World Building: A Project Sumter Timeline

I thought I’d throw together another little world building post for you, this time focusing on Project Sumter and it’s history. If you’ve ready any of the fiction here you’ve probably gathered that Project Sumter is a government organization dedicated to enforcing the law among people with unique talents (read: superpowers) and keeping their existence secret. It’s also the largest legitimate employer of talents in the United States.

You probably also know that many of the rules that govern the Project are extrapolated from the rules governing a man known as Corporal Sumter, who was given his strange title and most of his assignments by no less than President Abraham Lincoln.

Believe it or not, Project Sumter was originally about Corporal Sumter, not Double Helix.

So there’s actually a very detailed timeline of what happened between Lincoln’s election in the mid-1800s and the Enchanter’s first arson in the early 21st century. I still hope to use a lot of that material, but here’s a semi-redacted version of that timeline (and honestly, what else would you expect from Project Sumter?)

April 12 – 13, 1861 – Fort Sumter is besieged and surrenders to Confederate forces.

April 15, 1861 – President Lincoln declares a state of insurrection.

June 22, 1861 – A cadet at West Point lifts a cannon that had fallen on another student in a training accident. He not only lifts it off the other cadet but slings it over one shoulder and moves it across a courtyard, a feat of strength that cannot be explained by simple adrenaline. This cadet gains something of a reputation.

July 8, 1861 – Word of the Herculean cadet makes it’s way back to President Lincoln, who sends for the man, later be known as Corporal Sumter.

July 10, 1861 – After meeting the cadet in person, the President decides to terminate his commission in the Army. He fears that allowing a superman to lead in a war that is at least partly about the respective status of races will send the wrong message. Corporal Sumter reluctantly agrees and all records of his enrollment at West Point are destroyed.

January 10, 1862 – A Confederate officer at the Battle of Mill Creek is observed being shot several times without apparent injury. When a cannonball strikes him and falls off like a dead fly Union soldiers become unusually concerned.

January 12-20, 1862 – Rumors of an invincible Confederate officer begin to circulated through the Union’s Western Theater of Operations.

February 3, 1862 – A letter reaches Corporal Sumter, sent by a friend from West Point, telling him of the strange officer on the other side of the lines. The Corporal in turn writes to President Lincoln, detailing the situation and asking if he can still serve the Union in some way. The President will later claim the letter was never received. The truth of this claim remains in dispute.

March 3, 1862 – With no answer from Washington, Corporal Sumter departs for the West on his own.

-Further details on the period between 1862 and 1865 are classified Top Secret. Further detail only available to those cleared for codewords CORPORAL SUMTER, SHENANDOAH, FOG OF WAR, BUSHWACKER and SHERMAN’S BANE, talent indexing numbers 0001 – 0005.-

May 18, 1865 – President Johnson thanks Corporal Sumter for his service and signs his discharge papers, ending his official service in the Union Army.

1865-1940 – The family of Corporal Sumter, Shenandoah and Sherman’s Bane remain under quiet surveillance by those members of the U.S. Government who are entitled to know what they are capable of.

Summer, 1940 – British intelligence reports intercepting communications regarding people with strange abilities, particularly power over ‘frost’. These reports are corroborated by soldiers returning from Dunkirk.

August 2, 1941 – The newly formed Office of Strategic Services, combining previously received reports from British Intelligence with documents scattered through Army records, concludes that precedents already exist for how the Army should deal with potential talented soldiers should the US be drawn into the new World War.

August 18, 1941 – The OSS sets out a proposal, later approved by the War Department, that creates the basic administrative apparatus of Project Sumter and recommends a total of six individuals who are believed to have talent that the Project could attempt to recruit.

October 2, 1941 – Daniel Wells, grandson of Shenandoah, is located by Project Sumter and reveals that his grandfather’s talent has not been passed down, although all the research Shenandoah did on his abilities has. The Project offers Wells a supervisory position and he accepts.

October 5, 1941 – Agent Wells approaches the granddaughter of Sherman’s Bane and offers her a position with the Project. She is given the codename Clear Skies and later becomes a member of the Women’s Army Corps.

October 20, 1941 – Corporal Sumter’s great grandson is located but declines to participate. No other members of the family demonstrate the original’s incredible abilities and Project agents return to Washington empty handed.

November 12, 1941 – Project Sumter’s headquarters is officially established in Charleston, South Carolina.

December 7, 1941 – The Imperial Japanese Navy launches a surprise attack on the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

December 8, 1941 – Sumter’s great grandson arrives in Washington D.C. with a changed heart, seeking admission to Project Sumter. Within eight hours he is in Charleston, being sworn into Project Sumter.

December 23, 1941 – U.S. forces on Wake Island surrender to the Japanese after successfully resisting invasion for a little over two weeks. A long debate at Sumter HQ comes to an end and Corporal Sumter’s successor is named for a recently lost stronghold, just like his ancestor. Sergeant Wake’s file is officially opened in the Project records.

-Further details on the period between 1941 and 1946 are classified Top Secret. Further detail only available to those cleared for codewords CLEAR SKIES, CHIEF STILLWATER, SERGEANT WAKE, SAINT ELMO, COLD SPIKE and JACK FROST, talent indexing numbers 0006 – 0009, 0036 and 0044.-

September 22, 1947 – With the War Department recently dissolved Project Sumter’s administrative fate is left up in the air. After much debate, with the newly minted CIA pushing hard to be given control, the Project is instead made an independent body. No longer a branch of the military, it begins the long process of working out new long term goals and identity.

September 25, 1947 – A fundamental shift in Project structure occurs when the three seniormost talents, Clear Skies, Chief Stillwater and Sergeant Wake, decide to retire now that there is no pressing military need for their services.

-You actually need clearance to know what clearances you need to read about the Cold War. Seriously.-

April 18, 2004 – Double Helix, talent indexing number 3729, is taken on a field stress test by Senior Special Agent Darryl Templeton and Special Agent Eagle Ear. He discovers a pair of cold spikes who, it is later concluded, were part of a breeding program trying to foster talented bloodlines. It marks the beginning of a very troubled career with Project Sumter.

August, 2004 – It is believed that the talented serial killer Lethal Injection committed his first murder in this general timeframe.

February 12, 2005 – Lethal Injection’s killing spree begins to make news. Project Sumter determines these grisly murders are probably caused by a talented person and goes to Condition One.

March 8, 2005 – Teresa Ortiz’s father is killed by Lethal Injection. She will later be adopted by Javier Herrera, with the financial and legal support of the Oldfather Foundation.

May 17, 2005 – A hacker shuts down the Sky Harbor airport in Phoenix, Arizona and prevents Lethal Injection from escaping Project agents. Lethal Injection is killed while resisting arrest. Analysts from Project Sumter determine that the hacker was a talented individual who was actually in the airport terminal, directly manipulating electrical circuits. A file is opened and the talented hacker is codenamed Open Circuit. The Project correctly surmises this is Circuit’s first crime. It will not be his last.

So will I ever go back and tell you what happened in those missing years? Surely there were plenty of freaky goings on during the Second World War and the Cold War, along with the Civil War, yeah?

Oh yeah.

But those are stories for another time. For now, I hope you enjoyed reading a little bit about the background of the story we’re telling right now. Tune in Monday for the next instalment of Water Fall, until then may you have as much fun with your world building as I do.

Cool Things: RWBY

For those who are wondering, RWBY is pronounced “ruby” which also happens to be the name of  the main character. Just thought I should get that out of the way so it wouldn’t be bothering you as we dive into things.

