Yoda’s Failure

I made a mistake as I started lunch.  I know it’s hard to believe, that mistake thing.  I mean, c’mon…when have I ever made a mistake?

Okay, then.  Moving on…

My mistake?  I read the comments sections of a number of news & opinion websites I follow.  Now, look…I know internetland.  Hell, I grew up in internetland.  I grew up in the frightening old days before Reddit, cesspool that it is, managed to actually raise the level of discussion.  I grew up in the days when Usenet was the only place to go for active conversations and interaction.


To all the permanently outraged and indignant out there: before you find yet more library books to ban and burn, try visiting some of those old-school places first.  Stay away from the alt.binaries areas though.  You do not want to see that shit.  Trust me on that one.

So you have cynical, well-armored me reading the comments…

You have the me who has yet to find many moments when my fellow Americans have not found a way to live down to my worst expectations, let alone delve beneath them…

And still I found people managing to lower the bar.  Not by a millimeter or two, mind you, but by entire freaking miles did they manage to sneak under my already sewer-level expectations.

Have I mentioned just how fucked we are as a nation and a society?

I have?  Oh.  Okay.  I’ll move on, then.  Just give me a minute or two to wash the taste out of my mouth…

You ever see those old war movies where they sterilize a wound by pouring booze on it?  Yeah, it works for that taste in your mouth, too.

A friend once asked me how to keep his kids safe on the internet.  “Join the Amish,” was my reply.


Remember way back when I warned you just how wordy I could be?  About how I started this blog all those years ago specifically to improve my short-form writing?  Yeah, I just used 300+ words for a semi-joking, mostly real, and 100% cynical intro that has nothing, really, to do with what I sat down to write about.

Yep, no matter how huge the changes in my life lately, I’m still me.

So what did I actually sit down to write?

Well, I thought about the news story I read about the rapper whose fans had a party with his embalmed body.  I thought about that one, but I’ll save it for the next post.  There is just too much fun to be had with that whole entire concept to squeeze in to this one.

No, today I sat down to write about something I have talked about before.  I wanted to write about a concept that has been a recurring theme in so much of my writing, not just here on the blog but also in my fiction stuff.  It has especially been a part of the personal (private) concepts I have used to explore characters and settings…and myself.  That concept?  To put it in words I have used before, I’ll refer to a flashfiction piece from a few years ago: someone else’s skin.

I have worn someone else’s skin.  For far too long did I wear someone else’s skin.  For far too many reasons — excuses all — did I wear someone else’s skin.  I have made a habit of being what others want me to be for a very long time now.  I did so because I thought I had to. That I will write about later…

No, for the moment let me tie this back to the theories and philosophies and reality of writing — you know, what this blog is supposed to be about — that truly define writing for me.  And when you boil everything down, there is only one thing that truly defines writing for me: characters.

Look,  I know you can write characters who are exactly what they seem.  I know you can write someone interesting and compelling who is, well, exactly what’s written on the tin.  You can also write about a can of tuna.

No, to me, a character has to be real.  A character has to have good days, and bad.  A character has to have bad breath at the worst possible moment; a character has to stumble over his or her words;  a character has to occasionally be what others need him/her to be, rather than what they are…let alone what they want to be.  In the end, a character has to answer to the people and the world around them as much, if not more, than they have to answer to themselves.

Just like real people.

Now for the “but” that inevitably comes with an assertion like I just made…

BUT…things change.  But…people change.  But…your characters have to change, too.  Oh, I know, we all make the proper noises about growth and change and development in our characters.  We all know that we have to use the plot, and its various crises, to show how our characters are evolving and changing.  We all know that, but still we tend to restrict those changes to the “big” things.  And we forget the small things.  We forget the real things.

My favorite example of this is Luke Skywalker, of all people.  Look, he grew over the three movies in which he was the protagonist.  He grew and changed and improved himself.  Lucas showed that quite well.  He even managed a nice emotional touch when Luke’s rage in his fight with the Emperor in Return of the Jedi turned to pity and regret when he chose to spare his father in that fight.

Okay, golf clap there.  Good job, Luke.

While Lucas had a great image of Vader’s mask disintegrating, he forgot to show the mask Luke himself was wearing.  What Lucas didn’t show was the expectations and burdens that Luke bore from the failures of the old Jedi.  The failures, when you get right down to it, that belonged to Yoda and Obi Wan…but for which Luke, and ultimately his nephew Ben, paid the actual price.

