About The Fifth Circle
Lights! Camera! Extraction? Architect Jeff Miller can’t believe his luck when he screen-tests on a lark and unexpectedly lands the lead role in a new blockbuster fantasy film. As “Titus Dragonmaster,” he plays the heroic protector of the Fifth Circle, an independent city-state on an alien planet. But unbeknownst to Jeff, the script isn’t entirely fictional… and his casting is no surprise. The film is designed to help him remember his true identity as Titus, and the Fifth Circle needs him now more than ever. But despite the strange coincidences and suspicious characters that pile up during filming, Jeff remembers nothing and clings to his life and family on Earth.
That is, until his home-world’s old enemy targets him, and the film crew cum black ops team is forced to perform an emergency extraction. Jeff is returned to his breathtaking home across the galaxy and dropped into a dangerous world of insidious politics, galactic strife, a spectral mate, and no beer. Still with no memory of his life as Titus, he has to fake it ’til he makes it—a task complicated by his self-serving past which plots a dangerous course through age-old adversaries and lost love.
When a team is needed to clean up loose ends from the extraction, Jeff jumps at the opportunity to return to Earth. But his burgeoning loyalty to the Fifth Circle means he can no longer ignore his obligations as dragonmaster. Caught between rescuing his estranged family and an act of treason that might end a centuries-long interstellar war, Jeff finds that duty means doing what you must, even though it sucks. Especially if it sucks.
Excerpt From The Fifth Circle
Filming was held over to morning, o’dark early. The blonde playing Korvaann had no first-day lines, and after watching her sit alone and down six stiff scotches in the green room that night, it was easy to lift her phone and disappear into the British equivalent of a broom closet. Dial. Busy. Redial. Busy. I had no option but to tuck the phone back in the pocket of her Chicago Bears hoodie. What the hell did Jenny mean about Pinewood? And how did she know about it? It was a movie studio, but . . . but . . . Gods and dragons. What did that mean?
Just like the previous night, I slept exceedingly poorly on a couch, and when morning cattle call came I tried to be good and had poached eggs, back bacon, and cold toast, eating maybe half with three cups of what charitably could be described as coffee made from brown crayons, and all I could think was, That’ll keep you going for the show. Come on, it’s time to go.
When I got to hair and makeup, things took a horrific left turn, the first of many over the next hour. The motion, the cadence of the crew was all wrong. Tension seethed throughout the department even though it was almost empty. Eyes red, staff looked dead on their feet, gestures and tempers short. The gum-snapping cheerleader was neither namesake this morning; she pulled me onto a stool and dragged a comb through my hair before unceremoniously sending me along to my makeup station. Where there was no makeup artist.
Vivian entered the bullpen, looked about frantically until she recognized me, and grabbed my arm. “Wardrobe. Come on.”
We bumped down a narrow, poorly lit hall and into the rag room. Someone handed me a wraparound military helmet while two more non-wardrobe staff started strapping me into body armor.
“What the fuck is this?” I cried, my legs and arms roughly pulled every which way while I was dressed. “Where’s the old-school stuff? Not that it made any sense with everything else, but really?”
A thin woman with an enormous cowl of gray hair that hung to her waist was watching me, arms crossed. “That’s a DARPA prototype combat armor system, D-D-Dragonmaster.” The hair obscured so much of her face I couldn’t see her
lips move. “The helmet is a Batlskin Viper 2 Modular Head Protection System with maxillofacial armor and integral ballistic goggles. Hope you won’t need it.”
I stared at Vivian. “Need it for what?”
“More script changes.” Someone snapped the last aluminum buckle closed and it pinched my right bicep. “Our changes. C’mon. We’ve got to shoot now or be shot.”
Another dingy hall, another left turn; we flashed our lanyards and were admitted to the sound stage. I was thunderstruck. Overnight, they had reimagined a medieval battle for twenty-first-century warfare. Armor, pikes, and swords were replaced by camo, rifles, and RPG launchers, along with every possible piece of lighting equipment, each rumpled sheet of foam core, dozens and dozens of extras shoulder to sweating shoulder, completing a tableau of astonishing dread. Camera emplacements blended into scenery with the skill of a master craftsman: invisible where needed, visible where they could be wiped off final with deft overlays. All watched over by a green screen of loving grace, ever ready for the postproduction CGI to render it wholly unreal, the backdrop to cinematic wizardry that was indistinguishable from reality. But which reality?
A production assistant helped me up onto a meager platform sunk inches into the crown of Storm Mountain, Titus’s last stand at far stage right and the only unchanged prop from maybe eight hours before. Toward stage rear a coven of children huddled in peacock vestments, and rolling out before me, across the fronting of the green screen for all of its 114-meter length, about a hundred extras of the Seventh Infantry Regiment. God, it was beautiful. God, was I scared to shit. Another staffer crammed the helmet onto my head so awkwardly it hurt, so I wrenched it away and put it on myself. Vivian was on the built-in headset.
