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(Contains: sexual themes and strong language)
Ch. 8 Forgive Us our Sinews
Oland sighed.  Nightmares still plagued him every night.  Of course, that wasn’t uncommon in the Ice Box.  At any time during the night one could hear screams and groans of agony and terror.  No one spoke about the hidden abuses, such as starvation as a means of punishment, tortuous beatings from the guards, or worse, the rapes-be it from the inmates…or the guards.

Fortunately for Oland, he didn’t have to worry about that last one much.  The few who were foolish enough to try no longer bothered him…or anyone else, for that matter. The other prisoners were smart enough to know one does not mess around with a hallucinating, seven and a half foot giant who could separate a dog’s head from its body with his bare hands if necessary.

Oland’s biggest worry was his level of sanity.  Although the headaches had faded, he never did fully recover. The only difference was that he could usually tell when he was seeing things…usually. He supposed it was because he had been so close to death that Hell chose to cling to him.  It had touched him once, and liked it.  The hands still clawed at him every now and then.  Strange…even though he knew it wasn’t really happening, he could feel every bony finger crawl along his skin.  Every single one of them belonged to someone he’d killed.  They deserved their revenge.  He knew he deserved every second of torture they gave to him.  Death was too good for the likes of him and what he’d done.

Monster.

Oland groaned.  Another spectre started showing up as well in real life. At first Oland would only see him in his dreams, but now...sometimes he’d see himself…but a different self, in the real world, when all was quiet.  He once read a story that reminded him of this.  It was called The Curious Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  This other Randel Oland was fearless the way he wished he could be, without the use of his lantern.

You can’t deny it, can you?  You’re not just a murderer. You like killing. People use a different word for that, don’t they?

This…darker Oland would echo the things he’d never allow himself to say or do.  Oland called him Snafu.  It was a word soldiers invented during the war, code for Situation Normal-All Fucked Up. It seemed to suit him.  It was either that or Fubar, which stood for Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition.

You’d kill them all, the Snafu Oland growled, if given the chance.  You’d kill every last one of them and enjoy it.

Shut up, was all Oland could counter.  Of course, his dark self was absolutely right.  If escaping meant killing everyone, he’d do it and not be all that sorry.

It would be the understatement of the century to say that Randel Oland was a very repressed individual.  For most of his life, Oland never had much in the way of free will.  As a soldier, he was compelled by the urgings in his mind to follow orders, to walk toward a tank bearing down on him when everything else in his mind screamed to run, to raise the gun in his hand and destroy the men and women inside so completely that there weren’t enough bits left to be able to identify them, to plow ahead even if every bone in his body had been shattered.  It was only after the war that he’d had true freedom for the first time in…how long had it been…a decade?  More?  And then, it had been so long, he had no idea what to do with himself.  He didn’t have a purpose.  He had no family nearby, not that he felt he could ever go home again anyway...and no comrades left.  He didn’t have much skill in anything other than killing people.  So when he heard Alice barge in to The Lampe that day…Oland found something to do…and a reason to live.

Oland pushed back the sleeve on his left arm and stared at the hateful scar on his wrist.  Alice wanted to know how he’d gotten this one.  She probably thought it was a terrible war injury.  The truth was much more horrible.

He thought about the animals he saw at the zoo in Rodelia.  He’d gone there on a rare day off, alone.  He’d wanted to see the big cats mostly, but he also stopped to see the elephants.  When he got to their pen, what he saw broke his heart.  Some of the older elephants had scars much like his own.  It wasn’t so much a scar as an overgrown callus.  He could see where the metal cuff had rubbed their skin, and their feet had grown around it-exactly the same as his.  He’d seen it on some of the dogs as well, only on their necks where the collars were much too snug.  The skin underneath was smooth and thinner and often rubbed raw.  His wrist knew that feeling all too well.

Once upon a time, Randel Oland was a slave.

As a young slave, he was whipped for every minor infraction, until he was completely subdued, until he saw the punishment as almost a comfort.  Still, being a slave was better than being dead.  Despite his horrific conditions, Oland was glad to be alive.  He knew he had been brought back for a reason…if only he could figure out what it was.  His near-death experience clarified many things for him, most importantly, his feelings for the tiny Lieutenant.  He knew he didn’t have a chance in hell.  She was royalty; he was not.  She was honorable; he was anything but.  Still, if there was any way to see her, even from afar, just to make sure she was safe…

Oland sighed again.  Two years.  Was she safe? Happy? Did she marry?  Would she have kids by now?

You’d fuck her if you could, Snafu muttered from the corner, chuckling.
 
Oland grimaced.  Not again.
 
Shut up.