Luke wore someone else’s skin when he took up the mantle of Jedi and teacher.  Luke tried to be what his teachers told him he should be, and failed to be what and who he really was.  It was that failure that, by the way, that caused Ben Solo to fall and become Kylo Ren, not any innate drive towards evil.  Hell, one could argue that it was Yoda’s own failure to understand and embrace the gray areas — and Obi Wan’s weakness in not standing up for what he knew to be true — that drove Anakin himself to turn from neurotic, angsty teen into the world’s best antagonist.*

*Don’t believe me on that score?  Watch again one of my favorite ever movie scenes, linked below.  Luke is all speed and tension and urgency, and Vader is just…relaxed.  Luke is a rabbit, terrified and scurrying, while Vader is very much the predator, toying with his prey.  To (mis)quote the movie Patton, “God help me, I do love it so.”

So…just who are your characters trying to please?  Just who are they trying to be?  Chances are, if they are at all “normal”, that answer is not themselves.  It doesn’t have to be some plot changing answer, by the way.  No, as the writer you can go all Greek-drama on that score and have the answer be very much offstage, but you do have to answer the question.  So the question when you create your characters is not just “Who is your character?” but also “Who is your character trying to be?”

{Clip: Nerd Mode enabled!}

Musical Note: I had a list of songs I was going to choose from, to match the theme of what I wrote above. But…well…I decided not to. No, instead I decided to answer here an email from my Dad. My Dad responded to some of my previous music choices with some of his own, and I realized that I have very much limited what I use here in my posts. That is not necessarily a bad thing, by the way, as I try to match things like mood and tone and intent between post and song, but it does to shortchange the breadth of my choices. So, below, I am posting a song that really is a favorite of mine. One funny note about this tune: y’all know hockey is my thing. I actually teach hockey, to be honest. Or at least I used to. One of my favorite exercises has been to take this song and make the folks I am working with do agility & shooting drills to its timing and rhythm. You will never laugh so hard as you will watching high school and college players — all confidently arrogant in their youth and abilities — stumble over themselves trying to keep up with a song that is almost a hundred years old…}

Swearing-Nerd is Evil, So Let’s Snippet Instead

I feel like I’ve been missing something lately…

Hmm…let’s think back over the list of my (relatively) recent nerdy posts and see where we stand:

History-nerd?  Check.

Anime-nerd?  Check.

Sci-fi/fantasy-nerd?  Check.

Astronomy-nerd?  Heck, even that one gets a check by it, if only for my effort to throw some cold water on Elon Musk’s rush for a manned flight to Mars.

Well…shit.  What nerd-isms do I have left?!  Booze?  Uhhh…I’m still in the coffee phase of my day, so I think I’ll leave that one alone, thank you very much.  How about sailing-nerd?  Not even other sailors want to read random thoughts about sailing!  Politics?  No.  Just…no.

Okay, this is getting frustrating.


Pretty soon, if this keeps up, we’re gonna end up with swearing-nerd.  While that’ll be fun for me, I’m not sure anyone else wants to read about just how many ways you can tell the world to get bent if you speak several languages.*

*I especially like to mix and match my swearing — a bit of Japanese to leaven a good Czech “fuck off” is always entertaining…

Well, since I couldn’t come up with a post if you held a gun to my head this morning, I suppose it’s time to throw in the proverbial writer-towel and just go with an old standby…

The bit below is not a part of the DockRat cycle of stories (the Connor & Oz series), but it is a random scene from the background material to those stories that I have been toying with expanding into its own story:

Snippet: “First Flight”

Michael Brady was out to get drunk, and nothing was going to interfere with that.  Not the girl sitting next to him — the one trying to distract him with conversation and jokes — and certainly not the bartender who had short-poured his last drink.

He tried to watch intently while she poured a new one, tried to keep track as she mixed the different types of booze.  He tried, and he failed.  His eyes refused to focus and his brain was barely able to keep up with even the most basic of movements.  The empty drink at his elbow certainly had not been his first of the night.  It hadn’t even been his fifth.

The girl touched his arm, her voice bright and cheerful, “So, Mikey, you were about to tell me what you’re doing here at the beach.  No one comes to Coronado anymore.  Not after the war…”

Mikey?  Shit.  Brady would have walked away if she weren’t so completely gorgeous.  And if he could have walked, after all the drinks, without embarrassing himself.  A quick glance around the half-empty bar and he the saw bouncer glowering at him, trying, evidently, to decide when enough was enough.  Brady quickly looked away; he’d been thrown out of far too many bars over the last six months.