“Don’t argue. Just listen. Play this straight. We have to get you out of here now.”
“Well that’s the first coherent thing you’ve said in ten days!”
“Plans change, Titus. Probabilities shift. The movie was never important, it was just a way to get you to buy in, to believe. You could have been out of here days ago, if you only listened to us.”
“What’s wrong with now?” I drawled caustically and turned a slow circle. “Why go through the charade?”
“Korvaann says we have to. If you believe but one person in the world, it has to be her. She’s seen this play out.”
“You’re killing me, Vivian! Nobody can see the future! The only person I believe in is Jenny.”
“And she is one of us.”
A memory lanced through me: a small, redwood-paneled office. Sunny. Shandann. Captain of my house guard. The synchronicity flattened me. Earth and . . . there. Same role, same person, different names. Shit.
“Titus, even if you don’t believe that, we’re only fourteen and mixed in deep with the real crew. None of us can walk away without some serious questions and that takes time. Time we don’t have now. Play the part and we’ll get there faster.”
“OK. I’ll do it for faster. But don’t mess with me. Just get me the hell out. I don’t know how much more shit I can take.”
“Believe me, I’m tired of this whole thing myself. Master.”
When you only have five lines in the scene, rehearsals go fast—particularly when Costanza announced they’d dub in my voice because of the helmet. Which, during the long, strange trip through reality-bending scripts, continued to blow my mind: how could they be so blind to the wholesale changes in story, so nonchalant as if nothing were awry? Myth to reality? And even then, all bets were off. If I wasn’t living it I’d never have believed it, but it was accept the now or go stark raving mad. And if accepting the now, no matter how irrational it seemed, meant going home, so be it. Yet there was a deeper, chill current beneath it all: was I going home to a happy ending in Hale’iwa, or was I going home to protect these people, the Fifth Circle, something I had built but couldn’t remember? Time to put on the Zen cap, although it sat clumsily on my Halo-esque helmet. Take a deep breath. My mantra was Hoome . . . Sooon . . . Hoome . . . Sooon and in a bizarre way helped me focus on the task at hand.
Most of the thirty minutes leading up to live film was spent precisely focusing lenses, block checking, ensuring millions of watts of lighting hit its target for proper exposures, presented desirable shadows. A couple rushed takes and it was time to load stock. By then, I was a mess, mantra notwithstanding.
I decided that because of the hairy pitch to get to my mark, I’d just stand there for the duration, until Sunny came to the edge of the set and gestured wildly for me to come down. I ignored her. She then started peppering me with peanut M&Ms from craft services, which was highly annoying, but it only hardened my resolve to stay put. I wished it to be all over. I didn’t want to hear of new realities, bitter almonds, or political coups anymore, just do this fucking job and go home. I turned my armored back to her. Which, of course, was a mistake, because faster than a bighorn sheep, she scrambled up the hill and yanked so hard on my wrist I lost my balance and the only way to regain it was stutter-step down the side of the prop. As soon as we hit the stage, there was a hissing twang, like a god’s banjo string snapping, and behind me I felt as much as I heard a blunt thud; when I saw Sunny cover her mouth with her hand, I looked over my shoulder to see that a five-foot box truss with a pair of wash Vari-Lites had impaled itself in the apex of Storm Mountain.
I turned back to her. “Now I’m officially scared blind, shitless, and witless. What are you trying to do to me?”
Sunny arched her eyes in alarm. “Follow me now,” she demanded in a hiss, took a couple steps, gazed back at me. I was still in shock, unable to move, so she reached for my hand and I pulled it away quickly, then removed my helmet and followed.
As we mazed our way off the set, art and lighting techs clambered up to survey the damage. Shortly, the gaffer and the construction manager raised two thumbs up and Costanza grabbed a bullhorn. “Speed it up, people. We’ve got to go to film now and figure this out later.”
In the event, it was only fifteen minutes, but it seemed like I had hours to contemplate my circumstance, which, any way you looked at it, was pretty damn bleak. Vivian waited for us at the edge of the set and she and Sunny pulled me into a shadowy hollow in one of the folds of the stage.
“Damn!” Sunny stamped her foot. “I thought we’d left that shit all behind in LA. Didn’t think it was going to follow us off the lot. There’s too many of us to let this keep happening.”
“Apparently too many is not enough.” I shook my head. Dealing with them, with what now, I could admit, were three attempts on my life, and with whatever imminent denouement awaited me was almost too much to process at once.
Sunny read the unspoken question in my eyes. “Pretty fucked up, I know. Maybe they’re will be time to explain later, but the short answer is Axxaans. They’re finally in atmosphere and they know where we are. They know where Shandann is, too. Your kids. I’m so sorry. That wasn’t supposed to happen.”
“OK. What the hell do we do? And when I mean we, I mean all of we.”