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.

Nothing To See Here – Move Along

IMG_0163I know I’ve mentioned IWSG Day before. But, for those who don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, I’ve never really explained. So, here goes: on the first Wednesday of every month, the idea is to put together a blog post focused specifically on writing. Preferably one that other writers will find interesting and/or useful. An additional part of the challenge is a suggested theme for those posts. Now, for a guy that pretty much writes this blog in the purest stream-of-consciousness, that thematic element is a fun little mini-challenge.

The hard part of the whole thing? It’s that stream-of-consciousness thing. When I write these posts, it is mostly just a short burst of effort to give me a break from whatever else I’m writing or doing. They receive, at best, one editing pass. That’s it, just one. Hell, most of the time I’m having a beer while I write them.

And other writers read them.

Uhh…

Maybe I really am just as nuts as my family thinks.

Ah well, we all have our crosses to bear.

At any rate, today’s theme is about putting yourself into your characters. Specifically, about whether or not you have, either on purpose or by accident, put personal info into your characters.

Umm…ahh…ahem.

No, not me. Not at all. Nope…and I’m just gonna slink away, now, whistling an innocent little tune. Nothing to see here, move along.

For me it’s more than putting myself into the characters. No, for me, the personal things go into the story itself. Even more, they go into the subtext of the story.

To dredge up something from a post I wrote a year or so ago: my favorite character – far and away my favorite! – has not even the slightest bit of me in him. He is, honestly, in no way an element of me, nor of my subconscious.

No, what he is is the most personal character I’ve ever created: he is a collage of the dead, of those friends I have lost. Oz is the face, and the pain, of suicide. To me, he embodies the very real grief and regret of that tragedy…and the very, very real memories.

In Wrath, given the limited POV I chose to use, Oz’s reality – and his power – wasn’t always easy to show…nor was I always successful. In Silence, however…

In Silence, I am playing a great deal more intimately with Oz, and with his relationship with Connor. Some of those bits make me laugh, while others are still strong enough to bring a tear.

The subtext of Silence is very much Connor’s struggle with survivor’s guilt, and with all of the shit that particular demon brings*, but…well…Oz is still my favorite. I may have killed him, but I can’t leave him behind.

*Not that I would know anything about that. Nope, not me, not at all…

And, before you ask: yes, my characters speak to me. That was, honestly, why I put aside everything else in my life to write the stories I am currently working on: Connor and Oz just wouldn’t shut the fuck up. I had thought (hoped?) that writing Wrath would quiet them down…

…boy, was I wrong.

And, yes, that does in fact make me officially nuts. Oh well, what the hell; I write sci-fi and fantasy, true sanity was never more than a distant dream, anyway.

The Silence Of Snow

There’s something about the forest – the deep, untrod forest – in a snowstorm. It is one of the quietest, most still places you will ever experience. The feeling isn’t one of death, or even of the wildlife seeking shelter. No, rather it is one of anticipation.

It’s almost like everything, like nature itself, is holding their collective breath.

I went hiking through the forest today…hiking in a snowstorm. A place that, just yesterday, was alive with elk, and with the predators stalking that herd. A place of noise and life and a certain amount of chaos.

Today it had that profound magic, that still silence…that anticipation. I loved it.

That hike got me to thinking. Thinking about the metaphors I am using in the current story, and about the messages I am trying to send. The Silence That Never Comes, to give the story its full title.

What would that wood feel like to someone who had never heard silence?  Who had no conception of peace, of quiet and still anticipation?

That is getting to the heart of the story…and to the scene that is building in the back of my mind. The scene of my protagonist – that kid who has known nothing but violence and cynicism and despair – in the middle of just such a storm, in just such a wood.

The vision is there…the knowledge of what I want – what I need – to include is there…now it just has to be executed.

That, by the way, is one of the reasons why I write: the challenge. The challenge of putting into effective words a feeling, and an imagination, so initially vague and formless.

And, more importantly, the feeling that comes when you get it right.

I’ve said before, but it bears repeating: to get it right, to nail a scene, is a feeling that has few peers. The closest I can come, at this moment, is that feeling when I summit one of the more challenging mountains here in Yellowstone.

Is it the view? Is it the effort? No, it is the elation that comes when you do something you know so many people have either failed at, or have refused to even try.

There is a drive to that, and a certain joy…and, to put this in terms of the underlying theme to all of Silence, a certain meaning.

Connor still has yet to really discover, let alone understand, that theme, that understanding…but there really is more to life.

Note – just to put everything in context, I figured I would offer some proof…would show just what Yellowstone looks like in late summer:

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.

That One Key Image

I’ve talked before about the fact that books & stories are not necessarily about what they’re about. As a writer, I love that fact; I love using subtext and themes to communicate my own thoughts and feelings in the work.

I have, in past posts, described what Wrath & Tears is really about, talked about that one key image that really defines the book for me: one broken kid holding the body of another, far more broken kid. But what is the key image for Silence?

Given that the current story is only about a third of the way finished, that’s harder to say than you might expect. But…I write the end first. And the end, in the way I write, is that key image. The end is the thought, and the emotion, I want to linger in the reader’s mind as they walk away.

So what is that image? Where Wrath touched on suicide, and my own memories and experiences thereof, Silence is about the search for meaning – for faith, if you will – and the realization (Wish? Hope?) that there really is more to life than this.

If, in my own life, that is a question very real and hard to answer, just how much worse is it for a street kid who has never had a chance in the world? For years, Connor’s world – his meaning – came down to just one thing: Oz. The two needed each other not just to survive, but to truly live. But Connor grew and changed where Oz could not, and a big part of his problems in the first story came from his unspoken, unrecognized need to search for more.

Recognizing that need is hard, even for an adult. For a 17-18 year old kid? Yeah, right: self-reflection and self-awareness aren’t exactly part of the standard equipment. I will reiterate something a very smart lady named Janet Reid once noted: “a 17-year-old boy is just a walking erection with an iPhone.”

And, no, that is not the main/final image for the current story!

So, we have this issue where Wrath is unabashedly and unashamedly sad, but Silence is intended to (re)introduce that one concept so glaringly absent from the first story: hope.

That theme and image, then, comes down to one thing for me, to something Connor  would never have considered a year ago. It comes down to the realization that, regardless of how broken and screwed up both he and the world are, he has to believe. Believe not just in himself, but also in something bigger…the realization that he has stand for something. It comes down to that same kid – broken and hurting still – reaching out for help to the one person he fears above all others.

As a final note: the theme of the third book is already decided, as well. Hell, the third book was decided the moment I wrote the final scene for Silence.

The key is in fact hinted at throughout all of Wrath & Tears, actually: alone is worse.

It’s time to really tackle that concept, and to touch on in a new light Connor’s struggles from the first two stories.

It is time, when you get right down to it, to tackle the concept of family…and everything contained within that incredibly loaded word. It is time, especially, to address the reality that Connor learned so early, and so painfully: some families you’re born into, and some you choose.