Snippeting, For Fun And…Well…

I started to write a post today…I started and failed.  It was pretty much on the far side of terrible, and I don’t really have the patience to try and punch it all the way up to “acceptable”.

Ah, well, time for my old writerly fall-back: the snippet.  I posted this one several months ago…but it’s going up again to stay in line with my theory of posting the scenes for Silence in something resembling proper order.  A couple of weeks ago I did the first one, so here is the second.  As ever, remember all the standard snippet-warnings about this being the rough draft, etc…:

The door slid aside and the guard who had silently escorted Connor from Admin motioned him inside with a peremptory wave. He had turned on his heel and was marching away before Connor had taken so much as a single step.

Shit…marching — the guy was literally marching. Connor could all but hear an imaginary band playing some old parade song. Terra Uber Alles, or some such bullshit.

A small laugh, then, cold and bitter, and he stepped through that door. The dirtsiders were even more nuts than the fucking takies.

From the quiet of the corridor, Connor stepped into a completely different universe; a universe of noise and chaos and stench to numb even the most jaded senses. He had grown up on the poorest and most crowded station in all of human space, but even Port Oblivion’s infamous dockside had little to rival an enclosed cell-block on a harsh frontier world.

The sound of the lock sealing behind him broke Connor’s miserable reverie and he moved forward with a snort. Yells and curses all around, fists banging on metal tables, a poor quality holo blaring some idiotic children’s show, the stench of several dozen men of doubtful hygiene confined and competing for everything.

Home sweet home.

A place he hated. A place he resented. A place he had earned. Three times over, he had earned it.

A wave from a table drew his eye. A table off to one side, under the stairs and isolated…as much as anyone or anything could be isolated in this place. Brian and Rahm. The closest thing he had to…acquaintances in here. Not friends, no. Never friends. Connor had a bad habit of getting his friends killed.

He waved back and moved at a jog to his cell on the second level. Cards and conversation could wait, he had something else to do. Something he did every day, without fail. Something he had avoided for much of his life. It was a lesson and a task he had truly understood only once he’d entered Chapman Pen.

A quick change into another of the ubiquitous prison uniforms, this one ratty and worn. Blue, Connor’s were, noting him as an inmate considered non-violent and worthy of trust. New prisoners, still untested and unknown, wore orange. The longtime inmates with no particular standing were stuck with tan uniforms that looked as shitty as they smelled. And the red? The red were for the violent crazies, the cvok: those who raped and murdered, even in prison.

Down the stairs and he was pedaling a stationary bike, as fast and hard as he could. Lifting weights, also fast and hard. Stretching and movement, continuing to develop and hone his impressive speed and agility. Connor had never wanted to workout as a kid, had relied on his charm and his brain. And had been sent to prison for five years. No, Oz had been right, as usual: Connor could never again be the skinny, out-of-shape kid he used to be.

The others in the cell-block’s small gym gave him space. Whispered comments, yes. Strange looks, yes. But plenty of space. Throwing an erojiji asshole over the second-level railing would do that for you.

“No, officer, he jumped, I swear…”

No inmate would disagree with Connor. Especially not after he had cracked the prison’s datanet to erase the automated holo-recordings.

Reputation and respect were life itself in prison. Just like dockside. Just like home.

He would never let this be home, not Connor. No more than he would let himself be a victim. Not again. Not ever again.

A shower, then, fast but thorough. Water wasn’t limited in Chapman Pen, but old habits died hard. Water was precious where Connor came from. Water was life itself. He’d seen people killed for less water than he used in his two-minute shower.

Work: done. Workout: done. Now it was time for school.

He dropped a small jar in the middle of the table as he sat. A grin, then, for the two old men at that table. Both had been inside Chapman Pen almost as long as Connor had been alive. Neither was likely to ever see again the world outside its walls.

It still took thought, and effort, but it was getting easier: the accents and words of dockside were erased from Connor’s tongue, replaced by the still-uncomfortable cadences and slang of Redux’s east side. The poor neighborhoods. The criminal neighborhoods. Connor’s natural habitat.

“Just pulled that shit from the fermenter,” he said with a wave at the plastic jar that once had held soy paste masquerading as peanut butter. It now held something very different: a liquid dark and thick and just slightly effervescent. “I used more fruit this time, so it should be a bit sweeter than the last crap.”

“It better be,” the shorter of the two said with a grimace. “That last batch about peeled the goddamned paint from the walls.”

Short and stout he was, but the fat did nothing to hide the size and strength that even age had not stripped from his frame. The knuckles of his hands were scarred and battered, as was his face. Brian had led a long life before Chapman Pen, a life as dark and dangerous as Connor’s own.

“Screw it, na zdravi!” the other laughed. A reach and a twist of the cap and he took a long gulp. Then he coughed. He coughed a great deal. “Kurva! Boy, is there anythin’ but booze in this? The fruit is about the only thing keepin’ me alive right now!”

Rahm was tall and spare, dark of skin and of eye. His white hair was the barest fringe, clinging desperately to his scalp like some frightened animal. Few teeth remained to him, but he still would never visit the prison’s doctor. “Fuck ’em,” he would answer whenever Connor asked, his voice always full of anger and resentment, “they wouldn’t do shit for me on the outside, why the fuck would they care now? Svine.”

The drink was called pruno, the men had taught Connor, and it was one of the most valuable things you could get your hands on in Chapman Pen. Men with nothing but time and grudges would pay almost anything for the escape of a stiff drink.

