Put Down The News, And Step Away From Reality…

I spent some time looking at the “real world” over the last couple of weeks.  At the culture, and the politics, and the general insanity of it all.  I thought I wanted to do a post today on something current, something topical.

Let’s see what we have to choose from: Trump and Russia, Clinton and Russia, everyone else and Russia, sexual harassment and rape in the halls of the rich, powerful and unaccountable, lunatic dictators and terrorism and frosty international relations…

Umm, this ain’t goin’ too well.

Okay…deep breath…deep breath…

So much for current events.  While some (or all) of the above would make good fodder for a story, I’m not sure I want to want to focus their reality.  Plus, I’m just not in the mood — I’m in the mood to write, not just to write.

So, well, I’m gonna write — but I have to put up a post, too.  Below is a snippet that I posted (in an earlier version) over a year ago, when I was still technically working on the first story.  I mentioned several months ago that I wanted to be more intentional about posting snippets, and this is the result: if and when I post such little bits of Silence, I am going to do so in (current) story order.

And, yes, that means the scene below is (currently) the opening scene — and no bitching about an opening scene in bed!  That beginning has a purpose (for the moment)!

As ever, keep in mind all the caveats: this is early version stuff, before I do the heavy lifting on editing and rewrites.  Anything and everything is subject to change…

The whirring of yet another lock in yet another cell door.  Connor would never get used to that.  It was just as bad now, two months after his eighteenth birthday, as it had been at twelve.  Shit, in some ways it was worse.  The years of freedom between cells had taught him about suffering, yes, and about the price always waiting to be paid, but also about friendship and love.  And about loss.

A gulp, then, at the thought of friendship.  Of absent friends.  Of Oz.

Blood on the floor…blood on the knife…blood on Oz’s wrists.  And Connor too late to do anything other than hold his friend — his brother — as the last of a too-short, too-painful life dripped away.

At least Oz hadn’t been alone.  Only one thing had ever scared Oz: alone.  Being alone and, especially, dying alone.  Alone was worse.  That was lesson number one, a lesson Connor would never forget.

But Connor was alone now.

Oz was dead.  Marie and Vin were dead.  Fadi had crawled into a bottle and disappeared.  And Nat?  A second gulp, almost as big for her as for Oz.  Nat had washed her hands of him.  Takie princess that she was, pretty and rich, she had had enough of her foray into rebellion and danger.  She had cleaned away the dirt and grime of dockside, and Connor with it.

“Move your ass,” a voice barked from the small intercom by the door.  “Work details leave in ten minutes.”

Connor didn’t want to crawl out of bed.  For all its many faults, the bed was warm.  The floor was cold.  The cell was cold.  Hell, the whole fucking place was cold.  Less than a year into his five year sentence and Connor was already very, very tired of the cold.

At least it wasn’t dockside.

If they’d put him into the much smaller jail out there, he would have died months ago. Of that he was very, very certain; too many out there knew just who Connor Spogelse was.  Too many blamed him for the violent gang war now ripping that space station apart.  And far, far too many were ready to make him pay for his role in it all.  The cops almost as much as the remnants of the crime family he had betrayed.

Grim humor, and the memory of his sarcastic friend, were more than enough to find the absurdity in his life, however.  How many could say they’d betrayed a major crime family, brought down a powerful politician, and earned a price on their head, all before their eighteenth birthday?

He could all-but hear Oz’s laughing voice in his head, Fuckin’ overachiever.

Out of bed he did get, in spite of the cold, and down to the entrance of the pod of cells.  Even after many months, the dirtside ground still felt strange to Connor.  Most of his life had been spent in the artificial gravity of a space station, and the regular, real gravity of a planet was just different enough to be disconcerting.  With every step he felt like he was about to fall over.  And that was without going outside to see all that emptiness hanging over his head.

As stupid as it sounded, even to him, he just couldn’t wrap his mind around concepts like sky and horizon.  And God help him with the truly crazy shit like scenery and weather.  He knew he’d never get used to any of it.

The pod’s lights were still dimmed for the night, and just eight prisoners waited by the exit.  The only inmates of the fifty in the pod with the privilege — and the drive — to get out of bed hours before the rest and go to work.

A brief stare from Connor, unintentionally baleful in the early hours, and the others gave him a respectful bit of space while they waited for the door to open.  With little to do but work, read and exercise, Connor had finally started to fill out his height.  He would never be considered big or bulky, but he was no longer the rail-thin teenager he had been just a year ago.

It was more than just size, however.  What Connor had done to the last aho who had thought to take advantage of the youngest kid in the entire prison brought its own respect, as well.  Dirtside criminals and thugs were little prepared for the sheer violence any dockside ikiryo could bring to bear with little hesitation and less warning.

The heavy door clanked open and the watch sergeant stuck his greying head inside.  “Alright, let’s go.”

The prisoners filed out, moved automatically to walk in single file against the corridor’s right hand wall.  You didn’t have to be in Chapman Penitentiary very long before the rules became automatic.  Fucking with the guards could offer momentary entertainment, true, but that most definitely did not make getting through your sentence any easier.  And Connor wanted very much to get through his sentence; wanted to get through with as little trouble as possible.