Oh, come on!  Who’s going to know? You’ve pictured that petite thing in minute detail.  Why not go all the way?

Even though he knew the entity wasn’t really there, Oland blushed.

Shut up! I would never do…that…to her.  I couldn’t…s-sully…her like that. Never…never!

But if you could…you would.  You’d hold that itty bitty-

I’d rather die.

Sure, Randel, sure.

I would, you jackass.  I’d rather die than hurt her in any way.

Then do it.  Kill yourself.  Monster.

Not today.

Because you’re afraid?

Damn straight I am.  I know what’s waiting for me.  But I came back!  I came back to-

To what, you overgrown mama’s boy?  Pussy!  To fucking what?  To be some sort of hero?
 
No, I know I’m no hero.  I’m not a leader…not like her.

You’re going to die here.  You know that, don’t you?

I might.

Then what the hell are you waiting for?

Not today.

Answer my question, pussy. What. Are. You. Waiting. For?

Alice.

What?! You expect that little honeypot to save you again?  You really are a mama’s boy.
 
Shut up!

No one will save you. You can’t be saved, lunkhead. Besides, she has no idea where you are.

SHUT UP.

And probably doesn’t care.

“LIAR!” Oland screamed aloud, bolting upright on the cot that was still too small for him. Panting, he shivered in the cold, damp air, drenched in sweat.  He looked around but saw he was alone.

Another nightmare, he thought.  I’ve got to be careful, or I’ll really start losing it.

Suddenly, he heard a voice.

“Psst!  Big guy! Hey, big guy! You okay?”

It was Toothry, the inmate in the next cell over.  He was one of the only inmates who dared to speak to him now and then.  Oland didn’t even know his real name.  He only knew him by his number, which had since grown into a nickname.  Number 157323 became Three Two Three, which evolved into Toothry, likely because he smiled so much, and not because he had nice teeth…or even all of his teeth.

Toothry was neither big, nor all that tough, but he was one of the few who could talk his way into getting his hands on stuff.  This made him valuable, and gave him a little bit of pull with both inmates and guards. This also made him too useful to be killed for his sometimes irritating, too cheerful personality.  Randel always observed all people within his vicinity.  He knew Toothry was one of the most cunning inmates in the Ice Box, with a penchant for manipulating others.

“Come on, War Vet,” he said in a cheery tone, “you can talk to me.  Are you all right?”

Oland was wary. He couldn’t decide if the small, ratlike man was friend or foe.  He grimaced.  Whether he answered or not, the little guy would probably pester him all night.

“Yeah,” he muttered to Toothry.

“Oh, so the man can respond to questions!” Toothry said in mock wonder. “Well, I just won myself a nice bet, ha ha!  No worries, mate.  I’ll split it with you.  Do you smoke?”

Oland chose not to reply.  He wondered where Toothry came from, with such a peculiar accent.

“Oy, are you there?  Was it something I said?”

Oland smirked.  If he was to have any allies in the Ice Box, Toothry was probably a better choice than most.

“Yeah,” he repeated. “And no.”

“No?”

“ I don’t smoke.”

“Oh, I see.  We’ll just have to work out the details later, eh?”

“Much later.”

“Right! Sorry! Keepin’ you awake, am I? I’ll shut up now.”

Toothry listened as hard as he could, but after returning to bed, the big man never made another sound, not even snoring.  Unlike the other prisoners, he saw Oland differently.   To him, the scarred giant was a mystery and a challenge-a powerful ally at best, and a fantastic distraction at worst.  Just who was this oversized ox who seemed almost gentle, yet could tear men apart without so much as blinking?  He could probably take on at least ten guards or more, yet he never tried, not even once.  Why not?  If he was feeling guilty, why didn’t he just kill himself? He had plenty of opportunity, being a pit fighter and all.

Toothry reached under his mattress and pulled out a faded newspaper.  He held it up in the moonlight and looked at the front page again.  There was no mistaking that hunched, hulking frame.
This newspaper didn’t seem like much, but it was DeValt, the most popular and widely read newspaper in the Imperial Empire, and that made it especially valuable in the prison, even though it was years old.

Toothry read the story again, even though he had it practically memorized.

State Section Three, Pumpkin Scissors Platoon Leader, Second Lieutenant Alice Malvin, of House Malvin, the Thirteenth Imperial Grand House and youngest daughter of Lord Alexander Malvin, is a beacon of hope for the future.  Her vision: “Just imagine…”

Toothry looked at the Lieutenant’s face, captured in a moment of breathless, determined hope.

That’s it, isn’t it? Toothry thought.  You’re waiting. And that’s who you’re waiting for. You want to get back to that vision, don’t you? Hmm…I could help you do that…maybe. But you’ll have to help me out first, big guy.

