It Happens in the Deeps of the Evening

WHEN I’M DOZING on the couch, the TV half-heard intrudes on my half-dreams. Something jars me awake. I reach for the nearest Moleskine — they’re scattered all over the house, each with a G2 pen clipped to its cover. And I start writing notes. I don’t dare work on actual text this way — my stories would lose all cohesion. The best I can do is maintain the notes, trying to ensure that the last thing in any notebook is the most recent work in that location. Dates become irrelevant. Unless I enter them in a central location — such as the Evernote base — they’ll become an inchoate mass, no better than random thoughts. My task as a writer is to bring order to all this. To make a sensible story. As somebody-you’d-know put it, the difference between fact and fiction is that fiction has to make sense.

Yeah. Right.

Gods Above and Below!

BUT I HATE PEOPLE! I just wasted a halfhour reading the comments to a reader review of Emma Bull’s The War for the Oaks and a more vicious, middle-school bunch of bratty, hate-filled shits you could not hope to find. I refuse to let that batch of fuck wits ruin one of my favorite novels for me!

But I want to take a nap, now, so I won’t go on.

Since She (MOST Kindly)

cvr book of barkleyGAVE MY BOOK A POSITIVE REVIEW on a partial reading, I figure I’m entitled to return the favor. Not that there’s a cause-and-effect relationship there or anything, I’m just using that as an excuse to get to plug my friend, LB Johnson’s book, The Book of Barkley, which has only now hit my bedside nightstand and sits as I write, right to-hand, atop my journal. If I believed in magic, I’d see a kind of a wish there, that my writing would absorb some of her lyrical voice from the cover-to-cover contact. (Good on the Kirkus reviewer for spotting it. It’s what I’ve loved about her voice from first encountering her blog lo these many years ago.) But I don’t, so it’s just a stack of books. But the one on top has the possibility of becoming a classic.

By which, I mean a book you love and return to in actuality and in your heart again and again. I should take this side track here and note that, as a kid, I read what I thought of as “animal” stories voraciously. Almost as voraciously as I read fantasy and science fiction these days. I look back on my days of free rein in the Lotspiech School’s library — Robert Lawson’s Rabbit Hill books; A Ring of Bright Water; and, yes, Beatrix Potter; Incredible Journey; Kipling’s The Jungle Books; Jack London; hometown hero Albert Payson Terhune — a family friend, I’m proud to say — with a warm, deep, nostalgic glow. The magic and wonder suffusing my set-upon pre-adolescent soul; the mystical places the stories transported me to; the warmth and humanity that moved me to love animals as friends and neighbors on Spaceship Earth (to use an utterly inappropriate hippie reference). This is the pantheon in which I mean to install The Book of Barkley.

Since this is a SHORT-form review, I’ll stop here by saying, “I’d almost rather you buy this book than mine.” It’s that good. That important. LB doesn’t need my help; she’s succeeding on her own, considerable merits. But I put my shoulder to the wheel nevertheless and lend my slight weight to the push. Buy this book.

All of the Traditions Surrounding

THE NEW YEAR IMPINGE in my mind like Scandinavian houses. A vast architectural Ikea of emotional reactions to the concept of New Year’s Day.

Done the summation of the year prior. Two words: it sucked. Next? For the year to come, what do I want? What do I intend to do to achieve what I want?

  • Finish The Origin Protocols It occurs to me this evening that my intent of wrapping TOP around The High T Shebang is singularly nebulous, the deviel being in the details. (What it is about the phoneme “iel” that signifies a spiritual being — angel or devil? Need to research that.) I may end up with merely inserting a page with the legend: “The events immediately following are narrated in the novel, The High T Shebang, by the same author and published by Dreamflower Works.” And another: “We return you now to the current narrative.” Either that, or I’ll have to split TOP into two volumes to make it volumes 1 and 3 and THTS volume 2 of a trilogy. The problem is that the three volumes would have little other than coincidence — that they take place seriatim — to tie them together.
  • Bring The High T Shebang out in a trade paperback, so that there’s another binding in addition to the eback.
  • Bring The High T Shebang out in wider markets than just Amazon worldwide. Draft 2 Digital and CreateSpace for that.
  • Mount a Book Bub promotion for both The High T Shebang and The Origin Protocols as appropriate.
  • Learn (finally) how to use Poser.
  • Work on my drawing chops. Improve the level of illustration I use on my book covers.

There should be more. I may add more.

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…?

A Dolly XMas

A MORALITY PLAY in seven scenes.

I wrote this story on the fly around Christmas time in 1999. The notion was to give Dolly a Christmas Story of her own. I could have wished for the vision to come up with something as good as O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi,” but it didn’t come to me. So this is it. Anyway, at the time, Dolly and Drummond were a more sugary confection — light and airy. Heaviosity wasn’t in the cards for them.

Traditionally (if a 15-year habit could be called a tradition), I have presented this in parts, one a day, for the week leading up to Christmas Day, with Part 6 appearing at midnight on Christmas Eve, and Part 7 at 7AM on Christmas Day. (Read it and you’ll see why.) Maybe, sometime down the road, I’ll put this out as an eback book. But, for the moment, this is its exclusive edition. So, click the link (opens in a new tab/window) and read the story. Enjoy. Merry Christmas.

The Mental Jumble

I DEDICATE SO MUCH of my energy to my career that I have very little “me” time to do the kinds of projects that interest me. I’ve been working on cabinetwork for my home office since 2006, now. I’ve been meaning to redo the trim around doors and windows in the bathroom for a couple of years at least. I’ve been working on the shed in the back yard for six months. I’ve been trying to improve my drawing chops since I first started to blog, all because I wanted to have a neat cartoon character design drawing of Dolly to act as the masthead figure for BabyTrollBlog (and, I guess for this blog, too.

What usually happens is that I have to moosh all my vacation days together in a little-used part of the year (the year-end holiday weeks are pretty empty) and plan (if inchoate desire to do something could be called a plan) to get all these things done in that time frame.

I usually end up with a confusion of things to do and none of them get done. Right now, for example, I’m about 20,000 words behind on the novel. To show you how badly I’m doing, as of ten minutes ago, as I write, I just got finished witwh a half-hour writing session in which I got 1,200 words on the screen. In a half-hour. That’s a wph rate of 2,400. Which means I could get 5,000 words done in a little over two hours. Easy peasey. But shit doesn’t happen. Or goes wrong (IWC, shit DOES happen, so there you are). And I get nothing done in a day. Well, I get plenty done, but it’s not the stuff I meant to do.

For example, I’m reading a pair of books I’ve been meaning to read for a while, Steal Like an Artist! and Show Your Work!, by Austin Kleon, which are about the creative process and being an artist for a living. I’m finding myself enjoying them immensely, and finding a great deal of blog fodder in them and wondering if I dwell on them too much, would it come across as obsessive and monomaniacal? But, really, I could be perfectly happy just writing little scenes from Dolly fiction, and reading books like these.

But this is altogether too much like an actual journal entry — incomplete and desultory — and not at all like a blog post, so I’m stopping here and going to bed. G’Night y’all.

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.

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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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