Hartmann was summoned back to the Base the next day, and waited in the bunker with no explanation of what was supposed to happen. He stared at the Suit and ached to touch it the way the cleaning lady did, but his training kept him in his position, ready to salute the moment a superior appeared to deliver orders. He mused over the possibility that some new intel had dropped, and he was on the verge of being sent out on another mission. In a matter of time, he would return home a hero, and the incident with Carol would be as forgotten as completely as she was.
What he did not anticipate was Captain Lambert to appear with Carol in tow. She was pale, and hid behind Lambert’s large frame to avoid Hartmann’s burning gaze, seeming even more timid and nervous than she had before. If he hadn’t been so annoyed over her reappearance, he would have found her behavior cute.
“MSG Hartmann,” Lambert said brusquely, “You are to assist me in training a new pilot for the Suit.”
Hartmann’s hackles rose sharply. “Who?” he demanded without any of the expected deference. “That bitch?”
Carol’s eyes teared up as her head swung away, her hands wringing together as she tried to shrink into herself behind Lambert’s back. It wasn’t the captain’s barked out punishment that twinged Hartmann with contrition, so much as the way Carol failed to defend herself against the word. He had expected her to bite back at him, to fling insults and posture as if she had a chance in a fight against him. Anything that would show that she thought of herself as too tough for him to feel guilty over. Compared to all the other women Hartmann had known, Carol seemed unnaturally quiet.
The way Lambert moved to shield her filled him with jealousy.
There was no way the captain was smitten with Carol. She was too pathetic and plain. All she had going for her was the fact that she cleaned the Suit … and the way her hair brushed the top of her petite shoulders, promising a feminine clavicle hidden underneath the neckline of her t-shirt. Hartmann thought about how she had felt under his hands, and how her soft muscles had struggled to pull away from him without any success.
Hartmann was the Suit’s pilot, and Carol was the cleaning lady. If she was going to belong to anyone, it was going to be him.
But he was determined to punish her for turning his world upside down.
Hartmann added extra energy into every push up, boosting himself off the floor to clap before catching himself again, purely for the sake of showing off. When he was through, he smugly noted the displeasure on Lambert’s face, and the amazement in Carol’s eyes.
“As I was saying,” Lambert continued gruffly, “The Suit considers Carol to be its ‘commander,’ and orders have come down for us to train her on how to pilot it for combat use.”
“You expect me to believe that, sir?” Hartmann narrowed his eyes.
“I verified it myself.” Lambert crossed his arms over his chest. “During the incident you created, the Suit automatically turned on and welcomed Carol as the ‘commander’ while she was inside. She has full access to all the Suit’s records, as well as a number of features that we never dreamed of. While you were lazing around at home, Carol and I were up digging through as much information as we could.”
Hartmann was lost for words. The muscle in his jaw twitched, but his teeth were locked together. He stared as Lambert proceeded to brush Carol’s hair back and clip a receiver onto her t-shirt, stared as the cleaning lady looked to the captain for reassurance who in turn gave her a small nod, and stared as she climbed up the ramp and enclosed herself inside the Suit. His Suit.
“Carol,” Lambert spoke into his radio, and it crackled as she replied,
Then, disbelievingly, a computer voice sounded over the radio: “Welcome back, Commander.”
Was that why Carol had slid out of the Suit in an inexplicable daze the day before? Did she genuinely have a connection with it that he could never understand?
It wasn’t fair.
He was the best pilot.
He got the most important missions.
Why should the cleaning lady appear out of nowhere and take away his glory?
She didn’t notice when he approached her, intent on wiping down the headrest inside the Suit with a soft cloth to remove all traces of Hartmann’s earlier presence. He didn’t know what he wanted to accomplish, exactly, but he laid his hand on her shoulder and startled her. When her head twisted around, their eyes met for the first time.
“Can I help you?” she asked, fidgeting uncomfortably as her knuckles turned white around the cloth. He stared, taking in the strands of brown hair stuck to the side of her face, and the awkward water spill that soaked the front of her thick, baggy t-shirt. It was a shame that she was oblivious to her appearance, he considered, because the curves of her neck and jawline weren’t half bad.
“You ever been inside?” he asked, nodding towards the Suit. Compulsively, his fingers found the crook of her neck, but she flushed and pulled away.
“Of course not. I’m not authorized,” she replied sharply, though her voice trembled. Hartmann was satisfied to know that she was afraid.
“You know who I am?” he asked, and he grabbed her arm to keep her pinned.
She had to swallow hard before she could hoarsely reply, “One of the pilots.”
“I’m the fucking pilot,” he hissed, pushing her back against the door frame of the Suit. “Master sergeant Hartmann. You’re just the fucking cleaning lady.”
