Unquiet Words

Do you ever get cocky?

Ever know that something won’t work, but still think you can overcome the universe and make it work for you?

That’s pretty much me right now.

Look, I’ve talked before about how I need life and activity around me to write.  I’ve talked about the sense of release, the sense of freedom, that comes with writing in coffee shops and taprooms.  To write — I mean really write — I have to be out.  And that’s great, as far as it goes.  But sometimes…

But sometimes you’re at home, and the urge hits you.  Sometimes you’re somewhere quiet and peaceful and alone, and the ideas start to come.  That’s when my iron-clad rule #1* can become a problem.

*You always write it, right freaking then.

Now, for most writers a place of quiet, peaceful serenity is probably the best place in the world for the creative process.  Unfortunately, I’m not most writers.  Hell, we established that when I described the fact that I couldn’t write a story in linear order if you held a gun to my head.  I can’t write the scenes in the order they appear, and I can’t write when it’s peaceful and quiet.AF488EBD-3EAC-4D16-942B-85A0EEA3E32F

Yeah, yeah, I know…I’m weird.  You’re just now figuring that out?

So, here I am, sitting at home and trying to put my thoughts and ideas into words.  In the peace and quiet.  And it just ain’t working.

Oh, I can get words onto the page, but they…uhh…they kinda suck.  Do you have any idea at all just how frustrating that is, by the way?  How frustrating to know, as soon as you type them, that the words you’re putting down are a waste of time and effort?  That you’re just going to delete them later?1A69DA5C-BF5D-4E3D-8042-98F1A0E64B9A

Honestly, I feel like I’m in detention, being to forced to write lines over and over.

Screw it, I’m not working today.  I think I’ll just head over to the bar for a beer and a thousand words…

Oh, the crosses I bear to be a writer.  But, hey, I’m doing it so you don’t have to.  Yeah, that’s it!

See, I’m not just a writer, I’m a giver…

Unintentional Snippeting, The Final Scene

I’m not a Halloween guy.  I never have been.  Even as a kid, I wasn’t one of those folks who put hours and hours of thought and effort into a costume.  Nope, instead I was one of those guys who just threw together whatever I could at the last minute…

That hasn’t really changed.

One of the few times of late that I’ve done something for Halloween was last year’s 0.5K* Zombie Doughnut Crawl at the brewery.  Halloween just doesn’t matter to me, other than as a milestone on the trip to that holiday I really do get into: Christmas.

*Yes, you read that right, half a kilometer!

At any rate, today is Halloween and damn if I can be bothered to write a…you know…Halloween post.  It would probably help if I wrote horror or suspense stuff, but I don’t.  I write sci-fi and fantasy. So, unless you want a Halloween story about elves battling invading aliens, we’ll just skip the story idea for today…

It’s been a while since I did a post focused on writing, so I’ll jump back to that.  Plus, I can cheat and make this a music post, too…and I do love to cheat!

I’ve talked more than once about how music affects my writing.  Here is a recent post about how what I listen to helps to create the “soundtrack” for a particular scene.  What I haven’t delved too deeply into is how music impacts the creation of the story itself, how it can help to inspire not just the story, but also the characters and tone.

It’s hard to explain, so I’ll go back to my old “standby” of using my work-in-progress series as a concrete example…

I didn’t start off with a soundtrack, of course.  I started off with a couple of characters, and a setting, and that was about it.  I knew the boys’ backstories, and their current situation, but not much more.  It was those two characters, by the way, who forced me to keep working on the story.  I fell in love with them, and I couldn’t step away, no matter how much I “wanted” to work on another story at the time.

I need three things in order to start really planning and writing a story: characters I believe in, something to say, and the final scene.  Look, I know just how weird it sounds, but until I have that final scene, I don’t have the beginning of the story…and I certainly don’t have the tone or feeling of it.  For me, that final scene helps to make everything real.

