For the month of December, I’ll be world-building. This means taking a look at the people, places, and institutions that I have created over the last six months and trying to figure out more about them. This will involve a look at the stories in which they’ve appeared, and then some speculation, stream-of-consciousness writing, and with any luck a few revelations. In addition, I may come back and add new material as the Elves in my unconscious ship out new ideas, so I’ll be sure to link them up.
Your feedback as readers is, of course, more than welcome. There are probably questions that I’m forgetting to ask and holes that I need to fill.
Wish me luck!
Man, between today and tomorrow, my time just is not my own. I guess that’s why I have the iPad, but even then… I suppose that is one of the attractions of being a professional writer: your time is more or less your own, and you don’t have to sneak writing into the cracks between whatever projects or responsibilities your bosses give you.
Anyway, this isn’t the self-pity blog. I have another space to play those kinds of games.
Let’s go for another character sketch, and this time we’ll talk about someone who was kind of key to yesterday’s post on Ravensbrook High School: Carly Siminsky.
First off, I just want to say that telekinesis is the superpower I would pick, if I could. There’s just something so cool about being able to have complete control over the physical universe, and if you’re good enough at it then there really is nothing you can’t do. It goes so far beyond just grabbing a beer from the fridge while you’re still on the couch, hard as that may be to imagine. And as disappointing as the third X-Men movie was, there was one thing I think they got absolutely right: when Jean Grey killed people, she didn’t fling them around like dolls or rip them apart or anything like that. She just unmade them. Turned them to dust, which is exactly how a telekinetic should do it.
Having said that, I’m pretty sure that I cannot be trusted with telekinetic powers. Carly is only marginally more trustworthy. Let’s see what the stories say about her:
- Carly’s powers first manifested during softball practice.
- She killed nearly one hundred people before she was subdued by her coach with a baseball bat.
- She was taken by the Department of National Security for training.
- She “caused millions of dollars in damage during that time, and it resulted in the deaths of five doctors and seven medical technicians.”
- She’s had a remote-controlled pump installed in her abdomen, just under the skin. When triggered, it releases a very powerful sedative.
- The DNS is running her through a series of tests to help her gain control over her powers.
- Martin Allsoct is her case worker at the DNS. She scares him a little.
- Carly wants to go home.
- She went to Ravensbrook High School in Ravensbrook, IL.
- She was a freshman when her powers manifested – 13/14 years old.
- Her parents are divorced. Her father moved to Tennessee.
- Her mother is a writer of Young Adult novels, Veronica Siminsky.
- Carly has a hard time in English class.
- She plays the piano.
- She has some talented friends, but thinks that she doesn’t have any real talents of her own.
- She feels terrible about what she did with her powers.
- She wants to be able to control her powers so that she can go home.
189: The Bad News
- Carly has red hair. It’s currently long and she wears it in a braid.
- She’s been at the DNS training facility for five or six years, making her about twenty years old.
- She has a younger brother, probably in high school.
- The director of the DNS center played a recording of her mother saying, “My daughter is a monster, and I hate to think what she could do if she was free. Keep her away from everyone. Keep her away from me and my family.” Carly reacted by killing him and nearly destroying the facility before her sedative pump kicked in.
- She believes she is a monster.
So there’s what we know about Carly, and she’s one of the few characters for which I have a story planned out in the future. For example, I know what’s going on with that message from her mother, and I know how Carly is eventually going to get out of that facility. What happens to her after that, I don’t know, but she certainly won’t be the same pliant, slightly naive girl that she’d been before The Bad News.
I actually think there’s some bleed-over from Ender’s Game going on in her story. They share some similarities, after all – taken away from their families, forced to train in a government installation, both of them inadvertent murderers. Carly doesn’t want to be whatever it is she’s become, but she doesn’t see that she has any choices anymore. As far as she knows, that testing center is the only place she’ll ever call home, and Martin is the only person who is even remotely a friend to her. The key will be trying to maintain her humanity long enough to get her out.
What she does after that is still a mystery to me. My mental storyline has her escaping, but that’s it. I like to think she goes off the grid and manages to live a normal life with her telekinesis. But on the other hand, she’s being trained to use it and rely on it. There’s the possibility that they’ll do too good a job in turning her into a weapon. What happens when that weapon turns around and fires back at them?
In sheer storytelling / Hero With a Thousand Faces terms, Carly still has to go through the underworld and come out again. I’m pretty sure she can do it, but it won’t be a pretty trip. Regardless, she’s a character I like, so I think we’ll be seeing more of her.
