This is Disgusting

AS OF JUST NOW the word count on The Origin Protocols is 49,427 — sneaking up on a notional halfway point. (I say, “notional,” because I suspect, with how things are shaking out, 100,000 words may be optimistic and I may end up needing 120K or 150K to fill in the outline.

But that’s good news. Progress of a sorts.

No, what’s bugging me — disgusting me with myself — is my rate of progress. Stephen King says if you can only turn one novel every five years, you have a problem with your work ethic. Implying you’re not a writer, you’re a wannabe. I’ve been working on this novel since the last one was published. And, since I have an exact date for that (10/23/13), I also have no way of dodging the implications. In a year-and-a-half (roughly speaking), I have barely managed to crank out 50,000 words — a month’s writing goal by NaNoWriMo.

I tell you that to tell you this. A while back, following some advice in a blog post by Rachel Aaron, I started tracking my word rate for every writing session. Since I started, back in October, I have logged nine sessions (which is, in itself, disgusting — I should be writing every day and I know it), and have peaked (twice) at around 2,500 words per hour, albeit not for a sustained period. Which means that, over the same time, having added about 5,500 words to this novel, I’ve done about two hours’ work. As I say, disgusting. Depressing.

Even so, I should have done better. I get a clear shot every other Saturday, with no obligations to anything or anyone other than the craft or my readers. Each one, assuming I work four-to-six hours at a stretch (which seems nigh on impossible to me), affords me the opportunity to advance the ball 10,000 or so words down the field. IOW, I should be able to finish this fucker in ten weeks and haven’t.

Disgusting.

The Concept of “Wild”

CONTENT I FIRST ENCOUNTERED on a television series called Bracken’s World (should I be surprised that a 1960s TV show that ran 1½ seasons has a Wikipedia entry which, almost tv-tropes-like, ends with a meta-reference to the series Mad Men?)… refers to content that is not synchronous to the content in the mainstream of a presentation. In radio, a wild sound track might include overheard conversation, or pre-recorded announcements. In television, wild sound is recorded asynchronously from that recorded during a camera shot. A voice-over, for example, or an off-set effect, such as a gunshot. In literature, a wild scene might be one that, while it may or may not fit in the plot structure of the larger work, does not fall in train with the scenes or chapters which might come before or after it in as-written sequence. Case in point:

Who Knows Where This Goes?

Mitchell Cary Drummond

Drummond marched out of the elevator, taking his first step while the door was still [opening withdrawing, receding sucking back in]. He threw the door of Marduk’s outer office back so it crashed against the nearest chair inside the waiting room. A frekun ang Guard trooper, stationed at a desk against the far wall, leapt to his feet. He recognized Drummond and held out a preventory hand.

“Dr. Drummond! Sir! You shouldn’t…”

Before he lost his nerve, Drummond pushed by the other man and kicked open the door to the inner office. Without pause, he fired a shot from his service pistol in the general direction of the God behind the desk and brandished the razor-edged cavalry sabre he’d snatched up along the way with a whistling flourish.

“You sonuvabitch!” he shouted at Marduk. “I’m going to make you pay for this!”

“What are you talking about? Mitchell! Put that down!”

His first shot had gone wide. There was still a wisp of smoke rising from the hole it had made in the paneling behind Marduk’s left shoulder.

“Say your prayers, motherfucker!”

From the outer office, Drummond could hear the voice of the guardsman calling for backup.

“And what, pray tell, have I done to occasion this fiery retribution?”

“You exposed Dolly to these thugs when you hired them to kidnap her off the road. Now one of them has gone all serial-killer psycho-stalker and taken her from our loft. And terrified my Brownie near to death!”

≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈

Who indeed…?

It Feels as Though

I OWE THE HOUSE an update. Here it is mid-December and the novel anticipated for spring, then summer, then “later this year” still is not forthcoming. So… what?

Well. The obvious point is that I haven’t really been working on it all that assiduously. After all, I wrote the entire Apocrypha (14 stories, over a million words), in 6 months. I’d expect to be able to turn a 120,000-word novel (for all it’s more sophisticated) in more time.

But, NOOOOoooo!

The latest excuse is the shed for the back yard at Casa d’Alger, coupled with the move of the Patch Factory. Well, the PF move is pretty much complete and I have four more days on the job remaining this year. I’ll be on staycation from Friday on to the Fourth of the New Year. It is my earnest hope to finish three or more of my outstanding projects, the novel included in that period. Of course, I have 16 days, which implies something like 5,000 words a day required. That makes me doubt that I’ll actually finish, but I suspect I can get within striking distance.

Meantime, here’s the next snippet.

Discovery, Rev 3, Ch4, Scenes 5 &6

Da Doll Mounts Up

The Gabrielle Dolly

The dolly double-timed it from the BOQ to her unit’s barracks, where she rummaged in the slops chest until she found a CADPAT camo rucksack, which she took back to her rack in the empty barracks room and loaded it with what she thought she’d need. On the way out, she encountered Little Low again.

“You’re up to something,” the Lance Corporal said.

“Yup,” the dolly replied. “And I’m in a hurry, too. Your point is…?”

“What? What are you about, here, recruit?”

“None of your business, Lance,” the dolly said, perhaps intemperately, albeit still not breaking discipline.

“Consider yourself on report,” Little Low said, rather weakly, as well as exceeding her authority. And, it seemed, she knew she was, for she danced from foot-to-foot in the doorway, not taking any action to block the dolly’s exit from the barracks building.

The dolly pushed by her nominal superior and clomped down the wooden stairs.

“I don’t care for your insubordinate attitude,” Little Low called after her.

“Really?” the dolly said, rounding on the striper. “That’s the best you got?”

