Snippet: The Choice

So, I’m actually putting this post together not long after the one that went up on Monday. I’ll wait to post it, of course, if only to keep from overwhelming folks with words.

I posted, a while back, the first half of a scene. It was a scene I wrote seven or eight months ago, in fact. It was a scene that had no real place in the outline for The Silence That Never Comes, but rather was one that, I thought at the time, MIGHT end up in the second half of the story…

It was a scene setting up a choice — setting up the choice, in fact. That one choice that every hero has to have: the choice to be safe and leave evil to someone else, or to sacrifice everything for what they believe. That one choice you look at, when you reread the story, and scream at the protagonist, “Don’t be an idiot!”

The first half of the scene can be found here.

And the second half? Well…here’s the (unplanned, unedited) second half:

Talk about fucking cliches…

“Gee, thanks, Oz,” Connor muttered. “You got anything maybe, you know, helpful to add?”

Oz apparently did not, and the mental silence stretched for several moments.  A silence of fear for Connor, as he watched Mattie step down that hall, but a fear still touched by that uncomfortable, oh-so-dreaded, oh-so-needed sense of comfort from Oz’s ghost.

Mattie turned again, started back towards Connor.  “Jesus Christ, Connor.  If I was gonna fuck you over, I’d at least wait until you were too drunk to know better.  The guy who wants to talk to you, he just needs somewhere away from all the nuttiness around the stage.”

As Dalton had once said, Mattie was nasinec.  She was one of them.  Connor had been drowning in mistrust and suspicion for far too long — for most of his life, in fact — and maybe, just maybe, he thought, it was time to change that.  A shrug, then, and he took that first, all-important step down the corridor.

You could never take back the first step, no more than you could ever unmake a choice.

He followed Mattie through an unremarkable door, into an unremarkable room.  A few battered chairs, an even more battered table.  A coffee maker that looked like it had seen better centuries on the counter, and a small fridge rattling out the last of its life below.

“Connor, it’s good to meet you,” the man said as he stood from one of those chairs.  At first glance, he looked like every kamo Connor had ever worked.  A longer look, however, showed the subtle differences.  The air of slimy superiority so common to the Stationside takies was missing, as was the affectation and arrogance of the dirtside debil.  The cut and color of his clothes was just different enough to start Connor’s brain to working, and the accent…

The man’s accent was one Connor had not heard since the long days in Fadi’s company.

All of those observations took the barest heartbeat, and Connor’s reply as he shook the man’s proffered hand made him seem far more relaxed and nonchalant than he really was.  “Earther?” was all he asked.

A nod from the man, and a small smile as they all sat.  “Good ear.  Mattie was right about that,” the man said with a nod to Connor’s friend.  “I’m Jack Henry.”

Connor stared blankly.  What the hell was a Jack Henry?

A sigh from Oz, as amused as it was exasperated.  I swear, Spog, someday I’ll finally get you to listen to folks you ain’t scamming

“Shit, Connor,” Mattie said into the silence that followed.  “I told you about Jack.  He handles the artists for a touring and recording company back on Earth.  Now stop gaping like an idiot and start paying attention!”

I knew I liked her, Oz laughed.

“Although they went by their stage-names back then, I knew your friends Marie and Vin, Connor.  Way back when.  I was just a stage manager, and they were something special.”  A pause as he studied Connor, then, “I was sad as hell to hear what happened, but I see a lot of them in how you play.”

Vin’s shoes…Marie sobbing…the stench of blood and death…

Connor shook himself, grabbed hold of the demons and stuffed them away before they could overwhelm him.  If this svine wanted to put him at ease, he had just pushed all the wrong buttons.

A hint of Dockside on his tongue — just a hint — as he let all of the anger and resentment of the past year fill his voice, “So you know who I really am.  Fuckin’ great.  Congratulations.  I got exactly no time for this kuso.  Make your point, boss, or I walk the fuck out of here.”

He glared at Mattie, then, and his voice turned hot.  His Dockside accent became unmistakable, as did his anger, “You and me, we’re gonna talk about this little doji you just threw at me, baba.”

The man held his hands up as he responded with words that were slow and measured, just like you would use to calm an angry dog…or a small child throwing a tantrum.  “Easy, Connor.  I’m not a cop, and I’m not here to screw with you.  I mentioned those two because…well…they were my friends, too.”

Mattie was silent, her face crushed and tears touching her eyes.

