Saturday, January 24, 2015

Steering The Craft: Exercise 4, Part 3: Structural Repetition

I almost decided not to post part three of exercise four, or at least write an entirely new one for posting, as it contains possible minor spoilers of the series-in-progress, but the details may change a great deal, and hell, if it happens to stir up interest in any of you readers, I would love to know what begs more focus in your opinion and why. I'm sure this is an exercise I'll be repeating many times.
Anyhoo, onwards, to the content.

Exercise Four, Part Three: Structural Repetition

Assignment (quoted directly from the book): write a short narrative (350-1000 words) in which something is said or done, and then something is said or done that echoes or repeats it, perhaps in a different context, or by different people, or on a different scale. This can be a complete story, if you like, or a fragment of narrative.

*Note: I didn't stay within the assignment's word count. In fact, the draft below is in two parts and each part is about 1500 words or so. Each part contains two different characters echoing the other's situation. Let me know how it works for you. Who knows, the day in this exercise could be developed into a short story placed between the two planned books that have been written in an almost complete first draft.

The Draft:

Remembrance Day in the Frummeve-Vrumev Capital

Part One: Soldier’s Things

The man in suit sat on the tombstone with rigid posture as his right hand lifted a bottle of whiskey to his lips. After three sips, the bottle slipped from his fingers, but he caught it before it struck ground.
“I’m sure you’d cringe,” he grumbled. He lifted the bottle up to his face, peering at the sunlight coming through glass in brown rays. “Me leaving it all behind, but then, perhaps you would’ve done the same.”
He grunted then dropped the bottle back down, swinging it against his stone perch. “Ha. Fuck no, you wouldn’t sell your soldier’s things. You’re the fundamental reason that gear and the role it supported always came first. A proud soldier dressing his son Grevin up to be the hero. Majestic’s grace, you saw naught but noble sacrifice.” Grevin tossed the whiskey back up to salute with the bottle, spilling some of the liquid on his shoulder and chest.
Smacking the tombstone with rhythmic thuds of the bottle, Grevin hummed a melody that eventually broke out into song, a verse from that bluesy ska-metal bar band he’d sat and listened to a bit too often. It was a salute to the war in its way. It was also close to slandering the imperial crown. Oh, how loyal sergeants have fallen!
“Cozy in your cool grave! Calm and caged like my man kissed in a coma. Wishes molding in the stone and dirt! While the world gets bent and warped.”
Wind gusted in, tossing down a few raindrops with it, sending the carefully trimmed trees into shudders and the royal flags aflutter, and the man took a deeper gulp of the sweet fire before standing, wobbling, then jumping down to land on the grave. Grevin drained the whiskey, letting it spill onto the stone and soak into the dirt, which is where he knelt, not caring if his suit got a little damp.
He saluted the stone. “You can have what’s left, sir. That’s all you get. I’m off to get paid for the rest. I quit this life. I drain the rest of it. Let’s hope it’s not too late and I get to be my girl’s Dad. Better than being a child’s cold, dead captain, that’s for sure.” He hefted up the bag of valuables he referred to, which he’d left like an offering at the foot of the grave, an offering retracted, or rather replaced, with drink.
The clouds moved in and birds swooped by in the dozens, and Grevin moved out. He heard the guard patrol coming his way, and he didn’t want to deal with royalty today, if he didn’t have to. Staying near tree trunks, he strode toward the Middleman’s District, a hand resting on his sheathed ornamental sword, not in preparation to fight off any assailants, but in consideration of his next chore of the day. How much should he sell it for? What would be the best bargaining chip for the greasy dealer he had in mind? Oh, and a hand on a sheathed sword might help cut through the crowded streets of every other district. Grevin didn’t feel like dealing with neither the guards nor the needy citizens. He was busy enough selling off the remnants of his life in order to hold onto that vital remainder.

