Well, That Is Many Things

So, for anyone that has been paying attention, I’ve been having a rather terrible month. It hasn’t been bad, in the sense that I’m wondering if I need a lawyer or a priest. But between a whole lot of things…it has been frustrating, and I would prefer that this wasn’t the start to 2023. Yes, “nowhere to go but up!” and all that, but I also know how easy it is to slide downwards.

What’s been going on with my family?

  • Mom finally got to Stanford and they did another round of X-Rays and similar examinations. After those, the doctors decided that Mom doesn’t have a floating bone fragment rubbing against her spinal cord.
    Other than a cracked tailbone and how painful it was…she’s in reasonable shape. When they realized this, Stanford set up a physical therapy plan and delivered oxygen for her when she is resting in the hospital bed in her own room.
    So, Mom is home, resting, recovering and finally at home after nearly three weeks banging around hospitals.
    This has not how we wanted to start this year.
  • After the last few weeks and how both Kaiser and Stanford had been treating Mom, I can imagine the conversation between her doctor and my Dad like this-
    DOCTOR: “Good news, sir! Your wife has a cracked tailbone, but no fragments or loose chips and we don’t have to operate! We can release her as soon as we get everything settled for her home care.”
    DAD: “What about all the report that she had one?”
    DOCTOR: “We’re pretty sure that there isn’t an issue.”
    DAD: “Get me a second opinion, from a doctor with an actual work ethic.”
    DOCTOR WITH AN ACTUAL WORK ETHIC (DWAWE): “Good news, sir! Your wife has a cracked tailbone, but no fragments or loose chips and we don’t have to operate! We can release her as soon as we get everything settled for her home care.”
    DAD: “What about the reports and X-Ray that says she had one?”
    DWAWE: “We’re pretty sure it was just bad imaging when she was at Kaiser.”
    DAD: “How soon can we get home before we all go crazy?”
    There will be physical therapy and recovery, but she looks a lot better, she’s actually able to think about things (right dose of pain meds), and it’s better than it was about twenty days ago.
  • Our German Shepard, Mia is VERY happy that Dad is home. We’re all trying to get back into a routine that works and after a good night’s sleep…progress.

And, what’s been going on myself and my writing?

  • More job rejections. More jobs that are putting me in a holding pattern for one reason or another. And trying to follow up so I ‘m in their mental queue, but not so much that they’re thinking that I’m some kind of creep or whatever.
    I’m going to be glad when this is over, I hate being cut loose like this. And money is nice. It can’t buy you happiness, but at the very least you can buy your own choices of misery.
  • At least I’m getting mileage in with Mia the last few days. Two miles every day, minimum.
    And Mia likes me…when Dad isn’t around. When Dad is around, she demands all of his attention and if I even get in the same time zone as Mia and could possibly distract Dad’s attention…she get extremely protective.
    (Feel free to insert jokes about how I’m the secondary person in everybody’s relationships…)
  • Back to the gym once things calm down a bit. Dad will go even if I have to push, but there will be one family member at home for Mom.
  • The Winter Solist is taking more time than I want. Mostly that one last big dance number before we reach the ending and winding up to get us ready for A Solist In Rome.
  • The outlines for An Ethical Succubus and some of the other writing ideas are coming along.
    Doing that kind of writing-story outlines and doing research-has been one of the things that has kept me sane and reasonably thoughtful during the last few weeks.

    Maybe that is my big career, if I can figure out how to get the job. Create the background and paperwork for big projects of all sorts. Ideas where I can do this and how? Preferably not Hollywood, because the place has gotten worse over the last few years. Too many horror stories, far too overpriced for someone that wants some minimum level of comforts.

Fingers crossed that this weekend will be marking a time when things are getting better and there’s nowhere to go but up.

Imperial Lachesis-class Light Cruiser

A replacement for the Lysandra-class light cruiser at the start of the Hegemony era of the Third Imperium, the Lachesis-class light cruiser was built specifically for the light cruiser mission in the Imperial Navy. This mission includes convoy and task-group escort, exploration, survey, and anti-piracy missions, with the Lachesis-class making the most of the experience of the Lysandra-class.

Debates about the class-namely the relatively light beam cannon load-would result in the replacement of the class with the Lindworm-class in the Middle Hegemony period.

Design History

Like the Lysandra-class light cruiser, the Lachesis-class was built for interior missions, including exploration and line-of-communications operations between Imperial worlds. With the class being built after the end of the Alpha Wars, combat with Alpha warships wasn’t a major consideration. However, the Imperial Navy did maintain combat capability against Alpha or other “near peer” warships as a major portion of the ship concept.

The Lachesis-class can be seen as a revision of the Lysandra-class, and it is only in defensive systems and support systems that the class can be considered improved. The ship is built around a spinal Metaspace Cannon with a 120m accelerator tunnel and a 30cm discharge aperture. Secondary direct-fire weapons are built around twelve 5cm positron beam cannons in dual turret mounts, considered to be a far too light weapons load for the class (the later Lindworm-class would mount 6.5cm beam cannons in dual turret mounts).

Long-ranged engagements are based around ten 350mm missile launcher tubes with gravity drivers on the ship’s port and starboard. While the class could use all Imperial-standard missiles, the Lachesis-class would have its fire control optimized for the Mk-21-B missile and the later Mk-23 and Mk-27 missiles. Point defense would not only consist of standard 20mm and 40mm x-ray lasers, but four 150mm counter-missile launchers. Debates about the effectiveness of mounting counter-missiles on a light cruiser hull is continually discussed, but against most light combatants it gives a ranged engagement option against missiles.

Passive defenses would be built around shields rated to withstand 1.5 strikes of a Lachesis-class equivalent main beam cannon strike on the bow, dorsal and ventral aspects, with a single-strike resistance to the port and starboard, and 75% resistance aft. Like Hegemony-era warships, the Lachesis-class uses battle steel armor. The ship mounts six Q-space coils and three slipspace drive rings, giving the ship a 360 G acceleration and 6 LY/day travel time. 

Sensor capability would include a 320 m/640 m VLBI array system (with two backup deployable arrays), an extensive passive and active EM sensor system, and standard navigation and operational sensor packages. The ship also carries a planetary survey package as standard, twelve sensor decoys (split between Rodeo-type anti-missile decoys and Mirrorball-type anti-sensor decoys), stealth systems backed up by a mil-spec hypersink, and the AN/SL(G)-82 electronic warfare package. The Lachesis-class would also mount the AN/SG(N)-33 electronic warfare package, which included two high-powered “spike” jammers for anti-missile duties.

Retrofits of the Lachesis-class would continue through the early Hegemony period, but no major revisions beyond reactor improvements of the hull would result.

Service History

The Lachesis-class would be built in five major “flights,” and at a replacement rate of 1.5 times the number of Lysandra-class ships currently in deployment. The only major variation between flights is the replacement of the Type 34 rectors with the improved Type 35-A1 antimatter reactors starting in Flight IV and later hull retrofits. The class would remain in Imperial service until the Lindworm-class was deployed, later to be assigned to secondary service then materials reclamation.

A proposed version would have replaced all of the missile launchers and the Metaspace cannon with bow launch arrays for Mk 25 missiles, but the Imperial Navy saw no need for a small bombardment hull and the class couldn’t carry enough missiles to be worthwhile. An additional proposal for specific revision of the hull for Survey missions was considered, but this mission would be filled by a version of the Hotspur-class heavy cruiser, the Serendipity-class.

A number of hulls would be modified for the Ghost Fleet mission, namely the removal of the antimatter reactors and replacement with fusion reactors, and secondary modifications to improve long-duration mission operations with the class.

General Characteristics

Dimensions: 180 m x 22 m x 18 m

Mass: 15,000 tons (consistent across all flights)

Power Systems:

2x Yoyodine Type 34 Antimatter Reactors (Hegemony Era, Flight I-III)

2x Yoyodine Type 35-A1 Antimatter Reactors (Hegemony Era, Flight IV-V)

Propulsion Systems:

6x Q-Coils (360 G acceleration, all flights)

3x Slipspace rings (6 LY/day, all flights)

Endurance:

180 days of antihydrogen at 90% power, theoretically unlimited material endurance (Hegemony Era)

Crew:

One Class VI AI, three Class V AIs, mixture of uploads and biological crew equaling 400 crew members, 100 Marines, backup bioshells and cybershells (Hegemony Era)

Armament:

1xMetaspace Cannon, 120m spinal mount with a 30 cm bow discharge aperture.

12×5 cm positron beam cannons in six dual turrets, two ventral, two dorsal, one port, one starboard.

10x350mm missile tubes with gravity launchers, two arrays of five port and starboard.

Defenses:

Stealth Systems: Radar sheath, IR dampener w/military specification hypersink, hull form.

ECM: AN/SL(G)-82 Electronic Warfare Array, with “spike” and “strobe” jammer options.
AN/SG(N)-33 Electronic Warfare Array with one port and one starboard “spike” arrays.

6x Rodeo-class missile decoys, 6xMirrorball-class sensor decoys (dispensers ventral and dorsal).

Point Defense: 10 40mm xaser cannons with double-bounce gravity mirrors in independent casemate mounts.

16 20mm xaser cannons with double-bounce gravity mirrors in independent casemate mounts.

4x150mm counter-missile launchers, mounted in pairs port and starboard.

Shields: Standard Hegemony Navigational Shields

Combat Shield Generators-150% capacity bow, dorsal, and ventral, 100% capacity port and starboard, 75% capacity stern.

Armor: Battle steel, 5.5 cm maximum (Hegemony Era)

Secondary Craft:

2xPinnance, 2xCutter, 6xHarvesting Drones, 14xType 2 Recon Drones, 6xType 3 Recon Drones (Hegemony Era)

Music That Inspires Me

My writing habits require me to either have music or have silence when I’m working. And, I don’t know which I will need when I’m starting to work. 

There’s a reason why I tend to work late at night-it’s quiet and I get to choose if I want music or not, and what kind of music I want. The trick is…what music do I want to listen to when I’m working, when I need music?