I was stuck, then.  I had two stories — one I “wanted” to write, and one demanding to be written — but I couldn’t make progress on either.  I couldn’t make progress until…

…until…

…until I found the “soundtrack.”  Until I found that one key song that encapsulates what the story is.  It was quite by accident, by the way, that I found that one song…the one that led me to my final scene, and to what eventually became Somewhere Peaceful to Die:

Ah, hell…I wasn’t gonna do this, but when have I ever really stuck with my “plan” for a post?  Err…never, to be honest.  A bit of unplanned snippeting for you: the final scene to Somewhere Peaceful, written roughly nine months before I got the story to the point where it actually needed a final scene:

It was a heavy hatch, rusted and decrepit.  Just like the rest of Dockside.  Outside the compartment, there in the lowest levels, the air was fetid and foul.  The slime farm was considered one of the worst places you could go Dockside.  No one went there if they could at all avoid it, even the workers whose domain it was.  It was the perfect place for two boys, two ikiryo, to use as their hideaway.

The stench of mold and rot was overpowering.  The hatch was old, dating all the way back to the days when Dockside had just been cargo-cans full of the equipment and belongings to colonize a new star system.  That hatch squealed in rusty protest at Connor’s frantic efforts, resisted any movement.

Nothing, however, would slow him down.

He wasn’t sure he believed Sonthi, or the note.  He didn’t want to believe.  Oz was the strongest person he’d ever known; he kept Connor going, not the other way around.  Never alone, that had been their promise to each other.  And Connor had failed that.  Spin it however he wanted, color it with whatever guise of doing right he could fool himself into, he still had left Oz to face the consequences alone.

Connor’s arms surged and the seals popped.  He would not fail, not this time.

Inside was a tangled forest of massive tanks, convoluted piping and heaving pumps.  All were bubbling and gurgling as the life-giving algae — Dockside’s main air filter — was cultivated and cared for inside.  It was all automated, of course, all monitored from afar.  No one wanted to work down there.

The slime tanks made it hard to see, and the piping created a chaos of background noise that almost drowned thought itself.  Just a step inside and Connor was lost in that maze-like tangle.  He knew the compartment’s layout — he and Oz would come here to laugh and drink, come for the closest thing either had to privacy, and to quiet — but still he could barely see, could barely move.

A look around and he shuddered with dread.  There was barely any light.  The vast compartment was all shadows and shapes.  Kazuo’s goons could be inches away and he would never know…until they put a bullet into his head.

His breath was ragged and heaving.  He slowed: step, listen…step, listen.  He couldn’t hear shit, and could see even less, but he tried anyway.

Was that a sound?  A breath?

He pushed his head around a three-foot-wide pipe and looked.  There was a shadow huddled at the base of one of the massive tanks.  A small shadow.

Oz.

“Oh fuck…” Connor moaned.

Hard-won caution was lost.  Thought and concern were lost.  A single glance and he knew, that was his brother laying there on the ground.  Alone.

He sprinted through the cramped compartment, blind to everything but that small shadow.  He moved as fast as he could.  In a blink, he slammed to his knees and was turning that body onto its back.

The first thing that registered was the blood.  The blood was everywhere.

Oz’s face was pale, and his body almost cold.  Connor screamed in wordless rage and pain.

Those eyes opened — the eyes so often the source of the strength and comfort Connor needed when life was at its worst — and a blood-soaked hand reached up to touch his face.

A knife on the ground, covered in blood.  A fucking knife.  Oz hadn’t wanted a clean death, Connor realized.  He’d wanted to suffer, to pay the price for everything he’d done.

A dull clatter as Connor threw that knife away.  He tore off his shirt and gathered his friend into his arms, tried futilely to stop the flow from Oz’s wrists.  He could feel his brother’s life ebbing away.  A stifled sob and he managed to speak through the block in his throat, “What the fuck are you doing in here alone, bozu?  This ain’t what we always talked about.”

Oz was so cold, so pale.  Connor couldn’t stop the sob.  “Fuck…please hold on, Oz…don’t leave me.”

Oz pulled one hand free from Connor’s efforts, reached to touch his face again.  The stream of blood from his wrist was slowing.  “Spog?  No, Spog…go…get out, run…they’ll find you.”  The tears on Oz’s face were washing away the blood.

As small as he was, Oz had always been vibrantly alive, always full of energy and life.  What Connor held in his arms was cold and lethargic, barely recognizable as his friend.  “Alone is worse…” he whispered, choked.  “I’m sorry I’m late.”

“I’m sorry,” Oz said, his voice barely a whisper.  Too much blood had fled, too much life had ebbed.  “I fucked you over and you never knew.  I’m sorry.”