Down from the graveyard for royalty and military, and the imposing shadows of the buildings of the royal compound proper, soldiers returned for a week off of patrols abroad, and instead placed in shifts guarding the official festival lines.
The city was a wild mess. Festival days meant free food and free drink and with the number of needy about, they flocked, which meant the more guards the better. Lissandra had ditched her mother a ways back, who had seduced a guard into cutting her a path closer to the goods. She wasn’t here to assist with whatever schemes her mother was pursuing. And she sure hoped she didn’t run into her aunt either. For that matter, she especially would like to avoid the persuasions of her brother this day. Aw, sweet relatives, either too near or too distant.
Her father: that’s who she needed to find, before he was off on another obligatory tour of duty in distant corners of the empire. He had said in his letter he would be returning for festival duty somewhere between Middleman District’s upper streets and the royal district’s lower reaches. She had considered climbing up the walls of a taller house, skulking on its roof until she spied her target, then swooping down to surprise him. It would’ve made for smoother movements than the pushing and getting shoved through masses of bodies which she was currently enjoying on the main street. But being part of the rude jostling of the crowd would make her stand out less then clinging dark and suspicious on a rooftop, as comfortable as it would be, rooftops reminded her of her childhood home no matter how different from giant oak treetop they were. Standing out less was necessary as her sort had enough trouble as it was, with the lingering anxiety about Tethern paired with regular old racist brutality that cropped up eventually in the day-to-day of the empire’s capital, and having a father in the military didn’t matter for much, if he was basically just a forced conscript anyway. Definitely no royal benefits to be had there, much to Mom’s chagrin. She would obtain benefits one way or another though, so she said. Lissandra didn’t doubt it.
“Girl, I’ll have to ask you to step this way.” Shit, military from the sound of that commanding voice. The roof would’ve been safer after all - should’ve known. “Don’t make a fuss, citizen. You know random searches are the law. Hands out and up.”
When the hand clamped down on her shoulder, she held her breath, tightened her lips, and turned to the guard.
“Damn it! I knew that voice sounded too fake to be serious.”
“Got you.”
“Bastard!” She punched his chest.
“Assaulting an officer!”
“What, your job's more important than your family?”
“Ouch, did I deserve that?”
“Yes! You had me ready to bolt.”
“My daughter hasn’t been doing anything illegal now has she?”
“Your daughter is squeaky clean, thank you very much. Now if you would just come with me, mister guard sir, and investigate this dirt on my mother and brother, I would be mighty pleased, yes I would.”
He smiled, frowned, smiled then spoke. “I don’t know if that’s going to happen this time.”
“What, you already have to go?”
“No, I’m here the full week, but I only have visitation time for one relative. You’re the one.”
She felt what her father must have felt when his lips jerked up, down then back up. I’m the one up until I’m the one requesting a more detailed inspection of the left-behind family.
Her father spoke. “Look, don’t take it the wrong way.”
“I’m not.”
“I can see your face. And I know it’s not what you wanted me to say. But, I got work, and I can’t deal with them, you know that. Look, I got something for you; if you want to use it on them, that’s fine. It’s your choice.”
Lissandra watched her dad pull the envelope from an inner pocket.
Lissandra nodded and took it.
“Thanks, Dad. I wish you’d put more than just cash into us though. It’s falling apart here without you.”
Her father didn’t have any quick replies. He studied her.
“Fine, set up a family date, something small and sometime in the evening tomorrow or the day after. It gets too heated, I don’t have time for it, but I’ll try. If that’s what you want.”
“That’s what I want.”
“Dad, let me be straight, because I don’t get much chance to be anything but with you. I get it, your job with the military requires long hours and little real off time, you’re trying to support us by being a soldier, I get it, but, it’s pointless if that’s what’s causing our family to fall apart. Quit already. There’s plenty else you could do for work.”
“My sweet girl, I’m sorry, I just don’t - I can’t leave this behind. Look, I’ll leave soon, alright, it’s just that, I have to…”
“Die?” Lissandra grimaced at the word she let slip, but she was irritated at her Dad getting all nervous and defensive. “Is that what you need to make you quit? I thought you were forced to join?”
“I was. But it’s not slavery - it’s a job, I get paid for it, and it supports us. You know that.”
“I know there are other jobs out there that have less risk of becoming a cold, dead meaningless father.”
“Fine. Blow it out of proportion. I’m just guarding festival lines then going out to patrol empty fields and maintain abandoned headquarters, and then I’m giving us financial stability as a result. Is that understandable to you, and your brother, and your mom?”
“Forget it. It’s just…” He wasn’t going to quit until he thought it easy to do so, and it wasn’t ever going to be easy to quit. How did being forcibly conscripted into the military turn into a day job the victim insisted was important and, in fact, beneficial?
Father and daughter turned when sharp whispers interrupted their conversation. There two guards arguing as quietly as possible. “It’s him! We oughta give the bastard a piece of our mind. If he’d been there for our emperor…”
The guard with a hook nose pushed a finger against the other guard’s chest. “The emperor can croak for all I care! If it hadn’t been for that damned sergeant, we wouldn’t be locked in the Majestic grasp.”
“Shut it, you want to lose your job? The Majestics are allies.”
“I know that, but our emperor isn’t even conscious enough to manage negotiations with these monsters.”
“Okay, this conversation is dropped.”
“Well I’m confronting the bastard.”
“Fine. I’m with you. Just shut up about the Majestics, fool.”
Lissandra saw her Dad take a step in their direction. “Don’t…”
“I’ve got to handle this. I work with them and they’re about to do something stupid. I know why they want to do it, half of me wants to help them out, but no, I can’t let this happen, not on a day when old war heroes should be honored not attacked. My job’s on the line. And despite what you think of it, the job’s a lifeline for our family.”
Lissandra watched him leave. Watched the other guards approach the “bastard” they spoke of, just as her father hustled up behind them. There were words then weapons were drawn. Lissandra was already running over when weapons were sheathed. She stopped. Her father was talking them down.
She scoffed at the hope it gave her. Her father talking the battles down. It made her miss her childhood back in their homeland. There was nothing but struggle left there. A shame it was the only place any of them would be ever be whole again.

