From The Solstice Archive I

Side-Story Occurring Prior To Generalplan Suden

(From the state archives of the Socialist Dominances of Solstice)

Original Title: Concerning The Idyllic Fields Of Dori Dobo

Original Publication Date: 44th of the Yarrow’s Sun 2003

Author: Daksha Kansal, publishing for The Union Banner

A much beloved strategy from the exploiter toward the exploited is to speak in aberrant terms that redefine the world around them. They drown out the world in the noise of these aberrant discussions until silence and peace cannot be found. They circulate so much analysis and discussion of their terms toward conclusions convenient to them, that it becomes the common tongue, and any other manner of speaking is seen as the aberrant current in the air.

I’m not merely talking about the way Umma and Arjun pronounce words differently, or the unification of the scripts, or grammar subjects. I’m talking about our discussions as people.

I’ve outlined before that we have two classes of people in Ayvarta, whom we can easily refer to without using any terms foreign to us as the “exploiters” and “the exploited.” It is crude but it works for this paper. Exploiters seek to extract value from us for their gain.

They have their own language that they have forced upon our society to expedite the collection of our value, and in many cases, to guide us into offering it willingly without our knowledge. Underpinning this language is a simple idea I will outline below.

To the exploiter, things do not exist to serve their functions. They exist to create value and provide convenience for the exploiter. That is the underpinning of their dialect.

We have seen recent discussion about the production of food in the Dori Dobo region, and it has been dominated by this aberrant dialect, where a farm is an instrument that produces value for its owner through a secondary action of turning out food. We hear about rising prices of food, about the crop selection, about the conditions of the farms as “capital” in someone’s hands. We hear about strikes, and those strikes being crushed, and farm hands being in short supply and wages being low. Nobody seems to put into plain speech the fact that a farm makes food for our nourishment. They are not doing so right now because farms are owned by exploiters who demand the farm produce money for them. Anything else is secondary.

To the exploiter, the most important concept of a farm is that it be quiet, productive, make a lot of money, and require little of the exploiter’s own money to work. Thus the farm is run by laborers, for the exploiter’s convenience, and these laborers are paid poorly and treated poorly, for the exploiter’s profit. Should they tire of this state of affairs, they will certainly come to harm for doing so. As I write there is serious talk of forcing people to work in farms like prisoners, because the farm produces wealth and its production of wealth cannot be interrupted by such a mere thing as workers demanding wages and the chance to live.

To me, and to most normal people, we see a farm and think “this makes food for us.”

But it does not stop there at all! Everything can be viewed this way. For the farm owner to view the farm as an engine that produces money, he must also view food as an engine that produces money, and he does. He prices food such that it makes him the most money for his troubles. Thus, food itself gains the purpose “make money,” of greater importance than “provide nourishment.” For some time and through sheer luck, this methodology has resulted in food prices that large amounts of people can afford, and has therefore widely distributed food, and widely enriched the exploiters. However, the exploiter is ravenous, and if one sees everything as extraction of value, one must keep asking how more value can be extracted. Food can become even cheaper and more available, thus producing more money! It is limited by a few things — land, for example, which is plentiful. And labor — every shell you pay a farm hand is a shell you must make back in some way, if your goal is to “produce money.”

This creates the situation where the farm hands must be paid little, and must be worked more harshly, and must be held to greater scrutiny and generally treated like slaves, to produce the most value and convenience for the exploiter. Cheap labor on a forced march results in more vegetables being delivered, and sold at a cheaper price, thus they are bought in greater bulk, and the exploiter reaps a greater reward. At least, for a certain amount of time.

In the end the result is our situation now. Farm workers are barely able to eat and live under these circumstances, as such they are discontented, and cease to produce. They are removed or destroyed and replaced with new farm workers who do the job more poorly under the same poor conditions due to being unprepared and unmoviated and must then also be destroyed or replaced eventually. Because food “produces money” and does not “provide nourishment.”

And if we are talking about a farm, it is not solely in its relationship to producing food that value is the greatest virtue, but whether food is produced at all! Let us fly back up, and look again at a farm instead of at food specifically. Can you take action such that your farm produces even more value overall? For example, right now, plants for smoking are more valuable than plants for eating, so many farms that could be making food instead produce leisure items, because leisure items are more profitable. This is a minor feature of our local situation in Bada Aso, but it illustrates that there are various ways the exploiter’s mindset causes harm.

Everything works the same way. Medicine does not heal us, it profits the chemical company. Shelter does not house us, it profits the land owners who rent it or sell it. Our society is driven by this exploitation, and our discussion is dragged screaming to the topic of how to keep producing wealth for our exploiters. We cannot discuss the purpose of things — analysis will veer violently back to avenues of discussion that revolve around wealth production.

I posit a radical alternative, for which common language does not exist, such that I had to borrow words and concepts from a foreign land: let us produce food primarily to feed us. This is one of the main facets of what is called Socialism: a nation guided around bread, health and shelter, rather than profit. We produce what we can to care for each other.

From the land owners in Bada Aso, Solstice, and elsewhere the retorts are endless and inevitable. Two basic ones: “Who is going to pay for this?” “How do you expect things to be made if I cannot produce money from them?” This is all part of aberrant discourse. I will ask in its place a sensible question, one that is so simple and obvious and unproblematic that it no longer exists in our political discourse. This question is seen as the province of children: What is the purpose of food? I say the purpose of food is to nourish us. But it is an important question!

We need to eat food to live! In our society, however, seeing food as nourishment is a secret sin. Instead, we are trained to view it as a commodity, a means of exchange. Food loses its basic purpose and gains the purpose to produce money, to make wealth for someone.

Right now there are people starving on the streets of Bada Aso and Dori Dobo.

