Cool Things: Lindsey Stirling

Okay, enough with the plots and the characters and the cultural tidbits. We’ve had four weeks of Japanese pop culture, how about some American pop culture?

I have just the thing!

Lindsey Sterling is a violinist and performance artist who specializes in an interesting blend of classical violin and electronic synthesizer (and dance). While it’s not for everyone, her music is fun, catchy and brilliant. While Sterling’s violin playing may not be as technically proficient as you might find in a Philharmonic in the big city of your choice it does have the energy and fun of a good fiddler and for many of us that’s more than enough. More than that, the blending of her electronically amplified violin with heavy synthetic beats shows that the instrument still has a lot to contribute to modern music.

Now many people are going to hear a sample of her music and won’t like the synthetic elements. That’s okay. Techno isn’t for everyone and Sterling’s music is much more techno than classical. At the same time, don’t reject it out of hand just because it’s techno. Many excellent piano pieces were originally written for the harpsichord, the piano didn’t exist until later. There’s a constant evolution of instruments available and there’s no reason to deny them a seat at the table simply because they’re new. Just like the violin still deserves a place in modern music so new instruments deserve to be taken out tested and allowed to find their place.

What’s most interesting about Sterling’s music, beyond its fusion of old and new, is that it is original. By that I mean it’s not a new arrangement of classical music or pop music. Sterling’s pieces are largely new pieces written expressly for violin and synthesizer. That’s exciting, because it shows that there is a place for this fusion of old and new instruments outside of the purely derivative. In this sense it’s ground breaking and, in my opinion as a music lover,  that makes it worth attention.

Of course, Sterling has done a lot of covers of all kinds of music. It’s only sensible to pay your respects to the successful while striking out on your own, after all. But on the whole, Lindsey Sterling is a nice new take on techno music that is well worth checking out. As always, though, try before you buy. A good selection of her music can be found on her YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/user/lindseystomp

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Morocco

“You see bodies that have been shot in the head every day?” Agent Sandusky asked.

Special Agent Double Helix grunted a negative, examining the man who had been left dead in the back alleys of Casablanca. There was a rather large, gruesome hole in his primary thinking organ but otherwise he didn’t look too out of place for a large Moroccan city – Westernized clothing over Mediterranean features that could have been anywhere between thirty and fifty. If not for the blood and the head wound no one would have looked at him twice.

“I ask because most people are at least a little put off by this kind of injury,” Sandusky said, his attention more on Helix than the body the two were standing by. “And I was under the impression that you people didn’t deal with crime much directly.”

“More than twenty percent of our case load is accidental deaths,” Helix replied,  carefully lifting the corpse enough to see if there was anything underneath it. “Poking at accident victims to determine if what happened to them was caused by an unusual ability or not and then covering it up if it was. I had this one guy who got himself crushed under a house when he tried to walk through the loadbearing section of a wall. That was gruesome. Why do your people think this particular murder has anything to do with Circuit?”

Sandusky finally knelt down by Circuit but his attention was still more on the other living man than the dead one. “Not much, really. We were kind of hoping you might be able to tie the two together for us.”

Helix grimaced but didn’t look up, instead beginning to rifle through the dead man’s pockets. “Agent Sandusky, I know there are a lot of stories about the CIA and the way they operate and I’m sure that 99% of them aren’t true. The same goes for us – for example, real supervillains don’t give their employees easily recognizable calling cards. I’m guessing you know this already, so you have to have some reason for dragging us out to stare at this particular corpse.”

“We got an anonymous tip saying that this one was probably related to our case.”

Now Helix did look up. “How many different cases does the CIA have open here?” A half second pause, then, “And do you even call them cases?”

“We generally call them ‘files’ and we have three open in Morocco right now, two that involve Casablanca.” Sandusky shrugged, his southern drawl becoming a little more pronounced with annoyance. “This got sent to me because our other case is a single person who’s under 24-hour surveillance. Also, this guy is a known arms dealer and we’re trying to crack an ironmonger’s ring that in Morocco somewhere.”