“Stop!” Little Low shouted. Just then, a frekun ang corporal came running down the stairs from the second floor.

“What’s going on, here?” he asked. Technically, he outranked Li’h Loah, but neither woman was in his chain of command, so — just as technically — he had no authority in the situation.

“If I’m gonna break discipline,” the dolly was saying, unawares the larger noncom had entered the dispute. “Do you think I’m gonna… what…?” Realizing what was going on, the dolly took off running across the yard toward the BOQ parking lot.

As she ran, she heard the frekun ang corporal berating Little Low. “Isn’t that recruit in your platoon?” he demanded. “Here, you! Stop!”

Little Low told him succinctly, “Family issues. Fuck off.”

“Wow!” the corporal said, stunned. Trolls didn’t usually use obscenity, profanity, or blasphemy. “There’s a unit headed for disaster!” He said, stating what, for him, was the obvious. He stalked off, clearly washing his hands of the matter. The dolly heard the thudding of following footsteps and quickened her pace to a dead run. A quick glance behind over her shoulder showed her that Little Low was following her and gaining on her.

“Baby Troll!” the little billilaalu called after her. “Gabrielle! Stop! Think what you’re doing!”

“Done thinking!” the dolly shouted. “Doing, now!”

She came to the parking lot and did a pretty slick hurdle-jump over the low hedge that framed the lot and ran up to the parked Harley. She fumbled the keys out of her pocket, got a grip on the correct one and, struggling to keep her hand steady enough, stuck it in the ignition lock. Behind her, there was a loud rustling, as though Little Low, rather than jump the hedge, had elected to bushwhack her way though it. Which had to slow her down.

The dolly took the handlebars in hand and swung her leg over the seat. She turned the key (her heart rate settled down as the engine whirred to life and settled into a husky purr) and rocked the bike off the kickstand as she toed it into gear and twisted the throttle. Little Low came up behind/beside her and clutched at her shoulder. “Gabrielle!” she pleaded.

The dolly gave it gas and took off down the lot in first, the engine screaming. She made the bike slew through the S to get out of the lot and onto the street. She shifted to second and took off down the straight in front of the BOQ. Pete was just coming down the front steps, a determined look on her face, as the dolly whizzed by. In seconds, bike and rider were out of the area and headed for the main road.

≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈

Petra Alexandra Troll

Pete stopped at the curb in front of the BOQ and waited until Little Low thudded to a stop beside her.

“Is that who I think…?”

Little Low nodded and said, “Mm hm,” at the same time, then gasped for breath. “Bitch stole my motorcycle.”

“Yeah. Thought she was pretty slick when she snaffled the keys in my quarters.”

“Speaking of which,” Little Low said, turning to face Pete. “How is it that a bike that was in the maintenance garage when its owner — to wit, me — left campus is now a good two hundred miles south?”

“Yeah,” Pete said quietly. “About that. I wanted to talk to you, but didn’t get the chance before…” She stopped when she realized that Little Low was crying.

≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈

Pete Can Has Geas

Petra Alexandra

Pete let go a long-suffering sigh and snugged Little Low against her side, under her right arm. She patted the other’s outside shoulder with a distracted there-there air while the little billilaalu sniffled her hurt at the dolly’s betrayal. Neither one acknowledged how un-military their behavior was. “How long before she’s UA?” Pete asked.

“Monday morning reveille,” Little Low sniffed and wiped her nose with the back of her gloved hand.

“The whole weekend? When I was your age…”

“Two feet of snow, barefoot, uphill both ways. I know, I know. The unit’s on liberty until then. There was the birthday party, which command figured to be of some significance. That was supposed to be a surprise.”

“I saw the flyers. She probably could have used the morale boost if somebody had broken Op Sec to her on that.”

“And she could have acted surprised if somebody did dump the feline out the burlap. Yeah. I get that… Now.”

After standing quietly for a moment, staring off into the distance after the dolly on her stolen motorcycle, the two of them turned and ambled toward the BOQ.

“So,” said Pete. “Last December, when I went back north, I told you…”

“To be a good friend to her,” Little Low finished for the Lieutenant as they started up the short flight of the front steps and stopped on the porch.

“And were you?” Pete asked as she yanked the door open and held it for her companion.

“Not so much. She’s hard…” Little Low passed through the door and stopped in the BOQ’s foyer. She let her voice trailed off.

“To get to know,” Pete said as she joined the other. “I get that.”

“No,” said Little Low. “That’s not it at all. She’s pretty much an open book. Not just her life story, what she wants from this world. Her massive crush on that Man of hers. No, she’s hard to be a friend to. I suspect that, when she gets around to it, she’s not going to have a lot of friends. But the ones she will have will be mortar forking strong. The kind who, when you show up at their door with a body to hide, won’t ask questions, but will just grab their hat and a shovel and follow you out to the car.”

Pete nodded and made a crooked grin acknowledging the truth of that. She punched the elevator button with a stiff forefinger and they waited for the car to come to that floor. They got in. Pete pushed the button for her floor. The car went up. They got out and walked down the hall to her room.

The door was ajar.

Little Low fell still and silent and threw Pete a look. Neither one of them was armed, but they both were sudden death with hands, feet, and other striking surfaces of the hominid body. But Pete was relaxed, as though she’d expected this and wasn’t worried there’d be an ambush the other side. She pushed the door wide and brushed Little Low back to enter the room.

“It’s okay,” she said. “Come on in. Have a seat. No food or drink in quarters, sorry. I’d offer, but… You understand.”

“It’s okay, Ell-Tee. I really shouldn’t be imposing on you like this.”

“No imposition, Lance. I have a sort of an obligation, where Baby Troll is concerned, myself. Hephaestus sort of laid a geas on me to protect her and, now I think on it, hasn’t relieved me of it, even though I haven’t seen her in months.”

