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.
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.
I caught a sore throat. As in the, “wake up at 5am unable to speak or swallow because of the agonizing pain” variety.
And, at 5am, my husband made me a potent cup of honey and lemon tea, which helped quite a bit. He’s told me in the past that cussing really does help numb pain, so the first thing I said after regaining my voice was an expletive. 😀
I’ve been listlessly wallowing for about three days now. It’s not strep — just very swollen and raw — so all I can do is wait it out with ibuprofen.
Which led me to browsing through the old pictures I had uploaded to my blog, when I came across the quote above.
My opinion hasn’t changed, but I figure that I can elaborate some more.
The advice to “write from experience,” doesn’t mean to tell about the time you accidentally shoplifted Road Warrior at the mall. It means to write about the broader themes that you are familiar with. Like friendship, loneliness, romance, betrayal, etc.
For example, I have six kids irl, and I write a lot about pregnancy and motherhood in my stories. None of my fiction is autobiographical, but the themes are reflective of my real world experiences.
A few years back I read an article written by a woman who began her career as a midwife before she had her first baby, and how experiencing natural childbirth firsthand changed the way she interacted with her clients. As I recall, she hadn’t expected it to be so different on the other side, and personally understanding what other women were going through helped her be a better midwife.
You can’t simply empathize with natural childbirth to know what its like; you have to experience it.
You can’t empathize your way through writing about things like love, betrayal, fear, hope, etc, and produce a story that’s relatable to people who have experienced it. You need to know what the heck you’re talking about.
And if your experiences are so limited that you can only produce one book from them, then maybe you should put down the electronic devices and go live a little.
Writing a dark story is turning out to be more of a challenge than I expected.
I have an idealist inside of me that tries to insert insights and epiphanies that would prevent the Traumatic Climax from happening, so I have to pull back and rewrite. The result is that the characters keep coming oh-so-close to redeeming themselves, then turning away and clinging to their dysfunctions.
It’s realistic enough; I’ve watched plenty of people do that in real life.
I’m not the sort of writer than deliberately sets out to manipulate the emotions of readers. The only reason why I’m writing this story at all is because it’s stuck in my head too badly to be ignored, and the only person intended to ride this roller coaster is me. There is no sadistic glee happening behind the scenes.
Perhaps this is a concept that’s difficult to grasp in our society, but I don’t write for money or popularity. I write for me. I write because I gained knowledge too heavy for me to bear, and my childhood hobby became my vessel of expression. I need it to remain artistically pure for the sake of my sanity. That’s why I always pull away from online groups and self-advertising — anything that could influence my writing away from what I need it to be.
Is there anyone out there capable of understanding?
So here I sit, feeling bad that Hartmann is too caught up in self-pity to realize what he’s doing, that Carol’s personality is too weak to resist, and that Lambert’s too checked out to notice. All it takes is one sentence to turn everything around, but I can’t let myself write it until it’s too late.
If this story wasn’t pounding at my head, I wouldn’t be writing it at all.
I was comparison shopping yarn and browsing through reviews, when I came across someone complaining that 100% wool yarn smelled weird when wet.
Well, yeah … being wool and all, it does smell like it came from an animal — especially when wet.
Last year I made inquiries about different self-publishing avenues, and was warned that I needed to be careful about the sort of readership I catered to. I’m not talking about “target audience,” but rather something more specific that has popped up with the rise of social media.
For example, the general consensus was that people who wanted to read books for free, were also the most entitled, demanding, and critical. So, while it might be easier to get readers, the “fans” were abusive enough to make you regret it.
To get back to the beginning, the review complaining about the wool yarn made me think about self publishing.
On the surface, you might think that “crafty yarn people” counts as a specific group, but once you dig deeper, you discover that some of them can’t stand things like inconsistent thickness, knots in the yarn, or the smell of animals fibers. Others, like me, prefer the unique personalities of handspun yarns, don’t mind working around knots, and enjoy the characteristics of natural fibers. The two groups might fit under the same crafty umbrella, but the sort of yarn they want is completely different.
Self-publishers need to think about more than a general target audience. Metaphorically speaking, trying to sell handspun wool or acrylic yarns to the wrong subgroup is going to end miserably.
And frankly, with something like writing, authors need to be mindful about where they go searching for their readers. No one wants to get sucked into catering to an audience that kills all the joy out of writing.