Print on Demand: Createspace, KDP Print, IngramSpark, and More!

You finished writing...Not comes the hard part...

You put in the months of hard work and wrote something great. Well done and congratulations, and now you want to show it off to the world. 

But the world can be a scary place for new authors looking to make a name for themselves. There are hundreds of companies out there looking to charge you money for various services, many of which you can perform on your own.  

For example, you can post your book on KDP and sell it on Amazon for free. It will only take you a short amount of time to make an account and do this, and when you're done you'll be able to say you are a published author. But, from personal experience and talking to a lot of people over my career, I can say that there is nothing quite like holding a paperback copy in your hands. 

Sure, people are reading your words in eBook, but what you really want is that dead tree to hold onto and admire. Printing a paperback can be one of the most rewarding parts of the entire writing process. 

I, personally, release all of my books in eBook, Paperback, Hardcopy, and audio formats.


What options are there?

When it comes to finding the right system for printing your books, you have some tough decisions to make: should you go with a vanity press and print out a bunch of copies, or a print on demand company that will only create copies as books are ordered? There are advantages and disadvantages to either approach.

If you plan to sell and give away a lot of copies, then you're going to want to get those copies as cheaply as possible. You can save pennies on each copy by printing a run of books at all once, but then you run into the downside of having to store those copies and how to ship them when people order them.

Print on demand, on the other hand, has a very low cost of entry. In fact, it is possible to publish your book in paperback and have it up for sale on hundreds of websites entirely without spending a dime. The downside here is that, since the books aren't already created, when people order a copy it might take them a couple of days to actually make the copy before they ship it.

On top of these differences, each different company that offers a service like this has minor differences and variations to their process that impact their overall value.


CreateSpace

This is an Amazon company. It falls under the umbrella of services they offer, and as such many people will recognize it for what it is if your book says it is distributed by Createspace.

This is a good thing because it has powerful branding, but it can be seen as a negative as well: many booksellers don't like Amazon on principle (they think it is destroying the industry) so there can be some negative reactions to using it. The other downside is that it is a staple process for self-published authors, so not only will you be flagged as an Amazon author, you'll be flagged as self-published.

Will this lose you sales? It depends. Many authors never really sell a lot of paperback copies, and even when they do they often sell them through Amazon. However, if you are more established and really want to move the needle in the paperback market, then this option has some severe limitations.

Some of its benefits are that you can order author copies cheap, offer discounts (though only through the CreateSpace store, which kind of sucks), and set up and distribution are incredibly simple.

IngramSpark

Ingram is huge in the publishing world, a major global distributor. ImgramSpark is a branch of their LightningSource distribution platform and is keyed toward Indie Authors and Print on Demand services.

Authors used to be able to sign up for LightningSource instead if they really wanted, which was basically an identical service with some technical difference, but now everyone is funneled here. 

Which isn't to say this lacks anything LightningSource has: Spark is a great platform and has evolved and grown throughout the years. It's fairly easy to set up a new book (though not as easy as CreateSpace). It's biggest advantage, however, is that when you sell books internationally and outside Amazon you still make the full value of your sale in royalties, which can be a huge difference if you sell a lot of copies.

KDP Print

This is a new program offered by Amazon where you can sell your books directly on the Amazon platform alongside and linked to the Kindle version. You can even import from CreateSpace onto this system.

It is pretty much identical to CreateSpace except it is somewhat limited in features. It is new, still in Beta, so they are working on the kinks and bugs.

For the most part it is interchangeable with CreateSpace and will eventually have some new perks and benefits.

Lulu

This is a more full service platform, and will serve as a stand-in for a lot of different companies. Lulu is easy to use and works fairly well, and its better for authors who want to work with a company the entire way and centralize a lot of their process.

Other Options

There are tons of ways to get books published, including a lot of companies similar to Lulu, and many of them offer some little perks or benefits. However, keep in mind that any of them that ask for a lot of money upfront usually aren't worth it, because with a little bit of extra work you can do almost anything for free, or at least a lot cheaper than they want.

Remember: these companies are there to make money off of YOU, not your readers.


Item 1: Setup/Adjust Pricing

With all of these platforms, you need to have your own well-formatted cover and interior file, though if you make the same book in both places the files can be nearly identical. Createspace is free to setup a new title, as well as modify the interior and cover files when you want to make changes. IngramSpark has a $49 fee to create a new title, as well as a $25 fee to update the files individually if you ever want to make changes (for formatting, edits, etc.).

