Sunday, July 31, 2011

Origins III

"Hey, hot shot."

Zanli Ivano didn't look up. His gaze was fixed to the wall opposite him, as stubborn as the scowl on his face. When the guard rapped his stun stick across the bars, Zanli didn't flinch. He might not have even heard it.

"I'm gonna miss you kid," his guard was standard guard fare; broad chest, broader stomach. Too little time on the beat, chasing down young ruffians. Far too much time watching people sit behind bars. Wasn't much by way of high speed pursuits when you were in a five foot cell. The only thing this man had pursued in a while was the last slice of cake in the break room. The man he knew only as Guard banged against the bars again, a bit louder this time, "You were always a quiet bastard. Never whined like the others. Ya got a visitor, here to post bail."

The only sign of acknowledgement was his shoulders growing tense. Father? He knew word would have gotten home by now but didn't expect him to show up in person. When his custodian turned away from his cell, Zanli scrambled to his feet and stood before his door. Guard was standing at the front desk, further down the hall, speaking to a very tall man who was shaking the water from his umbrella. Zanli's shoulders slumped, all excitement fleeing his body like shadows at dawn. It was Len, his father's car driver and Zanli's first tutor. A tall man, too tall to be mistaken for Father, with a smooth shaved head with decorative tattoos adorning it, traditional symbols from a time long past.

The tall man spoke in hushed tones to Guard, but there wasn't much else to occupy the ears, so Zanli caught little pieces of their conversation. A few pieces from Guard, "...troubling to see such promising youth so misguided...took care of him quite well, yes I did..."

A few spare lines from Len, "...very hard to identify some of these kids from the streets...could surely use the Ivano name to try to hide from the law...I'm sure we understand each other...I'll be sure to mention your name..."

Guard stepped around the desk, shaking hands with Len. He approached Zanli's cell, one hand reaching for the key ring at his belt, the other tucking something into his breast pocket, "Well son, that was a clever ruse, trying to pass yerself as an Ivano. Thankfully, this man has cleared it all up. You'll be on yer way now."

It was all for show, they knew. For the rest of the occupants of the dozen holding cells in this wing. When Guard approached the cell, he winked as Zanli, and pretended to fumble with the lock and the door. Under his breath Zanli caught a few words, "See you again, Z. You'll be back soon."

Zanli's fists clenched and as the door slid open, he was sorely tempted to charge into the man and ram him into the cell behind him. A flutter of movement caught his eye, and to the side he saw Len staring at him, and just slightly shook his head.

Guard grinned, "And you'll be no more of a man then than you were today."

Zanli drew himself up to his full height, and his hot anger turned cold. He opened his mouth to speak when suddenly Len's voice cut in between them like a wall, "Outside, boy. Now."

He thought he could taste the acid in his mouth as he swallowed his words, halting them from passing his lips. He stepped past Guard, trying to get some participation points in the measure of manliness by stepping past him, roughly shoving him away with his shoulder. It was a noble effort but with little effect. Guard just laughed, and went back to his desk as Zanli was lead by an invisible leash out into the night.

Len stepped out first, raised the umbrella and held it over Zanli as he stepped through the door. For two full minutes, they just stood there. The rain pattered on the umbrella, trying desperately to dive through the resistant fabric and assault the unsuspecting victim it protected. It eagerly soaked Len, who had given up his own protection to keep his charge dry. After those few minutes, Zanli looked up at Len, and opened his mouth to talk. Then he stopped, and looked away again.

Len's stoic demeanor cracked, allowing some concern to peak through, "Help me here, young master. Why are you doing this? This is the sort of thing an attention-starved juvenile does to attract the affection of his parents. You have no reason to be unhappy at home; you have two wonderful parents who love and care for you. What is going on here?"

Finally, Zanli spoke, "Master Len Sarai, you are a credit to our household and family name. You have served the Ivano family most impeccably and I am sincerely grateful for your assistance in relieving me from this confinement. On such a dreary day as this and under such questionable conditions, it is an honor that you should come to my aid. You have been a stalwart companion and instructor for as long as I can recollect, and have always been there for me. In this last capacity, I ask only one thing of you this eve. Take me home, and don't question me further." He stepped out into the rain and made his way to the unmarked luxury car that was waiting for them; the more recognizable Ivano limousine would have given everything away.

Len watched him go, a slow sigh deflating the tall guardian. Closing the umbrella, he walked to the vehicle and got inside.

It was a quiet drive home.


Funny, I meant to work on Kain's background, but Kain is undergoing a rather extensive rework, and I haven't gotten enough figured out to write his Origins yet.

So instead I started with Zanli. I don't know about the name yet. I love the surname Ivano, and I wanted his name to be exotic sounding, something that would sound foreign. Originally his name was Zansli, but the transition from an an- to -s sound was awkward. Its meant to have some kind of asian influence to it, but one of the problems with dealing with my own planet (remember this story doesn't take place on Earth, its my own made-up world) is there is no "China" but there would be an analog culture that would have some similar traits. Though if it were China I imagine his name might look like Xanli or Xan-li, or something of the sort, but I like having a Z name.