So what is RWBY? Well, in short it’s an original animated series concepted by Monty Oum, who was also the animation director. If you’re not familiar with the work of Monty Oum his early video Icarus is a good primer to his style (although it’s a bit dated). Check it out via the link or watch below if you want.

Now RWBY has a lot more going for it than just a few minutes of intense, artistic, acrobatic action – although if that’s all your looking for I assure you that it will deliver in spades. It also has some things in common with other works from Rooster Teeth studios, namely humorous characters with strong, if somewhat stereotyped personalities. The voice acting cast is fair and it delivers truly stellar music across the board.

This isn’t to say the series doesn’t have weaknesses. For example, it’s very short. The first sixteen episodes, which more or less constitute a season, have a total running time shorter than many feature films. With a cast of eight central characters and a robust gallery of supporting characters it feels like both plot and characters are slow to develop, and sometimes it feels like they’re wasting time trying to hit all the school/magic monster hunter tropes when they should be focusing on other things. Like the previously mentioned plot and characters. After all, they don’t have a whole lot of time to work on these things to begin with…

Also, the world everything is set in feels kind of bland. If you’ve ever read any manga or watched any anime – and RWBY is highly influenced by Japanese entertainment, as you might expect from a series who’s creator is best known for his video game fan videos – the structure of the series will be terribly familiar. No, he’s not just ripping off Harry Potter, the ‘school for people with incredible abilities’ trope has been done quite a bit and RWBY’s Beacon Academy is just another take on the trope. Toss in magic rocks, monsters quietly gnawing away at the edges of civilization and humans jockeying for personal power while the empire burns and you get – at least 40% of all fantasy aimed at young adults in the last 20 years. More or less.

BUT it is true that there is nothing new under the sun, and all those tropes are just tools anyways. The real question is, Does RWBY deliver?

Well, fact is it’s early to tell but so far things look promising. For starters, the series as a whole doesn’t take itself at all seriously. It brims with fun, from the way everyone packs heat (I mean, seriously, middle schoolers with SNIPER RIFLES?!) to the hilarious antics of the shamefully underused Nora there’s never a dull moment on Beacon’s campus. The bumbling Jaune Arc (subtle, no?) provides comic relief while still hinting at good things to come while Ruby herself has a number of promising avenues for character exploration and growth.

A lot of the opening episodes are spent on world building, exposition on politics, powers and the like. We still get to know some things about our characters but there’s a definite sense that, once all this pesky worldbuilding is done, the plot can really get going somewhere. Of course, the limited amount of time to present things doesn’t help things any, but that’s probably just part of the format we’re going to have to live with.

What it boils down to is, if you want an animated series that is fast paced, fun and a bit different than the typical fare, RWBY might be for you. Sure, it’s not Pixar quality, but then, what is? At the very least, check it out to support the small, independent studios out there. If you do like it, stay tuned. I’m sure I’ll find the time somewhere for more analysis of it once further episodes come out…

Water Fall: Seismic Shock

Two Weeks, Five Days Before the Michigan Avenue Proclamation 

Massif

There wasn’t much to see at the reception, at least not from our point of view. Sure, there were a lot of interesting looking displays of pictures, letters and other junk that probably had historical significance or near significance of one kind or another. But I couldn’t imagine that stealing it would get Circuit anything worthwhile. Helix seemed to think there was something symbolic at work but I just couldn’t think what kind of symbolic statement you could make with original copies of political cartoons from a hundred and fifty years ago. He had some idea what Circuit might be after but no one had thought to pass it down to us and, since the event had come to light only hours before it started, there hadn’t been time for a conventional briefing.

That pretty much left us to wander around and try to guess exactly what Helix thought Circuit might have been out to steal.

Unfortunately I’ve never been as good at reading people as Helix, who I swear is some kind of a savant, or even some of the more experienced field agents like Harriet or Bob Sanders. And symbolism is almost always a visual thing, so that’s not really my forte either. Which pretty much left me moving through the crowd at random and hoping I’d catch something of significance. This is known as the ‘get lucky’ school of policing and it’s not generally of much use in real life, although many fictional detectives do quiet well with it. Still, when it’s the only game in town you go with what you’ve got.

The book room wasn’t that crowded. Once you entered the door closest to the elevator there were bookshelves to the left, a table almost directly in front of you and a freestanding bookcase in the middle of the room on the right. I was following the wall around the outside of the room, finding these things out, when I discovered a second set of doors, closed and locked, in the middle of the back wall. I stared at it, trying to find a sign or something that would tell me what it was.

I was still looking when Samson stopped beside me and asked, “Did you find something?”

“I dunno,” I said, doing my best not to look directly at him. “Can you see anything that tells us what’s in here?”

There was a moment’s quiet, then, “No. It doesn’t look like it’s labeled. Maybe an equipment closet?”

“Could be.” I shrugged and jiggled the handle again, as if that would make the door magically spring open. “I guess we could ask the librarian.”

A short pause, then Samson said, “I think I see him over by the Emancipation Proclamation.”

I turned to give him a blank stare. “The what?”

That’s when the fire alarm went off and the shooting started.

——–

Circuit

In the age of electronic surveillance the person most adept at manipulating computers has a distinct edge. While it’s not an inherent part of the fuse box talent, if you’re very, very good at pattern recognition and you practice a lot you can manipulate and even program computers, to a certain extent. But the ability to do that assumes a lot, like familiarity with the computer systems you’re going to be working with, or a lot of time to feel your way by trial and error.

At that particular moment, in the library’s security room, I had neither. And keeping up a running dialog with Hangman kept me from concentrating like I normally would. “What did she say?”

“Just that she could watch her own back and that she didn’t need a couple of wannabe master th-” Hangman caught herself before saying thieves but it was a near thing. From this I gathered she was still in an occupied part of the library. “Sticking their nose into her business.”

“She may think differently when that monster priest from Sumter comes after her.” And Rodriguez hadn’t left the area around the rare book room. He was big enough to pick out easily on the security camera, browsing casually through displays. Worse, I was pretty sure I saw the immovable wall man Hangman said was called Aluchinskii Massif. We still had no idea what his talent was.

I couldn’t program the local network by touch but I could “type” much faster than a person who was constrained by an actual keyboard. It took a second to find a part of the keyboard conductive enough to let me trip the keys – I actually wound up ripping out the Enter key and working through the exposed contact – but once that was done I was off, working rapidly through menus and shortcut commands to asses my options and the building’s state of lockdown.

As it turns out, libraries are not built with lockdown in mind. We still had plenty of options.

“That means she’s still going to make a try for the objective,” I said in resignation.  “I need you to find some place where you won’t draw attention and feed her the new plan. And Heavy has new work orders, too…”

——–

Massif

As always, hindsight is twenty-twenty – even for someone like me. It later turned out that the Lincoln Foundation either owned or had borrowed a printed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, from the original print run, signed by Lincoln himself, and put it on display.

Their means of securing it consisted of encasing the document in a Plexiglas sandwich-board about two inches thick and a foot square. This was, in turn, chained to a plastic easel so it was more or less at chest height. It was way too bulky to be moved easily and there was no way it could be concealed.

When the fire alarm went off Applewood and the security guard spooked. Since the rare book room fire system put out fires by sealing airtight and flooding the room with chemicals that sucked oxygen out of the room – a method that’s better for the books than spraying water all over the place – they had good reason. The guard started trying to hustle people out the doors while Applewood went and hit a button on the wall that would prevent the doors from sealing. Samson and I were still trying to figure out what had happened when we heard the gunshots.

