Old School: Both the Snippet and the Music


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

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

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

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


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


So, my trunk-stories…

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

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

Yeah, welcome to my hell.

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

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

Anyway, here we go:

“Blood on the Snow”

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

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

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

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

“Stay strong!  Ey Ukhnem!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You are the commander of this group?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kedai!” the guard snarled.

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

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

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

Frustration, Distraction, and the End of the Snippets*

*For now, anyway — they will come again for Act One of The Flicker of Ghosts

Ever shop for bar-height tables and chairs?  Sure you have; anyone who has thought even remotely about redoing their kitchen or dining room has looked into various options.  Usually, for most of us, the price tag of new furniture ends those dreams of a “new living space” pretty darned quickly.

So, take that (expensive) furniture shopping/fantasizing and multiply it to 15-20 tables, and 100 or so seats…


I wish I had paid a lot more attention when I took wood shop all those years ago; at least then I could have pretended that I could make my own stuff!  At this point, I have no choice but to go with what others want to charge for their stuff.

Err, never mind.  Time to stop distracting myself with that stuff.

If there is one firm commitment I have made to myself, it is to not let my work and efforts to open the brewery overflow into my writing.  Oh, it will undoubtedly flow into the content of my writing, but (hopefully) not into how I go about things.  For very good reason I am doing my best to keep both this blog and my personal writing completely separate from my real world business efforts.  That is, of course, also why this blog has been so sporadic lately…

I can’t tell you how much I look forward to sitting in the corner of my own taproom, with my earbuds firmly in place to keep the customers at bay, and writing the words and emotions that I have allowed to build up behind my own personal dam of worry, stress and hope.  Hell, half (at least) of the reason I want to run my own place is so I always have the perfect to go and write!

At any rate, I thought about doing a quick snippet on Connor, but then I realized just how much of The Silence That Never Comes I have already put up on this blog.  The entire first act, in fact.  Oh, in terms of word-count that is only something like 20% of the story, but it is still an awful lot to put up for, well…for free.  So, I am going to stop posting snippets.

Err…umm…I’m going to stop after I (re)post this last one!  The final scene of that book, as a matter of fact.  Now, just how Connor goes from a 50th floor office to this last scene is, well…it’s the other 75% of the damned story!  Oh, and yes, this really was in fact the very first scene I wrote for this entire story!

“Hi, Mom”

The room was dark, but Connor didn’t need the light.  Hell, he didn’t want the light.  Not for this.  This was private.  This was his.  Maybe the only thing in the miserable fucking universe that fit that description.

The screen snapped open, still crisp and new, and the icons displayed there glittered in a bright cheerfulness that annoyed the shit out of him.  Connor still couldn’t bring himself to use his new implant, however.  Not when he had other options.  He knew that implant was safe — that he had made sure of himself — but it still was something far too new, and far too dangerous, to ever really trust.

Several taps of his fingers and the screen scrambled in a wave of colors.  Less than a second later a logo appeared.  He had come to know that logo…and to fear everything it represented.  He punched in a code — a very specific, very special code — and waited while the network routed his call.

There was a hint of static on the screen, and a buzzing through the speaker newly implanted in his inner ear.  The jamming and security measures he had set up were fighting the taps and tracers he knew were seeking him.  He hoped he had done his work well; if that security failed, a lot more people than just he were going to die.

Another wave of colors, in answer to his code, then a face appeared.  It was old, that face.  Older than he would have thought.  The light hair was turning distinctly grey and there were lines around the mouth and eyes.  Those eyes still held life, however, and a lightness that he had never really seen before.  Certainly no Docksider had ever had eyes with that much humor and hope in them.

A puzzled expression and the woman opened her mouth, about to speak.

Connor cut her off — he had thought through this moment a million times over the past days, had envisioned how it would turn out.  The fact that every single one of those dreams ended in misery and pain was just a fact of life.  How could it ever be any different for him?  Shou ga nai.