The desert lowland was full of cars, stacked on on top of the other. Some of the stacks were of only a few cars, others more. Their flaking paint and broken windows gleamed in the setting sun.
A disordered pile of cars shifted and lurched, and a late-model Tulay pickup lifted out of the mess and started to float over to a tall stack of cars nearby. This stack was fifteen cars high already, and swaying dangerously. Broken glass and metal littered the site around it, as well as cars that had been destroyed beyond recognition. The pickup floated slowly to the top of the stack, where it paused and then very gently settled down on top.
The great tower of cars swayed for a moment, and the faint groan of metal and crackle of glass filled the air. Its fall seemed inevitable, as if even the sunlight might push it over from the side.
But the stack didn’t fall. It swayed and then settled down. And then stopped.
In a tent set up some distance away, a girl with long, braided red hair collapsed into a folding chair to the applause of the men in suits gathered around her. One of them gave her a cup of water, which she swallowed immediately, and then gave her another. She was sweating and slouched in the chair taking deep, heaving breaths with her eyes closed, but under the exhaustion, there was a definitely look of accomplishment on her face. The man who gave her the water put a hand on her shoulder. “Great work, Carly,” he said. “I mean it. Really good.”
She opened her eyes and smiled up at him. “I didn’t think I was going to make that last one, Martin” she said. “I seriously thought the whole thing was going to come down. Again.”
“Well, you did a fine job. You should be proud.” He patted her on the shoulder again and then left to talk to some of the men in suits. They let her sit there for a while. She looked out at the sunset while she caught her breath and felt the warm glow of achievement. True, stacking cars wasn’t the most complicated thing she’d had to do, but they’d set her at it all day. Two cars, three cars, five… As many as she could. Martin had said this was a test that the facilities administrators had come up with, but he couldn’t exactly explain what it was they were testing. In the end, all she could do was shrug and stack the cars.
Maybe if she stacked them well enough, they’d let her go home.
She tried not to think of home too much, if she could. She had been training at this facility now for, what was it? Five years? Six? She knew why, too. They told her almost every day. It was vital that she be able to control her powers. That she not hurt anyone else ever again. That she not kill anyone else ever again.
That still got to her. She’d never meant to kill anyone. Not ever. But they told her that she did. And not just a few, either.
Over a hundred.
The number was enough to make her stomach clench and steel her resolve. She would train as hard has she had to, as long as she had to, as long as it meant that she wouldn’t be a danger to anyone. If that meant stacking cars in the desert all day, then so be it.
But still… she was starting to forget things from home. Her mother’s face. She wondered what her little brother was doing, if he was in high school yet. That reminded her that she would have graduated by now. Her friends were probably all in college. Some place she’d never go. Somehow, she thought “trained for five years in a government facility out in the desert” wouldn’t look good on her admissions paperwork.
They took down the tent and folded up the chairs and decided to leave the cars where they were for the moment. Carly figured that her next task would probably be taking them down again, and maybe taking them apart. Or crushing them into little balls. Or making sculptures out of them. She never knew what the next test would be, and Martin confided in her once that he didn’t know either. He just got the framework in his email every night and had until morning to make sure he knew what she was supposed to do.
After a short ride back to the facility, all Carly wanted to do was take a shower and go to bed. No matter how it looked, lifting cars with your mind all day was tough, tiring work. But it certainly was better than she could have done even a year ago, and that in itself was something to be proud of.
One of the staff, a young man in over-large glasses, met her when she got off the mini-bus. “Miss Siminsky?” he said. “Deputy Director Stassi would like to see you.”
She sighed. So much for shower and bed. “All right,” she said. She followed the young man. She’d only met the Deputy Director a few times, and she didn’t like him much. He talked to her like she was a bomb that was about to go off. A slightly stupid bomb, at that. But he was the connection to the outside world that she’d need to get out someday. He worked with the Secretary of National Security, and if anyone could get her home it would be him.
She closed the door of the office behind her, and Director Stassi stood up behind his desk. “Miss Siminsky,” he said with a broad smile on his face. His eyes darted to the corner of the office where a camera had been installed, and it ruined the attitude. “Thank you for coming. Please, have a seat.”
Carly fell into a chair and resisted to urge to put her arms on his desk and just fall asleep right there.