“Well, telling us to drop by and have a look at his handywork is consistent with Circuit’s style so I can’t fault you there. Just keep in mind that he has his own reasons for wanting us out here.”  Helix pulled out a wallet and a set of keys and a wallet from the man’s inner jacket pocket. “Can your boys can track down where this guy came from using this?”

“It might take a little while, but sure.” Sandusky took the offered items and stood back up, heading towards the mouth of the alley where additional CIA agents waited.

“Hey, Sandusky.” Once the other man looked back over his shoulder Helix asked, “What do we do with him?”

“Leave it to the locals.” Sandusky said, unconcerned. “They’ll round up the usual suspects.”

Helix nodded, left the body on the ground and followed.

——–

As it turned out the key unlocked the door to an apartment belonging to the dead man. Of course, even with the door unlocked the body in the hallway made getting it open difficult. And with Helix, Sandusky and the three other agents on Sandusky’s team all crammed into the hallway with the new corpse it was kind of crowded. They still managed to get the door shut again. No point alarming the neighbors, after all.

“Looks like a couple of pistol shots to the chest when he opened the door,” Sandusky said. With the body flat on it’s back and a pair of powder burns plain as day on his chest the comment was a lot like stating the obvious.

“Bad friends.” Helix shook his head and got to his feet. The apartment was a simple two room plus bath affair, with all three rooms opening up off of the short hallway where the body lay. It only took a quick inspection to determine which was the bathroom, which the bedroom and which served as everything else.

There was a spare metal desk with a fancy looking wooden chair in front of it in the bedroom and Helix was about to start ransacking the desk when Sandusky tapped him on the shoulder. “Not to keep harping on this but you do know this Circuit fellow a lot better than anyone else. Do either of these kills look like his kind of a job?”

“This kind of violence isn’t consistent with Circuit, period,” Helix answered. “I can count on my ten fingers the number of bullets we’ve seen him fire before. When he has he’s been a decent shot, but really it’s not how he’s solved problems in the past.”

“My boys think the one we found in the street was taken down by a rifle, not a pistol.”

“Not his style at all.” Helix frowned as he thought it over. “Look, everything we’ve seen in the past suggests that he favors stealth and well laid plans over flash or brawn. His ability to circumvent most conventional forms of electronic surveillance along with a surprisingly good knowledge of modern security measures kind of circumvents the need for most direct confrontations so we’ve never really gotten a good read on how he might go about killing someone off. If anything, I’d say the number of bodies we’ve encountered along the way is the biggest sign I’ve seen that we’re not dealing with Circuit.”

Sandusky made an unhappy sound in the back of his throat. “That’s something, I guess. Not useful, but something. Let me know if you find anything better in there.”

With that, Sandusky left him to search the desk and, with nothing better to do, Helix pulled open the drawers and got to work. Most of it was junk, the kind of random restaurant fliers and newspapers you might expect. One drawer was locked and Helix hollered for someone with lockpicks. Melting the latch was an option but not one he wanted to use if the desk’s former owner happened to have left a loaded handgun in there. To say nothing of some of the other things he’d found in desks over the years.

One of the other CIA people poked his head through the door with a cheery, “You yelled?”

“Got a lock I need picked.” He gestured at the drawer in question.

“Sure thing, Supes,” he said with a grin, moving towards the desk. The guy was a younger looking fellow, probably not too long out of whatever training school he’d come from, and he seemed to think working with a genuine superpowered person was cool. Helix was sure the feeling would fade with time. And probably not a whole lot of it at that.

Helix got up and moved out of his way, thinking he might search the bed, when Sandusky poked his head back in the room. “What’s up?”

“I just needed the locksmith,” Helix said in annoyance. “Not the whole team. At least not yet.”

“Well let us know if you find anything.”

Helix was looking over his shoulder to make a retort when he saw it. In fact, he’d probably seen it when he first came into the room and just dismissed it. There was a folding chair peeking out from behind the door.

“Wait.” Sandusky stopped, halfway turned around in the doorframe.

Helix swapped places with the other agent again but instead of opening the desk drawer he grabbed the wooden chair and tossed it on the bed so he could look at the bottom of the seat. There was an envelope taped there with “Double Helix” written on it in a neat hand. Helix sighed. “Okay, Agent Sandusky, I’m now pretty sure Circuit is behind this in some way, shape or form.”

