So I promised some character stuff this week.
One of the problems I’ve been running into is waaaay overthinking this blog. Sometimes being a writer is NOT a good thing.
Less thinking, less planning. I want to communicate the story itself, and what it means, not get mired in details. So, instead of some damn planned character sketch, I am going to throw out there one of the “off-stage” pieces I wrote as I created the background material for the story.
In this book Connor is the main character…C0nnor is the voice…Connor is a kid I really like. Connor is also a fuck up, a drug addict, and a thief. How do you humanize him? How do you understand him?
Oz is the most important force in Connor’s life, but everything starts with his dad. Oz I know…..Oz is a post (err, probably more) in and of himself, so I figure I’ll do a post concentrating on Connor’s dad.
A note of explanation: the “Riot” is the single most important incident in the lives of every single character in the book. It also happens four years BEFORE the book starts. It is very much the instigating incident, but one of the challenges I set for myself was to leave certain things “off-stage”, and the Riot is the biggest of those.
Below is one of the very first background documents I wrote as a way of working on the tone and voice. It is Connor’s dad’s last (undelivered) words to his son:
The biggest crime of it all is that I’m not there to tell you this myself. I’ll never forgive myself for that. You and I have had our problems, but in spite of disagreements and arguments, in spite of my failures and the ruin I’ve made of your life, you’re still the only good thing I’ve managed in this miserable universe.
I went to the Market that day just looking for a few drinks. I was off work, and our visit the day before was eating at me–my last words to you were pissed off, and through all eternity I can never make up for that.
I should’ve known something was wrong. The atmosphere was too tense, the voices too quiet and the tempers too short, for it to be a normal day. A couple of beers over lunch was enough time to see that atmosphere grow worse and worse.
Finally, I could hear a commotion at the hatch to the transit dock. Not really shouting, but voices raised in question and answer. Anger and stress everywhere.
I should have left.
Instead I went to see what was happening. That decision changed everything. That decision ruined your life more than everything else I’ve fucked up, and that’s saying something.
You know the Market–that area around the door to the docks is pretty tight. It might be just the stairs coming down from the entrance, and a bunch of stalls and tables, but it’s packed. Nothing really substantial, but more then solid enough for a semi-converted cargo hold.
Johnny had told me the takies were coming; he said he’d heard about about some kind of raid. I guess the Council assholes decided it was time for another crackdown. Can’t leave dockside alone…no, Station folks can’t have us poor bastards just getting on with life and business. Not when there’s money to be made from taxes and fines.
No one knew what the fuck to expect. Everyone I asked figured it would be a few stationside cops and a Council agent or two. Roust the stalls a bit. Confiscate some shit. Harass people for not having implants. The same shit they pull every few years.
An assault? Nope, not a fucking soul saw that coming.
Guy next to me had a buddy workin’ the slime farm. Got a flash over his ‘screen that the universe was goin’ ape-shit. Then the message just stopped. The last words were something about cops and guns. Dude musta been in a hurry ’cause his message made no fucking sense at all.
Everyone knows the Council would never put a gun anywhere near dockside; too much chance of shit spiraling out of control. No one wants blood on their hands, not when us poor-ass scumbags are nice and isolated a thousand clicks from their perfect little station.
I guess shit changes.
They musta hit the Ops center first because they definitely had control of all the major systems. The hatch just popped. No warning, none of the usual shenanigans, just popped open to let in a flood of assholes in black.
They weren’t storming in with guns pointed, which I guess is a miracle, but they were still ready for trouble. They were pretty fucking free with their clubs, and they used their riot shields like battering rams. I was in the back of the crowd so I didn’t get hit, but fuck me if I didn’t get half-trampled by people trying to turn and run.
I was thinking about getting the hell back to our pod when the shit really started. I know the hold is forty feet high, and sound echoes like mad, but fuck if that wasn’t the loudest fucking few minutes of my life. Insults and threats flew everywhere, but mostly I remember the screaming…the fucking screaming was the worst. I almost pissed myself. It was definitely time to leave.
Trouble was, more and more people kept pushing in. Everyone wanted a piece of the fucking goons who were trying to beat their way in. They all musta had the same bullshit fantasy about being badass special-forces types because they came in wearing all-black fatigues and tried to look like some fantasy version of a badass assassin. Fucking idiots. Everyone wanted a piece of everyone else. I’m not small, but fuck if I could push back against all the bozos who wanted in on the action.
Then I heard shots.
Well, I didn’t so much hear the shots as what came after.
Dead silence. I haven’t heard silence since I left Mars. You haven’t been on a planet since you were like six, so you have no idea what it’s really like. To hear the Market go absolutely still and silent, even just for a second, was the oddest, worst thing I’ve ever heard.
Then all hell broke loose.
I thought it was bad before, but that was nothing next to what happened.
I’ve been in riots, and what we had going was a normal, garden-variety riot. Some broken bones, a shit-ton of damage, and nothing more than funny stories and bad feelings. That shot changed everything–it went from riot to full-fucking battle real fast.
“Push back the takie cops” became “kill the bastards” almost instantly. It’s dockside….I think the Stationside assholes forgot what that means. They’re used to being the only ones with guns in their safe, quiet little paradise. Well, half the Market was armed…and all of it was panicked. Shots came from everywhere, but you could barely hear them over all the screaming.
People were pushing and shoving, trampling each other to get out. No one was going the same direction, no one knew what the fuck was happening. All we knew was that it was time to get out.
The place was a nightmare–all the stalls had been turned over and everyone was panicked as fuck. Everything as far back as Snug was a mass of chaos. I don’t know if most folks were rioting or running, but no one was gettin’ anywhere in all that shit.
I’m not much for brains, you know that better than anyone, and I’m even less for bravery. When I smelled the smoke, I gotta admit I joined the panic. A fire. A fucking fire. In the Market. That place is a death trap at the best of times. In the middle of a fucking gunfight? Anyone who didn’t get out was screwed.
I didn’t get out.
I looked back and saw the last of the cops leave through the hatch to the docks, then the fucking thing slid shut. Even over the noise and chaos you could hear the locks seal. That left only the one way out, the door back into the res-holds.
Shit, Connor, the Market is only three hundred feet long, but it might as well have been three hundred miles. With everyone screaming and panicking there was just no fucking way out.
A minute later the lights snapped off. I can barely make my way through that place at the best of times, but in pitch black? We were all fucked…then fucked times two when the air-system shut down.
You don’t think about that very much–the hum of the blowers and filters going is a part of life (literally). When it shuts down, however, you can’t hear anything else. Shots, screaming, shit crashing…none of it was loud enough to drown out the silence.
There was no air, and the only light came from a fire that was growing fast.
Yeah, we all know that’s a possibility; we all know the only safe way to deal with a fire is to vent the affected hold, but who the fuck expects that to happen to them?
The smoke was the worst. There was no circulation so the air just sat there and let the smoke accumulate. I musta been near the heart of the thing because it was only a few seconds before I couldn’t breathe.
Then some big bastard knocked me down–he just pushed over me as he ran for the door. I tried to pick myself up, I really did, but I just couldn’t. I was already half in the bag, and random assholes kept stepping on me.
I looked over and some girl in the same boat. She had a baby with her. I don’t how or why I noticed, but that kid looked exactly like you did the day your mother bugged out on us.
The last thing I saw was that kid’s blue eyes, and his hand reaching out to me for help.
Fuck, I can’t even die right.