Old School: Both the Snippet and the Music

So…

I’ve got three writing projects going.  I’ve got three writing projects, a more-than-full-time responsibility to get my brewery off the ground, and a full-time job to, well, pay the bills* in the meantime.

*Mainly for the health care, to be honest.  No matter what the pay, you have to “add” several hundred dollars a month to account for the savings on health insurance…which is just freaking wrong.  A person should not have to take a shitty job just to go to the doctor once in a while.  That, however, is a rant-post for another day…

Anyway…I’ve got three projects going.  The first is to finish Connor & Oz’s stories.  The second is the prep-work for the fantasy series about which I have dropped a number of hints.  The third is a re-write of an old cycle of trunk-stories I have had sitting around for many years now.

Oh yeah, I still have to turn out the occasional article every now and then.

*sigh*

I really, really need an assistant.  Anyone out there want to work for…well…nothing?  I’ll gladly pay in beer next Tuesday for work today!

Ahem.

So, my trunk-stories…

I started thinking about them a while back, actually.  I started thinking about them because one of the characters in Somewhere Peaceful to Die — and who reappears in The Flicker of Ghosts — had his origin in these older stories.  Originally, I just wanted to re-read this character’s origin in one of these old stories.  I wanted to re-read, then I started to re-write based on what I knew about this character from his reappearance (10ish years laters) in Connor’s life…

Then I couldn’t stop the need to re-write…I had to think about re-writing not just that story, but also the one that preceded it in the timeline…

Yeah, welcome to my hell.

At any rate, I thought I might do a totally different snippet (since I am holding off any more snippets from Connor & Oz’s stories until Flicker is ready for it…)

Please note, my standard snippet warning applies in that this is a rough-ish draft.  Added to that warning is the caveat is that I have not yet re-written this particular story, and the current version I am snippeting went into the trunk for some very valid reasons!

Anyway, here we go:

“Blood on the Snow”

Blood dripped on the snow.  Drew could not tear his eyes from the slowing trickle of red, could not tear his eyes from the corpse of his friend.  Ekala’s dark skin was already waxy and pallid…or was that his imagination?  Drew had seen death before — had given orders that led to death, in fact — but that had been in the heat of battle.  He had never witnessed a cold-blooded execution, never seen a throat expertly slit in a display of power and control.

He knelt stiffly on the ground and barely felt the cold through his shock and fear.  Stifled moans and shuffling movement from the forty people kneeling behind failed equally to penetrate that numbness.  Drew could hear only the pounding of his own heart and the gasps of his own breath.  Even the clubs and electric shocks from the guards were distant sensations.

Just hours before, his sleep had been shattered by a kicked-in door and an avalanche of black-clad soldiers.  His hands had been bound and a heavy hood thrust over his head before he knew what was happening.  He was marched from his room to the sound of crashes and voices echoing up and down the hall of the hotel.  He had struggled and pulled, only to have his resistance cut short by a savage kick to the groin.  Worst of all, he remembered, had been the anonymity and silence of his captors; they had had no words for their prisoners, just shoves and blows to direct them into waiting transports.

Drew was no stranger to fear’s bite.  Even in the midst of the chaos and terror of combat, however, he had maintained the ability to focus and function.  His sudden arrest was different; it had left him weak and dazed, all-but overwhelmed by uncertainty and fear.  Packed inside those overcrowded transports, Drew’s fear had churned under the stifling isolation of his hood and he drifted very near to the edge of total panic.

“Stay strong!  Ey Ukhnem!”

The sounds of heavy blows told the cost of the words Ekala had yelled.  In spite of that cost — or perhaps because of it — that reminder of their ship’s motto was enough to breathe strength into the captives for the long flight to their new home.  The long flight to the frigid prison camp where Lieutenant Commander Garrett Ekala, executive officer of the destroyer Volga, paid the bloody price for his defiance.

Drew finally lifted his eyes from Ekala’s body to study the one who had ordered the execution.  Short and powerfully built, as were all the inhabitants of this world, he projected a sense of menace and intimidation at odds with his carefully combed hair and spotless uniform.  The brown hair and fair skin could have been found anywhere on Earth, but his sloping forehead and elongated skull showed just how distant were humanity’s cousins on this world.

Every muscle locked with dread, Drew could see nothing else as that figure began to speak in a harsh, guttural accent that was at odds with a surprisingly high-pitched voice.  There was an odd rhythm to his speech, but not enough to prevent understanding.  “Prisoners!  I am Ceked Mirko, commander of this facility.  Your invasion of this system is a crime against the Kasdech State.  You have been tried and convicted, and will be held until the threat you represent is removed.  This camp and its staff are here for no other purpose, and you will obey every instruction and regulation without fail.

