What goes into a remastered story?
A lot of work, unsurprisingly enough.
BABYLON BLUES was originally conceived and written as a series of interconnected webserials. The concepts were sound, the characters were intriguing, the tech and world resonated with me and my readers, the stories were compelling — but they suffered from a lack of continuity. And, alas, deep proofreading.
For the remastered edition, which is currently being crowdfunded on Kickstarter, I’m poring through the old stories and cleaning up the canon. Old terms like ‘argees’ have been phased out, character descriptions have been cleaned up, terminology and jargon made consistent.
Most significantly, I have rewritten key scenes for additional punch and characterisation. Some action scenes have been re-choreographed for greater authenticity, some dialogue cleaned up to make more sense, and in some cases entire scenes have been significantly rewritten. Case in point, Chapter 10 of the first story, THE BLACK WATCH.
This scene takes place after a climactic battle with a monster. Team rookie Karim Mustafa in his werewolf form has defeated the monster, and team leader Yuri Yamamoto is ordering him to stand down. In the original sequence, Yamamoto conducts an exorcism on the dying Husk, driving out the Dark Power that granted him his powers.
For the remaster, the chapter goes much differently. You can read it below and compare it to the original version.
The werewolf beheld the operator.
Yamamoto was a man. A weak, fragile, puny man, barely worthy of his teeth and claws. And yet…
And yet, he stood unflinchingly before him, cold green eyes clear yet inscrutable, short sword held loose but at the ready, his muscles ready to explode into a symphony of motion. Something within the werewolf stirred, something that spoke of a lone warrior in crimson armor standing his ground on a blood-soaked battlefield, naked sword in hand, heart as clear as still water. In Yamamoto he saw a knight of a long-dead kingdom, a samurai who marched for a tattered banner, an operator wielding his blade for virtues and ideas long faded but never forgotten.
Here was a man who had long ago embraced the inevitability of death, yet would live every moment in total dedication to his mission.
The wolf stood down.
He departed from Karim, returning all the mass and materials he had borrowed, reforming them into more familiar substances in places long committed to muscle memory. As he shrank down to a mere human form, his plates, his tools, his ammo, most of all his pistol and carbine, reassembled themselves by the secret methods only Galen had at their disposal.
“Well done,” Yamamoto said. “Now step aside and cover me. I have work to do.”
Karim stepped aside. Connor sidled up next to him, apparently none the worse for wear. Yamamoto positioned himself at the feet of the dying Husk, sword ready to respond to a dying blow. But his face, his eyes, had softened. Once they were hard and unyielding as steel; now they were filled with… compassion.
The Husk was dying. This much was clear. Lying in a claret lake, the Husk moaned and twitched, grabbing its neck with what little strength it had left. Blood squirted from his wounded arm, boiled from his burst eye, gushed freely from its eviscerated throat. Karim scarcely believed that so much blood could exist within a creature, much less be poured out without immediate death.
“Help…” the Husk whispered.
His voice, so weak and so small, drowning in liquid, couldn’t possibly have come from the lungs of such a monster. With its severed throat, speech should have been impossible.
Yet here it was, talking to him with the voice of a dying man.
Yamamoto knelt next to him.
“We can’t help you. Or rather, we want to help you, but our medical supplies are only compatible with humans. You understand?”
“Cold…” the Husk mumbled. “Hurts.”
“What’s your name?”
“John.” He coughed wetly. “Porter.”
“Alright, John, we can help you, but we can’t do that until you’re human again. You have to give up the Dark Power indwelling in you. Do you understand?”
“Dying… Need… help.”
“Yes, but that Power can’t help you anymore. We can.”
“What… can you… do? I’m… already… dead.”
“If you can talk, you’re still alive. Even now, even if you’re dying, you still have a choice. Do you want to die as a man? Or a monster?”
“A… mon….” He coughed. “Man. A man.”
“Then do you reject this Dark Power and all his works?”
The Husk groaned.
“Stay with me. Do you reject the Dark Power and all his works?”
“Yes,” he whispered.
“Do you wish to be free of him?”
“Very well. To the Dark Power possessing John Porter, I speak to you now. He has rejected you. Release him from your power and—”
The Husk had spoken with a new voice, deep and gravelly, filled with echoes from an otherworldly dimension.
But his lips had remained still.
“John Porter has rejected you. You heard him say so. John, is that right?”
“Yes!” Porter exclaimed, spraying blood over his chest.
“He has rejected you,” Yamamoto continued. “You have no claim over him. Leave him now.”
The turtle’s face twisted into a mask of rage, his eyes glowing a defiant green.
“I will never leave.”
The voice that emerged from his lungs was low and clear and resonant, yet suggestive of rot and decay. It was mold degrading dead matter in triple-quick time, it was the thick poisonous fumes of invisible swamp gas, it was fingernails clawing and scraping the inside of the soul. Karim shivered.
Yamamoto remained steady.
“This man is a child of God, the finest creation of the Creator of the Universe. The longer you hold on him, the greater your punishment shall surely be.”