A choke for a moment, a second to find his breath past the block in his throat, then he spoke, “Hi, Mom…”

{Musical Note — I’ve mentioned these guys more than once as a major influence on me, but I wanted to go with them again. This song, especially, has as much to say to me personally as it does to Connor. And, yes, to ”get it” you really do have to listen to the lyrics! I post the live version because, well I absolutely love live music…and because I was actually at this particular show (at Denver’s Red Rocks amphitheater), so it has a huge place in my heart.}

2-for-1 Snippets! “Ghosts”

A snippet, then, because…why the hell not?


“Jesus Christ, Connor,” Sonthi said with a lopsided grin, “close your goddamned mouth.  You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

What the hell did you say to that?

“You are a fuckin’ ghost.  What the fuck are you doing here?” Connor spluttered, fought to focus his mind.  Off-balance was vulnerable, and he did not want to be vulnerable in front of the curacek behind that desk.

Try as he might, however, he could not wrap his mind around what he saw.  The last time he had seen Sonthi had been to hand over the datastick that had touched off all the insanity tearing apart both Dockside and the Station.  The time when Sonthi had told him about Oz.


A smile from the shorter man, then, an effort to put Connor at ease.  Connor was used to the ex-cop in a police uniform; the tight-fitting, dark suit that seemed de rigeur for those working in that ridiculous office tower looked decidedly odd on the older man.  Expensive or not, those clothes did nothing to help his look.  Several inches shorter than Connor, Sonthi’s hair had turned from salt-and-pepper to completely gray over the past year, and his paunch had grown more pronounced than when he had been a sergeant in Dockside’s corrupt police force.

The ghost of a wink, then, from the shorter man as he turned to face the desk.  “Sir, I’ve sent you my update on the kid’s file.  I’d suggest a minute or two to read it while I get Connor clued in a bit as to what he’s doing here.”

A nod from the svine behind the desk even as he began to read from his screen.  Sonthi grabbed Connor’s arm in a grip that was almost painfully tight as he guided him to the large, comfortable chairs arranged to maximize the view out over the dark towers of the city.  Heavy clouds had rolled in, brought with them the winds and rain that were beginning to lash the glass.

“Do not fuck around with this aho, you stupid motherfuckin’ ikiryo,” Sonthi hissed as they sat, his voice for Connor’s ears alone.  “I worked too fuckin’ hard to get your ass out of that shithole prison to watch you fuck it up now.  You smile and nod and say yessir to whatever the hell Chapman wants.  Don’t try to scam him, not yet.  You don’t know the rules, chiima.  Until you do, you’ll just screw yourself right back into that hole you just crawled out of.”

Connor thought about that.  He thought about it very, very hard.  Those thoughts, much to his surprise, were interrupted by a half-full tumbler held out for him.  Chapman had brought him another drink?  Just when was he going to understand what was happening?

“In case you missed it, Connor, Mr. Chapman is the CEO of LRC Exploration,” Sonthi explained with a nod for his boss.  “He hired me to head up his security department about nine months ago.  He and I have been discussing some, ahh, options for the business that call for a skill set very different from your average college graduate.”

Every bit of his voice was different from what Connor remembered.  Very little of Dockside clung to Sonthi’s tongue as he talked.  Very little accent, and even less vocabulary.  Instead, the ex-cop was more formal and more precise…and far more irritating.

Connor’s stare was direct.  He would dance and play with Chapman, at least for a while.  Fine, Sonthi was right about the need for that.  But with Sonthi himself?  Connor was a thief and a liar, but Sonthi was just as bad in his own way.  There was no way Connor was going to let some crooked cop patronize him.  Even if he did owe the man.

Saishei tanmei, mappo, but no one loves me.  We were chara the second I handed you that stick.”  Connor’s voice was not friendly.  The hostility was a reminder for Sonthi; a reminder of just where Connor came from, and of how little he had to lose.

“I don’t have time for this,” Chapman barked, a hand raised to forestall any reply from his security director.

That hand was not needed, however.  At least not so far as Connor could see.  Sonthi’s face may have been unreadable to his boss — just what the hell did a CEO do, anyway? — but to Connor it was an open book.  A book of guilt, and a hint of shame.