The biggest thing is that it has to be connected to how I’m writing. Not always perfectly, but I have collected long lists of songs that fit what I need in terms of mood, pacing, and what makes me smile when I’m trying to handle scenes and big dance numbers (i.e. fights).

There’s no particular organization to this list, beyond “top ten” and the reasons why I enjoy them in terms of how I write. And, of course, links so you can listen to it yourself and enjoy it in full.

In The Air Tonight

Let’s be clear, I’m a fan of both the original Phil Collins version and the Protoman cover of this song. Just the pacing and the lyrics are perfect for anything from traveling through Miami, preparing for the good old fashioned mega-violence, or even old enemies getting together to face the true threat. And that’s what works for me when I listen to songs and music, it’s the images that come into my head when I’m listening to the music.

In fact, if I ever become a Real Author™ and somehow get to write a Monster Hunter novel in Larry Correa’s universe, there is this one scene that I have paced out in my head, right down to the arrival using this song.

Nightstalker

There were so many songs from the Ghost In The Shell movie soundtrack that just fit the movie perfectly, and you have the dilemma of picking just oneNightstalker is that song. The sound of the low-speed chase, the melancholy of Major Kusanagi that she’s been dealing with in the entire movie about her own identity as she goes to rescue the Puppetmaster that has been stalking her as much as she’s been stalking them…and the music being done on both artificial and traditional Japanese instruments gives the whole thing an otherworldly air. An air that makes you wonder how it’s going to end, and if the ending is going to even be remotely happy.

The whole album is worth listening to, especially Ghost City, Making of Cyborg, and Floating Museum. It’s not what you expect from a cyberpunk classic…and that’s what makes it awesome.

Burn

If there was one movie that I could just say “this is how the Old World of Darkness should have been,” The Crow was that movie. The stylized design of the city it was set in, how it was paced, how the cast acted…it made me extremely sad and upset that it cost Brandon Lee his life to make this movie. 

One of the things that made this move work so well was the soundtrack. In many ways, the soundtrack was an introduction for many people to Seattle’s grunge movement, punk, goth, and many other artists. And, one of these artists was The Cure. And the song that they had on the album, Burn, was the very platonic ideal of the “superhero preparing for the fight” song. The scene that the song was used for was superbly done in the implications of every act that the newly resurrected Eric Draven did worked out perfectly with the music.

For some reason, I keep remembering that the band hated the song and never really liked playing it or having fans refer to it. I can’t find any evidence for this rumor, but not for a lack of looking.

It does make for a great entry song for people to discover The Cure, so that’s something.

Dead Souls

Nine Inch Nails is one of those bands that I have a love/hate relationship with. When they work, they work. When they don’t, they really don’t. And, Trent Razor is the reason for this-when he’s good, he’s great. When he’s bad, he’s terrible

Another song from The Crow soundtrack, Dead Souls is from the scene of Eric chasing down his first target, Tin Tin. And, the pacing just works out so perfectly that every single time I think of an urban chase scene over rooftops, this song pops up.

It rumbles like an elevated Chicago train. It rolls down the streets like Detroit iron, the power of classic American muscle cars back in the day when they were powerful and terrifying lumps of animated metal. You can imagine the stalk from above and it doesn’t matter who is doing it. It could be the reincarnation of vengeance. It could be the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen. It could be the Detective. But, you can see them in your mind’s eye…just out of sight. Just out of reach. 

Until the laughter starts

Nara

I first started hearing this instrumental on Cold Case, which was a very interesting concept for a show. Nara has this very interesting pace to it, what I call “revelational music.” It builds up, you hear more and more until you hit the point of revelation. This is the “ah ha!” moment, the build up to the climax of the scene and the episode, and then…you have the full revelations and the release that the revelations give you.

It’s beautiful in that regard. It makes you enjoy the discovery and the revelations.

Rise

I have a love/hate relationship with Yoko Kanno. 

I hate that there isn’t more of her music for me to love.

Yes, listening to her is like getting hit over the head with a sock full of Johnny Quest. But, she’s made the songs that I consider to be the soundtrack of my life.

From National Anthem of Macross (which makes you feel patriotic for a country that doesn’t exist at all) to Tank! (which still makes me want to see cowboys), her music runs a gamut that if there is something you want to hear, it’s there. It’s out there. You just have to find it.

But, one song that I keep coming back to, that I keep thinking about for an anime opening theme is from Ghost In The Shell Stand Alone Complex, and it is the starting theme for the 2nd GIG series, Rise

Why? A lot of reasons-

Mixture of Russian and English? Check.

Vaguely military/action tone? Check

Ties into a cyberpunk anime that I still love, even if it’s nearly twenty years old at this point? Oh, yes, a definite check.

It’s the mash-up, the sheer glee of mixed connections that was an important part of the ethos of Stand Alone Complex that makes it wonderful to listen to, and to pace out ideas for my stories.

Them And Us

Another song from Trent Razor, with his collaboration with Atticus Ross, for the movie Patriots Day, Them and Us is the sort of song that you listen to because it’s the soundtrack of a thousand grubby little criminal acts and drug deals. The ones that have gone wrong, the covers blown off agents deep in the cold. And, trying to escape consequences.

The off-tone sounds of “normality,” building up a little faster and a little louder. We know something is about to go wrong, something is about to break bad, but we don’t know what.

We get another track in, jacketing up the tension. Things get tighter and tighter…then, something just pops…and now there are the consequences. And then, everybody spirals off into the dark and the cold, a little more broken than they were at the start.

Local Hero

Let me be clear, if there is a better man on the electric guitar than Mark Knophler, you’re going to have to do a lot to prove it to me. From his solo work to his time as the front of Dire Straits, his music is a part of the soundtrack of my life and I could pretty much make a list of the ten songs of his that I like the most. And there will be a lot of songs.

Anyways, there are two songs that I want to share on this list, and Local Hero might not be the one that you expect. Written for the movie of the same name, the song is just Mark Knophler letting go with his full range of guitar skills. It is a bit melancholy, then a bit happy, then just…triumphant. It’s wonderful to listen to, and it’s just great.

It’s just so British, and it is so much the story of that little village on the coast and all of the quirky characters there.

On Every Street

This one is a sadder song, because it could pretty much be the last Dire Straits song ever. And it makes me sad because I could have gotten concert tickets to their last show as a band, but it was either that or buy dinner for the girl I was going out with at the time (and she dumped me two weeks later). So, there’s additional melancholy to this song.

But, for how the band ended, it’s just perfect. On Every Street has great lyrics, the perfect pacing and that last guitar solo…you listen to it, and you realize that it’s just exactly what you wanted.

One of my biggest mental quirks is “music to scene” translation, and every time I listen to On Every Street, I can tell you the script and the blocking for how I would end the very last episode of CSI (the original one in Vegas). It has a “where are they now” montage, the last scene where Grissom actually does spit it out with Sara, and just the guitar solo where they drive through Vegas and leave together, happy.

Seriously, listen to it and just think about how you would want a happy ending. Bit of melancholy, but that makes the happy even better.

The Garden of Allah

I’ve got a thing for “last songs from an artist,” it seems. It might not have been Don Henley’s last single, but it’s the last one that I can really recall from him, from the Actual Miles album. It’s a song that, according to Henley, is “is presented as a modern-day fable in which the Devil discovers he has become obsolete.” And, The Garden of Allah is the song that I think of when I think of 1990’s Hollywood and 1990’s LA.

It’s the time when the ‘50s and ‘60s facade of a city that had so many possibilities fell apart. When so much of the military infrastructure-from bases to military contractors to support industries-closed or left and the only thing that was left was the entertainment industry. And, the entertainment industry always had issues with understanding what reality actually is. It doesn’t help that politicians also have an issue with the concept of reality. And sometimes the only difference between politicians and entertainers is the audience.

The music video was one of those longer-form videos that had everything you could ask for from the era. Including great visuals, Kirk Douglas playing the Devil, and superb pacing.

So, there it is. Ten songs that serve as inspirations for when I’m writing.
I’ll probably do more in a few weeks, depending on a combination of mood and need to create postings. And, if you have a theme that I should emphasize, such as classical music or anime songs, let me know in the comments.

Where Have You Gone, Joe DiMaggio?

So, what have I been up to? And what have I been doing?

  • Job Hunting-Well, I had two second interviews this week. Fingers crossed that they lead to a job and a regular salary.
  • Family-Mom is…hopefully going to escape from her particular confinement and finally have that bone chip in her spine removed soon. Yes, I recognize that there’s a lot of issues with the health care system and I wish I could just buy an off-the-shelf OEM part and give her a new spine. But, that technology isn’t here yet, which makes me very sad.
  • Personal Stuff-Not going to the gym as much as I’d like, but I am getting as much walking in as I can. Despite the fact that the next-door neighbor is building an ark. Because Dad is cooking and because Dad is trying to avoid showing how much he loves us by stuffing us full of love via food…we’re losing weight. A little bit. Somewhat.

    It just can’t be the stress, after all…
  • Writing-The thing you’re here for!
    The Winter Solist is hitting an air-pocket, but it’s a small one. Writing has progressed and I’m hoping for a Valentine’s Day release date, with some luck and some definite finger crossing.
    A Solist In Rome‘s outline is mostly finished, and needs to be fleshed out.
    An Ethical Succubus has been progressing slowly. Mostly due to the outline needs, but I’m getting there.
    Other writing projects have been slowly making forward progress…but not as fast as I would like.

Fingers crossed for some good news coming up soon, especially if I get a new job. That’s the big thing right now, I need a steady income and health insurance. From there…who knows?

I can promise you this much-if I win the MegaMillions this time around, it’ll be a lot of vague for a while, then perhaps a very sudden rush of writing work…

Ideas That I’ve Been Working On

Every author that is worth something-at some point-has a scratch file of ideas. The stories that we want to do, and all of the ideas and notes that we’ve accumulated for them. Sometimes we can’t tell the story for one reason or another-we can’t find a good narrative “hook” to get into it. Or we don’t know how to write the story so that it’s convincing. 