If not hard to make, it was challenging to hide from the guards. The fermenting slop that was its base was fragrant, to say the least. These two old men had taught Connor the tricks to use for that, even as they had taught the recipe.

They had, in fact, taught him a great deal more: the language and culture of Redux’s slums, and of her underworld. It didn’t matter where you went in human space — didn’t matter how wealthy and powerful, how perfect, the world — there were always slums and criminals. Always people like Brian and Rahm…and Connor.

Nothing would mark Connor a stranger in those neighborhoods more than the mix of Japanese, Thai and English that was dockside’s everyday language. No, Redux’s poor spoke something very different, and Connor had to learn how to speak, and how to act, if he were to have any hope of survival on the outside.

Strong the drink might have been, but that was no sin. The cards were dealt and the game began, the jar making its own rounds among the three. Connor still had no idea just what were the rules of this particular game; he just played his cards and moved his little peg on the board when they told him how many points he’d scored. Winning wasn’t really the point, anyway.

He’d tried to live in his cell when he first arrived, in the isolation and loneliness of his own mind. Tried to read, and to practice the guitar. Peaceful and quiet, most would have thought. A reprieve from the colossal noise and crowding he had grown up with, a chance to mourn and to heal after the death of those few he loved.

It was anything but.

The constant screaming and cursing, the banging and fighting, the sheer idiocy of the other prisoners. At least three hundred people, a place this size would have housed back home. Here, on this planet, the sixty-four inside made it feel more crowded than even t-deck. And louder.

He’d been going slowly insane, isolated and alone and searching desperately for silence, when the two had poked their way into his cell. There was no hesitation with these two, never any reticence or reluctance. Both were inside for the rest of their lives, so what the fuck did they have to lose, anyway? From his first words, Rahm had started making fun of Connor, laughing and mocking, while Brian asked questions.

Connor’s impatience and anger had not made things any better. They had, in fact, made things worse as the two pressed all the harder.

Connor had started to feel ridiculous, then, yelling at two men so impossibly old they looked ready to die at any second. Then the unlikeliest thing in the world had happened: he’d started to laugh. For the first time since Oz’s death, he had laughed.

It made all the difference.

They weren’t friends, could never be friends, not to Connor, but they were a connection.

Alone was worse…alone was always worse.

“You’re doin’ your time better, Connor,” Brian said as he gathered the cards for a new hand. “That job you weaseled in admin agrees with you. You play this right, you not only live more comfortable but you also maybe squeak a year off your time.”

Kecas,” Connor answered with a laugh that held only a tinge of his usual bitterness, “what in hell I do if I get out anyway? Sure as shit no one here needs a kid who ain’t never lived under a sky.”

A shake of Rahm’s head, then, both at Connor’s words and at the cards in his hand. “You get out, you go look up my boy. He didn’t follow his papa into the dark side of life. Was too smart for that, my boy. He runs a place in the Camp. Nothin’ special, but he knows plenty of folks.”

The old man’s look intensified and his voice turned from his habitual relaxed drawl to a tone sharp and intelligent, “I’ll tell him to give you a hand, but no favors. You take care of him in return, and you keep your ass out of this shithole, rozumis?”

Connor did understand. Nothing for nothing. No matter where you were in the universe, that rule never changed. Rahm’s humor and relaxed old-guy attitude were an act, just as much as was Connor’s play at naivety. He could never allow himself to forget that this man had once run the biggest, most violent gang in the Haze. This was no soft old man, and definitely no fool.

He nodded, then, but deliberately did not match the other’s intensity. No, better to play it soft and easy. Better to always let these two feel they had the upper hand; Connor needed what they had to teach. “Crap, Rahm, I got four more years in this hole. What was it you told me back when? ‘Do your own time and live in the day.’ That’s me, jus’ doin’ my time.”

A joke from Brian, and the game continued. And Connor continued to lose. He could count on one hand the number of games he’d won in the eight months he’d been playing cards with these two.

The big door by the guard station opened and all eyes turned, as they always did when that door slid aside. It was a necessary habit in prison, a tool of survival ignored only by the terrified new inmates — the fish, as they were called — and the crazies who had lost themselves.

All were expecting the dinner cart, pushed by blue-clad inmates. The younger, and stupider, prisoners were already lining up, eager to receive the shit-filled-trays the prison called food. Only the colors and textures on those trays changed, the taste never did.

But it was not the cart, not the blue-clad kitchen workers.

Instead in rushed a group of guards. A lot of guards. A godawful lot of guards.

“Shakedown!” the watch sergeant bellowed. “Into your cells! Move it!”

Connor wasn’t one of those screaming curses and abuse at the guards as the inmates all moved to their cells. No, he had bigger things to worry about…like where to hide a gallon of illegal prison wine.

Shit.

Put Down The News, And Step Away From Reality…

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

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

Umm, this ain’t goin’ too well.

Okay…deep breath…deep breath…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Connor was alone now.

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

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

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

At least it wasn’t dockside.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Some Of The How…

I’ve done some squirrel posts lately…and some more ‘big picture’, philosophical posts…but it occurs to me that what I have not done lately is a post about the writing process itself.

You know, what this blog is supposed to be about.  So, this one’ll be focused on the how of my writing, rather than the what and why.

I’ve mentioned before that my outline for a story is a listing of all the scenes it contains. As of right now, Silence is looking to come out at roughly 125,000 words for the first draft. Although that number is based on 60ish scenes, I won’t really have a final number until Acts I and IV are pretty much done, and I’ve then finalized Acts II and III.

All that aside, what I really wanted to talk about is writing scenes. You know, the actual, real writing part of writing . Everything else is to support this bit: creating the dang story.