He also noted who else was standing with her in the background, his lantern clearly showing the numbers 901.

901? The Gespenst Jaegers? That was just a war story to tell around the fire, wasn’t it?

Good gods, Toothry thought, does the warden know just who he’s holding? Probably. That lantern is likely locked away in the evidence locker. But...but if that’s true, then why is he keeping this guy alive? The Ice Box often executed war criminals in very public spectacles. Why not make an example of him?

Toothry thought for a while and came to two possible conclusions. Either both the warden and those in the Republicant army that captured Oland wanted him to suffer, to rot away or be killed in the pit…or they were also waiting.  Waiting for what?

Toothry rummaged around again and pulled out a much more recent newspaper for the Republic.  He reread the bold headline.

Crown Prince to Meet in Private With Imperial Royalty-Is a True Peace Near?

Interesting, Toothry thought. This could be the key to everything.
Ch. 8 Forgive Us Our Sinews
EDIT: Okay, doing my best to move forward! Just a few changes, mostly fleshing out the new character.

At last, an update! :dummy:  Thank you so much for your patience! I had a lot of stuff going on in real life, plus I knew this story was going to be another epic saga that would take some doing to figure out and I didn't want to rush in only to have to fix it later. So, it had to marinate for a while. I will do my best to give regular updates!
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Pumpkin Scissors: I Can't Believe... (Color)  by Wackyjax
Pumpkin Scissors: I Can't Believe... (Color)
And here it is in color. Slightly enhanced by my cell for saturation and contrast. By the way, there's a little something secret in this drawing. Do you see it? Leave me a message if you know what it is. ;P
Media: HB pencil, brown and black micron pens, gray markers, colored pencils
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Pumpkin Scissors: I Can't Believe... by Wackyjax
Pumpkin Scissors: I Can't Believe...
Watching Pumpkin Scissors again to try and get moving on my fan fiction. I paused this particular moment, because it got me thinking. It was probably right here that Cpl. Oland fell for Lt. Malvin, without even realizing it. For the both of them, love is such an impossible, foreign concept. Alice is convinced that if she were ever to fall in love, it would be a selfish act, making her unworthy of the mantle of nobility she insists upon wearing. She feels she must treat everyone the same, therefore she cannot truly love anyone.
Randel, on the other hand, suffers tremendously from PTSD. His lantern assists in turning him into a ruthless soldier, a mass murderer, and quite possibly a serial killer if he isn't careful. He abhors that part of himself, and because he got that way thanks to very unethical human experimentations, I'm unsure if he is compelled to kill against his will or not. My best guess is he is partly compelled, and partly conditioned. In any case, he's a humongous freak of nature trying to acclimate into a new world that no longer needs his particular skill set...well, almost.
"I...can't believe you took on that tank. A rational person wouldn't try that."
I love this part in the beginning, especially the English version because the voice actor manages to mix a sense of shy awe and a mild rebuke at the same time. Here he sees someone who just might be as crazy as he is, and without a lantern. ;P

Media: HB pencil. Slightly enhanced for contrast, uploaded by cell.
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:wave:

Hey, peeps. I've been pretty quiet lately, and I am sorry.  I have been wanting to write an update for quite some time, but for once I really didn't know what to say.  I wish I could say that the past 6-7 months or so has been so busy because I was really happy.  I changed jobs, ButterBean got some much-needed repairs thanks to a little help from family and friends, and actually seems settled down (for the moment, knock on wood, cross your fingers and pray pray pray!) I sold my first real piece of artwork, and I created the first 3 pages of my story.
Those are all great things, amazing things.  I am grateful for all of them.

I apologize for the following rant.

I don't know what's wrong with me.  I guess I am just plain unhappy. Actually, I think I'm scared. My new job is not the wine and roses it appeared to be at first. Oh, I know retail work can suck. I've known that for years, but I thought I could handle working in a place where I was familiar with the product-arts and crafts supplies and the like. 
The truth is this is one of the most miserable jobs I've ever held. This job has literally made me sick, and I'll probably have to go on high blood pressure medicine, but I'll talk about that later.