A significant amount of them used to grow and pick the food they now cannot have!

And why do we not have more food and more affordable food? Why are people starving on the street? We’ve seen this scene before only during natural disasters, during horrendous wars. Certainly no army is looting our crops. There is no storm sweeping all the grain in the Dori region or the Kalu region or the Kucha region, and even if there was, there would be stocks in Bada Aso, and stocks up north in the Tambwe dominance, and massive fields in Jomta.

Simply, the reason is that food is not given to us without providing an adequate value for the exploiter. There are people who take very seriously the job of making sure the exploiters get the exact best value from the food at all times, or else no food is given. Many people: economists, police, food policy administrators, and so on. An entire corps is in place to insure we cannot buy food. It is not that we can’t afford to pay it, and that anybody needs to pay it, but that the exploiter must extract value from it.

We have plenty of food to distribute, but only one permissible method to distribute it — we receive our food so that the farm owner receives a profit, of which, the actual growers of the food see none of.

To these people it makes perfect sense that you and I cannot eat fairly.

Until we reward the exploiters properly, we’re not supposed to eat!

Everything in the world, discussed through their goblin tongues, adds up perfectly today.

Should you or I start suddenly eating well without the exploiters being paid, now that would be a nightmare for the police, and the food policy men, and the economists and the farm owners and so on. That is a nightmare that I want to inflict upon them. Don’t you?

That nightmare is Socialism, under which the engines of society are seen thus: we are not individuals, but a people, and we will make sure the people can eat. We will not stand for individuals prevented from eating such that someone else among the People can profit from their starvation. We will produce food so that everyone can eat enough to live, because the purpose of food is to nourish us. We will make medicine to heal people, not to profit chemical companies. We will raise shelter such that the people are all protected from the elements, not to extract rent or sell villas to the people who have profited from starvation.

A nightmare for the farm owners, but for us, the only sensible way to live.

Let us create the means to content the real farmers who feed us, rather than bayonet them.

–Shacha (Archivist’s note: Daksha Kansal, under a nom de plume.)

The Exiles I

(Supplemental story contemporaneous to Generalplan Suden)

This chapter was made possible by the support of kind folks on my Patreon!

You can join them for all kinds of goodies or thank them for making it happen!

Please take a short survey as well if you are familiar with the series thus far.

Please be aware that the following chapter contains very coarse language.

16th of the Aster’s Gloom, 2030 D.C.E.

Nocht Federation Republic of Tauta — Thurin City

It had seemed alien and ridiculous, that scene on the night of the 15th of the Aster’s Gloom when the plan to end communism had fallen into his lap. Papers documenting extensively Nocht’s preparations to invade the continent of Ayvarta, and within eight months, to utterly consume it. They would attack in secret from their new client states, Mamlakha and Cissea, former Ayvartan Imperial territories. Under the shock of the surprise attack they would advance, with a focus on capturing territories, town by town, and ultimately either forcing heavy Ayvartan concessions, or utterly destroying the communists militarily.

Bercik and Kirsten had laughed. They were trapped in a stunningly bizarre situation. Along with the documents was a letter from a faceless contact, with whom Bercik had naively planned to save Nocht from the greed of the Libertaire party via a series of scathing articles.

In this letter it was made clear that Bercik should leave immediately, and within the instant he planned it almost like a vacation. Go to the seaside, take the barges to Ayvarta, deliver the documents. Become a hero; save Nocht. So easy! Almost fun. He promised Kirsten an exotic instrument from the southern continent to satisfy his love of music and crafts, and roped him in as well. After all, he had read the fatal letter aloud! They were both implicated.

Their laughter grew nervous, their cheer disingenuous; it started to dawn on them what was happening.

“You should prepare to leave immediately,” the letter had said.

This was not an invitation to a holiday. They were targets know; someone might know to go after them.

Kirsten and Bercik parted ways for the night, but Bercik could not sleep through the night of the 15th; he kept an eye on his door and his small window, wondering if a bullet could have gone through if someone knew what he had under his bed. He heard footsteps and felt himself shake There was tension in his chest and stomach, a sickening sense of vulnerability. He kept his eyes and ears peeled for anything that might target Kirsten — more than once he awoke in the middle of the night, thinking he had heard someone step in front of his neighbor’s door. Anyone in the building could have told Bercik’s terrible, invisible enemy that Kirsten was a good friend and that they frequented each other’s rooms. He laid in stark awareness of every sound, every shadow seeping under the crack of his door, and yet he could not move. He laid with a tension across his entire body, muscles tight and sweat travelling down his body, awaiting a fatal shot, or a choked scream; the silence afterward was even worse.

Each time, after several minutes, Bercik would convince himself that Kirsten was alive and safe, and he would sleep.

Morning broke this awful cycle. He knocked on the adjacent wall, and he heard knocking back, and a Guten Morgen! in Kirsten’s cheerful, high-pitched voice. Bercik sighed with relief and sat up in his bed. What little sleep he got was poor consolation for all the horrid moments he experienced awake.

He felt pathetic. Would someone stronger, more courageous, have rushed out onto the hall, ready to confront the shadows?

But then, what use was an individual’s strength against the forces arrayed against him? He had slept with the dreaded thing in his pillow. Generalplan Suden. A folder chock full of details on Ayvarta and Nocht, and the dance of death that Citadel Nocht was about to pull the communists into. Bercik did not consider himself a military guy, but he had read enough books and talked to enough war buffs to be able to summarize the documents. There was a lot of metal coming the communist’s way, and a lot of plans laid out to their disadvantage. He held this thing in his hands, and he wondered what his course of action should even be. Would someone stronger and more courageous challenge the world with this information, sacrifice themselves for what was right? He had thought, months ago, that his writing could make a difference.