“Hephaestus,” Little Low said archly.

“Okay. Well… Terry Britten. But she was acting under H’s orders. I suppose I’m going to have to go after her. Baby Troll, I mean.”

“Are you really? Well. I know some folks in the motor pool. You want a motorcycle, too? That Harley’s gonna be hard to catch with anything less frisky.”

“No. Thanks. I don’t need speed so much as craft. I’m not going to catch her in a stern chase, so I’ll have to go to where I know she’s gonna be and catch her that way. Speedy vehicle’s not going to get the job done. No, I’m going to have to get there the old fashioned way.”

“You’re gonna earn it? How? ‘What’s a nice girl like you…?'”

Pete laughed. “No. No. Nothing like that. I’m gonna hitch hike.”

“From where? Right outside the main gate? That’s discreet.”

“No. Good point. That won’t work. I’ll have to get a start. So I guess one of the patrol three wheelers would be the best. Care to be my driver?”

“Would I!”

“Drop me off somewhere near Winchester on 64?”

“Twist my arm!”

≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈

Discovery, Rev 3, Ch4, Scenes 3&4

HEREWITH OFFERED this week’s snippet, without comment — on the snippet. The shed project has metastasized. And going on yet another weekend. I awoke at 6:30 this morning, legs and feet aching and mouth dry. It was raining. The weather predicted more of the same. I got up, took four Advil and my neuropathy med, drank a bottle of water — while browsing Facebook and some blogs — and went back to bed. Hey! It’s Saturday. I get to sleep in. I was out like a light in minutes.

And woke up at 1:00 in the afternoon, feeling quite refreshed, albeit late for the world. The rain had stopped, but the ground outside was wet, and I resolved to blow off work on the shed for the day — pending permission — and set about cleaning up the kitchen and preparing breakfast. Later on, SWMBO got home from work and advised that the old shed was open, its doors flapping in the wind. More concerned about sacks of concrete mix getting drenched in the rain than about any potential theft, I put on shoes and went out to check. The lock had been cut. And recently, as the concrete sacks were still dry. I got a new lock from the stash of hardware and closed up the old shed, knocked pooled rainwater out of the slough in the tent, and straightened up a bit before going back in to watch the last ep of Hinterland on Netflix.

Maybe tomorrow, I can get around to getting started on the platform frame. Meantime, it’s on to MI5 (the Brit spy/cop drama — ten seasons).

It’ll Be a Hot Mess Tonight

The Gabrielle Dolly

The dolly found herself dropped into an emotional funk. Everybody was dissing her. Ignoring her. Dismissing her presence, her opinion. Wasn’t she supposed to be the reincarnation of the most successful Childe ever? OK, so she still couldn’t remember a thing — well, except for occasional, scratchy, black-and-white flashes, like cuts from a movie she barely remembered seeing — not at all like memories. And they made no sense to her. But didn’t the bare fact of her miraculous existence merit her getting cut some slack? But no! She was recruit this and “Hey you” that. And she had, at one point, gotten heartily sick of being called a baby Troll.

Out of nowhere, a song popped into her mind. Since she didn’t remember ever learning it, she let herself assume she was making it up on the spot. Nobody loves me/Everybody hates me/Guess I’ll go eat worms… It made her laugh — a short, mordant bark in recognition of the irony inherent in it.

Besides, she knew from her time in the survival courses that worms were a good source of protein. Still…

Feeling a little better, but still in a sour mood, she hitched herself up and marched off to the barracks. The shortest distance between the mess hall and the recruit barracks led across the parade ground. But, to be seen on the parade ground with nothing apparent to do — even in notional free time — was to be assigned some unpleasant task, so she took a roundabout way from the mess hall across the central campus of Meander until she came to the outskirts of town, as it were, and the recruit barracks — two-story clapboard buildings with outside stairs and tilting windows (now closed against the February chill except in the spaces where the steam radiators produced a tropical heat), set on spongy ground among tall, clean-limbed, second-growth oaks.

As she approached the utility pole that carried the barracks’ electrical supply from the mainline, she saw that the wooden circumference from chest level on a billilaalu to just above head-tall on a frekun ang was plastered, as usual, with handbills for the sensation of the moment. These were technically litter, but tacitly permitted so long as they did not exceed the envelope of good taste. They generally were just a bit racier, a bit spicier, a bit less decorous than their officially-sanctioned cousins on the official bulletin boards inside every building and under shelter in outdoor common areas. The dolly had never seen anyone distributing them. They simply appeared spontaneously, from her point of view, like mushrooms after a predawn rain. And were about as safe to consume — i.e., not entirely.

This set were printed on a fluorescent lime background in magenta ink and were drawn in a style that made her think — for no particular reason — faded San Francisco Art Nouveau. The legend was simple. In bold letters, all caps, it read:

TONIGHT AT EIGHT. IT’LL BE A HOT MESS. DON’T BE LATE. SHHH! IT’S A SURPRISE.

–Apparently referring to some sort of inside joke. Something all Trolls were presumed to know, but culturally ignorant Man girls… not so much. It keyed to her mood. Reading it, she grumped a little more grumpily, stomped a little more stompily, and frowned a little more frownily. She crossed the barracks lawn and clumped up the steps, through the entryway, and into her unit’s bunk room.

A quick visual sweep told her nobody was there at the moment. And, as it could be anticipated they would be shortly, and she really didn’t want to be there when they did, she spun on her heel and re-exited–

–Running into and nearly running down her assistant training NCO, the billilaalu Little Low.

“Oof!” they both asserted simultaneously.

“Watch where you’re going, recruit!” the Lance Corporal barked, righting herself and bushing her uniform back to rights.

