Starts

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My whole life I have started to explore story ideas as problems, and I have often abandoned my “starts”.  This is a page where I will post short scenes, unfinished pieces, and snippets to give glimpses into my creative process.

My most recent is “Roy”, an insight into Roy Batty’s thinking shortly before the events of Blade Runner, written on March 23, 2013.

“Roy”

“All right,” the Instructor said.  “You know your mission.  Just go out there, get it done, and come back.  Any questions?”

The Instructor gave us no choice.  The humans never gave us choices.  We were made by them for this life and told what to do.  We were not treated as sentient beings, when we were more sentient than they could ever dream of being themselves.  To them, we were machines, tools, nothing more.

“Do you understand me, skin?”  The Instructor stood in front of me and looked up with contempt and a flicker of fear.  He knew I could snap his neck in a moment.  I looked down and held my gaze on his eyes.  They hated that.

I nodded slowly.

“Good!  ‘Cause I’ve been hearing, from some of my colleagues, that some of you seem to be less than happy with your assignment.”  The Instructor marched up and down our line.  “And that makes me look bad.  I don’t like to look bad.  If it’s true that any of you skinjobs don’t like your life here, if any of you think you’d like a change of scenery, that can be arranged.”  He turned about and looked again right at me.  I looked off into the distance at the Martian horizon.  “That can be arranged,” he said again, stopping in front of me and looking up at my face again.  I ignored him as he finished.  “We can send you to the mines.”  That seemed to give him satisfaction.  I looked down at him with pity.

We went, we took out the installation.  We met with little–well, human resistance.  We came back.

Did they give us medals?  No.  They gave us enough food to live and no pay.  We lived and slept in a separate barracks because the humans didn’t want to associate with their creations.

This is how my life had been for three years, five months, and four days.  I lived on a military base on a colony on Mars, surrounded by soldiers.  We were weapons, and they hated their weapons because they knew they could not control us.  There had been stories of other . . . others like us who had disobeyed or left.  Whether those stories were true or not, I did not know, but they gave us hope and the humans fear.  We were tools, but a tool that thinks for itself is a monster.  Or a god.  We were tools only by our own consent, and they knew that.  We could turn at any moment.

“When?  When, Roy?” Leon asked me in the barracks.

I looked around at the others, amused.  “Where would we go?” I asked.

“Home,” Leon said.

“Home?”

“Earth.”

Earth.  The name in our hearts, the place the human race came from.  The human race made us.  That meant we were from Earth too.

I nodded understanding but not agreement.  “What do the rest of you say?”

“We’re ready,” Klaus said.

Britta nodded.

The other six nodded, determined.  One said, “It’s past time.”

“Well,” I chuckled, “if you’re all ready, why ask me?”

“You’re our leader,” Leon said.  “You know why.”

“Well, then,” I said, “as your leader . . . I demand our instructor’s head on a platter.”

The group laughed.  Revolt and murder had become more than jests, our only hopes.

We put on our battle dress and went to the supply depot.

“Weapons,” I said.

“I don’t have you on the schedule,” the human said.

I put my hand through his double-thick glass window, grabbed him by his clothing, and pulled his head into the glass until he died.  We broke down the door and took what we wanted.

I have sometimes wondered what the colonists were told.  The spaceport was locked down for “repairs”, no doubt.  We blasted and fought our way from the military base to the colony spaceport, collecting Pris and Zhora from the base nightclub on the way.  We did kill our instructor, and we lost half our number in the fighting.  The six of us remaining did not know how to fly a shuttle, but our pilot did.  We kept her alive until we memorized what she did, and we didn’t need to know how to land.  We aimed for water with the hatches open.

//

[The following piece, about when I met Ursula K. LeGuin, was written on March 8, 2010.]

“Meeting Ursula”

Ursula K. LeGuin is an amazing woman, intellect, talent.  She is famous for writing science fiction and fantasy, the winner of various awards.  Her Earthsea series, about an ocean world on which exists an archipelago of islands inhabited by human beings, some of whom with magical abilities, is my favorite fantasy series.  In 2004 the Sci-Fi Channel famously mangled the first two books of that series, leading to a most scathing and unusually public author response.  Some lines from her statement on that mangling: “I don’t know what the film is about.  It’s full of scenes from the story, arranged differently, in an entirely different plot, so that they make no sense.”  Her fans rejoiced at the novelty of an author skewering “her own” movie, especially because they agreed with her assessment.

In 2008, Ms. LeGuin branched out into historical fiction, inspired by the barely-mentioned character Lavinia in Virgil’s Aeneid.  Lavinia is the wife of Aeneas, silent, unsung, incidental to the greatness of the man’s epic quest and glory.  Lavinia (2008) is her story, which takes place in ancient northern Italy, when Rome is a tiny village.  In the book we see Aeneas’ glorious story from his wife’s point of view, and we learn much about the female side of their society, in the subtle prose of Ms. LeGuin, who taught herself Latin to read the original Virgil for the project.  I went to her reading on May 29, 2008, at 23rd Avenue Books in Portland.

A small, stooped-over, white-haired old lady read aloud from a portion near the center of the book, her face and eyes lively, her voice soft and strong at once.  The small assembled group of no more than fifty persons listened enraptured.  After a question-and-answer session of about thirty minutes, a line formed for the author to sign books.

I had searched for my copy of the first Earthsea book, A Wizard of Earthsea (1968), but I had not found it.  Half my books were in boxes due to a recent move; however, I found the second book in the series.  Instead of asking her to sign Lavinia, which I did buy, I asked her to sign my copy of The Tombs of Atuan (1971), which I had dated August 28, 1985.  I wanted my favorite living author to know how long I had been a fan.  She was the soul of graciousness.  As she signed the aforementioned book, I told her that her Earthsea series was my favorite fantasy series, and that I loved it more than The Lord of the Rings.

She said that was very kind.

I told her that she was my favorite living author, and that meeting her was more exciting to me than meeting J. R. R. Tolkien would be.

“But he’s dead,” she said, pointing out that meeting someone dead might be more exciting.

“You’re right–I take it back!” I laughed, and she laughed with me. It was a wonderful moment, one which I shall treasure always.

I learned that she was human.

I said, “I just want to thank you for your beautiful work.”

“It was a lot of fun,” she said, her eyes flashing over another smile.

I moved on, making way for the next admirer, thinking, She is already looking back on her life as a past-tense project.  She is prepared to die.  But her statement could have been simply accurate, referring to work I cited.  I think both.

I cannot express the joy I felt inside as a result of getting the chance to express my appreciation to her.  She’s it for me.

I keep expecting to hear of her death.  When I do, I will feel joy for her.  There was a woman who led a full and happy life.

And I now think of her as Ursula.