“I knew, Oz.  I knew…and I don’t give a damn.  Please hold on.  Who’s gonna keep me from fucking up if you leave?  Don’t go away…please.  We were gonna get off this shit heap, we were gonna find that peaceful place together.  I can’t do it alone, bozu.”

The body was so light in his arms, the face so grey.  Connor knew his friend had no time left.  The light in those eyes was already flickering, fading away.  With every faltering heartbeat he became more the ghost people named him than ever he had been in life.

Oz’s voice was almost inaudible.  “I’ll hold…I’ll hold as long as I have to, just as long as you promise we’ll be okay.”

“You dumb son of a bitch!  We’re okay…of course we’re alright.”  Connor could barely manage the words as he held his friend ever more tightly.  “Nothing you can do will fuck that up.”

Oz shuddered and grabbed at Connor’s shoulder even as his eyes closed.  “I fucked up…I’m sorry,” he mumbled.  “You never saw how fucked up I was.  You always thought I was just like you.  I’m sorry.”

“Just stay with me, Oz.  I don’t give a damn what you did, or what happened.  If you go, I got nothin’.  Don’t leave!”

“Go…run…get out.  They know where I am, you idiot,” Oz’s voice was the ghost of a whisper.  Then, even softer, fading, “Promise we’re alright, Connor.  Oh shit, why is it so dark?”

The hatch behind was still half-open.  Even over the pipes and pumps, Connor could hear noise, could hear the price he would pay coming nearer.

Connor tightened his arms and held Oz to him.  He stroked his friend’s hair and whispered, “We’re alright, goddammit.”  His shirt was already blood-soaked, had done nothing to help.  The flow of life from Oz’s wrists had slowed to the barest trickle.  He was almost gone.  “You’re scaring the shit out of me, Oz.  Please stay with me.”

“I love you, Connor.  It’s getting light again…so damned cold…I’m sorry I fucked up again…I didn’t want to die alone…oh, shit…”

The commotion was close now.

Connor held tight, offered what comfort he could.  Through the tears, “You moron, you fucking moron…you’re not alone…”

That slight body was still.  The blood stopped.

The hollow echo of boots on the metal deck.

Connor moaned, aware of nothing but pain and loss.  He rocked slowly back and forth with Oz’s body cradled close, remembering a friendship beyond thought and word.  It dominated everything in his mind, a friendship like no other from the day they had met.  The day when Oz had saved him from the life of pain and degradation that Oz himself had never escaped.  Through times both the best and worst, Oz had been his only family.

Connor screamed.

Voices barking…shouts…the squeal of the hatch.  He had no idea what was happening, and he didn’t give a damn.  His best friend, his brother, was dead.

The echo of boots…then a hand grabbed Connor’s shoulder, the grip painful and harsh.

By the way — on the topic of soundtracks — I have one in my head, as I’ve mentioned, for the scenes I write.  Weirdly, the soundtrack for the scene above is NOT “Ghosts That We Knew”, it is a song called “Be Still”:

Killin’ Characters

I read a news story the other day about funerals. Specifically, it was about how the wealthy — especially the super-wealthy — were turning their own personal funerals into final statements about power and excess.

Now, there is a lot that could be unpacked from that story, and from its subject. Things like privilege and power … things like the growing disconnect between the wealthy and, well, everyone else … things, even, like morality and responsibility and common decency, and how folks will truly be remembered … but I’m not going to get into all of that. Frankly, I don’t have the energy or desire at the moment to dip my mind into the slime and sleaze that would lead someone to want to brag and show-off even after they’re dead. They have their own demons to deal with, and I’ll leave them to it…

No, what that article got me to thinking about is death in our stories. It especially got me to thinking about how we use those deaths: did we kill a character for a reason? Or just because we were “done with them”? What were the effects on our other characters? Did that death cause them to change and grow? Did it spur some action or event? Or was it simply another item on your “things that had to happen” list?