He turned back to the bartender just in time to receive his drink.  A long pull, then, and he turned finally to the girl next to him.  He wanted to be contemptuous, to sneer at her naivety and foolishness.  But he also wanted sex.  He wanted sex, in fact, considerably more than he wanted to feel superior, so…”I’m takin’ a break from workin’ for a while.  I’ve been followin’ the coast road from Alaska, and this is just my latest stop.”

“Wow, that sounds like fun!  How long’ll you stay?  If you came for the ocean, by the way, you got a problem.  The water just ain’t all that safe, not with all the radiation pouring out of the San Diego ruins.  I do know a couple places, though, that aren’t so bad…”

The invitation was there, written in her hesitation and in her eyes, and Brady weighed the benefits of one more drink against his fairly urgent need for physical companionship.

The drink won.

Another long pull, then, and he rubbed a hand over his freshly shaved head.  Intricate vines and leaves writhed and shifted on his arm, the ever-changing designs and colors running from wrist to chest.  He’d found the artist in Florida, one of the few who could make the new high-tech inks and techniques stand out clearly against Brady’s dark sepia skin.

Between the heavy tattooing, the freshly broken nose, and the loss of his long braids, he doubted even his own mother would recognize him.  He certainly hoped his ex-employer wouldn’t.  God help him if they managed to track him down.

Finally, he answered her, “Oh, I got no plans.  Not really.  I’ll stay ’til it’s time to move on.  A good swim does sound good, but not if I’m gonna grow an extra eye or somethin’.  I’m actually doin’ my best to swim in every ocean in the world.”

Voices at the bar’s door, then, arguing.  The deep bass rumble of the bouncer, followed by another voice too low to hear clearly.  Brady didn’t bother to so much as glance back.

Fuck it, he thought, who cares?  It’s time to get laid, not get in some bullshit bar brawl.

He’d had enough of those.

He leaned closer to the girl, lowered his voice, “Tracy…right?  Tracy, let’s get the fuck out of here.  You can show me the sights…”

And then it came, the voice he least wanted to hear.  The voice he’d been avoiding for the last six months.

Hiding from, a little voice at the back of his mind corrected.

“Dr. Brady?  I think you’d better come with us,” that voice said.

“What?  Wait…DOCTOR?” Tracy asked, her voice inching towards a squeal.

Brady spun on his stool, rather gracefully he thought.  “What the fuck do you want, Paul?” he barked as he turned.  When he tried to stop…when he tried to stop, the world kept turning.  And not just turn, it started to whirl and spin and hop up and down like a crazed wombat in a chorus line.

Not even the crack of his head hitting the floor was enough to stop the spinning.  That fall, in fact, just made it worse.  Brady decided at that point that he didn’t want to be drunk anymore.  No, sir, he just wanted the acid and booze in his stomach to not try so aggressively to come up again.

Hands on his arms, impersonal and efficient, hauled him to his very unsteady feet.  He looked up, then.  Looked into Paul’s face and saw the briefest flair of irritation at the back of those blue eyes.  Any other man would have been screaming threats and obscenities after what Brady had done six months ago.  But Paul…Paul’s eyes barely hinted at the tiniest bit of irritation.  Brady shuddered at that hint of irritation; Paul was one of the most dangerous men in the world.

“Kinda pullin’ out the big guns, ain’t they, buddy?” Brady slurred, finally.  “You got better things to do than chase my black ass all over the world.  When the fuck did I become a fish big enough for you to arrest?”

“Whoa…wait a second,” the bartender complained, her voice bordering on a whimper.  One glance at Paul, and at the two goons holding Brady at something approximating the vertical, and she was terrified…but she also had a job to do.  “Someone’s gotta pay his tab before anything happens.”

There was no reaction on Paul’s face, just the stoic blandness of a hardened, lifelong warrior.  He leaned forward and placed a slim, matte-black card on the bar.  His voice betrayed not the slightest hint of emotion when he spoke, “Use that for the bill, and add the same again as a tip.  Dr. Brady will not be returning.”

Paul’s icy eyes shifted back to Brady.  The barest flicker of a smile, one that no one — certainly not Brady — could ever swear was actually there, then he said, “I’m not arresting you Dr. Brady.  I was sent to bring you home.”

