Friday, August 12, 2011

A Sketch and Boyle Family Values

I've been thinking about whether I can write more than one or two kinds of character and I found this bit with Costigan, my favorite soldier-

A long, long time ago, I can still remember
How those stories used to make me smile;
And I knew that if I had God's grace,
I could save the human race
From anything, but itself, for a while.

-filk 'American Sci Fi', TTO 'American Pie'

What most people did not know about Frank Costigan is that he was a decent sketch artist. He'd never had any formal training; he just did it, anyhow. He used pen and any paper that was handy, and often enough, it was just a crude map, a layout of the defensive positions, weak points and the like, but he did draw faces, from time to time. On board Earthbound, he found the finger-painting utility of the ship's computer vastly absorbing. The trick of it was to zoom in on the fine details, then out again, and never, ever, be afraid to discard a failure.
There were lots of times in his life when he should have followed that principle.
"What'cha drawin'?"
Frank looked up and saw that Dee, Dorotea, their littlest abductee, was studying him. She couldn't see the picture, it was eyeballs-only and privacy protected, but he still jumped a little.
"Nothing, just something I was thinking about." Frank stared at the little girl in his drawing. She had been very pretty, he supposed, before. He had never met her, in this life, and he didn't expect to, after. He wasn't so sure anymore that there was a heaven, although it was good to have something to halfway believe in, and he'd always liked singing the songs. Sometimes that was all the faith you were left with, just going through the motions, but at least you had other people and the happy noise...
He considered finishing the drawing, but the ruined side of the little Iraqi girls' face was in shadow, and that was enough detail. The spray of blood and brains from a stray round could stay in his head. Costigan considered, and then saved it to the nightmare file, where it had plenty of company.
He saw that Dee was still staring at the table where he'd traced the lines, looking as if she could see the sketch he'd just sent to where ever it went when it went, and he asked her, "How about some pancakes?"

(I my case, the 'happy noise' is always going to be 'Amazing Grace'. I don't know how much of this shows in the Tales of the Conservancy, but I took Frank Costigan from the breaking point, to a life, a family and a small part in saving the 'wider galaxy'. I worry that Frank, Jules, Ol' Cee and Ski, are all the same guy, but they aren't. It'd be pretty kewl to have them drop by Callahan's for a beer, though! 8-)

 (I should clean this mess up, but right now I've got a powerful need to write about Marianne's family, the Rangers and Costigan)