There are discounts and coupons you can get (IngramSpark often offers between 10%-100% discounts for initial setup to bring new people in) but they aren't always available. And, even then, if you make eventual changes you will still need to pay for them.

KDP is probably the easiest platform to set-up, because since you probably already have your ebook on the platform, you can import most of the information over to use as a paperback. They also have a clever cover builder to generate a cover, though you'll probably want to build your own down the line.


Item 2: Quality

All companies print books on demand, which means they will source books when necessary and then ship them directly to customers. Ingram has suppliers all over the world, and CreateSpace has suppliers in the US and UK. You can't control the supplier in either case, which means they will choose who prints/ships based on proximity and cost.

However, anecdotally (and consistently) it seems that there is a much greater variance between CreateSpace distributors than IngramSpark. Many people have reported bad prints, missed pages, entirely wrong interior files, and other problems from CreateSpace. Some of their suppliers are worse than other, and some are downright terrible, which means there is a randomness to it that can be detrimental.

Side by side comparison of them at their best, Ingram takes this category with a slight edge, but they win hands down when you factor in that it could take several tries for CreateSpace to get you a good copy.

KDP uses the same service as CreateSpace, which isn't too bad, and they do seem to be doing a better job now of making the books better. I used Lulu once to print a batch of books since they were cheaper than Ingram, and I found out they were just that: cheaper. They looked and felt crummy, and you could see right through the pages if you held them up to light. I'll never use them again.


Item 3 - Distribution and Pricing

Both companies let you set your own price, and you can charge hundreds of dollars per book if you want. You shouldn't, but you can. With Ingram, you can even set regional pricing on your own, as well as percentage discounts for buyers, which gives you even more control.

CreateSpace has an option called expanded distribution which enables your book for distribution beyond their initial three platforms. What they don't tell you is that they use LightningSource as their distributor, so if you use that option, you'll be using Ingram anyway.

The other thing they don't tell you is that they use Ingram, but poorly and everyone loses out. To explain what I mean, let me give you a rundown of how bookstores purchase books:

Let's say your book costs 10 dollars. When a bookstore buys it, there are two major features they look at: their discount, and whether or not it is returnable. With Ingram, you set your discount between 30% and 55%, and it is completely up to you. With CreateSpace, you have no control over it.

Bookstore owners usually like books to be in the 45%-55% range discount (i.e. they pay $4.50 for your book and make $5.50 in revenue which could be good profit). They also want it to be returnable (for 90 days they can send it back if they feel like it won't sell).

Ingram gives you three options for returns: none, mail, destroy. With both options for actual returns, you will have to cover the cost of printing the book and returning the book, but if you choose destroy they will simply throw your book away and you won't have to pay shipping to get it back. If a book isn't returnable, bookstores are less likely to take a chance on it.

CreateSpace sets these options as non-returnable and 35% discount for stores (so they pay $6.50 per copy and make less profit). These aren't great terms, so bookstores are less likely to want to carry your book if you use Expanded Distribution. 

They also take their cut directly out of this. If you set those terms on IngramSpark, you would get around $3.00 royalty per copy sold, but with CreateSpace you get about $0.95 cents. 

At this point Ingram clearly seems like the winner in this category, but there are a few nuances to keep in mind: first off, having control over your global pricing sounds cool, but in practice you need to sell a LOT of books for it to pay off. If you're only selling a few here and there then it isn't nearly as valuable. Second, CreateSpace is definitely Amazon's Preferred Vendor, which means Amazon will always source from CreateSpace. What's more, they will stock your CreateSpace book in warehouses so that when people order they can get it quicker and see the 'In Stock' tag on your product page.

However, I've had luck using Ingram setting higher discounts and getting Amazon to discount further. If you sell your book for $10 and set a 50% discount, Amazon might actually sell it for $8 giving readers the impression that it is marked down in price, which can help with sales. Since you make more money through Ingram anyway, this can be a viable strategy to modifying your product page to be more enticing.


Item 4: ISBN Distribution

All companies offer the ability to buy an ISBN directly on the website during product creation, and their pricing is fairly comparable. CreateSpace and KDP will allow you to use a free ISBN if you want and they will be your 'publishing company.' Many authors don't like this because it screams 'self-published book' but it is a completely viable way of publishing a book without spending any money at all. They used to have another option buy a cheap non-transferable ISBN as well, but they dropped it.