Could he throw this away and go back to covering the bullshit beats? Digging up dirt and writing for the thug papers? Or worse, could he go crawling back to what was left of his family, to that dark old part of the city where there was even less in life, and beg them for whatever awful work they needed done?

What was worse was all that he did not know about his situation; for all his efforts, the choice might have already been made for him. The Schwartzkopf — Nocht’s secret police, so called for their distinctive black hats — could appear outside his door at any time, and pull him in for terrorist activities. They might even kill him on the spot and say he was dangerous and had to be neutralized. They could say he stole government secrets, and that he was a communist who would sell them out to Nocht’s enemies. Who would know or care why he had the documents? Who would question them? Planting them on him with the money and that sympathetic note might have even been part of some plot, that he was unwittingly falling for already. Perhaps his contact was trying to frame him to the Schwartzkopf. He couldn’t know!

Bercik pulled his chest from under his bed, checking through all of his possessions. Whatever happened, he could not stay here; it was too predictable. He had to go further south, whether to get closer to Ayvarta or farther from the big cities. Higwe would probably be good: there were options there, whatever he decided to do. He put on a fresh shirt and pants, his one good jacket, and over all of it his one long trench-coat. He donned his hat — his uncle had given it to him. He hated the hat, with its tall creased crown and wide curled brim; but it was the only hat that he owned. Then he sorted through his things for what to take and what to leave.  He wrapped the Generalplan Suden folder in some clothes and packed it into his waterproof briefcase. Near the bottom of his chest was his pistol, an old Zwitscherer ’12 with a handle like the stub at the end of a broom, a long thin barrel and an integral magazine in front of the trigger fed through stripper clips. He looked it over.

Certainly he would need this. He loaded ten rounds from the top, and stowed the gun in his trench-coat.

His typewriter would have to stay. Bercik could not carry it. If he wrote it would have to be in his notepad.

For the last time he left his room, locked it behind himself and took a few steps to his right. Kirsten opened the door before he could knock on it, smiling brightly. He was dressed in his own long coat, and his long, curly blonde hair was as combed as Bercik had ever seen in it, and wrapped up in a fairly proper ponytail with an actual ribbon. Bercik asked if he could come in and Kirsten stepped aside and allowed him. There was little different in his room than in Bercik’s. A small window, a bed, a little drawer, and barely any room. They each seemed to occupy a half of the room, Kirsten seated on his bed and Bercik standing up.

“We’re going somewhere, right? I’ve got a bag ready with my things.” Kirsten said.

“I don’t know.” Bercik replied. “I’m dressed up to go but I don’t really know where to begin.”

“Right. We didn’t exactly make a lot of plans yesterday except ‘let’s get out of here’.”

Both of them avoided mentioning where to go. Neither of them had any idea of how to get to Ayvarta. Bercik supposed they could hitch a ride on a fishing boat out to the Higwe, and he supposed from there they had to have ships going out to Ayvarta. The Higwe was neutral territory, even if it did favor Nocht. But across the night, the fervor of leaving their dull lives was overtaken by the enormity of that endeavor, and the terror and uncertainty of it settled inside them. Bercik didn’t tell Kirsten anything about the Schwartzkopf. Everyone who had lived on the streets knew of their existence, from word of mouth, or friends lost in the red scares. Even organized crime was starting to fear the growing presence of the Schwartzkopf. They didn’t just target agitating workers anymore. He was sure his companion had the same basis in both the reality and fiction of the arms of the law in Nocht, and the same percolating fears surrounding the letter and the documents they had.

“I know someone we can talk to about this.” Bercik said. “But I need to know if you’re really in.”

Though serious, the question quickly felt ridiculous. Here he was asking a 20-year-old paper boy who liked to sing and play instruments whether he wanted to uproot his life and probably betray his country, and for what? For nothing. All they knew was that they could either keep this secret and hope nobody else knew; or they could flee and use what they had somehow. They could try their luck, gambling with a meager living and hoping nobody knew to come after them, despite the letter telling them to leave; or they could heed its advice and go. Bercik both knew it was terrible of him to have involved Kirsten in any of this, and to continue to involve him would be worse. All Kirsten did was live next to him, express curiosity in his activities, and see something he shouldn’t have. He was innocent of it all.

But Bercik was also terribly alone, and he wanted dearly someone to accompany him in the dark.

He felt weak and vulnerable, and for the longest time he had stood in those shadows on his own.

Kirsten was smiling however. He was usually smiling, even when bad things happened around the tenements.

“I thought it over,” Kirsten said, shouldering his bag, “and I realized I don’t really have a lot here in Thurin anyway. I’m not cut out for the heavy jobs at the factories, and I’ll never get anywhere delivering papers. My family are all scattered on the streets. I’ve not heard of them in years.”

“Think it over again.” Bercik said. “This is serious. You saw those papers. Whatever we do, it’s not going to be ok with a lot of people. It’s not gonna be sight-seeing. When we pursue this story, we won’t have anywhere safe to go, and no real allies to count on.” He couldn’t believe he said pursue this story, as though he were still acting as a journalist. What would he write about, and from where? But it was an angle that he understood implicitly. Bercik knew about following leads, he knew about chasing sources, he knew about collecting facts and checking records. He knew his own kind of treason, a treason he carried out in letters. In a sense, this was all still the story, the story of a country led astray that he needed to help straighten out. So that angle, so hastily proposed, stuck with him. It made him feel in control.

He, Bercik Scheldt, reporter for a paper to be determined; he was working on the story of Nocht’s secret war. Communist spies, the evil Schwartzkopf, state of the art weapons, the fate of the world in the balance, intrigue and mystery. It was a narrative; his life felt like it had a purpose as a narrative.