That was the thief, who we later guessed was Grappler, shooting through the chain with a .45 so she could remove the Emancipation Proclamation.

To say it got our attention would be an understatement. Unfortunately it panicked everyone else in the room even more. Whether or not they knew that they faced immanent suffocation – and since not even I knew that at the time I’m betting most of them didn’t – guns are still pretty scary to the average person.

Most of the not-so-average people I know, too.

We were in no danger of getting knocked over but getting through the crowd without hurting anyone was another matter entirely. I actually saw Samson rise up on his toes, almost like a ballet dancer, the potential forces he kept in check seeming to draw deeper into him, away from fragile civilians. Then I saw Grappler running down the hallway outside.

I couldn’t make it out but they tell me she just stuck the Plexiglas holding the Proclamation on her back. Literally stuck it there, although there’s nothing sticky about Plexiglas. This is a big part of the reason why we assumed she was Grappler, while her talent is called wall walking it’s really just control the friction of a surface.

What I could see was Dominic moving to block her as she went down the hall. And Grappler going up the wall, running as effortlessly over the windows to the room we were in as she had on the ground below.

No matter how much we’re trained to expect this things, the human mind will never be quite prepared for that kind of weirdness and Dom hesitated a vital second before changing his stance. It was enough time for Grappler to hop off the wall and onto his chest, knocking him flat. Somewhere along the way she added an absurd friction coefficient to his bulletproof vest, effectively locking him in place until he could squirm out of a couple layers of clothes.

Harriet wasn’t in a position to block Grappler at all and the area was too crowded to risk shooting at her. As a result, Grappler made it over the edge of the balcony and down into the lobby below without anyone else in a position to stop her. Samson and I reached the balcony just in time to see her bolt through a pair of doors on the left hand side.

With no one on the floor below to get in the way Agent Samson decided the best way to keep up was to vault over the railing and freefall to the ground. I’m not sure what kind of trick he pulled to land without hurting himself but it wasn’t a stunt I could duplicate. I had to keep one hand on the wall as I fell, transferring the impact on landing from my feet to the wall and cracking the wooden panelling badly.

Samson literally covered the entire distance from his landing spot to the doors Grappler had gone through in a single step, despite it being a good twenty feet. He crashed through the door at the end only to yank himself back to the tune of more gunfire. Sure, he was wearing a vest but he wasn’t stupid.

Stupid was my department and I was glad to have the work. It took me a little longer to get to the door but the gunfire continued the whole time, keeping Samson from going through the door. Grappler must have been carrying more than one weapon. Samson let me through the door as soon as I got there. I found Grappler at the other end of a long hallway that sloped gently downwards, then pulled a sharp left hand turn. As soon as she realized her bullets weren’t hurting me Grappler bolted off around the corner.

I expected a repeat performance as I rounded the corner after her. What I found was a couple of steps up and a midsized room beyond. It turned out that this was where the library’s freight elevator let out. The hallway went straight through the room and farther into the building. Grappler was already out of the loading area into the hall beyond, ducking through a door. But I only got a glimpse of her around the huge, rattily dressed African American man who was in the middle of pouring a bucket of water onto the floor.

He glanced up at me just long enough for me to notice he had a scarf pulled around his face then swept his hand across the wet floor and bolted down the hall towards the door Grappler had taken. Naturally I went after him.

Unnaturally, I found myself stuck to the floor. Instead of being slippery, which I’d been ready for, the water on the floor was as thick and sticky as glue. When my foot refused to pull free I staggered, catching myself on the wall just in time to avoid getting my entire right side caught in the mess. I reached down for my shoelaces, intending to go barefoot and try and find a way around, when to my surprise Samson vaulted up on my back and from there across the room. Anyone else would have been squashed flat but I guess Samson was counting on my ability to stand up under pretty much anything to keep me on my feet.

And he wasn’t wrong but it would have been nice to be consulted first.

It only took Samson a second to get down the rest of the hall and through the door the other two had taken. Almost as soon as he was through it I heard a series of muffled whumps that sounded an awful lot like muffled explosions, followed by a lot of very loud crashing…

——–

Circuit

As soon as I confirmed that Grappler and Heavy had made it up the stairwell and Rodriguez had been blinded by the ink grenades Heavy had dropped for him I fried the security switchboard with an EMP and made myself scarce, taking a different set of back stairs up to the first floor to meet Hangman. We were evacuated outside the library with all the other library patrons and staff. To avoid drawing attention we milled around in confusion with the rest of the crowd for a little while, during which time Heavy called and let me know that Wallace had picked the two of them up on time and they’d gotten away clean.

Five minutes later we returned to the car Hangman had arrived in and left. It was a closer call than I would have liked, but we’d gotten what we came for and more people than even Sumter could silence had seen what we did and, more importantly, how we did it.

All in all, not a bad day’s work.

——–

Helix

Our van pulled up to chaos. A couple of ambulances were still parked around the library and a fire truck was just leaving when we arrived. I leapt down from the back of our van and waded into the confused crowd of library staff, EMTs, police and Project agents, trying to find someone who looked like they knew what was going on.

I found Amplifier sitting in the back of an ambulance, wrapped in a blanket and holding a bottle of water. She gave me a weak smile and said, “Hi, Helix.”

Leaning against the side of the same ambulance, scrubbing his face with a towel, was the familiar bulk of Manuel Rodriguez. He looked like he’d been attacked by a flock of angry fountain pens. I realized that the person sitting in the door of a police cruiser just down the street was Al Massif. For some reason he had, as the poem says, one shoe off and one shoe on.

For a second I just stared around at the disaster in awe. I felt my shoulders slump and, although I thought I already knew the answer, I asked, “What happened here?”

Amplifier glanced away. I don’t think Rodriguez heard me over his efforts to scrub his face clean, Al looked over like he was seeing me for the first time, which he probably was. No one gave me an answer until Teresa walked over, face grim. “Circuit got away with a copy of-”

“All this,” I said, waving expansively at the bedlam around us. “And he got away?”

Teresa sighed. “Unless you have any ideas about where he might have gone?”

I grit my teeth and did my best to choke down my irritation. “Well, the last time he worked in Indiana he used contacts in South Bend, Winchester and Evansville.” I hauled out my phone and started looking up contact numbers.

“What are you doing?” Amplifier asked.

I glanced up at her. “Working my case. Are you going to be okay, kid?”

“Sure.” She managed to squeeze out another lackluster smile.

“Great. Then let’s leave the cleanup to the locals and run down some of these people, see if they can give us any leads before the trail goes cold…”

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Writing Men: Axioms

Obligatory opening summary: Writing Men is a thing. But not enough of a thing. Thus, I’m writing about it. Huzzah! If you haven’t seen them, my introduction to the topic, an analysis of the importance of having objectives. That is a brief summary of everything I’ve written on the topic so far.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about axioms. First of all, I’m talking about the principles that form a foundation for a line of reasoning, not the starliner from Pixar’s WALL-E. One is part of a great animated film. The other is a fundamental part of how men look at life.

Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about.

A while back a friend was trying to explain the TV show Defiance to me. I had not and still have not seen this TV show, but I know from what I was told that it features an alien invasion of Earth (and they obviously haven’t read the guide) that results in humanity nuking the invading space fleet and destroying it (or something like that – again, this is hearsay). When I heard this, the following exchange took place:

Me: They nuked them?

Friend: Yeah.

Me: While they were in orbit?

Friend: Uh-huh.

Me: Okay, let’s ignore the radiation poisoning issues that creates for a minute. How is it even possible that you could stop a race technologically advanced enough to cross interstellar space-

Friend: Because Nukes.

