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Author's Chapter Notes:
a solid lead
“…Where I met Max,” Shades finished a rather compressed version of his stay at the Mall.

“You were shopping!?” Justin exploded.

Being the first ones to reconvene at the library, Shades was filling Justin in on some of what had happened to his friend after they got separated in Tranz-D. And trying desperately to break the ice with Max’s standoffish friend.

“Dude, it’s not like we were on vacation or something,” Shades explained, his impression that Justin had already made up his mind not to like him getting stronger by the minute. “Those guards were trying to kill us. They hunted for us everywhere.”

“But you still had your weapons, and unlimited cash.” Something he would just about kill for.

“And I would have traded both just to leave,” Shades told him. “Look, I’m not going to do the whole more-tormented-than-thou thing. I saw that monster for myself, and I’m not trying to make light of what you’ve been through. I’m just saying that we had a few problems of our own.”

“Well…” Justin could almost see his point. Their situation sort of resembled his. But at least they got to stop and enjoy themselves sometimes. “At least you didn’t have to crawl around in the vents just to stay alive.”

Touché,” Shades conceded. “I guess Max and I did get to have some fun, too…”

“How the hell did you end up in there anyway?”

“It’s a long story,” Shades told him for the time being, “but I think I’ll let Max finish telling his own part for himself.”

“Any luck?” Kato asked as she strode up to the steps and fell in with them.

Both shook their heads at the same time.

“Shit.” Those two had gotten lost before— it seemed to be one of their specialties— but usually not this lost. “Dammit, I know where they’ve been, but not where they are.”

“They better not’ve gone into Tranz-D…” On some unknown impulse, Justin decided to keep his visit to Obscura Antiques, as well as the peculiar figurine the old man gave him, a secret. At least for now. It’s not like it had yielded any info on her friends’ current whereabouts, and he was pretty sure they’d think he was crazy. Wasn’t so sure himself.

So the three of them just sat there, trying to figure out what to do next.

After a couple minutes, Max came around the corner, Bandit in tow, saying, “Hey guys! What’s up?”

“Nothing,” Justin told him flatly.

“Good,” Max told them, trying on a variation of Shades’ style, “because I think I know where your friends are, Kato.”

“Then where are they?” she demanded, seeing only Max and Bandit, trying not to show her dread at the mere thought of having to venture back into Tranz-D.

“It’s hard to explain,” Max told them, gesturing for them to follow him, seeming not to even notice everyone else’s relief as he led them away from the library— away from the warpgate. “Come on. It’ll be easier if I show you.”
Chapter End Notes:
-early draft: 1997
-notebook draft: September 29 – October 28, 2004
-Word-processed draft: February 18 – March 09, 2006
-additional revisions: January, 2009

Well, what can I say? "Centralict" starts out climactic enough, but turns out to be a bit of a transitional chapter, not really part of Part 7, but setting the stage for Part 9. I ended up doing a lot of thinking when I went back to rewrite Tradewinds, and one of the things I did was make the events in Parts 6, 7 and 8 flow more intuitively. Believe it or not, the big showdown with the security guards was originally smack-dab in the [I]middle[/I] of the story that is now Part 7, creating a rather uneven flow to the escalation of the fights with Security. Something I paid a lot more attention to this incarnation, letting each battle build up naturally. Using the twin battles of the boat display and Justin's oh-so-close ambush on NK-525 as a climax to Part 7 allowed me to save the "farewell" fight with Security as a twin to the final showdown with the Enforcer in this story.

Of course, a lot of the divisions between Parts got redivided when I redid the series, and now that I'm past that phase, I can actually discuss it without any plot spoilers. Once upon a time, Parts 1 and 2 were originally all one story, and I was planning to do Max's back-story in flashbacks. But when I thought about Part 3, and how Justin was going to relate his tale, I felt that would be too repetitive, plus after contemplating it for a while, I decided that taking the direct approach to Max's last day in Layosha would give it a lot more impact, as well as immerse the reader more fully into this world before stranding the main character on a desert island.

Parts 3 and 4 were also originally one story, starting with Justin's shipwreck and tale, then dropping them into Tranz-D, but once I started delving more into Justin's background (and subsequently getting to know him a lot better as a character), I decided to focus one full story on him and the beginning of his friendship with Max. That, and, looking back, I realize now that my impatience as a writer rubbed off on the very timeline of events in the story itself, and it made more sense for Justin to stick around in Paradise for a little while, then move on to Tranz-D, whose conclusion would introduce readers to Shades, and Part 5.

"The Flathead Experiment" is about the only tale from the original to be left mostly intact, though with much better storytelling, and a more abrupt ending. What was originally the conclusion of Shades' misadventure became Part 6, also taking with it some of the beginning of what would become Part 7, allowing some exploration of the Mall itself as a backdrop before Max dropped in. I'm so glad I decided to drop the previous titles "Shop-Til-U-Drop" (the original name of the Mall before I decided that anything I tried to name it would comically rob it of too much atmosphere and decided to leave it nameless) and "Malled" and devoted more time to character and atmosphere development over the flat, boring filler I now understand the older version really was. Part 7 was a transitional phase, incorporating the ending of the "Malled" version, and the beginning of the next Part. (While we're on the subject of things I'm really glad I carved out, the oldest version also had a shape-shifting assassin with the cliché moniker "Chameleon" stalking around the Mall, pissed off at being trapped there, but it proved to be annoying distraction from the real story sitting under my nose.)

In fact, in the original version, the next whole phase of the series was two humongous (50+ chapter apiece) Parts, originally titled (and I can't believe I'm confessing this...) "All For One" and "One For All". Aside from being pure cheese and sounding highly derivative, it also crammed a lot of things together that just didn't flow very well as a lump-sum. What remained of the first portion after Part 7 was divided into Parts 8 and 9, while the second lump was divided into Parts 10 and 11, with much more satisfying results.

Though most parts of this story doubled in number, each one flows more intuitively, and is explored in greater depth than my impatient, headlong rush through the older version.