This is why I got into this in the first place – to write! This is the part that has all the personal reward…and all the emotional ups and downs of living intimately with your characters and your story.

This is also when I get fairly obsessive: every spare minute is writing the story, doing the planning necessary to write the story, or thinking about writing the story.

That planning is key. What I list below may sound like a pain in the ass, but it really, really helps me to stay on track as far as the plot and characters are concerned.

Now, remember: I do not (generally) write scenes in the order they appear in the story. I write what I need to write that day…and sometimes I write what I need to write in order to understand the story itself (i.e. doing the final scene first).

This is a short list of the notes I write for each scene – it sounds like a lot, but it’s actually only about 400-500 words in total:
1) Background – general thoughts for the scene. Since this is sci-fi, I track “real world” reference material here, as well as preparatory research (prison culture and dynamics for the beginning of Silence, etc…).
2) Set-Up – the actual specifics leading to the scene. Especially what has happened to the characters up to that point, and what they are thinking/feeling as the scene opens. This is the key to writing the scenes out of order…without doing this I might end up using a character who has, ahem, already died…
3) Setting – pretty self-explanatory.
4) Voice/Tone – in other stories this section tracks who is the actual POV/narrator. Since Connor is the sole POV for this series, I keep a quick note on his tone and feelings.
5) Characters – again, pretty self-explanatory.
6) Intent – Even if I skip the stuff above, I cannot and will not skip this bit. Every scene absolutely must serve the story! Every scene must advance the plot in some way. No, really…writing a scene that accomplishes nothing is, well, pointless. You must understand what you are trying to accomplish in the scene before you write the damned thing.
7) Outline – yep, you guessed it…I break the scene down and plan how it is going to go. For an average-length scene, I will have 6-8 steps thought out, including my projected word count for each. This is the “map” I use to keep myself on pace for the scene and story.

As a final note – the above is my personal guide, and is intended only to make the writing process easier. As I put the actual words and thoughts on the page, things can and will change. All of the prep and planning in the world is useless if you don’t write the story you want to write.

My characters can and will force me to change things…and that is a good thing. The story in your hands should be a living, breathing, evolving thing. BUT! … That story is also quite like a two-year-old kid: you love it, you cherish it, but you really don’t want to let it drive your car.

Cry Havoc! And Let Slip The Snippets Of War!

I haven’t done a snippet for a while, so I guess it’s time. Maybe I’ll shoot for “predictable snippetage” (best part of writing? Making up your own damn words!). Once a month sounds good to me…

As ever, my standard warning very much holds true: these snippets are (extremely) rough drafts. They have not gone through anything resembling my normal editing process, so they are raw and unrefined. They also may or may not make the final manuscript of the story.

Oh yeah, mandatory nanny warning: if you’re sensitive, just know that Connor curses…a lot. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The door slid aside and the guard who had silently escorted Connor from Admin sent him inside with a peremptory wave. He had turned on his heel and was marching away before Connor had taken so much as a single step.

Shit…marching – the guy was literally marching. Connor could all but hear an imaginary band playing some old parade song. Terra Uber Alles, or some such bullshit.

A small laugh, then, cold and bitter, and he stepped through that door. The dirtsiders were even more nuts than the fucking takies.

From the quiet of the corridor, it was like stepping into a completely different universe; a universe of noise and chaos and stench to numb even the most jaded senses. Connor had grown up on the poorest and most crowded station in all of human space, but even Port Oblivion’s infamous dockside had little to rival an enclosed cell-block on a harsh frontier world.

The sound of the lock sealing behind broke Connor’s miserable reverie and he moved forward with a snort. Yells and curses all around, fists banging on metal tables, a poor quality holo blaring some idiotic children’s show, the stench of several dozen men of doubtful hygiene confined and competing for everything.

Home sweet home.

A place he hated. A place he resented. A place he had earned. Three times over, he had earned it.

A wave from a table drew his eye. A table off to one side, under the stairs and isolated…as much as anyone or anything could be isolated in this place. Brian and Rahm. The closest thing he had to…acquaintances in here. Not friends, no. Never friends. Connor had a bad habit of getting his friends killed.

He waved back and moved at a jog to his cell on the second level. Cards and conversation could wait, he had something else to do. Something he did every day, without fail. Something he had avoided for much of his life, a lesson he had truly understood only once he’d entered Chapman Pen.

A quick change into another of the ubiquitous prison uniforms, this one ratty and worn. Blue, Connor’s were, noting him as an inmate considered non-violent and worthy of trust. New prisoners, still untested and unknown, wore orange. The longtime inmates with no particular standing were stuck with tan uniforms that looked as shitty as they smelled. And the red? The red were for the violent nutjobs, the cvok: those who raped and murdered, even in prison.

Pedaling a stationary bike, as fast and hard as he could. Lifting weights, also fast and hard. Stretching and movement, continuing to develop his impressive speed and agility. Connor had never wanted to workout as a kid, had relied on his charm and his brain. And had been sent to prison for five years. No, Oz had been right, as usual: Connor could never again be the skinny, out-of-shape kid he used to be.

The others in the cell-block’s small gym gave him space. Whispered comments, yes. Strange looks, yes. But plenty of space. Throwing an erojiji asshole over the second-level railing would do that for you.

“No, officer, he jumped, I swear…”

No one would disagree with Connor. Especially not after he had cracked the prison’s datanet to erase the automated holo-recordings.

Reputation and respect were life itself in prison. Just like dockside. Just like home.