Dockside rules still applied to the pair of them, even in that office, and those rules said Connor had made his point.  He gave a tiny, sharp nod to the ex-cop then turned to fully face Chapman.  He needed to focus, and to read everything he could from the man’s face and body language as they talked.  His life might very well depend on that reading.

“I have all the information in the world, Mr. Spogelse,” Chapman explained.  Lectured, actually.  “What I lack are viable means to act on that information.  Oh, I can use what my agents dig up to carry out certain negotiations and decisions, but I cannot act proactively with it.

“The five companies that founded this colony hold all of the cards, not to mention most of the power, and I’m tired of having to toe their line.  I need operatives who can act on my information, when and how I tell them.  Do you understand what I’m saying?”

The boredom that had begun to displace Connor’s anger disappeared, replaced by a certain amount of interest.  The idea had possibilities.  Almost as many possibilities as it had problems.  He could get ahead with this…if he was careful.  If he was very, very careful.

“None of your spies are willing to risk their ass for you,” he answered, meeting Chapman’s stare with one of his own.  “You need someone willing to get his hands dirty.  Someone with nothing to lose.  But that ain’t the real problem, boss.  There’re a couple million people over in the Haze and the Camp who’d stab their own mothers for a few grand.  If even I know that, you better fuckin’ well be aware.  Let’s not worry about the job itself, not just yet.  You’re looking for something pretty specific in all this, so the first question is why me?”

Sonthi answered for his boss, “You’re a ghost, Connor.  What little trace remains of Connor Spogelse is so buried and lost in the system, no one will ever find it again.  You can be whoever, or whatever, the situation calls for.”

Connor arched an eyebrow at that, but didn’t say a word.  Let the kamo talk themselves into the scam.  His entire day up to that point might have been a major fuck-up that had his head spinning, but this?  This was a scam.  This was what he did best.

A moment of hesitation while Sonthi glanced at his boss.  A wave from Chapman and the ex-cop continued, “That could never be true of someone from Redux, Connor.  Everyone here is implanted as a child, for one thing.  Even more, however, everyone has a detailed ident entered in the databases from the get-go.  Even in the Haze and the Camp…especially in the Haze and the Camp.”

Chapman cleared his throat to interrupt.  Both Connor and Sonthi turned to stare, but the executive remained quiet, let the silence build for several moments.

Overdramatic aho, Oz laughed.

A moment more of silence, then Chapman spoke, “Mr. Sonthi assures me you are the best he has ever seen at cracking networks and security.  I need that skill, Mr. Spogelse.  Almost as much as I need somebody who can disappear at will.  Rest assured, you are physically quite safe.  You are not in this office because I want you to be my…what is it you people call them?  Oh yes, my baita.  You — very specifically you — are in this office because I need an operative that I, and Mr. Sonthi, can trust and control.”

Connor’s irritation was back.  Very, very back.  Just how the hell did this idiot think he would control Connor?  He had no doubt Sonthi had primed the man with that crack about being a baita, and that made him even angrier.

His voice was cold when he replied, “You need an awful lot, Mr. CEO.  What’s in it for me?”

“Money, for one thing.  You will be well compensated for your efforts, I assure you.  Your freedom, for another.  You were not released from prison, Mr. Spogelse.  You are currently being, ahh, transferred back to Port Oblivion.  Whether that transfer remains lost in the bureaucratic shuffle, or the authorities become aware of your escape from prison, is entirely up to you.”

{Musical Note — although this song isn’t the soundtrack I had in my head when I wrote the scene, it nonetheless fits. It fits the mood, the characters, and where things are going. And, yes, there is allegory and subtext involved…}

Edit — I am adding a “scene” blow. Although I wrote the scene above, and this one I am adding, at very different times and in very different places, they are in fact a single scene. Here’s a challenge for you: see if you can spot the difference in tone and thematic elements that came with the weeks between creating the two…

Ghosts” (continued)

“I will let Mr. Sonthi give you the details,” Chapman continued after a moment for the threat to sink home, “but it is important that I know you understand what it is I want of you.  You will be a weapon, Mr. Spogelse.  A weapon aimed at my adversaries.  Whether you are a sledgehammer or a scalpel is something we will have to see.”