One of the things that bugs me as a reader is when a writer “wastes” my emotional investment in a character. Even a minor character — especially one that has been around a series a long time — can get such an investment, and their death needs to reflect that. It should have weight and meaning, and it certainly should affect the main characters of the story. Too often, unfortunately, such deaths are treated simply as necessary events.*

*One example that comes immediately to (my) mind is the almost trivial death of Barrett Bonden in one of the later books from Patrick O’Brien’s “Master & Commander” series…

A death may be necessary, of course, even the death of an important and beloved character. There is no event so “efficient” at driving our plots or protagonists as a(n) (un)timely death. Hell, I kill characters all the time — characters I like, and would prefer to keep around — because that death has to happen. It has to happen, mainly, to move the character development and story forward. But it also has to happen, sometimes, when a character has “run his course,” when he or she has no more role to play. Indeed, stories & characters can sometimes reach a point where the very presence/existence of a supporting character takes away from the main characters…*

*Think Obi Wan in the original “Star Wars”…he HAD to die for Luke to move forward.

But that character’s death still has to have meaning. And the reaction of, and effect upon, your protagonist has to have even more meaning.

Try this exercise on for size: for every significant character in one of your stories, envision their funeral. Who is there? What is it like? What is said about them? Hell, if you’re like me, you’ll even write the damned thing. It doesn’t have to be long, it just has to have weight. Most likely, you’ll never use what you create for this exercise, but the act of envisioning and understanding that character’s legacy will change how you think & feel about them…just as it will change how you write them.

Oh, and when the time comes to actually kill them in a story? Yeah, you’ve already thought about their mourners and their eulogy, and your going to — hopefully! — give that death scene the weight and attention it deserves.

Addendum:

I’ve mentioned more than once that the very first thing I write for any story is the final scene.  That includes death scenes.  Until you’ve actually done it, you have no idea just how tough it can be to come to love a character you’ve created when you KNOW the death that waits for them (thanks, Oz!).

As an example, I’ve put below one of the background prep pieces I wrote for Somewhere Peaceful to Die…an “after death” note from a character (my protagonist’s father) whose death and legacy is a major catalyst for both plot and character. I’m re-posting it here not because it is good (you have no idea how badly I want to editor and revise!), but because the few minutes I spent creating it fundamentally changed my main character. It also changed how I handled the story in a many, many ways.

Riot Memories

The biggest crime of it all is that I’m not there to tell you this myself. I’ll never forgive myself for that. You and I have had our problems, but in spite of disagreements and arguments, in spite of my failures and the ruin I have made of your life, you are still the only good thing I have managed in this miserable universe.

I went to the Market that day just looking for a few drinks. I was off work, and our visit the day before was eating at me — my last words to you were pissed off Through all eternity, I can never make up for that.

I should have known something was wrong. The atmosphere was too tense, the voices too quiet and the tempers too short, for it to be a normal day. A couple of beers over lunch was enough time to see that atmosphere grow worse and worse.

Finally, I could hear a commotion at the hatch to the transit dock. Not really shouting, but voices raised in question and answer. Anger and stress everywhere.

I should have left.

Instead I went to see what was happening. That decision changed everything. That decision ruined your life more than everything else I fucked up, and that’s saying something.

You know the Market — that area around the door is pretty tight. It might be just the stairs coming down from the entrance, and a bunch of stalls and tables, but it is packed. Nothing really substantial, but more then solid-enough for a semi-converted cargo hold.

Johnny had told me the takies were coming; he said he’d heard about about some kind of raid. I guess the Council assholes decided it was time for another crackdown. Can’t leave dockside alone…no, we can’t have the poor bastards just getting on with life and business. Not when there’s money to be made from taxes and fines.

No one knew what the fuck to expect. Everyone I asked figured it would be a few stationside cops and a Council agent or two. Roust the stalls a bit. Confiscate some shit. Harass people for not having implants. The same shit they pull every few years.

An assault? Nope, not a fucking soul saw that coming.

Guy next to me had a buddy workin’ the slime farm. Got a flash over his ‘screen that the universe was goin’ ape-shit. Then the message just stopped. The last words were something about cops and guns. Dude musta been in a hurry, ’cause his message made no fucking sense at all.

Everyone knows the Council would never put a gun anywhere near Dockside, there’s just too much chance of shit spiraling out of control. No one wants blood on their hands, not when us poor-ass scumbags are nice and isolated a thousand clicks from their perfect little Station.

I guess shit changes.

They musta hit the Ops center first, because they definitely had control of all the major systems. The hatch just popped. No warning, none of the usual shenanigans, just popped open to let in a flood of assholes in black.