The creature laughed. No mortal could have laughed like that through a closed mouth and torn throat, yet the Husk’s voice filled the world with a terrible and otherworldly sound, sneaking past Karim’s earpieces and burning into his brain. Galen woofed in rage. At the edges of Karim’s vision, black spots danced and swirled.
“I reject your God!”
Lights cracked and burst, plunging the world into darkness. A strange chill fell, gnawing at Karim’s bones. Inaudible voices whispered at the edges of his hearing. His human self screamed at him to run. Galen the Wolf commanded him to stay.
“Everything you send out shall be returned to you. All suffering you cause shall rebound onto you. This is the iron law of the universe. John Porter is dying. If you hang on to his soul, you shall surely be dragged into a hell of your own making.”
“You go to hell.”
The turtle opened his jaws.
Yamamoto reached under his shirt and held out a small object.
“Gaze upon this and know the face of the Creator!”
The Husk recoiled from the sight, screaming in agony and fear and terror.
Karim blinked. Yamamoto was holding up a necklace of some kind. But what necklace could inflict such agony on a Dark Power?
“Witness the symbol of God! The Uncreated Creator who made all things! The Prime Mover who set the cosmos in motion! He who divided light and darkness! The Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last, the One and the All!”
A strange blue-white light emanated from the necklace Yamamoto held in his hand. A faint light, but it chased away the cold, the voices fell silent, and the darkness retreated.
“What is your name?” Yamamoto demanded.
An inchoate roar exploded from the turtle’s lips. It flailed and thrashed about, splashing blood over Yamamoto’s face and body. He continued, unperturbed.
“It is not I who asks you, but God. What is your name?”
The turtle screeched in terror. The windows rattled. Books flew off their shelves. The floor trembled, the ceiling shook.
“TAKE IT AWAY FROM ME!”
“It hurts, doesn’t it?” Yamamoto asked, his tone suddenly and surprisingly gentle.
The turtle snapped its jaws, going for Yamamoto’s hand. Yamamoto drew it away.
“You see the Light? It is the Light of God. It exposes all corruption and heals all wounds. You hurt because the Light reflects in your soul the torment you have inflicted upon others. If you want to stop the pain, ease into the Light. Relax. Let it inside you. Let it heal you. Let me know your name.”
A weird expression crossed the turtle’s face, and suddenly Karim saw three faces superimposed on it. The face of a worried man, slowly relaxing, eyes widening in wonder. The face of the turtle, slack like death. And a twisted green-black ball of knotted, ropy tendrils, compressing ever more tightly.
“John, you see the Light, don’t you? Head into it.”
“I… I can’t.”
“Hurt… killed… too many people.”
“You caused much harm, but even so, there is forgiveness for he who seeks with a sincere heart. Do you regret your actions?”
“I do. I… I didn’t know it wanted to turn us into… into monsters. None of us did.”
“Then go to the Light, intent on seeking redemption and reconciliation. Accept the judgment and the mercy of God. Ask for forgiveness, and it will be given.”
“Will I… be punished?”
“You’ve suffered enough in this world. There’s no need to suffer even further. Go to God, and all will be well.”
The three faces wavered. The face of the man lifted away from the turtle. The face of the monster remained.
Black limbs whipped out from the dark ball, slashing at the man’s face, pulling him back.
“What are you doing?” Yamamoto demanded.
“He is mine! I will never let him go!” the Dark Power screamed.
“It still hurts, doesn’t it?”
The monster bellowed through its gaping wound, a horrible liquid sound that spurted black fluid across the floor. Karim startled. Where had the fluid come from?
“It hurts because you’re still holding on to him,” Yamamoto continued. “What you are feeling is the Light of God flowing into you, through him. The tighter your grasp, the more Light will flow into you. If you want the pain to stop, release him.”
The turtle screamed in protest, but softer this time.
“You can feel it for yourself, can’t you? The tighter you hold on to him, the more it will hurt. But if you let him go, the pain will stop.”
The monster sighed.
The tendrils unwound themselves from John Porter’s face.
Porter’s face folded into itself, transforming into a sphere of light. It shot up and away from the corpse, through the ceiling, and out of sight.
Kari’s jaw dropped. He was a psi. An Elect of Galen. But he’d never, ever, seen anything like this before.
“It still hurts!” the Dark Power shouted. “You promised it wouldn’t hurt!”
“You’re still tense. You’re still fighting the Light. Let it flow into and through you, and cleanse you. The more you resist, the more it will hurt.”
“Try it for yourself. Just pause and relax.”
The face of the Dark Power settled into the face of the turtle, darkening the flesh, becoming one with it. And yet, ever so subtly, under the light from the necklace, the dead flesh began to brighten.
“Feeling better now, yes?” Yamamoto said. “Now tell me, what’s your name?”
“I will never tell you,” the Dark Power said, slowly enunciating every word.
“You’re not speaking to me, for it is not I who speaks to you. It is God, the True Light, the Light of the World, the Light of Lights. He who is the Sovereign of all things seen and unseen, the Supreme Judge and the Father of Eternity, he who causes to become, he who decrees the beginning and end of all things. He speaks to you. What is your name?”