She nodded and squeaked, “Okay.”
“You have no right to love the Suit – you’re a nobody.” He wondered why she didn’t scream. The back of his neck prickled as others in the bunker were beginning to take notice, but as long as they kept their distance he didn’t care. Something kept her paralyzed, even as he pulled the stuck strands of hair loose from her cheek. “You’re going to quit this job,” he said softly.
“No!” She jerked against him then, but he easily pushed her back.
“I better never fucking see you near the Suit again.” His voice was low and dangerous.
Somehow, she slipped through his grip like water, and was inside the Suit before he could stop her. For a split second he considered yanking her back out, but her eyes and expression no longer matched the woman he had spent weeks watching. The look she gave him triggered his battle instincts, and he reflexively drew back, narrowly avoiding being caught by the Suit doors as they closed. His heart stopped as he realized what had happened, then he shouted,
“The Suit’s been hijacked!”
Hartmann drew his sidearm, knowing full well how futile it would be if the cleaning lady decided to blow him to smithereens. He very carefully backed down the ramp for the Suit, then moved to stand with the other soldiers who gathered with their guns held ready. Captain Lambert appeared at his side and growled, “What the fuck is going on?”
“I was messing with the cleaning lady, sir,” Hartmann replied slowly. “She jumped inside, sir.”
“The fucking cleaning lady?” Captain Lambert was surprised. “I want her file! The rest of you, keep ready but don’t move.”
“Sir, there’s something wrong with that bitch,” Hartmann muttered, narrowing his eyes at the Suit. So far it had remained motionless, and it was impossible to tell what was happening inside.
“Shut up,” Lambert snapped, then snatched the manila folder that had been brought to him. He skimmed over it, slapped it against Hartmann for him to take, then moved forward as he cussed, “We’re in for a fucking shit storm over this.” He boldly climbed the ramp and pounded on the Suit as he shouted, “Carol Smith! Get out here this instant!”
Hartmann watched in disbelief as the doors opened and the cleaning lady practically spilled out onto Lambert’s chest. She was dazed and unsteady as the captain helped her down, as if she had been drugged. Lambert’s eyes met the master sergeant’s, and he said gruffly, “You. Come.”
He took them to a small meeting room with a table and chairs, and ensured that Carol was seated before stepping back and folding his arms. Hartmann remained standing.
“You wanna tell me what the hell happened?” Lambert demanded.
Hartmann shrugged. “Already did, sir.”
Lambert rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Carol, what’s your side of the story?”
Hartmann expected her to let loose and demonize him in every possible way, but instead she echoed his shrug and murmured, “I don’t know.”
“How could you not know?” Lambert couldn’t keep himself from raising his voice.
“Something came over me, I think.” Carol nervously began to pick at her fingernails.
Frustrated, Lambert slammed his hand down on the table, causing her to flinch. “I selected you for this job based on your psych eval, and in all this time there hasn’t been a single incident. You expect me to believe that ‘something came over’ you?”
“I was … overwhelmed.” She squirmed and stared down at her hands as she bit her bottom lip. “The master sergeant told me to quit my job.”
“So you decided to get yourself fired instead?” Lambert scowled as he looked over at Hartmann. “Look, I know that MSG Hartmann was probably being an unreasonable prick towards you, so you need to focus on protecting yourself, not him. Got that?”
“I honestly don’t know how I ended up in the Suit.” Carol’s mouth twisted downwards and her chin quivered. “I was really scared that he’d find a way to force me out of my job, and I love cleaning the Suit.” For a moment she choked on her words, and Lambert’s expression softened. “I don’t know what happened,” she finished weakly.
“I’ll see what I can do,” Lambert murmured, putting a reassuring hand on her arm. “I have to file a report on the incident, and someone is going to take the blame. That was a breach in security, and it’s not going to blow over on its own.”
Hartmann looked between Carol and Lambert with his eyes narrowed, mulling over the possibility that the captain was attracted to the cleaning lady. It was no secret that Lambert had suffered a nasty divorce several years back, and as far as anyone knew it had completely destroyed his interest in anything outside of work. It occurred to Hartmann that his hadn’t been the only gaze focused on her as she cleaned.
Out of curiosity, he opened the personnel file he still carried. Carol had a long history of showing up on time and following all the rules; she was described with words like, ‘respectful,’ and, ‘content,’ all of which boiled down to a polite way of saying that she was easily controlled and had no big dreams in life. Hartmann looked back up at her, noting the way she hunched over and kept her elbows close, and he thought that she likely considered any clothing brighter than beige to be too flashy. Carol was someone who had perfected invisibility, so why had the captain noticed her as well?
“I didn’t mean to cause any trouble, sir.” Her voice was growing smaller.