Down the long hall they marched, whispered jokes and comments the only sound.  It was early enough that not even the staff were moving around if they didn’t have to.  Later, when the day shift started, the halls would be full of guards and workers walking in packs alongside the ever-present movement of prisoners.

The small group reached an intersection and paused to wait while the sergeant called Central Control to open the heavy security door sealing the end of their corridor.  It was a major crossroads, this, and as the group of prisoners finally entered the intersection, all of the corridors leading out were similarly sealed.

A wave and an incomprehensible mutter from the sergeant sent Connor over to the one door painted a different color from the others.  Sky blue this one was, indicating its access to an area that led outside the prison.  The others, connecting only to internal areas of the facility, were a dull, earthen red.

A few steps and Connor pressed the small button on the door’s heavy metal frame, stared up into the holo-camera.  The door would not open until the operators in Central Control had verified his identity, and his permission to use this particular door.  No smile showed — could never show, not for this — but access to this door was his greatest accomplishment to date.

Quite how the prison officials had overlooked Connor’s past as a criminal specializing in cracking computer security and networks he didn’t know, but his first job in the prison library had offered just enough ‘net access to arrange this even-better opportunity.

“C’mon you little fucker,” the sergeant yelled, “hurry up!”

Until that blue door had closed safely behind Connor, no other one in the intersection would open.  Connor almost laughed at the grumbling from those behind.  The others were all headed to jobs in the prison’s kitchen and storage areas, and he would never understand how anyone could be eager to start burning fake-eggs and slopping out pseudo-oatmeal.

Finally, a buzzer sounded and Connor was through the door.  Barely a second later it slid shut behind him.  Those steps, as small as they were, took him into a completely different world.  Even the air smelled different.  Instead of the stale, chemical air of the prison, there was a taste of…something very different.

A few steps down the short corridor and he was into the big, busy room beyond.  A wave of sound washed over him as he entered, and a sense of activity.  Two steps inside and he was almost run over by a rushing prison guard.  Short and pretty this one was, with brown hair and bright blue eyes.

A distracted smile and a half-hearted wave from her, then.  “Sorry, no time to get things set up right now.  Just hit the basic stuff.  By the time you’re done with that, the rush should be over.”

Her accent was strange, vastly different from the hint of dockside that still clung stubbornly to Connor’s tongue.

A glance at the far end and Connor saw thirty new prisoners standing in a line, wrists and ankles shackled and their orange jumpsuits rumpled and dirty.  Four guards stood near that group, talking amongst themselves as much as watching the inmates in their charge.  Seated nearby, behind a high counter, several guards were checking ‘screens and preparing to call out names.

It was the prison’s Admissions and Processing Center, its link to the outside world.  Work in that area was one of the better jobs a prisoner could get…and was far and away the best job for a data-thief like Connor.

A brief smile, then, and a hint of self-satisfaction, as he moved to a small closet by the holding area.  A pull on the unlocked door and he was soon filling a mop bucket and readying his supplies.  A few hours of cleaning in exchange for several hours of datanet access every day?  Yes, please.

Maybe he’d arrange a little ‘donation’ to his commissary account today; why eat prison food when he could just buy his own on the prison’s penny?

The work — and the guards’ processing — took more than a few hours, but the end result was the same.  The floors were cleaned, the bathrooms were cleaned, and the guards entertained with jokes and stories.

Connor was well-known as one of the few docksiders in Chapman Penitentiary, and very few people on Redux — the capital of the entire damned star system — understood even a tenth of the reality of life out there at the very edge of the star system.  Dockside was nothing more real than the wild and lawless jungle of various holo-dramas to them.  Of course, it was wild and lawless, Connor reflected; the corporations who had colonized this system hadn’t cared enough to make it anything else.

The stories and jokes he told were just enough to hint to the guards that he was something special, something different.  Stories and jokes were powerful tools for confirming prejudices…and for gaining advantages.  And Connor — innocent, earnest Connor who the guards all liked — had lots of stories.  A few of them were even true.

It was the same guard — the pretty one — who brought Connor his breakfast.  Not for him a plate of food made from substances that almost, but not quite, resembled eggs and sausage.  No, sir, you couldn’t have the poor, abused kid who cleaned your toilets eat that shit.

A smile from her — one that offered questions, and hints of more — and she offered a small tray holding a pair of sausages and a strange, sour salad.  What docksider had ever tried fucking sauerkraut?  Connor wanted to find insult in the food; wanted to, but could not.  It was good.  It was also a hell of a lot better than anything those inside that sky-blue door were eating, that was certain.

That food came with a second benefit: after the guard had left to return to her duties, Connor was left alone at a desk-mounted ‘screen.  Antiquated that system may have been, and all-but useless compared to those he had used a year ago, but it did have one key feature that more than made up for its faults: a connection to Redux’s very modern, and very fast, datanet.

Connor’s life as a dockside ikiryo had given him many skills.  First and foremost among those: Connor could crack any security the ‘net could throw at him.  A smile, and a bite of food, and he began to navigate again through the prison’s security system.

Micro vs. Macro; or, It’s Not The Size Of The Lens, It’s What You Do With It

I’m thinkin’ about themes, and the subtextual messages we (well, most of us) try to communicate in our writing.