Me: (pause) I’ll buy that.

Okay, so maybe I’ve edited that a little, but the point-blank justification “because nukes” and my immediate acceptance of it did happen, and is an example of what I want to talk about: The tendency for men to look at life through a series of simple principles. In this case, nuclear weapons represent the most terrifying destructive weapon mankind has every created. The scale of their destruction is beyond the ability of most people to comprehend, most people believe they exist only because they’ve already been created and used. Of course they’re gong to destroy the alien fleet. Nukes always destroy their targets when they hit. If they didn’t, that would mean there was something even bigger than a nuke out there, and that’s just silly. It’s like saying there’s something bigger than infinity.

The axiom: Nukes always win.

Therefore, when you have nukes vs. aliens the nukes win because they are nukes.

Men are always thinking in axioms, even when they don’t realize they’re thinking in axioms. Take a big special effects blockbuster – for this example, The Avengers. Many people have watched the movie and griped that the Hulk’s sudden willingness to work with the other heroes of the movie rather than against them makes no sense. (These people were not paying close attention to Bruce Banner’s character progression through the course of the movie. Watch it again carefully and pay attention to people’s interactions with Banner – not what they say about him or what he says about himself but what he’s saying and doing the rest of the time – and it adds up a lot better. Banner’s character progression affects the Hulk’s. After all, they are the same person… ish.) Regardless, many of these people are okay with Hulk’s sudden switch because it’s followed by a crowning moment of awesome.

Axiom: Blockbusters exist to be awesome.

Therefore sometimes the awesome can trump the plot. (You heard it here first.)

Note that you’ll almost never hear a woman offer this explanation. It’s axioms taken to the point where they fly in the face of sense. Men are okay with doing that because we live by axioms.

When writing men, axiomatic thinking is a must have. Of course, just like with objectives there’s nothing saying the man you’re writing has to be aware of their axioms, just that they have to exist and be informing their actions. Also, no one has just one axiom they live their life by, no matter what they say. Axioms can range from “Telling the Truth is Better Than Lies” to “Paperwork is a Bane Upon Existence” to “Boxers Are Better Than Briefs, Period”. There’s nothing saying you have to even know all the axioms a man is living by. But it doesn’t hurt to mention one or two when he stops to make a decision of some importance.

When multiple axioms go into a decision a man usually sorts them based on his objectives (yes, an understanding of objectivity is vital here). Thus a man who wants to live to have a million dollars will not want to spend much money, because he can’t get to a million that way, but he will spend money on food, because starving to death also precludes reaching his objective.

As I continue to note when writing these bits, axiomatic thinking is not a strength or a weakness, but rather a double edged sword. I used some very absurd examples at first, in part because they illustrate my point in a fun way but also because a man can work himself into equally absurd (but also painful) quandaries when axioms conflict or point him toward potentially harmful situations. And why doesn’t he ignore the axioms and go with what makes him feel better, you ask?

Because ignoring the axioms makes him feel just as bad! Just one of the burdens of being a man.

At the same time, axiomatic thinking also lets the man put aside feelings like fear or anger and deal with a situation with a clearer head – at least, if he’s doing it right. The axioms help him quickly sort, prioritize and deal in circumstances where stopping for conscious thought could be counterproductive.

In short, just like with objectivity, axioms are an important part of writing male characters. Whether it’s a man in the crux of a moral dilemma or just trying to figure out what kind of shoes to wear that night, look for a chance to show the principles that undergird his thought. It will give you a better rounded, more believable character.

Local Theater: The Princess and the Goblin

Your local arts community deserves your support. Sure, unless you live in New York, L.A. or Chicago, or some other large city, it’s not likely that you have a world class arts scene available. But there’s still a lot of very high quality stuff out there if you’ll only take the time to look for it.

Now I can’t say how much of a local theater scene your town has, but here in Fort Wayne there’s a number of impressive local theater groups to choose from. As longtime readers of this blog know, one that I’m very fond of is all for One Productions, and whenever they stage a new show I make it a point to tell you about it. Their latest show is The Princess and the Goblin, based on the book by George MacDonald, and it’s a bit different from their usual fare. For starters, it’s all one act – there will be no intermission in this show. Okay, okay, nothing earth-shattering about that.

Another big thing is that The Princess and the Goblin is aimed at a younger audience. But, perhaps the biggest difference of all, it will be the first afO production to make extensive use of dancers, who will not speak, both as extras and as set pieces (trust me this will make sense when you see it.) While hardly a musical in the traditional sense, it still promises to be an experience for all the senses.

If you’re not familiar with the story, a quick teaser goes something like this – long ago men fled the kingdom above and hid in tunnels under a mountain. Now they scheme revenge against the king and his daughter, and the miners who’s mines grow ever closer to the borders of the goblin’s lands. Princess Irene, the strange lady who claims to be her grandmother and Curdie the miner boy will all ultimately have a part to play in keeping the kingdom safe. Expect lots of humor and rhymes, with a touch of mystery and the bizarre to liven things up. It’s a show suited to the whole family.

Ticket prices and showtime information can be found here. Hope to see you there!

Water Fall: Ocean’s Currents

Two Weeks, Five Days Before the Michigan Avenue Proclamation 

Circuit

“No, of course I don’t think I’m Nicholas Cage,” I said in annoyance. “I wish you people would stop suggesting that I do.”

“You do a pretty good impression, that’s all I’m saying, boss,” Heavy replied, slouching along behind me. “You’re a bit shorter, sure, and he’s got a different nose, but otherwise…”

“Enough.” I stepped up onto the sidewalk and onto the fair sized plaza just outside the target building. “For once let’s try to do this without any witty banter, hm?”

“Yeah, right!” The response came in stereo, from both Heavy to my left and Hangman in my earpiece.

“We’re going into a public building this time, boss,” Heavy added. “This is the time for witty banter. I lived out of a library for a month and a half, it’s what they expect from people like me.”

There wasn’t much to say to that, Heavy was dressed like someone who’d spent the last month or two living rough and we’d gone with that since it was a very typical kind of person you can expect to find around a public library. Heavy assured me that building security wouldn’t look twice so long as he didn’t cause trouble and I was willing to take his word on it. I was less sure how much witty banter they’d be expecting from him but you can’t win everything so it’s important to pick your battles.

Speaking of building security, it was waiting for me as I came into the building, a slightly overweight man in his thirties with a scruffy blonde beard and a pleasant greeting. He nodded at me as I came through the doors off the plaza and returned his attention to the outside. I gave him a polite nod in return and glanced around. To my right was a wall with various large alcoves full of book displays, to my left a short hallway that split to give access to a coffee shop in one direction and some meeting rooms and the local public access television station in the other. Going straight took me into a large, cavernous hallway that ran up through both above ground floors of the building. According to the plans we’d studied I could use either the main hall or the side hall to reach my destination but the side hall would make getting there easier, so I took a right and headed that way.

Once I was in the hallway and made sure there was no one near by I touched my earpiece and said, “One guard accounted for at the east entrance.”

“Got it,” Hangman said. “Grappler’s now patched into the building’s wifi phone system.”

“Any sign that they’re aware of our presence?” I didn’t think there would be but it never hurts to check.

“None.” An immediate reply. “Their security is really shoddy. Are you sure you don’t want to do something about that guard?”

“No. This is a public library, Hangman, not City Hall, or even a bank. That guard wasn’t even armed. Think about it – most of the things people could want in this building is already available for free and don’t have much resale value.” I glanced at a room full of computers as I passed by it. “And what might be worth taking isn’t exactly easy to make off with. Even for a top rate library system, security exists less to keep people from taking things as keeping out minor troublemakers. They leave any really big problems to the police.”