Did the man never shut up?  Connor had met, and scammed, any number of arrogant aho in his life, but never had he met someone so in love with the sound of his own voice.  He’d never liked or trusted any takie — a sudden memory of Nat’s face, and a rush of loss, both quickly repressed — but Chapman was quickly moving to the top of his list of those he most despised.

Nothing said Connor had to like the man, however.  He just had to take his money.

“We will, of course, have to start slowly,” Chapman was still talking, and Connor still taking note of anything he could use to his advantage.  “Mr. Sonthi has already made certain arrangements for you, and he will be your primary point of contact.  My instructions will come through him, and you will do whatever he says.  Whatever he says, Mr. Spogelse, and in the manner and time he directs.  Those instructions will have come from me, and you will treat his words as if they were my own.”

Connor shifted his glance between the two men before he answered with a sharp nod.  The arrogance and conceit in Chapman’s voice should have had Connor’s anger and resentment on the rise, just as the threat of prison should have had him worried and stressed.  But neither of those things was happening.  Why not?

You’ve got nothing to lose, Spog, that’s why, Oz observed.  Just remember to feed these baka what they expect.

Chapman would expect him to be angry and resentful, so Connor made sure those emotions were evident on his face, and in his reply.  “No one owns me, Mr. CEO.  No one.  You got my ass out of that shithole prison, and I’m grateful, but gratitude ain’t gonna buy you shit.  Better men than you have tried to fuck me over.  The worst of all you pretentious aho is currently fighting like hell to keep his own ass out of prison because of me.  No, you better fuckin’ well paint a picture that’s a hell of a lot prettier than just using me as your own personal bataya.”

Connor leaned back after that little tirade, as insolently as he could, and took a long gulp of his drink.  How Chapman reacted would tell him a very great deal.

That same flare of irritation, that same self-satisfied smirk.  Oh yes, Chapman took confidence to a whole new level.  Connor could almost admire his self-possession.  Almost.

“Connor…” Sonthi warned, his voice quiet but insistent.

Chapman stopped the interjection with a sharp motion.  His voice was cold and emphatic, his words rapid-fire, “It really is very simple, Mr. Spogelse.  You will be whatever I tell you to be.  Escape from prison means an extra fifteen years on your sentence.  To date, the criminals from what you and your ilk call the Families have been kept away from Redux’s prisons.  That can change very, very quickly.  Never forget the name on the front of that prison you so conveniently just left.”

Chapman Penitentiary.

Well…fuck me, Oz whispered.

Connor agreed.

The anger wasn’t feigned this time, at least not completely.  “You piece of shit kuroko.  What the fuck don’t you own?”  Connor’s knuckles were white on the expensive crystal tumbler as he downed the rest of the liquor.

“Not much, Mr. Spogelse.  Not much,” Chapman answered, a sneering laugh under his words.

Fifteen more years in prison?  Did it really matter?  Connor would be free or he wouldn’t.  He would live to see the sun rise again or he wouldn’t.  The fundamental truth was that he’d always known he would die young.  Just like the ikiryo he truly was.  Who the hell really cared, anyway?

I do.

Connor squelched that voice.  It was too good to hear; too comfortable…and far, far too disturbing.  He couldn’t afford to listen to Oz.  Not yet.

No, it was no time to let free that particular demon.  He had work to do.  Chapman’s threats might have been pointless to Connor, but the job he offered had definite possibilities.  If Connor couldn’t turn the situation to his own advantage, he would deserve to end up back in that prison.

The silence hung in the air for several seconds, but Chapman seemed content to wait quietly while Connor worked through his thoughts.  Worked through his fears, Chapman would assume.  Connor could all-but read the executive’s thoughts; could almost hear the self-satisfied laugh undoubtedly echoing in the man’s head.

He leaned forward and stared hard at Chapman, intensity and bitterness portrayed with every bit of the skill a life on the streets, and Oz’s coaching, had given him.  “So it’s die in prison, or work for you?  That’s a hell of a choice.  Ask Sonthi what happened to the last hum noi who tried to force me to work for him.”