But authors are like pack rats, we won’t throw away a story idea just because we can’t exactly use it right now. We might learn something, or develop a technique, or something that lets us write the story. Hell, we might just have an apple hit us in the head and that inspiration lets us finally sit down at the computer and type until we fall asleep or something.

(I actually did that once or twice…look it was college. You had last-minute papers to do, the deadline was 9 AM and you start thinking that you can get away with going to bed at 3 AM if you only get the writing done… I’m just glad it came out coherent.)

So, I’m deciding to share a bit of my scratch files, because The Winter Solist final dance number isn’t coming together the way I want and I keep going back to fix things. To get my head out of that mess, I look at my scratch files for inspiration, and maybe work on those stories for a little bit.

And if I share some of these ideas, an apple will land on me.

An Ethical Succubus

The concept behind An Ethical Succubus series is built around the ideas of addiction, survival, and having your world upended. The genre could be called “urban fantasy,” but there are no supernatural elements to it. Barring “sufficiently advanced technology,” mind you.

The main character discovers that he’s become…well, something very closely defined as a “succubus”-he can change his shape, he’s incredibly strong, he’s incredibly tough, he knows what men desire, and he has a very uncomfortable need to sexually ride men to death as a woman. Bad enough that if he doesn’t pay attention to it, he just might do it without him having any real control over it, the same way a serious alcoholic or other kind of addict always has to avoid temptation or fall dangerously off the wagon.

The first book covers the main character learning about his new…condition and coming to some kind of terms with it. There’s a hilarious suicide attempt montage that takes about two chapters (and, I mean, he tries everything-hanging himself, bullet under the chin, three kinds of poison, throwing himself off a cliff, electrocution, homemade napalm…). Then, he has to figure out how he can live with himself. Thus the “ethical succubus” of the series title.

And, the more that I’m writing it, the more I’m realizing that it’s also an epitaph to San Francisco. 

What?

Because in the boom/bust cycles that San Francisco has always had, this one looks like it’s going to actually turn the city into a version of Detroit. Office rentals are massively down, costs of living are high, the problems of addicts and the homeless and crime in general, the decay of any kind of middle, and so many things about the city that I loved are dead or dying.

I go there once a month, and the city is just…sad. Like watching an old ship rot in the dock, something that was once beautiful just falling apart from apathy. And, that’s going to be a theme in the story, where the main character realizes just how the city is dying and he has to wonder at some point…

Is he a noble predator?

Or is he a carrion-eater?

It’s not quite a personal story, but San Francisco does feel bad at this point. Far too many stories of the city breaking bad. And, that’s something I would emphasize as I was writing this tale.

STATUS: I’ve written the notes for the first few books and the outlines for the first two books. There’s been some writing (the chapters are short in comparison to others, because the main character is terse at the beginning), and some progress is being made.

Armor Girls

Hey, who doesn’t want to write their own manga? (Not a comic book, at least not in the usual Marvel/DC sense.)

Armor Girls is that manga. I wanted to do something that was a hybrid fantasy-one part Tenchi Muyo, one part Guyver, and one part Dresden Files. And, it all started out as a random idea for “pitching a harem series” on a forum somewhere…

Anyways, we start out with Reiji Fujiko, who is a good kid. He’s good, and he’s nice but he isn’t soft. Working three jobs so that he can go to college, as his parents died when he was young and his Grandfather died when he was 14. He bounced around the Japanese foster-care system until he hit 18 years old, and now he’s trying to finish his degree, stay sane, and remain employed.

This is when the Tenshi, appeared, in the form of the first four Armor Girls-

  • Chikyū-A pillar of strength and power, who wants to be more than just that. And, somehow, every time she tries to relax, something happens.
  • Fuzei-Take a femme fatale and add Yamato Nadeshiko and you have Fuzei in a nutshell. She’s beautiful but underneath her flirtation and charm, she’s scared that she’s just a facade
  • Ōumi-She’s patient. Calm. And dedicated. And a big believer in the past and how beautiful it is (we’re talking formal kimonos and Victorian-era clothing here). But, the future scares her, and to embrace Reiji is to embrace the future.
  • Kogasu-What happens when you put Pinky Pie, Death of the Endless, and Merdita in someone that is an even split between Scottish ginger and Japanese country girl? You get Kogasu-who is…enthusiastic. And has a whole lot of other issues. Including a fear of pants (trust me, it makes sense in context).

-and, we of course have the girl that would be Reiji’s girlfriend if they had three seconds to spare between work and school, Mari. Who has her own set of issues (her parents moved overseas when she was young, left her with an aunt, and she hasn’t ever seen them when they spent any time in Japan-and her aunt treated her like an accessory).

Then, we discover that the Tenshi are actually sophisticated sets of ambulatory nanomachines that can link up with Reiji to become suits of armor. The first plot arc (which would cover the first season of the anime) deals with this, and the mysterious Apple Man that is sharing what he calls “seeds.” These seeds turn people into monsters…but, according to him, all it does is “show the real person inside.”

It all winds up into a massive conspiracy, a secret war, and Reiji figuring out how to navigate the rocks and shoals of his relationships. And explosions. Big ones.

STATUS: I’ve got some commissioned art coming from Kittyhawk on the Tenshi, I’ve got the story bible and the script for the first two issues written, and I’ve got an outline for the first four tankobons (think “trade paperbacks” in US terms).

The problem is that I can’t draw worth a damn and I can’t afford an artist right now. Especially not playing cash-float games to make sure they got paid and I could eat on a regular basis.

Untitled Spaceship Isekei Novel Idea

If you’ve been reading my ideas about the Ghost Fleets, this is where it’s leading to.

We have one human (or a small team of humans) from present-day Earth that have been uploaded into Imperial warships. And then…

…that’s where the issue begins. 

My two choices of direction from this is in or out

Out is a “explore the universe, seek out strange new worlds” story, with lots of exploration and my little fleet of ships being able to fight and win localized battles, but could be overwhelmed by numbers. Numbers that the major factions have. And, these ships showing up causes a lot of the area politics to catalyze and now they have to fight a war between shifting powers that want the technology they have…and might not be too friendly to our humans and their efforts to establish a new human world.

In is simple. We have people that are now in command of ships that are hidden inside of Ceres come back from the dead…and head back to Earth. Which leads to a lot of issues, because now all of this advanced technology is in the hands of people that aren’t exactly under the control of people on Earth. Meanwhile, governments and power brokers realize that there is now a fleet in orbit that isn’t under their control and wants to establish an Empire that never ruled the Earth before and is rather…strict in ways that a lot of these power brokers would feel uncomfortable with. And a lot of them would have to either stop being who they were or face Imperial justice.

And, the big question of why were there hidden ships in the Sol System, and there’s no signs that the Empire ever existed in that universe…

Hilarity ensues either way.

(And, there’s one scene that I want to do, mostly because I want to have a young girl that never knew her father have him come back from being in a coma for nearly fourteen years.)

STATUS: I’ve got a lot of notes, but the outlines aren’t working the way I want them to. There’s a lot of starships, the historical structure of the Imperium (which gets interesting, especially things like the Archons, the Time of the Five Emperors, the Empire/Alpha War, and a lot of other little details), and a lot of tech information.

…I think I’d be happy writing up universes for other people to write in. How does someone do that?

Untitled Giant Robot/Fantasy Isekei Novel Idea

Why? Because chicks dig giant robots.

I’m wanting to do more giant robot/mecha stories, and setting it in a medieval/Victorian-era universe with swords, sorcery, fantasy creatures, and giant stompy robots has a lot of appeal to me. The big inspirations are The Visions of Escaflowne and Knight&Magic, with a few other accessories added to the mix.

The setting is very European, and it is roughly about the time when Germany actually started to be a country (mostly Prussia and its allies, but they’re expanding…), and our main character is a part of the minor British-analogue nobility. Unlike most isekei stories, he doesn’t have many memories of his past life, but he does have a lot of sheer information in his head. Information that he uses to build better giant robots for himself and others.

The main character is going to start out fairly young, and because of a cosmic angel goof, he’s way overpowered magically by the local standards. So overpowered that people think that he doesn’t have any magic, because he’s far above the usual scales. This is one of the big plot arcs-the main character having to learn magic differently because he’s far too overpowered in that respect.

The second is that we get to see the classic Lensman Arms Race from the inside, as the technology changes from late Georgian to Victorian/early Edwardian era. Muscle power begins to be replaced by steam and early electricity, guns start to appear and improve, the giant robots get more powerful, magic gets more controlled and higher in power (mostly because of the main character showing that higher power levels are possible), and the world starts to change.

The big question becomes-what is the tone of this story? Do I go for the Harry Potter/Schooled In Magic-type story where we get to see the main character do his time at a boarding school a’la Eton? Or something a bit more free form?

STATUS: I’m collecting notes, I’ve got a rough map of the world, I’ve got a historical chart of the giant robots on the major faction’s sides, and how the magic system works. I’ve also got a short glossary on the terms being used in the story, so that’s something. Also, a rough outline of where I want the story to go.

And, I get a chance to build big (okay, not that big, they’re in the Labor/VOTOM/Gear scale, about 8-10 meters/28-32 feet tall) stompy robots and work out all the neat details. Like control mechanisms, how they’re powered, weapons, and all of the fun little greebles that let me give the Knights such character of their own.

Conclusion

If there is anything you can take away from this little run-through, it’s this.

Collect your ideas. Even what you might think as a silly or weak idea might find use somewhere. I’ve got whole scratch files of stories that might never see the light of day, but learning about new things is never wasted.

And, it helps you to create characters and worlds, figure out how to hook new readers, and you get to relieve your curiosity. All of which is vital for a writer.

So, get out there and add a few more pages of notes today! And always remember to hug people you like as well.

Happy 2023!

2022 wasn’t that bad a year, when you think about it.

I graduated college, finally.

I got a job after being stuck without one for nearly two years due to COVID.

I was…successful for a time.

Hell, I was even able to go to the gym on a regular basis and the exercise has been helpful. At the very least, I might be able to fit into 42 pants if I can get my waistline under some more control.

Then, just after Thanksgiving, I got a kick in the teeth-I was laid off.