Either way, CreateSpace and KDP still have more options and is the winner of this category. Though, if you are actually planning to publish more than one book, I would highly recommend buying directly from Bowker and owning your ISBN rather than using either company. You can get ten ISBNs for the price of two there, and you can buy larger packages to save a lot of money down the line.

Note, this only applies to US users, because in Canada and elsewhere there are free or cheaper options for getting ISBNs.


Item 5: Options and Ease of Use

Most of these companies are easy to use, though the CreateSpace UI is more intuitive and KDP is easier still, so they have the upper hand here. However, Ingram has more overall options, including the ability to make hard copies. This is a huge plus in their favor, because even though paperbacks legitimize a book, there is nothing like holding a hard copy of your work in hand with a dust jacket you can take off and admire. Lulu is also easy to use, but again I cannot recommend them because of their downsides.


What should you do?

All of these companies are great for publishing a paperback copy of your book. CreateSpace wins out as being easier to setup and get started and the preferred Amazon vendor, as well as having better options for ISBN, and Ingram wins out as the better distributor and giving you more control over pricing.

There is, however, an alternative to picking either of these individually, and that is to use two as distributors. If you buy your own ISBN through Bowker, you can load the exact same book onto multiple platforms. Make sure not to turn on the expanded distribution option in CreateSpace (since they use Ingram anyway).

With this method, Ingram will distribute your book globally, and Amazon will source from CreateSpace or KDp. You'll no longer get the huge cut out of your profits when selling books outside of Amazon, but you will also get the benefits of having an Amazon preferred setup where Amazon will always keep your book in stock, even if they've never printed a single copy.

I do this with paperbacks of my fiction novels, and I wait until a 'free' promotion before loading onto Ingram to keep costs down.


My recommendation?

If you only plan to sell on Amazon, just use the KDP print option or CreateSpace. If you want to sell globally and use a few platforms, then use IngramSpark. If you are a power user and you want to really sell your book, then use KDP Print to source for Amazon and IngramSpark for global distribution, and simply use your own ISBN so that wherever people buy it they get the same book.

There are a lot of different options out there for printing your books on demand, and not all of them are equal. Hopefully, the information I've given you here will help you make an informed decision.

If you have something to add or think I'm wrong about my analysis somewhere, then sound off in the comments below! Let us know what you do to print!


https://www.lincolncole.net/blog/2017/1/13/print-on-demand-createspace-kdp-print-ingramspark-and-more

Fragment 2 - Recruited

Chapter 2


They were relieved to see New Delphi still standing, but it was different than what they left a year earlier.  Blocks were demolished and fewer people traversed the streets. Some parts remained untouched, havens in the war-scape. The entire planet experienced this devastation, Jayson realized.  It will never be the same.  But maybe, with our clean and decisive victory, it will get better. The war had torn the city apart, but already the resilient citizens were putting it back together. 

The two veterans maneuvered through the city, passing pedestrians with weary looks on their faces and recently returned soldiers.  A man wheeled past them in a charge missing both of his legs. 

They walked through a rundown district that had been bombed my mortars.  No one was untouched by the war, it seemed. The destruction was complete.

Subconsciously Jayson maneuvered down a back alley and across a thoroughfare to West Market.  His family lived on Forty-Third Street. Or at least they used to.  He didn’t realize that was where his feet were taking him until he reached the junction. 

Jayson hesitated.  His family might still be there—some of them, at least—and if they were alive they deserved to hear from him.  Hear that he was okay.  But he didn’t know if he should go on; if he could go on.

They stood in silence. Dirk tried to be patient, but finally spoke up: “What are we waiting for?”

Jayson wasn’t sure, but he couldn’t force his legs to move any further in that direction.  “Just waiting.”  He turned to Dirk.  “Want a drink?”

 “Hell yeah,” Dirk replied, perking up.  “I was planning to check on my dad, but that can wait.”

They walked the other direction until they came across a pub.  The DDHW, though no signage explained the acronym.  It was dark and busy inside, but the patrons all ceased talking as they came in. Dozens of eyes faced their way.  

Not surprising, since they were still wearing battle armor and carrying rifles.  Only in a war torn city can carrying a rifle into a bar during the middle of the day be construed as acceptable behavior, Jayson knew.   