“Sorry, Lance,” the dolly muttered.

≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈

Happy Birthday

Lance Corporal Li’h Loah

“What’s that? Do I hear a baby Troll?”

“SORRY, LANCE CORPORAL! HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” the dolly shouted and stomped off, leaving Little Low to stare after her, gape-mouthed. But the event took place in off time (and the Troll Guard was strangely notional — compared to other military units — about troopers’ behavior while on liberty), so, while the dolly’s rudeness might be remarked upon later, there was no immediate disciplinary action to be taken. Little Low merely turned and went on about her business.

Another recruit — a frekun ang from Slovakia, who was just coming in and had been brushed back by the dolly’s explosive exit — asked, “What’s up her butt?”

“Didn’t get the memo,” Little Low said, standing, staring at, as it were, the memo — a pink-and-green handbill push-pinned to the barracks bulleting board.

“What memo?”

“Her birthday’s been rescheduled. Surprise party in the mess hall tonight.”

“Ah! I see. Thus posters all over camp.”

“Exactly. Thus posters all over camp.”

“Is secret, no?”

“Is secret,” Little Low said, semi-consciously aping the no-articles syntax of the other. Pasu learned Man language in various and sundry ways, and usually — even in English — took on the accents of their teachers. This guy, apparently, learned English from a native speaker of a Slavic tongue. To Little Low, it was less than remarkable, but did not go entirely unnoticed.

“Poor kid,” the frekun ang said. “I hope she gets some joy out of it.”

“As do I,” Little Low said. “As do I.”

≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈

Discovery, Rev 3, Ch 4, Sc 1&2

LAST WEEKEND OF NANO and pride demands I hit at least 50Kwds by Monday, so we are hard at work. Meanwhile, I’ve settled (Did I mention this before?) on a title for this work: The Origin Protocols. For the nonce, though, I’ll be referring to it here as Discovery, that being the working title.

Previously… The Gabrielle dolly is having breakfast with her training platoon in the messhall at Camp Meander, the Troll Guard training facility in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, when she learns that the excitement which had been attendant on her Genesis (the night before, six months removed) was at an ebb and the Regiment (Arcadia) was being recalled to campus after having been sent to Meander on puzzling orders from Chancellor Marduk.

Wandering around at liberty after breakfast, she runs into an old acquaintance: Lieutenant Petra Alexandra Troll, who excites in her a desire to return to campus and to see her crush, Mitchell Cary Drummond. For Dolly, to conceive a desire is to act upon it.

I Know That Bike

Lance Corporal Li’h Loah

Little Low, as the dolly called her (her Pasu name, Li’h Loah did not translate directly to English, but could be taken to be the equivalent of Lily — a generic flower name given to girl babies (she had never taken a Man name)), was standing just outside the wide, air-curtain door to the mess hall, watching — along with all the other Guard troopers and officers in the breakfast-time crowd — the goings-on in the circular drive out front of the hall. She was, of course, too far from things to actually hear even a fragment of what was being said, but that didn’t stop her — and, indeed, the entire crowd — from speculating. And she had her PDA out and was madly thumb-typing messages to sources and connections near, far, and wide, seeking deals, laying and taking bets, spreading news, hearing gossip.

It was what she lived for. When she was not in training rotation as a member of the NCO cadre at Meander, her occupational specialty was company clerk. As she was attached to the Special Operations Teams, she didn’t clerk for a company, but she had all the responsibilities and — like most of her colleagues in larger units — a great many talents at scrounging that made her valued by her superiors in her position, despite her tendency to breach discipline.

As she was watching, a figure transited her field of vision. It took her an instant or two to realize what she was seeing. Among the crowd of mostly frekun ang troopers clumped on the pavement around the bollards that fended traffic off from the mess hall doors, it was hard to see anything less than six-and-a-half-to-seven feet tall. But movement helped. This was someone frekun ang shaped,but billilaalu tall, moving smoothly from left to right in her view, briefly visible in fits and snatches behind obscuring foreground figures. Then she realized:

It was a frekun ang — Lieutenant Petra Alexandra, to be precise — riding a motorcycle.
And Little Low wondered when Pete had gotten a bike. Then, as Pete cleared the crowd in front of the mess hall and rolled on down the drive to the street, Little Low recognized the bike.

“Hey!” she shouted. “That’s my bike!” She set off running down the sidewalk by the driveway. While her shout went almost unnoticed her broken-field run through the crowd did not. Although custom and her status as billilaalu made the frekun ang in the crowd yield precedence to her, there were enough of her own along the way to slow her down.

By the time Little Low broke free of the crowd, Pete had turned onto the main street and was headed, under power once more, back into the residential area, with its maze of streets, paths, mews, and alleys. Although the Meander campus was generally open and spacious, it was close enough that one could easily lose sight of a distant, moving object behind trees and buildings.

Little Low ran down the length of the driveway and bucketed across the street to a barracks lawn across the way while Pete, free of the crowd, accelerated two blocks down the main drag and turned down a residential side street and disappeared behind a block of apartments.

Winded, Little Low thudded to a stop in the middle of the next block and stood bent over, hands braced on thighs, trying to catch her breath, thinking what do do next, how had Pete gotten down here from the East College campus on her bike and why.

She didn’t make the connection to the dolly. Though she did have occasion to wonder whether there was any connection to the loud clap of thunder which had echoed across the parade ground a few minutes before. Little Low knew, from long experience, that the sound had accompanied the out-porting of God and his appurtenances. Being who she was, she had a powerful curiosity bump and wondered about these things.

≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈

What Comfort They Could

The Gabrielle Dolly

The dolly just sat there, stunned, tears sheeting down her cheeks. She thought there was nothing more. Could be nothing more. But then Pete went on, in a very small voice.

