’t trouble his eyes at all. It seemed thick, rather then bright. First, he was tense beyond imagining horrified of what might come next and not daring to guess what it might be. Then, as nothing spectacular occurred, he began to relax. It was then that he felt the push.

With the cube spinning faster, Jolly felt himself being pushed towards it. At first he thought it was a physical pushing, driven by the hands of the man standing behind him, still firmly planted on his head. But soon he realized that he was not getting any closer to the cube, rather, his vision seemed to be pushing out towards it, his thoughts floating out to swept up in the spinning, brass surface. It was a mental push.

Jolly instantly recoiled. Not moving his body at all, he marshaled his thoughts and pushed back, desperately retreating from the metallic surface of the cube. He felt the man’s fingers tighten on his scalp and the push came harder. Again he resisted, but this time there was such force that his mind was flung forward until it was nigh kissing the cube, which had now begun to spin so fast that it was a whirling blur of light.

The light encompassed his vision, shutting out the dais, the other occupants of the room, and even the shadows themselves. It stretched to the limits of his sight until Jolly felt as if he passed the boundaries of the shining surface and now rested inside of it. Then the light grew brighter, seemed to break apart somehow, and reformed into an image. It was an image of his past.

When Jolly was sixteen he had first ridden a motorcycle, an old dirt bike owned by the son of a neighbor. Jolly had tried for hours to learn the gentle art of timing the clutch release without stalling the bike. It was a tall machine, and when he stalled it, he inevitably went over on his side. After hours of work and nothing but scratches on his knees to show for it, he had finally mastered the beast, and boy if it wasn’t worth every second. He positively flew along the suburban street where he’d grown up, oblivious to any danger posed by car or pedestrian, evoking his fair share of angry horn blasts and shaken fists. He was only aware of the way the wind felt in his hair and the flying sensation of the intense speed. He felt like a god, he felt immortal.

Jolly felt a grin spread across his face as he recalled that feeling, but it was replaced by an expression of disappointment as the Tair dismissed the image, apparently not finding what it was looking for.

The light fragmented once more, this time coalescing into one of the few experiences that Jolly had remembered spending with his father. They had been lying on the beach together, watching the Gulf of Mexico slowly lay siege to the sandcastle they had been diligently working on. It was a slow, arduous task, but the Gulf was making headway, and Jolly didn’t mind at all. He could see his father’s tan skin, with its thin matting of hair, and smell the coconut oil Jolly had rubbed into his back only moments before. Neither of them spoke, content with the sound of the waves and seagulls. As was quiet and restful, slowly ebbing and flowing in time with the motion of the sea. Jolly had never felt more relaxed in his life. Which was why he was more then a little irritated when the Tair dismissed this scene two and moved on.

The next scene was one that Jolly didn’t recognize at first. He was twelve, walking home from school and cutting through his neighbors yard to get home more quickly. This was far from a devious act, the Sinou’s were old friends whose son would later teach Jolly to ride a motorcycle, and they had no objection to the neighbor kid cutting some corners through their yard. But there had been a Rottwieler. Jolly had no idea where it had come from, maybe it was a stray, maybe a loose neighbor dog that was usually locked up in the yard. Jolly had been playing with a plastic whiffle bat, striking poses and imagining himself to be a great swordsman, mightier even then Conan of Cimmeria. If the neighbors had no objections to Jolly passing across their land, the dog certainly did. It approached him slowly, growling with throaty menace. Jolly had instantly burst into tears, all pretensions of bravery gone. He had backed away slowly mewling at the dog not to hurt him, to go away, to play nice. He realized instantly the shame he was casting on the idea of Conan, and felt as if he was somehow failing a test. The thought had made him weep all the more. Before he knew it, he was running full tilt, shrieking at the top of his lungs, the dog barking and nipping at his heels. His mother had run to the end of the driveway and swept him into her arms where he bawled against her shoulder weeping with relief. The dog had not seemed so very big then, and it shooed away as soon as his mother had given it a brief but sharp kick.

