HELLO I AM BACKKK.
Yes, for all of you who didn’t realize, I disappeared from my blog
again for about two weeks this time. Why? Well, I was procrastinating a lot on the Internet and I also didn’t feel like I was spending enough time with my family, so I chose to basically not go on the Internet for a week, and it was actually really nice. I did spend more time with my family but most of my time was actually spent at band camp for marching band.
HOWEVER I am back now and here to share my second Spotlight with you! Earlier today I was reading the first 40K I’d written of Cryonic during April for Camp NaNo (and it is surprisingly better written than I had thought) and there was one chapter that really stuck out to me.
Some of you may know that at one point I decided to have 6 POV characters in Enhanced, so I added in a character who hadn’t been in the first draft, but then I took him out again about a month later. His name is Zen, and he’s an awesome character but he didn’t really fit with any part of the plot, so I decided that maybe he’d just be a minor character in one of the later books or something.
But reading over this chapter that I wrote, I had the idea that I could give Zen his own novel, and I think I would enjoy it. But I shall stop rambling now and actually share the chapter with you so you can see what it’s like and decide if you would want to read more. (If not, that’s totally fine, haha. It’s a) a rough draft, and b) my style is definitely not everyone else’s style. I like honest feedback.)
Disclaimers: The chapter takes place during a war, a very bloody war. So there is a lot of death and dying and killing and blood. It’s not necessarily gory since I didn’t really go into description of gory things, but it is war, and it’s meant to be kind of horrific and emotional and dark. It’s fine for most people, I think. Also, it’s almost 3000 words, so it’s…really long. I won’t be offended if you don’t read it all. 😉
“Get under cover!” Zen yelled to his team, ducking behind one of the makeshift walls as bullets whizzed past him, soundless to the silencers in his ear that simultaneously allowed him to communicate with those in his team.
The answers came back through the silencers and around him, he saw the members of his team. Adrenaline pumped through him, mixed with determination. “We’ll stay here for another minute, and then charge forward. I’ve just received word that they’ve damaged the outer wall of the city enough for some people to get in just to the north of here. We’ll charge past the other line of men and jump through the walls, take cover, and wait for more orders.”
The others nodded, and in that moment, he knew how exhausted they all were. They’d been assaulting the city for days now, and in the blazing heat they were all getting tired and dehydrated. He took the water bottle out of his suit and drank some of the warm liquid, the rest of his team following suit.
“Ready…” They stood at attention. “Go!” Moving together, they clambered up over the wall, Zen in the front, firing their guns at the enemy line, just waiting for a bullet to puncture into them. They had been given bulletproof armor, but it didn’t cover everything in order to allow mobility, and there was always the chance that one would die, especially the more battles one went through.
And Zen had been through quite a lot.
The enemy fired back and he ran as fast as he could, relying on his strengthened muscles and days of long training to increase his speed enough to run past, enemies falling, spraying red blood. Zen felt a few bullets hit with a slight pressure on his bulletproof suit, and each one made him wonder if this would be the last run he made, the last breath he took.
Some part of him just wanted to stop, to let the screaming bullets take him, but he never did. He kept fighting not because he believed it was right, but because he couldn’t let his friends around him down.
Especially not Lian. This was his first battle, and he was under Zen’s command. That was enough to make him run like the wind.
They reached the wall, a gaping gash of a hole bombed through it, like an open sore, rubble surrounding it like blood. Zen covered for the rest of his team as they climbed through the hole, jumping from pieces of rock in order to make their way through it. He counted them off as they came through, all of them there. After they were all in, Zen followed, bullets pounding against the bulletproof vest. How long would it be until the vest fell to pieces from the battering? He knew they could last for a long time…but how long?
The sight that met him inside the city walls caught him off guard, even as his body continued the motion and ducked behind the side of a house with the rest of his team. No military met them, no one fired back. Bloody, wounded bodies were left on the ground from the bombing of the wall, but as he peered out at them, he noted that they wore no uniform.
The twisting in his gut began, the same horrific feeling that had come over him at the last battle, when he’d seen a similar sight. Surely they would have evacuated the people closer to the inside of the city? But…they hadn’t. Why?
“What next, Zen?” Barro asked, and Zen turned to face him, swallowing slightly. He had orders…but those orders were for a military base, not a civilian compound.
Was it time to disobey? No, not yet, he couldn’t let them know yet that the disapproved, but he couldn’t kill innocents either. This conversation was probably being recorded…they might be able to find out what he said next. He searched for a solution, one finally coming from his mind. “They must have bombed the wrong part of the wall…we’re supposed to be in a military base, but those are civilians. For now, we wait here for further orders. Everyone alright?”
Zen took a glance over his men, and found Lian a little ways away, trembling, his whole body shaking like a leaf as he stared with wide eyes at the bodies.