Director Stassi sat behind the desk. He was sweating slightly, but she took no notice of it. “Miss Siminsky,” he said, “I heard about your performance this afternoon. I must say that I’m very impressed, and I’m sure the Secretary will be just as thrilled as I was.” His smile had too many teeth in it.
“Thanks,” she said.
His smile slipped a little and he cleared his throat. “Um. I have just a one thing to go over with you and I’ll let you go. But, um. I’m afraid it’s a bit of bad news.”
That caught her attention, and she sat up straight. A dozen different scenarios unspooled in her head, each of them worse than the last. “What is it?” she said. She noticed the pictures on the wall behind the Director start to shake and she willed them to stop before he realized what was going on.
Director Stassi folded his hands in front of him. “Miss Siminsky, I know you’ve been asking about when you can… you can go home.” He ran a hand through his hair, and then tried to rub the sweat off on his jacket sleeve. If he was trying to look calm, he was failing utterly. “I hate to be the one to break it to you, Miss Siminsky, I really do. And I hope you understand that I’m just the messenger here…”
“What?” she asked. “What is it?” Her voice was small and she hated it.
“You… um…” He cleared his throat again, and his next sentence came out all in a rush. “You can’t go home.”
One of the pictures fell off the wall, and Stassi jumped. Carly tried to speak a few times before she said, “But… why?”
He loosened his tie. “Miss Siminsky, I hate to remind you what happened when you… when your powers emerged. You…”
“I hurt a lot of people,” she said. His habit of trying not to finish sentences was getting on her nerves. “Is that it?”
“You killed a lot of people, Miss Siminsky,” he said. “And you terrified a lot more.” He took a deep breath. “Including your mother.”
“My mother?” she said. She stood up, and the chair slid across the floor. “What about my mother?”
He stood up as well, and took a small black voice recorder out of his jacket pocket. “To be frank, Miss Siminsky, your mother is… afraid of what you might do if you come home. We tried to reassure her that you were getting better, that you were gaining control, but…” He put the voice recorder on the desk. “This is what she said to us.” He pressed play.
A voice came out, muffled by traveling along a phone signal, but unmistakably her mother’s voice. “My daughter is a monster,” she said, “and I hate to think what she could do if she was free. Keep her away from everyone. Keep her away from me and my family.”
Director Stassi’s hand shook as he picked up the voice recorder and it crumbled in his hand. He looked up sharply at Carly, and then slammed against the wall. “Carly!” he yelled in a strained voice. “Please, Carly let me -” His voice choked off and his eyes went wide as he pressed against the wall. His ribs popped and cracked and blood began to run out of his mouth and nose. Bruises blossomed on his skin as blood vessels burst, shards of bone began to jab out, slicking through his suit, and his whole body started to flatten out. His skull made a great cracking sound as it shattered, blood and brains bursting out around him.
Carly let him fall to the floor, and she turned slowly in the air in the middle of the room. The walls started to shake, and cracks burst open in the floor and the walls. The lights went out and sparks began to fly from broken electrical cables, and Carly raised her hands in front of her.
Her senses stretched out around her. She felt the walls and the floors of the facility, a labyrinthine structure that extended deep into the desert. She felt as though she was in every place at once, all the rooms and all the walls, and if she just clenched her fists then the place would crumble. Everyone in this viper’s nest would die, and then she would be free. If that was what it took, then -
The pump they’d implanted under her skin vibrated as it dumped sedative into her bloodstream. Carly screamed in rage and frustration as she felt the drug take hold, and the office walls exploded around her, splinters flying like lethal missiles. None of which touched her.
She dropped to the floor as the shaking stopped, and she wept. Her hands were clean against the filthy, broken floor, until a small rivulet of blood made its way to her littlest finger. She tried to pull her hand away, but she couldn’t find the energy. She heard shouting, but it was from so far away that she didn’t care anymore. All she could do was slump to the floor and cry.
Darkness took her moments later.
When Carly woke up, she was in her bed. In restraints. She still felt… fuzzy around the edges. The pump in her side vibrated once, and she closed her eyes again. When she did, the mangled body of Director Stassi was in front of her, slowly being crushed by a force he couldn’t see and couldn’t understand.
I did it again, she thought. She cried quietly.
A while later, Martin came into the room, and she tried to sit up. “No,” he said. “Don’t do that. The restraints won’t…” He grimaced. “Just relax.” He had the clipboard he always carried, but he didn’t look at it. He just stared at her for a while before he said, “How are you feeling?”