Brady wished the booze would fade faster.  Something was happening that he didn’t understand, and he did not like that.  Brady was always three steps ahead of everybody else; he was always the one calling the shots.  “What the fuck?  I ain’t goin’ anywhere near Oxford again, that place sucks ass.  Shit, why the hell wold they want me back?  I pissed on the fucking Vice-Chancellor’s desk, ferchrissake!”

“The Beagle failed her flight tests, professor, and she needs her designer.  You’re the only one who can fix her FTL drive at this point,” Paul explained, his voice still flat, still emotionless.  Then, a final twist to the knife, “You did steal the designs, after all.”


Snippet: “No, Sir, It’s Not Convenient”

Following on from where I left off a couple of weeks ago because…well…I couldn’t just leave Connor standing there on the street! Also, to those readers and friends who were mad at me for killing off Oz — that part of the story ain’t over yet!

Did the sky look different?

Connor didn’t particularly want to think about that.  Things like sky and weather and horizons had been bad enough while still inside the structured environment of the prison.  On the outside, where chaos and confusion reigned?  Where everything — every thought, every emotion — seemed just that much more intense?  On the outside, those concepts became downright threatening. They were things Connor didn’t want to think about, not at that particular moment, not standing just outside the exit he had never expected to see.

There was a strange sense of loss as he stood there, and of vulnerability. You didn’t have to think in prison, didn’t have to deal with complications.  You didn’t have to do anything in prison.  You just had to survive.  That was why, he had long ago decided, so many inmates were so terrified of actually getting out.

Oh, they would talk about getting out.  They would say all the right things about what they would do when they got out. But as soon as release began to loom as a real possibility?  It was then that they would intentionally screw up and guarantee themselves another year or two inside.  In prison they could find the sanity and security of knowing exactly where they stood.  On the outside they would find nothing but uncertainty and complication.

The front of Chapman Pen was large, but not nearly so big as you would think, given the prison’s true size.  And around that front?  A whole lot of nothing, Connor noted.

Weed covered plots, for the most part, and a few rundown buildings housing what he could only assume were warehouses and small manufacturers.  A couple of hundred feet away, just down the road from the prison, were parked two of the autonomous taxis that were the planet’s only real option for personal, independent transportation for the vast majority of Redux’s population.

A sigh, then, and he took up his guitar and started to walk.  You had to have an account and an implant to use those taxis, and Connor had neither.  Connor, in fact, had no desire for either.  Connor wanted to fly under the radar, to disappear into the crowds and independence of the city’s east side.  He wanted, at the heart of it, to live again in the anonymity that had been his lot for so long.

The sun was out, and the clouds receding, as the planet offered the closest thing it had to a nice evening.  The weather was the final straw, the last incomprehensible in a day that had been full of them. It was too much for Connor, too much to process.  Four years early…why had they let him out four years early?  What the hell was going on?

He could think of nothing to explain it.  Nothing, at least, that did not involve him ending up dead in a ditch somewhere.  Someone, somewhere had pulled strings to release him, and something like that came with a price.  A very, very high price.

He worried, and he thought.  That was nothing new, the worry or the thought.  Those had, in fact, been his habits since most of Dockside had decided the universe would be a better place if it were Connor-free.  Another part of him, however, a part far more primal and basic, could not escape the surge of joy that came with seeing that sky.  He was free.  Everything else aside — all the bullshit and danger, all the demons of his past — he was free.

Freedom meant everything.  Day after day in that prison, night after night in his cell, thoughts and dreams of freedom had been things to avoid, things to fear.  Freedom was…intoxicating.  Worse then the drugs he had been addicted to as an ikiryo, worse than the booze that still was a part of his life, the very thought of freedom set his mind to reeling and spinning.

Freedom was also dangerous.  That was the other part of the joy, the very real fear that asked just what the hell he was going to do now?

For the moment, Connor walked.  No matter what, he knew, he had to keep moving.  If he stopped, it was all too likely he would never again be able to start.

Most of the time, as he walked, he stared at the concrete under his feet.  Bare and cracked and dark it was…crumbling and decayed.  The neighborhood around Chapman Pen hadn’t seen better days, it had never seen so much as a single good day.  Amidst all the confusion and uncertainty, that concrete gave Connor something on which he could focus, so he stared.