And another kick in the teeth-confronting that I’m not happy, not satisfied with myself, and that all the things I thought I was doing right…I’m not quite doing them right.

But 2023 is coming up. And, if I could survive the last three years…I’ll make it through next year. I’m applying for jobs in writing and anything else that would get me a foot in the door and health care.

I’m writing as fast as I can.

And I’m getting into shape, one way or another.

So, just remember all of the good things that happened this year, and remember that you survived the bad.

Happy New Years to you all.

The Writer and The Iron Heart

In Which The Writer Makes Back To Hollywood Alive

Back to LA, back through LAX, and back through everything that makes me unhappy. But it’s Tom, he’s willing to pay a ten-day contract rate up front, and that’s always a good thing. He also warned me that I might “have to entertain,” so my hotel of choice isn’t going to be a Holiday Inn Express. Instead, I got an Executive Suite at the Omni Los Angeles near Little Tokyo and made sure that everything that wasn’t absolutely required was in the bedroom.

Probably the only good thing is that there’s a few good places to eat and to the best of my knowledge the people I don’t want to deal with aren’t in town right now. And, because I flew in on a Sunday evening, I was able to get a night’s sleep before driving the car-a nice rental Porsche 911-to the studios. Tom’s down on the first floor before I can even put my phone away, and he’s smiling. “Hey, how are you doing?”

“Pretty good,” I replied, shaking his hand. “You’re wanting a miracle on a shoestring budget, aren’t you?”

“More like a good second opinion,” Tom agreed as I got my temporary badge, and we headed up to his office. “Ready?”

“Always,” I smiled, and he led me into his office. In the office was a man that I knew, and he stood up and shook my hand.

“I think,” he said with a chuckle, “we should stay with first names for now. We’re not meeting behind anyone’s back…but let’s keep this an informal consultation for now.”

“Sure, Jack,” I shrugged, and we all sat down, with Tom sitting behind his desk. “So, what’s the consultation?”

“Have you seen any of the Phase Four MCU shows on Disney Plus?” Jack asked, pulling out his notepad.

“Yes…and I assume you want me to be as honest as hell about my opinion on them,” I replied after the tingling sensation in my stomach and fingers calmed down a bit.

“Very,” Tom sighed, and waited.

“Okay, the best of them was Loki, Moon Knight, and Werewolf by Night. And the only one I’d give an unreserved recommendation is Werewolf by Night. Both Loki and Moon Knight had issues-you don’t make Tom Hiddelson a secondary character in his own show and you should have played up the madness and supernatural in Moon Knight more. The Warren Ellis run was probably the best modern version of the comic book, and that should have been the biggest inspiration,” I paused for a moment in thought, and didn’t try to pop my neck in frustration. “And, hell, if you busted everyone that partied like a rockstar like Warren Ellis did, half of Hollywood would be unemployed.”

“And the rest?” Jack raised an eyebrow in curiosity.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was a thematic mess. It was a horrible ‘passing of the torch’ series and it made the people of Wakanda look like complete assholes. Best way to do things would have been for them to beat Bucky honestly-a tight win, but a win. They didn’t need to cheat, because they were that good. And the whole ‘white America is full of assholes’ thing has never been a good thing, especially when most comic book fans are white or not that kind of political.

“Next, Hawkeye. I mean, you have another ‘passing of the torch’ series, and it was just messy as hell. Sloppy writing and concept, and you needed to bring the Kingpin in earlier. Ms. Marvel, the comic book series was weak and having the current iteration of Carol Danvers as her hero? Ugh…,” I sighed in frustration. “And the less said about She Hulk, the better. They ruined the Netflix Daredevil-probably the best adaptation of any street-level Marvel comic book character on the small screen ever-to make a fifth rate Deadpool clone. Worse, they did it badly. Yes, I know that the comic book in the ‘80s and early ‘90s was that meta, but meta humor is hard to do well. And the series was not done well. WandaVision wasn’t as bad, but you had so many chances to play with the meta ideas there and nobody did. It was just sad, and you made Wanda into a villain…just for fun?” 

Jack tapped his fingers on the armrest of his chair, and then he smiled. “Okay, what I’m hearing is that we’ve had some weak stories in the last few years. We have to have a definite ‘rebuilding’ phase coming up, and we need to do good stories to pull that off. Sounds about right?”

“Yes…,” I replied carefully.

“Good!” Jack laughed and nodded. “We’re in the middle of filming a sequel to Black Panther and we’ll be introducing a new character for a Disney Plus show in the movie.”

“Oh?” I had this sudden sinking feeling in my gut that I wasn’t going to like this.

“Yep,” Jack smiled. “Ever hear of Riri Williams?”

In Which The Writer Discovers That Things Have Gotten Worse

“I’ve heard of the character,” I replied, speaking slowly. “But…she’s not very popular. All of her comic book runs have been below-average at best, and very forgettable. And the few times I’ve seen anyone talk about her online, it’s not positive.”

“That’s something that has to go,” Jack nodded and started to play with his worry toy, a pen that he flipped between his fingers. “We think she has a lot of potential, a smart black girl that hit the ground running with StarkTech and built her own suit. Lots of potential marketing possibilities, we get to boost our DEI scores, lots of things we can do with that.”

I knew a lot more about Riri and Ironheart than I was going to admit, and I was able to keep my poker face going. She was not going to be a popular choice for anyone, and I hated to use the word “problematic” to describe anything or anyone, but… “So, what do you need me to do?” I asked, curious.

“We just keep getting retreads of the Iron Man script in an eight-episode format,” Jack switched the pen from his right hand to his left hand. “We want to bring you in, do a series bible, and see if an outside perspective can help us to get the script off the ground.”

“I can do that,” and that sinking feeling in my belly was getting worse. This was just spelling out “disaster” in some format… “I’ll need to have an idea of how to tie the story continuity into Phase Five of the MCU, but that’s just looking at notes right now.”

“Don’t worry too much about that,” Tom interrupted, “We’ll do the fine-tuning needed to tie her story in when we get that far, just stay as close to the continuity as you can.”

I considered that for a moment. “I can do that. And, you want a full pitch, right?”

“Absolutely,” Jack smiled, this time with some teeth. He stood up and offered me his hand, “The results will be awesome. I’ve heard great things about your work.”

“Thank you,” I replied as sincerely as I could, shaking his hand. “I’ll get to work as quickly as I can and have a story bible and a pitch ready for you ASAP.”

“Excellent!” Tom nodded, shook Jack’s hand and Jack left the room, waving as he headed out the door. Tom and I sat down, and I was lost in thought for a moment when Tom coughed softly. “Yes, it’s that bad.”

“It can’t be that bad,” I tried not to whine, but Tom handed me a bound story bible and I flipped through it. “It is that bad. Worse, even.”

“There’s a bit of room for you to work in,” Tom admitted. “Not as much as I’d like, but the #MeToo and DEI cultists are in full force around here. You’re going to have to make Riri as girlboss as you can.”

“Nobody likes girlboss characters. Not even the people that say they like girlboss characters like girlboss characters,” I groaned in frustration. “I could do a subversion of the girlboss.”

“Only if you can slip it past Jack,” Tom nodded. “I’ve gotten the entire run of Ironheart comic trade paperbacks for you, so you’ve got research materials.”

“Fun,” I muttered. “Well, it could be worse. I could still be in downtown Manhattan trying to convince the head of Studio 54 that trying to do a Carrie revival is going to crash and burn faster than David Caruso’s TV career after CSI Miami.”

“How did that go?” Tom asked curiously.

“Tax write-off, I hope,” I grunted as I took the bag of books from Tom.

In Which The Writer Reads Far Too Many Comic Books

I got back to the hotel and laid out the trade paperbacks. A little bit of research into Riri’s continuity, a few additional trade paperbacks ordered through Comixology to fill in team runs, and I sat down with my notepad and started to take notes.

The first and terrifying things about Riri Williams? If every third page wasn’t making it clear that she was a hero, you had a wonderful supervillain origin story here. Stole (or “salvaged”) and reverse-engineered an Iron Man suit. Had this feeling of entitlement and that she felt like the world owed her. Kept getting herself into big messes, and having authorial fiat bail her out. And, maybe even autistic, the bad kind of autistic. The kind that is going to leave her vulnerable because she is just so enthusiastic and doesn’t see the hook that far too many people would put in when they would pay attention to her.

There are too many people like that in the world. I worked for too many people like that. Seeing a girl that just wanted someone to pay attention to her exploited like that rubbed me extremely raw.

I kept writing notes, and sat there, thinking. Somehow, my biggest note came back to Riri mostly salvaged and reverse-engineered, she didn’t invent anything at all. Right next to that was we need a gear porn scene, organic to the story. Several, if we can get away with it. This wasn’t going to be good, not at all.

I’d typed up a timeline of the MCU and printed it out at the downstairs office center, laying it down on the floor to get a good idea of when things were in terms of time. Something about time just kept on hitting me, but I couldn’t figure out what or how.

I glared at my timeline, I glared at my notes, and I made a few attempts to type something on my laptop, but nothing really came out. Nothing that really appealed to me. 

So, rather than stare at my laptop and complain at it, I packed things up and went out driving. Random driving is better than random public transit riding, especially in LA. Somehow, I pulled into Little Tokyo, parked the car, and walked around to get my head going. It was walking through the mall and past the Entertainment Hobby Shop Jungle that I saw something that caught my eye.

They had a window display of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers toys, or more specifically the original tokusatsu series it was based on, Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger. I stopped to look at it, remembering when I was a kid and our TV could barely get the local FOX station on our rabbit ears (it wasn’t until high school that we moved somewhere that we actually could get cable), and watching the show through static and barely making out one word in three. And, as I was looking at the toys and the action figures and the toyetic line potentials of everything…inspiration hit.

I pulled a notebook out of my satchel and started to scribble down notes. Then, I pulled out my phone and put in an order to a Mexican place that did awesome burritos.

I was probably going to be stuck in the hotel room for a few days to get this all down.