He would never let this be home, not Connor. No more than he would let himself be a victim. Not again. Not ever again.

A shower, then, fast but thorough. Water wasn’t limited in Chapman Pen, but old habits died hard. Water was precious where Connor came from. Water was life itself. He’d seen people killed for less water than he used in his two-minute shower.

Work: done. Workout: done. Now it was time for school.

He dropped a small jar in the middle of the table as he sat. A grin, then, for the two old men at that table. Both had been inside Chapman Pen almost as long as Connor had been alive. Neither was likely to ever see again the world outside its walls.

It still took thought, and effort, but it was getting easier: the accents and words of dockside were erased from Connor’s tongue, replaced by the still-uncomfortable cadences and slang of Redux’s east side. The poor neighborhoods. The criminal neighborhoods. Connor’s natural habitat.

“Just pulled that shit from the fermenter,” he said with a wave at the plastic jar that once had held soy paste masquerading as peanut butter. It now held something very different: a liquid dark and thick and just slightly effervescent. “I used more fruit this time, so it should be a bit sweeter than the last crap.”

“It better be,” the shorter of the two said with a grimace. “That last batch about peeled the goddamned paint from the walls.”

Short and stout he was, but the fat did nothing to hide the size and strength that even age had not stripped from his frame. The knuckles of his hands were scarred and battered, as was his face. Brian had led a long life before Chapman Pen, a life as dark and dangerous as Connor’s own.

“Screw it, na zdravi!” the other laughed. A reach and a twist of the cap and he took a long gulp. Then he coughed. He coughed a great deal. “Kurva! Boy, is there anythin’ but booze in this? The fruit is about the only thing keepin’ me alive right now!”

Rahm was tall and spare, dark of skin and of eye. His white hair was the barest fringe, clinging desperately to his scalp like some frightened animal. Few teeth remained to him, but he still would never visit the prison’s doctor. “Fuck ’em,” he would answer whenever Connor asked, his voice always full of anger and resentment, “they wouldn’t do shit for me on the outside, why the fuck would they care now? Svine.”

The drink was called pruno, the men had taught Connor, and it was one of the most valuable things you could get your hands on in Chapman Pen. Men with nothing but time and grudges would pay almost anything for the escape of a stiff drink.

If not hard to make, it was challenging to hide from the guards. The fermenting slop that was its base was fragrant, to say the least. These two old men had taught Connor the tricks to use for that even as they taught the recipe.

They had, in fact, taught him a great deal more: the language and culture of Redux’s slums, and of her underworld. It didn’t matter where you went in human space – didn’t matter how wealthy and powerful, how perfect, the world – there were always slums and criminals. Always people like Brian and Rahm…and Connor.

Nothing would mark Connor a stranger in those neighborhoods more than the mix of Japanese, Thai and English that was dockside’s everyday language. No, Redux’s poor spoke something very different, and Connor had to learn how to speak, and how to act, if he were to have any hope of survival on the outside.

Strong the drink might have been, but that was no sin. The cards were dealt and the game began, the jar making its own rounds among the three. Connor still had no idea just what were the rules of this particular game; he just played his cards and moved his little peg on the board when they told him how many points he’d scored. Winning wasn’t really the point, anyway.

He’d tried to live in his cell when he first arrived, in the isolation and loneliness of his own mind. Tried to read, and to learn the guitar. Peaceful and quiet, most would have thought. A reprieve from the colossal noise and crowding he had grown up with, a chance to mourn and to heal after the death of those few he loved.

It was anything but.

The constant screaming and cursing, the banging and fighting, the sheer idiocy of the other prisoners. At least three hundred people, a place this size would have housed back home. Here, on this planet, the sixty-four inside made it feel more crowded than even t-deck. And louder.

He’d been going slowly nuts, isolated and alone and searching desperately for silence, when the two had poked their way into his cell. There was no hesitation with these two, never any reticence or hesitation. Both were inside for the rest of their lives, so what the fuck did they have to lose, anyway? From his first words, Rahm had started making fun of Connor, laughing and mocking, while Brian asked questions.

Connor’s impatience and anger had not made things any better. They had, in fact, made things worse as the two pressed all the harder.

Connor had started to feel ridiculous, then, yelling at two men so impossibly old they looked ready to die at any second. Then the unlikeliest thing in the world had happened: he’d started to laugh. For the first time since Oz’s death, he laughed.

It made all the difference.

They weren’t friends, could never be friends, not to Connor, but they were a connection. Alone was worse…alone was always worse.

“You’re doin’ your time better, Connor,” Brian said as he gathered the cards for a new hand. “That job you weaseled in admin agrees with you. You play this right, you not only live more comfortable but you also maybe squeak a year off your time.”

Kecas,” Connor answered with a laugh that held only a tinge of his usual bitterness, “what in hell I do if I get out anyway? Sure as shit no one here needs a kid who ain’t never lived under a sky.”

A shake of Rahm’s head, both at Connor’s words and at the cards in his hand. “You get out, you go look up my boy. He didn’t follow his papa into the dark side of life. Was too smart for that, my boy. He runs a place in the Camp. Nothin’ special, but he knows plenty of folks.”

The old man’s look intensified and his voice turned from his habitual relaxed drawl to a tone sharp and intelligent, “I’ll tell him to give you a hand, but no favors. You take care of him in return, and you keep your ass out of this shithole, rozumis?”

Connor did understand. Nothing for nothing. No matter where you were in the universe, that never changed. Rahm’s humor and relaxed old-guy attitude were an act, just as much as was Connor’s play at naivety. He could never allow himself to forget this man had once run the biggest gang in the Haze. This was no soft old man, and definitely no fool.