What if he stumbled?  What if he fell?  He was smart enough, and remembered enough of Oz’s teachings about philosophy, and about life, to understand the symbolism in that particular fear, but it was very real nonetheless.  If he fell, he wasn’t sure he would ever again find his feet.

Almost a half-mile it was, from the prison to the nearest street corner.  Just what the hell that corner meant, Connor had no idea, but he had to have some kind of goal.  A goal he could see. A goal he could hold to while the universe around him spun and whirled in the purest chaos and confusion. So he walked.  He walked toward that corner.  He walked with his eyes fixed on the decrepit concrete and his mind working desperately to make sense of something that should never have been possible.

Connor had lived a life where the smallest detail, the tiniest clue, could mean the difference between survival and starvation.  He did not miss things.  To miss things, in his life, meant death, and he was still very much alive.

Still, he missed the hum of an engine.  The whoosh of air.  Even the squeal and complaint from its tires as the van turned sharply around.  The smell and noise as that same van swerved in front of him and slammed to a stop?  That he did not miss.

Wait…what aho with a private vehicle that would be interested in him?  That was a question unpleasantly easy to answer.  That answer brought a cold, quiet chuckle that told of fatalism, and of reality.

“It won’t be long now, Oz,” he whispered under his breath.  A bit melodramatic, he knew, but fuck it…if Dockside’s Families were going to kill him, he might as well go overboard while he still had the chance.

It was black, that vehicle.  Black and large, with heavily tinted windows.  And that observation brought its own laugh, sardonic and all-too-knowing.  “Oh, for fuck’s sake, can we skip the cliches?” he complained in that same low voice.  Then he started to laugh.

“Jesus Christ, Spog,” he could almost hear Oz’s voice, almost see his smile.  “If you’re laughing when the gurentai come to kill you, how are they supposed to take you seriously?”

A grinding sound, like an airlock hatch poorly balanced and out of its track, and the broad side door of the vehicle slide open.  Two men stepped out, their eyes fixed solely on Connor.

One was indeed the proverbial gurentai: big, athletic, and with eyes that said every other human was something he would prefer to scrape off the bottom of his shoe.  The second, on the other hand, was someone completely different.

Oh, he was just as tall — as was everyone on this world, so far as Connor could tell — but his tight, closely-tailored suit hugged and defined a body as rail-thin as Connor’s used to be.  Brown hair turning grey, and faded blue eyes, said that slenderness had nothing to do with youth, while the expensive suit said it had nothing to do with the ravages of starvation.

Why the hell would anyone want to look an underfed adolescent?  Connor shook his head and refrained — barely — from laughing out loud.  In a short life that had seen and known far too much, this had to be the most ridiculously surreal scene he had ever experienced.

When that slender man spoke, however, his clear voice carried a tone and accent that everything Connor had learned of Redux said belonged only to the rich and powerful.  “Mr. Spogelse, it’s good to see you finally free.  My employer would like to speak with you, if it’s convenient.”

This time there was no stopping Connor’s chuckle, as bitter and cynical as it was.  No, sir, it’s not convenient, he wanted to say.  The eyes of that gurentai, however, were answer enough.  Connor was getting into that vehicle one way or the other.  Shou ga nai.

Oh, very definitely, shou ga nai.

Connor shrugged to show his acceptance and stepped forward to sit where the looming thug pointed.

Freedom had been nice while it lasted.

Snippet: The Youngest Kid

Okay, so…I have a couple of posts that I’m trying to work through. Unfortunately, those posts need some thought and attention before I’ll be ready to free them from my Drafts folder. I still want to post something, however.

I could go all random and weird and try to throw something together…or I could do some flashfiction…

Naw, neither of those appeal to me right now.

You know what I haven’t done in ages?  I haven’t posted any snippets from my real stuff! Well, then, there’s the answer!

I tried to pick up the scenes from where I left off oh-so-long ago, so hopefully this will make sense to those of you who have been around awhile. A suggestion for those who are new: if you search for posts with “snippet” in the title, you will find my earlier scenes from Somewhere Peaceful to Die and The Silence That Never Comes

Err…also…a warning for new folks: I curse. A lot. I curse in real life, and I curse in my writing. Yes, my stuff qualifies (sort of) as “Young Adult” material, but my characters are streetkids and criminals. Also, I use slang from different languages almost as much as I curse. You will see a number of words in italics in the snippet below — in this particular story, those words come mostly from Czech and Polish, with a dash of Russian thrown in.