Sandusky came back into the room and studied the chair for a minute. “Okay, I’ll bite. How did you know there was a note there?”

“Like I said, because Circuit is involved.” Helix waved his hand at the chair. “I make furniture as… a hobby, I guess?”

“Strange hobby.”

“And I sell it through a dealer who lists it on the Internet. Somehow Circuit found this out and bought a couple of sets of chairs. We find them in hideaways he’s set up all over the country.” Helix shrugged. “I think it’s some kind of mockery, although really I appreciate the extra cash. Just try not to think about where it comes from.”

“Wait, that’s one of your chairs?”

“No, the style’s all wrong and I doubt he’d pay to ship one to Africa just to poke fun at me. But it’s where I’d put my maker’s mark if I had built it so it’s where I’d check if I wanted to be sure it wasn’t one I’d made and forgotten about or something. So it’s a part of the chair I’d be sure to look at.” Helix reached out to take the envelope but Sandusky grabbed him by the shoulder and pulled him back.

“Hold on.” Sandusky nodded at the envelope. “If that’s been left there for us to find we should make sure there’s no nasty surprises in it.” He turned and looked back towards the main room of the apartment. “Ramone!”

Helix furrowed his brow in confusion. “What’s he going to do? Sniff it for bombs?”

“Don’t question Ramone!” Sandusky and the other agent said in unison.

“All right!” Helix leaned back against the desk and settled in to wait for Ramone to do whatever it was he did. “And I thought I was from the weird government office…”

 ——–

It took a lot more than a quick check by the bomb sniffing human to move on to the next step. The envelope proved to contain a satellite photo of a small house out a ways in the desert, along with a note that just listed latitude and longitude. But before they could move on to investigating that the rest of the apartment had to be turned over and put back and the crime scene called in to the local authorities. No new and exciting leads turned up so the next few hours were spent frantically trying to figure out who owned the building and what might be waiting for them there.

Turned out the building was owned by a known gun runner and that meant just about anything could be out there.

So they went in prepped for anything. Helix didn’t know what a bunch of CIA agents who were supposed to be operating under the radar were doing with the rough equivalent of a full set of SWAT gear in their basement but under the circumstances he wasn’t going to complain. Of course, they didn’t have a vest in his size. No one ever did and all his custom ordered ones were back in the states. So he wound up going on the raid without body armor.

Not that anyone wound up needing it.

The house was empty, save for the dead. Sandusky walked through the largest of its for rooms, staring at the carnage in unvarnished horror. “This is incredible.”

“That’s one word for it,” Helix said, moving over to the outside wall and examining the hand shaped burn mark near the power outlet there. “We passed a generator on the way in here, right? I’m betting it’s right on the other side of this wall. Circuit stood here and pulled current straight out of the generator and threw it at those two guys.”

Sandusky lightly prodded one with the toe of his shoe, staring at the large round burn that went through the front of his shirt and part of his chest. “I’m amazed he got enough voltage to do that.”

“Electricity kills based on amperage, not voltage. And fuseboxes can boost both with their talent, within limits.” Helix followed a second burn mark, long and thin, along the wall to the third corpse. “Looks like this guy was leaning on the wall here and Circuit just upped the current enough to jump the wire and into him.”

“And the forth guy, over by the door?” Sandusky gestured back at the last man in the room, who had clearly been shot and not electrocuted. “He was shot from inside. Did Circuit have another man with him?”

“Possible, but my guess is Circuit did that himself, too. Arms dealers aren’t the trusting type, I’m not sure they’d have let Circuit into their building if he had anyone else with him. Circuit does have a few known associates but I think he just shot that guy while frying the others with the generator. You can have someone go check on it but he probably overheated it in the process. My guess is it’s junk.” Helix turned away from the bodies and started towards the house’s small kitchen. ” Which reminds me. I should probably demolish this building before we leave, the evidence of a fusebox at work is pretty clear and Project Sumter doesn’t like leaving that kind of thing laying around, even when we’re technically off our turf.”