“But what if he tries to make problems when you head back out?”

“Ah.” I smiled, even though Hangman couldn’t see it. “Leave that to Heavy.”

The elevator doors opened with a cheerful “ding” as soon as I pressed the call button. According to the blueprints, this elevator led to staff-only parts of the building. It wouldn’t take me anywhere without a staff ID badge to swipe over the scanner, at least in theory. In practice, those kind of electronic security measures are even less effective against me than normal locks.

It was a short ride down to the subbasement, which in the vernacular is the basement below the basement. When I got there I stepped out into a room full of brightly lit shelves of books. They ran off a good forty or fifty feet to my right, another ten or fifteen to my left. I headed to the left, asking, “What’s Grappler’s position now?”

“She’s entered the west side of the building-”

“Excuse me, sir?” I turned to find a stocky kid in his early twenties poking his head out of one of the aisles. A waist high wooden cart with a couple of shelves half full of books sitting next to him led me to suspect he was an employee. “Are you looking for the Lincoln Foundation event?”

“Yes.” As a general rule of thumb, the professional criminal can get away with a lot more if they allow other people to supply excuses for them. I gave the kid my best slightly confused look. “This isn’t the place?”

“Well, their office is down that way,” he said, pointing in the direction I’d been headed. On the blueprints the room there hadn’t been labeled and we’d assumed it was storage, but I could see that there were a number of plaques and pictures of Lincoln on the walls so perhaps it had been repurposed since the building was built. “But it’s closed right now. I think the Lincoln Library people are up one floor, schmoozing with the guests in the rare book room.”

I let myself smile slightly. Another reason to design my equipment with an eye for refinement – in awkward situations people are more likely to think well of a well dressed man. With my gear hidden under a tailored vest and suit jacket I no doubt looked like I would fit right in with the other schmoozers. “I guess I got pointed in the wrong direction.”

The employee sighed and put the book he was holding back on his cart. “Well come on. I’ll take you to the right elevator.”

I made a motion as if signaling for him to lead on. As soon as he started to move past me I grabbed him with both hands and triggered my taser. I felt a little bad for him, since he wasn’t even a security officer and he couldn’t possibly have signed up with this kind of thing in mind. But I’d have felt even worse if he’d reported me and I didn’t actually want join whatever kind of even the Lincoln Foundation was sponsoring, either. So I took his cart, quickly stacked the books there onto a mostly empty shelf, then slung the unconscious employee over the cart and wheeled him along with me.

Just around the corner and down the hall from the Lincoln Library office was the main security station. I brought the cart to a stop outside and poked my head through the door. A guard was sitting at a large desk in the center of the room; sitting on the desk were at least a dozen computer monitors switching between views of the building’s security cameras. There was some miscellaneous equipment strewn around the desk, I suspected at least some of it had to do with making the badges the staff used to get around. In short, it was pretty typical.

The guard at the desk looked up, a moment of confusion crossing her face. She was a middle aged African-American woman and I got the immediate impression that she’d see right through a merely average excuse. Fortunately I’d brought a prop along. “Excuse me.” I jerked a thumb at the man I’d just tased. “I found this guy collapsed outside the elevator down the hall.”

“Who are you?” The guard replied, getting to her feet and coming cautiously around the side of the desk.

“I’m a guest at the Lincoln Foundation event,” I said, figuring if it worked once it might work again. “I was on my way down when I found him.”

The guard sighed. “Somebody sent you to the wrong place,” she said, stepping towards the door and the cart beyond it, clearly intending to have a look at the man there. “They’re on the next-”

I slung her onto the cart, too, then found a roll of tape in the guard’s desk and made sure neither one of my new friends would be causing problems then I closed the door to the security room and took the seat behind the desk. “I’m in the security room. They won’t be able to call for help this way.”

“Good.” There was a hint of amusement in Hangman’s voice. “Do you want that update on Grappler? Or is there more trouble to take care of, first?”

“Like taking candy from a baby.” I leaned back in the chair and studied the monitors. “What’s Grappler up to?”

——–

Massif

“Why didn’t Helix just fly in with us?” Amp asked as we hustled down the library’s main hallway, the security guard just in front of us.

“His tactical team needs too much specialized equipment that wasn’t on hand. Driving it over is easier and faster than trying to bring it along on the flight.” Harriet glanced at her watch. “With all the time we spent getting to and from airports and other nonsense he’s probably no more than a half an hour to an hour behind us.”

I shot a glance to my left, where Agent Samson was keeping pace while studying the building with open curiosity. “What I don’t understand is why you’re here.”

Samson turned to me, a nauseating display of shifting movement, and I wondered, not for the first time, how other people couldn’t notice what a freak he was. Surely that much contained energy was noticeable. “I’m not sure what you and Helix have against me, Agent Massif, but I do have my own case to follow up on. And I didn’t get to do much when we raided that arms dealer’s warehouse.”

“We could use an extra set of eyes,” Dominic said in a placating tone as he ran his hands over his gear for the umpteenth time, checking on it’s placement. “I’ve never bumped into Circuit before but from what I’ve read he’s a master at giving us the slip. More people with tricks to keep him guessing, happier I’ll be.”

I just grunted and waved to get the guard’s attention. “Any word from the party, yet?”

The man just patted his walkie talkie. “You’d have heard it at the same time I would, sir. Even with event security there’s not a whole lot of us here this time of night and it’s a big building. It may take a few minutes for the other guard to get there from wherever they were.”

“Right.” I sighed. The desk guard had let the switchboard and the roaming guard in the building know we thought someone might be coming to disrupt the Lincoln Financial Foundation’s event. Even with a small financial group backing them the Foundation needed cash to keep going and relied on private backers to help maintain it’s operating budget. Helix thought that Circuit had picked the locations for his recent activities because they pointed to the people he thought were most important in his private vendetta against Project Sumter. Charleston and Atlanta because of their connection to his family, Phoenix because it was the place where he first made a name for himself.

But the person who instituted all the rules that Circuit found so onerous was Abraham Lincoln. He decided to keep talented people secret and out of positions of authority, a stance the government still adhered to. Which meant Circuit still needed to make a play for something related to the 16th president. Why Helix thought he’d do that here instead of somewhere more high profile, like the Lincoln Memorial in DC, was less clear to me.

I mean, when I think Abraham Lincoln, the library in Fort Wayne, Indiana is not what pops to mind first. I’d look into that memorial, or maybe Ford’s Theater or something.

Still, he’d managed to convince Voorman the idea had merit so here we were. I drifted back to Amp and quietly said, “Can you hear anything coming from downstairs?”

“If you’re going to whisper like that you need to work on your diction.” I didn’t actually see her lips move when she said that. The words just sort of drifted into my ears, barely above a murmur, and I was pretty sure I was the only one hearing them. Creepy. “There’s too much noise in this stupid big hallway. Acoustics are bad, sorting things is tough. If there’s any sound leaking up from the basement it’s being drowned out.” She cocked her head to the side in a thoughtful pose. “Not that I’m not listening. So some quite please?”

I shrugged, since that seemed fair enough. It was only a few more steps to the stairs down anyway.

“Hold up.” Dom had his hand on the security guard’s arm, keeping him from starting down the stairs. My tac team lead looked back at me and asked, “Do we want to go in live?”

“No,” Harriet said. “There’s no signs he’s actually here yet. We’re already going down there with body armor and weapons. No need to alarm the guests further.”