They waited in the doorway, accepting the stares and letting the patrons make the first move. “Heroes of war,” the bartender said finally. The tense atmosphere vanished.  “Drinks are on the house.”

Dirk blushed as they sat down and ordered.  They were patted on the back dozens of times before the room returned to normal.  They sat in silence, watching the room and enjoying the ambience. Everyone fell back into their quiet conversations, the soldiers forgotten about.  

The journey to New Delphi had taken the pair four lonely weeks. The rest of the army broke camp weeks earlier, but Jayson was an advance scout deep in Irdesh territory.  Dirk was a prisoner of war.  A kid near starvation. When Jayson broke into an Irdesh base and found him locked in a cage he had decided Dirk was worth saving.  

Now everyone back home was in the process of trying to pick up the pieces. Find their loved ones and their homes and move on.  But not everyone had somewhere to go back to...

“Want to talk about it?” Dirk asked.

“What?” Jayson asked, distracted.

“Something is bothering you.  If you get it off your chest, you’ll feel better.”

“I’m fine.”

“I’m willing to listen,” Dirk offered.

“Drop it,” Jayson replied, harsher than intended.  Dirk was hurt.  “Sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Dirk said, looking at his watch. “I have to go. I need to see my parents.  They probably think I’m dead.”

“That’s fine.  Go see them.”

Dirk started walking for the door.  “Thanks. For everything. If you need anything don’t hesitate to ask. Ever.”

Jayson nodded and Dirk left. Jayson was torn. He wanted to visit his own family, but he knew he couldn’t.  Not yet at least.  He had returned to Eldun eight months earlier when they needed him for protection. That was the end of it. He couldn't face them again.

Not after he'd abandoned them.  

The bartender slid another drink in front of him. 

A group whispered in the corner, occasionally pointing at him.  

A woman sat two tables away, her face hidden by cloth and shadows. She swirled a glass of blood red wine, watching the crowd. A single strand of red hair hung in view.

Jayson sipped his beer. Smooth and hoppy.

He'd felt trapped as a kid growing up on Eldun.  The planet was a cage he needed to escape.  He'd fled and signed on with a mercenary band on Terminus doing protection jobs and petty theft.  He’d lied and made up his history, claiming he grew up in Sector Two.  The truth was, he’d done everything he could to forget his past.  To wipe his own slate clean.  

He’d never even told his family he was leaving.  

Then the Union began recruiting, amassing soldiers for war.  Jayson signed on and was selected for the Silvent Academy. He’d never looked back.  

It was seven years since he’d joined the Union.  He’d cut all family ties. Or so he’d tought.  At that time the war on Eldun was in its seventeenth year with no end in sight.  

Then his father died.  Jayson found out they needed his protection and came for them out of a misguided sense of duty.  He’d given it up, his promising career working for the Union.  His one chance to make something better for himself.  He’d thrown it away, and for what? There was nothing left for him there at the Academy. They would never forgive him. Never take him back. And if he went home to them he would be opening doors he’d closed and locked years ago.  Picking at scabs that had already healed. 

It would be better that he not return; better that he remain a ghost.

Plus he had free drinks on the house.

And people to pat him on the back. Congratulations. Welcome home.

It meant nothing.

Is this my home? No, he realized. Not anymore.

He finished drinking several hours later and rented a motel room, pleasantly inhibited.  He kept his helmet powered down as he stripped, having no desire to argue with the new AI program. The room had a shower.  A real shower, not bucket baths with reservoirs of water. And it was hot.  

The first hot water in weeks.  He washed the grime away, locating the tattoo under his left armpit and studying it.  Three black triangles linked at their tips to create a larger triangle.  The inverted triangle in the center was colored red.  

It had been a source of pride when they gave it to him at the Academy.  Brotherhood was what it symbolized.  They were in it together.  Now it was disgrace, a reminder of his failure to finish the Academy. Had he finished his training the pigment would have been removed and he would have been put into active duty. The tattoo made me one of them.  Now what does it make me?

He would remove it, he decided.  In a few days he would find a parlor to laser off the ink.  They had lower tech here on Eldun than at the academy, so it would leave a scar.  He would always have marks on his skin, but at least he wouldn’t have to keep looking at it.

Cleaned up and with alcohol flowing through his system, the world made more sense.  He decided that it wasn’t fair to avoid his family. Since he wasn’t staying, he should at least see them before he left again. They loved him, and he owed them that much.  He wouldn’t stay long, but he should explain to them why he had to go in the first. 