Initially, I was a certified framer, and it was all new, and I was starting to get some good practice in.  I was excited.  Then, my hours were cut down to almost nothing, and what little I had learned virtually vanished overnight.  I couldn't do the job they had trained me for, I couldn't keep up with straightening my section of the store. I couldn't meet their expectations then, or now. It feels like everybody is succeeding like it's nothing at all, and here I am, struggling not because I'm sloppy, but because I don't know how to be careful and fast at the same time.  I'm not fast at anything except reading.  I'm methodical by nature, and a perfectionist, so if the manager says everything has to be pulled forward to the edge, facing the same way, no empty spots, etc. that's what I'm going to do to every single little row, be it paint, pencils, brushes, jewelry, or now with the candy aisles.  I just plain don't know how to do that quickly and still have it look nice. It was far easier with books, CDs, DVDs, and so on. Now I'm a cashier, and hours are finally trickling in. I cannot tell you how heartsick I am. I can do a decent job, considering I had about 10 minutes of training and am still asking far too many questions to management's liking. I like the customers, and I like my coworkers all right, even though I still have to look at their name-tags to remember who they are. (Well, when you only work 2 days a week and the workers change, you don't get a chance to remember their names. I remember faces better than names.)

It's the job itself that's causing the most agony. Like I said, it literally made me sick. Starting back around Sept/Oct. I worked a full day there with a migraine. I was also scheduled to work my other job that night. As the day progressed, the pain got much worse, worse than any I've ever had before. I got home, ate some bread and took Excedrin. I went to try and rest for a few hours, but minutes later I threw up all over. That's never happened to me before. I tried to call in sick to my other job, but there wasn't time to find a replacement in so short a time. Oddly enough, the pain in my head stopped, and I was able to work the 8-hr shift.

I'll be honest, my head has never been quite right since. (All jokes aside, ha ha.) ;) I've been experiencing micro-headaches pretty much ever since. I say micro, but it's heavy pounding in time with my pulse. We think it's high blood pressure, because I can feel the pain shoot from my neck, through the base of my skull, and wrap around my head in huge pulses for a few, very painful seconds.The weird thing is when it happens: getting up, lying down, bending over, coughing...I can't even laugh too hard for fear I will have another attack.  I checked my BP at Wal-Mart, and it was 135/85. I was told the 85 was a little high, but otherwise not too terrible, thankfully. I recently posted on FB that I'm getting my first physical as an adult in early April. I've never had one because I've never had health insurance, or at least not for long. I have no idea where my cholesterol levels are at, or if I'm pre-diabetic. (genetic) I've never had a pap-smear, and I haven't had a pelvic exam since I was about 20.  I am doing better nutrition-wise, though. I've also been exercising more, and that has helped a lot. HPB is also genetic on both sides. I really don't want to take drugs, but until I get healthier, I must do something.

Anyway, I really wanted this to be the job where I could sink in some roots and stay for years. But that hasn't happened, and it kills me that I made such a humongous mistake and did so joyfully.  I did the exact same thing with ButterBean.  I love that car. I did from the first time I drove it, and yet it has cost me over $4000 worth of repairs.  I wanted help to either pay off the lien I still have on it, or get a better one.  I got some help from family and friends.  I even set up a GoFundMe page, and dreamed big.  Then I felt really ashamed, especially after reading what some other pledges were for. Trips to Hawaii as a dying wish, or a new wheelchair, or a mission trip...and I wanted to fix my car.  I am so very grateful for the help I did get; it wasn't for nothing, because BB has been fine since then. Yet I feel like I never deserved any of it.  Sometimes I really feel stupid.  I'm a leech!  I want to move out so badly. I am so ashamed that, as old as I am, I still can't take care of myself like I know I should. I really despise myself for that.

And yet, I feel like I'm an ungrateful spoiled brat.  How dare I even complain?  I got exactly what I asked for: a different job, a running car, and progress on my art and writing.

And that's where the fear and the negativity overpower me.  I've been trying to finally, finally put myself out there, and I. Am. Terrified. And I know! I know it's just in my head. I fight and fight and fight, but I get so tired, and I want to crawl back into my childhood and never come out again. I am sick. I am not crazy, but I know my mind is not right, and hasn't been for a long time. I've told stories about this before, about how the depression feels normal and feeling happy frightens me simply because it's so very foreign.  I've gotten a lot better at that than what it was years ago, but again, I get so tired. Depression really sucks, especially what I call the apathy bug. When the apathy bug bites, I have absolutely no ambition or enthusiasm at all. All gumption is sucked out of me and I'm just going through the motions.  Some people are worse and can't get out of bed, but I can do that much at least.  That's probably why I've denied it for so long. I'm not going to do that anymore.  Deny, that is.

And where is God in all of this?  

He's right here, and has been all along, same as always. I've always had a hard time knowing how to balance asking for help, and expecting to do the work myself. After all, I come from a hard-working family. I know nothing gets done unless you do it yourself. That's always been the kicker.  When do you ask for help, and when is it no longer asking, but whining? Because I feel like all I'm doing is whining. Poor me, poor me, boo-hoo; shut up, you pathetic wuss! (That was just a tiny, PG example of the carnage that goes on in my head.)