“They tell me I couldn’t possibly remember. That at barely three, uprooted, on the road, surrounded by fear, disease, starvation, and death, I could not possibly remember… but I swear, I do. I remember my father as he was in those moments. He would have been forty-four that summer, the same age as your Mr. Drummond. He was big as a mountain, I remember. Tall and blond with eyes of impossible blue! And his voice! I remember he sang the songs of our people as he walked. I didn’t know them, then, just the sound of his voice… rich and golden like the sun. It was the sound of safety. It was my Pa’a-um, that voice. The spring in the mountain valleys — the pass at Baroghil is over 13,000 feet, so I’d guess the floor of the valley is five to seven thousand feet — the air was light and sweet, and the sun was bright, but no burden. The scent of water on the wind was a… I think the word is benison…? You don’t know?” She shook her head. “I don’t suppose it matters. But I could live in that place the rest of my life and consider myself blessed.

“Except…

“Except that we left over six hundred bodies in that valley. Some were buried properly — very few of those. Some in shallow graves, some tumbled into ravines, some… near the end, Father said they could only leave the dead by the roadside and run for their own lives. Somewhere about the middle of the valley, my mother’s heart gave out. They scooped a shallow grave out for her and buried her with wildflowers, the way my people always have. By then, she’d already buried half of her own children.

“The soldiers. The bandits. The native Men of the valley, who were suspicious of all of the strangers on the road. They hunted us on foot and from vehicles on the ground, and when we took to the hills, they hunted us from helicopters… the great Russian Hind helicopters, the terror machine of that whole war. Even a small band of peace-loving Pasu, frantic to get away from the war zone… even we were targets for the Hinds. They would hover over the road or loom up across low hills and cliffs, and rain death down on us like evil gods of hellfire. Death in the bullets of machine guns or cannons. Death in napalm and white phosphorus. Death in nerve gasses: CX and malathion. They would swoop down on fleeing women and children and they never, never showed any mercy. We had no weapons to fight back. The mujahedin had Stingers, but those were hundreds of miles away and not until much later. We could only run and hide. Or die.

“Toward the end, my father put me in a sling on his chest and carried me, dragging two other children — both no more than five summers old — by the hands, traveling at night, eating new leaves and bark from the trees, and the meager roots that had survived the winter, drinking melt water, traveling at night by moonlight and starlight. It took him all spring and into summer to get to Jirhum Ra. When he got there, they said he was a stick figure of a man, and I was a little bundle of bones, barely alive. In fact, they thought I was dead at first. Along the way, he’d buried the last two children, not even sure they were his own, he was so muddled by hunger and fatigue. He buried them almost within sight of the Great Peak that looms above Jirhum Ra. If they could have lasted another week or so, they might have survived. But in the end, it was only he and I who made it.

“He found a relative — a cousin of my mother’s who had fled the mountains for a life in the city years before — and he fostered me with her. As soon as he saw me settled in, he took the sword. He enlisted with Regiment Boeotia and was gone. I never saw him again until last night. But I heard of him.

“Those of us who take the sword leave life in the Pa’a-um behind, but the center does not forget us. Word of his deeds came back to us in Jirhum Ra from time-to-time. We heard of his rise in the ranks to become the highest enlisted soldier in the Regiment, to become the foremost Command Sergeant Major in the entire Guard. I was proud to know he was my father. When it came time for me to take my wanderjahr, I chose to come to America, for I had heard it was a whole continent like Jirhum Ra. Here, I ran into a boy whose family had lived near us in Jirhum Ra, who had enlisted in Regiment Arcadia and come to America that way. He persuaded me to enlist in the Guard. I did so in honor of my father. That boy was Bob-O. I never went back. I sent my hair back, as is the custom, and from then to now, I have never thought of my home or the home of my family that is no more.”

The dolly remembered his eyes. They had been impossibly blue. She had looked into them. And she recalled the timbre of his voice — hearing it in her head — and she could tell that, twenty years before, it could have sounded in joy like sunshine to a worshipful daughter whose world is encompassed by the love of her father — her Pa pa. The dolly remembered, somewhere in her studies, a minor bit of lore, that in many cultures around the world, the syllable pa being the easiest for an infant’s mouth to form, the name Papa is the easiest for a baby to say. So, almost universally in the tongues of humanity — of, not just Men, but all hominids, Men, Trolls, Elves, Brownies, Sprites, Fairies, and Imps, that word is the name that children call their fathers. In her brief life, the dolly had learned much of things she would never know herself, and the love between a child and a parent was something she knew she would always regret not knowing.

And she remembered again the feel of Pete’s gun in her hand. The recoil. The heat of it. The bite of the gunsmoke in her nose. The sound of the bullet strikes. The still form in CADPAT BDUs lying on the snow-swept stones of the Regimental parade ground before the barracks.

She collapsed against Pete, clinging to the Troll, and wailed something that might have been “What have I done?” muffled by the fabric of her tunic.

The two of them wept, Pete for her memories of a time long gone and forever lost — if, indeed, it had ever been — and the dolly for the promise of a man she might have known and loved as a father, and now never would and the grief she had caused her friend. And for the fact that it probably could not have been any other way. They held each other for a very long time, and took what comfort they could from it.

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Doing My Very Best Thoreau Impression

I GOT MYSELF SUCKED UP into a construction project in the middle of NaNoWriMo. Well, sort of. It actually started back in August, when I said to She Who Must Be Obeyed that I had to get the storage locker cleared out by Labor Day, which meant I had to buy a prefab shed to put in the back yard.