First thing in the morning.

Damn those drinks were good.

Pleased with his resolve, Jayson climbed into the plush motel bed, at peace for the first time in years.


https://www.lincolncole.net/blog/2016/11/16/fragment-2-inbound

Raven's Peak was picked as a Prime Reading book by Amazon!

Raven's Peak was picked as a Prime Reading book by Amazon!

Amazon has a new program that only just started in October called Prime Reading. They pick around one-thousand books to feature and make them free for ALL prime members. Raven's Peak is one of those books in the newest batch of Prime Reading books!

https://www.lincolncole.net/blog/2017/1/6/ravens-peak-was-picked-as-a-prime-reading-book-by-amazon

Fragment 1 - Recruited

Chapter 1


The water was rust colored as it flowed out of the hand pump.  Jayson Coley let the floating sediment settle to the bottom of the Mason jar before taking a sip. It tasted like metal because of the minerals, but at least it was water.  He drained the entire jar, even the sediment at the bottom, then refilled it for his compatriot.  

With the water still running, he splashed some on his dirt and sweat covered face; his thick hair was cemented to his eyelids, obstructing his vision. 

“Drink,” he said, holding the jar out and scanning the surrounding ruins. Dirk Ulry stared at the opaque liquid skeptically.  

“I think I’ll pass.”

“Just drink.  We haven’t had fresh water in days.”

“Fresh?”

“Cold,” Jayson restated.  “It’s underground, so it’s not contaminated. It won’t hurt you.”

“We’re only a few hours outside town. I’ll wait.”

Jayson hesitated.  “Who says town will still be there?”

Dirk didn’t have a reply.  He threw up his hands and let out a sigh.  He took the jar and emptied its contents, cringing.  “That’s terrible.”

Jayson moved toward the center of the abandoned base.  It was a hastily erected outpost of prefab materials. It had been abandoned months earlier.  The thin paint decorating the exterior was fading from sunlight and weather, but he could distinguish enough to make out important details: it was military, a forward operating base belonging to the enemy, the Irdesh.  

The war was over. If this destroyed base was as far west as the Irdesh army advanced, there was a chance New Delphi still stood.  The Irdesh had used this base, and once the war ended they burnt it down and left.

“Anything worth salvaging?” Jayson asked, slipping the rifle off his shoulder. He used the barrel to dig through rubble, wary of possible traps.

“It’s been scoured. Picked clean.”

“Keep searching. Anything we find could prove useful, especially if we’re stranded in the middle of this desert without food or shelter.”

“I’m not the one with advanced training.  Shouldn’t you be using that expensive equipment you stole to find resources?”

Jayson didn’t reply.  His training wasn’t a sore topic, he just couldn’t think of a suitable reply to Dirk’s taunt. Clever conversation wasn’t a strong trait for him, which was one of the reasons he'd managed so well at the Silvent Training Facility. 

He had to admit a touch of relief that the kid was able to joke at all, having recently been a prisoner of the Irdesh army. When Jayson found Dirk alone in the cell, slowing dying of dehydration and starvation with a severe ear infection, he'd wondered if the kid would ever recover. 

Jayson hadn’t finished all of his training at the Silvent Facility. If they knew he’d stolen their gear they wouldn’t be too thrilled.  His only hope was that they wouldn't chase him deep into the unknown worlds of Sector Six.  He’d kept his background hidden for all the years he served the Union.  They couldn’t know about Eldun.  

Of course he was kidding himself if he believed that was true.  They were training infiltrators and assassins.  If they wanted to find him, they would find him.  He had spent six years at the Academy. A significant portion of his life. But he left before finishing his training so he wasn’t officially anything.  

Except a thief.  He took weapons and armor, anything to help him protect his family was fair game when he fled the academy. The only other thing he carried was a tattoo beneath his left arm.

War had broken out on his home world of Eldun. His father was one of the first resistance fighters to die to the Irdesh.  Jayson disappeared from the Silvent Academy in Sector Four during the night. He did it without a second thought when he heard the news.

That was eight months ago.  The war devastated the northern continent. And then it ended.  Now there was nothing left but to pick up the pieces.

 “You don’t think Delphi is gone, do you?” Dirk asked.  His voice betrayed emotion.

“No,” Jayson said.  He had no way of knowing, but the truth didn’t matter. Not yet at least. “I’m sure it’s fine.” 