An abhorrent sound flowed from the monster’s mouth. It was an unpronounceable word trickling through miles of superheated tar, combining with methane bubbles and the remnants of long-dead creatures, bursting out of primordial muck into an impossible sound. A sound like ‘Aruk’.
“Aruk,” Yamamoto said. “Thank you for your name. The body you are inhabiting is dying. It may well be dead already. You can’t stay any longer. Now you’ve got two choices. You can go into the Light, surrender to the judgment and the mercy of the Almighty, or—”
The turtle howled.
The windows cracked and shattered. The earpieces shut off all noise. Claws tore deep rents in the floor. Tiles fell from the ceiling. Shelves toppled.
A great black cloud burst forth from the Husk. It covered the body completely, shrouding him in a veil of darkness. The inky cloud grew larger and thicker, sucking up the lake of blood into itself, blooming into a pillar of smoke that reached up to the ceiling.
It became a face.
“I WILL NOT SURRENDER!” Aruk said.
Karim’s blood froze. His muscles clenched tight. His heart trembled. His eyes and jaw locked wide open.
“THIS IS NOT OVER!” the Dark Power shouted.
Yamamoto raised his necklace.
The cloud dispersed like smoke in the wind. It blew out the shattered windows and dissipated in the storm outside. The air freshened and cleared, and in moments, it was as if it was never there.
And where was once a monstrous turtle, there was only the shriveled, naked remains of a man.
Pressed his hands together.
Lowered his head.
“Was that… an exorcism?” Karim asked.
Yamamoto stayed still for a moment, then looked back up at Karim.
“The technical term is ‘compassionate depossession,” Yamamoto said.
“I… I don’t… how… Are you an Elect? A priest? What are you?”
Yamamoto turned to face Karim completely. His necklace reflected the faint light around the room. It was a strange symbol, one Karim had glanced a few times on the beat but had never investigated, so simple, yet so powerful.
It was a cross.
A cross whose ends terminated in three lotus petals.
“A believer,” Yamamoto said.
“A believer?” Karim asked.
“Yes. Only this, and nothing more.”
“How did you do… Whatever it was you did?”
“It is not I, but God.”
Something within Karim trembled. He had known many of the words Yamamoto had spoken; he had heard some of them in the mosques of his childhood.
Had he been wrong about Allah?
More importantly, did this man have the power to exorcise Galen too? Was this the secret behind the sterling record of the Black Watch?
Who was Yuri Yamamoto?
“What is a compassionate depossession?” Karim asked.
“Well…” Yuri began.
The radio interrupted him.
“Black Watch, this is Three-TAC. We have a… a situation.”
It was Rogers, the SWAT commander.
“Go ahead,” Yamamoto said. “What’s the problem?”
“A Counter Assault Team from the SN is coming up. They want the body of the Husk.”
Connor shook his head, muttering softly under his breath.
“Stop them,” Yamamoto said. “This is our scene, not theirs.”
“We tried. Control told us to stand down.”
Yamamoto sighed. “Understood. We’ll deal with them.” Changing frequencies, Yamamoto said, “Black Watch, Samurai. On me.”
The six operators gathered around Yamamoto. They were battered, bruised and blood-covered, but their eyes were bright and their demeanor firm. Without orders, they reloaded their weapons and fanned out in a semicircle around the body.
The CAT came. Thirteen of them, all cyborgs, marching in lockstep down the aisles. Their uniform was a cross between tac gear and clerical clothing. Black long-sleeved armored greatcoat, black pants, black gloves, black boots. Their cybernetic eyes, three per cyborg, scanned in every direction, their hands held close to their waists.
And in the lead was Alpha Epsilon Eight-Two-Two.
Where the original exorcism scene was more dramatic and forceful, very much akin to Hollywood exorcisms, this scene was more low-key and subtle. Instead of driving out the Dark Power, Yamamoto aimed to negotiate a peaceful solution by convincing it to go to God.
The first reason for this change is doctrinal. It is not doctrinally sound for a Christian who is not an ordained priest to attempt an exorcism, and Yuri Yamamoto is most assured not a priest.
The second reason is to create character depth. Up to this point, we see Yuri Yamamoto as an operator par excellence, destroying his enemies before him. You’d expect him to achieve a more forceful resolution. But he isn’t that kind of man–not anymore, anyway. He is now a law enforcer, and if the situation can be resolved with a lower level of force, he can take it. Further, as described in my interview with Rawle Nyanzi, Yuri Yamamoto is an unorthodox thinker and a Christian mystic. This approach of compassionate depossession is more in tune with his character.
The third reason is structural. The previous chapter was a huge action scene. In a webserial, readers can take a break between chapters, so the next scene will feel fresh. In a conventional book, however, a high-intensity scene quickly followed by a second and a third quickly leads to burnout. This approach lets me step down the emotional intensity and create a different mood while still resolving the conflict with the Dark Power.
There’s a final reason too. But you’ll need to read the final chapter to find out.
BABYLON BLUES is six shots of cyberpunk horror, starring a Christian street samurai and his teammates in an epic struggle against monsters, cultists and demons disguised as gods. Back BABYLON BLUES on Kickstarter here!