He nodded, then, but deliberately did not match the other’s intensity. No, better to play it soft and easy, always let these two feel like they had the upper hand. Connor needed what they had to teach. “Crap, Rahm, I got four more years in this hole. What was it you told me back when? ‘Do your own time and live in the day.’ That’s me, jus’ doin’ my time.”

A joke from Brian, and the game continued. And Connor continued to lose. He could count on one hand the number of games he’d won in the eight months he’d been playing cards with these two.

The big door by the guard station opened and all eyes turned, as they always did when that door slid aside. It was a necessary habit in prison, a tool of survival that only the terrified new inmates – the fish, as they were called – or the crazies who had lost themselves, ignored.

All were expecting the dinner cart, pushed by blue-clad inmates. The younger, and stupider, prisoners were already lining up, eager to receive the shit-filled-trays the prison called food. Only the colors and textures on those trays changed, the taste never did.

But it was not the cart, not the blue-clad kitchen workers.

Instead in rushed a group of guards. A lot of guards. A godawful lot of guards.

“Shakedown!” the watch sergeant bellowed. “Into your cells! Move it!”

Connor wasn’t one of those screaming curses and abuse at the guards as all moved to their cells. No, he had bigger things to worry about…like where to hide a gallon of illegal prison wine.

Shit.

 

Somewhere Peaceful…And All the Baggage That Goes With It

Okay, so I was in a certain…umm…mood the other day.  I was at the brewery ostensibly working, but for whatever reason there was a sense more of nostalgia than anything else.  I had originally set out to finish the plot outline I’ve been working on, but a scene idea came to me.  Actually, a scene idea jumped up and hit me over the head then started tea-bagging my unconscious mind.  You know how this ends…I had to write it.

Believe it or not, I actually have a backlog of ideas and semi-written posts building for the next couple of weeks, but I decided to share this instead.  Usually snippets are the last thing I post (for any number of reasons), but I’ve been getting the urge to relax that “policy” a bit.

At any rate, I’m not sure if this will actually make its way into Silence, but if it does it will (most likely) be an early Act II thing.  As ever, I give the standard warning: this is a (very) rough draft scene.  There was no planning and no editing, it is simply an idea that demanded to be written:

There were days when Connor couldn’t really remember who he was. Days when all the false identities and constant lies threatened to wash away what remained of Connor Spogelse and leave behind…what? A creature of smoke and mist, a creature with no name and no existence. Then who would he be? What would he be? A ghost in fact as much as in name.

There was no escaping his life, however. You did what was required and you paid the price. Always the price.

Some folks collected kitsch, others hoarded cash. A few even kept cats. Connor, though, he collected idents; especially idents that were safely anonymous. Life dockside had taught early on the value of always having ready a dodge and a quick change of name. If the dozen idents he currently had hidden and ready were overkill, well…those old habits had more than once saved his ass.

Connor’s life may have changed drastically from those days with Oz – those days that seemed so far away and so happy now – but the habits learned in his early years were still automatic, and still vital to his survival.

His boss had promised safety, and protection. Promises were lies, however, the pure bullshit offered by the powerful to the weak. He wouldn’t trust his boss any more than he would trust a dockside gurentai. No, safety and security were his own problem.  There was no one else.

A fleeting thought, then, and a quiet whisper from the depths of memory. A voice he savagely and instantly repressed, but not before the hit came: alone is worse.

A few hours of work the previous day, lifting ‘screens and idents from the oblivious lunch crowd around the corporate offices, had provided Connor with all the raw material he could want. No money did he steal. Not now, not unless he grew desperate. No, it was just ‘screens he took. ‘Screens and that even-more-valuable commodity: idents.

A few minutes of work to cover his tracks and several of those ‘screens were already set for instant use. You always wanted an option that was local and known. Others, though, were carefully and intentionally scrubbed quite blank.

It was one of those blank ‘screens he grabbed for the work he had in mind. More than any other thing from his life dockside, Connor regretted the loss of his “little grey box” and the unique tools and tricks it had contained. His work would be much easier with that particular little toy. That box, however, had been a shortcut and a tool, not the source of his talent. In Connor’s head still lived all the skills and knowledge that had outmaneuvered and abused every security system the Station had thrown at him.

It was an old ident he loaded on that blank ‘screen, one dating back to his years with Oz. To the last time he had been happy. A week of effort had gone into this ident back then, a week spent creating a “safe space” against the loss of…everything. The loss of stability and safe harbor, the loss of all friends.

Only he and Oz had ever known this name. Only he and Oz had ever seen the codes involved. It was the most secure ident Connor possessed. With this level of anonymity he could do…anything.

He had safed the ‘screen to enter the key information, had used a variety of tricks to ensure there was no contamination, no risk of compromise. No hesitation or worry did he have when he finally disabled those safeguards and re-linked to the net.

What did he have to worry about? Nothing and no one, not with this particular ident.

The ‘screen went momentarily blank as it rebooted, then the interface reappeared in a swirl of colors. He now existed – electronically, at least – as one Sy Bates, completely anonymous functionary and honest citizen.

The mail icon blinked.

There was a message.

What the fuck?

A string of curses, then. Heartfelt – enraged, even – and quite lengthy. Connor spoke four languages with ease, and could swear in several more. Each and every one of those he used to express his anger. He almost threw the ‘screen. Shit, he thought about vaporizing the fucking thing in a reactor.

Caution, however, took hold before his arm could so much as move. Who the fuck would know anything about a completely, carefully fictitious ident? Who could know?