Whew, that was a lot of caveats and addendums! Let’s move past that crap and see what Connor is up to:

Connor wasn’t sure if he loved the sky, or if he hated it.  A bit of both, then.  All to go with his healthy dose of fear, of course.

His work in the prison’s admin center kept him busy on most days.  It especially kept him busy when the other inmates were released into the outdoor exercise yard.  On those days when he did manage to go outside, it was all he could do to keep moving, and to maintain his focus.  A part of himself, deep and primal, wanted simply to stand and gape at all that air hanging over his head.

Connor had operated in space. He had floated — quite literally — in the middle of nothing.  But that, somehow, was less disturbing than the partially-overcast grey and blue expanse of a dirtside sky.  He understood planets, and knew the basic physics of the universe, but he had grown up in a world of hulls and passages and crowded cargoholds.  Every time he looked at the sky, there was always that little-boy wonder at the back of his mind: what kept it all in place?

The yard was big; big enough to swallow the two thousand inmates that were Chapman Pen’s reason for being.  Most of those inmates clustered in tight groups scattered around the yard.  Connor knew those groups, and what they represented.  They were the gangs.  Very few in prison could survive on their own, and the gangs were the easiest way to gain allies and defenders…for a price.  There was always a price.

Connor hadn’t joined the gangs back home, and he certainly wasn’t going to do so here.  Fucking gurentai…no, they were rvac now!  Whatever he called them, they never changed.  They were just as stupid on Redux as they had been Dockside.

“I swear to fuck, these debil get weaker every year,” Brian snorted derisively as they passed one such group while he walked at Connor’s side.

From Connor’s other side, Rahm answered with a laugh, “Not our problem anymore, kamos.  We’re out of the game.  Let the kids have their fun.  They don’t need you lecturin’ them ’bout the good ol’ days.”

Brian just shook his head and grumbled under his breath.

Connor chuckled at the banter.  The vast majority of those in the yard were simple prison-toughs; posturing fools who would’ve been eaten alive Dockside.  But Brian and Rahm…Connor knew guys like them.  He’d never asked the two old men about their lives before Chapman Pen, but rumor and the respect with which they were treated painted a picture far more clearly than any answers they would ever have given.

A turn at the end of the yard and they began to walk back the way they had come.  Redux was a cold world, and Connor walked bundled in a heavy coat that had earned a great deal of mocking from the other two.

Brian swung his big, bare arms — both covered in tatoos from shoulder to fingertips — and gave Connor a bit of a shove.  “You want to get used to livin’, what do you call it, dirtside?  You better ditch the fuckin’ jacket, kamos.”

“It’s a fashion choice,” Connor laughed.  “I’m makin’ a statement.”

A pause to eye three rvac walking towards them and Connor sighed, “Do pice.”

Two were nobodies, the simple goons you could find anywhere.  The one in the middle, however…he was the leader of one of the new, up-and-coming gangs.  Shotcallers, those gang leaders were called, and they did just that, call the shots for their followers.  And for their victims.

Connor had been waiting for this.  Brian and Rahm had too much history, and reputations far too large, to be harassed.  But the youngest guy in the entire prison?  Whatever reputation Connor had built over the last several months didn’t matter, a confrontation was inevitable.  The various shotcallers did not like the idea of an independent.

From the corner of his eye Connor saw Brian’s small shrug.  This was Connor’s problem.  It had to be his problem — to seek protection would mark him forever as weak…as a victim.

Maybe thirty, the leader was.  His thinning hair was shaved to the scalp in front and grown long in back.  The tattoos on his face shifted and writhed in the wan sunlight, changing colors and designs in a random dance.  Very popular, those dynamic tattoos were…and stupid as shit, to Connor’s mind.  How the hell were you supposed to blend into any crowd with a bunch of random squiggles moving all over your face?  Fucking debil.

The leader was taller than Connor, and significantly broader.  He offered tiny nods to the old men at Connor’s shoulders, then took up an aggressive stance that blocked Connor’s path in the most offensive way possible.

Here it comes, Connor thought.

“Yo, little teplousi,” the man drawled, every syllable dripping derision.

It was meant to be threatening, of course, but Connor had been threatened — and almost killed — by people who cut people’s tongues out for fun.  This?  This was minor league kecas.

“You wanna get the fuck out of my way?” he answered, his voice quiet and cold.