Well…more precisely, I’m working on the underlying themes for a new & totally unrelated project, and that got me to thinking…

Now, starting to conceive and develop a new project (however slowly) when you’re only halfway through your current one may not be the smartest thing in the world…but no one ever accused me of being smart. Honestly, at this point the important part is that the new project gives me different dynamics and pacing to use.  It also, it must be said, gives me the opportunity to play with some themes & ideas that have no place in Connor & Oz’s universe.

But…the question that kept coming up in the back of my mind as I worked was this: just how do you know when you reached that saturation point?  How do you know when enough is enough?

Okay, okay…so, even I know the answer to that one (with thanks to Julia Child for this): “when it is done.”

Part of the answer, I think, is just what are those themes you are trying to communicate. There is a certain amount of room & latitude for the small lens — for the personal — but far more for thoughts and insights through a bigger lens.

Literature in general, and science fiction in particular, have always been around to communicate far more than they say. Hell, for at least a century, sci-fi has been the go-to resource for social and political commentary on the problems and events of, err, “today”.

Don’t believe me? Read Brave New World, or The Forever War, or War With The Newts…hell, go back to Wells’s Eloi and Morlochs. Nope, no message there, no light shining on his contemporary society…

Ahem.

Sorry, about that — almost got started on a rant…and a reading list that might never have ended.

If anything, I would argue that today’s sci-fi and fantasy don’t have enough to say about the “big things”. Oh, there are all kinds of stories in the small-scale, but the number of books that criticize and argue — err, effectively criticize and argue — about the biggest things just isn’t anywhere near as large as it could be.

And…well…I’m part of the problem. My current project (Connor & Oz) is very much at the micro end of the scale. It is focused on the personal problems — and growth — of a troubled kid who is very much at the wrong end of that old truism that “shit rolls downhill”.

Thinking about that, and about Connor’s story as it evolves and grows, has me looking — looking very hard — at those bigger elements and threads that I’ve included in the world-building, but haven’t actually developed.  It’s got me thinking, at least a little bit, at the macro end of the scale.

I can’t complain about folks not tackling the “big picture” stuff if I won’t do it, can I?

Nope.

There are problems and challenges in the world today that just aren’t going away anytime soon — and certainly aren’t going away in the timeframe in which these stories take place (300-350ish years in the future). The trick and the challenge is to keep the focus tight and personal on my protagonist, but to use the end results and impacts of these issues on Connor to (hopefully) shine a light.

Oh, and before you ask: nope, the changes ain’t gonna make the tone any lighter. Repression & control, exploitation, elitism, the ever-present power of corruption and vice, and the willing heartlessness of “the many” that allows all that to prosper and grow…

Nope, not gonna get any lighter…but it will be fun*.

*And a hell of a lot of work.

I should probably add that Connor’s story was originally designed and intended to be purely personal, to be the reality of two kids who never had a chance. It is only lately that I’ve begun to think that, perhaps, looking at the universe through that small lens might not be enough…

That Peaceful Place

I really need to tell my brain to stop working. No, honestly – I just spent three hours working through the basics of a story that has built in the back of my mind over the past couple of days.

*sigh*

I have another book-and-a-half to write in Connor’s story, I can’t even begin to consider something new right now.

It is a good idea, though…

No! Bad, writer! Bad, bad writer! Focus!

The good news is that I am…well…there’s no other way to put it: I’m home. Back to that place where I’ve done 90% of my writing over the past couple of years. Back to the place that so helped me to learn to let go of my inhibitions and just write.IMG_0879

Hey, you can go write in a quiet office…and you others can go write in libraries… Me? I need me a nice taproom.

I have a lot of stuff to write today, so for the rest of today’s post a (very) brief snippet will have to suffice.

One note: this is a very early and incomplete version of a significantly larger piece…but I like this little bit for a lot of reasons. I wrote it – by hand – while sitting in the woods in my own snowstorm. I had a lot more to say at the time, but the last line – and the personal memories & sorrow it evoked – ended this particular writing session:

Nothing. Not a sound. Not the trees, not the few small animals…not a fucking thing. Connor had never heard anything like it.

He had, however, dreamed of it.

The snow fell in fat, soft lumps, piled unheeded on head and body. The thin, wide-set trees offered little protection from the weather. They were companions and witnesses, not protection. The cold and wet meant nothing, however. They couldn’t penetrate the distraction, nor the shock. Couldn’t, at the root of it all, penetrate the silence…and the peace.

In Connor’s early days on Redux, the trees had been the worst of the many oddities the planet had thrown at him; worse, even, than the alien concept of weather. They had been, to the eyes of one raised in the claustrophobic misery of dockside, the most unnatural things in the universe. Beneath all the bravado and cynicism, they had reminded him far too much of just how much he didn’t know, didn’t understand.

They meant something very different now.

In that snow, in that silence, he began finally to understand. He was surrounded, now, by life…by more life than ever he had imagined in those years of squalor and pain and death. Surrounded by the silence, and the peace, that he had never expected to find.

I told you it was there, Spog. I knew you would find it.