“I’m well aware of your recent history.  And of what happened to your last, ahh, employer.  I think you’ll find I’m no Kazuo.  Just as I am not William Hendricks.  Relax, Mr. Spogelse, all is not bad.  As I said before, working for me will prove lucrative for you.  Very lucrative, if you’re anywhere near as good as Mr. Sonthi insists.  I may not be an easy man to work for, but I am a generous one.”

Sonthi reached out, touched Connor’s knee hesitantly.  “C’mon, Connor.  It’s a good deal, and you know it.  Hell, it’s the only deal you’re going to get after all the shit that’s gone down.  Trust me on that.”

Trust?  No, never that.  Not again.  Trust had died a year ago, in a pool of blood.  Just like love.  Just like family.

Trust he would not, but use he would.  He would always use.  The rules never changed, no matter where in the universe you were.  And when the price came due, as it always did?  Shou ga nai.

Connor blew out a breath, then, and leaned back in his chair.  The picture of defeat, and of resignation.  But still the anger and resentment.  Oh yes, still those.  Chapman — and Sonthi — would expect them, and Connor hated to disappoint his kamo.

A moment to look between the two, then he focused again on Chapman.  “You win, boss.  Just like you knew you would.  You’ve got me nailed to the wall, and you’ll get your operative.  We both know I’m never goin’ back inside, not if I have any choice in the matter, so you’ll get my best effort, too.  That you can be sure of.”

{Musical Note — why the hell not? It’s all 2-for-1 today!! And with Oz gaining in presence and importance (yay!), its time for a song that characterized the boys in the “good ol’ days”}

Snippet: “WTF?”

Holy cow, how did it get to be July already?

Wasn’t it just yesterday that I woke up for my last day in Yellowstone?  No?  It was a month-and-a-half ago?  Are you freaking kidding me?!

Note: You all know me well enough by now to imagine the swear words I’m using at this particular moment, so feel free to insert your own here…

Oh, and just to add a random thought for the day: Beach sand and bluetooth keyboards don’t mix particularly well.  That is all.  Nothing to see here.  Move along.

One of the fun things about coming to rest in a new place, by the way, is the exploration factor.  Everything is new and unknown, everything is a surprise.  Every restaurant is an unknown variable, every bar a new experience.  When you go into that with no preconceptions, it can lead to a lot of fun, new experiences.  It can also, it must be said, lead to undercooked chicken and overcooked beef.  Worse — for me as a brewery nerd, anyway — is that it can lead also to bad beers, and to tap handles (actually, the lines that lead back to the kegs) that are infected and dirty.


Tasting grass and horseblanket and smoke in your beer?  That’s good.  Tasting butterscotch and corn and banana?  Yeah, that’s bad.

**Beedo!*Beedo!**Squirrel Alert!**

Wait, whaddya mean those tasting-notes don’t mean anything to you?  Good lord, people, get yourselves down to your local craft brewery!  Pronto!  Make sure you spend a while talking to the beertender behind the bar, too.  If the place is worth a damn, he or she will be able to teach you a thing or two about the flavors to expect in different types of beers…and the flavors to fear.

Okay…bigger digression avoided.  All clear now.  We almost had a major rant building there, but I pulled up in time and you’re safe now.  Phew.

It has, at any rate, been over a month since we heard from Connor (and Oz).  Given that this post has already gone completely off the rails, let’s just give up on it and have a bit of a check-in instead:

“What the fuck?”

The sound of steps and the closing of the door.  Silence, then, as Connor continued to stare straight ahead, continued to stare at that disconcerting view.  Finally, he pulled his eyes away.  He leaned back in the chair and propped an ankle on his knee, the very picture of arrogant insolence.

He’d be damned if he’d let some takie bastard see him sweat.  No, just like he had told the shotcaller in the prison yard, it was never a good idea to push too hard an ikiryo with nothing left to lose.