“I’ve been wanting to ask you for a long time to make me your assistant or something.” Kirsten replied. “I said before I thought you were with the mob. I see mob guys every so often and they’ve all been pretty swell guys. I thought, ‘I’d definitely be able to get a car and a house if I worked for them!'”

Bercik sighed. “I’m not a mobster, I already told you. We’re not getting cars and houses out of this. Messiah’s sake.”

“I’m not stupid, I know; the point is, I wanted to do something more important than deliver the drat paper.”

“Good. Fine. I’ll take it. I know a guy we can talk to about maybe getting out of town.” Bercik spoke in the terms he knew, skipping town. In reality he had to skip the whole damn continent, but he figured the same guy might be able to help him with that. After all, he got stuff into the continent.

“You know a guy, huh? That sounds shady, Bercik.” Kirsten asked, giggling a little.

“Shady? How is it shady?”

Kirsten could hardly contain his laughter. “Would this guy happen to be with the mob?”

Bercik ran his hands over his face. “Stop laughing about it. These are not people you should happy to be around.”

“Then if they’re so bad, how come you know them, and how come you dress like them?”

“What? Dress like them? I’m not dressed like them, jeez; what is wrong with you?” Bercik adjusted his awful hat and his old trenchcoat. He pointed his finger accusingly. “And I know them because I got to know them. They got good info that I need. You need to quit it with this fascination you have.”

Kirsten pointed and laughed at him again. Perhaps he didn’t really understand the gravity of the situation after all.

With his bag in tow, Kirsten locked his own door, and Bercik led the way down the stairs and out of the tenement building. He did not think he would be coming back, but crossing the threshold felt strangely easy and casual. Perhaps it was due to how familiar the atmosphere felt. Outside the streets had hardly changed. People went about their business under the drizzling rain. Thurin played a common, dreary song, its instruments the sound of drops striking the earth, the susurrus of the sparse crowds on either street, shoes tapping the asphalt or splashing in puddles, and the chugging of the few cars traveling the roads. They made their way down to the plaza. Bercik avoided the statues in the little park this time. It was early, so only a few of the shops and restaurants were open.

He knew one place that was open where he could drop in. But he hadn’t been there in a while.

As they walked Bercik kept a sharp eye out. He told himself that he had developed an instinct for being followed and for throwing people off, but in reality it was unlikely he had ever been seriously followed. Even while covering the military leaks for The National, the consequences tended to end at a few brown shirt police officers appearing at the office and making a mess of a few rooms. So far he was a gnat, beneath the notice of a giant. So he walked with confidence, and he started to forget to check the faces in the crowd, or the men around street corners, or to watch those who followed in his wake across intersections and past alleyways.

Thurin was so unmoved, the world so still. It was comforting and it lowered Bercik’s guard. It was like a time capsule of a world on the verge of upheaval, but far enough that nobody knew quite how close it was. Would tomorrow, or the day after, bring worse? No street could confide him this knowledge.

Past the plaza and across the center of the city, for two mostly quiet hours intermittently on foot and hanging on the sides of trams and the backs of trucks, Bercik and Kirsten traveled out to the seafront. Thurin was a busy port despite its unremarkable appearance, being a common connection to the Higwe, and its concrete harbor was full of large cargo ships. The pair veered away from the warehouses and container yards at the shipyard, walked past the fish markets near the old docks, and hitched out to the dismal, rocky beaches on the northern edge of the coast. Riding the back of a truck headed out of town, they dropped off in the center of a small neighborhood, little more than a beachside restaurant and sparse houses overlooking the sea. Waves crashed behind them against the jagged black shore.

From this small neighborhood and its quaint seaside restaurant the Krawiec family quietly subverted the port authority.

Past the glass doors the restaurant was a simple wooden abode with a few tables dressed in square-patterned linens, fanned from the ceiling by leisurely spinning wooden blades. Dark reddish-brown walls and a flat ceiling made one feel enclosed in a box. A woman behind the counter stared at them while shining a plate. Beside her was a display case of cured meats. Despite the restaurant’s proximity to the sea it did not appear that any seafood was sold there.

Bercik and Kirsten sat down on one of the tables and cracked open the laminated menus. There were a lot of sandwiches, and a lot of meat and soup.

“Oh, what a nice place, I’m feeling pretty excited. I’ve never eaten at a nice place.”

“Nice? This place is a hole. You need some perspective.” Bercik replied, more aggressively than warranted.

“Oh, well, that’s sad,” Kirsten lamented, looking at the menu closely, “no fish or shrimp or anything.”

“No, this isn’t that kind of place.” Bercik replied. He lifted his hands, shaking the menu in the air.

It took a minute for the lady behind the counter to notice them in between taking long drags of a cigarette. She spent a few seconds giving them surly looks from across the restaurant, and squinting her eyes as though the two of them would disappear like a mirage in the desert. Soon the woman reluctantly left her post and strolled toward their table, her apron stained red across the front, and her red hair long and loose, without a cap or a net. She didn’t have a pen and pad to take down their order. She simply looked at them, crossed her arms, and with an indifferent tone asked, “What will you have? I recommend the meatballs.”

“Eggs.” Bercik said simply. “I want eggs and he wants some eggs too.” He pronounced the Nochtish word for eggs, Eier, with a strong emphasis.

In response the lady blew smoke in Bercik’s face. “We don’t do eggs anymore. You and your friend get lost.”

“No, I seriously came all this way for some Eggs.” Bercik pressed, slowly and awkwardly pronouncing the word.

Exasperated with them, the woman rolled her eyes and put out her cigarette on the floor.