That old rule, that first lesson from Oz, no longer ruled his life. Solitary, under those trees, Connor still wasn’t alone.

I’m sorry, bozu, he thought, the pain of Oz’s suicide fading to sad regret under the spell of that moment. I wish you could be here for this…for this peaceful place we always wanted.

I am here, Connor.

Bitter & Cynical For The Win!

I’m home.

Yay…?

Getting into a real city again was weird. For all that Yellowstone’s surrounding towns have to offer, not even the most charitable could call Cody or Bozeman “cities”. That is, of course, a big part of why I like them.

Hell, half the reason I went to Yellowstone in the first place was to run away from the crowding and craziness that are starting to take over the area I currently call home. The area to which I just returned.

I almost didn’t, by the way.  Didn’t return, that is. A winter in the vast, sprawling metropolis of West Yellowstone wasn’t sounding too bad to me at the end, there. But…

But family comes first, and right now family has to take priority over self-indulgence and my introverted desire to continue running away.

The trip home*, however, did have one very big saving grace: time and quiet to take stock of the writing I did in Yellowstone.

*Thanks, airport shuttle, for having ZERO heat in twenty-degree weather!

Umm…

Ahh…

That stock-taking kinda sucked.

The plan was to write something on the order of 80,000 words while I was living in the park.

“Hey,” I thought, “there’s nothing around…I can write my ass off.”

Yes, I was that big of an idiot.  80,000 my ass – I wrote 20,000. That’s it. Shit, I should be writing 20,000 in a couple of weeks, not over the course of five months!

And you know why I got even that much done? Nagging guilt and shame had their roles, of course, but also the faith and support of my friends.  Especially of those that read my rough draft stuff and tried to keep me focused.

Hell, I don’t think I can ever really describe just how much I appreciated one friend’s…well, there’s no other way to describe it: her outright bullying.

“How much did you write, today? Nothing? Go…shoo! Go write! Now!”

Now, I’m a pretty big guy, and Billy small enough to stuff into my pocket, but I just hung my head and went to write. And valued the friendship as I went.

The time up there did, however, change the tenor of the story a little bit. That’s fine for the last third of Silence – it was intended to return a sense of hope, and of meaning, to Connor’s life – but for the first bit?

Err…

It sounds weird, but I have to recover that bitter cynicism that so colored everything – both for me, and for him – before I left. One glance at the traffic as we drove home, and I decided that rediscovery probably wouldn’t be as hard as I’d first thought.

The Halfway Mark

I’m currently watching a toddler stagger around the plaza in front of the store, bottle in hand and legs shaky and unsteady. Weaving a course in and out of people and falling down every once in a while.

Hmm…I seem to recall being in that condition once or twice…

Trying to think about tone today, and the various tricks of voice, characterization and description we use to create the mood and feeling of a story. I’m thinking about it because I have to sit down and do some planning and rework of the outline for the rest of the current story. No big deal – I would only worry if I didn’t have to make changes at this point!

At any rate, I’m halfway through Silence, and that is a damned nice milestone for me…in spite of being badly behind schedule*.

*Hey, YOU put in a full day of writing when you’ve got mountains and valleys and meadows – not mention bears and bison – calling your name!

But with all of that said, the changes I have to make are pretty big. I like, at least in concept, the changes I have in mind, but I am concerned at the change in tone, as well. I’m already struggling to maintain the bitter, jaded and angry tone that characterized the first book, and anything that makes that harder is something I have to be careful about.

I might be in a better frame of mind as I write this book, and Connor may be in a better situation than he was as a dockside ikiryo, but that only changes the circumstances, not the reality. He is still bitter and angry, he is still abandoned and alone, and in the end he is still a broken, hurting kid. That is what I can’t lose sight of, that is the heart of the character and of the story.

How do you do that with a kid who is, essentially, living “under cover” as a yuppie?

Well, the glimpses into music and the dive bar in which Connor plays are part of it, but also the booze and the drugs still come in to play. I’ve been told the drinking and drug use in Wrath make Connor and Oz less likable than they otherwise would be. But, to that I can only reply that clean and nice aren’t who they are. It’s not what the stories are. It’s not, honestly, who I am.

Go to the downtown area in any moderate-to-large city and find yourself some streetkids. Just how many of those are clean and nice? Just how many of those are stone-cold sober?

Yeah, I couldn’t find any, either, when I was doing research for the books.

I did try to change the scenes I’ve been told are problematic, but those scenes are there for a reason. Hell, I do remember saying once that I don’t care if you like Connor and Oz as “people”, so long as you feel for them. And I still hold to that. These ain’t American high school kids, these are guys whose youth hides scars the rest of the universe can barely comprehend. These are guys who have seen the worst the universe has to offer…if their worst sin is to drink too much, and pop the occasional pill, then they’re doin’ pretty damned good, I’d say.

In Vino Veritas

Another snippet, one I wrote a while ago.  I’m still working out where and how this comes into Silence, but come in it does.  I’ve lived too many scenes like this myself to ever leave it out:

Connor pressed himself as deeply into the corner as he could. The shadows around him, the bottle in his hand, the worries and fears that he wouldn’t live to see the sun come up again—it was like being back dockside. He could all but hear Oz asking him just how fucked up did he plan to get?