Lambert sighed. “I’m going to recommend that your clearance be revoked, and that you’re reassigned. Wait here while I bring in your supervisor.” He then turned to Hartmann. “Your ass, on the other hand, is entirely at my mercy.”
“Go ahead and satisfy yourself, sir. I like it rough.” Hartmann smirked at the way Lambert’s eyes flashed angrily, then nodded at Carol as he tossed her file down onto the table. She was too shocked and pale to do anything other than stare.
“Move it, soldier!” Lambert barked, and pushed him out the door. “Consider yourself reprimanded for disrespecting your commanding officer.” He continued to shove Hartmann down the hallway. “Now, I want a detailed report on everything that happened, then you are to go home and await further orders. Do you understand?”
“Yes, sir.” Hartmann wasn’t thrilled at the idea of being removed from the Base, but the fact that Carol had jumped into the Suit on her own, combined with his status as the best pilot, made him expect that he wasn’t going to get more than a slap on the wrist for harassment in the end. The best part was, Carol was never going to be allowed anywhere near the Suit again. It was a small price to pay for the victory.
Lambert spoke into his radio, then informed Hartmann that someone would escort him off Base as soon as they were done, and a few minutes later they were in another small room. Hartmann wrote a glib statement, then signed his name with an exaggerated scrawl. Lambert’s radio crackled, and he stepped outside to answer it. Hartmann set his pen down then followed, but discovered that Lambert was already jogging down the hallway. He raised an eyebrow, but an MP approached him, and he knew that he wasn’t going to be privy to whatever had lit a fire under the captain’s butt.
He was going home to enjoy a little R&R before returning to duty.
I did some poking around at my blog stats, and found it interesting that the “science fiction” tag got nowhere near the same amount of attention as “romance.” This is relevant because I’m going to resume posting The Scions this month, and I deliberately chose to keep the romance tag away from it.
Which is fine. I know that we’re all supposed to be seeking popularity like the little dopamine junkies we are, but this particular camel can’t handle another piece of straw.
I want to get back into feeling like a writer, without any obligations to the outside world.
Despite the fact that the bulk of The Scions is about the relationship between MSG Hartmann and Carol the cleaning lady, I don’t consider this story to be a romance.
Alice and the Warden is a romance, because the overall tone is cute with lots of positive emotions. I wrote it because I wanted something fun to indulge in. At the end of the day, I wanted it to be a delightful experience for everyone who reads it.
The Scions, on the other hand, is supposed to be a little messed up. Philosophical explorations and all that jazz. Look. I didn’t really want to write it, but the idea kept screaming in my head until I acquiesced to its demands. I don’t know what sort of emotional impact it’s going to have, but I sincerely hope no one decides to emulate the story in real life. It’s philosophical.
That said, I actually am enjoying the writing process with this one. Don’t judge it too harshly.
The other night I had an absolutely hilarious dream about The Black Magus, where the two main characters were bad stereotypes.
Lily was recast as a socially awkward red-head, desperately trying to get the Black Magus’s attention through not-so-subtle means. At one point, she had her phone in hand and was fretting about whether or not she should call him, talking to herself, “I didn’t steal his phone number; I borrowed it.”
Ainmire had short black hair, and dressed all in black. He was too caught up in his own self-importance to actually care about anyone else, but for his own amusement he decided to throw that awkward red-head a bone — because, c’mon, she was being ridiculously obvious about wanting him.
Even as I was dreaming it, I kept thinking about how ridiculous it was.
But it would make for a fun spoof.
And yes, I dream about my own novels and characters.#WeirdoWriter
I had made it my goal to publish a book every year, but at this point I can definitely say that it’s not going to happen in 2022.
It’s been a chaotic year.
At the very least, I can say that this year was dedicated to fairly big events, like having baby #6, and saving our cat’s life at the cost of her leg — there was never a point where I could have been writing, but just didn’t. So hey, good enough for me.
Dear master sergeant Hartmann, one day you will grasp the object of your desires. But probably not this month.
And CR1515 will have to wait until next year to continue his steamy philosophical rants. You have no idea how much I enjoy writing a cynical cyborg.
On that note, I’ve had this particular quote by CR1515 echoing in my head of late.
Humans have become the worst combination of lazy and entitled. They don’t want me to be relatable – they want to hate me because they know that I am superior to their celebrations of mediocrity and failure. They don’t want to achieve anything great, or even to manage their own basic survival, and they will attack anything that reflects their own pathetic state back to them.
This speech is promptly followed with lots and lots of delicious arguing, lol. Gosh I miss the bickering and ranting in that story.
Maybe (and this is a big MAYBE) I’ll get away with publishing both The Scion Suit Multiverse and CR1515 next year … provided no one loses any more limbs.