“That ain’t the fuckin’ code anymore you putz. Wait a second.” She replied. She turned her head over her shoulder and shouted toward the back, “Greis,we’ve got a dunce here that I just barely recognize, spewing the old password. Do you want to talk to him or do I kick him out?”

Behind the counter a door slammed open. An tall, balding, heavyset man stepped through, squinting his eyes. He gripped a wooden cane, using it to balance the steps of his wobbling left leg. He leaned over the edge of the counter, staring hard over at the table like he couldn’t see.

“I ain’t expecting anyone. Y’tell him we don’t do the eggs anymore?” He shouted.

“I told him already Greis.” She shouted back. “He keeps insisting on the fuckin’ eggs.”

Bercik stood up from his seat. “God damn it uncle, it’s me, stop shouting already.”

Kirsten stood up as well, and then sat back down in confusion. He stared in shock at the menu.

Uncle Kraweic squinted his eyes even more. “I shout all I fuckin’ want in my house. I shout all I fuckin’ want!”

He perched a pair of spectacles on his nose for a moment.

He smiled, and peeled them off his face, throwing them atop the meat display.

“Bercik! Bercik! I can’t believe it, Julitta that’s fuckin’ Bercik! Can you believe it?”

“I don’t know who that is.” Julitta replied. She looked over Bercik with indifference.

“Come in, come in! Come talk to Uncle Kraweic, Bercik. Messiah defend, it’s been a long time.”

Kirsten leaped out of his own seat once again. Bercik took him by the hand and led him behind the counter, where Uncle Krawiec beckoned them both into his office, a cramped and dark little backroom to the restaurant where the meat was dried and crates of potatoes for the soup lay around. There were long chains of sausage links across the walls, and jerky drying by the dozens on hooks across the ceiling. Bercik and Kirsten sat on a stack of potato crates, while Uncle Krawiec took his place behind a grandiose writing desk and a grand mahogany chair. Betraying the grandeur of these objects was a huge drying pig hanging from a hook suspended on a rail over the desk. Uncle Krawiec knocked the pig away from himself, sat in his chair, and steepled his fingers, shining Bercik a smile missing a few teeth.

“You look just like your mother I swear to the Messiah. God bless her soul. Have you been eating well?”

“Been eating just fine.” Bercik said tersely. He was growing agitated by this place.

“Who’s that?” Uncle Kraweic asked, pointing to Kirsten.

“Just a guy. We are not here for pleasantries, okay? We need something from you.”

“Anything for you Bercik. Anything for my nephew. You name it.”

Bercik averted his gaze. Kirsten looked around the room, and paid special, quizzical attention to the pork hanging near Uncle Krawiec. While the two youths fidgeted on their crates, the old man rubbed his hands together and waited patiently for a reply, smiling and looking between the two expectantly. When nobody spoke for a long moment, he took it upon himself to infer the reason for their visit, and started checking his drawers feverishly for things to give them.

“I know what you need. You need guns? I can get you a gun. Is that kid your right hand? Can he shoot? Can you shoot?”

Kirsten raised his hands defensively at the machine gun barrage of words. “I can shoot but I don’t really want a gun!”

Uncle Kraweic shook his head. “Lookin’ like you do? You look too soft. You need a gun. I’ll get you a gun.”

He opened a large drawer, reached his hand down into it. There was a series of strange mechanical clicks.

“Here you go. Zwitscherer ’96. They don’t make them like this anymore. The 90s, oh god, what a decade.”

Uncle Krawiec reached out to Kirsten’s hands and deposited a pistol much like Bercik’s own in his hand.

Bercik rubbed his forehead. He hated Uncle Kraweic. He hated the fucking mob. When he was young all his family had been supported by this nonsense, taking place first in the factories and then in the docks, and any of those who fretted Uncle Kraweic’s rise to power were completely shunned and left behind. That is, until they died in the street; and then the Kraweics remembered the Scheldt’s, and went to the funeral dressed up, and cried their hearts out. And then Bercik was back in with the thugs and the shit-tongues, spewing their nonsense and slapping the crap out of each other every night over dinner, screaming and cursing and acting like savages as the money and the corpses piled up behind them. It was like living in some kind of northman tribe from the pulp books. Bercik could not stand them.

From his childhood Bercik told himself he was not like these people. He and his mother wanted better.

But whenever he was in need he always found himself coming back to rooms like this, feeling like an idiot.

“I read your stories in the paper Bercik. Don’t think I don’t read your stories. I always kept up.” Uncle Kraweic said. “I’m so proud of you boy. Papers are real important, and paper writers too. It’s a real institution of democracy, why it’s the only one we have left anymore I think. Can’t believe the crooks we’ve been voting into power, can’t believe it. That’s why I don’t vote no more, see? Guy tells you he’s gonna free up the money laws, and that he’s gonna lower the taxes, and that he’s gonna fix poverty and all that shit, and then look at him in the big chair, sending our boys to die in the woods in countries no one cares about.”

Bercik rubbed his forehead. “I’m glad you enjoyed ’em. Anyway, Uncle, I need your help. I’m in trouble.”

Uncle Kraweic looked serious all of a sudden. He pounded his fist on his desk in anger.

“Tell me who it is Bercik, swear to God, I’ll have him off the docks in pieces by tomorrow night, swear to God.”

Kirsten nearly jumped. Bercik held up his hands pleadingly. “Uncle–”

“Nobody messes with us, we own this fuckin’ town! No respect anymore, I tell you. I’ll castrate ’em–”

“Uncle, the Schwartzkopf are after me. I need to skip town. I need to get to the Higwe.”

Silence; it took some time for Uncle Kraweic to respond after hearing that dreaded set of words. He stood stock still, slowly quirking one of his eyebrows as though this was all a joke he was just too old to get. When Bercik remained perfectly serious and still, only then did Uncle Kraweic reply.