“What the hell are you doing out here, Connor?” a voice asked. He knew that voice. He knew it, but it didn’t fit. Not with dockside, not with the memories.

He looked up. It was Matt. Innocent, earnest Matt. Poor foolish, naive Matt. The one who still believed in…anything.

A move of his hand and he offered the half-empty bottle. “Sit down and have a drink. I could use the company.”

A hesitation as Matt looked at the cold, wet ground before he sank down with a small shrug. He took the bottle and sipped cautiously. “Holy…what the hell are you drinking? This could strip paint from the walls.”

Connor laughed, then, with more than a hint of pain and bitterness. “Good ol’ fashioned shochu. Makes me feel young again. Y’all don’t get this kuso around here, so you don’t know what you’re missing.” Connor knew he should be careful about his speech, about letting dockside slip back onto his tongue, but he just couldn’t muster the energy. Or the care.

The bottle came back to him and he took a long, long drink.

It really was kuso, but he needed that particular burn from the harsh liquor. The burn of memory, the burn of forgetting. For a time.

“It’s, what, ten degrees out here? Are you insane? Why the hell are you sitting in the darkest, coldest corner in this whole city?” Matt asked, his voice full of care…and of the emotions and tells that Connor could so easily use.

No. Not this time.

Matt wasn’t a kamo, wasn’t someone to read and scam. He was a friend. That was all, just a friend.

Connor hadn’t realized just how much he needed a simple friend until he met Matt. Hopefully he wouldn’t kill this one.

Stop it, Connor, Oz said in his mind. You didn’t kill me. You did what you had to, and the price was paid. That’s how it works. Shit, I thought I taught you better than this.

The silence said Matt expected some kind of answer, so Connor obliged. He could laugh, and did, but he couldn’t stop the bitterness, not tonight. “It’s an old habit. If you’re in the corner, you only have to watch in front of you. Safest place to be. Of course, that means it’s also the place everyone wants. I’ve seen kids knifed for their little spots in the corner.”

A look over and he could read the shock and dismay on Matt’s face, even in the dark.

Fuck it, in booze lay honesty they said. Or something like that. Another pull at the bottle, then, “I saw my first murder when I was eight. This…this carnival you call civilization, it’s a sideshow. I know the truth behind it all. I know the blood and pain it’s built on. My pain, and my brother’s blood.”

“What the…” Matt stuttered, completely staggered, at a loss. He very obviously did not know what to make of Connor’s little speech, so he focused instead on the smallest of the details. “Brother? I thought you were an only child.”

Connor thought about that for a moment. “Some families you’re born into, some families you choose. Oz meant more—means more—to me than some random aho who just happens to share my genes.”

 

“Come pick me up from the night
From the hands of the dark
From the things I didn’t know
That would simply break your heart”

“Have Mercy”, The Gaslight Anthem, Get Hurt, 2014, Island Records

Diversity Pokémon: Gotta Have ‘Em All!

One of my co-workers wanted to go on a hike with me. No problem – as long as it is on a Tuesday, I don’t mind the company. Just leave my Mondays alone, dammit!

Anyway, the time comes to go out and here comes my “partner”. In sandals. With a tiny 12-ounce bottle of water. For a sixteen mile hike.

If I take the guy out like this, he’ll make it maybe five miles before dehydration and exhaustion take him out. If I turn him away and just leave, I get the Asshole of the Year award.

*sigh* This is, by the way, one of the reasons why I hate people.

“Sure, no problem, I’ll change the hike. We’ll skip Hayden Valley and just go to the Upper Falls.”

Great, now I want to go there just so I can jump off the damned Upper Falls…that path is PAVED for fuck’s sake!

Okay…I did NOT sit down with the intention of venting about my sub-par “hike” today. Of course, I am also plotting revenge: I got this particular individual to commit to a twenty mile hike through wildlife-infested meadows in a couple of weeks. If he doesn’t make it, I can at least use him to feed the bears…

Ahem.

Never mind.

One of my readers came to me the other day, had some questions. Now this particular reader has been mentioned in the blog before: the transgender kid slowly transitioning from girl to boy. I should also point out that this individual is someone I respect. In spite of the great difference in ages (20+ years), I listen very seriously to anything Billy has to say: we share a similar nerd-ism, and a love of very similar things (from Star Wars to D&D, and everything in between).

Why is Connor white and blonde? Billy asked.

Now, Billy is an artist. A picture came out, then, of Connor…before I had really described him. Black, this picture was, with dreadlocks. Still attractive…still smart. Shit, it could very well have been Connor…except. Except…

I had to think about my answer before I gave it. I actually thought for quite a while.

I wanted Connor to stand out, to be “a man alone” in the misery of dockside. Tall and blonde – in a society descended very, very closely from Hong Kong, Bangkok and Tokyo – very definitely ain’t part of the “scenery”.

I also wanted to fuck with society, and with the power structures. The workers of dockside – the exploited and oppressed – are Asian, but the wealthy and powerful of the Station are black. White folks are most definitely not in evidence out at Port Oblivion…very intentionally so.

Hell, Nat is a mix of black and Hispanic, and Oz is an unidentifiable mix of Japanese and…everything else.