In Which The Writer Has A Full Toy Line Ready To Go

The writing took me most of the week, and I had to run to a FedEx/Kinkos to print out the completed story bible. A few phone calls to check with friends that were agents for the actors and actresses that I thought would be right for the roles (and getting in touch with friends-always a good thing), and that Monday I was ready to go, story bible copies in my satchel, and an appointment set with Jack and Tom.

“Good morning!” I smiled as I came in the door of Tom’s office, carrying coffee for everyone there. “I bring gifts.”

Tom and Jack took their coffee and Tom started to sip on his while Jack considered the cup in his hand. “You’ve got a bible and a pitch ready?” Jack asked.

“I’ve even got a PowerPoint presentation, if needed,” I smiled, and that took most of the weekend.

“Give me the pitch, and a verbal description,” Jack continued, then he sipped his coffee.

I waited for him to lower the coffee cup before I said, “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Marvel Cinematic Universe version.”

That got his attention. “Go on, go on…,” he replied, waving his coffee cup around.

“Riri Williams is a sophomore high school student in a Midtown Baltimore high school, charter school set up by Pepper Potts as a memorial to Tony Stark,” I started, laying out a copy of the series bible on Tom’s desk for each of them. “She’s young, she’s smart, and she’s still learning. We have a teaching montage for the first episode, and she has an unofficial ‘uncle’-Bob Gonzalez-who is teaching her electronics and how to be aware of her surroundings.”

“Good start, but where does she get her suit and how does Power Rangers show up?” Jack asked, tapping a fingertip on his copy of the series bible.

“The big conflict of the first season is that there’s a company-Midnight’s Fire-that is involved in buying up properties and getting involved in local gentrification. And they’re a little..pushy. Riri thinks that she can do something about it. But she’s also trying to figure out why there’s a dead zone of cell signals near her house. Shouldn’t be one as far as she can tell, so she builds a detector to map out the dead zone,” I continued, and tried not to pace. Fiona tells me that I’m a pacer when I’m trying to be convincing, and I kept hearing that Jack hated people that paced around. “And that’s when she finds it, she finds one of Tony Stark’s labs, and she finds an Ultron. Namely, she finds Ultron version 1776, which was one of the later versions of Ultron, waiting there. And this is a ‘good,’” and I held up my fingers for air quotes, “version of Ultron.”

“There is one?” Jack asked me sarcastically.

“He claims so, at the very least. And that’s where we start. He can’t build robots, but he can build suits of armor, and with Riri’s help he can help her figure out what’s going on with Midnight’s Fire and save her neighborhood,” I scribbled on my notepad, to deal with my tension. “And it goes bad because they’ve got some supervillains working for them. That’s when one of Riri’s friends finds out what she’s been up to, and ‘76 realizes that they need a team, and that’s when we have our second big training montage.

“Now, we have a team of five teens with attitude, calling themselves Team Ironheart. They take down Midnight’s Fire and the supervillains get arrested, and the neighborhood is saved. Which leads to the two stingers. The first is that Midnight’s Fire is a front for the Ten Rings…and the branch here is run by Demetrius Williams. And, yes, Demetrius is Riri’s father, who she thought died in a drive-by shooting. The second stinger is that Bob and ‘76 know each other, because Bob is Robert Gonzalez from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and he’s a Variant. They’re working together because ‘something is coming’ and they’re getting ready for ‘the dialogs to come.’”

Jack considered the tip of his pen, then looked at me. “Good pitch,” he noted. “How does the team work for the story?”

“You have a whole range of characters to sell toys for, it’s a very toyetic series concept,” I replied, handing him a smaller report that I had put together. “The story works on two levels-one for kids that will want the toys, because there’s a lot of accessories and things they can play with. And, for the adults and parents, you have the classic James Spader snark and collectables for them to pick up and enjoy.”

“And this?” Jack asked, looking at the smaller report.

“Possible toy line ideas, marketing plans, and future concepts,” I smiled. “If you can get the kids and the collectors buying, you’ve got a source of income independent of Disney Plus subscription rates.”

Jack looked at the story bible and he flipped through it a bit. “Got some interesting details here,” he noted after some glancing. “Why the ensemble cast?”

“If any of the characters don’t work well in the first season, we can sort around a bit. We’ve got a good set of representative racial characteristics, three female and two male cast members as a part of the core team, and there’s a lot of space here for customization,” I said.

Jack looked at the bible and report and collected them. “Very good,” he stood up and shook my hand. “There’s a lot of great ideas here, and if we use them, there might be something here for you.”

“Thanks for giving me the chance to make the pitch,” I replied and shook his hand. “I’ll be in town for a few more days if you have any questions and want me to do any revisions.”

Jack made a little small talk and left, and I let out the breath that I didn’t know I was holding. “So,” I asked, turning to look at Tom, “how do you think it went?”

“I think you hit all of the big points, and I really like the team idea,” Tom nodded. “Jack’s going to take the bible to the team, and hopefully it’ll work out.”

“Hopefully,” I echoed. “We’ll be able to see some good results and maybe even get a good show. Should I start working on the first episode script?”

“Not a bad idea,” Tom agreed. “Worse case, you’re ahead of the curve and you’ve got the rest of the week paid, so that’s something.”

“Awesome. Grab lunch today and share some Fiona and the kids’ stories?” I asked, handing Tom his copy of the toy marketing report.

“Sounds like a plan,” Tom chuckled. “And is there really something called ‘toyetic’?”

“Hey, it’s how Star Wars kept making its nut over the last thirty-something years.”

In Which The Writer Finds The Shaft

Tom and I had lunch at this little hole-in-the-wall place that made some of the best pork jambalaya I’d had outside of New Orleans. We were considering a second round when Tom’s phone went off. He glanced at it and muttered a lot of profanity in Yiddish. “Just got a message from Jack, he wants to meet with us again,” he muttered as he put his phone away.

“Far too soon,” I agreed, and we made it back to the office. 

Jack was there, waiting. “Didn’t like it, they wanted Riri to be the star of the show, completely,” Jack said without preamble. “Also, she’s not girlboss enough-she needs to kick more ass on her own and kick it as hard as she can.”

“Damn,” I muttered, then said more loudly. “I could revise the concept…,” but Jack waved at me.

“They’re trying to revise the current story bible they have, and they think that there’s nothing they can do with this one,” he shrugged. “So, yea, we’re good at concepts but not what we wanted.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I replied. “I’ll be in town a few more days if something changes.”

“Just wanted to let you know in person,” Jack shrugged, and as he left, I was just trying not to seethe internally.

“Well, that didn’t work,” I said to Tom as the door closed.

“They’re trying to get somewhere, and they hate it when they can’t use their own map,” Tom agreed. “Few more days on our dime, so that’s something.”

“That it is,” I agreed.

As I left the office, I looked back at the building and just wanted to be angry and make a grand gesture. But I stomped on that feeling hard. Grand gestures are not as much fun when you’re a husband with three kids-and the industry doesn’t like you.

At least the weather is nice, and I was already thinking about a drive along the coast. Maybe some sea air would help.

And, as I walked to my car, the clouds were moving quickly, and I could imagine five sets of contrails, as Team Ironheart flew to help save people.

One day, I thought, they’ll spread their wings and soar.

Merry Christmas to You All

I must remind myself, stay optimistic. Wallowing with my black dogs is never a good thing.

And I can right now.

I have a family that loves me.
I have a roof over my head.
I have food on my table.
I have money in my account.
I am… reasonably content.

Still would like a new job. Still would like to have writing success, in small victories to become larger ones.

But I have my family. I have friends. I am in as good a condition as I can hope for.

And I wish the same for you all.

May you all have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Writing Notes for December 24th

Once again, weird energies for writing. I’ve always had issues with depression, anxiety, and worry-the combination of factors that I’m having isn’t helping any.

It doesn’t help that a number of these factors are my bloody muses-I write to escape the things that frustrate me, but I also know that those things that are a problem are out there. Waiting for me to stop being in the headspace of my characters with huge, spiked clubs. And, wanting to make up for lost time that I wasn’t feeling awful for not performing miracles to get a new job and fix my entire life in a single epic Hard Work Montage that clearly only covers a day or two of real time.

But, between these moments of anxiety-

  • Sending in resumes and doing interviews (yes, I know that applying for a job in December sucks and the writing profession is in the middle of chaos due to AI chatbots. Doesn’t matter. Have to apply for jobs.)
  • The holidays (I’m usually happier on the holidays, or at least not unhappy. Losing your job right after Thanksgiving definitely puts a pall on things.)
  • Dealing with my physical health (I love garlic and onions. I am having stomach issues and my doctor tried a dairy-free and a gluten-free diet. Not doing onions and garlic seems to be the only thing that helps…but I love garlic and onions…)
  • Dealing with my mental health (if you think I’m over-sharing now, this is positively loquacious in comparison to how I usually deal with my emotional state. Too many years of having “friends” use any momentary vulnerability to break my kneecaps will do that to you. It’s only been recently that I haven’t done the “bottle up, bottle up, bottle up, EXPLODE” method of dealing with the octopus that lives in my head.)
  • Dealing with my fiscal health (I’m in no immediate danger-the previous job gave me unemployment and I have savings. As long as I’m still on MediCal, I’m tight but not desperate. But this is an additional worry I don’t need. If you want to help, please buy a copy of Solist At Large and review it. If you want to contribute directly, thank you-anything helps and I won’t even do sad dogs in the snow montage.)

-and a half dozen other issues, I’m actually getting some writing done.