This weekend, which ought to be a writing-only weekend, I actually had to do some physical labor. Being 60 is Mother Nature’s way of telling you that Thoreau wasn’t so much of a pussy when, in Walden, he bitched about how hard it is to do manual labor alongside a serious writing career. Believe it or not, transporting enough lumber to make a 10×12-foot platform from the bays at Home Depot to the below-grade back yard at Casa D’Alger really is equivalent to plowing forty acres with a mule. If you’re 60 (read: ancient and decrepit) and out-of-shape. And then, today, Man Mountain from down The Lane and I gathered together in said back yard to dig post holes. You know, those places where you put post turtles — with posts in between. And… I had intended to continue — maybe, hopefully finish — repairs on the side steps. I have 6 left to put new stretchers under the treads. I cut new stretchers from an 8-foot 2×4. Man Mountain dug eight post holes and regaled me with tales of his family history (endlessly fascinating, I kid you not; Celia Hayes would love this guy).

Three hours manual labor. No writings. So current progress stands same as it was yestiddy. 45,437.

Discovery, Rev 3, Ch 3, Sc 4&5

APOLOGIES TO ALL AND SUNDRY for the lacunae in posts. I have been pondering much about the story and much of it has taken shape in recent days in my mind. This is to the good. For me, this is as much a revisiting of the earlier portions of work. If you missed earlier posts and want to catch up, click on the link at right to The Origin Conjecture, where all these posts will be gathered together on one page. One of the matters I think has been pretty well settled for me is the book’s title. I think The Original Protocols is what I shall call it.

The Beginning

The Gabrielle Dolly

“So,” the dolly said with greater energy. “Your father?”

Pete sighed. “Yeah. OK. Begin at the beginning. Um… I was born in 1978, by the Christian calendar, in the Pamir mountains of eastern Tajikistan, which was then a part of the old Soviet Union.”

To the dolly, this was about as dark and mysterious as a faraway place could get. “Wow!” she said.

“I do not remember it. All of this I know from being told by my relatives.” Her voice took on a more formal tone than her everyday speech, as though she had rehearsed the story.

“My parents were members of a nomadic tribe which subsisted in the remotest parts of the Pamirs by herding goats and sheep as they had done from time immemorial. They kept to themselves and were incredibly shy of outsiders, as all of the People always have been. Their whole lives were encircled by the limits of a couple of mountains and the valleys in between and around them, little more than that. They knew there was a wider world beyond the mountains, but they cared little for it, for the most part.

“But my parents were aging, and the life was hard. I was the youngest of fifteen children born to them. My mother took sick in birthing me and, although she recovered, she was never strong after that.
They had to rely on my older brothers and sisters to care for me. And for my mother. Her care was an incredible drain on the resources of the tribe and was the cause of a great deal of resentment and friction.

“Then one day, a traveling tifel passed through the mountains–“

“A Tifel Pasu?

“No!” Pete said sharply. “Where did you hear that word?”

The dolly froze and the color drained from her cheeks.
“I… I’m sorry!” she stammered. The terror in her expression took Pete aback. A vast affection for the spirit that animated the little toy flooded her being with remorse, and slowly the Troll calmed herself.

“Forgive me, little one,” she said. “I did not mean that to… to frighten you. It just startled me to hear the word come from… you.”

“From a frell, you mean,” the dolly said bitterly.

“Um… yeah,” Pete admitted. She winced and couldn’t meet the dolly’s eyes right away. “Sorry?”

“Hey, what the fuck!” the dolly said, suddenly magnanimous, mollified by Pete’s contrition. “I suppose if my people had been treated the way yours were and are, I’d be paranoid of strangers, too. No big.”

Pete breathed a little easier after that, and in a moment, she was able to go on.

“Anyway… No. It was just an ordinary tifel… you might call her a good witch, a healer woman. Her tribe had been scoured out of the area around Communism Peak, about a hundred and fifty miles as the crow flies to the northwest of my parents’ home. Coming from that distance, she might as well have just landed from the moon, so small was my tribe’s world, so narrow their view of it. Most of her tribe had been killed, the rest scattered. For all she knew, she was the lone survivor.

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Of Matter Geopolitical

The Gabrielle Dolly

In quarters, Pete wore what the dolly took to be the Pasu mercenary version of an undress uniform. Most, if not all, of the frekun ang Guard troopers did. It consisted of a pair of soft leather leggings — buttery doeskin, you might find in the camp of American red Indians; a loose, half-sleeved sark, called a billilaal sark, and moccasins decorated with patterns of tiny shell beads.

The clothing patterns and customs arose, of course, in the Trollish sanctuaries of Central Asia, and, as such, took their cue from their neighbors. In the outfit as a whole, one could perceive echoes of the casual wear of Tibet. Except the thing was that most of their neighbors in places like the Hindu Kush and the Kunlun Shan mountains of China were so dirt poor that they couldn’t afford to have special leisure wear — mostly they were lucky to have one outfit that they wore all the time, in any weather and for any activity, including wading in muddy rice paddies during the planting season. So the Trolls, having become suddenly gold-rich in the 13th Century from selling their services as soldiers to Upothesa could afford to dress well, with special items and outfits of clothing for different weather conditions and activities.

And, when they selected those items, they naturally made their first selections from what was around them, only later seeking exotic things. The styles and fabrics were those easily obtained in the markets, bazaars, and souks of Asia, or available naturally, though the effort involved in obtaining and working — for example — chamois skin for the comfortable (and, it could be said, sensual) leggings soon became burdensome for the increasingly bourgeois Trolls.