“We appreciate that, ma’am,” the guard said. Dom moved his hand and he led us down the stairs.

The so-called rare book room was a floor down from the main hall. The stairs let out on a small landing that overlooked some kind of lobby. To the right was a short hallway line with glass cabinets. Locked security doors on either end presumably let into the stacks in the rest of the building while the other side of the hallway looked into the room we were after.

The doors into the rare book room were open and a number of people were milling about inside and in the hallway. There were a bunch of displays set up, which I’m sure were very interesting, but that’s not what we were there for. The guard wandered into the crowd and returned in less than a minute leading an impossibly thin man who was even taller than me.

“This is Vern Applewood,” the guard said. “He’s in charge of the Lincoln Library.”

“Hello.” Harriet pulled out her ID and displayed it, I think we were posing as FBI agents this time around but the librarian didn’t seem that impressed. “Mr. Applewood, do you have a guest list for this event?”

“No.” His answer was quick and blunt. “This is an open charity event, we’re hoping to attract as many prospective donors as possible. Even if we had one I don’t think I could share it with you.”

“Then let’s look at it from a different angle…”

Harriet sounded like she was getting ready for unproductive conversation with an unpleasant man. Thinking I might get a head start on actual productive work I glanced around for Amplifier.

She wasn’t there.

I mentally cursed myself for not paying attention – by definition she was the most noticeable person in the room, at least for me. How could she have wandered off?

A second, slower look around confirmed that she wasn’t there. If she had been the weird effect her sound manipulation had on the movement in the air would have stood out like a beacon. Muttering under my breath I pulled out my cell phone to call her. I had no bars.

“You can’t get signal down here,” the guard said helpfully. “We have to use wifi phones or landlines to keep the people who work down here in touch.”

“Great.” I shoved the phone back into my pocket. I glanced at Lance Baudin, the other man on my tactical support team. “Go upstairs and find Amplifier or get her on the phone, tell her to get down here.”

He gave me a surly nod, which is typical for him, and headed back up the stairs.

——–

Circuit

Screaming in someone’s ear while they’re in a dangerous situation is not helpful so I waited until the brief sounds of a scuffle ended before asking, “What’s happening, Hangman?”

There was no answer. I started toggling through the security cameras in an attempt to figure out what part of the building she was in. I’d gotten through about half of them when her voice finally came back. “I’m okay.”

“What happened?” I asked again.

“Some girl snuck up on me.” Hangman’s voice was shaking a little bit but she managed to keep going. “Wanted to know who I was talking to.”

“Who did you have on the line?” The security monitors continued to flick through cameras one after the other.

“Heavy.” Now it sounded like she was walking somewhere. “Circuit, she was wearing a bulletproof vest. I don’t like the looks of this.”

The screen showed a view of the room where the Lincoln Financial reception was and I paused it. I’d spotted familiar faces. “Switch me over to Grappler’s line.”

“Circuit, I don’t think the phones work like that. They’re-”

“Then tell her to get out of the building. Now. The job’s blown.” I leaned forward and tried to pick Grappler out of the crowd, as if looking at her would somehow make her aware of what I saw. “Project Sumter has come to call.”

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What?! More Vacations?!!

Yes, it’s true. Even though my Christmas break was only a few weeks ago I’m going on vacation again. I’ll be traveling to visit family this weekend, so the blog won’t be making it’s usual updates today or Friday. While I won’t be back by next Monday I have scheduled a post ahead of time to avoid interrupting the flow of the story. Water Fall isn’t really in a place where I want to pause right now, so I’m hoping that I’ll be able to keep up even if I won’t have as much time as normal to work on the story in the next few weeks. So see you on Monday!

Water Fall: High Resistance

Author’s Note: Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s been pointed out to me that last week’s post was a duplicate of my last post before Christmas break. I’m not sure how that happened, but it’s not what should have been put up last week. Rather than repost I’ve just edited last week’s post with the correct chapter. You may want to read it before reading this. I apologize for the mistake. Now on with this week’s chapter!

Nate Chen

——–

Three Weeks Before the Michigan Avenue Proclamation 

Circuit

“Well?”

Hangman shrugged and shook her head. “There’s nothing for sure here, you understand. Not everything the Project does has to come through the Senator’s office.” She waved at a collection of e-mails and drafts of memos she’d pulled up. “But from the looks of things nothing’s happened.”

I drummed my fingers absently on the back of her chair until she gently put her hand over them to make me stop. “Replacing a regional director-”

“The technical term is Senior Special Liaison.”

“-or whatever they call them has to be something that requires the Senate Committee’s approval.” I snorted. “And I’ve seen Mr. Wells in action before. There must be half a dozen times he could have made a major bust if he’d just asked Helix what he should expect. He’s not going to give up his grudge just because the greater good is at stake. They’re not going for the bait.” I took her hand and raised her out of the chair.

“Well, it was worth a shot,” she said, smoothing down the front of her skirt. “And regardless of whether Helix is down south or at the regional office he’s not going to be in position to respond to our next move.”

“Yes. Our next move.” At some point they’d stopped being my moves. Not for the first time in the last few days I thought back to my conversation with Simeon. Time to take some distance again. “How is the shooting practice coming along?”

She tucked her hands behind her back and did her best to look innocent. “Heavy says I’m qualified to teach a course on handling and maintaining sidearms and I should be competent with submachine guns by the time we leave for Indiana.”

“Really?” I stared at her blankly. “I know that he’s a good teacher but not even I passed muster that fast.”

“You didn’t grow up in Wisconsin as the daughter of an important politician, Circuit.” She shrugged. “I’ve had self defense training since I was ten and, when I turned eighteen, I went through a basic shooting course, too. My father thought it would be good for my self-confidence, even if I never had to use any of it.”

“Have you?”

“Only the part about being aware of your surroundings.” She gave me a knowing smile. “Of course, I’ve always been good at that. As for the gun training, I never bothered to get a license in Wisconsin because I was going to school in California and who knew where after I graduated.”

“Sensible.” I led her out of the server room and into the antechamber outside my office. “Of course, I don’t suppose self defense training includes any lessons on stealth or insertion techniques?”

She shook her head. “Being highly visible is a part of self defense. Assuming, of course, you’re a law abiding citizen.”

“It’s amazing how many different aspects of life take that for granted.” We were back on the landing outside my office now, the locks clicking closed as I pulled the door closed. “How is the Sorting Algorithm of Evil coming?”

“Currently we can run comprehensive background checks on anyone from the lower 48 states and Alaska. Gaining access to Hawaii’s databases comes next, followed by the larger Canadian provinces.” She held up a hand to forestall questions as she thumbed her phone and consulted something there. “We also have access to some other, less official sources of information integrated already – all the contacts you’ve built in the south, north Africa and Europe, plus a few from Hangman’s heyday. I’m working on gaining access to some classified government stuff and maybe a few unsavory sources that won’t know they’re working for us.”

Once she gave me an expectant look I went ahead with my question. “What if we get people from Mexico?”

“Normal citizens with have to clear customs and get this far north, which means we have some time before they get to us and need vetting. If they don’t come through legal channels or they’re not normal citizens then we already have the contacts to vet them via your southern crime rings.” She pocketed her phone and gave me another knowing look. “Or whatever it is you call them.”

“Extralegal resources.” I considered what she’d told me. “Check with Heavy or Grappler about scheduling some basic breaking and entering training. We may need you ready to pick some locks or otherwise help with petty larceny in the near future, provided you intend to continue working in the field.”

She laughed. “Don’t get me wrong, Circuit. Doing data analysis here for you is way more interesting than any college course I ever took, but I wouldn’t miss being in the front seat of history for anything.”