And, on that note…

  • The Winter Solist-About another 3,000 or so words, and we’re at the big dance number of the book. Once that happens, it’s time to write up the last bit of the novel, put it all together, go in to fill two spots I had to jump over (I was having a writer’s block, and rather than just pound my head there, I put notes in and will have to search for them to revise those sections.) From there, it’s getting a cover, final layout, a landing page on this website to directly link for my marketing, and then…
  • A Roman Solist-This one is going to be fun-I’ve got most of the outline done, down to the second tier with some third-tier items. Once I finish that up, I’m going to start not only writing this novel, but the outline for Solist At The Fall, where we finally meet Special Operations Group Manticore and deal with African monsters. This is where we meet Aretta, and writing her is going to be interesting…
  • An Ethical Succubus-Outline is at the first tier, and I’ve managed to get the prologue and first two chapters done (the MC isn’t quite as…observant as Adelaide is, not at first…), but I’m definitely going to need the second and third tiers before I get to seriously writing this.
  • Other Writing Projects-I’m doing an outline for an isekei novel idea, currently at the first tier with some serious wish fulfillment ideas. And it’s third person so we get multiple POV characters, which will be fun. At the very least, it’ll let me have a palate cleanser for some of the other stories. It will also let me play around the idea of elves and elven skin colors (think the opposite of Forgotten Realms, with some nasty religious implications).

    Other story ideas are percolating, as often as I can write down the notes.

I expect to be busy tomorrow, but I will try to say something for Christmas. If I don’t…Merry Christmas to you all.

A Christmas Solist

Here’s a Christmas story for this year, set in the future of the Last Solist series, after the fourth story in the series, Solist At The Fall.

There’s something oddly cathartic about sitting on the ledge of a skyscraper on Christmas Day.

Namely, just after midnight, I’m sitting on one of the gargoyles for the Chrysler Building and I’m not cold. Not at all. My Regalia is keeping me comfortably warm, and the wind here just makes things feel brisk. But it’s still cold inside. It’s lonely.

I should be at home.

I’m not.

Sayuri isn’t here. Her father pretty much went from the Lycée to the airport without stopping after the last day of classes. Because Sayuri has to do as many miai as she can before she has to come back for classes. Because he needs to marry her off as soon as possible. Because that’s the only way he can control her.

Deborah isn’t here. I made sure of that, as this is the first Christmas-the first real Christmas-she had with her mother. Thirteen years is a long time when you never had your father and your mother…was an illusion, a role played by something that wasn’t human. But even if I had to get out and push, Deborah would have a Christmas with her actual mother this year.

Aretta isn’t here. Her family and I…have managed to come to an understanding about what happened to her. What followed them from Kenya and what was trying to kill her line for decades. We rarely have a corpse to mount on the wall, proof that a monster has been overcome. But this is a time that I wished there was. She’s spending the first Christmas ever somewhere that is warm, away from New York, away from Kenya, and away from her nightmares.

My real family, the family that birthed and raised me…their only remaining son isn’t at home anymore and they decided to take a trip for Christmas. The first time they ever did it for Christmas in almost fifty years. They’re being watched, in a positive way, by my Servants. Somehow, there will always be at least a shape-changed two cat-ferret field team in range to bail them out and shoot anything that could threaten them in less than a minute and that’s the best I can do for them.

My…family of concealment, the horde of Servants that I’ve had for the last eighteen months, are waiting in Long Island. Most of them are asleep, or the nearest possible thing. There’s a team sitting in a warehouse in Hell’s Kitchen, in case I need them. But otherwise…they’re waiting for the sun to come up, for me to come down the stairs to open Christmas presents. To celebrate my second Christmas in our “first real home” for a girl that didn’t even exist eighteen months ago. The whiplash of everything that has happened…still gets to me, more often than not.

And yet…

I know why I’m sitting here. Last night on Christmas Eve, my family of concealment went to see the holiday windows and something tickled my senses. A faint whiff of corruption, a sense that there is something that is evil and inhuman trying to get into our world. We walked around long enough for me to figure that it was close by, but no other details. Not an immediate threat, but one that somebody should deal with soon.

I’m a Dawn Empire Solist. My job is to be the “somebody” that “deals with it soon.”

Adelaide, I can hear in my head-not my thoughts because it doesn’t work that way-from the stabbing spear I’m holding in my hand. Whisper is his name, a Sapient Device and as much a person as any of us are. You don’t have to do this alone.

“No,” I replied softly, barely louder than the wind noise up here, “I don’t. But I will.”

You can have Deborah here, Whisper continues, she will…

“Her first Christmas with her mother, her real mother,” I half-hiss, my anger instant and almost instinctive. “She will not miss that experience if I can help it. If something sets me off, I’ll back up and call for help. But not until then.”

Whisper is silent after this and I suddenly feel awful, embarrassed by my reaction. “I can’t let her,” and I half-hiccup over my own draining rage, “I can’t let them lose this first time, if I can help it. Let me try first, please.”

Whisper gently turns in my hand, a hug that if he had arms, he’d give me. I know, Adelaide. Just…be careful.

“I will,” and I stand up from my perch and let my sense of magical energy, the ability to detect prana, reach my eyes. This is Midtown East in New York, some of the most exclusive and privileged dirt and buildings in the world. To my sense of magic, there are all sorts of glows and marks and there is history here. But somewhere nearby, I can feel it. A wrongness of power that will show up purple-green and squirming like meth-fueled maggots to my sight if I look too hard at it.

An intrusion from realms that shouldn’t ever reach our world. The places of gasping hunger that Lovecraft could see in his nightmares, the empty voids where monsters hide in the Mandelbrot sets. What the Dawn Empire called the Darkness in the nearest translation from High Imperial-to-English that didn’t take over five hundred words to render and would still be incomplete.

Some instinct, a sense of right and wrong rubs against my body. It’s an instinct that I know all too well, and it is suggesting that I head north/north-east. I can feel my prana flow change, lifting me off my feet and wrapping a veil of concealment around me as I begin to fly, hidden from just about every sense.

I can feel my pulse begin to rise, excitement running up and down my body. I’m built for this hunt, and the hunt has begun.


The wind blows past my ears as I’m flying, keeping the forward shielding to a minimum to lower my magical signature. I let the instinct pull me, senses open and looking for whatever threat I found last night. On my wrist, I can see the numbers change as it nears 1 AM. Fully and officially Christmas, if you want to think about it that way. I want to think about it that way, but…I can’t right now.

If I had to make a guess, we’re dealing with some wannabe necromancer, who got ahold of enough information to start messing with things that they shouldn’t have. Probably a teenage boy with murdered cats and dogs, because that’s where most of the statistical range falls for starting, wannabe necromancers. But one of the things I’ve been taught is never assume, because assumption is the mother of most mistakes. That’s why I’m searching as high as I can above the streets and as covertly as possible. If there’s going to be any surprises, let them be in my favor and to my advantage.

My eyes pick up the first traces of the necromancer’s power just slightly north of 3rd Avenue, more shadows than actual sight. I begin to search and a faint sense of something wrong, the tickle of a smell in the back of my head, leads me towards an alley. A basement, I think, looking at the closed office building. I’m almost sighing at how cliche this is-I’m here for this?

Then, I realize that it’s bigger than I thought. Crude wards have been scratched into the walls of the alley, hidden by a layer of fresh graffiti. They were also careful to make sure to add a layer of warding over the alleyway, using the secondary effects of necromantic prana to power them. Just outside the alley I can see the mistake in the ward, like water soaking through a saturated towel. The wards are crude…but it’s a skilled sort of crude, done by someone that would have done better if they had known more.

I can hear Whisper clear his metaphysical throat, almost to ask if I should call Deborah in for backup. “Not yet,” I reply softly, before he can even form the words. “Not yet.”

If this is what I think it is, Dear God, not yet.

It takes me a few moments to examine the wards, and they are all concealment wards-no alarm or trap wards of any kind, nothing that would allow the necromancer to know if someone like me went past them. I lower myself onto a nearby fire escape and shut down the flight spell, examining the alleyway. This isn’t random or just somebody who is playing with magic, thinking it’s a game. This is an actual, no-joke necromancer. But that means I have to stop them now.

The door is easy to find, and the same skilled-if-crude ward construction is on that door. All designed to keep me from using any remote-viewing tricks or trying to look into what is nothing but a solid barrier of disquieting purple-green. I had to give the necromancer credit-he even warded the ceiling and floor, and there were some hints that he had even done some work on the pipes and ductwork as well. The door even had an alarm spell on it, supplementing the purely physical alarm system I suspected was there. I’m looking around carefully, and I have to smile. Our necromancer was through, but there only appears to be two doors to the basement. And the hallway connected to the outside door splits the largest space from the smallest.

I power the flight spell back up and lower myself through the wards and down to the ground. There’s a cool, acidic prickling on my skin as I pass through the area covered by the wards, but nothing else happens. I land softly on my feet, after checking to make sure there aren’t any wards or spells of any kind to warn people of my approach. Before I drop my veil, I do a quick check for cameras and don’t find any that are looking my way. When I drop the veil, I pull out of Elsewhere my equipment and change my Regalia.

I’m not sure why I’m still doing this, but when I got started, I decided to do the whole “let’s have a secret identity” thing and that secret identity is Serenity Rose. Upper-class Scottish expat in New York with red hair, clothing covered in Celtic symbology and wearing a plain white face mask to protect her identity. My Regalia also is more ornate, rather than the plain Grey Lensman-style that is the default and I still like what Charles did with the design. 

Charles’ obsession with roses-and lilies if I let them out-worries me at times. Fortunately, I got him to tone down the number of roses in this version of my Regalia, by about fifteen, twenty percent. The rest of my gear is all modern and all from Charles as well. I quietly trot behind a dumpster to check it before I go in, after making sure nothing is following me.

Tradition and style states that I should go in with Whisper, bow, and magic. This isn’t a traditional set of circumstances. Not a complaint about my bow-a proper recurve bow with a two-hundred-and-fifty-pound draw and spell arrows in variety-but a complaint about what works and what doesn’t in hard-core CQB environments. Especially in places like enclosed hallways, where throwing large quantities of fire will cause things like fires.  I pull from the back holster my rifle and do a function check.

Once again, Charles is invoking his mad scientist heritage and the rifle is small, compact, black, and looking like something that Masamune Shirow would have drawn for a cyberpunk manga. It’s my MN-19 assault rifle-twenty inches of 5.56mm NATO caseless bullpup action, with a barrel length equal to a classic M-16. It fires so fast that in a three round burst that the third bullet is out of the barrel before the weapon fully recoils from the first round, and there’s no forensic evidence other than the bullets. Slip a “mixed breakfast” magazine-jacketed hollow points, pure silver in a discarding sabot, and a ward-cracking round-in the magazine well at the top, pull and turn the spring-retracted key that fits in the butt of the rifle a half-rotation to cock and load the weapon, and I’m ready to go. Laser pointer on the rifle and the holographic sight is set for UV vision mode, and I tap the side of my face mask to bring up the various image overlay modes.