Connor finally did turn, a few heartbeats later, when the tense silence was broken by the sound of ice clinking into a glass.  Tall and thin the man was, but that was all Connor could tell.  He stood with his back to Connor, and the rest of that vast, now-empty office, as he mixed himself a drink in the corner.

It was an attempt, Connor knew, to assert control, and to make him impatient and nervous.  A transparent attempt.  So…it was going to be a pissing contest after all.  The world might be different — the kamo richer and more powerful — but the rules…the rules of the game never changed.  Connor’s game.

“A scotch for me, thanks,” he called, his voice almost as relaxed as if he’d been calling an order to Marie.  “But only if it’s Islay single malt.”

That brought a look, thrown back over one expensively-clad shoulder.  Genuine surprise on that face, to go with a certain amused disdain.

Connor continued to study the man, his stare intentionally direct and disconcerting.  In prison, what had kept most of Connor’s fellow inmates at bay was the worry that he was more than a little nuts.  It definitely would not hurt to have this svine worried about the same thing.  Connor knew he was not likely to make the man comfortable or trusting, but uncomfortable was almost as good.  Uncomfortable usually meant nervous, and nervous people made mistakes.

The guy was young, perhaps ten or twelve years older than Connor himself.  He had the same rail-thin attempt at effete elegance that Connor had seen on so many of the idiots down on that plaza, as well as the same tightly-tailored dark suit.  His face, however…his face was very different from the drones below.

Arrogance and confidence in that face, and a certain note of self-indulgence.  Brown hair, brown eyes…not bad looking.  Oz would have had the guy wrapped around a finger in about thirty seconds, Connor decided with an inward grin.  Connor knew, however, that he would have to use tactics very different from those of his dead friend.

The man wordlessly placed a tumbler in front of Connor, then moved around that impressive desk to sit and begin his own inspection.  He stared and studied, sipping at his drink all the while.  

Connor stared right back.  On both of the man’s hands lay some of the most extensive and intricate tattoo-work Connor had ever seen.  The colors and designs shifted and changed, but not with the cheap randomness he had seen in prison.  No, these changes were subtly patterned and timed, suggesting meanings and purposes at which Connor couldn’t even begin to guess.

A reach and Connor took up his own glass, every bit of him full of slow confidence.  A slow, steady swirl — at least the guy was smart enough not to waste ice on whiskey — then he took a sip.  The surprise didn’t make it to his face, thankfully, but beneath his cool exterior he was all-but knocked off his mental feet.

Good booze had always been well beyond Connor’s means, but Oz had from time to time brought home bottles given by his clients.  Some of those bottles had been top notch stuff, hard to get even on the Station.  What was in that glass, however, made every drop Connor had ever so much as sniffed pale in comparison.  That little calculator in his mind — the one that assessed the value of everything the takies so took for granted — told him he did not want to know what those few ounces were worth.

“My family helped to build all this, Mr. Spogelse,” the man said with a wave vaguely towards the view behind him.  “LRC is the largest resource exploration and assessment company in the entire system.  We may not be one of the colony’s Founders, unfortunately, but we are one of the top five hundred companies in all of human space.”

If he’d known he was in for a recruiting speech, Connor thought, he might very well have decided to stay in prison.  Just who the hell did this debil think he was?

“Boss, I don’t know what you’ve got in mind, but you can skip the sales pitch.  Those folks down in your lobby might have resumes and references, but I’ve got nothin’ but a fuckin’ rap sheet.  I appreciate the drink, but can we skip the bullshit and just get to the point?” he said, interrupting what threatened to be the biggest waste of time in all of human history.

Irritation flared in the man’s eyes.  Irritation that was very, very close to outright rage.

So…the guy did not like to be interrupted.  That was good to know.  Anything and everything that could throw him off balance was ammunition for Connor.  You learned that, early on, when you were young and small; learned to never let the other guy have control.  Piss him off, confuse him, even make him laugh…but never, ever let him have control.  Not in a situation like this.

Yeah, but you got your ass kicked a lot, too, the memory of Oz’s voice laughed.