Walking forward, Zen moved toward him and put his hand on the boy’s shoulder. He seemed to calm slightly at the touch, but the terror was still in his eyes. “Lian,” he whispered, “I know it’s hard to look at. I know that sick feeling you get when you look at them. But there’s nothing we can do about it now.”
Lian coughed and sniffled, the sound clearly audible with the silencers stopping every other sound. “We should have been able to do something.” His voice was shaky and weak, and Zen wondered again how Lian had managed to convince the military leaders he was trained and fit for apprenticeship into the war.
He squeezed his shoulder, opened his mouth, and then closed it again. He couldn’t say much with them listening in to him, couldn’t give the kind of comfort that he wanted to. He didn’t really know what to say, then. War was all he remembered, the killing was all he knew. And civilians…they’d been nothing to him before. But after Lian had been assigned to him, he’d started to feel again. Not to remember, but to feel.
Sickening, that’s what every battle felt like after the adrenaline was gone and the stark reality was there, staring up at you with empty, dead eyes.
“Come back here, Lian,” he said quietly. “It’s better if you don’t look.”
The boy let him lead him away without any argument, and as he turned, Zen caught a glimpse of movement in the empty space left of the hole.
Reflexes took over. Zen pushed Lian away and whipped out his gun, firing at the movement.
“Zen?” Araena’s voice was quiet, worried, tense.
“It might have been nothing,” he said, relaxing slightly. “I thought I saw something, but it was probably just my imagination.” I’m seeing things… It was hard to tell if it was real or not. There could be enemy soldiers out there trying to get a shot at them…or it could be something else. His memories? He’d thought he’d seen flickers of it, like visions appearing in his mind before, melding themselves with his surroundings. Had he seen that flash of motion once before?
Or, of course, he could just be going crazy.
“We’d better keep an eye on that opening. Teika, Vessen, Elko, stay here and watch. The rest of us are going to scout around just a little bit, in case there’s any soldiers here.”
The idea had come to his mind after the motion there, as gruesome as it was. Could the enemy really have placed civilians in the place they knew the bomb would hit in order to distract invaders afterward enough to ambush them? That was even more sickening, but it somehow fit. No civilian would stray near city walls knowing that they were being attacked.
Zen made sure to take Lian in his group when they split around buildings, wanting to keep an eye on him. He didn’t remember his first battle, and the blank spot frustrated him to no end, but he was sure it must have been as horrible as this.
What would it be like to be like Lian had been before he’d come here? Not knowing about death, not understanding that life could be so easily taken. The boy valued life so much more than Zen did, and part of him envied that, wanted to feel an ache at every life he took away, to make sure he really knew what he was doing, but the other part of him was grateful that he didn’t understand it fully, that he didn’t remember what life was like before.
He jerked back into the moment, looking through the scope of his gun. In the distance, he could see movement. Pointing toward it, they headed that way, and as they came closer, he saw it was a woman, holding onto the lifeless form of a body, head bowed over him, hair covering her face.
Quietly, they moved toward her. The others followed him around a house — he didn’t want to frighten her into running — but when they came back out again, she was gone. There wasn’t even a body there, just…nothing.
He was definitely seeing things, and it made his head hurt. Was he going crazy? Or, were they, as Lian had suggested, visions of memories that were now slipping into his mind when it related to the situation?
It was true; there was something familiar about the things he saw, unless he was just imagining that part, but whenever he tried to actually remember anything, he wasn’t able to reach past his memories of a few years ago, except for the occasional whisper of something tickling in the back of his mind.
“This way,” said Zen, leading them through the buildings and trying to focus on what was at hand. The past was a long ways away, and the present was now. He couldn’t afford to spend his time looking backward. “You seeing anything?”
His team answered with negatives, and he nodded, weaving through the buildings. Maybe he shouldn’t have taken Lian with him — there was a body in nearly any direction you looked, and many of them had been shredded by scrapnel. This wasn’t any place for a boy…and yet something in him said that’s what a war was, to turn a boy into a man.
But was a man someone who saw death and felt nothing or saw it and wanted to weep for the life that had been lost?
Focus. He was having trouble with that today, and it wasn’t a good mindset to be in when they were in the middle of a war.
A war with what? Civilians, innocents?
His spinning thoughts were focused a second later, when he heard a voice crackling through the silencers. Teika’s voice, worried and fast. “Zen, we’ve got a problem.” Silence for a few seconds, as Zen turned and started running toward them. Then, “They’re swarming through, like rats. Can’t keep them away for long.”
“Hold on as long as you can. We’re coming for you. Keep me updated.”
As he ran, all the worst scenarios that could happen ran through his head as he imagined what had happened. The flash of movement, then, had been real, and he hadn’t been seeing things that time. They’d been lying in wait, and he’d misjudged. He’d taken most of the group, and then the ambush had happened from the wrong side.
Zen cursed over and over again, making sure none if it was going through the silencers to his men. If they knew how worried he was, they would be too; it was the simple rule of battle psychology. Act confident, be confident, and your men will accept it as truth.