Part Two: Hopeless Cases

“Told him to get started the moment he saw the birds fleeing skyward.”
“What’s got his balls tied up then? Your friend’s flaked. Let’s do this without the drunk.”
“Give it a few, Case. He’s got a solid pair.”
The tall, lithe form in rags and leathers crouched near the window, pulled her hood off in order to put her frown on display. “I want to get Remembrance Day over with. Your solid drunk isn’t helping none.”
“No one’s making you visit him. And he won’t notice either way. Coma, remember?”
“Duh. Let’s just shut up and wait then. What do I care?”
The royal hospital grounds were situated in the northern royal district, distanced from both the cemetery to the south and the poorer districts further to the south. Case glanced sidelong: home was just around the corner near; she could see the upper floors of the imperial castle and mansions; the floors she had climbed down from in poor thief’s costume as usual, slunk through the bushes until reaching the sewers, infiltrating those until she eventually entered an abandoned basement, whispered for Shadowrat and convinced him yet again that a stealthy stroll into the royal hospital was best for the both of them on this honored festival day. Sure, he had plenty else to do, but his own personal ongoing search made the trip a necessity.
A bird’s screeching call jerked her from her bored musings. Ducking lower than she already had been, she examined her surroundings. No avian creatures gathered, no enemies rushed her, but there was one creature in the same hiding spot as herself that pointed and, without a sound, hollered in laughter with body in spasms, hand at snout to fake politeness, eyes in beady slits of mirth.
“That’s it. You’re out.”
“C’mon, c’mon, I saw you were bored and I…”
Case crawled over as he spoke and her hands struck. Shadowrat went down.
“Hey, it was just that silence, I had to break it somehow, seeing as our drunk flake has arrived.”
“Jerk. Where?” She let go of her friend and they examined the front entrance of the hospital.
Once the third person they’d been waiting on had his classic sick mad man routine underway, the pair went for it. Through sewers and ventilation, they penetrated the security and found the quiet all-business lower basement floor of the hospital. The floor her dad clung to life, wordless and subdued.
“You do your business; I’ll do mine. Meet back in this chute when done.”
Shadowrat nodded. “Sure. But let’s make it twenty minutes. No longer.”
“Bite me. See you in twenty-five.”
They parted and Case found herself there, at his bed, listening to him breathing in and breathing out. She watched and listened, and five minutes were squandered. She frowned at him and herself. She didn’t have long, so she went for the jugular with the defenseless emperor.
“She’s seriously gone mad without you, so snap out of it. I can only fend her off for so long.”
He replied by taking another deep breath. He released the breath, slow and steady.
“Who am I kidding? It’s been years, and you’re still snoring away without a care in the world. I need to know if you can come back to us, or if you’re suffering needlessly and I should just pull the plug on this travesty.”
Silence flocked around her: the mirror windows pulsed with it; the tampered-with cameras flashed with it; the Emperor on the fancy hospital bed glowered with it.
The Emperor was on his side now and Case gaped at him: Daughter, stand proud, show me that smile, the Empire needs a strong woman like yourself, a bold but kind woman that will make her Father proud.
His lips did not move; his eyelids remained shut; she knew she was beset by desperate figments, nothing more, even if the words had sounded authentic, deep. She remembered her parents once lovingly fighting over who could praise her better than the other parent, as if parenting was a contest and they were still racing for first place.
Now it was imagined praise and placid face from her father, and from her mother, a stern lecture, a slap, or a prison cell. Not even that surly sergeant Grevin was around to deflect royal punishments while demanding the ‘rebellious dear Princess” train harder, focus and excel. She drove herself to be the top, but the encouragement and direction sure hadn’t hurt. Case shrugged. The positive point of have a bitchy Empress as mother overlord was it encouraged one to excel in skills of espionage and deception. It was rounding out her rather narrow specialization in soldiering and piloting.
“Father. Your wife is going to be Emperor. Come back, take the both of you into retirement and hand the keys to the kingdom to me. Wouldn’t that be a riot! The racer become ruler. Wake up before I get as selfish and power-hungry as my siblings.”
She guffawed. It hurt. “Fucking tears. Shit, pardon me, I truly meant to say, how unfortunate are these tears! I really must call a servant to dry them. That better, Father? That call you to action? How about a daughter bending the knee?” She bent the knee, as much to disguise her drying of her eyes and tame her exhausted emotions, as display her loyalty to the Emperor.