“Oh. Well. Shit. That’s no good. What bonehead thing you do to get the Schwartzkopf on you?”

“Papers I wasn’t supposed to touch. It’ll blow over.” Bercik said. It wouldn’t; but Kraweic didn’t need to know that.

Now Kirsten looked well and truly helpless, holding his new pistol on his lap and shaking openly.

“You goddamn better hope it blows over. You weren’t followed here or nothin’? Blazej and Izaak don’t get back for a few hours and I’m not as good a shot as I used to be so you better hope nobody followed you here for a scrap.” Uncle Kraweic said. He looked over to the door with suspicion. “Julitta, get the Rashas out of the back.” He shouted. They had a few Ayvartan submachine guns around the place. Communist weapons were popular with the gangsters.

“Nobody followed me.” Bercik said. He couldn’t be sure, but he thought nobody had. “Calm down.”

Uncle Kraweic sat back on his chair and steepled his fingers again. He was getting serious now. That wasn’t good. In his jokey moods he would have given Bercik anything, even killing a man like he promised; but now he was definitely rolling over in his head whether the son of his beloved little sister, whom he had essentially neglected to death due to his own greed, was now worth perhaps dying over himself. The Schwartzkopf were not playing softball with the mob anymore. Uncle Kraweic was a blowhard, but he was not stupid. He was the most careful when it came to his money, and he knew how to take gambles that paid. This was not one. He knew that and Bercik knew that. But blood ran thicker than water, and it weighed more than gold. That was something even a money-grubber like Kraweic held dearly.

“I know you get your funny dust in from the Higwe, so you can smuggle me out can’t you?” Bercik said. He was becoming more demure. When Kraweic got serious everyone else had to. Or else he might start to get violent. “I’ll be out of your hair quick Uncle, I promise.”

Kraweic rubbed his own chin. “Not from here. I’ll get you down to Konig. It’s too obvious in Thurin. Too close to the Higwe.”

“Suits me fine as long as I get to go. Kirsten’s coming with me. I need a second pair of hands out there.”

Kirsten shrank in his chair, turning a little red around the cheeks and ears. Uncle Kraweic stared at him.

“Always a good idea to have a second shooter.” Uncle Kraweic said. “Though your boy there is questionable.”

“But I can trust him, and there aren’t a lot of people I can trust right now.” Bercik said.

Kraweic swiped his hand in the air dismissively. “Go wait outside for Blazej. I’ve got some calls to make.”

So Kirsten and Bercik walked stiffly out of the office, past the surly Julitta  staring out the window with her submachine gun in hand, and out to the back of the restaurant. There was a small lot reserved for the big trucks that were the favorites of the ethnic Lachy mobsters in Thurin and the greater Tauta in general. This was Bercik’s family — and perhaps one of the reasons he was still alive as a journalist, and not under a dock after some of his old stories.

He hated them, but he needed them. For all his life, it seemed, he lacked his own power to do anything.

Together he and Kirsten stood there under the continuously drizzling rain, so light that it was only barely perceptible as it built over their coats. They were waiting for Kraweic’s main thugs, Blazej and Izaak, two big burly Lachy, taller and tougher even than Bercik himself. Bercik had grown up with both of them, and he was not particularly happy to see them again. But he was not particularly happy about a lot of things at the moment. At least his passage out of the country seemed secure. He felt a newfound paranoia, instilled in him by his uncle’s questioning, and he looked around for signs of people hiding or watching him everywhere.

There was no one around but Kirsten, the one person he could have any faith in now.

“So, did that go well or badly? I can’t tell.” Kirsten said, still holding on to the pistol.

“As well as it could– Put that away. Put it in your coat pocket.” Bercik said.

Kirsten stowed the Zwitscherer. “I keep my hand in the coat like this so I can draw, right?”

“Do you have any reason right now to need to draw?”

“No, but tell me if I’m doing it right.”

“I don’t know! I guess that’s how I’ve seen it in the pulps. I don’t know.”

But soon he too had his hand in his trenchcoat pocket, ready to draw his own gun if necessary.

* * *

Next Chapter In The Exiles Story — Part Two

In The Spirit of Things

About a year ago I told myself I would do something with all my milsim nerdery and historical trivia. In the absence of any other talents, all I could really do was to write a story that incorporated them. My main obstacle was that I don’t like historicals; if I wanted to read something where the history is predictable because it actually happened here I’d read some nonfiction. I know that for most historical fiction the appeal is seeing new characters in familiar settings, but something about those stories always put me off, like they were very selective readings of history.

What I wanted to do primarily was to write a story that was informed by our history but did not slavishly adhere to it, and that presented readings of history that were both highly alternative but also strongly rooted in reality. The Solstice War is speculative fiction and I like to say it is fantasy, but it is full of parallels that satisfy my ideas as to what war stories and their characters should be like. Essentially the elevator pitch was “Fantasy Soviet Union 1941, almost everyone’s colored and there’s tons of queer folks of all kinds, Barbarossa happens but it’s done by essentially, western liberal-technocrat imperialists with a few fundamentalist religious people in the mix. Things develop from there.” I kept this in mind as I began to plan and research and so on.

Of course, the elevator pitch always changes after more thinking and more planning. I definitively wanted to keep the Nazis out. I hate the Nazis, I hate all of their depictions, I hate any attempt to humanize them, I hate being in their heads. I just want them dead; and though they certainly would be killed in any story I wrote, I did not want them in it. I would have hated writing them, and I would have hated introducing what that they represent into the story. For my purposes I needed an evil that was less intense, both for my own sanity and for the entertainment of the readers. I also wanted an evil more difficult to identify and more challenging ideologically. Everyone who is not broken as a human being can get behind the destruction of the nazis. I wanted instead a more insidious and contemporary foe.