Connor wasn’t sure what was worse, his dread that Mattie — one of the very few people he had been able to care about since Oz’s death — had betrayed him, or his certainty that he had just royally screwed up.

He was controlled again when he replied, and his voice offered no hint that he was anything other than a young dirtside professional living a life of privilege and wealth.  “The past is the past, and I’d rather not talk about it.  Now, how about we turn this little conversation to just what I’m doing in here.  And, Mr Henry, let’s shoot for some blunt honesty here.  Otherwise, this all will start to feel like something I might not like.”

Really?  You’re going with the sarcastic asshole persona?  C’mon, Spog, you’re smarter than that.  Think about it; why would Mattie sell you out?  You know her.  You like her.  You have to remember that not everyone is out to screw you, or you’ll end up right back where this all started.

Connor winced.  Trust Oz to cut through to the heart of matters.  A small part of Connor wanted to point out that Oz himself had once been the betrayer, but far too well did he know just how much pain and misery Oz had suffered — and the price he had paid — to ever touch on that subject.

“It’s that one word you used, actually,” Henry said, his voice interrupting Connor’s internal debate.  “Boss, you called me.  That’s what I’m offering.”  He opened a screen and spun it gently across the table to Connor.  “You’re too damned good for this crap system.  It’s not a full deal, not yet, but I want to bring you to some of the bigger places.  Sanctuary, Pavonis, maybe even Centauri.  You’re ready for more, Connor.  A year or two to tour and develop yourself, then I think you could really make a splash back home.”

Back home?  Earth?  Holy shit, Spog… Oz spluttered, at a loss just as much as was Connor himself.

To leave Redux and never return…

To make a life of music…

To be real

An ikiryo was never speechless.  Right or wrong, an ikiryo always had something to say.  Connor’s tongue wouldn’t work, however, not anymore than would his fingers.  Nerveless hands tried to pick up that screen, failed.  The shaking that was in his fingers moved up his arms, took over his entire body.

Thoughts of playing — dreams, really — chased themselves through his mind.  Little had he known, all those years ago when Vin had first pressed that guitar into his hands, just how much the music would come to mean.  Little had he known that first night playing at Peeber’s just how much of his own soul would go into the music.

Little had he known…

Little had he known how deeply he would become involved in the corruption and avarice that defined life on Redux.  Little had he known just much the fight against those screwing up the universe would come to mean to him.  Little had he known how personal it would all become.

Little had he known…

He stared at the screen on the table.  The words were unintelligible, unreadable, but that didn’t matter.  He knew what they offered.  They offered a way out.  They offered peace and security…at the expense of giving up the fight he had begun to wage.

All he had to do was accept and he could get away.  All he had to do was accept and his life would change.  But the lives of those he left behind?  The lives of Dockside and the Station, just as much as Redux?  Those lives would remain behind, unchanged.

Think about this, Spog…

Body or soul, Oz, he answered silently.  Which do I choose?  If I choose to be safe and real, I can’t affect anything here.  Not if I leave.  I’ll save my body, but only if I abandon everything else.  What happens to what’s left of my soul after that?

Someone else could do it, you know.  You don’t have to save the whole damned universe, you just have to save yourself.

Who, Oz?  Who else can do it?  I have the access to the systems.  I know what’s happening.  I can be a part of the solution…or I can be safe and happy.  I can’t do both, so how do I choose?

A hand on his arm, warm and gentle.  Mattie’s voice was quiet, knowing without words what he was thinking, “We’ll manage, Connor.”

“I can’t,” he whispered in a voice even he was barely able to hear.

He looked up, then, away from those unintelligible words that promised so much.  His voice became louder, if no more steady, when he met Henry’s eyes, “I can’t.  I have too much going on to leave.”

Henry’s eyes showed the honesty of his surprise.  “This isn’t an open offer, Connor.  There’s no changing your mind.  You’re good, but I have to leave first thing in the morning and I can’t wait on you.  It’s yes or no, and it’s yes or no right now.”

Connor stood and looked at Mattie rather than Henry when he answered, “I can’t.  Things here…things here matter too much to leave.”

The tears in Mattie’s eyes started to fall at his answer.

Post Three Million and One

I’ve started and stopped a post three million times in the last few days.  Every time I get some words down, it turns into a post that I’m “forcing,” and that just sucks.