“Suit yourself. You’ve got some autonomy on this run, just let us check the house over before you do… whatever it is you’re planning to do.”

“Sure. Do we know how many people were in this ring? Are they all accounted for yet?”

“Still two missing, but our electronic surveillance team reports that there’s now a price on their heads, as of five hours ago.” Sandusky shook his head and followed Helix. “Odds are they weren’t here when all this went down. Especially since I’d say these bodies are a little over a day old, based on the smell and beginnings of decay. Why put a bounty on them if you killed them eighteen hours ago?”

“So these are the last of them.”

“That we know of,” Sandusky added.

“Right.” Helix shook his head as he poked through the kitchen, which looked like any typical kitchen might. “I don’t get this, Sandusky. It looks almost like a purge, but I can’t figure out why Circuit would care. He’s never purged his organization back in the states, at least that we can tell.”

“Maybe the greater distance resulted in them getting more out of hand.” Sandusky leaned in the doorway to the kitchen. “Maybe they spread into arms dealing from some other line of business?”

“No, he’s dealt in guns and drugs back home. He only robs banks or other large financial institutions but he’s got no problem dealing general violence or escape.” Helix drummed his fingers on the countertop. “Our analysts say he likes crimes he can see as victimless. Banks are insured. Drug users can be said to opt into their habits and essentially destroy themselves. Guns bought illegally are almost always used to kill other criminals.”

“That’s not as true here,” Sandusky said. “There’s all kinds of civilians caught up in the tribal fighting in Africa. To say nothing of the terrorist groups.”

“Maybe that’s it,” Helix replied. giving up on finding anything meaningful in the kitchen. “He doesn’t seem like the type to care for terrorists. He’s the kind of crook that thrives on picking the fat from a well functioning society. If their activities destabilized his home he might stop them. Even violently.”

“Well, it’s an angle we could look at, anyway,” Sandusky said, heading back into the main room. “Although there’s so many ways that could go and so little in the way of aboveboard bookkeeping done here that we may never know for sure. With all this taken care of, to an extent, do you think Circuit is likely to stick around or-”

“Boss?” Ramone and one of the other agents stepped into the main room, a shovel dangling limply in Ramone’s hand. Both were unusually pale and grim looking. “We found something out back you might want to see.”

——–

Sandusky helped pull Helix back into the jeep and slam the door closed. The wind was starting to die down and the temperature in the desert had already returned to normal but there was still plenty of sand and air whipping by at ghastly speeds. The house was gone. In it’s place was a serene expanse of glass nearly two hundred feet from one side to the other. A tendril of glass stretched from the larger patch out towards the CIA’s vehicles, quickly petering out into small individual patches that shrunk down to a size eight shoe before disappearing entirely. Although Sandusky saw it as just as much evidence for superhumans at work as the house itself Helix assured him the glass would either break up in the wind or be buried by the sand within a couple of days. Still.

“Was that really necessary?” Sandusky asked as Helix beat loose sand out of his clothes and hair.

“It’s how I demolish things.”

“I see.” Sandusky glanced in the back seat, where even his previously-enthusiastic lock expert was leaning slightly away from Helix, making no effort to hide newfound nerves. “It’s a pretty tomb, anyway.”

“Prettier than some of them deserve.” Helix yanked his tie off and cleaned some more sand out from under his collar.  “How did that happen, Sandusky?”

“I don’t know! I’m not God, Helix, I can’t answer all your questions.” The CIA man shook his head. “Look, you think Circuit’s out of the country now, right?”

“He’s always had a hasty exit lined up in the past.”

“Then he’s not a part of our case anymore. You’ve cleaned up the evidence of your super secret talented people and the arms ring we were trying to shut down is now shut down.” Sandusky shrugged philosophically, gesturing back to the former house where six small stones sat in a neat line just beyond the glass. “That is not our problem.”

Helix snapped bolt upright in his seat. “Not our problem? Sandusky-”

“Stop,” Sandusky hissed, jabbing Helix in the chest. “You sit back and listen for a second. I get that you’re not a novice and you’ve got plenty of experience in your field. But your department has never been geopolitics. This doesn’t impact homeland security so it’s out of our purview.”