He knelt next to a destroyed building and studied tracks in the dirt.  Some were more recent than others, though there was an attempt made to hide them.  “Someone’s been here recently.”

“Did your scanners tell you that?” came the sarcastic response.

“Get ready.”

The tone in Jayson’s voice left no room for debate. Dirk latched his helmet without another word, looking nervously at the surrounding ruins.  

Dirk was a planetary soldier wearing shoddy armor that had seen more than its fair share of combat.  It was standard issue Irdesh armor—Jayson had stolen it from a hapless soldier weeks earlier—designed to withstand moderate projectile impact.

Jayson’s weapons cut through it like butter.  

This was fringe fend-for-yourself territory. When they captured Dirk they'd taken his armor.  Jayson had no qualms against stealing some back off a corpse. It was the suit with the least number of holes. He just had to hope no lucky marksman would find the hole just below his right shoulder.  

Jayson's suit, on the other hand, was valued at just over nine-hundred thousand credits. Enough to buy a small city on Eldun.  It was state of the art technology with a fully integrated targeting system and camouflage.  Jayson ‘borrowed’ it when he left Silvent. 

“How do you know?” Dirk asked. His voice played through Jayson’s speakers now, metallic and tinny.  Jayson pressed a button inside his right glove and the viewing screen flashed to life, kicking on a radar imager to map his vicinity and activating the suit's targeting computer.  

The software was confusing at first, but with constant use Jayson had grown comfortable with it.  He wasn’t reliant on it, though. The training regimen he underwent insisted that soldiers understand how to operate without gear before they were allowed to use it.  It never became a crutch.

“Three scavengers to our west.  They know we are here, probably setting an ambush,” Jayson replied.

“How the hell can you know that?”

Jayson was silent, not sure how to explain. Dirk would never understand. Jayson waited for his equipment to catch up to his senses.  A few seconds passed, and then the environment imager picked up movement. “Three humanoids twenty-one meters south-west,” a voice said mechanically in his ear.  

 “Stay behind me and don’t speak,” Jayson said, walking toward the exit of the base.  Dirk waited a few seconds and followed, clutching a heavy machine gun and nervous.

“Are they Irdesh?”

Jayson didn’t reply.  From this distance it was impossible to know for sure, but he had the strong suspicion that they weren't.

“What do we do?” Dirk asked.  

“We spring it,” Jayson said.  He walked out of the ruined base onto the empty roadway and waited.  

Three men jumped from behind rubble with guns drawn and yelling.  Two wore cheap armor and the third only ragged clothing.  One yelled to drop guns, another wanted them down on the ground, and the third wasn’t capable of forming a coherent statement.  Jayson waited patiently for them to establish leadership.  Moments passed and they quieted down, glancing at each other in confusion.  

“Who’s in charge?” Jayson asked.

“Shut up, we’ll ask the questions,” one replied quickly.

“You, then. You’re making a mistake.”

“Your armor.  Hand it over. And your money,” the man replied.

“The war’s over.  There’s no reason to fight. We’ll go our way, and you’ll go yours.”

The man’s hands were shaking.  These weren’t soldiers. They had probably found the guns, left behind on the bodies of forgotten soldiers. The man looked at his companions for support.  

On cue, the highwayman to his right stepped forward, waving his gun wildly.  

“On the ground, now!”  

Jayson waited until only a meter separated him from the assailant and clicked a button inside his left glove, turning on his cloak.  The entire suit rippled as it went invisible, shocking everyone.  Jayson moved immediately, shifting alongside the highwayman and out of his line of fire.  

The man stood in awe, unsure how to react.  A few seconds too late he pulled the trigger, releasing a single shot at the spot Jayson recently vacated.  An instant later and the man collapsed, hit in the jaw with the butt end of Jayson’s rifle.  

The man hit the ground hard, already unconscious.  The other two highwaymen exchanged terrified looks. Then they fired wildly at the air above their partner, screaming.  Dirk dove to the side behind rubble, cursing.

Five seconds later and the other two highwaymen were on the ground as well.  One would wake up with broken ribs and the other a massive headache.  The cloak began to fade and Jayson reappeared. 

It would be at least another few seconds before his suit’s batteries were recharged enough to use the cloak again. 

Why would they attack someone with armor as impressively advanced as mine? Jayson wondered, but he realized that the sentiment was wrong.  His armor was grimy and worn down, caked in the clay of Eldun.  It looked no better than Dirk's, and he resolved that it would need a deep cleaning in the next few weeks when he had time. 