“So the Emperor still demands the knee, does he?”
“Shut up,” Case swiftly went to her full height and rounded on Shadowrat. “I’m done in here, but I need to find the latest medical records.”
“Case, we gotta roll. Company’s coming and not the kind to take chances with.”
“No… you don’t mean…”
“I do. Mom and Maj.”
“We’ll glance at the records on the way out.”
They dashed out and through the corridors in a fluid shuffle, blending in with the near-silence of the white walls and murmuring machinery enclosed within. Once several quick shots of the paperwork were taken, they made a beeline for the vents, crawled in and slithered on into a chute, dropping into the sewage tunnels. Not until then, did they speak.
“How’d your little mission go while I chatted up Dad?”
“Horrible. I think it’s time I pull the plug on my relative as well. Grandpa’s gone, and there’s no way I’m figuring it out.” Shadowrat gave an exasperated wolfish whine.
“You heard my meltdown, did you? At least my Dad’s not MIA, eh? Though I am jealous there’s actual hope yours is more alive than mine.”
They stepped along fragments of the walkway. Flooding had left damage in the spaces below the city. Case continued in their whispered conversation after reaching the other side. “Speaking of hope, you heard of Vile Tip-8?”
“Yeah, I recall the woman. That sex cam blogger chick, the mouthy in-your-face one that hits up the ol’ Mudscraper. That’s got nothing to do with hope.”
“There’s more to her than that front. More that might prove helpful in with your search.”
“I don’t buy it. She’s just an attention whore profiting more off that personality than she should be able to.”
“Maybe, I got wise to a few secrets, and that Vile is more than your average citizen.”
“Duh. But Case, chasing dead-end possibilities is getting old. Nah, my old man probably crawled into some distant foreign corner and choked, and we’ll never know exactly where that was.”
They shook hands below the final exit, where they’d part for a while and get rid of any tails.
“If we did find him, he could help. The Freenra have a séance for people half in the grave, and grandpa would be one of the top practitioners, granted he’s still alive.”
“You serious? My Dad’s been in his death bed for years and you just tell me now?”
“We haven’t been friends for years, Case. And I only just found out some of your secrets. Plus, my grandpa’s most likely properly dead. Seeing as we’re killing time talking about worthless possibilities, I thought, here’s one of those.”
“Fair’s fair, gotcha.”
“I’m serious. Tell you what, we’ll try your dead-end. Who knows, it may work and then we’ll have to come back down here and yank your Dad out of that cage.”
“Addicted to dead-ends?”
“Same as you.”

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