Having said which...
Blessedly, the craze for extras hasn't really penetrated much into the book world. A couple of publishers to my knowledge have experimented with extra matter at the end of the volume, which I have dutifully disregarded; with series novels, there has been something approaching a habit of running the first chapter of the next instalment in the back of this one, which again I just ignore. I don't want to read the start of the next book until I have the next book and am sitting down to read it, thanks. Twice I have begun to read restored "author's cut" texts of favourite genre novels, where the authors or their estates have put back much of what their editors had wisely told them to cut; I wasn't able to finish either one, because they read long and draggy and wrong.
Having said which...
It is the opinion of wise people hereabouts that Mars Beneath needs to begin further in, at a different point in the narrative. They're probably right; I'm certainly prepared to go along with them for now. However, that does leave me with an orphaned chunk of text, some of which I rather like.
So, here: have a murdered darling, the deleted opening of an unfinished novel...
I did perhaps know it to be the greatest day of my young life, when Willoughby called me to his office one morning in early Aquarius. I don’t believe that this is hindsight only. Even then, at the very start of the adventure that set my course - and my planet’s course, my people’s course - for all the years to come, I think I felt the hand of history on my shoulder, bracing me.
I did need bracing. Prevously I had only ever presented myself to the old man for a carpeting. That particular day, I was aware of no particular sins. My hangover was no more egregious than my haircut; my copy was not unduly late - yet - nor my collar unduly grubby; I had a likely quantity of ink on my fingers and none too much elsewhere on my person. I hadn’t been overly attentive to his daughter recently, nor overtly offensive to his wife. So far as I could tell, my conscience was entitled to its tolerable clarity. And yet the summons had come, and so I stood outside his door and fidgeted with my necktie until the secretary put his head out to beckon me inside.
“Thank you, Mr Lawson.” Always be polite to the gatekeeper. Even a cub reporter outranks a mere secretary - at least, in my own private hierarchy he does, and I did - but Lawson could make or break a man faster than anyone else at the Arean-Messenger.
Faster than anyone except his employer, that is. Lawson’s power lay in access to the old man, granting or denying it at whim. Willoughby’s was pure, the thing itself, ownership outright. He was Editor-in-Chief by his own appointment, because he chose to be. That he was a natural for the task was mere happenstance. Lawson was self-serving, subtle, political to the core; his master was blunt and brutal, a pick-axe to Lawson’s rapier, easy with the weight of money at his back. Together, they were formidable.
I stepped into the fug - Lawson chain-smoked gaspers, we all thought as a defence against Willoughby’s cigars - and said, “You wanted to see me, sir?”
Willoughby grunted, leaking smoke at me between his teeth like an incense-burner in a back-street temple anywhere within half a mile of Marsport docks. “Sit yourself down, youngster.”
That shook me almost more than the office-boy’s original call to the sanctum sanctorum. Willoughby didn’t stand in loco parentis; he was an employer, not a patriarch. Despite my best hopes, he’d never been in the least fatherly. Sent for, one might be castigated, instructed, congratulated or cast forth; if any man ever had been summoned for any reason else, news of it had never filtered out; but in any event, one was not invited to sit in the Presence. Not ever. There wasn’t a chair supplied. Only his own, behind his own magisterial desk, and Lawson’s in the corner.
There was a chair now, set ready on the carpet. A glance to my rear showed Lawson standing, leaning against the door-jamb for want of anywhere to sit.
I perched tentatively, and waited for the cataclysm. There must surely be a cataclysm coming.