Snippet: “Out of His Depth”

“We really wanted to know what was on the iPad!”

It’s not the reactions when you walk away and leave your iPad on the brewery’s patio that matter, it’s the ones that come when you return to pick the damned thing up.  Now, look, I’ve done the walk of shame before.  I’ve, errr, done an awful lot of walks of shame to be honest.  But that shame?  I don’t know why, but it’s worse than when you leave someplace you’ve never been with your underwear hanging out of your back pocket…

And, no, as a writer, there ain’t no such thing as “too much information”!  Sorry, mom.

It’s weird, by the way, to go from the free-for-all that is Montana and North Dakota to the…err…far-more-restricted world of the midwest.  I’m currently in western Michigan, and this place is — to put it mildly — absolutely terrified of a totally different virus than we experienced out west.

Anyone who has read this blog for more than a month or two knows that I am no wacky, masks-are-the-Holocaust nutjob, but do we really need to have the people serving breakfast in the hotel dressed in (proverbial) hazmat suits?!

Oh, and by the way, do not order the spicy-chili-garlic tacos if you have to wear a mask soon after.  You have been warned.

I have a friend who was born with the music gene — as soon as she gets to a new town, she finds every single place (whether bar, club or someone’s backyard) that offers live music.  My dad was born with the friendship gene; he is not in a new place for more than five minutes before he has 18 new friends, and a deep understanding of the locals their favorite places.

Me?  I was born with the beer gene.  I don’t research.  I don’t read or Google.  I don’t check Untapp’d or the BA website or anything else.  I just…use the Force.  ObiWan may have felt Alderaan crying out when the Death Star arrived, but I can feel millions of brain cells crying out in terror as the next round arrives, and then are suddenly silenced…

Of course I’m not on the patio of a taproom as I write this!  Would I ever do such a thing?  Writing is too serious for beer!

At any rate, I haven’t done a snippet in a while.  Err, I haven’t done one measured by time — by post, my last one was only a few posts ago.  Oh well, just take the scene and stop asking questions!

Obligatory Snippet Warning — anything I tag as a “snippet” is a first-draft, unedited bit from my longer fiction.  I am currently posting bits and pieces from the second story in my Dockrat trilogy, titled The Silence That Never Comes:

“Out of His Depth

If the clothes were different from the ones Connor had known in his life before Chapman Pen, they still screamed money just as loudly as had the Station’s fashions.  Grays and blues and blacks, those Redux suits were.  All tailored to within an inch of their owners’ lives.  And all, Connor guessed, worth more than any of the prison’s bachu made in a year.

A single glance upwards brought a wave of vertigo.  The huge buildings all leaned close, crowded out the sky.  The clothes might put the Station to shame, but the surroundings, and the feelings they brought, those were very much Dockside: dark, oppressive, and seriously fucked up.

Every single person on that plaza turned to stare at Connor and the little parade of menace he led towards the one tower dominating the plaza.  Fifty stories tall, at least.  The dark grey concrete that so characterized the other buildings was covered on this one with a shiny, black facing.  Marble, Connor guessed.

It was easily the most extravagant building Connor had seen among the increasingly extravagant towers.  The front bore a massive logo, elaborate and aggressively gold against the black exterior.  What the hell was LRC Exploration?

The crowd continued to stare as Connor crossed that plaza.  He was an animal in the zoo, he decided, on display so those too afraid to actually experience life could watch with nothing to threaten their cocoons of privilege and ignorance.

There were many doors on the front of that building, all far bigger than they needed to be.  The lobby inside was easily as tall as Connor’s old res-hold; fifty feet, at least.  The same black marble, worked with gold designs, covered every surface of that interior.  More massive sculptures dotted the lobby, reached almost to the ceiling.

A few seconds to look and Connor could only shake his head.  “Sorry about that penis, boss,” he muttered.  How utterly ridiculous could you make one simple lobby?

“What’s that?” the thin man asked from behind his shoulder.  His voice was curt, and very, very doubting.

Connor stopped and turned with a shrug, “Shou ga nai, dorsun.”  The man had sure as hell never so much as seen a res-hold, let alone learned the subtle nuances of Dockside insults.  “You’re gonna have to take the lead, boss.  I got exactly zero idea what the fuck you want from me.”