The dark of the tiny, claustrophobic room around him became suddenly threatening.

What the fuck was he doing? This was bad…this was very bad.

Still, he reached a finger towards the icon on the ‘screen’s surface. He had to know. This wasn’t something he could just leave hanging.

No one knew about this ident. No one.

A face appeared on the ‘screen and Connor almost collapsed.

It would be better to be dead.

“Heya, Spog,” Oz said with that laughing, idiot grin that existed only between the pair of them.

A face from the past. The face from the past. His best friend. His only friend. His brother.

Blood on the deck…blood on the knife…blood on Oz. The tears started to roll, unnoticed and unchecked. The sobs wouldn’t be far behind.

A toss of his head and Connor took hold of himself, tried to shake from himself the fear and agony of the past. In spite of his broken, savaged heart he listened to the words of the only person in the universe who had ever mattered.

“You’re not stupid, despite all your efforts to prove different. You know by now I’m dead. I’m sorry Spog,” Oz said. That beautiful, epicene face changed from humor to pain, and to grief. “We’ve known each other too long to start lying now. I just can’t take it, not anymore. You’ve been the only thing in the world to me since that day we met, but I just can’t take anymore.”

Oz’s face changed again, from pain and loss to wisdom, and a certain amused disdain. “If I know you at all, you’re in deep kuso. You wouldn’t be using this ident for any other reason. I can’t help you with anything going on in your world, not anymore, but I can offer you the only words that matter. The only wisdom that has ever mattered.”

Those dark eyes, so soft and sad, turned sharp and intense. “Don’t forget who you are, Spog. I know more about this bullshit universe than you ever will. I’ve lived more in the black, and I’ve seen more shit, than even you can imagine, and I’m the only one who can tell you this: don’t fuck it up. You mean more than I know how to say, and I couldn’t stand it if you fucked yourself up.

“My death clears you, and you better fucking well use that. It clears you to get together with your girl, with this Nat, and it clears you to be real. You don’t have to be an ikiryo anymore, Spog, and you better not fuck it up. If you do, I’ll fucking haunt you for the rest of your life.”

The sharpness faded and Oz’s face turned soft again. Connor choked back the sobs that still threatened and saw – finally, really saw – the love in those eyes that he had ignored for so long.

“Be well, Connor. Be very, very well. Both you and the universe might hate me for what I did, but I will never forgive myself if you’re not happy. I never really said it before, so here it is: I love you, Spog. I always have and I always will.”

A flash of guilt, then, before Oz continued, “We always swore we would find that peaceful place together, but I can’t be there for that. Not anymore. The only thing that makes everything worth it is knowing that you’re not alone, that you have Nat.”

“But I am alone, Oz,” Connor whispered, what little remained of his soul dust at his feet. He was shaking as the image faded, the universe crashing all around him. He couldn’t move, couldn’t think.

There had to be a bottle somewhere in this shithole…

All Geeked Up

I think I did it to myself again.

What was it Einstein said about the definition of insanity?

Yeah, that might be me.

I was in my office – no more jokes about the brewery! – working on background stuff, and the itch to write an actual scene hit me. Then it got worse and worse until I had to do something about it.

So I sat there and wrote the final scene for Connor’s sequel. Just like I did for the last scene in Wrath & Tears, I loaded this one with emotion and importance. It’s not anywhere near as tragic or overwhelmingly sad, but it is weighted with most of Connor’s history and personal issues. It’s short (~400 words), but it’s got a ton of impact nonetheless. And, yes, if you’re curious, it does have a nice little collection of my own issues as well. Thanks for asking.

Great, now I have an opening scene and a final scene, but still no plot. I have ideas and thoughts and characters…and an awful lot of dot-connecting to do.

Did I ever mention this is my favorite place to be? Staring at a blank page for a new story? Well, I just did. The story you’re about to write is always better than the one you just finished.

I’m geeked out and excited in ways that folks who don’t write can’t really understand. Friends tell me they’d be intimidated and wouldn’t even know where to start. I don’t know if I’m weird (err…that’s been pretty well answered, I think) but I love this part: the whole story stands in front of me, and I have acres and acres of ground to explore…and nothing to hold me back. I have a million ideas, and all the freedom in the world to turn them into a story.img_0012

I am, in fact, a happy panda at this point!

Now, don’t get me wrong…there is some downside to writing this final scene first(ish). Yes, it gives me a point to aim for. Yes, it lets me know where my protagonist is (dramatically speaking). Yes, it puts the whole process in a certain perspective. But…there’s always a but.

But, I put some elements in the scene that I hadn’t planned or anticipated. They work, and work pretty damn well, so now I have to account for those elements and adjust the story to accommodate them.

I seem to remember once mentioning that I love it when my characters (and my stories) surprise me. Connor just did it to me. Again.

Shit, maybe the little bastard was right about writing his sequel…just don’t tell him that. He’s enough of a pain in the ass as it is.

Lazy Post of the Month

Hmm…I’ve only got one post (Wednesday’s) queued up and ready.  I like to have 2-3 posts ready so I can slack off.  I need to practice my slacking off, and God forbid I let this blog get in the way of that!