The simple fact is that I refuse to “check boxes”. Nat is not black because I “needed a black character”, but because there absolutely is a power structure to Redux. And because, I will admit, I picture her as a very young version of Zoe from Firefly. And there ain’t many ladies out there that can rival Gina Torres for beauty or presence.

Beyond all of that, however, Connor’s race and appearance serve his character. He is an outsider, alien to the society around him. He doesn’t fit in, and that marks him as prey to the circling sharks. It is only the help from someone who does fit in, from the mostly-Asian Oz, that enables him to survive and learn to thrive…

Cheap Guitars, And The Demons Of Memory

It’s Sunday night and I’m sitting out in front of the store drinking a beer while I plan my “Welcome To The Apocolypse” hike for tomorrow.  No offense, but the last thing I’m ready to do right now is write a blog post.  At least, not a post that is coherent and, well, useful.

Screw it…it’s been a while since I did something from Silence.  So, I guess it’s snippet time:

A one-gallon bladder, soft and flexible—bought from a kitchen worker with the promise of free booze—was no easy thing to hide in a four-by-eight cell of concrete and steel. Not when it was filled to the brim with a mash of ingredients busily fermenting away. No easy thing, but not impossible. No, sir, not impossible…not to someone who had grown up on t-deck.

Connor’s thin, cheap mattress might never be the same again, but a minute or two to open it and rearrange the stuffing and he had a neat little hiding spot. If the mappo didn’t look too close.

That was the trick, of course: to distract the guards while they searched, and to point their attention elsewhere.

A shrug, then, and a mental sigh. They’d find it or they wouldn’t. Shou ga nai.

He took a moment to look out the small window in the now-securely-locked cell door. There were just two teams tossing the cells, but they were doing a pretty damned thorough job. Clothes and mattresses and knickknacks were flying out of the first two cells to land haphazardly on the dayroom’s floor. Typical mappo bullshit: make as big a mess as possible, remind the animals just who ran the fucking zoo.

They were taking the cells in order, starting with the first floor. That was a good thing; it meant they weren’t targeting specific people, nor looking for anything in particular. The downside, for Connor, was that it also meant it would likely be a long while until they got to his particular cell, tucked as it was into the far corner of the second level.

A cheap, rudimentary ‘screen sat on the meager desk, called to him. It connected only to the prison library, that ‘screen, but Connor had long ago learned the value, and the truth, in the written word. Oz had taught him that.

His jaw clenched, and he fought for control. The demons—those demons of memory, and of pain—they were always threatening to break loose, and that he did not need. Not here, not now…not ever.

He drank the remainder of the jar in a single gulp and rinsed it carefully in the small sink bolted to the wall. Why waste perfectly good booze on a shitty drain?

A moment more to consider, but the decision was easy. No reading, not now. His prize possession was calling even louder than that ‘screen, and the words and wisdom it contained. Connor was one of the few in all of Chapman Pen with no cell-mate—few knew how much effort that had taken to arrange—and the cell’s top bunk served only one purpose: to cradle and hold his guitar.

That guitar was a cheap, battered pity-gift given by a sympathetic guard. It was also Connor’s most precious possession. His only possession, when you came right down to it.

Music…music mattered to him. The only thing that mattered as much as reading. It was equally a gift from his past, of course. If Oz had given him reading, Marie and Vin had given him music.

And he’d killed all three.

There were those demons again.

Shit.

Teaching himself to play had been a slow process at first, but that same guard had linked him several songs and manuals, and Connor had worked hard to learn. Harder, in fact, than he’d worked even to learn the languages and culture of his new ‘home’.

The desk was a tiny bit of metal sticking out from the wall, and its seat was an even tinier bit of metal. No one could be comfortable sitting there, but Connor decided a perch on his bed would just attract attention to the fact that he did, indeed, have something to hide. Onto that uncomfortable metal seat he went, then, guitar in hand.

He’d made the mistake of remembering, of course. The past had power, tremendous power. Even now, a year later—even after the demons had gone quiet and were staying in their little holes at the bottom of his mind—the past still called. The emotion…the experience…the reality…the pain.

Around him echoed the typical prison cacophony: yells and insults between cells, inmates pounding and kicking at doors, the sheer joy of noise and chaos for the sake of noise and chaos.

It was complete misery to Connor. Silence, and a bit of peace: the things he had never had in his life. The things he wanted more than anything else in the universe.

He started to play, then, and to sing. Quietly, yes, but with all of the honesty and emotion that Marie and Vin had taught him lay at the heart of music. Emotions he could express in no other way.

Images went through his mind, carried by the music. Flashes of those he had known. Those he would never see again. Marie. Vin. Oz…Oz’s blood, Oz’s body.

His friends. His brother. Everyone he loved. Everyone he had.

The song was almost automatic, one he had played many times before. It carried everything he could never express. Not in prison…not in life…not ever. Only through the music.

Every time he played that song, he found another layer to the music, to the words. Every single time. It said what he could not, carried everything he kept buried.

He had no idea how long he played, how many songs he sang. It couldn’t have been long—he didn’t know all that many songs—but it felt like forever. That was the only time in his disaster of a life when the prison went away, and the bitter rage with it: when he was playing. When he let himself feel.