There was no way he could more aggressively tell the guy to fuck off without using his fists.  And that would far too likely see his ass handed to him by the ever-present, ever-silent rvac at his shoulder.

The look he received from the thin man was not warm.  It was, Connor decided, the same look he himself gave to a kamo he wasn’t sure was worth the effort to scam.  Or to a pile of kuso he had just stepped in.  There were no more words, however, just a peremptory wave as the man stepped past and moved across the insanely over-dramatic lobby.

The stares from the people milling inside that lobby were even more intense than those from the ones outside.  Connor could feel the eyes follow him as he walked, could feel the sneering curiosity.  Just who was the scruffy bastard in the shitty, third-hand clothes?  What the hell could someone like him be doing in a place like this?

He was wondering the same thing himself.

There were security guards scattered throughout that crowd.  Although the place did not seem to have any formal security stations, one glance was enough to tell Connor that every single person inside that lobby was being subjected to the most detailed of scans.  Implants, biometrics, active scans for weapons and contraband…he had not doubt that the entire gamut was in play.  Just what the hell those scans and sensors would make of an ikiryo like him was worth another laugh, stifled and controlled before it could escape.

There were numerous elevators scattered across the back wall of the massive lobby.  Most were in constant use, with lines of people waiting impatiently to go up while just as many filed off after the descent to take their own places in that lobby.

A pair of elevators, however, saw no traffic whatsoever.  Maybe it was because they went nowhere, Connor thought.  More likely, however, it was because of the guard standing directly in front of them.  No word or sign of warning came from that guard.  Well, no warning beyond the very serious weapon in his arms and the fuck-you expression written clearly on his face.

The change in expression from dour and threatening to obsequious took less than a heartbeat, however, when the thin man stepped up to whisper to him.  Connor was staring intently at the thin man, but still barely noticed the double-twitch of his hands that opened the doors to the last of those elevators.

All implants read muscle twitches and nerve impulses to control their functions.  Most, however, required movements that were very big, and very obvious.  Something able to interpret the small, barely detectable motions the thin man used as they stepped past the guard spoke volumes about the quality — and the expense — of the system inside his body.

There was nothing inside the elevator they entered to indicate what it was.  Nothing.  Even the Station, as Connor remembered, had elevators that looked like, well…elevators.  Inside that particular elevator, however?  This might as well have been in a comfortable little nook in a library.

There wasn’t even a sensation of motion, and that disturbed Connor even more than the decor.  He had no idea how high they rose, and that was not comforting.  It could be the fifth floor to which they took him, and a loud, crowded room of equipment that could quite easily dispose of one Connor-sized body.  Or it could be the thousandth floor, and a visit to a deity that Connor was fairly certain would be less-than-pleased to meet him.

The doors snapped open onto something else entirely, something that could very well have come from the fevered dreams of some Dockside himo with delusions of grandeur.  It was a huge room, filled with big overstuffed couches in delicate pastel colors.  Those couches were carefully divided and segmented by elaborately designed planters and decorative tables.  The walls were lined with vibrant paintings and intricate sculptures.  And, among it all, milled a large crowd of people, talking in small groups of twos and threes.

It would have been funny if it weren’t so…large.  At least twenty feet high, and almost as expansive as the lobby downstairs.  It was one of the stupidest things Connor had ever seen.

“Still going with the overcompensation theme, are we?  Good choice,” Connor observed to the thin man, a derisive grin on his face.

A heavy hand grabbed the back of his neck.  It didn’t shake, that hand, nor move in any way.  It just sat there, heavy and strong, and told its own story of promised threat.  Connor had no doubt that hand would very quickly do very bad things to him if the anorexic svine in front of him offered so much as a wink.

No wink came, however.  The thin man just turned and started across the room.  There was, as far as Connor could tell, only one other door in the whole place; a massive double door that took up far too much of the distant wall.  Shit, maybe there really was some form of god beyond that idiotic door.

That thought did not make Connor any more comfortable.

A secretary sat beside that door, behind a desk that looked larger than the entire unit Connor and Oz had once called home.  No words were spoken.  A look from the thin man and the doors swung open at the woman’s hurried wave.

“Fucking melodramatic,” Connor muttered.

All the snark and cynicism died, however, as soon as he stepped through those doors.