Teika’s voice came through the line again, this time strained. “Been shot…in the leg…hurry.”
Zen affirmed that they were coming and then cursed again. This wasn’t supposed to be going like this.
And then another thought came into his mind: if Teika had been shot and she was still the only one who had contacted them, what was happening to Vessen and Elko?
Zen wanted to comfort the others on his team, to tell them fake assurances, but he couldn’t think of anything to say. So there was silence as they ran, settling over them, deep and heavy, like a thick cloud of smoke.
When they came across the gaping hole in the wall, his mouth went dry. The enemy soldiers were pouring in still, covering the hole, as Teika had said, like rats. Zen fired a spray of bullets at them, and a few went down, but not enough.
He found the three of his soldiers holed up in an alleyway — at least they’d retreated to a semi-defensible system, rather than staying out in the open. That gave him some hope, but it was quickly discouraged as they charged over to them. Teika was barely standing, leaning against the wall for support, and Elko was barely able to fire his gun from where he sat near the wall, clutching at a wound on his side, maybe at one of the straps where the bulletproof suits came together. Vessen was unconscious behind them, not even moving.
Zen was filled with such a rage that he’d never felt before. If he hadn’t been able to feel sorrow before, he’d never felt this either. It rose up in him like a raging fire, unable to be stopped, like lightning being flung across a stormy sky.
And for the first time since he’d started to feel, he wanted to kill.
The shots from his gun blazed into their men, pushing them down where they fell. He felt returning bullets slamming against him, but he ignored it, focusing solely on making them bleed as much as possible.
How dare they touch his men, how dare they shoot them, how dare they attack them defenseless when they knew their leader was gone?
They were monsters, and each one he killed seemed like a mercy.
But no matter how many of them he shot, they just kept coming, swarming toward them, filling up the area before the alleyway, as if they were waiting for their chance to die. As if they were sacrificing in order to try to get at least one good shot in.
And they did. Zen watched as his men started to get shot, one by one, thankfully not in the most vital of places it seemed, but they left and the enemy kept coming.
Each one made him shoot more. When he ran out of bullets, he tossed his gun back to Teika, who refilled it as he grabbed the gun Vessen had dropped, exploding more of the others, killing them, pushing them away as best that he could.
The fight seemed to last ages as they came and came, pooling around them like blood. No, like carnivores, ready to consume their prey. It seemed that everyone was wounded except for him when others on their side finally came, enough of them to make a difference, enough of them to make a rescue.
Zen watched all of it with glazed eyes, as they took the gun from his hands and the rage kept on inside of him but his body was so tired his arms simply held limply at his sides, waiting.
He finally came to his senses when one of them started taking the pulses of his wounded men. “What are you doing?” he asked, stepping over to him, feeling weak on his feet.
“Making sure they’re alive,” the man snapped back, his words sharp and abrupt, pounding into Zen’s skull. Had he really talked like that before he’d met Lian?
Zen swallowed as he moved to each of them, his heart sinking as he moved toward Teika, Vessen, and Elko, the three that had first been here. He wanted, with all his heart, to believe that they were alive, but the stark reality was that they’d been wounded for longer than anyone else.
When the man checked Vessen’s pulse, his fingers came away with bloodstains.
Zen’s stomach plummeted, and his whole body seemed to cry out in pain. Not Vessen, not the strong and noble man who would have given anything for the rest of them, hiding it behind grumbles that any person could see through.
In war, though, there could only be acceptance, not denial. It didn’t change anything. Vessen was dead no matter what he did.
Lian came to stand next to him, putting his hand on his arm. When Zen turned to look at him, there were tears in the boy’s eyes, but he was the one who did the comforting. “You did everything you could. You’re not responsible.”
Zen wanted to pretend to be strong, to say, “What makes you think I’m sorry?” but he couldn’t. He only shook his head.
Lian kept talking. “This is war. People…people die. That’s what they say. I calculated the statistics of someone dying today and the chances were high that one of us would suffer a fatality, so I tried to expect it.” His voice choked up. “Vessen isn’t just a number, though.”
“Wasn’t,” Zen whispered. He didn’t know what to say, what to think. “I haven’t lost a man since…since Fyn.”
Lian tensed beside him; Fyn had been closer in age to him than any other. Zen half expected him to start spouting some sort of statistics, since he seemed to do that when he tried to comfort, but he didn’t speak.
Neither of them did, standing there in the alleyway as it was slowly emptied of their wounded friends. Finally Zen just started walking, and Lian followed, the two of them moving out of the city.
It was hard not to step on any of the bodies.
If you managed to read through all of that, what did you think? Did you like or not like? Are you curious about Zen?
I am. I haven’t figured out half his secrets yet. Did it make you feel emotion in any way? And, most important of all, are you excited to see me back in the blogosphere again? 😀