It is interesting to see how a writing style can change over time. This is a short story that I published on Feb. 26 2014 and then rewrote two years later. In the interim I wrote an entire novel. During that process I worked on refining my writing style, and I learned a lot of lessons that I applied in this rewrite. Let me know what you think in the comments below.
The updated version is here.
When an extremely large and possibly psychotic native advances toward you with a crowbar, it is preferable to be carrying an enormous gun.
Lieutenant Steele didn’t learn this in boot camp or as part of her intensive Dark Matter special forces training. She hadn’t been in the Legions for long, but more than once she’d considered the wisdom of this advice.
“Citizen! Drop your weapon and lie down on the ground!” Steele’s tone was perfectly modulated, her delivery confident and threatening, not cocky or patronizing. She had scored a 98 in “Advanced Intimidation and the Psychology of Subjugation.”
The citizen, standing easily over 2 meters tall, wearing a torn and ragged but once well-tailored suit, hair disheveled, slate-blue eyes slightly unfocused, snarled from the other side of the abandoned pastry shop, “I don’t take orders from a soulless, conniving clone.”
Ugh. This again.
“I am Second Lieutenant Loretta Steele, Imperial Legions, Pangalactic Pacification Patrol, and I am ordering you to drop your weapon.”
His eyes narrowed. “Yeah, I figured, that’s exactly what a clone would say. You aren’t gonna clone me. Clone.”
The PPP had been dispatched to quell the clone riots. Two hundred thousand citizens fanatically attacking everyone suspected of being a clone. A once bustling settlement being torn apart and set aflame.
“I will not warn you again.”
“Ha! And what are you gonna do, clone?”
This guy’s even more divorced from realty than everyone else on this planet.
There were no clones. It looked like mass hysteria, or some sort of virus-induced hallucination. And no one had explained to Steele exactly how she was supposed to pacify these lunatics.
“Have you not noticed the huge-ass gun I have pointed at your head?”
When in doubt, mention the huge-ass gun.
For the first time, the blue eyes seemed to focus. It saw the 1.5 meter long Spartan Mark V blast cannon that Lieutenant Steele cradled in her arms. The weapon was almost as long as Steele was tall. It was not, technically, a gun. Technically, it was an anti-aircraft system which Steele had modified for personal use. Technically, if her index finger applied just an iota more pressure on the trigger, the native would be reduced to his component molecules, as would whatever was in the room behind him.
The native stared at the business end of the gun. He looked up at Steele, saw the determination in her dark eyes. Saw the way her features set rigidly and sternly, her back straight, breath steady, her slim, well-muscled form, deep brown skin against a bright-red uniform, projecting nothing but determination. For a moment, he seemed to understand the weight of the situation.
He said, “The gun’s probably a clone too.”
“But, that doesn’t even… what does that even… what?”
But he’d committed to action, and as he charged toward Steele, crowbar held high, the giant issued a cry that sounded something like, “Gyarrgrrgha!”
Steel had about zero point four seconds to make a decision (give or take a nanosecond). For Steele, this was a surprisingly comfortable amount of time. She pondered.
First question: Am I in danger? Answer, yes.
(The answer was always yes.)
Follow-up: Serious danger? Answer, eh… no not really.
Option one: pull the trigger.
She could hit her target with her eyes closed (literally) and suspended upside-down and semiconscious, if it came to that. So, the actual mechanics of that plan didn’t really require lots of brain power.
Result: native neutralized.
Secondary result: Filing of form SG-212 with narrative codicil documenting death of a native to commanding officer, and separate, confidential, HG-1016 describing the Imperial inquiry into the death of a native, encrypted and left at the dead drop for Dark Matter commander, and RR-100 form (required whenever the discharge of a high-energy weapon takes place in a civilian area) to central command.
Steele was pretty sure they’d made up that last form just for her.
The whole point of Suzy, her blast-cannon, was so that idiot men who weren’t intimidated by female officers wouldn’t attack her, so she wouldn’t have to use violence on them, and she could avoid the paperwork.
Her window of contemplation closed, and Steele made her decision.
She tossed the blast cannon aside, and allowed the native to close the distance. He was about two heads taller than her, strong, and induced with a psychotic rage that probably had him pumping adrenaline overtime. He swung the crowbar.
Steele ducked, swung her body around with the grace of a particularly deadly gymnast, and cracked the base of her open hand down on a point just above his clavicle which temporarily paralyzed his arm. He turned, dazed, and she swung back her elbow across his jaw with just enough force to knock him unconscious.
She checked his pulse. Still alive. So no paperwork required.
Steele sighed, straightened up, placed her hands on the small of her back and stretched. She lifted Suzy back into her arms. Nothing left to do but check the rest of the building and move on.
None of this makes any sense.
This was the definition of a suicide mission. But... so was her last mission, and the one before that. She shrugged. They kept sending her on these missions, and she kept coming back for more.
Steele shoved open the door on the other side of the counter, and in the flour-speckled storage room, four identical pairs of blue eyes stared back at her. Four identical men stood up to towering height and started to jostling toward her.
“Well son of a...”
Steele carefully leaned Suzy up against the wall and charged into the room.