It was the closest he came to feeling that peace he and Oz had so wished for. That peaceful place to die.

Oz had found his peace, but Connor? Connor had found everything but.

He never heard the guards arrive outside his cell, so lost in the music was he. Never heard the whirring of the lock.

“Shut the fuck up, you piece of shit!” a voice screamed, right next to him.

That he did hear.

A surge of violence that he resisted, but barely. It was no easy thing. The one thing that finally stopped his rage was the weapon in his hands; there was just no way he would waste his precious guitar on the head of some useless prison guard.

The Breakfast Of Champions

It’s hard to get enough posts stored away in time…the, err, call of nature is too strong.  No, I mean that: nature calls.  Hiking and camping and communing with the animals are pretty high on my list right now.

At any rate, I’ve done Yellowstone posts, I’ve done writing posts, I’ve done picture posts…but it’s been a while since I’ve done a snippet from Silence.  Err, well, yes…part of that is because I’m badly behind on my schedule but, as Connor would recognize, that’s the price I’m paying for the fun.

At any rate, a snippet:

It was hard not to laugh. It was very hard. Connor had not seen a person as painfully miserable as Matt in a very long time. He tried to look sympathetic, he really did, but even with his skill at scamming and fooling people, that solicitude wasn’t very convincing.

“Two days I’ve known you, Connor,” Matt moaned with his head in his hands, “and I think you’ve already ruined me. Where the hell did you learn to drink like that? You have a secret career in the navy or something?”

A laugh and a sip of coffee for Connor before he replied. “Call it the legacy of a misspent youth. Eat the damn eggs, Matt. Trust me on that. You need the protein and carbs pretty bad.”

A slow, quavering forkful of scrambled eggs went down Matt’s throat, and a long drink of water. “Misspent youth my ass. I drank my share of beer and other stuff as a kid, but what you were pouring down my throat last night was just plain evil. You have to be feeling it, too.”

“Crap, son, you’ve lived here longer than me. That was local stuff we were drinkin’: slivovice. And, yes, even I have a headache this morning.”

Another groan, then Matt looked up. His small grin, ironic and laughing, did nothing to lessen the baleful stare of those reddened eyes. “How am I supposed to go to work this morning? I can’t even see straight.”

Connor did laugh, then. “You just do it, that’s how. There’s always a price, Matt, so you pay it and do what you have to. Life just is, boss, and you deal with it.”
“What is it they say around here? Do haje. Go to hell. I think you might be that bad influence my parents always warned me about.”

Connor was proud of the control he was showing. Not the slightest hint of dockside touched his tongue, and only the most inoffensive and mild of curses slipped into his words. He also felt like he was about to explode. Explode or not, however, there was no way he was going to show this pampered son of the elite the real Connor. This kid–a decade older than Connor, Matt’s naivety and inexperience still made him more a kid than Connor ever had been–was just too unknown, and too different, to trust. The lessons of that misspent youth he had joked about were still too fresh, and too important, to forget.

“You’ll survive,” Connor answered with a smile. “And I’m the most perfect person on this planet. I raised the average IQ of this place as soon as I stepped off the shuttle.”

“I hope to hell your boss has a sense of humor. He’s gonna need it with you. Mine, on the other hand, is a jackass. I don’t think anything or anyone exists for him except formulas and designs. I know us engineers can be obsessive, but that man scares me. Where will you be working, anyway? If you ever said, I was too drunk to remember.”

Connor had given Matt, over the last two days, the cover story prepared for him by Sonthi. Had lived that cover story, had thrown himself totally into becoming Connor Torlae. It was almost fun, he had to admit, living as someone so completely different from who he really was.

Although he was going to kill Sonthi for the name.

He was about to answer, to offer some vague explanation of the job interviews he had to attend, when an alert tone interrupted. What the hell? It took a strange look from Matt, and a pointed stare at Connor’s pocket, to make the necessary mental jump.

He grabbed the ‘screen from his pocket and rose from the table. What idiot would be calling him? He thought–he hoped–Sonthi wasn’t stupid enough to use the city’s communications net for something like this.

“Back in a second,” he said even as he was stepping for the diner’s door. A few seconds and he was outside, tucked behind a corner to shield himself from the icy wind. He touched a control on the ‘screen still wondering if he really should take the call, or if he should just drop the ‘screen and run. It was even money on which was dumber.

A swirl of colors that resolved almost instantly into an image. Dockside reappeared on Connor’s tongue, along with the realization that he should’ve run. “Ai shia, Sonthi. What the fuck?”

“Ki ni shinaide,” the ex-cop placated. “LRC’s got its own in-house comm system. Heavily encrypted and secure as fuck. Plus, I’m bouncing this through about half the damn networks in the star system. No worries, chiima.”

“Fuck you, it’s my ass on the line you kwai bastard.”

A laugh from the older man. “Your apartment’s got the same system set up. You can trust the net in there; it makes Snug’s blacknet look like a fuckin’ nursery school.” The smile faded, and Sonthi’s face turned serious. “You settled in good? I gave you as much time as I could, but Chapman’s gettin’ itchy to…well, test you.”