For those who don’t know, forcing = bad writing.  No matter what you’re working on, if you are forcing the words, you’re starting off on the wrong side of the bell curve…and that climb to reach even “average” is pretty damned steep.

So I’m forcing the content, and the words…oh, and my keyboard is starting to go bad…

Welcome to writer-hell.

*sigh*

I could, I suppose, just do a post on politics…

Or a list post…

Or I could remove my own spleen with a dull spoon, for that matter…

I just wrote five hundred words for a freaking football site, goddamnit!  No problem with that post, by the way, even though my interest in — and passion for — football is nowhere near my passion for writing.  But here?  Here I’ve written 175ish words about…not writing.

Is it really all that bad if I start in on the scotch at 7:30 in the morning?!*

*A favorite movie scene of mine, by the way, comes from “Mr Mom”:  Michael Keaton is trying to act all tough and ‘manly’ when his wife’s new boss comes to pick her up.  “Want a beer?” Keaton asks.  “It’s nine o’clock in the morning!” comes the reply.  “Scotch?” Keaton responds.  That scene still cracks me up.

Ahem.  Never mind.

Oh, I did have a couple folks ask me if I’ve made up my mind about which fantasy series to write.

Err…well…no.  Not really.

One of the things I do when I’m thinking through and trying to prep a story is write a few random scenes — unplanned stream-of-consciousness scenes, I should add — from different POVs.  Doing that lets me explore my characters to see if there is any there there.  It also lets me explore different voices and narration options.

I doubt it needs to be stated, but I’ll put this little lesson out there anyway: your story’s narrative voice and tone are freaking vital to the story itself!  You absolutely cannot just “wing it” with that stuff.  You have to explore and test and find the right fit, or your story will fall apart no matter how good the characters and plot.

The thing with the two series I’m looking at is that I don’t yet have that clear voice and tone.  I have the characters for both (I think!).  I have the basis for building plots for both of them, as well.  What I don’t have is exactly how I tell those stories…

Hence my exploration and writing of random “test” scenes.

I suppose I should offer an example.  I’ve put it up here before, but below is one of the “test” scenes I wrote for Somewhere Peaceful to explore some of the dynamics for my protagonist (specifically his relationship with his father, and the incident that changed his life).  Keep in mind, the bit below is exactly what I described: random, unplanned, unedited, stream-of-consciousness writing…it also (somewhat accidentally) defined the tone I used for the stories, albeit from a different character’s POV.

Oh…and this scene feels kinda right to post again given everything that has happened in the US in the last 6-8 months…

Riot Memories: Connor’s Dad

The biggest crime of it all is that I’m not there to tell you this myself.  I will 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 have 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 fucked up, and that’s saying something.

You know the Market, that area around the door is pretty tight.  It might be just the stairs coming down from the entrance, and a bunch of stalls and tables, but it is 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, sir, we can’t have the 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.

The guy next to me had a buddy workin’ the slime farm.  He 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, it 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 fifty feet high, and sound echoes like mad in there, but damn if that wasn’t the loudest few minutes of my life.  Insults and threats were 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 goons who were trying to beat their way in.  Those goons all musta had the same bullshit fantasy about being bad-ass special-forces types because they came in wearing all-black fatigues and tried to look like some fantasy version of an assassin.  Fucking idiots.  Everyone wanted a piece of them.  I’m not small, but fuck if I could push back against all the bozos who wanted a go at the cops.

Then I heard a shot.

Well, I didn’t so much hear the shot 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 six, so you have no idea what it’s 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 until then 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 takies” 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 station.  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 move around.  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 hell.  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, but 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 back away through the hatch, 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.  The Market is only three hundred feet long, but it might as well been three hundred miles.  With everyone screaming and panicking, there was just no 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 dark?  We were all screwed…then screwed times ten when the air-system shut down.

You don’t think about them very much, but the hum of the blowers and filters going is literally a part of life.  When everything 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 completely cut off the affected hold, but who the hell expects that to happen to them?

The smoke was the worst.  There was no circulation, so the air just hung there and let the smoke accumulate.  I must’ve 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 and 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 saw some girl who was 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.

The Oath

The modern version of the Hippocratic Oath:

I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:

—I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.

—I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures [that] are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.

—I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.

—I will not be ashamed to say “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient’s recovery.

—I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all,

I must not play at God.

—I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.

—I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.