I had the beginnings of a different post I wrote over the weekend, but it involved cheese sticks and nukes, and I’m not sure I’m ready to go there yet…

Screw it, time for another writing snippet I guess.  Below is a (very) early version of the opening scene for Connor’s (potential) sequel.  Keep in mind: usually I create a plan and outline before I sit down to write a scene.  This one never had that, it was done purely off the top of my head.  Unlike the other snippet I posted, I likely will use this in the story itself, but only after some serious revision:

The whirring of another lock in another cell door. Connor would never get used to that. It was just as bad now, two months after his eighteenth birthday, as it had been at thirteen. Shit, in some ways it was worse. The years in between had taught him about suffering, yes, and about the price always waiting to be paid, but also about love and friendship.
A gulp, then, at the thought of friendship. Of absent friends. Of Oz.
Blood on the floor…blood on the knife…blood on Oz’s wrists. And Connor too late to do anything other than hold his friend – his brother – as the last of a too-short, too-painful life dripped away.
At least Oz hadn’t been alone. Only one thing had ever scared Oz: alone. Being alone and, especially, dying alone. Alone was worse. That was lesson number one, a lesson Connor would never forget.
But Connor was alone now.
Oz was dead. Marie and Vin were dead. Fadi had crawled into a bottle and disappeared. And Nat? A second gulp, almost as big for her as for Oz. Nat had washed her hands of him. Takie princess that she was, pretty and rich, she had had enough of her foray into rebellion and danger. She had cleaned away the dirt and grime of dockside, and Connor with it.
“Move your ass,” a voice barked from the small intercom by the door. “Work details leave in ten minutes.”
Connor didn’t want to crawl out of bed. For all its faults, the bed was warm. The prison’s floor was cold. The cell was cold. Hell, the whole fucking place was cold. Less than a year into his five year sentence and Connor was already very, very tired of the cold.
At least it wasn’t dockside.
If they’d put him into the much smaller jail out there he’d have been dead months ago. Too many people knew who Connor Spogelse was. Too many people blamed him for the violent gang war now ripping that space station apart. And far, far too many people wanted him dead. The cops almost as much as the remnants of the crime family he had betrayed.
Grim humor, and the memory of his sarcastic friend, were always enough to find the absurdity in his life: how many people could say they’d betrayed a major crime family, brought down an entire government, and earned a price on their head, all before their eighteenth birthday?
He could all-but hear Oz’s laughing voice in his head, “Fuckin’ overachiever.”
Out of bed he did get, in spite of the cold, and down to the entrance of their pod of cells. Even after many months the ground felt weird to Connor. Most of his life had been spent in the artificial gravity of a space station, and the regular, ‘real’ gravity of a planet was just different enough to be disconcerting. He felt constantly like he was about to fall over. And that was before he went outside and saw all that emptiness hanging over his head…
As stupid as it sounded, even to him, his mind just couldn’t accept concepts like ‘sky’ and ‘horizon’. And God help him with crazy shit like ‘scenery’ and ‘weather’. He just knew he’d never get used to any of it.
The lights were still dim and just eight prisoners waited by the door. The only ones of the forty in their pod with the privilege – and the drive – to get out of bed hours before the rest and go to work. The others gave Connor a certain amount of space while they waited for the guard to get his shit together and lead them out into the halls.
With nothing to do but work, read and exercise, Connor had finally started to fill out his height. He would never be considered big or bulky, but he was no longer the slight, rail-thin teenager he had been just a year ago. It was more than just size, however. What Connor had done to the last aho who had thought he could hit on the youngest kid in the entire prison brought its own respect, as well. Dirtside criminals and thugs were little prepared for the sheer violence any dockside ikiryo could bring to bear with no warning.
The heavy door to the pod clanked open and the watch sergeant stuck his head inside. “Alright, let’s go.”
The prisoners filed out, moving automatically to walk in single file against the corridor’s righthand wall. You didn’t have to be in Chapman Penitentiary very long before the rules became automatic. Fucking with the guards could be fun, but it most definitely did not make getting through your sentence any easier. And Connor wanted to get through his sentence; wanted to get through with as little trouble as possible.
Down the long hall they marched, whispered jokes and comments the only sound. It was early enough that not even the other guards were moving around if they didn’t have to. Later, when the day shift started, the halls would have guards and staff walking in packs alongside the ever-present movement of prisoners.
The small group reached an intersection and had to wait while the sergeant called to the control room to open the heavy security door sealing the end of their corridor. It was a major crossroads, this, and each of the four corridors leading off was similarly sealed.
A wave and an incomprehensible mutter from the sergeant sent Connor over to the one door painted a different color from the others. Sky blue this one was, indicating it opened into an area that led outside the prison. The others, connecting only to other internal parts of the facility, were a dull, earthen red.
A few steps and Connor pressed the small control on the door’s heavy metal frame and stared up into the holo camera. The door would not open until the operators in Central Control had verified his identity, and his permission to access this particular door. No smile showed – could never show, not for this – but his access to this door was his greatest scam to date. Quite how the prison officials had overlooked Connor’s past as a criminal specializing in cracking computer security and networks he didn’t know, but his first job in the prison library had offered him just enough access to arrange this very special gig.
“C’mon you little fucker,” the sergeant yelled, “hurry up!”
While the door behind Connor remained open, no other door in that intersection could open. Connor almost laughed at the grumbling he heard from those behind. The other prisoners were all headed to jobs in the prison’s kitchen and storage areas, and he could never understand why anyone would be eager to start burning fake-eggs and slopping out pseudo-oatmeal.
Finally, a buzzer sounded and the door behind Connor slid shut. The dull thud of that door was followed by the popping of seals from the one he faced. A heartbeat later that door slid aside. Even the air smelled different inside. Instead of the stale, chemical air of the prison, there was a hint of…something very different.
A wave of sound washed over him, and an air of activity. Two steps inside and he was almost run over by a rushing prison guard. Short and pretty this one was, with brown hair and bright blue eyes. She threw a distracted smile and a half-hearted wave. “Sorry, no time to get things set up right now. Just hit the basic stuff. By the time you’re done the rush should be over.”
Her accent was strange, vastly different from the hint of dockside’s patois that still clung to Connor’s tongue.
A glance around and Connor saw twenty new prisoners standing in a line, wrists and ankles shackled and orange jumpsuits rumpled and dirty. Four guards stood near that group, talking amongst themselves as much as watching the criminals in their charge. More guards were seated behind the nearby counter, checking ‘screens and preparing to call out names.
The prison’s Admissions and Processing Center, its link to the outside world. Work in that area was one of the best jobs a prisoner could get…and was far and away the best job a data-thief like Connor could get.
His smile was satisfied as he went to the closet and began filling a mop bucket. An hour of cleaning and four hours of network access every day? Yes, please.
Maybe he’d arrange a little ‘donation’ to his commissary account today; why eat prison food when he could just buy his own with someone else’s money?