They weren’t storming in with guns pointed, which I guess is a miracle, but they were still ready for trouble. They were pretty fucking free with their clubs, and they used their riot shields like battering rams. I was in the back of the crowd, so I didn’t get hit, but fuck-me if I didn’t get half-trampled by people trying to turn and run.

I was thinking about getting the hell back to our pod when the shit really started. I know the hold is forty feet high, and sound echoes like mad, but fuck if that wasn’t the loudest fucking few minutes of my life. Insults and threats were everywhere. Mostly I remember the screaming…the fucking screaming was the worst. I almost pissed myself. It was definitely time to leave.

Trouble was, more and more people kept pushing in. Everyone wanted a piece of the fucking mappo goons who were trying to beat us down. All those cops musta had the same bullshit fantasy about being bad-ass special-forces types, because they came in wearing all-black fatigues and tried to look like some fantasy version of a bad-ass assassin. Fucking idiots. Everyone wanted a piece of them. I’m not small, but fuck if I could push back against all the bozos who wanted a go at those cops.

Then I heard shots.

Well, I didn’t so much hear the shots as what came after: dead silence.

I haven’t heard silence since I left Mars. You haven’t been on a planet since you were like six months old, so you have no idea what it’s like. To hear the Market go absolutely still and silent, even just for a second, was the oddest, worst thing I’ve ever heard.

Then all hell broke loose.

I thought it was bad before, but that was nothing compared to what happened next.

I’ve been in riots before, and what we had going was a normal, garden-variety riot. Some broken bones, a shit-ton of damage, and nothing more than funny stories and bad feelings. That shot changed everything. It went from riot to full-fucking battle real fast.

“Push back the mappo” became “kill the mappo” almost instantly. It’s Dockside….I think the Stationside assholes sometimes forget what that means. They’re used to being the only ones with guns in their safe, quiet Station. Well, half the Market was armed…and all of it was panicked. Shots came from everywhere, but you could barely hear them over all the screaming.

People were pushing and shoving, trampling each other to move around. No one was going the same direction, no one knew what the fuck was happening. All we knew was that it was time to get out.

The place was a nightmare. All the stalls had been turned over and everyone was panicked as fuck. Everything as far back as Snug Harbor was just a mass of chaos. I don’t know if most folks were rioting or running, but no one was gettin’ anywhere in all that shit.

I’m not much for brains, you know that better than anyone, and I’m even less for bravery. When I smelled the smoke, I gotta admit I joined the panic. A fire. A fucking fire. In the Market. That place is a death trap at the best of times. In the middle of a fucking gunfight? Anyone who didn’t get out was screwed.

I didn’t get out.

I looked back and saw the last of the cops backing out through the hatch, then the fucking thing slid shut. Even over the noise and chaos you could hear the locks seal. That left only the one way out, the hatch back into the res-holds. The Market is only three hundred feet long, but it might as well been three hundred miles. With everyone screaming and panicking, there was just no fucking way out.

A minute later the lights snapped off. I can barely make my way through that place at the best of times, but in pitch dark? We were all fucked…then fucked times two when the air-system shut down.

You don’t think about that very much, that hum of blowers and filters. It’s just part of life, literally. When it shuts down, however, you can’t hear anything else. Shots; screaming; shit crashing; none of it was loud enough to drown out the silence.

There was no air, and the only light came from a fire that was growing fast.

Yeah, we all know fire’s a possibility. We all know the only safe way to deal with a fire is to completely cut off the affected hold. But who the fuck expects that to happen to them?

The smoke was the worst. There was no circulation, so the air just sat there and let the smoke build. I musta been near the heart of the thing because it was only a few seconds before I couldn’t breathe.

Then some big bastard knocked me down as he ran for the door. I tried to pick myself up, I really did, but I just couldn’t. I was already half in the bag, and all kinds of random assholes kept stepping on me.

I looked over and some girl was in the same boat. She had a baby with her. I don’t how or why I noticed, but that kid looked exactly like you did the day your mother bugged out on us.

The last thing I saw was that kid’s blue eyes, and his hand reaching out to me for help.

Fuck, I can’t even die right.

 

Snippet: The Birth of a Scene

A few housekeeping things before I get to today’s post itself:

1) Yes, I know I didn’t post on Wednesday.  *sigh*  The reality is, I’m doing some outside, temporary, non-writing work, and it snatched away my time and energy.