The waiting room may have taken things to new depths of ridiculousness, but the office beyond those doors was an entirely different world.  Even Connor was impressed.

“Holy fuck…” he whispered, trailing off as words failed him.

Even to Connor’s inexperienced eye, the place was tastefully, impressively dramatic.

He could almost hear Oz, Be very, very careful, Spog.  A place like this…this is no chinpira, just looking for respect.

Two entire walls were nothing but glass.  The fiftieth floor was very likely an understatement.  The view over the dense forest of high-rises that formed the heart of Redux’s capital was one of the most impressive things Connor had ever seen.

The office itself — for an office it was — was filled with subtle colors and restrained decor.  Small art pieces sat in discreet nooks, pieces that even Connor could tell were priceless.  A conference table so simple it screamed expensive.  Several couches and chairs situated near the windows to emphasize the view.  And a desk…a desk that very likely cost more than all of the Station.

Connor had once thought Hendricks’ Stationside apartment the epitome of rich and powerful.  Until that moment.

The rvac’s hand returned to the back of Connor’s neck even as the thin man spoke.  “Take a seat, Mr. Spogelse.  My employer will be with you in a few minutes.”

A brief thought of fighting, then, but Connor knew he was going to do whatever the hell those aho wanted, willing or not.

He sat where that hand pushed him, in one of the chairs in front of the desk.  He couldn’t take his eyes from the view beyond that desk.  He wasn’t sure if that view attracted him, or made him want to puke, but he couldn’t look away.  They had to be at least a thousand feet up.

For someone who had grown up amidst Dockside’s crowded holds, it was the most unnerving thing in the universe.

The sound of the doors from behind him, then, and a surge of voices.

Connor didn’t bother to look.  It would be something to help him, or something to kill him.  Either way, he couldn’t look away from that view…from all that space.

Shou ga nai.

“Hello, Mr. Spogelse,  I’ve heard a great deal about you, ” a voice said.  A voice young and strong.  And very, very confident.

Take My Advice: Skip the Jail, Sleep on the Sub

Ahh…is there anything quite like staying in the cheapest of hotels?

No.  No there is not.

A little word of warning for you: it’s fine to book a cheap hotel in the midst of a cross-country drive, but make sure it’s not the cheapest hotel in town!  Always, always, always go for something towards the middle of the pack, otherwise you end up in a beat-up, dingy place sandwiched between the county jail and a homeless shelter.

Not that I’ve ever made that mistake, mind you.

*cough*

Err, let’s move on, then…

Look, I know I haven’t blogged in…umm…uhh…

Well, shit.  I’m running out of fingers and toes, so it has been way too long.

That delay, that lack of writing, unfortunately is why I had to leave paradise.  As I wrote previously, I had to break the terrible, immovable stagnation that had taken hold of me in that place.

I can feel it pulling at me already, by the way.  I can feel the call of the mountains; I can just about hear the packs howling; I can feel the bears hunting*; the run of a stream just now filling with melting snow; the frenzied antics of otter families playing as they fish; the foxes and coyotes still torpedoing their heads into the snow to catch field mice…

*Every news story about a moron…err, tourist getting attacked brings some schadenfreude and a nod to Darwin’s immutable wisdom.

Shit, I could continue for a long, long time.

Yesterday I pulled in to a rest stop to have lunch.  It was actually a nice place, with lots of green space neatly maintained around a dense wood.  Do you know what I did the entire time?  I watched the tree line for the grizzly that I just knew could smell my lunch and would come ambling out to investigate at any moment.  Uhh, grizzlies?  In freaking Minnesota?!

Old habits are gonna die hard, I think.

I’m on the water now, however, and that means something.  I can see the expanse in front of me.  If the air doesn’t have the tang and bite of sea air, it is still…refreshing.  Heck, it’s refreshing enough that once I finally extricated myself from my jail-adjacent bed-for-the-night, the urge to write came.  Actually, it came at about three in the morning, when my drunken neighbors woke me with their screaming match, but just this once putting off the writing by a few hours was a good idea.  Ahem.

That urge to write has been a ghostly voice* at the back of my mind for a very long time now.  I didn’t always listen, of course, but it was always there.  Until the inertia took hold.  Until I sank further and further away from the writing, and the voice became more and more silent.  As the sounds of paradise became louder, that little ghost at the back of my mind became quieter.