Zanli is very well educated, but constantly feels like he is living in the shadow of his family name, and a father who doesn't want him to get into any kind of trouble, at risk of damaging the family. The problem with all this is its all been done.. its very cliche, I know. And as far as prose go, this is a very rough draft. I'm debating how to give the whole setup more flavor. Perhaps the Ivano family isn't as legitimate as it appears, and Zanli's involvement with the law could bring some of the less favorable portions of their business to light? It would also provide a jumping off point for Zanli's criminal background - maybe he met with some of his father's business partners, and they tried to take advantage of him. Which, again, has been done, but hasn't everything? Everything is a cliche somewhere or at some time. There is too much raw material out in the world to have a new concept. Its not that the concept has to be entirely original - thats simply not possible - but I need to have the right characters and depth to make it feel real, or interesting.

I dunno, I'm still working on this whole thing.. Any thoughts? If nothing else I just needed to get something written. I've been behind on my schedule and even with this short piece it was already becoming more difficult to write than it was when I was writing regularly. Truly, practice and routine will be the key here..

Saturday, July 2, 2011

A preview of things to come...

So, Meg's arc is finally finished. Next I think we're going to take a look at Kain's background. I will also be putting up a few pieces of artwork that some friends put together when helping me visualize these characters, and the occasional side story.

For those of you who commented, thank you so much. It really does mean a lot of me. From pointing out mistakes and clunky wording to giving me valuable insight on how this all look on your end, every comment is important. Any feedback you might have, or questions you might have, please share them. One of my wisest of readers said she wanted to know what the poems were Meg and her sister were reciting to themselves. Good question. I didn't have one in mind when I wrote it, just that it was what they would do to calm themselves. So anything that strikes you, please take a few moments and share it.

And for those of you who just viewed, I thank you too. As vain as tracking pageviews seems, it reminds me why I'm writing. If at least one person reads something I wrote and can come away with something, it is worth writing.

Heck, I have gotten page views from South Africa, several from Malaysia, and even Russia. I do have one question:


I think it's awesome, don't get me wrong, but I'm wondering who has been reading my blog from different countries. I was surprised to be able to get my friends and family to read this. So please, if you're reading this and I don't know you personally, feel free to drop a comment, say hello, where are you from? How did you find me? I'm buzzing with curiosity.

Anyway, just a heads up. You are all amazing. Thank you.

Origins II: part 4 (Finale)

Department of the Army
Headquarters, Militia Army Support Command


Ms. Sarah H. Gallagher,

I extend my most profound condolence to you on the loss of your daughter, Cadet Sergeant Emma G. Gallagher, 112th Conscription Division, who died as a result of a tragic airline accident on her way home for the holiday.

News of your daughter's death comes as a great shock to all who knew her, and her loss will be felt keenly in this organization. I sincerely hope the knowledge that Emma was an exemplary soldier and was the pride of this training camp will comfort you in this hour of great sorrow.

Personally and for the officers, men and women of this command please accept our deepest sympathy.

Sincerely yours,
Casey  G. O'Callahan
General of the People's Militia

Emma looked over the letter one last time, then nodded and started to hand it to the officer; but something stayed her hand. Like all the others, the officer wore black uniform with no insignia, no name tag. So did the woman. It made her skin look more pale, which in turn only made her features more striking. Brilliant green eyes, and red hair that could have been spun from fire.

A door opened behind her, and the blinding morning sun rushed into the room eagerly. Silhouetted in the doorway was a large man's frame, tall and imposing. When he spoke, his voice echoed into the room, each syllable a rumbling storm, "It's time, Emma. Or Megan, rather. Isn't that the new name they gave you?"

She examined the envelope again. She saw her mother's name, her address, and knew this was what she was leaving behind. If she handed over this letter, there was no turning back. She would be no one. A shadow's dream. She would be protecting more lives than she could count, saving more innocent people than she could hope to ever meet, and all she had to pay was her life. Slowly she handed the letter to the officer. As he reached out to take it, her hand flinched once. Only once. Then she let the letter go. She watched the letter, saw it get dropped without care into a bin full of various correspondence. Another officer walked by and took the cart away. Took Emma away.

"Megan. Now." The storm rumbled.

She wiped away the threat of tears, reciting a few lines of poetry her sister used to read her. It helped calm her. Once gathered, she turned to face the tempest, and started walking to meet her destiny. And if every word he spoke was a storm, every step she took was a thunderclap.

"Call me Meg."

Friday, July 1, 2011

Origins II: Part 3

"What's her progress?"

"Remarkable. In the last year she has tested in the top three percent in all areas. Demonstrates particular strength in strategy and tactics, leadership, and cooperation with teammates."

"Three percent? Hardly noteworthy. We don't have time for second bests. The last subject was top of his class. We can't settle for less."