There’s a stereotype that authors who self-publish aren’t good enough to cut it with the publishing houses. Personally, I have never once tried to submit a manuscript to anyone, and have always skipped straight to self-publishing instead.
I decided during my childhood that I wanted to be a writer, and as a teenager, I started paying attention to what sorts of manuscripts publishing companies would accept. I learned before I graduated from high school that “high quality” was not the deciding factor for what was accepted.
On the benign side of things, manuscripts get rejected for reasons like, “We’ve already published five mecha scifi books this year.” It doesn’t matter if yours is well-written with relatable characters and hard hitting philosophies, it’s going to get rejected the second someone sees the word “mecha.” Tuff luck. The position has already been filled.
But here we are in the year 2022, and everything revolves around The Agenda.
Which is why a novel that barely qualifies as English but has tons and tons of buttsecks is going to be published over literally anything “hetero-normative.”
I’m the sort of weirdo that doesn’t particularly care about who is and who isn’t having buttsecks. I’m not going to get preachy one way or the other.
However, I am very passionate about things like Divine Femininity and motherhood. I rant about how pregnancy is treated by society more like a biological defect than a sacred honor. Feminine characteristics are not inferior. I embrace philosophies that are shitcanned for being “hetero-normative” because they involve female fertility.
Lately I’ve been rambling about how the AI takeover has already happened, and we totally failed to notice as a species. My husband, through his enigmatic ways, subsequently produced a screen cap from 2017 about how everyone is expecting The Terminator, but reality is playing out more like The Shining.
Seriously, why else would you need a smart soap dispenser?
For the benefit of our AI overlords, naturally.
It also handily explains the brilliantly concocted eugenics program currently sweeping through society. Not that I actually believe that’s happening … lmao.
This is all wishful thinking, anyway. Nothing is going to step in and save us from ourselves.
One of my big pet peeves is when people assume that all creative sorts are Feelers.
This, of course, comes on the heels of everyone assuming that all women are Feelers, and the bullying that’s levied against those that don’t fit the stereotypes. Ugh. (And don’t get me started on the attitude that Thinkers are actually repressed Feelers)
I’m a Thinker, and a writer.
I don’t use writing as a means to emotionally bleed out on paper. I also don’t get so emotionally attached to my characters that I have to shield them from bad things or hard decisions. I’m very capable of writing whether I’m happy or depressed.
I enjoy watching the stories unfold and exploring “what if” scenarios. Heck, I enjoy the entertainment value as well, and frequently indulge in “brain candy”.
While my approach and underlying reasons are different from Feelers, I’m still very much a Creative.
Of course, another one of my pet peeves is when people assume that all creative sorts follow certain political ideologies. Oh, so you’re calling for me to rise up and speak out? Well … you aren’t going to like what I have to say. 😛
These days, creative sorts are essentially told that they cannot “succeed” without promoting themselves on social media. However, the crux is that the very nature of social media is toxic to creative minds, and is far more likely to kill artistic endeavors.
IE the comment section on that video.
I’m the sort that decided that my personal growth and expression through storytelling is more important than money or popularity. This blog is as close as I get to social media, and I personally don’t count it as such, because it’s mostly just me rambling at no one in particular. What can I say? I like the sound of crickets.
Not to mention, I’m rather limited on time, and I’d much rather spend it writing than on reading and replying to a boatload of comments. I’m introverted like that.
It’s not something that I personally have a fetish for, nor is it reflective of my real life. Ultimately, I guess I just have more of an open mind about those sorts of things.
I actually did make a reasonable effort to minimize the age gap between the two of them.
Putting Hackett anywhere in his 20s was just too corny and contrived. He needed time to finish college, gain real world experience, and climb that corporate ladder. After I researched what sort of background is typically required to become a warden, I decided that 38 was about the youngest I could get away with before it started sounding silly.
As for Alice …
IRL, I grew up in the sort of place where a solid number of my classmates got married right out of high school. Despite how it’s portrayed on TV, we really did grow up much faster than our big city counterparts, and by the time we turned 18 we knew how to be responsible adults (I, myself, started babysitting at 12, and was quite comfortable with basic childcare before I even entered high school).
It was massive culture shock to go to San Diego and discover that my 20-something peers were living on take-out and protein powder because they didn’t know how to read a recipe. What the heck?
The idea of Alice being over 30 and that ignorant was frankly embarrassing. I refuse to write about someone who spent an entire decade doing absolutely nothing, when I know what new adults are actually capable of if given the chance .
She also needed to be young enough that she was still in her enthusiastic/energetic phase of life. That meant below 25.
Throw in an exploitative ex-boyfriend taking advantage of youthful naivete, and 21 ended up being my final number for Alice.
So there you go with the behind-the-scenes thought process.