She swept off across the walkway and down the stairs to the ground floor where she would no doubt begin bugging Heavy until he stopped whatever he was doing and showed her some of his very, very wide arsenal of criminal techniques. I felt bad about sending Hangman after him but I thought it best to keep some space between us for a while. It was a delicate time for – well, everything, really.

There was plenty to do for my part, too. New maglev relays to check out, the EMP countermeasures to install and a personal visit to the Chainfall site to schedule. Our last major job before beginning Operation Chainfall was in two days and there were a million details. But before I could loose myself in them first I had to do something I hated. Manage my people.

There was an odd patch of shadow at the top of the wall. I turned to it but purposefully didn’t look up. “You can come down now, Grappler.”

There was a soft whisper of fabric and then she dropped to the ground from about shoulder height, landing with a barely audible thud, the beads in her dreadlocks rattling softly as they swished through the air. She was wearing her typical non-burglary clothes, a variation on pants, blouse and a knee length vest ensemble. This vest was a pale blue, with silvery plant life embroidered in it and she was wearing a matching bracelet.

Her grim expression was a stark contrast.

“That girl’s toying with you, Circuit,” she said with a huff. “You should just tell her to be on her way. Or better yet…” Grappler slid closer and laid an arm on my shoulder, leaning until she was almost brushing against my chest. “Show her you’re already taken.”

Simeon had mentioned that someone suggested the possibility Hangman was sweet on me to him, now I knew who to thank for that. I gently, but deliberately, took her arm and moved it off my shoulder, forcing her to straighten up to maintain her balance. “Grappler, I’m not in the habit of lying to people. When we transform from smalltime crime to serious business we’re going to need her information gathering skills more than ever, she can’t be nearly as effective as she is at that if she’s ‘on her way.’ And I’m not taken.”

Grappler tilted her head to one side and gave me a dazzling smile, the kind she used when she got caught casing a job and needed to talk her way out from security or suspicious property owners. “Not even a little bit taken?”

“If I wasn’t the time you showed up while I was in the bath I’m certainly not going to change my mind just because you flash a smile at me.” I shook my head. “Grappler, I don’t know what your problem with Hangman is.” I was guessing it was jealousy but I didn’t know that for sure. “But you’re not going to change my mind. She stays. She keeps doing what she has been. And that is all she’ll be doing.”

Grappler took a step back and gave me a critical look, as if trying to decide if I was the real Open Circuit. “Please don’t tell me you trust her.”

“Grappler…” I heaved a sigh and glanced around once, just to make sure we were still alone on the walkway. When I was sure we were I went on. “Just because you and your late husband lied to each other for four years doesn’t mean everyone is automatically untrustworthy.”

“I know that, you idiot.” To my surprise she wasn’t angry, but almost laughing. “I trust you, don’t I? And Heavy. Maybe even Simeon, when I understand what he’s saying. Your problem is, you trust too much.”

“Me?” I did a mental inventory of all the paranoid security measures I’d taken in the last twenty-four hours. It was a lengthy list. “Sorry, I’m not sure I follow that one.”

“Well, let’s see. You got four people you really count on right now.” She ticked them off on her fingers. “One is a guy who thinks he’s a butler out of an Agatha Christie movie.”

“Simeon prefers the term ‘office manager.'”

Finger numbers two and three. “Two of us were professional thieves who also managed to somehow miss the serial killer right under our noses.” Finger four. “And one is the daughter of a U.S. Senator who probably learned to lie before she learned what the truth was.”

“Davis will be disappointed to hear he wasn’t on that list.”

“Except you’re not going to tell him, because not even you’re dumb enough to trust that guy.” Grappler planted her hands on her hips. “Sometimes I’m amazed one of us hasn’t just clubbed you with a candlestick and had done with it.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Why would Simeon do that?”

“He’s a butler.”

“Office manager; and that’s an unfair stereotype.”

She gave me a frank look, her dark eyes boring into mine. “You want to go big time, you need to trust less, Circuit. Everybody’s going to be after you when these gigs are done. I don’t care about your crusade, but at least you pay the bills. So do me a favor and be a little more careful, okay?”

“I never thought I’d hear that advice from you.” I smiled and put one hand over my heart. “But I swear I will take no more risks than are absolutely necessary. Does that satisfy?”

“You swear with your right hand over your heart, Circuit.”

I glanced at my hands in mock surprise. “Is that a fact?”

Grappler watched me in poorly concealed amazement. “There’s something wrong with you lately. You were never like this before. Maybe it’s too late for you already.” She sighed and turned towards the stairs. “Just keep your head, okay, Circuit? All I’m asking.”

“I’ll try.” I watched her until her head disappeared down the stairs, then added, too softly for her to have heard, “But you’re right. It’s already too late for that. Far, far too late.”

——–

Helix

“Please tell me you have something in here.” I poke cautiously at the enormous pile of paper on Teresa’s desk, not entirely sure there wasn’t something alive in there. It certainly seemed to have a mind of it’s own, with files and stacks of paper occasionally rustling or sliding around without apparent cause.

She waved a hand vaguely at the assorted mystery papers on her desk. “I have a lot of somethings. Pretty much anything you could want. Care to be more specific?”

“Something on Circuit would be ideal…”  The labels on the folders mostly faced one way and I browsed over them, just for kicks. Most of them covered parts of the case I was already familiar with, a few of them were flagged from the Southern office and it was probably best for my sanity to ignore them, since Wells wouldn’t me do anything about them anyway. One near the bottom caught my eye and I started carefully fishing it out.

“Your friend has been keeping a low profile for the past week. Aside from the vandalism in Charleston and Atlanta the only peep from him has been that stunt in Phoenix.” Teresa shrugged and closed down whatever she had been doing on her computer so as to give me her full attention. “Of course, Analysis isn’t sure that was Circuit but…”

“But it’s another case of a weird symbol turning up in a place connected with me in a high profile manner. This time as a hacking attack, in the same place Circuit made his first big cyber attack. And Hangman, or someone like him, helped break the story. That can’t all be coincidence” I started browsing through the file, which was a summary of the various leads Pastor Rodriguez – excuse me, Agent Samson – had been following up while trying to locate Senator Dawson’s daughter. There were a lot of false leads and he’d found couple of women with similar appearances, but no sign of Elizabeth Dawson herself. “Are you still working this case?”

“Just keeping tabs on it.” Teresa sighed and leaned back in her chair, staring into the corner of the cramped office. She hadn’t had enough time, either here or in the old building, to accumulate the mountains of assorted crap that supervisors always seem to wind up with. But in it’s own way that just made the office seem more bleak. “After the talk you and Jack had with the Senator it’s pretty clear there’s not much more we can do, for the moment.”

I closed the file and tossed it down. “Sorry about that. We probably should have discussed that ahead of time.”

She waved me off. “There wasn’t time, and you’re points were valid. It would have been different if we knew Brahms was coming ahead of time.”

“If it’s not too much to ask, how do you know the Senator and his family?” I closed the file, since there didn’t seem to be anything important there that I didn’t already know. “Seems a bit odd for a girl from the West Coast to know the family of a Senator from Wisconsin.”

“I met Elizabeth when we were in school. She was on the school paper and interviewed me as part of a series on adopted kids at Berkley.” Teresa smiled and her stare went off into the past. “After that she didn’t leave me alone. I think she knew a little bit about what her dad’s role on our Oversight Committee was about, and realized I’d brushed up against something similar. We talked about it a lot. She brought her dad to meet me when he made a campus visit, and the rest is history.”