Fortunately, God would rather you whine to Him than not. Yell at Him.  Tell Him about your frustration, confusion, etc. I've done that many times. I know He's not going to take away the pain, because it's been one of my best teachers. Pain can be one heck of a motivator. I wish fear did the same to me, but instead it makes me freeze and shut down, and usually faster than before I can even process what I'm so afraid of. Still, He is here. I am positive He has sat with me and cried.

I don't have any idea what the best course of action is.  I know I need to leave the retail job, but I have to find something else to replace it, because security still isn't enough. And I have to keep working on my own stuff. Poetry, art, cartoons, writing...that's what makes me happy. That's what I have to work toward, and I have to make sure to take God with me in the future.

Of course, He's already there.
  • Mood: Regretful
  • Listening to: Gordon Lightfoot-Pussy Willows, Cattails
  • Reading: Books
  • Watching: People :|
  • Playing: Thief
  • Eating: 90% vegetarian. Nobody's perfect.
  • Drinking: Water
Ch. 7 Neural Networking

Standing in front of Captain Hunks was almost a relief.  Alice had to fold her hands to keep from saluting him.  She looked around the office, noting how even more cramped it seemed now that the membership had grown considerably larger.  She hoped civilian life hadn’t made her too soft.

Hunks looked at her and smiled.  “Some tea, Contessa?” he asked.

Hearing him say her noble title rather than her military title pained her, but she knew why he made the deliberate distinction.  As a noble, and not as a lieutenant, she couldn’t go around barking orders like before.  This “mission” was going to be very different.  To be technical, it was Oreldo who would be the highest ranking officer…by all outward appearance.

She shook her head.  “No thank you, Captain.  I’d rather we get right down to business.”

Hunks nodded.  He motioned her to the facing sofas and they both sat.

“All right,” he said.  “So what’s this about you returning to active duty?”

“It’s only a minor stipulation, sir,” Alice said.  “I know that Lt. Oreldo would be in charge, but in case it’s necessary, I want to be able to take command, should he or Lt. Martis become compromised.  If it’s not too much trouble, I’d like to return to active duty, at least on paper.”

“Being a Contessa isn’t enough?”

Alice smiled.  Oh, how she had missed working with him.
 
“You know as well as I that nobles are still considered civilians.  The attack on the ball years ago proved as much.”

“I see,” Hunks asked.  He raised an eyebrow. “Are you comfortable with Oreldo giving you orders, Contessa?”

Alice’s smile grew sad.  Hunks kept using her noble title on purpose to remind her.
 
“Probably not as much as I should be,” she admitted.  “But I’ll get used to it.”

Hunks signed the forms on the coffee table and sat back, satisfied.  “Very well,” he said.  “Now, I know you will want the old crew back, but I actually need Sergeant-Major Stecchin to stay here.  She’s on a separate mission for me.  She’s been training Private Albrecht and crunching numbers with Lord Schultz.”

Alice was shocked.  “L-Lord Schultz?” she spluttered. “But…but he’s never said anything to me about working with you!”

“No, of course he wouldn’t,” Hunks said, his tone growing stern, “especially if it’s a covert operation investigating Marquis Hoost.  You know better, Contessa.”

Alice clamped her jaw shut and bowed her head. As the current head of her house and former XO of State Section III, Alice had a huge target on her back. Of course Schultz would have kept her in the dark.  He’d do anything in his power to protect her. This also made her realize how much stronger Schultz had grown.  Why, only years ago, after he’d heard about the attack at the ball, the poor man had broken out in hives and was bedridden for two weeks.
 
Alice smirked in spite of herself. Poor Schultz…he tried so hard. She almost wished she could return his amorous overtones, but she couldn’t. She made a mental note to thank him later.

“Why are you telling me now, sir?” she asked Hunks in a subdued voice.

“Because you’re returning to active duty, and you should at least be aware of what we’re currently working on."

Alice sighed and nodded.  “What else are you working on, sir?”

“Well-“

“HUNKS!”

Major Connery bustled into the office like he owned it.  He walked up to Hunks with a sheaf of paperwork.  “From the top.” He turned to Alice and gave a curt bow.  “Ma’am,” he said.

Alice nodded in reply.  She looked back and Hunks and knew immediately something was wrong.  Although Hunks’ expression remained neutral, his breath had changed and his fingers were frozen.  Everything in her screamed to know what had him spooked, but she knew better to speak out of turn, especially with Connery standing right next to her.  Ally or not, Connery was still dangerous.