2) Err…I messed up the renewal on my WordPress plan, which is why my regular seatatthe.bar address is, err, not-addressing.  Hey, I spent years mastering the arts of procrastination and slacking, why would I ignore those valuable skills now?!  I should, however, have it fixed in the next few days…

Okay, now for the post itself…

I’ve talked before about how music influences my writing.  Sometimes it is merely a thing of tone and mood, helping me to nail the frenetic stress of a battle, or the intimacy of a love scene, etc…  Other times, however, the music plays a role in the very imagination and creation of a scene.

That process is as important as it is valuable to me, so I figured I would use today’s post for a bit of illustration.

First, what I am going to do is link the song itself that helped give rise the scene.  Listen to it first, then read the following snippets, and see if you can see where it played into things…

The song is called Halloween, by Gaslight Anthem (off their Get Hurt album).

Now, I do another thing for certain scenes, and for important characters.  It’s an idea I stole from Roger Zelazny — I write a piece about the scene from another (important) character’s POV in order to flesh out thoughts and impressions.  This is doubly important in the DockRat series because the the stories are 100% from my protagonist’s limited POV.

This is the background piece I wrote, from the perspective of his (ex) love interest…keep in mind, the writing for these background scenes is a one-off.  I do not revise or edit them because they will never (ahem) appear anywhere except my background notes:

Nat laughed at Eric’s story, could picture to herself the events he was describing. She was about to reply when some inner alarm told her all was not right.

Someone was standing near, that feeling said, and was studying her. In a house full of yet another of the endless parades of drones and sycophants that existed only suck up to her mother, she had no desire to be ‘studied’ by anyone.

She turned her head, an acid comment on the tip of her tongue.

She turned, and everything stopped. The comment stopped. The room stopped. The entire world stopped.

She was staring at a ghost, at the face of Miseries Past. The last time she had seen that face, it had left her alone with men as likely to kill her as say hello. And the last she had thought about the owner of that face, he had been headed off to begin a long sentence.

“Connor Spogelse, as I live and breathe,” she said, her controlled voice at odds with the emotions boiling up inside. “What are you doing here?”

Her muscles clenched, then, at the sight of him. His blond hair had grown back, almost to his collar, and his eyes were still that same intense, royal blue that almost seemed to glow. Part of her wanted to laugh, and to welcome him with a hug and warm words. Most of her, however, knew him for what he was: a liar and a criminal. A drug addict and a thief so lost to hope and honesty that he had chosen prison over her.

She had tried to save him, once. Now, she just wanted to hurt him. It was just as he had once told her, there was always a price to pay. She had paid, that day in the bowels of Dockside, and now it was his turn.

She turned, then, and looked again at Eric. If he lacked Connor’s knowledge and experience — let alone Connor’s charm and intelligence — at least he was hers. Eric, she didn’t have to share. And that mattered. It mattered a great deal.

Her voice was confident and imperious when she ordered, “Call the cops, this piece of shit escaped from prison.”

From the corner of her eye she saw Connor pause. The hurt in his eyes was almost palpable, but so was the cold, ruthless set of his expression. The coldness he wore as armor, she knew, but he’d damned well earned the hurt.

“Wait…Natalie…what the…?” Eric stuttered.

She only looked back to Eric for a heartbeat, just long enough to see the paralyzing confusion on his face. When she turned again to watch Connor suffer, however, he was already gone. A look around the entire room, then, and she still could not find him. How did he do that?

“Who the hell was that?” Eric asked, the confusion on his face turning to irritation.

Nat put a hand on Eric’s arm and squeezed gently, warmly. Her voice, however, still had that note of imperious command; never again would she let someone else take charge over her. “Never mind, Eric. I was just kidding. That guy is just someone I used to know. He used to screw up a lot, so I was surprised to see him here. He belongs somewhere…” a wave of her hand, vaguely indicating anything and everything that was not-Redux, “…else. Somewhere where his screw-ups won’t hurt real people.”

A dark suit at her shoulder, then, and Nat turned with a look of impatient contempt. It was Collins, of course, her mother’s top aide. The head of the line in the endless parade of sycophants worshipping at the altar of her mother’s power.