“We are aware that you are soldiers in your military, and you will be treated as such.  You will maintain your own chain of command.  Your officers will be responsible for the actions of each of you.  Be warned, we have no patience for foolishness or games.  If you violate the rules, if you cause problems, you will be punished.”

Mirko paused to gesture at Ekala’s body, lying motionless in his own rapidly freezing blood.  His voice was cold as he continued, “This man was an example.  Test me and you will share his fate.  You will be housed and fed, in spite of your crimes, and in return you will obey and cooperate.  Printed rules have been left in your barracks.  Learn them.  Dismissed.”

The squat, bulky commandant turned and marched towards the large gate in the high fence surrounding the prison yard.  Drew’s grasp of the local language was truly limited, but still enough to understand the words the ceked barked to a much younger aide, “Process them.”

Even with the ceked’s menace and threat still wringing in his ears, Drew surprised himself with an ability to note seeming minutiae — his own people had learned the Kasdech language through intermittent observation and study, but who had taught those of this world English?

Drew’s legs were numb from the icy slush and he struggled to control his body’s increasingly urgent demands for warmth.  He wanted to stand and move, if only to get his blood flowing.  The commandant, Mirko, paused at the gate to bark more orders at his staff.  He ignored the nods and salutes that followed, and instead took a last look over the assembled prisoners.  Drew’s green eyes met Mirko’s brown and a shiver ran down his spine.  Behind that impassive, near-human face lay a calculating menace that scared the hell out of him.

He still could not grasp what was happening, could not focus enough to regain even a semblance of mental balance.  Every time he tried to think through the implications, tried to imagine what the Kasdechs could hope to gain by imprisoning them, the terror of the prison yard snapped him back to the present.

Survive first, commanded the small voice of wisdom and memory at the back of his mind, worry about why later.

The sky was a quilt of black and grey that promised yet more snow and rain.  From the comfort of their ship in orbit, even from their hotel near the planet’s capital, Kasdech’s cold climate—not much more than freezing, on average—had seemed of little concern.  Outdoors in the wind and mud, wearing nothing more than ill-fitting slops thrust on them during the long flight, that cold was a brutal, punishing force.

Drew was beginning to shake uncontrollably when a new voice, even higher and lighter than Mirko’s, bellowed an order to stand.  Drew’s eyes would not focus properly and he struggled to fix them on the small tables now set up at the front of the yard.  A Kasdech sat behind each of those tables, with small screens in hand and hard-shelled, black cases beside them.  The harsh floodlights made a nightmare scene, the stark contrast between shadow and light carrying an air of surreal doom.  One glance told Drew the number of guards had not diminished with the commandant’s departure; there were at least dozen inside the fence armed with clubs and shocksticks, while many patrolled outside with compact, lethal looking rifles.

“You will step forward and address the appropriate officer when your name is called,” the same, light voice ordered.  Drew looked past his fear and saw the speaker was young, barely more than a boy.  His thick accent only emphasized how weak was his attempt to emulate the commandant’s cold menace.  “When they have finished, you will be escorted to your barracks.  You will stand in silence until called.  After all are processed, the normal rules will be enforced.  Until your name is called, remain standing at attention.  Any deviation will be punished.”

Drew watched in helpless frustration while several of his shipmates were called forward to stand in front of those tables.  The three spacers were stripped and left to stand naked, offering short answers to terse questions.  The information sought was only the most basic and it was just minutes before the first three prisoners were manhandled aside, to be hosed down a few yards away.  That there was more than simple water in those hoses became immediately apparent when the spray stopped.  The dripping spacers stared in horror as every hair they possessed lay in the mud, washed away by whatever chemical had been sprayed over them.

Even as more names were called, the guards drove the newly processed prisoners into the first of the large wooden buildings at the yard’s far end.  Resistance and curses were met with yet more blows and shocks.  Spacer after spacer was called forward to be processed, any resistance easily overcome by the guards.  All were stripped, questioned and washed raw.

The march of spacers continued until at the tables stood the group’s only female.  The Kasdech officer wore a look of discomfort as he barked his questions, and his eyes seldom left the small computer in his hand.  Marine Sergeant Sandra Coombs was anything but delicate, however, and her growling answers seemed finally to satisfy him.  She was led away, naked and fuming, with an expression that told of the obscenities and insults boiling inside.