Kevin Boyle found his wife, Karen, was sitting in a beach chair, facing the Sea of Dreams. He went to join her. "You're up early."
He leaned down and kissed Karen on the forehead. She looked up and murmured, "Kev," coming back from wherever she had been, so deep in thought. It was just before dawn, and there was a readiness, and eagerness, to be. Or maybe it was just a vibe off of Karen, her energy, even a little of the darkness she struggled with, always.
That darkness had been a little stronger, a little more pronounced, lately, since the death by suicide, of Dr. Ixlee. She had been an Oddity and the former head of the First Born Project, tasked with raising clones of a gross of Hunters, and bringing that species back from extinction. The Markov had disagreed, with extreme prejudice, and sent agents with a more lethal and vicious version of the bio-warfare agent they had used to commit the original genocide. Her kids had died in agony. The Boyles had experienced it all at first hand through their daughter, Marianne, and afterwards, she had taken a dangerous mission, to Earth, been lost to them and then returned. Dr. Ixlee had created what the media was calling the First Born Virus, as revenge. She had killed thousands of Markov children and a few of the elderly, including the Autocrat. But not hundreds of millions, because a few key people had acted decisively.
While she was in Militia custody, the doctor had had help to suicide in the traditional manner. Kevin knew, without being told, that Karen had provided Ixlee with the metabolic accelerant. The flesh had seemed to melt off of the fat, maternal-mode Oddity, who had spawned a half-dozen young. Not the fat grubs, but half-starving spawn. She had then held one to a major vein and let it feed.
Kevin looked up at the stars, and wondered, for the thousandth time, knowing the skittish, pacifist Oddities so very well, how anyone could call them cowards. They embraced life, and death, just as bravely as any other species in the wider Galaxy. And if they carried a darkness, in themselves, then so did the sons and daughters of Earth.
He saw that Karen was looking at him, and they reached out to each other, interlacing their fingers.
"He's a good man; I like him, already," Kevin said, as if changing the subject. What they had not spoken of lay between them, for when she was ready.
"Frank Costigan, American Green Beret. Abducted," and she rattled off a date and place, in Iraq, and, Scout to the core, he made a note of the geography. "Presently a security officer with Earthbound; disciplined, repeatedly, for lack of discipline, including, recently being AWOL with our daughter on...” She paused. “Ekaterina." The place meant something, to her, and she paused. "His fellow crew-mates, stuck up for him, and like him, although he is known to be 'rude, crude and obnoxious.'"
Kevin laughed. "He speaks his mind, without editing, when he should." He pulled her fingers to his lips, and kissed them. "He loves her and she loves him. They are good for each other, like a certain other pairing I could mention..."
"Guilty." He sobered. "Karen, love doesn't make the worlds go around, but it does make the journey worthwhile."
"I know. I want her to be happy, but..."
"We lost her, once. I will not lose her, again."
As father and husband to Rangers, Kevin had made his own peace with the danger. But, oh yes, he shared with her the desire for their daughter to live and be happy. They just disagreed on how.
The Ranger beside him knew how to let go; death was always with a Ranger, hers or those around her she sought to protect. She had let go her daughter, once, and she had been returned. It was unfair that Karen should do that and have to contemplate losing her daughter again, ever.
"Are you crying?"
"I’ve just got a little sand in my eye. God, what a beautiful sunrise..."
Frank Costigan, Marianne Boyle, and the rest of the Boyle clan, were staying at a little beach hostel on an island in Ilshans' Sea of Dreams. It was a vacation for Marianne and her dad, plus a family reunion of sorts, and because the Directorate of Transportation had brought Marianne's brother, Thomas, to Ilshan, after slow-tracking the second wormhole project. Now DoT had a mission for him involving a unique wormhole, and Frank had had a front row seat to Boyle family politics. The Greats, Marianne's great grandparents, had watched, interested but accepting, from the sidelines. Tom's dad, Kevin, had been happy for his son, and worried, too, but used to it, what with both a wife and daughter in the Rangers. Momma Boyle, and Little Sis, had both tried, unsuccessfully, to get added to the mission. Helen, Marianne's sister-in-law, was pretty mad. Daughter of Scouts and a vivaforming ecologist, she'd wanted to go look at an entirely new world, completely outside known space, but was staying put with Honor.
The first morning, Costigan woke up to a strange roasting smell; not peanuts or popcorn, but it did remind him of those. Marianne was already up, and fussing with her nephew. She had been up for a while, and wet from a swim. She smiled up at him, but turned back to feeding the baby, and thinking. Costigan was feeling uncharacteristically thoughtful, himself, and mumbled some Kipling under his breath.
The bachelor 'e fights for one
As joyful as can be;
But the married man don't call it fun,
Because 'e fights for three --

(I understand the three are him, her and the two, together, not ‘and baby makes three’ 8- )