“What about the security of their homes?” Helix demanded.

“Again, not God.” Sandusky started the vehicle and yanked the gearshift into the drive position with more force than was strictly necessary. “Families starve or parents neglect all the time. That’s why there’s child soldiers and… places like this. I can’t stop it all and its not my job to do it. It’s not yours, either. I appreciate what you’ve done out here, but your share is done. There’s nothing more you can do about it.”

There was a long silence as they drove back to Casablanca, Helix staring out at the desert and brooding. Finally Sandusky sighed and said, “What’s bothering you?”

Helix finally turned away from the window and said, “He did something about it.”

“He also caused it in the first place. Cleaning up your own messes makes you normal, not a saint.” Sandusky shrugged. “Try and figure it out if you must but my advice is don’t let it drive you crazy. You yourself said he’s an opportunist feeding off the fat of society. What are the odds you’ll have to deal with Circuit playing the good guy again?”

Fiction Index

Writing Men: Solitude

Return of a feature! It’s been a while since we’ve done this so it’s only natural that we stop for a minute and glance back at where we’ve been. In addition to introducing the subject we’ve looked at five basic components of male thought: Objectivity, Axioms, Compartments, Testing and Sacrifice. It’s time to examine some ways these thought patterns are typically applied.

As a reminder, the whole point of this exercise is to investigate who the male character is and how he should be written. (This reminder is as much for me as anyone, I feel I’ve been straying from this purpose recently.) Now that we’ve done a bunch of posts on how men think and what I feel are the biggest defining masculine traits, and how they express themselves, it’s time to take a look at how those thought patterns might result in uniquely male actions and what that might mean for your story.

Men seem to seek and value alone time much more than women. In fact, they’re masters of being alone even with other people – we’ll just sit around with each other and tinker with stuff or read books or do whatever with no need to talk to one another about what we’re doing or why. Some people think this is some sort of animalistic urge, the need of the hunter-gatherer to be back in his natural state. As a non-hunter-gatherer I tend to disagree with this outlook and instead attribute it to the natural outgrowth of the five male psychological principles we’ve discussed already.

So how do we know when a man might want solitude, and what would the purposes of a character seeking solitude be? There are some reasons here but keep in mind that this list is by no means comprehensive. Solitude is usually a man’s default first reaction to an unexpected situation. The male tendency to compartmentalization works best if he starts of fully compartmentalized, which means being alone among other things.

In a more practical sense this means male characters might seek solitude because:

  1. They’ve been dealt a setback. In particular this gives the man a chance to look over what went wrong and analyze the axioms applied, to see if a wrong paradigm was used, test the skills used, to see if the man needs to improve himself or something else before trying again, or determine if he must toss something out in order to achieve his goals and, if so, whether he’s willing to make that sacrifice.
  2. They are formulating a new objective or axiom. These two things are foundational to the man’s understanding of the world and must be examined from every possible angle in the best way the man knows how. This usually means while the man is alone. Incidentally, this is also why men tend to be so stubborn about things – men have personally examined every aspect of their core goals and maxims and thus have become very personally invested in them. It’s a great leadership quality and, at the same time, a pitfall when the man is working with bad objectives or axioms.
  3. The man needs to unpack. This has nothing to do with introvert/extrovert tendencies. Men simply don’t process experiences as well when there are other people around – that’s a situation where you’re creating experiences, not sorting them. Social activities tend to be their own compartment, separate from the other activities that take up the majority of the day. Most men need some alone time to knock everything into proper shape, file it and be ready to move on.

Men tend to view the tendency to solitude in a positive light, but it’s important to keep in mind that, just like the patterns of male thought, the actions male thought inspires are not inherently positive or negative. Rather, they are situational. Sometimes withdrawing from other people will cause more problems than sorting out what you did wrong will solve. Part of creating a well-developed character is showing them acting as their character dictates and growing from it. Most actions have positive and negative consequences and seeking solitude is no exception. When your story call for a man to go off on his own be sure he has a good reason for it, at least in his own eyes. But don’t be afraid to hand him some consequences for that decision either.