“Well,” Hunks sighed.  He didn’t even try to hide his sarcasm, “If the top brass says it’s all right, then it must be.”

Connery smirked.  “Naturally,” he said.  “I trust you’ll handle things as you normally do.”  He turned to Alice.  “My lady,” he began, and Alice was surprised to hear him speak in a cordial tone. “I want you to know I fully support your endeavors.  I have been told the Grand Duke himself is sending a person to spy for the Emperor.  Is that true?”

Alice regarded him with a cool stare.  Very few people outside of the Imperial council knew about that.  Connery’s network was faster than she’d remembered.  He must have improved it over the past two years.  It wasn’t a matter of which councilman was blabbing.  They all did in one way or another, but who owned the major?

“Yes, Major,” she replied, “it’s true.  His Grace wants to ensure all goes well.”

Connery waited for her to elaborate.  When she didn’t, he frowned.

“I hope whoever he sends has enough good sense to stay out of the way,” he said, curling his upper lip in a sneer.

“I’m certain whoever His Grace chooses will be a helpful addition,” Alice replied sweetly.  Connery glared at her but said nothing more.  The invisible question had been given and answered.  Yes, an Imperial spy was going to be part of her entourage, and no, she didn’t know who it was yet, or, at least, she wasn’t telling.

“Thank you kindly, Major,” Hunks said, “it’s looks to be all in order.  Was there anything else?”

Connery shot a look at him.  “You’d better not be dismissing me, Captain!”

Hunks raised his eyebrows but otherwise kept his expression mild. “I wouldn’t dream of it, sir,” he said, “It’s just that I’m sure the Contessa has much more important things to do than stay here talking to us soldiers.”

Connery’s grin returned and he nodded.  “Right,” he said, “she doesn’t need to know our military operations, does she?”  He turned to her and gave another curt bow.  “Contessa,” he said, before turning on his heel and leaving the room.

“Still a hard ass, isn’t he?” Alice muttered before covering her mouth.  Oops.  She wasn’t supposed to speak like that anymore.

“A major pain,” Hunks replied without looking up.  She watched the corner of his mouth quirk upwards.  She snickered and motioned at the paperwork.  “I’ll only ask if it’s something I need to know, sir.  Otherwise, it’s probably best not to tell me.”

Hunks frowned slightly, considering.  He sighed.

“It’s regarding your entourage,” he said.  We, that is the army, are sending along a few extra people.”

He shuffled the papers and gave them to her to read over.  Alice looked them over but didn’t notice anything unusual.  

“What does the top brass care who comes with me?” she asked.

Captain Hunks turned to the third page and pointed a stubby finger.  “Because of that.”

Alice took a closer look.  She looked up at him in alarm.  “They want to send Corporal Francia?  The only woman who earned her way into Claymore One?”

“That’s right,” Hunks replied.

“Won’t that send the wrong message to the Republic, to use one of members of the ‘Sword of the Empire’ as a security escort?”

“The message will be ‘Don’t mess with us,’” Hunks offered, “and that we are watching every move they make with you...and the rest they can only speculate.  Think of who Princess Septieme sent when she invited us to the Halloween ball.  What message did that send?”

Alice nodded.  “Does the team know?”

“No, but they will,” Hunks said.  “You’re going to be the focus, so work with that over everything.”

“Yes, sir,” she said, automatically saluting him.  She caught herself and looked at him sheepishly.  Hunks smiled kindly at her.

“Don’t worry, Contessa,” he said.  “I’m actually glad to hear it.  It means you still think like a soldier.  But you will need both your noble sense and your military knowhow to make this mission a success.”

“I hope it will be, Captain,” Alice replied.  She grinned.  “Is First Lieutenant Webner taking bets on it yet?”

“The pot grew over five thousand within an hour, last I heard,” Hunks muttered.
 
Alice laughed. “Then I’m not too worried,” she said.  “If she thinks it can be done, then it must have a pretty good potential.”

She handed the paperwork back to him.  He reached for it, but placed a hand on hers and paused.  She looked up at him, surprised.

“There’s one more thing,” Hunks said.  “I know I don’t need to say this, but,”

“I know,” she said quickly. “This is just the first foray.  I won’t do anything to compromise the mission.”

“Even if I told you I knew in which prison to start looking?”

Alice gave a short gasp but collected herself.  She sat up straight, settling back into her military bearing.

“You must have a reason for announcing that,” she said.

“I do.”

“Please, tell me everything.”
Ch. 7 Neural Networking
UPDATE: Complete rewrite!