Everyday Life

I am, officially, a slacker.  A severe lack of posts lately…  The only thing I can plead is work.  DockRat has taken over every available minute of my life.  There is news there, of a sort, but I will save that for the next post.

For now, I wanted to put up another snippet from the book.  This is a scene between Connor and Oz, before shit began to fall apart.  I wrote it very early as a way to work on the tone and dynamic of their relationship.  It is not in the final draft of the book, but I still like the peek at ‘everyday life’ for the boys.

When the music was running into itself, and surroundings became a blur, Connor knew it was time to quit. He always wanted to be the last one drinking, but a body could only take so much. And just then his body was protesting and fighting like mad, but what good was that against the urge for another drink? The urge always won.

A throw of his head and the shot went down his throat, just like so many others had that night.

A hand on his arm, then, and a voice gentle and quiet. “Easy, Spog.” The only voice that could break through his alcoholic fog. A face swam into view to go with that voice.

“Oz? What the fuck are you doin’ here? You’re s’posed to be workin’,” Connor slurred. His tongue didn’t seem to want to obey.

A laugh from Connor’s best—only—friend, then Oz sat his small, slight frame in the next seat, a hand still on his shoulder. Connor badly needed that hand to help him focus. The room was really spinning.

“Shit, son, I did work,” Oz laughed. “I’m done, and you’re still here gettin’ fucked up. Marie ‘screened me, said you were gonna need a hand gettin’ home.”

“Heia!” Connor replied with his own laugh, and no small bit of drunken bravado. “I don’t need no fuckin’ hand, I’ll make it home jus’ fine!” He proceeded to prove his point by springing to his feet and sprinting out the door.

Well, that was the plan anyway. Unfortunately his chair didn’t cooperate, and the table tried to trip him and send him onto his face. And then the floor…the fucking floor…that traitorous aho started twisting and wobbling like the universe was ending.

Connor dropped back into his seat with a loud thud and an even louder sigh. Then a laugh and he looked again at Oz. “Okay, so maybe I do need a bit of help. Why the fuck am I so drunk, anyway? I only had a couple.”

For years both men and women had found Oz irresistibly beautiful. For years clients had competed to buy his time, and his favors. But to Connor, however, that face meant not beauty or attraction, it meant trust and care. This was the closest thing he had to family in the whole damn universe. The rest of The Beat was a blur, but Oz’s face clear. As was his laugh.

“Spog, it’s four in the morning. You’ve been pouring booze down your throat for almost twelve hours. You might be twice my size, but not even you can keep up that pace.”
It took Oz’s help—a lot of Oz’s help—to get Connor to his feet. He pushed away, tried to stand on his own…and lasted about three seconds before gravity tried again to tackle him. A steadying hand from Oz, then, and Connor smiled his thanks.

“C’mon, you big bastard,” Oz laughed, “let’s go pour you into bed.”

It was a long, slow walk from The Beat to the cramped, rundown unit the boys called home. A walk not made any easier by Connor’s need to stop and vomit…frequently.

Of criticism there was none, just Oz’s hand on his back and a bottle of water to rinse his mouth. Mumbled apologies and thanks. And laughter…a great deal of laughter, from both.
With no one else in the universe could they trust and relax like this. Only with family…only with each other

Connor was still spinning and nauseous when they reached the steep, ladder-like stairs that led to their third-level unit. “Umm, Oz…we might have a problem…”

It took some doing—and more than a couple of falls—but finally Oz was able to half-carry and half-lead the much larger Connor to their door. The flimsy door was palmed open and the two stumbled inside, neither needing a light to navigate the cramped confines. Ten square feet of stained and decrepit plastic…a pair of bunks and a table…home.

Connor wasn’t sure which was harder: removing the shoes and clothes that suddenly seemed far too heavy and complicated, or climbing into his upper bunk. He lay back and tried to close his eyes, thought about sleep. That was a mistake. That room was spinning far too fast for that; he felt like he was about to fall out of that bunk. His eyes snapped back open and he tried to focus on the roof just inches from his face, all grey steel and rust.

A water was pressed into his hand and guided to his mouth, the touch still gentle and caring. “Drink, Spog.”

He took a long, long drink. A sigh, then, and he sank back onto his pillow. Blankets came up over his chest as if by magic, then his friend’s voice, “Go to sleep, Spog.”

“G’night, Oz. Thanks for helpin’ me.” There was more feeling, and more history, to that statement than either boy would ever admit.

A gentle touch and a chuckle. “I’m always here for you, dumb-shit.”