WIP Wednesday: Yet more Harbinger

Yeah, more. It’s pretty much my primary project at the moment and will likely remain so until it’s finished, especially given that I’m in the final push of it. But given that, I want to take a second before I shove more of it at you to talk about what’s actually going on in it.

So what’s Harbinger?

It’s a story about the future. It’s not a nice future. It’s standard dystopian stuff when it comes to the geography of American urban centers and the gap between the uber-rich and the very poor. It isn’t especially groundbreaking in that respect, but I’m not really trying to be; I think there should be space to play within tropes without always having to be doing something new with them. One particular idea I’m exploring is what us politicalish sociologists refer to as the “stickiness” of institutions – the way these things tend to lock themselves in and hold out – and what happens when they continue to function long after they’re no longer really functional in any meaningful way.

It’s about bodies. It’s about what bodies mean, how they change, how they retain memory and how they aid in forgetting. In that sense it’s also about memory; I sort of feel like a story that’s about bodies is also necessarily going to be about memories and vice-versa.

It’s about doing the right thing, or not doing the right thing, and how we get ideas of what the right thing even means, and what we do to let ourselves of the hook of actually doing it. And then how the choices we make end up sweeping us along anyway, into places we didn’t want and don’t even totally understand.

It’s about family, about what you can leave behind and what you really can’t.

And it’s about angels. Or is it?

So here’s some more of it.

– – –

“Do you remember where you came from?”

“Where I–” This was a new kind of stopping, and Samir looked up sharply, half-turning. Michael’s face was still essentially expressionless, but now it looked more like a mask than ever. Something was churning away behind it.

Samir decided that he was tired of people not telling him things, at least this morning.

“Look,” he said, setting down the sack of rice and combing his hands through his unruly hair. “I guess you don’t have to tell me anything. I sure as hell can’t make you. But I did save your ass back there. Last night you slept in my bed, now you’re wearing my clothes, and you’re about to eat my food. So I don’t want to say you owe me, but.” He shrugged, the movement feeling tight and terse. “It’d be nice if I at least knew who I helped.”

There was a silence. More distant gunfire from outside, and a scream that may or may not have been pain. Something sharper and better defined flickered behind Michael’s neutral expression. Samir stared him down. It was true, he couldn’t force anything—the man was bigger than him and appeared to be stronger, despite his lack of obvious augmentation. But this didn’t feel like a situation in which that kind of force would even have a place.

He still couldn’t say what it all was. It was like fumbling around in the dark.

At least something in Michael unbent. He crossed his arms over his chest, shifting from foot to foot. “I… don’t remember that. Like the other things.” He put up a hand as if anticipating Samir’s irritation. “I’m saying the truth. It is… unclear. I think there was light. And many people. It was…” He looked around the room as if searching for something. “It was not like here.”

Well, that was nice and vague. And ruled out almost nothing. But it felt like the truth. Samir narrowed his eyes very slightly, gaze searching Michael’s face. With the blows the man had probably taken to the head, and whatever had transpired to get him to that point in the first place, maybe it was only to be expected that his memory would be unreliable at best. And maybe that explained the strange speech patterns as well.


“You don’t remember how you got out on the street like that? Naked?”

Michael shook his head. “I would tell you. I promise it.”

“Do you remember where you live?”

“I don’t live anywhere,” Michael said. No hesitation this time. Certainty. And already his speech was easing, smoothing itself out, as if he were improving with practice.

Samir sighed. He turned back to the stove and gave the rice a stir. It figured that he’d take in an actual stray, someone with nowhere to go back to—not that such was even all that rare in the ring. Sometimes people had places, like him. Sometimes people had nowhere in particular.

“Well, you can’t stay with me. You can keep the clothes and I’ll feed you, but you have to move on after.”

He felt a gnaw of guilt the instant he said it, though he knew it was necessary. Better to be straightforward. He didn’t have room. He wasn’t looking for attachments. Nothing complicated. Just because he had given up the good life didn’t mean he was running a charity.

But the man wasn’t augmented, as far as he could see. And now he was staring at Samir, though Samir still wasn’t facing him. He could feel the pressure of the gaze. Guilt shot a tendril out into resentment.

“What’s your name?”

Samir started, half-turned again. “What?”

Michael inclined his head, arms still crossed over his broad chest. “Your name. You never told me.”

“Oh.” No, now that he thought about it, he supposed he hadn’t. “I’m Samir. Samir Ghani.”

“Samir Ghani,” Michael echoed softly. He nodded. “Thank you. I will… go. If you want me to.”

Samir let out another sigh and began to open the can of beans. “No—look. At least let me feed you. And if you’re still hurt you don’t have to go right away. I just… I live alone. I like it that way. You get me?” Excuses, he thought, and felt faintly pathetic. He was in deeper than he had meant to be, was all, and now didn’t want to get any further in.

Ashmita’s voice echoed though his mind, though he was fairly sure it wasn’t a memory. You wanted to come out here. You’re already in up to your neck, bro.

“I don’t want to be trouble for you.”

“You’ve already been that.” Samir smiled crookedly. “Really. It’s okay.”

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