“Shit, I don’t even have the tools yet. You set me up with clothes and food, and the home system is pretty damn nice, but there ain’t a fuckin’ greybox or cracknet in sight. You expect me to…what? Just walk in somewhere and ask nicely for the info?”

“Flash those blue eyes and shake your ass to the right secretary and that just might work,” Sonthi laughed, unfazed by Connor’s sarcasm. “Sorry Connor, but that’s part of Chapman’s test. No tools, no shortcuts. It’s petty bullshit, but that’s life. Shou ga nai. I’m sending you a file with the targets. Five different ops. Just messin’ with data, no scammin’ or face to face work. Background and all the details you’ll need are in the file. Study it, then work ’em as fast as you can. Chapman wants to push you, so I told him it would take you a week or so. He was happy with that.”

Sonthi’s look turned from amused sarcasm to intense, deadly seriousness in a flash. “If it does take you a week, I’m sending your ass back to dockside on the next ship.”

“Heia. It’s fuckin’ doji, Sonthi, but I’ll get it done. But first…”

Sonthi raised a hand, forestalled what Connor had been about to say. “Don’t start. I got you covered. Ten grand when all five jobs are done.”

Connor repressed the smile that threatened: Sonthi still knew what the hell he was doing. That was good. Now it was time to press.

Trust no one and always have an escape plan; Oz’s lessons still mattered.

“In cash, boss. In fuckin’ cash. You know the drill: most of what I gotta do ain’t gonna go through accounts and idents.”

Sonthi’s eyebrows rose at that. “This isn’t dockside, Connor. Cash stands out. It raises questions and problems, and that’s not a good idea. I told you before, this place is run through damn ‘plants.”

“Dame. I don’t give a fuck. Remember where you pulled me out of. I need cash. You try to pay me through some baka account and you’ll never find me again.”

Hesitation, and the start of an answer, then Sonthi just shook his head. “Fine. I’ll have it brought to you, but not ’til you’re done. And that I ain’t givin’ in on.”

Connor nodded: he had expected nothing less. “By the way, boss, fuck you for the ident. What fuckin’ t-deck reject uses ‘liar’ for a fake name?”

Sonthi laughed. “You and me are about the only aho who’ll get the joke. Folks here…well, to folks here dockside slang might as well be from the bug-eatin’ aliens on the other side of the universe.”

Connor was about to close the ‘screen when a thought occurred to him.

“Boss…Sonthi. I need you to look someone up for me. Get me a full rundown on a guy named Matt Heaton. Has the unit next to mine in the building.”

“Somethin’ we should worry about?”

A shake of his head, but a hint of hesitation in Connor’s voice. “I don’t think so, but I’m not sure. Baka was introducin’ himself before I had a chance to even take a piss. I think he’s just a nice guy lookin’ for a buddy, but I just don’t know.”

“I’ll start lookin’,” Sonthi said with a nod, then closed the call.

Connor rolled the ‘screen and stuffed it back into his pocket as he re-entered the diner.

Matt was just getting to his feet. A look of curiosity, and a half-smile. “Everything okay?”

“Got a job interview,” Connor replied with a smile and a little laugh.

You always put the kamo at ease.

A Dingo Ate My Baby

It’s getting into late June…

Holy crap.

I’m not sure I believe that.

How the hell did it get be to be late June already?!

By the end of this month, I am “supposed” to be at least halfway through the first draft of Silence.

Err…

I think I need to dust off some of those old excuses I used way back in college. “I’m sorry, professor, but there was this baby, you see. And a pack of dingos. There were definitely dingos…”

Yeah, my professors never bought it either.

The hard part isn’t inspiration: Yellowstone is not short on that particular commodity. Electricity and good wi-fi? Those are problems, but inspiration is pretty much everywhere.

No, the problem is the right inspiration – and the right environment. For someone who grew very used to writing in the taproom of a brewery, adjusting to “writing on the go” while surrounded by mountains, trees, vicious bears and a supervolcano that is – quite literally – right under my feet is something of a challenge.

I’m essentially at the 35% mark. So much for schedules and planning…

On the other hand, I do now know just what bison smell like up close, so I’ve got that going for me.

The worst part is that I am writing…I’m just not writing what I’m supposed to be. There’s an old maxim in writing that if you put off writing out an idea that comes to you – even in the middle of the night – you are guaranteed to forget it. Well, an idea came to me a week or so ago…in the middle of the night.

You know the refrain by now: I had to write it.

During my work week, I can squeeze in a couple hours of writing each day. What did I do with the two or three writing sessions I actually managed to complete this past week? Yep, you guessed it: I started fleshing out that idea that came to me.

Harrumph.

Connor and Oz are mad at me, now. They think I’ve forgotten them…

It really is a good idea, though.

 

p.s.

Sorry about the late post this weekend – I actually had the one that went up Saturday night written and ready in plenty of time, but when I tried to upload it on Thursday…well…remember the problems with electricity and wi-fi? Yeah, both hit me. And with 8 trillion people in the park every single day, the one Verizon tower I can reach gets a bit, umm, overloaded.

If I can remember to set my phone to upload overnight, I do promise to do another photo post this week.