*Wait…you thought Oz’s voice at the back of Connor’s mind came out of nowhere?  Silly, silly reader — of course that’s a freaking allegory!

I hate to say it, but it is only since I left Yellowstone that I can hear it again.  Of course, I had beer and extra-spicy wings last night, so the voice is pretty mercilessly making fun of me right now, but at least it’s talking again!

Oh, and here’s a bit more unsolicited cheap-hotel wisdom for you: if you want good, cheap food and beer, find the bar by the police station that the cops go to when they get off.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, this town may be — err, not may be, is — a dump, but it’s got a killer submarine museum on the waterfront that I need to go explore…

p.s.

Wait…you can AirBnB a freaking submarine in this town?  Are you fucking kidding me?!  How the hell did I miss that?  Yeah, it’s expensive as hell, but…you can sleep on a goddamned submarine!!

USS Cobia at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum

{Musical Note — hey, let’s go old school, just for fun}

Drunk and Irradiated…

Stupid, random thoughts for the day:

I couldn’t find anything to watch the other night.  There’s nothing unusual in that, by the way.  Springsteen, after all, did a song thirty-ish years ago about “57 channels, and nothing on.”  Well, with the almost infinite options of streaming, there is more choice than ever before…and yet it is harder than ever to actually find something to watch!

*sigh*

There’s an old theory in marketing and sales that says you should never actually give the customer a choice.  You give him/her the illusion of choice, while guiding them to the “solution” you pre-selected for them long before you ignored their first hint of what they would prefer.  That thinking defines the “old world” of network TV and old-school movie studios pretty damned well, don’t you think?

The worst thing, for me as a recovering marketing & sales weasel, is that that theory actually works…

Unrestricted choice can be the most paralyzing thing in the world.  Look, I subscribe to all four major streaming services: Amazon Prime, NetFlix, Hulu and Disney+*.  Between those four, I can watch anything.  So why on fucking Earth can I sit there after fifteen minutes of searching and complain that there’s nothing on?!

*And before you criticize me for the Disney-thing, let’s all repeat to ourselves the key reason: “The Mandalorian”.  ‘Nuff said.

After those fifteen minutes of futility, do you know what I did?  I started up a show I’ve watched hundreds of times before.  That act of pathetic surrender wasn’t the low point of the night, however.  No, the low point of the night came when I realized that the show on which I had finally settled — one of my top-5 all time favorites — had just hit it’s 20th freaking birthday!  Wait, godfuckingdammitalltomotherfuckinghell!!  Just how the hell can Firefly be 20 damned years old?!  It was cancelled just the other day!

Then I thought about the other four in my top five TV shows:  M*A*S*H, Cheers, Star Trek (the original, of course!), and The Wire

Are you kidding me?  Shit, I just realized that I really am getting old…now get off my fucking lawn!

Ahem.

My solution to the whole depressing dilemma, by the way, has been no help.  Books aside, when I turn away from TV and movies, I turn to video games.  Well, the game I chose to pick up was a user-created mod for a current video strategy game.  That mod was built on the lore and world of the Fallout series of games.  That, of course, meant that I had to go and revisit the actual games the mod was based on…

Look, not only am I now pissed off about getting old, but I have started replaying computer games that (kinda) go back to my college days*!  And just to add some salt to the wound, it is a game series that takes a very, very wry look at nostalgia and the urge to hearken back to “better times”!

*An interesting note for my fellow nerds out there: one of my college roommates was a programmer on the original “Fallout” game while we were in school.

Wait…wasn’t the bottle of bourbon full when I started looking for something to watch?  By the time I got killed by that first deathclaw in Fallout 3, the level of liquor was a whole lot lower…

People ask me, by the way, what is the best thing about being a writer.  I would lie and tell them that it was the money, but not even I am that good of a liar.  So, instead, I go with honesty: the best part of being a writer is the ability to take any random, stupid thought and turn it into six or seven hundred words of (hopefully!) coherent prose.