“Excuse me, Natalie, but your mother needs you. She’s about to make her speech, and she’d like you with her when she does,” the drone droned.

Nat dismissed Collins with words that were vague and disinterested. According to her mother, an ass-wiping errand-boy wasn’t worth any more than that. A twinge, then, as Nat realized Connor would very likely have been of the very same opinion.

No, she decided in a flash, she wouldn’t tell her mother. Not yet. If she told her mother, Connor would be back in prison inside of a day.

Nat didn’t quite understand why, but she wasn’t ready to do that to him. She didn’t love him, not anymore, but he still mattered…in ways she couldn’t understand, he still mattered to her.

Okay…now to being it all together.  Below is the (basic) scene itself.  Keep in mind, this is still a rough second-ish draft, so revising and editing are still to come:

Connor wandered the rooms of the house and nursed his drink. Everywhere he turned, there were familiar faces. Faces familiar not as friends, but as kamo, as marks to be manipulated and worked. He was surrounded not by those he wanted to be with, but by his co-workers at MDC. And every single one of them was almost as strained, and almost as false, as was he.

The conversations in that house consisted mainly of office politics and all the snide, insincere banalities that defined office relationships. And, underneath it all, was a feeling of tense anticipation. The feeling of a storm waiting to break, of something coming that could very well affect their comfortable existence.

Connor was used to that feeling, was used to the sense of impending disaster and doom, but the pampered and protected others? Every jerky move, every cackled laugh, every too-eager gulp at strong drinks, told of their tension and fear. Every face bore the stress and emotion he could so easily use to build a scam. Just as every face told the story of its owner’s hopes and fears. Those faces told the stories, but Connor had no desire to work.

No, all wanted was to be out of that house. A full day he’d had already, a day of wearing the mask that was Connor Torlae, and he was exhausted. He wanted nothing more than to decompress. To listen to music, or — better — to sit in silence and listen to…nothing.

An employee mixer, they called evenings like the one through which he was suffering. A chance to relax and mingle and form friendships, they said. Another sip of the wine in his hand, and Connor silently sighed. Do I really have to do this? he asked, not sure he actually wanted to know the answer.

Something’s coming, Spog. You can feel it. Hell, even these baka can feel it. You have to know what that something is, or you’ll get run over by it.

Connor’s drink was empty, and still he felt nothing. A few steps, to the bar, and he had already ordered a double whiskey before remembering that Connor Torlae didn’t drink whiskey. Connor Torlae was a good boy. Connor Torlae didn’t lie, cheat or steal, and he certainly didn’t down at one gulp a glass full of strong liquor.

Connor cursed himself, then, for carelessness, and for making stupid, dangerous mistakes. That mask he was so tired of wearing, it was starting to slip. Losing control like that was bad. It was very bad. When his control slipped Dockside, he had always had the chance of a sprinting escape into the farthest, darkest reaches of the res-holds. But here, on a planet, just where the hell was he going to run?

He began to slip through the room, then, all his old skills at ghosting through any crowd coming strongly to the fore. No one noticed him, no one thought anything of him. He was just another junior employee looking to escape from somewhere he didn’t want to be.

Oh, shit…

Once, in younger — better — days, Connor had loved parties. He’d loved long nights of booze and friends and music. Long nights with those he loved. In his universe, however, those he loved could be counted on one hand. But Oz was dead, a ghost now in Connor’s mind, and Nat was…

Nat was across the room.

He almost didn’t recognize her.

Oh shit, was she beautiful. He could still see in her face the same girl who had hidden in Dockside’s depths with him. The girl who had held and comforted him as he recovered from the worst beating of his life. But that girl had grown. Nat had changed. Maybe more, even, than Connor himself had, and that was something he would not have thought possible.

It wasn’t the first time he had seen her, of course, but it was the first time he had been that close. Seeing wasn’t enough, however, not in that place, not at that time. She was the last link to his past, to everything he’d lost. If he left that house without talking to her, he knew, the opportunity would never come again. He still loved her, and he had to try and salvage that love from the wreck he had made of his life. He had to salvage it. If it, too, disappeared, he really would have nothing.

A pause, then, to grab a new drink from a passing waiter and he took a sip…a very long sip. The booze offered that bit of warmth he needed to take the tension from his muscles. Everyone else in that house was a ghost to him, then. A ghost in the worst Dockside sense of that word: they weren’t real, they didn’t matter, not to him.