Current terms and practices within the Guard section of Troll society had been set in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries, when Hephaestus’s Olympia Company was headquartered in England, and so the terms for things were couched in the vernacular of the time. The use of the word sark for a shirt was borrowed from Scots, which was not then recognized as a separate tongue from English. That the Trolls wore such garments in billilaal — a situation roughly similar to the concept of in harem in Moslem households, albeit not entirely equivalent — was known and yet not known, as frells were not permitted to the billilaal and the secrets thereof most jealously guarded, the shirt came to be called a billilaal sark long in advance of the knowledge of it becoming currency in, as it was said then and there, Upothesa.

This time, Pete wore the sark and the leggings and a red bandana as a neckerchief and sat cross-legged on the bunk, displaying a flexibility of limb that belied her bulk.

“At that time,” she continued her narration. “The Red Army was preparing to invade Afghanistan, although the civilian population of Tajikistan didn’t know that until much later — after it was all said and done. At the time, the soldiers were searching for spies who might betray their preparations, and it was assumed that, among the Muslim tribes and villages in the region there were many potential spies, agitators, and fifth columnists.

“Of course, we Trolls never have anything to do with mannish political matters, but the Soviets didn’t know that… didn’t even know that there were non-humans living in the area. Nor would they have given credence to reports of the existence of sapient hominids in the region had they word of us. The legends of the wild men of the mountains — the Almas, they call them — were scorned by the Bolsheviks as children’s tales.

“To them, we looked just the same as the Tajiks, with the occasional throwback to Greek and even Norse invaders from centuries past. It never occurred to them to connect reports of the Almas to the madmen and social outcasts of a non-human race. All over the world, Man scientists make the same mistake. They hear tell of a Sasquatch or a Yeti and they assume that the individuals reported must represent some kind of a norm. They never think that the ones they see in that state could be homeless, miserable creatures scavenging their livings on the margins of society. They never connect the sightings with groups or individuals actually living among them.

“So they look for us in all the wrong places. For which we are eternally grateful.

“But the maps showed the part of the region where the People lived to be uninhabited, and therefore we had no business being there. The Soviets started up near Gorno-Badakhshan in the north, on the border with Kyrgyzstan, and worked their way south and east, clearing out every subsistence farmer and goat herder they found. They didn’t care where they went or how they lived once they got there, they just… wanted them gone.

“The tifel told my father that he should take his family and head south. She told him about Jirhum Ra, how in a cove in the mountains there was a city of the People, a mighty civilization, that was protected by great magics from the outside, how the People lived there in peace and plenty. He spat and said that was an old wives’ tale, told to comfort frightened children and to provide a dose of nostalgia for old men, that there was no such place as Jirhum Ra, that he would die before he would leave the land where his father and his grandfathers had lived and tended their flocks going back to the beginning of time.”

Pete sighed. “Years before, his two younger sisters had gone off in search of Jirhum Ra, never to be heard from again. I’m told it was forbidden to speak of them in his presence.” She fell silent for a long time. Then, as if she had forgotten where she was and what she was doing for a time, she shook herself and went on.

“When you study history and folk lore, you’ll come across the same story time and time again. Ordinary, innocent people trampled underfoot of a technologically superior civilization. In one way or another, the primitives always lose. They might have survived, or even thrived, if only they had the sense to get out of the way. But their pride and the righteousness of their cause makes them stubborn.

“I wasn’t even two summers old when the Red Army came and scoured our tribe out of the valley and chased us down the road to Afghanistan.

“Now, Jirhum Ra, as you may know, is in the Karakoram Range, some four hundred miles to the East and North of Kabul. So, if my parents wanted to go there from eastern Tajikistan, they should have traveled South and East, as the tifel had gone, crossing the Vakhan North-to-South at Baroghil Pass and entering Kashmir at Misgar or through the Khunjerab Pass between Sinkiang and Kashmir.

“There are settlements of the People in all the mountains thereabouts — in the Kunlun Shan between China and Tibet, the Ladakh Range and the Karakoram Range, south to the Himalayas and east to the endless and impenetrable ranges that give rise to the headwaters of all the great rivers of Asia: the Indus, the Bramaputra, the Irrawaddy, the Salween, the Chao Phrya, the Mekong, the Hong, the Si-kiang, the Yangtze…” Pete’s voice trailed off and the two of them sat for awhile in silence, thinking different thoughts. Then Pete took up her tale again.

“If they had only turned eastward at the start, they would have been fleeing into the bosom of their people. But Soviets didn’t know or care where a group of people they didn’t know or cared existed wanted to go. They drove everyone westward out of Tajikistan and into Afghanistan across the upper gorges of the Amu Darya. As a result, in the fall of 1979, my parents found themselves, along with the rest of their tribe, a part of a flood of refugees forced out of a place that had been their whole world for a thousand generations, caught up in events they never would have paid any mind, and on the roads of Tajikistan, being herded toward the border with Afghanistan.

“It should give you some notion of the evil of those people that they would use their own citizens as human shields, sending unarmed primitives ahead of an invading army, not caring for their survival, only to cause consternation to the enemy.

“Life on the road is never pleasant, but under those conditions — extreme cold, no food or water, incredible filth… the camps were hotbeds of disease… And, of course, there were predators, both the four-legged and the two-legged kind. An adult Troll doesn’t have anything to be afraid of in a confrontation with a Man, but there were children with the tribe, of course, and they were easy pickings for the scum that would try to sell them into slavery in Dushanbe or Tashkent. None of ours were taken, I’m told. Our adults kept a close watch over the little ones and brought them through. But there were many mothers among the Men in the camps wailing for their lost children, taken by the slavers… the jackals who preyed on the misfortunate ones.”

Pete sighed. “I was lucky, I suppose, to be too young to remember this more than dimly,” she said softly and was quiet for another while before she started up again.