Drew remained at silent attention throughout the entire process, and the shivering numbness built until he began to fear a collapse.  After what seemed an eternity just two others were left with him, awaiting their own turns under the Kasdechs’ brutal handling.  Next to Drew stood Max Howard, a newly commissioned ensign and the only other officer among the prisoners.  Beyond the ensign, Drew was relieved to see, stood the familiar, friendly figure of Sam Athos.  Sam was more than just a senior spacer in Drew’s own shipboard department, he was a friend known and trusted for more than a decade.

Finally, their names were called and each marched to a separate table.  In front of Drew sat the young Kasdech who had tried so hard to ape the menace of his superior.  He unconsciously measured the seated young officer and knew he towered over the other.  Drew was a big man, tall and broadly built, but even with that advantage in height, he doubted if he much outweighed the short, stocky Kadechs.

“Name?” the boy demanded in his harsh, high-pitched voice.

A moment for study and Drew decided the kid was no more than eighteen or nineteen.  He tried for terse contempt, but was betrayed by a voice shaking with cold, “Andrew Nolan.  Lieutenant, Imperial Navy.  Serial number 1783-SH2700-B735.”

Pain overwhelmed Drew.  His body went rigid and he gasped, unable to move or to breathe under the pain.  The pain disappeared in an instant, and he stumbled weakly against the table.  The guard at Drew’s shoulder pulled away the shockstick he had just administered and growled an unintelligible threat.

“Answer the question I ask.  Do not forget your place.  What is your position aboard your warship?”

“Weapons officer,” Drew replied, still fighting to recover from the punishment.  He hated these people, hated this camp.  Hell, he thought, I hate this whole damned world.

“Strip.  Appropriate clothing is waiting inside the barracks.”

Drew’s shaking hands struggled to remove the thin sandals and too-small clothes he had been given, even as he tried to focus on the questions the young Kasdech continued to bark at him.

“You are the commander of this group?”

That brought a surge of anger.  Ever since he had landed on their world, Drew had answered the Kasdech’s questions about his position and role aboard Volga.  He had reiterated the information his ship had shared with them before he and his crew had ever set foot on this planet, but that last was too much.  “You son of a bitch,” he snarled, “you just murdered the commander of this group.”

The waiting guard stepped forward, shockstick rising, but the officer’s upraised hand halted him.  “He is dead.  You are now the commander, yes?”

Drew eyed the squat Kasdechs and guessed he could take both guards in a fair fight.  With reinforcements just steps away, however, and with a body half-frozen and exhausted, he knew such a fight would be anything but fair.  He would gain nothing but a vicious beating.  

“Yes, I’m in command now,” he spat, biting back the rage and venom.

“Place your hand here,” the officer commanded as he held out a small screen, glowing palely blue.  Drew did so and watched as the light pulsed under his palm.  Before he could even twitch, the guard grabbed his arm and immobilized it with immense strength.

Maybe I couldn’t have taken him, Drew thought in frustration as he struggled to move his arm even minutely.

There was a sharp pain at his elbow as the officer jabbed a needle into the appropriate vein and drew what looked to Drew to be a liter of dark blood.  The sealed vial was placed alongside many others in the black case then the officer ordered, “You are dismissed, lieutenant.  Go to your barracks and learn the rules.  You will find the punishment for violations…unpleasant.  Remember, you are responsible for the actions and behavior of your men.”

The boy waved and the guard’s grip on Drew’s arm loosened, but did not disappear entirely.  He looked over to see Sam and Max already moving, then felt a sharp tug to start his own progress.

Kedai!” the guard snarled.

Move.  The meaning was as apparent from his tone as it was from Drew’s limited vocabulary.  His turn under the hoses was a misery of more than just cold and wet, it was the loss of dignity and distinction.  Drew was not particularly vain, but to have his hair so casually washed away seemed a violation of the worst sort.  Finally finished, he stumbled on numb feet towards the barracks.  The mud through which he squelched was already freezing into solidity.  A long roll of thunder accompanied his walk, and a heavy, freezing sleet began to fall just as he reached the steps leading up to his new home.

The guard had kept a grip on him the entire time.  With a final grunt, he pushed Drew forward and turned to move back to his comrades at the main gate.  Drew tried to follow his progress across the yard, but lost sight as the floodlights snapped off to leave the night broken only by the blinding flashes of lightning.

{Musical Note — well…let’s be honest here: I thought about the perfect song. I looked for the perfect song. Then I saw a squirrel. So…well…yeah, we’re gonna go random, and go back…way back. Way back to a song I love that has nothing to do with anything. I just happen to love it. And, yes, I also have some specific school memories around it. And, no, those memories are none of your business. I’m not drunk enough for them to be your business! There is more music, Horatio, than is dreamt of in your philosophy…}