In addition, of course, the “fantasy soviet union” would not end up quite as such. For one I didn’t want to perfectly reproduce Stalin’s reign in a story. I believe Socialism has always risen from the context of its surroundings, and so the Soviet Union will never be reproduced, and to simply reproduce it in fiction would have been, to me, a very facile thing to commit to. Instead I developed an “Ayvartan” socialism out of its own context and out of the wills of its own people. It has certain tenets of communist anarchism and of Soviet Union style socialism and it is very much its own thing. This is important because it makes it more believable: direct 1-to-1 comparison to the historical object, in my opinion, would have made it more difficult to suspend disbelief in the events of the story. Especially if you know the history of it, and especially if you know primarily a westernized history of it. This is why it is important to invoke a spirit of the period, but not the artifact in full.

Starting point is essentially 1941, or in Ayvarta, 2030 D.C.E.; but we’ve already gone back, within the story. The Solstice War is a story that moves through time in strange ways for dramatic necessity. To pace it right, I can’t simply start at the beginning and go in a line from there.

When I write The Solstice War, I have a few objectives that might appear very strange to most people. Certainly it would be easier to have one main character and tell one traditional story of war, starting with the background of the war and moving into the fore, but that wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do. Certainly it would have been more straightforward to write a historical, but then the war couldn’t have gone the way I wanted exactly. Bagration would’ve had to happen in 1944 and so on. I couldn’t even really make up my own silly operation names! So, I’m not writing a historical. I’m writing a fantasy war in the spirit of the period of World War 2, and I’m writing about military conflict in the spirit of a war narrative rather than through a lavish adherence to media or history surrounding it.

There are little interesting things that you pick up while reading about a period that stick in your mind when you are writing a story set in that period. I never want to linger on these details or explain them too thoroughly. But for example, the fact that the majority of cars did not have seat belts. It contributes to things like the scene where Parinita is trying to drive and gets pummeled by the steering wheel when she hits a bad bump. Later on the characters are talking about films and they mention slapstick films. In the absence of speech, slapstick was a great way to convey comedy in film. It was funny seeing a dude smacked up and falling into manholes, more funny perhaps than reading his awful jokes in a dialog card cut into the film. And Parinita shows a little a sympathy for the protagonists of such films which was fun for me to write given that she was in essence the protagonist of a slapstick scene a few sections back. All of these details are not contemporaneous to us, they are our history, but they are also the current lives of these fictitious characters. This is what I understand as writing in the spirit of things. I don’t want to get too deep into these details, I don’t really want to be pushed to show my work so to speak, but my writing is definitely informed by them and I want these details to create interesting scenes. Overall though, I’m not writing a historical; this is a story in its own fake world that happens to have technology and culture parallels to our world’s 1940s.

Similarly, I didn’t want to write about war in the way war tends to normally be written about. War in fiction is usually very strange. It is a very individualistic and centered rendition of an apparatus that has an incredible multiplicity of perspectives within it. I did not want to write a story primarily about A Hero or even A Group Of Heroes. Because I am writing primarily about a socialist military I wanted to look at it as an apparatus that does not create the focused single or groups of “heroes” like popular narratives do, but a community. I did not want to write a story where single persons “win the war” but one that showcases groups of people fighting together for a common cause, each with their own important roles. This is why there are a lot of perspectives. Some will inevitably be lavished more attention. I am a writer, biased in that I want to write about some things more than others. As the character roster builds, however, I would like to write a tapestry of interconnected characters where the individual development of a character can be secondary to what their perspective, however limited, says about the war as a whole, his or her or their people as a whole, the story as a whole. I’m not exactly in the business of writing intensely dynamic individual heroes around whom the story revolves, but a community of characters who, together, create a good story. This, I feel, separates the kind of war story I want to write from traditional war stories revolving around individual icons of war.

Of course some characters will grow and change, but this is not my primary focus. Individual character arcs are less important to me than showing a lot of viewpoints and people in different roles. It’s a matter of degrees. I’m not looking to write a specific “hero’s journey” of the Solstice War, but one might happen somewhere. There are a lot of characters, and like I said, I plan to touch upon a few more than I will touch upon others. My emphasis and goals are just different, and in the end, that will hopefully create a story that is different than most you may have read. I don’t see The Solstice War as having a real protagonist. And I don’t particularly see having somewhat static characters to be a detriment to it, ultimately. Though certainly people have disagreed (and sometimes violently) on this score.

This is why, for example, there’s a scene with Parinita sitting around working on documents. This is something that happens all the time in real war. For all that rugged manly war fiction likes to decry bureaucracy, the army would fall apart and become worse than useless without staff. War is not solely won by powerful humans deploying weaponry, it must also be won by the cooks, by the clerks and by the truck drivers: by a community of people. Certainly the Solstice War won’t be won just by soldiers. I wanted to show different aspects and to give prominence to different people. This complicates writing, and it introduces scenes where I questioned whether they would be boring or unimportant, but ultimately I included them because they are in the spirit of what I want to do. Primarily the Solstice War is written as I want to like it and experience it. Overall, it is an eccentric story, I think, and with eccentric aims. But it is in the end the story I want to write.

Solstice War Survey #1

I’ve written a little survey you can answer regarding The Solstice War. Because this is the very first one, and because none of the topics concern story direction, this one will be public. Future surveys will be given out to the $10+ level patrons of the Patreon I am running, who will be asked questions that will directly influence the story in certain ways.

All of the questions are 5-point rating scale questions. Please answer all of the choices and to the best of your ability! They would be a major help. Here is the link to the surveymonkey. There are 6 questions in all. All questions must be answered to submit it.