“Naw, you got it all twisted,” the shotcaller answered with a sneer.  He paused to glance at Brian and Rahm, a large step back from Connor now, before he continued, “Don’t go all pissy on me.  These two, your friends, they got their own shit.  But you…I hear shit ’bout you, ya know, and I wanna be your friend, too.”

Yep, exactly according to the script.  Connor would retort, then the insults and threats would start flying back and forth.  A bit of that, then they’d get to the yelling and shoving.  A choice, Connor had: he could give in to their little recruitment drive, or have all three beat the shit out of him.  Or he could go with option number three.

Do haje,” he whispered, his voice more than half-sigh.

“What’s that?” the other asked, leaning close as he struggled to hear.

“I don’t have time for this shit,” Connor barked even as his knee slammed into the shotcaller’s groin.  The barest half-second of stunned silence, then the guy gave a strangled scream and tried to curl up, clutching himself.  Connor’s hands had tangled in the long, greasy hair, however, and he held the man’s head at waist height as his knee again swung upwards…repeatedly.

Not much more than two seconds after Connor’s words, the shotcaller was on the ground, writhing and groaning in pain as blood poured from the shattered wreck of his face.

The two goons may not have been stellar examples of human intelligence, but they did know their jobs.  A roar from each throat and they stepped together towards Connor.

Zatim ne,” Brian said calmly.  Just talking ’bout the weather.

The two hulking rvac paused to glance at the shorter man, the anger on their faces turned to confusion.  Brian raised a finger and the confusion turned to fear.  That was it.  No yells, no threats, not so much as a stern look.  A raised finger…one fucking finger.  And they stopped.

Even with his own shit to take care of, Connor was deeply impressed.  And very, very glad Brian was on his side.

Connor bent over and again grabbed that lank, dirty hair.  The groans became another scream when Connor jerked the shotcaller’s head up.  He leaned close and gave that convenient handhold a little shake.  “This is as close as I’ll come to a warning, curacek.  You fuck with me again and things’ll go downhill fast.  I got nothing to prove, and even less to lose.  I don’t give a fuck…about anything  You do not want to press an ikiryo who’s got nothin’ left, you really don’t.”

It was hard to say what was in that face.  Connor couldn’t decide if the eyes held terrified agreement or total agony, and he didn’t particularly care.  The debil understood the point.  That was what mattered.

All six men in that little knot of anger and survival knew the score; in places like Chapman Pen, you survived on reputation.  A failure like this— getting your ass kicked by the youngest kid in the entire prison — meant the loss of whatever power and position the shotcaller had once held.  And quite possibly the loss of life, too.

Shou ga nai.

Connor was ready to step past the crying, moaning idiot on the ground when another voice called from a few yards away, “Spogelse, what the fuck is going on here?”

The sergeant.

Connor sighed.  The sergeant might have glossed over Connor’s little booze-making operation, but sending another prisoner to the hospital wouldn’t be quite so easy to ignore.

“Thergeant thith piethe of thit attacked me!” the crying, bleeding aho on the ground called out.  The blood and missing teeth made him almost impossible to understand.

The sergeant looked down, his face unreadable and his close-cropped gray hair as neat as ever.  “I didn’t see a damn thing.  I’ll have to look into that.”  The sergeant’s dark eyes, full of knowledge and experience, shifted to stare at Connor.

Connor could swear there was…something else in them.  Pity?  Sympathy?  Confusion?  What the hell was going on?

“Spogelse, the Captain needs to see you.  Now,” the sergeant said in a voice that held all of those things, and a great deal more.

Connor stared back, unable to find a single word.  He still had all of the fight’s adrenaline and violence flowing through him, and to instantly shift gears to something so different was beyond him.

“Let’s go,” the sergeant continued.  A wave of his hand and two more guards, young bachu Connor did not know, stepped up to flank him.  Brian and Rahm drifted back, making room for the guards.  They were just as confused as Connor.

This was not good, Connor thought, but what the hell was he going to do?  Take on three guards, when another thirty were just seconds away?  Yeah, that would end well.

He sighed and stepped forward, meekly following the sergeant and wondering just when the universe would stop screwing with him.

Every single eye in the yard was on him as he stepped through the door into the prison itself.  Just as, he knew, every single mind was wondering what the hell the obnoxious, dangerous Dockside kid had done to earn a special trip to the Captain’s office.