"Not three percent of her class. Three percent of the entire Academy. That's including the senior recruits who have been here several years longer. She's been promoted or transferred at least three times."

"So she's a military genius."

"I'm not sure that's it. She has to learn like anyone else; but she can learn and adapt very quickly, and with a strong consistency. Teach her to shoot straight once and she'll never miss a target again."

"That makes a good soldier. I need more than that."

"A natural leader. She understands her objective and how far she needs to go to achieve it. She can work through complex problems very fast, and find the connection between a problem and its possible solutions. If she has to compromise her team or any part of the mission, its because it was the only possible way to succeed."

"How about emotionally? Can she handle it?"

"She is close to her sister. They have been writing letters to one another from the beginning, and we've been monitoring them closely. We'll be editing them at first sign of any trouble at home, we don't want her distracted at a time like this. She has demonstrated loyalty to her friends here and it will be hard to convince her to leave home. She'll need something even stronger than her family ties to fight for."

"Spare me your commentary. Does she have what it takes?"

"Sir, you'll have to raise the bar just to get her interested."

"...bring her in."

*                    *                    *

"Somethings wrong," Emma was pacing in the dorm, one of the few quiet places during lunch. Most of their comrades were at the mess hall, filling up on something they probably served yesterday and maybe the day before that. It meant a brief window of privacy in an otherwise exposed reality.

"Famine. Disease. Widespread poverty. Can you be more specific?" Ever the intrepid companion, Scott was laying on his bunk, legs crossed and his feet propped up against the wall. His chest was bare, his BDU tunic and shirt caked with mud in a heap by his bedside.

"Katrina. She's been lying to me," She rubbed at a spot of mud that had found purchase on her chin, and succeeded only in turning it into a larger smudge that ran across her jaw, "At least in the last few weeks and maybe longer. Maybe this whole time."

"Why would she lie to you?" On his back, Scott watched an inverted Emma walking back and forth across what looked like the ceiling to him, "And how do you know she's lying? I know its weird your mom is taking this so well, but its not outside the realm of possibility. Maybe losing one daughter for a while showed her how important you two are to her. I mean you're all she has in the world."

"Unlikely. I know my mother. Short-term solutions that always yield to long-term problems. Whatever benevolence my acceptance into a first class training camp would have drummed up, it wouldn't last more than half a year on the outside before things got bad again. In the last letter, Kat says she took out the old photo album and was looking at old pictures. She says her and Mom talked about the ones from the old fishing trip. The one with Dad."

"Ah, yes. The old photo album trick. She's definitely onto something," this time he didn't even try to sound sincere.

Emma's pacing came to a stop at her bunk, "Scott, you're a wonder of modern science. If we could isolate whatever it is in your gene's that makes you such a smart-ass every waking hour, and develop a solution for it, we'd make millions from weary mothers and sad wives."

"Ow," Scott clasped his chest in feigned agony, "That one hurt. Come on, Egg Head, every waking hour?" A beat, "You and I both know I dream in sarcasm." Scott was shortly thereafter displaced from his bed by a hefty bedroll being flung across the room and occupying his place on the bed.

Reaching into the breast pocket of a spare BDU tunic, and ignoring the sounds of offenses being taken, Emma walked back towards Scott's bunk, every boot step echoing in the (relatively) quiet dorm. She let a photo, worn on the edges but still in good condition, flutter down onto the pile that was Scott on the floor. Then she grabbed the packed bedroll off his bed and started for the door. Scott reached behind his back and grabbed the photo as he rolled over, and focused his eyes on the picture in front of him.

A man, tall and wide in the shoulders, hair a dignified shade of gray, stood with two young girls on either side of him. He was holding a chain with five or six fish hanging off, and the two girls had, laying over both their outstretched arms, what looked like a rather large fish or a very small whale. All three had the same smile, grinning ear to ear.

It was only then that Scott's tone became somber, "So she's been trying to make it sound like everything is alright. Which means it isn't. Still, we're stuck here until holiday leave, what are you planning on doing?" He was answered with the sound of the door opening, "Emma? You can't just leave camp, what do you think you're going to do? Where are you going?" He crawled out into the aisle between the beds.

Emma stood in the doorway, her face a mask. Shadowed with the afternoon sun starting to crawl behind her, every feature was hewn from stone, every angle sharp.

"I'm going home."

Without waiting to hear his reply, she shut the door and turned to leave. Her exit was stopped short, as she was greeted with the sight of an unadorned uniform. She immediately noticed that there was no insignia, no badges, no honors, no decorative bands and no chevrons on his sleeve. Not so much as a star.

"Ah, miss Gallagher. Just the woman I wanted to see."


I don't want to take up much space this time, so let me just say that I don't think Gallagher was the name I intended for her. It's a placeholder for now. I had a German name in mind that I think was similar, but I can't remember it for the life of me. So for now, she is Emma Grace Gallagher.