“We crossed the Amu Darya into Badakhshan on the festival of Bulu Lao. They say it was a hard crossing, that just there, the river lies in deep gorges and there are no safe road crossings for a hundred miles or more downstream and none upstream at all until the end of the gorges where the river turns east toward its source. And, as if they were done with us once we crossed the border, the Soviets left us alone after that. We wintered in a valley near Bar Panj. It was harsh, they say, but we survived, even my mother, until the next spring. That would have been 1980. Far away to the West, the communists invaded Afghanistan that winter on the eve of the Christians’ feast for the birth of their Messiah. But it was of little account to the Pasu, who never cared for the political affairs of Men in the best of times and who were, just then, more concerned with their own survival than anything.”

“When the spring melts began, our tribe set out on the road again. Over the winter, they had held many councils and had argued themselves hoarse. They had hammered out a consensus. The tribe would trek south, then East, following the course of the Amu Darya into the Vakhan, that little arm of Afghanistan that interposes itself between Tajikistan and Kashmir and reaches out to touch China as with a fingertip. At the eastern mouth of the Baroghil Pass, they would find their way South into the Karakoram Range and, eventually, to Jirhum Ra.

“In peacetime, it might have been possible. After all, the legendary Silk Road followed a like path for four thousand years. But the communists’ invasion of Afghanistan had made all of the other governments in the region nervous. The Chinese have always been suspicious of the Russian Bear, as have the Indians. Pakistan, of course, was playing host to American CIA operatives who were fueling the mujahedin resistance movement. That narrow corridor between the Pamirs and the Karakoram Range, in the valley where the headwaters of the Amu Darya fall from the continental divide and begin their long trek to the Aral Sea, was probably the most watched region on earth that year. The armies of five nations and the spies of a dozen more were concerned with everything that went on in that valley. That summer, a family of field mice could not have traveled up the river unnoticed, let alone a tribe of thirty Troll families… Some six hundred of us all told there were.”

Pete stopped. She caught up her right knee in her hands and pulled it toward her chest, rocking back and forth on the edge of the bed, her jaw clenched tight. When she spoke again, it was with the soggy sound of tears sniffled away and an ache in the throat.

“Out of the six hundred and more of the People who entered the valley of Vakhan in April of ’80, two made it to Jirhum Ra in August that year. Two: My father. And me.” She wiped tears out of her eyes with a forefinger and looked up at the ceiling.

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I Think I’m Gonna Do It Again

I KNOW DOROTHY GRANT commented that jigs and zags in the writer’s nagivation through the creative process may possibly interest a reader more than a straight-ahead narrative. And she’s probably right. I mean, seriously. Her resident author is a big noise in the authoring game. So I figure she ought to know.

But I have so few readers that I worry — I mean, the critical mass may be too easy to move — I worry about leaving y’all in the dust when I change direction like a cattle wrangler on his favorite cutting pony, a-swingin’ that lariat, chasin’ dogies into the corral.

Even so, I think I’m gonna do it again. Which would make that incarnation of Discovery Revision 4.

See, I made the mistake — if mistake it is — of posting an old trunk story the other day, the item titled Writer’s Block, which is told, ye who read it will have noticed in a warm-and-whimsical, Kipling-meets-Milne narrative voice. Light and humorous. No profanity. Clever puns in place of “those” words. Arch asides. The narrative perspective is called an omniscient point-of-view and unlimited in scope. What writers call omni-unlimited. It’s easy for me to write, because it’s the voice my inner narrator uses most of the time, and it suits my image of Dolly. (Plus Kipling’s Just So Stories and Milne’s The World of Pooh were the first works of fiction of which I was conscious of the authors and their voices and have been life-long favorites of mine, for all they’re considered “children’s” literature.)

I’ve consciously avoided falling into this voice for the longest because it strikes me as being inappropriate. However, I’ve lately (in the last couple of days) realized that it might just be THE appropriate voice for telling Dolly’s stories. I’m seriously considering trying to write Discovery in that voice, starting over from the beginning and moving forward from my current stopping point.

I’m about 90% convinced this is a good move. So we’ll see. This weekend. I have mega chores on for this weekend — off-loading living room furniture, planning major back yard changes, and we’ll-seeing on a lot of other notions. But I do mean to spend some time working on this.

Bootlegging on the Meet the Character Blog Tour

IN THE HOPE this will track back to an originator of this meme, the Meet the Character Blog Tour.

Here goes:

1.) What is the name of your character?

Gabrielle Francesca East (Dolly)

2.) Is he/she fictional or a historic person?

She’s not even real. She’s an artificial person: the melding of an anima fished out of the River of Souls by the Goddess Aphrodite and a manufactured (“autocloned”) body. The anima is that of Dolly’s ancestor and karmic predecessor, also named Gabrielle Francesca, the most successful Childe of the East in history or out of it.

3.) When and where is the story set?

The core of the story is begins in February and March of 1998 on the campus of East College of the Americas, in Central Ohio. The wider epic goes from the beginning to the end.

4.) What should we know about him/her?

Dolly is insecure, unstable, cocksure, fearless, terrified of failure, strong, brittle, highly intelligent, irreverent, inexperienced, much like a newborn, determined, unstoppable. Her principle lesson at this early stage of her life is that physical strength is less important to victory than strength of will.

5.) What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?

She has been tumbled willy nilly into the middle of an epic conflict among the God which has been going on since the Stone Age.

6.) What is the personal goal of the character?

First, to survive, then to thrive.

7.) Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?

Dolly’s story is an epic, spanning, possibly thirty novels. (That estimate may be low.) The first novel is for sale: The High T Shebang (The Baby Troll Chronicles Book 1) The work-in-progress has a working title of Discovery, but may be called The Origin Protocol on publication. It is being snippeted on the author’s blog, The Baby Troll Chronicles.