I’ve had a little emotional trouble the past few weeks but I am working on the next chapter which I want to have out by the 15th or so. It may be closer to 8000k words than 15k words, but we’ll see about that! Thanks for following along!

The Birth of the Solstice War

Welcome to the first “The Solstice War” supplemental post. I’ve been meaning to start doing these for a while now since they’re something I promised on the Patreon. However I couldn’t figure out exactly what to write about. I figure then that it’s best to start from the beginning.

Of course, every story starts with its author in one way or another, so let us start with me.

I have been wanting to write The Solstice War in some form or another for years. My childhood was very difficult in a lot of ways, I lived in a rough area, money was not always on hand, and I had nascent ideas about queerness that I could not admit to for fear of retribution. One shining light in my childhood, oddly enough, was video games and militaria of various sorts. I loved watching documentaries about wars, reading articles about wars; especially World War 2. My favorite games were strategy games: I loved Starcraft, Command & Conquer, and so on. Later I found far more difficult war games about World War 2, such as Panzer General, Operation Europe and Combat Mission. When playing any of these games, I’d often imagine myself as the voiceless commander that is often the player character in them. It made me feel less powerless about things. Later I discovered shooting games where you could be a soldier IN World War 2, like Call of Duty, and that was almost as good as being the commander.

I especially liked when I could play as the Soviets in video games, at first because they were different than the others. Though all the Western media I consumed was quick to vilify communism, I found it fascinating. As I learned more and became an adult and found sources that weren’t fed through a western lens (Marx; Lenin; a wee bit of Mao) it became my political ideology, despite the hatred I knew I would face for it. I figured I was already a queer hispanic person in the US; I was already hated. I might as well be true to myself and be a dirty commie.

Ultimately, of course, I grew up, and I knew that war wasn’t just my fun, it was not simply something I did on the computer to feel like I was strong. In fact, it became disgusting to me that I found it a source of strength. All those chits on the board, back in 1941, were people, and they died, and they did not die simply because I fumbled with the UI or didn’t know the game’s rules properly. So for a while I tried to swear off all that stuff. But I kept getting back in. My life was not getting better and I needed distractions. So I could never quite let go of war entertainment.

Eventually, I came to the conclusion that it was generally more harmful to me to hate myself for liking these games, than it was to attempt to construct some kind of principled abstinence from them. I know intellectually that war is bad. I know intellectually the history of World War 2 from all sides of the conflict (though my particular focus has always been the Soviets). I understand it, I respect it (what deserves respect). I have different ideas about war now, which have come from shedding noxious notions of strength that I held as a put-upon and hurt little boy.

When I’m feeling down though, I’ll still boot up Company of Heroes or Unity of Command.

This became more problematic when it came to my other hobby, and my biggest passion: writing stories. Ever since I was 12 I loved writing stories. I wrote little stories on notebooks and tried to get my friends to read them. When I found out that the internet, and especially forums, fanfiction.net and fictionpress.com would allow me to reach tons of people with my scribblings, I was the most elated kid in Puerto Rico. I wrote a lot of stuff during my childhood and teenage years. My writing matured, but I eventually came to a point where I was very self-conscious of what I was writing, and convinced myself it wasn’t good enough to do it. That lasted about 2 or 3 years in college, as I was finishing my English degree and received a lot of encouragement from my department not to write fiction, and especially not to write the dreaded “genre” fiction.

So instead I tried to write stuff for tabletop RPG games. I regret wasting time on that.

 

In late 2011 I decided to get back in, with stuff like Ladybird that was quirky, and dumb, and that I didn’t have to take seriously. It built up my confidence, but I knew I was avoiding writing dramatic fiction, and I knew that I wanted to write it. (Though I also want to write Ladybird, but I am one person who is occupied enough with a single story as it is!) I rewrote Ladybird a bunch of times, and constantly found myself writing “first chapters” of Ladybird that redefined her origin, because I wasn’t satisfied. Even now I have another origin in mind!

That’s kind of when I realized writing origins was pretty destructive sometimes and it is better to start ahead and assume the origin has happened already. But that is beside the point right now.

For a long time I wanted to write a war story, mostly just to do it. I know a lot of stuff about war and about the time period of World War 2 and I felt like I could write a very interesting story with this knowledge. I didn’t have any particular political aims for the war part of the story: my writing has in general always been fairly political, but not really about war itself. Ladybird is a story that is leery toward capitalism and moneyed democracy, open to queerness and coloredness; that is my writing in general, and that would also be any war story I wrote. Of course, it would also force me to deal with those apprehensions I have toward war as a piece of entertainment. I don’t want to write a story stereotypically “critical” of war because I do not believe the pacifist message helps empower oppressed people such as queer folks and colored folks. But I also did not want to write a celebration of war, because celebrating war attracts the kind of people I am heartily disgusted by, like nationalists and racists of all sorts. Military fandom is highly, rigidly conservative and reactionary. I wanted an ambivalence of war; and a focus instead on the people and the ideologies behind it.

That is when I got the core idea for the Solstice War: a look at a World War 2-styled conflict from the perspective of a communist nation toward which other, capitalist nations are committing violence driven primarily by economy and ideology.

Over time this core would expand in different ways, which I hope to talk about more in the future once I have collected all of my thoughts on the subject. I find writing about writing to be difficult to do objectively or scientifically, because to me a greater part of writing is sort of instinctual. When I was seven years old I taught myself English by watching English television and picking up thesauri and dictionaries. It has always been an obstacle to my thinking of English (and writing) as a specifically contrived practice that constructs objects. In a way, I “just do it.”

So, here’s hoping that subsequent entries in this series grow more coherent and not less.