“So you’re here to catch the bad guys thanks to a chance meeting in college?”

“Except I can’t quite seem to get the catching bad guys part right.” Teresa picked up the folder and glared at it, like she could somehow make it show her where her friend was through sheer willpower.

I sat down across from her and gently took the folder out of her hands. “Welcome to the real Sumter experience, Teresa. We’re not supermen. We’re just people with weird abilities.” I set the file aside again and said, “Let it bother you. You wouldn’t be human, otherwise. But remember that it’s not your fault. Ultimately, the problem here isn’t that you can’t fix this – it’s that Circuit broke things in the first place.”

Teresa laughed and it was surprisingly giggly. I wondered if she was more tired than she looked. “You make a good point.” Her smile faded almost as quickly as it came. “How did you meet the Templetons?”

“Darryl was my field stress test oversight agent. We worked off and on over the next two years when I was out west; then he agreed to go migratory when I needed a new oversight agent. That’s when he met Mona, she was in the Analysis office here.” I sat down in one of the chairs by the desk and leaned back. “They were a weird couple but it worked out.”

She leaned back in her chair, giving me an evaluating look. “And now they’re both gone. Are you going to be okay?”

“Maybe one day. You can never tell for sure.” I sighed and picked up a huge stack of fliers and promotions for historical sites and events around the nation, leafing through them for a distraction. Everyone had gotten them when Circuit’s pals had hit the historic Fort Sumter in their vandalism campaign. With the Phoenix airport on the hit list, too, historic sites seemed a lot less relevant all of a sudden. “I guess I just wish Darryl hadn’t left on some sort of a vendetta. I would get leaving because the job reminds him of Mona. But he just wanted to hunt Circuit. It’s like something out of a bad movie…”

I trailed off as came to a brochure from the Lincoln Financial Foundation, a finance group that had named itself after the president and started collecting related memorabilia. Since it seemed like I was done Teresa said, “You know, you could take a little of your own advice. Darryl is his own person, and while he’s not in the best place right now he is qualified to make his own-”

“I don’t believe it.” I shoved the rest of the pamphlets and junk onto the desk, jumping out of my chair with the Lincoln Financial brochure clutched in one hand.

Teresa got to her feet a little more slowly, a confused look on her face. “What’s wrong?”

“We need to go,” I said, holding up the colorful, glossy piece of paper for her inspection. “I know where Circuit’s going to be.”

“What?” She snatched the flier out of my hands and glanced it over. “Indianapolis?”

I flipped the paper over and pointed to the right panel. “Right state, wrong place. He’s going to Allen County. He thinks he’s Nicholas Cage.”

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Before You Write

I’ve mentioned before that I have a kind of ritual I go through before I sit down to write, a way to get my thoughts running in the right patterns. It’s mostly physical, going to get a glass of water or, on rare occasions, something else to drink. A few stretches, cracking my knuckles. 

Every writer should have something like that to help them get into the swing of things. Why, you ask? I’m glad you did! 

The biggest reason is that your body and mind are part of the same system. By going through a set of motions before you write you get your mind used to thinking about writing before you sit down. It’s a way of priming the pump, of getting yourself in the mood to do what you love. These little rituals are more than good luck charms or something to make you comfortable, in the best case they’re an integral part of your thought process. Choose what you do accordingly. 

For example, try not to read anything significant for about half an hour before you start writing. If you do you’re more likely to wind up thinking about what you just read than about what you want to write. By the same token, while some people (I’m looking at you Kevin Thorne) like to do a string of writing exercises before they actually write what they want to write. While that may be helpful in getting the brain moving it’s also likely to introduce a lot of extraneous bunny trails that will keep you away from what you really want to write. If you don’t have anything pressing on you that may be fine, but if there’s anything you’re really looking forward to putting on paper it’s probably better to just start with that, rather than potentially sidetracking yourself. 

Moving around in some way is probably a good idea. It gets the blood moving to your brain, which helps it work more effectively. Also, you’re about to be stationary for a while, which can be hard on you. Moving a bit offsets that and helps you keep your focus longer. This means your writing is that much better. 

It’s probably not a bad idea to get a small snack to munch on while you’re writing either. Thinking burns energy and having something to replenish energy with will keep you chugging away. Of course, choosing a good, healthy snack and not overdoing it is important, but this isn’t a dietary advice column – I’m sure you can find a dozen better places for advice on what’s best to munch with a simple Google search. I usually go with some kind of nuts and a glass of water, but that’s just personal preference. 

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking of writing as something you just sit down and do. And sometimes it is. But all the people who are the very best at anything will tell you that it takes practice, constant searching for new ways to improve, for them to reach the point where their work seems effortless. Looking for every possible advantage as you strive for that level is important. Don’t be afraid to develop habits that will make sliding into that effortless state easier. You may not always have the option of using them but, if nothing else, they’ll have helped you reach a level where it may not matter as much, and you will probably do it faster than otherwise. 

So next time you sit down to write, pay attention to what you do before hand. Then ask yourself, how much of this is under my control? Does it help me write, or not? And then, decide what you’re going to do about it and let us know how it turns out. 

Cool Things: Nicholas Lenoir

E.L. Tettensor’s debut novel is a real doozy.

Let’s review. Has it got crime? Yes, and in spades. Grave robbing, assult, kidnapping, corruption – it’s all there. Has it got a trouble protagonist? Inspector Lenoir has run away from his job twice, once by literally leaving town and again by giving up on doing things right in his adopted home. Has it got weird, paranormal stuff going on in a vaguely Victorian alternate world? Yeah, I guess it kind of does.

So Darkwalker is a lot of stuff all rolled together. Fortunately for readers, Tettensor does an excellent job of balancing it all and making it work. Like most crime novels juggling a multitude of plot threads, Darkwalker features a number of crimes, some of which dovetail together and some of which point the investigator towards future cases. And some of which just serve to give us insight into the detective who investigates them.

Nicolas Lenoir is the man who investigates, and he’s an interesting mix. On the one hand, he’s clearly a man of strong principles. He’s a member of the police, after all, and once upon a time he was successful enough to gain a reputation. But at the same time his own standards of justice don’t seem to do much against the reality of pervasive corruption and power-broking that is typical of any society larger than two people. He’s old, disillusioned and haunted.

Quite literally, in fact. At some point in the past Lenoir made a compromise and wound up being hunted for it. The Darkwalker that stalks him is just as remorseless an agent of justice as Lenoir himself, but its task is above all human laws and immune to the power of human influence. No corruption, bribery or threat will have sway against it.

Too bad it wants Lenoir dead.

The one point in Lenoir’s life that isn’t defined by apathy and regret is his mentoring of an orphan named Zach, who aspires to be a policeman himself one day. When Zach goes missing while helping Lenoir with some inquiries the old copper will have to dust off his skills and slap some life into underused muscles. If he’s clever and lucky maybe, just maybe, he can save the kid before his own reckoning comes.

While there’s not much in Darkwalker that hasn’t been done elsewhere the book does have a charm all its own. For starters, it doesn’t try to do too much in a single volume. Lenoir clearly has a significant history and deep personal convictions, but other than a few hints we don’t really see any more than the plot needs to progress. That keeps things moving and our interest firmly on the present. It also has a society that manages to be full of realistic problems of social standing, political corruption and discrimination without preaching about it at all, a feat rarely accomplished by any author. But most of all it treats all its characters with understanding and heart, even when it doesn’t hesitate to bring it’s criminals to justice.

If you like paranormal investigations or just a good pulp adventure, Darkwalker may be for you.