The scene irritated Jolly. It was embarrassing. He had been in no real danger and he could have at least thrown a rock at the dog, or hit it with the bat, or kicked it. But fear had overpowered him instantly and rendered him useless. Truth be told, though it was a ridiculous incident long in his past, he had never really forgiven himself. He frowned and the light flickered excitedly as if the Tair’s interest was finally piqued. The scene broke apart and reformed again.

This time Jolly was eighteen and sitting in the school cafeteria. A young boy, much taller, but a bit thinner was leaning over his shoulder and mouthing threats. There was still no sound, but Jolly could tell that he was being bullied. He remembered the bully’s name, Ryan Vaughn, but for the life of him he could not remember why Ryan had singled him out on that particular day, though he remembered the event well enough. Jolly had been to old to be bullied, he was pumped full of the vigor and idealism of burgeoning manhood and had felt certain that if he put this man to the test, he would be victorious. Never mind that Ryan was taller, stronger and the veteran of countless brawls in high school hallways and parking lots. Jolly was _right_, and damn it, when you were right, you won.

But Jolly hadn’t won, his punches had connected poorly when they landed at all. Ryan had toyed with him first, slapping him lightly and ducking under Jolly’s clumsy blows only to pop up again to give him another light tap. Jolly became instantly and horribly aware of two facts. One. He was going to lose this fight, probably badly. Two. He was going to lose it in front of the entire cafeteria, who was now watching in earnest. When Jolly landed a lucky punch on Ryan’s forehead, the beating began in earnest. Ryan had literally beaten the shit out of him, and Jolly had had to leave school early that day to go home and change his soiled underwear. As he slowly sank below the withering barrage of punches he had almost exploded with frustrated rage. How could he possibly lose? He was right damn it. This guy was a jerk and everyone knew it, Jolly was the good guy, the innocent, the protagonist. How could this be happening?

Watching the scene, Jolly’s brow tightened. He had done his best to put embarrassing moments like this out of his mind, and being reminded of them only made him more mad. He didn’t need to be seeing this. The room felt to close, the lights were swirling to fast, drawing his attention in a thousand directions. He began to feel a faint humming in his ears, low at first but gradually growing louder and more engaging until he could not ignore it. He felt the blood pulsing in his temples and wanted nothing more then to leave this tower, to get back outside with his Coven, to feel the fresh cool air on his face. The room was getting very hot.

The Tair danced with greater agitation and unfolded yet another scene. This one Jolly recognized instantly, for it had only happened a few hours earlier. He sat in the mess at breakfast with the rest of the Coven, stupidly trying to swallow his food as the others stared at him with laughter on their faces. Ramierez finally leaned forward and said something, and Jolly uttered a reply that made the whole table react with surprise and disgust. Watching the scene, Jolly felt his cheeks flush with shame and rage. How could he have been so stupid? He tightened his hands reflexively. The fingers on his scalp were annoying the hell out of him.

But the Tair seemed to have hit on a theme that suited it, and it began to positively dance, flashing from scene to scene with growing speed, taunting him with image after image of humiliations and defeats from his past, each one making him more uncomfortable, more agitated more enraged.

The Tair spun faster and faster, scenes and light finally merging into an waving display of dazzling colors that leapt across Jolly’s vision and burned into his face. They were appropriate colors to match his present state.

They were red, yellow, white, orange and gold.

They were the colors of rage.

Jolly began to scream as the colors and whirling sound enveloped him. He felt the pressure build within him as it had in his dream, until his fury erupted through every pore in his body, striking out at the Tair, at the men, at the dais, at the room. There was a wild sound of whooshing air and then darkness overtook the chamber.
When Jolly came to, the chamber was filled with smoke. Daylight streamed into the room from a small window at the top of the tower, opened to let the smoke escape. I’m dead thought Jolly. I’ve burned myself to a crisp like that other guy. I lost it. A quick look down at himself proved him instantly wrong. He realized that the man behind him no longer had his hands on his head and stood up immediately. The man had come around front, wailing in pain at his hands, badly burned and smoking horribly, the other men in the room ran to his assistance.

In the center of the room, the cube no longer spun, but burned vigorously, sending tongues of orange flame up into the sky.

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