I should have laughed at this-the necromancer was so complete in warding his hideout that he gave me a rough map to his location. There’s just enough of an emphasis on the larger room, enough that it has to be where he’s doing his casting and ritual work. I’m careful to make sure Whisper is in an easy place for me to grasp as needed. Make sure the spare rifle magazines on my harness clear the pouches smoothly, double-check that the combat sling for the rifle swings smoothly, do a quick press-check to make sure the Glock holstered on my right leg is loaded. “Breach, bang, and clear,” I half-chant under my breath, and if I have to use the door, I’ll use it my way.

I’m pulling back up the veil and I walk invisibly to about six steps away from the door, taking a deep breath. Adjust the grip of my boots to maximum so that I don’t slip on the ice, build up the spellwork, and lay down a few trap spells and wards of my own, to make sure nobody escapes when I come in. I let the breath out that I didn’t know I was holding in slow, smooth five count. But on the end of the exhale, I let the spell fly and start running towards the door. Before I’ve even made it three steps, the door explodes inwards, the blasting spell I used was designed to drive it into the hallway in a hail of wooden shards. An instant later, the flash-bulb strobes of the light spell I sent in with the splinters goes off, hopefully blinding anyone inside for one critical moment or two.

I’m just behind the splinters, and the rifle goes from port-arms to fully raised to my shoulder as I enter, and I can sense the motion to my left. Human, male, late teens or early twenties and he’s holding a knife of some kind. He’s also got a ward on, designed to protect him against low-level spell effects and that makes him into a target. Three rounds blow his jaw and most of the area below his neck off, the sound of the suppressed rifle sounding like a small jackhammer in the hallway. His body collapses and there isn’t anyone immediately behind him. I pivot right and sweep into what has to be a small kitchen or preparation area for the larger room. Ignore the body on the table-young female, maybe, ribs and abdomen cracked open as part of a ghoul’s feast of some kind. She’s dead and won’t be coming back if someone stuck something nasty to use her prepared nervous system as a mount. Ignore the sounds coming from a locked pantry with a reinforced door and continue my sweep.

Around the corner comes another man-cult robes, knife, late twenties, and far too close. I can’t get the rifle around in time before he tries to take a swing at me with the knife. I have to let go of the rifle with my right hand to block the blow, his wrist sliding down my forearm and the blade twitching as it hits against my barrier. He’s warded, but there’s no other signs of enchantments, and the ward is weak in comparison to my magic. A quick spell macro slams him in the chest, a rod of pure force that has to feel like he’s been hit by a medicine ball thrown hard enough to crack if not shatter his rib cage. It doesn’t matter, because that blow forced him away enough for me to put three precisely placed rounds into his chest, 5.56mm rounds blowing out his heart and grouped so tightly you could put a quarter over the penetration holes in his chest.

Sweep back around-no live targets here-and confirm that nobody has tried to use the alley door to escape as I finish the sweep of the smaller area. I cross over into the hallway again and use my left hand to pull down a curtain that is blocking off the larger area, shoving the barrel of the rifle through at the same time. Which is a good thing, because something tries to bite the barrel off as I do, damn near yanking the rifle out of my hand.

I let go of the rifle, the combat sling automatically detaching, and Whisper snapped instantly to my open hand. Somewhere over the shrieking anger of the head necromancer in what has to either be Latin or very drunken Greek and the screams of his interrupted sacrifice is a sound I never wanted to hear again. It is a growl from a throat made from glass and rusted iron nails, something in the German Shephard range, jaws around the barrel shroud of the rifle as it throws the gun away and comes at me. Its eyes are full of luminous green worms, full of fury and anger. A Hound, I hissed at myself in my thoughts. The fuckers summoned a Hound?

It leaps at me, terrifyingly gaunt and made up entirely of straight lines, the bones breaking and healing instantly as it moves. The body, if I had time to really look, would be a mass of broken glass and metal filings, animated by a thing that should never be here. It’s angry howling would be causing me to panic if I had time to panic. Instead, I take Whisper and slam it up into the Hound’s body, carving out one of its legs in an arc of glass dust and rust filings. It rolls on the ground, screaming in sounds that should sound like an angry dog-if you can imagine those sounds coming from a scrapyard in a hurricane. The Hound snaps around on its three legs and I drive Whisper as hard into the monster’s body as I can.

There’s a brilliant flash, a pricking of skin even through my barriers and wards, and the air would smell full of ozone if I wasn’t wearing my mask. The Hound collapses into a messy pile of half-molten glass and metal, having zapped the animating spirit with enough lightning to jump-start half the cars at JFK. Give something like that a good zap or hit on the form it’s animating, that’ll cause it to lose its grip on our world and leave the body behind. My eyes look up and there’s the necromancer, trying to carve something with his knife on the sacrifice’s body…maybe a summoning, I don’t know.

But I don’t care, as I fly across the room on thrust and drive Whisper into his chest so hard the tip of the blade comes out through his spine. He drops to his knees, and his hands flail for a few moments before he falls to the floor. The moment his body hits the ground, I slam down my boot onto the side of his neck and I can hear it break like green wood. His eyes flutter and his lips try to move, but he’s already dead. Quickly check to make sure there aren’t any dead-man spells on the necromancer-nothing there-and I turn around to see the girl.

She’s tied to the table with heavy-duty zip ties, the skin on her chest partially peeled off from the necromancer’s summoning efforts. Blood is welling out, and I hiss to Whisper, “Keep us safe,” and I pull the multi-tool off my belt and snap out the wire cutters. It takes only a few seconds to pop off the dozen or so separate zip ties holding her down, and the girl writhes in pain. I push my hands down on her shoulders and say as calmly as I can, “Stop moving! You are going to hurt yourself more!”

She keeps moving, babbling something that almost sounds like a mixture of school-learned Mandarin Chinese and something else. I finally get a good look at her and she’s almost…elfin in the candlelight and weak light bulbs that had lit this room and I know I don’t want to smell what the fat of the candles are made of. I switch to Mandarin and say as slowly as I can, “Please…stop moving. You are going to hurt yourself more if you do.”

Her breathing slows down, and I’m hoping that she’s calming down and not going into shock. The words are a jumbled mess that I can barely make one word out of three. I start to use my magic to heal up the wounds, watching as the skin flows back together. Her injuries are a methodical sort of torture, but I can heal them. Whisper points something out as I’m doing so. Book on the table, the handwriting looks familiar. I take a look at it and…I want there to be a spell that makes time travel possible. Fury is making the corners of my vision waver, as it’s another one of Kevin Fucking Lambert’s spell books, probably one of his earlier ones. Some teenager found it and decided to get into necromancy for fun and…I have to stop thinking about this. Anger won’t help anyone right now. I close the book, pull a shield bag out of Elsewhere, and stuff the book in and secure the top. 

A few minutes later, the girl’s sobbing in remembered pain and not bleeding anymore. She’s also eaten half of my supply of emergency food bars and gone through two bottles of water. There aren’t any sirens yet-the wards outside must have been dampening the sounds from here-and I walk over to the locked pantry door. I already suspect what is in the pantry, and I find something to throw over the body on the table, covering it completely.

These three idiots added a cross-bar and two padlocks to the door, and it only takes me a moment and some magic to rip them all out in a shower of splinters. Inside the room, blinking at the light and clutching each other tightly were three other girls, all looking like they came from the same place. “You are safe,” I say in Mandarin Chinese, and pull off my mask. I can see their expressions relax as they realize that I’m a girl. “Please, follow me and do not look around.”

I lead them by the hand to the room with their friend and they’re all crying together, holding each other and babbling in what sounds like Mandarin and the other language they all seem to know. I can tell that the wards are starting to collapse, the death of the necromancer causing them to fail. Whatever you can say about Kevin fucking Lambert, even his crude stuff is better that most people’s polished work. I pull my current burner phone out of a pouch and discover that it’s connecting to the network here in the basement. Pull up a saved phone number, and my phone connects to the supervisor’s desk at Police dispatch. “NYPD Dispatch, this is…,” a male voice begins.

“Dispatch, open your secure document storage. File is Quantum Indigo Echo, absolute priority,” I interrupt calmly, emphasizing my words.

Even if you’re doing short-strokes on the prettiest girl in the world, stop and listen. Please.

“One moment,” and the man’s voice goes away, and he comes back. “I have the file, I need…”

“Authentication is Whiskey, Victor, Tango, Echo, Gamma, Kilo,” I interrupted him again, giving the one-time code to confirm who I am. “Location is as follows,” and I gave him the location and identifying marks, hearing a pen scribbling in the background. “Site is currently HOT, I repeat, a HOT Yellow. I am securing the location now, three hostile and one innocent down. Will need at least two uniforms, a bus, a hearse, and social workers for four females of unknown Asian origin, possibly northern Chinese or Tibetian or Mongolian. Call and alert everyone on the ‘A’ phone list, will be on this number for the next six hours. Confirm, please.”

“Got your location, and I’ve got at least one patrol car on the way,” he reads off his notes. “Hopefully two and the duty sergeant soon. Location is a HOT Yellow, uniforms will contact you when they are close to confirm status. Three hostile and one innocent down. Four females, of northern Chinese origin, don’t speak English. Need a bus,” the slang term for an ambulance, “and help when they get to the hospital. You’ll be on this number for the next six hours, minimum.”

“Thank you,” I replied, catching my breath that I didn’t know I was holding. “I will be here.”

“Putting the calls in now,” the supervisor says. “And…good luck.”

The phone disconnects, and I make sure the phone has the ring-tone volume set to maximum as I walk over to the girls and try to communicate with them. 

I look at my watch as I come over. Barely 1:35 AM. Merry Christmas.