Hey, peeps! Sorry I was so quiet for a while there. My work schedule went through a major overhaul, plus I have a bunch of personal projects I'm working on! But I have not nor will I ever forget this story. I will not drop it until it is over, and I finally have some really juicy ideas I can't wait to play with! So hang on tight as I try to get this machine rolling again!
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:wave:

Hey, peeps. I've been pretty quiet lately, and I am sorry.  I have been wanting to write an update for quite some time, but for once I really didn't know what to say.  I wish I could say that the past 6-7 months or so has been so busy because I was really happy.  I changed jobs, ButterBean got some much-needed repairs thanks to a little help from family and friends, and actually seems settled down (for the moment, knock on wood, cross your fingers and pray pray pray!) I sold my first real piece of artwork, and I created the first 3 pages of my story.
Those are all great things, amazing things.  I am grateful for all of them.

I apologize for the following rant.

I don't know what's wrong with me.  I guess I am just plain unhappy. Actually, I think I'm scared. My new job is not the wine and roses it appeared to be at first. Oh, I know retail work can suck. I've known that for years, but I thought I could handle working in a place where I was familiar with the product-arts and crafts supplies and the like. 
The truth is this is one of the most miserable jobs I've ever held. This job has literally made me sick, and I'll probably have to go on high blood pressure medicine, but I'll talk about that later.

Initially, I was a certified framer, and it was all new, and I was starting to get some good practice in.  I was excited.  Then, my hours were cut down to almost nothing, and what little I had learned virtually vanished overnight.  I couldn't do the job they had trained me for, I couldn't keep up with straightening my section of the store. I couldn't meet their expectations then, or now. It feels like everybody is succeeding like it's nothing at all, and here I am, struggling not because I'm sloppy, but because I don't know how to be careful and fast at the same time.  I'm not fast at anything except reading.  I'm methodical by nature, and a perfectionist, so if the manager says everything has to be pulled forward to the edge, facing the same way, no empty spots, etc. that's what I'm going to do to every single little row, be it paint, pencils, brushes, jewelry, or now with the candy aisles.  I just plain don't know how to do that quickly and still have it look nice. It was far easier with books, CDs, DVDs, and so on. Now I'm a cashier, and hours are finally trickling in. I cannot tell you how heartsick I am. I can do a decent job, considering I had about 10 minutes of training and am still asking far too many questions to management's liking. I like the customers, and I like my coworkers all right, even though I still have to look at their name-tags to remember who they are. (Well, when you only work 2 days a week and the workers change, you don't get a chance to remember their names. I remember faces better than names.)

It's the job itself that's causing the most agony. Like I said, it literally made me sick. Starting back around Sept/Oct. I worked a full day there with a migraine. I was also scheduled to work my other job that night. As the day progressed, the pain got much worse, worse than any I've ever had before. I got home, ate some bread and took Excedrin. I went to try and rest for a few hours, but minutes later I threw up all over. That's never happened to me before. I tried to call in sick to my other job, but there wasn't time to find a replacement in so short a time. Oddly enough, the pain in my head stopped, and I was able to work the 8-hr shift.

I'll be honest, my head has never been quite right since. (All jokes aside, ha ha.) ;) I've been experiencing micro-headaches pretty much ever since. I say micro, but it's heavy pounding in time with my pulse. We think it's high blood pressure, because I can feel the pain shoot from my neck, through the base of my skull, and wrap around my head in huge pulses for a few, very painful seconds.The weird thing is when it happens: getting up, lying down, bending over, coughing...I can't even laugh too hard for fear I will have another attack.  I checked my BP at Wal-Mart, and it was 135/85. I was told the 85 was a little high, but otherwise not too terrible, thankfully. I recently posted on FB that I'm getting my first physical as an adult in early April. I've never had one because I've never had health insurance, or at least not for long. I have no idea where my cholesterol levels are at, or if I'm pre-diabetic. (genetic) I've never had a pap-smear, and I haven't had a pelvic exam since I was about 20.  I am doing better nutrition-wise, though. I've also been exercising more, and that has helped a lot. HPB is also genetic on both sides. I really don't want to take drugs, but until I get healthier, I must do something.

Anyway, I really wanted this to be the job where I could sink in some roots and stay for years. But that hasn't happened, and it kills me that I made such a humongous mistake and did so joyfully.  I did the exact same thing with ButterBean.  I love that car. I did from the first time I drove it, and yet it has cost me over $4000 worth of repairs.  I wanted help to either pay off the lien I still have on it, or get a better one.  I got some help from family and friends.  I even set up a GoFundMe page, and dreamed big.  Then I felt really ashamed, especially after reading what some other pledges were for. Trips to Hawaii as a dying wish, or a new wheelchair, or a mission trip...and I wanted to fix my car.  I am so very grateful for the help I did get; it wasn't for nothing, because BB has been fine since then. Yet I feel like I never deserved any of it.  Sometimes I really feel stupid.  I'm a leech!  I want to move out so badly. I am so ashamed that, as old as I am, I still can't take care of myself like I know I should. I really despise myself for that.