—I will protect the environment which sustains us, in the knowledge that the continuing health of ourselves and our societies is dependent on a healthy planet.

—I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.

If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.

I highlighted a few of the tenets, just to remind us all of values and morality during this time of COVID.

Now can all the “herd immunity” idiots please shut the hell up?

To willingly and voluntarily encourage the transmission of a virus still not well understood is not science, it is criminal malfeasance.  It is, quite literally, the very definition of a crime against humanity.

Unfortunately, far too many people have taken COVID as a political fight rather than a medical one.  Far too many people have decided that masks and prevention equal liberal, and therefor are evil.  The other side holds true, too, by the way.  Too many others have decided that any balance, any recognition of differing circumstances in different areas, equals conservative, and is therefor evil.

How about we let the freaking experts do their thing?  I studied a couple years’ worth of sports medicine in my second college go-‘round.  You know what that toe-dip into the waters of medicine taught me?  It taught me that I don’t know anywhere near enough to try and make that decision.  But the folks who have made the study and prevention of epidemics and viruses their life’s purpose do know enough…maybe we should try, you know, listening to them?

Good Lord, if we continue as we are — if we continue listening to Trump’s “everything is fine!” bullshit, or the left’s “quarantine for everyone!” bullshit — this damned thing is never going to go away.

Look, I’ve been open on this blog about my feelings about the Current Occupant of the Oval Office, and about the fact that I will do anything to get him out.  I should probably add, however, that I’m not any more confident in the other team.  A sociopath versus a buffoon to lead the country during COVID?  Shit.

I think I’m going write “Fauci” on my freaking ballot.

How Do You Choose?

Random writing, today.

I’m working on the fantasy series I want to write.  Unfortunately, the series I have in my mind is…well…it’s at least two different series.  Two different ones, but both do I want to write.  Both have characters I like, and stories I believe in.

How do you choose?

The worst torture the Romans could ever dish out was simple: line up the entire the family, then ask the father which child lived and which died.  The father always gave the Romans whatever they wanted.

So, for me, which story lives, and which dies?  Into which story do I plunge the dagger?

Okay, so no story every really dies…but putting one off for a couple of years (at the minimum) feels a whole lot like killing it…

Like that father, how do you choose?

No, really, how do you choose?

The story not of the young kid who wields a magic sword to become king, but rather the story of the sword so dedicated that he seeks out the last survivor of “his” family…

Or the story of the bitter immortal — the “angel” exiled for his part in the lost war in heaven — who wants nothing more than the grey numbness of oblivion…

I love Connor and Oz.  Err…well…Connor is a great character, and a great narrator, but it is Oz who I actually love.  It is Oz who is my favorite character.  But their time is coming to a close.  Once their third story is written, that’s it.

Hell, if I’m honest, there never should have been more than one.  Somewhere Peaceful to Die was written to have no sequel…but I couldn’t let those characters go.  The Silence That Never Comes and The Flicker of Ghosts came (are coming) because I couldn’t let go of those two characters.  But the time has come to finally let go…

So what fills the blank?  The stories of devotion and innocence that drove my youth?  My take on the Belgariad and the Chronicles of Amber and the Lord of the Rings?  Or…

Or…

Or, a more deeply personal tale?  A tale built on experience and reality?  A tale of a weary life lived among those far younger?  A tale of bitterness and loss amidst the joys and innocence of youth…?

It would help, of course, if one had a character that stood out more for me than the other…but both call to me:

Finntan’s hope, the innocence of his life, and the dedication of the magic items that dedicate themselves to him…

Versus the world weary insouciance of Runae…versus the concept of the once-great wanting nothing more than the forgetfulness of death…

How do you pick which child lives and which dies?

How do you choose between the hope and love that you wish the world was, and the bitter pain that you know the world actually is?

I tried conflating them, I really did.

Yeah, it was worse than you think it was.

Those two cannot be combined.  Not in any way.  I tell either Finntan’s story, or I tell Runae’s.  I can’t combine the two…not any more than I can plan out to a third series!

*sigh*

This is why, of course, writers get paid the…ahem…small bucks.

If I had wanted to get rich, I would’ve been a plumber.

Musical Note — the song below is one I love. It is a song that has not specifically been a part of anything I’ve conceived or written, but rather has elements that touch on everything I’ve written (not to mention having the best song line ever: “If you’ve never stared off into the distance / Then your life Is a shame”)…