After I finish disarming the last of the wards, after the uniforms come in, after they take the girls away in an ambulance and the coroner is going in with respirators because yes, the grease they were using for the candles was rendered human fat, Detective Craigmore shows up as part of the last steps in this story. Classic NYPD Irish detective, one each, I know that I’ve dragged him away from his family on Christmas morning and I’m about to apologize profusely when he holds his hand up and says, “Good morning to you too, Serenity. But I know you’re sorry.”

“Am I that predictable?” I ask with a half-hearted smile. I’m sipping some of the worst coffee I’ve ever had, cop coffee in all respects, the sugar and “dairy creamer” killing the worst of the burnt taste. “Report is here,” and I hand him about fifteen hand-written pages of half-truths and accurate statements about what happened. “A necromancer with one of Kevin Lambert’s early notebooks. They had five girls in there, used one as a binding sacrifice for a Hound. Could have been preparing for a second summoning, they had a girl ready to go when I came in. Necromancer, two Renfields, and a girl dead. Three girls locked away, might have been bought from someone.” I stop for a moment, and with a single solid chuck, toss the empty coffee cup into a nearby dumpster. “Disarmed all the traps and secured the book. Not good police work, I am afraid, but I did sanitize any magical signatures in there.”

Craigmore sighs and rubs the bridge of his nose with his fingertips. “I’d like to avoid another meeting with Manticore,” he agrees with my unspoken statement. “Boss can make this a little flatter; straightforward cult crap and girls being used for sex work. Shitty way to have a Christmas morning.”

“Very shitty,” I agreed with him, and half-yawned. “Tired, coming down from the combat high. I did a second walk-through to be sure. I can stay here…”

“Go home, Serenity,” Craigmore interrupts me. “You wouldn’t have left any problems behind, and somebody should be home for Christmas with their family.” He gently shoves me on the shoulder, and his smile under the police lights is as happy as you can hope. “I’ll call if there’s a problem, promise.”

I nodded, sighed theatrically, and looked around. “I hate to hug and run,” and I gave him a good, hard hug-not so hard as to break something, but enough to know how much I cared. “Give your wife and kids an extra hug for me, please?”

Craigmore hugged me back, and I slipped my mask and wig back on, heading for the end of the alleyway and powered up the spells I needed to fly back to the safehouse. Twenty minutes later, I’m waiting in the safehouse with my Regalia shut down, nibbling on a food bar. The portal opens up like clockwork-it’s on an hour timer-and three steps brings me to the train station, then back to the warehouse in Hell’s Kitchen. “Mission done,” I said, with a tired sigh. “Wannabe necromancer with one of Kevin Lambert’s books,” I hand the warded, bagged book to Ian, and he takes it. “One of the early ones, I think. Five girls, one sacrificed.” I yawn again, a good solid one that opens my mouth fully. “Tired, rough fight.”

Ian nods, and says, “We’ll get you home ASAP. Checkup first, of course.”

I don’t sigh, roll my eyes, or complain, but I am so very tempted. Kiokyo is there, wearing nurse scrubs, and she sweeps me with her magic and one of Charles’ gadgets to make sure that I’m not hiding something or had something planted on me. Two minutes later, she pulls off her face mask and smiles. “No problems, but you need some rest. Time to cheat.”

But without any warning at all, Kiokyo comes up and around me, hugs me from behind, firmly tucks my head between her neck and shoulder, carefully sweeps me off my feet, and takes me like a naughty kitten to our portal area. “I can walk,” I complained, and very carefully squirmed to get more Kiokyo hug-time and body contact in.

“I know you can,” Kiokyo purred, and I could feel the full-body blush beginning as a new portal was opened and she stepped through, still carrying me…

…into the basement of the house in Long Island. “Charles set this up,” Kiokyo keeps me from trying to say anything in complaint. “Very low signature, almost impossible to detect, and he built a couple of tricks that if someone was able to find it, it would be after they found the house and everything.”

“We can’t use it very often,” I whispered softly. “I can’t…”

“You needed to be home,” Kiokyo nuzzled my cheek and carried me upstairs to my bedroom. In less than thirty seconds, I’m out of my clothes, in my nightgown, and tucked solidly under my sheets. “Sleep as long as you need, we’ll be there for Christmas when you wake up.”

“I want…,” I mutter something, and before I can say anything else, I’m out like a light.


I don’t get PTSD. 

Technically.

Being a member of the Dawn Empire warrior caste-along with the various other augmentations and modifications-means that a lot of the things that cause PTSD can’t happen to me. My brain doesn’t carve permanent grooves into the deep lizard portions from trauma. My frontal cortex was put together by experts and not unskilled labor. My brain chemistry and hormonal levels don’t go crazy or massively out of sync-or they don’t stay that way for long. My basic thought patterns do not default to pessimism and fear, but instead a calm optimism that has few illusions.

I’ve been trained in the warning signs of various issues, things I need to watch for and things that I should ask one of my Servants questions about.

But…

My memory is eidetic, to a terrifying degree. I can describe everything that I have experienced with detail and nuance. But if I am not careful, that same memory will insist on replaying itself with terrifying detail. Such as just falling directly asleep after a fight, and for some reason tonight it is all about smell. I know the differences between various kinds of burning human fat, and my brain is demanding that I categorize the smell from the candles in the necromancer’s lair. There is this warm feeling that I’m scared for a moment is wrong…but it becomes right…

…and I wake up.

I’m in my bed, which is right. It’s now Christmas morning, which is right as well.

The girl curled up against me isn’t right.

Something about how I’m moving causes her head to move and my brain finally slips into gear and I realize that it is Deborah looking up at me in the bed. “Good morning, Adelaide,” she says sleepily, trying to curl a bit closer. 

“Um…why are you here?” I ask as I try to not let my body stiffen up, realizing that the question is stupid but somehow very important.

Deborah pouts-an expression that she’s still learning to use to its full heart-melting effect on me-and tilts her head slightly to the side to get a better view through brown hair over her eyes. “Adelaide, you needed me here, so I came over last night.”

“Your mother…,” I try to say, but she pouts again.

“You needed me last night, when you were out hunting. I knew it, and you should have known it.” She has gotten far too good at reading fractional motions in my body and followed up on that logic. “You knew, but you didn’t call because you wouldn’t want to ruin my Christmas. Sayuri made me promise that I’d keep an eye on you, and I know I should have watched you a lot closer,” she interrupts me. “I asked Mom if we could come and celebrate Christmas here, and she said yes. Brought all our presents, Servants and everything else.”

“I didn’t want…,” and Deborah put a fingertip on my lips to stop me speaking.

“You didn’t want to interrupt my first Christmas with my mother in nearly twelve years,” she pointed out. “You didn’t want to drag me in, because you felt that it was wrong. You gave a human answer to a Solist problem. I’m your Companion, Adelaide. I have to be dragged in, because that’s what I am. That’s why we’re here.”

“I hate thinking like that,” I say a moment later, after she takes her finger off my lips. “It feels greedy and arrogant.”

“Which is your answer, because it feels like Adelaide,” she agrees with me, and snuggles in even closer. “So very much an Adelaide answer. Which is what makes you so adorable as our Solist. Few more minutes, then breakfast downstairs?”

I curl up with her and rest my chin in her hair. “Few more minutes. Merry Christmas, Deborah.”

“Merry Christmas, Adelaide.”


A few more minutes later…

We were coming downstairs, and…it did feel like home.

Decorated Christmas tree, with every ornament that my biological parents had given me there, as well as several new ones I had picked out. Kristen, Deborah’s mother, was still using her cane as Etaine, one of Deborah’s Servants, helped her to finish laying out the presents. Father and Mother were there in their respective PJs, Charlotte and Kiokyo and Viola were in full “Downton Abbey” maid uniforms-because, of course they were-and were trying to outdo Etaine in their Victorian-era recreation of a happy household.

I can hear movement everywhere-not hypersensitivity but how my senses are. If I concentrate slightly, I can feel the flow of prana of every other Servant in the house. I can tell you how the various wards and barriers and enchantments are built, from the anti-vermin spells on the fence line to shielding spells that make the house resistant to anything short of many tactical nukes or equivalent magic. I know breakfast will be made in a few moments as someone-probably Benjamin or Ian-tells the kitchen team to start making something spectacular. A suspicious smell that suggests apple cinnamon pancakes.

But there’s this sense of overlay, the feeling that this isn’t right. I should be in a house which could fit comfortably in the first floor of this mansion-and still have space for the garage as well. The living room should be smaller. My Dad should be making pancakes from the kit he got from his sister, her annual Christmas present every year. Mom is still trying to figure out how to put down the stockings without things falling out.

My brothers…should be here. They can’t be here ever again, three years dead at this point.

I should still be a boy. 

I should still be an adult man.

I shouldn’t be this teenage girl, surrounded by people that sincerely love me. My hand shouldn’t be held by Deborah, who cares about me. Who doesn’t know all my history, who I have been very careful not to tell her, or Sayuri, or Aretta everything. I haven’t lied-not by commission-but I have been very careful to let assumptions not be corrected.

Deborah’s hand tightens up on mine, and I know she is telling me I won’t let go of you

I want to go home so badly it hurts, like razor blades taken to my heart.

No, that’s not correct. I want to rewind, to go back to where I was before. To fall into the past, where I know how everything was.

But the past can never be returned to. We can never go home, because that is just the memories. Making a home…making a life is the process of going from yesterday to tomorrow.

This…is my life now. But God help me…I don’t think I would go back even if I could. I’ve seen the monsters hiding out beyond the edges of the world. Some of them aren’t even human. But I’m one of the people that can fight the monsters.

My hand tightens on Deborah’s, and I can feel tears running down my cheeks. I should stop crying, I know how to do it. But I can’t.

Deborah lets go of my hand and hugs me as close as possible, and I can’t help but smile through my tears as I hug her back. “Merry Christmas, Deborah.”

“Merry Christmas, Adelaide,” she tells me as she lets me go, and we head downstairs to applause, to a world full of love.

To a world full of the people I love.

It might be only for this moment…but it’s a moment I will always treasure.