He couldn’t see or hear anything except the pretty, dark haired girl across the room. The girl with enough of a grip on his soul to push caution and care from his mind. The girl he had failed. The girl he had, in the end, abandoned.

It wasn’t Redux, not in that moment. It was Dockside rising up around him again. The smells, the claustrophobia, the danger…and the lost. Two places at once, one memory and one reality, and he wasn’t sure what was true anymore.

Was he in the spacious house on Redux, or back at The Beat? Hell, he wasn’t sure who he was anymore, either. Was he the corporate spy making a mockery of the planet’s best security, or the ikiryo expecting death at any instant?

He stepped through the crowd without any conscious decision. He pushed his way through, really. A few moments, and he was standing silently behind Nat’s shoulder. She was chatting with a group of friends, a small knot of people all about the same age. Connor’s own age, in fact, even if they did look impossibly young and naive. She laughed at something one of the guys said.

Her back was to him, and Connor reached out a hand, hesitated. What the hell was he going to say? He wasn’t ready for this.

He dropped his hand and began slowly to turn away when Nat turned her head, looked right at him. That she recognized him, in spite of a year’s worth of changes, was evident. She stopped and stared, her face momentarily blank with confusion.

It made her look younger, that expression. Made her look like she had a year ago. A lifetime ago.

Dockside’s accent was back, thick once again on Connor’s tongue as he lost control of the vital, hard-won habits of survival on Redux. “Hi, Nat. I’ve missed you.”

A moment of silence, of shock and emotion on her face, then everything closed down. Cold, that face became, and hostile. “Connor Spogelse, as I live and breathe. What are you doing here?”

Her look shifted to the guy next to her, the one she had been talking to, and her voice became commanding. “Call the cops, this piece of shit escaped from prison.”

There were just over a hundred people gathered in that house, yet only three had heard those horrible words. Among those three, the reactions were very different. The guy looked confused, Nat looked angry, and Connor…Connor looked desperately for escape.

There was no time for words, not if he wanted to get out with his skin intact. A heartbeat to look — to look, and to commit to memory the last he would ever see of Nat’s face — then it was time to go. A turn, and a few steps, and he was moving through the crowd with all of the skill at his command. A sidestep here, a dodge there, and he was into another room all-but unseen by those around him. He had put dozens of clueless coworkers between him and Nat, but that wasn’t enough. He had to get out of the house entirely.

The buzzing of the crowd had changed. Even as Connor slid past the knots of conversation, he could sense the change in tone, could hear rumors and hints of what was to come. Words like merger and buyout danced and fought with — and ultimately surrendered to — phrases like cost-savings and reductions-in-force.

It was important information to be gathered, information vital to his true purpose at that party, but Connor couldn’t stop to insert himself into any of those little groups. He could feel Nat’s emotional gravity pulling at him, could feel the tugs and twitches of memory and desire, and he had to get away from the danger of that. Even more could he feel the danger of her words, however, and of the reality of Connor Spogelse. That reality threatened to overwhelm the protection offered by Connor Torlae, and to take away everything he had gained, so he continued to move through the rooms, and to seek escape.

He slipped toward the very back of the house, then, and a door he had found in his earlier wanderings. He carefully worked his fingers over the ‘screen in his pocket as he moved, readying one of his secret, safe idents. As soon as he was out that back door, he would issue the final command and slip on another mask, become someone else. Again.

The buzz of conversation changed, became too much to ignore. Connor stopped and turned, look back at what had caused the disturbance. His coworkers had changed clothes for the party, were wearing what passed for casual outfits among the young, corporate professionals. The disturbance, however, was centered on dark suits. Several dark suits. A swirl of people, then, and the suits parted to reveal who stood at their center.

Amanda Hendricks…and Nat.

Amanda was talking to one of the suits, issuing orders, based on their expressions. She hadn’t yet looked his way, hadn’t noticed him.

Nat, on the other, was staring right at him.

Two steps and Connor was out the back door. He started to run.

And that is one of the (greatly simplified) ways in which scenes and stories come together in my little universe.  Now go listen to the song again, after you’ve read the scene itself, and listen (again) for the echoes…