His stomach grumbled, and he followed his nose to the kitchen. Breakfast turned out to be fruit, leftovers, and a puffed grain, hot and toasted, served with a lemony sweet not-honey, which is what they called it, and he wisely decided not to ask. It ate; yes indeedy, it did. One of the fruits was orange, covered with suspicious blue fuzz; it tasted like cream cheese and the fruit preserves that his grandma used to make, before they gave up the farm. It had the texture of a ripe tomato, and Frank had two.
It was Marianne's brother, TJ, who made the puffed and toasted grain. It had soaked over night and he stirred it in what looked an awful lot like a wok. Costigan suspected parallel evolution, like tools for like jobs. His wife Helen was looking on as he did so, half-asleep, drinking fruit juice as if it were black coffee.
"Honor kept me up half of the night, but I got a little sleep, at least,” she said to Costigan, and inclined her head to her husband. “He was up all night, briefing in on the mission, but he's full of energy, and I'm not," she grumped. "I hate morning people!"
"Then why did you marry into a family of them?" TJ leaned over and they kissed.
Helen smiled ruefully. "I don't seem to remember..." They kissed some more, with the two older children making embarrassed, good-natured noises, and Costigan leaned back and took it all in. In a word, it made him homesick. The smell of burning puffs interrupted them.
Not for the first time, it occurred to Costigan, that these fine people were human, but alien; of the Conservancy, of the 'Cee', with very different assumptions about things. They enjoyed life and worked very hard. Costigan found much to admire in them.
TJ took some breakfast out to his parents, sitting outside in some beach chairs on the sand. Frank washed the dishes after seeing to it that Marianne got something to eat. Then he went out to join Marianne's parents, facing the morning sun. They were holding hands, fingers interlaced, but the man stood as Frank took a seat in a chair on the other side of Karen.
"I've got a meeting with the Powers That Be, very unofficial; see you later." Their fingers parted with reluctance.
He loped off like a coyote or coy dog that Cotsigan had seen once. Not so much with a purpose, as with the resignation to put one foot in front of the other, all damn day. It made Costigan feel tired, just watching, and he looked over, sheepishly, at Karen.
"I just don't seem to have any ambition, this morning."
"Sit a while... I've a few things I want to say," Karen told him, smiling.
Costigan sat up straight. "Yes'm."
Part of it was that this impressive woman was his potential mother-in-law. And part of it was her rank, the equivalent of a major. Her primary MOS was 'teacher', somewhere halfway between a drill sergeant and a Jedi Master.
Costigan had seen her in action on the practice field, and she had two modes. Reactive, full of poise and grace, with a tempo that started out deceptively slow; and full on attack, teeth bared, coming straight through your defenses as if they weren't even there. 'Oh-ssa', Ilshani battle-dance, and 'Gresh', a Hunter martial art she had learned from her Teacher, Old Complications. The word meant, literally, 'pounce', and he had a vision of three quarters of a ton of tiger-centaur, pouncing; in a word, heart-stopping.
Karen made a few brush-strokes in the air with her fingertips, on a page only she could see. High Temple Ilshani, the old characters for the old tongue, for a people a long time dead; Frank recognized 'morning'. A horizontal slash, then an arc for half a sun-disc poking over the horizon, and two sets of rays; three curved fingertips dragging lines on the right and then the left. The rules for brush-strokes and writing the Ilshani script were bottom up, right to left, center out, and near to far. She was left-handed, like her daughter, and like the Ilshani had been, too. Seeing his interested look, she said, simply, "Journal."
Rangers, it seemed, were compulsive diarists, and kept concise and frequently updated mission logs. Marianne had told him, when he asked, "For the next Ranger, if it should fall to them to finish the mission." Like so many things about the Conservancy, it was a strange mix of optimism, fatalism, and idealism.
"I am Conservancy, and I am Ranger; and so my family is very precious to me. 'All true wealth is biological.'"
"I may have heard that somewhere, before," Frank said, smiling. It was a founding principle of the Conservancy, after all. Karen looked at him with a speculative eye, and chuckled.
"You'll do," she said, and it came to Costigan that Premier Yarborough had said very nearly the same thing, back on Ekaterina. But, do for what, exactly?
"My husband and son may get around to the 'shotgun' waving stage. Or not- that's not their style."
"But it is yours?"
"We... do things differently, in the Cee. You may have noticed?"
"Yes, that I have," Frank said, with feeling.