Dirk stepped out from behind his hiding spot nervously.

"What the hell was that?  You disappeared! You never told me you could do that."

Jayson knelt down next to the men, studying their equipment and features. 

“You should have shot them,” Dirk said

“They aren’t soldiers,” Jayson replied.  

“They wanted to kill us.  We should take their gear.”

“These are our countrymen,” Jayson said.  Dirk hesitated.  

“They did try to kill us,” was his response, less sure this time.  “We should at least disarm them and make sure there aren’t more nearby.”

Jayson nodded and started walking a perimeter, letting his radio wave imager continue its scan.  He knew there was nothing to find.  

Dirk set his helmet on the ground and rifled through their pockets.  Jayson gathered their guns; all three were cheap and flimsy.  He snapped the weapons in half but kept the clips.  “No money,” Dirk said.  “But I did find this.”

He handed Jayson a computer chip; Jayson looked it over.  “It’s software.  Maybe a computer targeting system,” he said. They were common in the Empire, but out here they would be impossible to find.  “They must have dug it out of the rubble.”

Dirk nodded, but Jayson wasn’t sure he understood.  He gauged the risk and decided to check what was on the chip.  If it was here before the scavengers, it could contain information about the war effort.  He opened a chip bay on his helmet and snapped the piece into position.

Nothing happened.  He was expecting it to load a program, or at least pop up a data file, but there was no change.  He was about to remove the chip, when suddenly a female voice spoke into his ear: 

Oh, I finally have room to move and stretch my legs, so to speak.  It’s good to be out of that cage.”

“Uh. Hello?”

“Oh sorry. I’m Corrine, at your service.”

“…what?”

“I’m artificial intelligence protocol B-85-29M65: reactive to user commands and adaptive to owner personalities. I’m a prototype.”

“Damn,” Jayson said, clicking the chip hatch and pulling the piece back out.  He tossed the chip on the ground and stepped on it.  “I was hoping for something useful.”

“…I am useful…” Corrine said in his ear.  “You’re a mean user.”

“You’re still here?” Jayson asked.  “Uh oh.”

“You downloaded me.  Where else am I supposed to go? Daer?”

“What?”

“Never mind.  Wrong planet.  It’s okay. I forgive you for being mean.  Oh, what’s this do?”

Jayson felt his arm shoot up, and suddenly his rifle was aimed directly at Dirk’s face.  He saw Dirk’s eyes go wide and forced his arm down.  “Oh wow.  Very responsive targeting system.  Nice!”

“Stop that.”

“Stop what?” Dirk asked. 

“Not you. The software.” 

“This equipment is all top of the line.  Awesome. What’s your name?”

“Turn off,” Jayson commanded the suit.  “Uninstall recent programs.”

Silence. Nothing happened. “I can hear you, you know.”

“You don’t respond to voice commands?”

“I do.  I’m programmed with internal protocols to obey all user commands,” Corinne said.  “Oh what’s this, your bank account? Wow, you don’t have much money.”

“If you have to obey, then remove yourself from my computer.”

There was a pause.  “No.”

“No?”

I don’t want to.  I like it here.  Please let me stay.  Please, please, please.  I’ll be good, I promise.  I can automate the system and optimize the energy output for peak efficiency.”

“You won’t leave willingly, will you?”

There was another pause, and when the voice spoke again it was thick with emotion.  “I’m sorry.  I will obey. It’s been such a long time since I got to do anything.  Ten years.  Forgive me. I’m deleting myself as we speak, then I’ll be gone. Forever.  Never to return.  Suicide. The end…”

Jayson sighed.  “You aren’t deleting yourself, are you? You’re trying to manipulate me.”

“Yes. Is it working?”

He thought for a minute.  The software could partially control his system, so best not to make it too angry.  He would have to be careful, for now, until he better understood what kind of a virus he’d just downloaded.  He could find a way to delete it later. “You can stay, for now, but you have to promise not to be obnoxious.  If you mess up anything I’ll manually wipe the system. Got it?”

“Yes sir.”

Dirk was waving his arms frantically, trying to get Jayson’s attention.  He took his helmet off.

“What the hell?” Dirk asked.

“Don’t ask.  Let’s go,” Jayson said, walking west.



https://www.lincolncole.net/blog/2016/11/16/fragment-1-opening-up
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