{Musical Note — I didn’t want to do a song that I identify specifically with nostalgia, so instead I decided to go a little sideways with the idea.  Look, I’ve told you before that I’m a hockey guy.  I love hockey.  I also happen to play a lot of hockey — and I do mean a lot.  One of my teammates had a young son whose team was playing in the same tournament in which we were playing.  Before his son’s game, my friend and I stopped into their locker room to feel…well…not so old.  Long before we even opened the door came the unmistakable sound of blaring music and 20 middle school kids belting out the song below — and can you get more throwback or nostalgic than that?!}

Four Years

For four years I’ve made Yellowstone the central focus of my life.  For four years I’ve wandered every inch of those 2.2 million acres, exploring backwoods and treading ground seldom touched by human feet.  For four years I’ve lived and learned among the bison and bears and wolves.

For four years I’ve…stagnated.

And if that ain’t a topic for a post, I don’t know what is.

Look, if Ted from Accounting stagnates and lets inertia take control, just what does it really matter?  No offense to Ted, but spreadsheets and balance sheets are the very definition of stagnation.*  For someone, on the other hand, who has thrown himself into a life of creation and creativity?

*To a non-accountant, anyway.  Sorry, Dad.

Yeah, stagnation and inertia don’t work out too well.

The trouble, as any high school physics kid can tell you, is that inertia continues unchanging and unchanged until some other force acts to change the math.  Well, in writing — and in other creative fields, I imagine — inertia is just as powerful as it is in physics.  When you are rolling along, pounding out the words?  Yeah, then there is a powerful inertia to the creative process.  Then there is a inevitably to the flow of words that gives them all the power in the universe.  Yep, even in the writing world p=mv.  Oh, wait, you don’t know that one?  Err, you should probably go and find that high school kid again.

Unfortunately, the opposite holds true as well.  When the words stop…

When the flow of ideas and thoughts and creation are held in check…

When the v in that equation equals zero…

At that point, all the mass of those ideas and thoughts and words settle down more heavily than a nerd at a nonstop showing of all six of Peter Jackson’s Tolkien films.*

*Not that I’ve ever done that.  That would be wrong.  And shameful.  And I would totally never do it.  Ahem.

Look, I’ve given a lot of writing advice in the five or so years I’ve done this blog.  Much of that advice has been complete shit, but some has been pretty damned good.  Kinda like my writing, actually.

Err…never mind, let’s stay on the point, shall we?

As a writer, you can’t give up that inertia of creativity.  You just can’t do it.  If you do, re-starting any form of movement is far, far harder than the slow inertia with which you started the process.  Those creative ideas and thoughts, they don’t like change.  They want either to be flowing freely and fast, or to settle and conglomerate until the world itself erodes and disintegrates in the entropic cascade that is the fate of all unwritten stories.

A couple of weeks ago, I finally had a long talk with myself.  It was a talk about inertia and momentum and entropy.  It was also, as I mentioned to a couple of family members, a talk with myself about existing versus living.

We writers — you and me, and more others than either of us can count — have a way of living through our words that non-writers can never truly understand.  Oh, they can experience it.n  Shit, we damn well hope they experience it, because that is what pays the freaking bills!  But their experience is vicarious; they don’t live the stories and words, they experience them.  

When a writer stops living and falls to merely existing…well…

You either go back to that gray-and-tan fucking cubicle you once escaped, or…

Or you change the math.  You change the value of v.

I don’t care, by the way, how you change the math…just do something.  Try a different brand of coffee.  Go sit on a mountain in Nepal.  Smoke a joint or ten.  Buy three hours with triplets in a brothel.  Abandon paradise.

It’s time for a change.  The unwritten words are a fucking elephant on my chest.  If I don’t change, those miserable little bastards will kill me.

So it’s time.  It’s time for me to give those old words of parting:  Ave atque vale Yellowstone.

It is time, also, to remember that it is the words and stories that define who I am, not the surroundings.

Heading off into the unknown, by the way, doesn’t get any more comfortable or easy, no matter how many times you have done it before.  It is stepping off a cliff into a black void of worry and fear…

But it’s new worry and fear, and that is the change to v that I truly need to keep what little is left of my sanity and recover and re-empower who I am vice where I am.

Oh, and with that black void of uncertainty in front of me?  The old Egyptian blessing* comes to mind: “God be between you and the dark places you must walk.”

*Thank you Stracynski, and B5, for that one!

[Musical Note: I fought with a few songs for this one.  In the end, I went old school.]