"My daughter... I almost said 'my student', and that would have been just as true. On Earth, and most places, a mother is a daughters' first and most important teacher. She is my heart's joy and my heart's work; my contribution, in no small part, to ‘The Work.’" You could almost hear the capital letters.
"She’s your sacrifice, to your gods?" Frank asked, confused, yet again.
Karen's face went stony. "No. There have been too many sacrifices. I want her to live." Bitterly, almost to herself, she added, "Any damn fool can find something to die for. Dying is..."
"Dying is easy. Living is hard."
The man and the woman shared a look, and she nodded.
"Good, you do understand. I knew you were, are, a soldier, from reading your file."
Costigan started, and Karen looked bemused.
"She is a Ranger. She kept detailed files and turned them in, when she got home." An expression of contented peace crossed her face, and was gone.
Frank shook his head. "Just don't tell Cap'n Clark..."
"Major Clark," Karen began, with the same expression of naked joy that Marianne had had when Prince Krell returned to the Rangers, "is a boy, with big dreams; who has already done great things. And, we'll turn him into a Ranger if it kills him..."
This time she had an evil little smile, very like the one Narice had made, that time she pulled a prank with Dorotea as her accomplice. Narice, and Moose, and the other crewman that they'd lost on Earthbound; they would be remembered, with honor, along with his other dead friends. Shines the name, shines the name...
"I know that look, very well; joy, regret, loss. There are people, now lost to you, with whom you have shared your life; laughter, and tears."
"They're not all dead. Just some of them..."
"Too many. One is too many."
They sat quietly, and the surf crashed like a slow heart-beat, and the wind blew, and time passed.
Honor, his orneriness, began to cry, somewhere in the beach house, protesting the inherent unfairness of the universe as loudly as possible. Frank winced, but Karen smiled and stood.
"Good lungs, on that one. Of course, he is just like her." She smirked. "I'll admit to being greedy; why don't you two make him a cousin and half-clone brother?"
Her gently mocking laughter trailed after her.
Frank held the kid up and looked him over, but carefully, in case he was 'loaded'. "So, he's a clone?" The Clone Ranger, he thought, and decided not to share that particular Costigan-ism. He was learning. They were walking along the beach and it all seemed normal, somehow.
"Yeah... Why do I get the impression that you're looking for the bar code?"
Frank started, and the baby chortled and swung, nearly connecting. "God, woman, will you please stop doing that! Do Rangers have Jedi mind tricks or something?"
Marianne reached over and lightly touched the baby's chest, above the heart. Honor grabbed her hand with both of his little fists, and held on tight. "He does have a very tiny transponder, about here. We like to always know where our treasures are."
Frank settled the baby in the crook of his left arm, and then brushed the hair out of her misty eyes with his right. Honor was still holding onto her hand. "Hey, that's turning into quite a shiner. His 'Orneriness' here has got a mean left hook. Gotta watch out for it."
"I'll live and learn. I always do."
Marianne looked out at the ocean, but it was perfectly obvious, even to Costigan that she wasn't seeing it. She made a face.
"I'm worried about him, Frank. He's my older brother, sure, but... We lost Moose and Narice, almost lost more, and just barely got out of that corner of the Galaxy in one piece. TJ's not a fighter."
"He's got three kids and Helen to come home to. He will. Plus, the ship he's going on, well, it does have some of the luckiest people I've ever met..."
"Yeah..." Marianne lightly kicked a seashell, something strange, like a conch shell with three points, into the surf. "Mom didn't want him to be a Ranger, after my grandfather didn't come back from Oolithi Drift. Thomas has always done what was wanted of him. He's never resentful, always cheerful about it. But I know he would have liked to have a little bit of an adventure. Now I guess he will. Just... you're a Green Beret, and I'm a Ranger. We both know a lot of dead people, and a few of them are people we've seen to, personally. Adventure is someone else, far away, in deep shit."
Later on, after their walk, Honor fed but fighting sleep, Marianne sang him a lullabye. Frank had heard bits of it, before, the Ilshani Lullabye, in Ilshani, from the Mother's Tale.
"(Sleep, youngling, and have no fears, for your father walks the Stars!)
(His shield arm is strong, and his sword swift and sharp,)
(But, most important of all, his heart is full of love for us!)
(Sleep and Dream, youngling, of all the things you will be and do.)
(Will you captain a bright starship, and see all the worlds?)
(Or build the starship well, and keep all who fly her safe?)
(Maybe you will tell the tales, of brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers,)
(Who dare, and strive and hope for the tomorrow that you Dream!)"

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