And yet, I feel like I'm an ungrateful spoiled brat.  How dare I even complain?  I got exactly what I asked for: a different job, a running car, and progress on my art and writing.

And that's where the fear and the negativity overpower me.  I've been trying to finally, finally put myself out there, and I. Am. Terrified. And I know! I know it's just in my head. I fight and fight and fight, but I get so tired, and I want to crawl back into my childhood and never come out again. I am sick. I am not crazy, but I know my mind is not right, and hasn't been for a long time. I've told stories about this before, about how the depression feels normal and feeling happy frightens me simply because it's so very foreign.  I've gotten a lot better at that than what it was years ago, but again, I get so tired. Depression really sucks, especially what I call the apathy bug. When the apathy bug bites, I have absolutely no ambition or enthusiasm at all. All gumption is sucked out of me and I'm just going through the motions.  Some people are worse and can't get out of bed, but I can do that much at least.  That's probably why I've denied it for so long. I'm not going to do that anymore.  Deny, that is.

And where is God in all of this?  

He's right here, and has been all along, same as always. I've always had a hard time knowing how to balance asking for help, and expecting to do the work myself. After all, I come from a hard-working family. I know nothing gets done unless you do it yourself. That's always been the kicker.  When do you ask for help, and when is it no longer asking, but whining? Because I feel like all I'm doing is whining. Poor me, poor me, boo-hoo; shut up, you pathetic wuss! (That was just a tiny, PG example of the carnage that goes on in my head.)

Fortunately, God would rather you whine to Him than not. Yell at Him.  Tell Him about your frustration, confusion, etc. I've done that many times. I know He's not going to take away the pain, because it's been one of my best teachers. Pain can be one heck of a motivator. I wish fear did the same to me, but instead it makes me freeze and shut down, and usually faster than before I can even process what I'm so afraid of. Still, He is here. I am positive He has sat with me and cried.

I don't have any idea what the best course of action is.  I know I need to leave the retail job, but I have to find something else to replace it, because security still isn't enough. And I have to keep working on my own stuff. Poetry, art, cartoons, writing...that's what makes me happy. That's what I have to work toward, and I have to make sure to take God with me in the future.

Of course, He's already there.
  • Mood: Regretful
  • Listening to: Gordon Lightfoot-Pussy Willows, Cattails
  • Reading: Books
  • Watching: People :|
  • Playing: Thief
  • Eating: 90% vegetarian. Nobody's perfect.
  • Drinking: Water

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Wackyjax
JackieH
Artist | Hobbyist | Varied
United States
Christian, artist, poet, writer, storyteller. Old enough to know better, young enough not to care. ^^ Oh, and I'm a bonefide Cheesehead. Currently working 2 jobs, trying to find my way in the world.

Current Residence: Wisconsin, USA
Favourite genre of music: Hard Rock, Christian, Pop, Nature, Classical
Favourite photographer: Everybody in National Geographic
Favourite cartoon character: Calvin and Hobbes, Garfield, Bugs Bunny, Ebenezer & Snooch <-(www.twolumps.net)
Personal Quote: Just do what you can with what you have.
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:iconjustmeina:
justmeina Featured By Owner Jun 16, 2015
Thanks for the :+fav:s
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:iconwackyjax:
Wackyjax Featured By Owner Jun 16, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
You're welcome! :D 
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:icontheskyrainsblood:
TheSkyRainsBlood Featured By Owner May 10, 2015
Thanks for the fave! :)
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:iconwackyjax:
Wackyjax Featured By Owner May 10, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
You're welcome! :D 
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:iconapparition-studios:
apparition-studios Featured By Owner Feb 20, 2015  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Thanks for the watch
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:iconwackyjax:
Wackyjax Featured By Owner Feb 20, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
YW! :aww:
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tsartastic Featured By Owner Feb 4, 2015
Thank you for the fave on the title page of my comic! I hope you'll read the rest of the chapter, too.
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:iconwackyjax:
Wackyjax Featured By Owner Feb 4, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
You're welcome! :aww:

Cool! What's it about, if I may ask?
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:icontsartastic:
tsartastic Featured By Owner Feb 5, 2015
Read it and find out. It's only one chapter long so far.
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:iconcey-cey:
cey-cey Featured By Owner Feb 2, 2015  Professional Interface Designer
thank you...
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