Much like Connor, Oz had been, socially and culturally, a ghost in life — an ikiryo in Dockside’s patois — but why the hell did Connor’s best friend have to end up a real ghost, too?

“Stop haunting me, Oz,” he muttered under his breath.  The scariest thing to Connor?  He didn’t mean it.  Connor knew it was crazy, but there was no voice in the universe he wanted more to hear.  Not even Nat’s.  He still loved Nat, still thought and dreamed of her, but Oz was…special.

Oh yeah, there was real rage now on the face across that desk.  The man stood and glowered, leaned across the expanse of wood and glass.  “If you’re wasted now, you little shit…” he spat, just what he would do left unsaid.

Connor almost laughed.  Once, he would have been on his feet as well, in the svine’s face and ready to fight.  Once, but no more.  Who the hell cared?

“Relax, boss,” he said, his weak attempt at soothing ruined by the amused cynicism in his voice.  “You went to a lot of trouble to get a goddamned worthless ikiryo out of prison and into your office.  Why don’t we sit down and talk about that?”

The rage was still visible on that pampered face, but only because Connor knew what to look for.  To most observers, he knew, the man would be the very picture of a calm and controlled professional.  That control would even have impressed Connor, if the guy were less of a privileged ass.

A long sip of his drink and the man sat.  “You’re quite right, young man.  But, I do need to get a feel for you.  To do that I have to assure myself that you understand just what it is I do here.  I do not generally meet with young delinquents, you know.”

From rage to patronizing condescension.  Yep, definitely a privileged ass…just like the takies who had been Connor’s prey for so long.  And just like those takies, this debil was starting to irritate him.

“We can make this as short as you want.  You know my name.  You know where I came from.  There, the basics are out of the way.  Now it’s my turn.  What the fuck do you want?”  Connor’s stare as he spoke was, if anything, even more direct and challenging than his voice.

“Call me Mr. Chapman.  Or sir,” came the reply, simple and matter of fact.  The mouth carried just a hint of a smirk.

Even Connor couldn’t read through the man’s growing control, and that made him nervous.  If he couldn’t read his kamo, he couldn’t manipulate them.  Then an even more disturbing thought hit him: just how much was this svine manipulating him?


Chapman studied him in silence for several moments.  The old nerves, the ones Connor had thought long gone, returned with a vengeance, fought with his growing irritation.  Suddenly, it was Connor’s turn to stand and pace the length of the office.

He held his drink more to give his hands something to do than because he wanted the alcohol.  A year in prison with nothing but cell-made pruno meant the potent liquor in that glass was affecting him already, and he suspected getting drunk around Chapman was not a terribly good idea.

It was, however, time to regain some of the initiative, he decided. 

He moved to the bar in the corner, took a moment to study it.  Shit, there weren’t even any bottles.  Just clear, engraved decanters that he very much doubted came from any local glass shop.

His years years living in Dockside’s chaotic corruption had, however, taught him to adapt.  The secret to survival was confidence.  Even if you didn’t know what the hell you were doing, you never let anyone else see that particular weakness.

Connor took his time, moved with all the slow arrogance he could muster.  He picked up those decanters with contents that looked similar to what was in his glass and sniffed.  A moment to visibly savor each aroma — most of which meant not a single thing to him — then he settled on one.  It might have been the same as what was in his glass, or it might have been completely different.  He had no idea.  He took his time, however, and poured slowly another few ounces into his glass.

His shoulders were itching.  He knew the svine was staring at him, could picture the rage growing behind those cold eyes.  That thought almost made him smile.  Almost.

A tap, Connor heard, as he started to turn.

“Marcy,” Chapman barked, “send in the Security Director.”


You always did overplay your bluffs, Oz whispered at the back of Connor’s mind.

The door opened and Connor tensed, expected a squad of rvac ready to beat the crap out of him.  Maybe he’d see that empty field, after all.

It wasn’t a squad of guards, however.  It was just one man.  One very, very familiar man.

Connor dropped his glass, stood frozen and immobile.

“Sonthi?  What the fuck?”

{Muscial Note — if you go all metaphorical with the lyrics, this song works for Connor’s new life…}