Carly shook her head, and it felt slow and unfocused. “I think I killed someone,” she said.
He nodded. “Yeah.” She squeezed her eyes shut and took a few deep breaths. “Don’t worry,” he said. “They understand you were… upset.”
“Is it true?” she asked. She opened her eyes and looked at him. “About my mom, I mean? Is it true?”
Martin sat in the chair by her bedside and took her hand. “Carly, I am so, so sorry. I can’t begin to imagine…”
He let her cry for a while.
When the sobs passed, she closed her eyes again and said, “What do I do now?”
This time he did look at his clipboard. “Well, we’re letting you have a break for a while. To, um. Process.” He flipped a sheet over. “You’ll have a counselor come to see you in about half an hour. Ms. Hilbert.” He looked over at her and smiled, but it didn’t have much effect. “She’s really nice. You’ll like her.”
“Whatever,” Carly whispered.
Martin looked at his printouts again. “And we’re going to set you to work on some more precision tasks later. When you’re… when you’re ready.”
Carly didn’t move. She didn’t nod. She didn’t say anything. After a minute or two, Martin excused himself and left the room, closing the door quietly.
There was an emptiness in her mind. A greyness. A dull hum that blocked out other sounds. She just stared at the wall across from her, and every time a thought came to her mind, she shoved it away. Finally, though, there was one thought that she couldn’t keep down. It ran through her head, a single loop over and over again.
I am a monster. I may as well be the best monster.
Training would start again soon. Carly was ready for it now.
Comic books are liars.
Not just because it seems like super powers always seem to come with the physique of an Olympic athlete and the ability to look good in spandex. When someone gets their powers in a comic, there’s always this moment of confusion where they don’t know what’s just happened to them. They got hit by the cosmic beams or bitten by a radioactive whatsit or get handed a bit of shiny jewelry that gives them more power than God. They stand there, looking confused, and two panels later they’re flying through the sky or lifting cars over their head or bending time and space to their will. Their powers just work for them, as easy as walking. They may discover some extra tricks later, or run into a weakness, but for the most part, the moment a newly-minted metahuman gets powered up, they’re ready to go and either fight or contribute to crime.
When Carly Siminsky’s powers manifested themselves in the middle of softball practice, twelve people died in the first sixty seconds. Nearly a hundred more in the minutes that followed, and if it hadn’t been for quick thinking by her coach, the death toll would have been even higher. To this day, Coach Simone keeps the bent and twisted aluminum bat she used on her player as a reminder of the tragedy.
It took Carly three years to learn how to not kill people with her mind. She was taken by Department of National Security to a facility where they carefully and systematically forced her to learn how to control herself. She caused millions of dollars in damage during that time, and it resulted in the deaths of five doctors and seven medical technicians.
Her current practice regimen involved a set of nesting boxes. She was to take all the boxes out and then put them all back inside without letting the sides of one box touch another. If she did, an alarm would go off and the experiment would be immediately ended.
On this day, Carly sat cross-legged in front of the experiment table. The box full of boxes sat on in front of her, gleaming dully in the fluorescent light. Martin, her current lab tech, was sitting behind her, and she could hear the scratching of his pen against paper. She squeezed her eyes shut and started counting her breaths again. She would restart the count every time she was distracted, by Martin, or an itch, or a thought. When she reached twenty, she would begin. This used to take upwards of half an hour, but she’d gotten it down to seven and a half minutes with practice.
Her eyes opened when she hit twenty. She took one more breath and reached out with her mind for the box. The largest one stayed on the table while the next lifted carefully out. All the boxes were metal, each a different color, and she was intimately familiar with them at this point. The second box, dull blue, hovered for a moment, and then set down on the mat. A red box lifted out from that one, and then from the red came a green and from the green a yellow. The final box, about the size of the end of her thumb, was violet. They were all lined up, left to right. She heard Martin make a note behind her.
She took another breath and started putting the boxes back together. This had always been the hard part. This was where she had always failed. The counselor they had her talk to once a week told her not to think about succeeding, that she shouldn’t envision a completed box and a pat on the head from Martin. She should imagine one at a time, the process of completing the task.
Violet went into yellow without touching the sides. Yellow lifted and positioned itself over green. She rotated it, ever so slightly, fighting the urge to stand up and view it from another angle. It lowered, slowly sliding into the green box. No alarm sounded. Carly took another breath, held it, and let it go. The green box lifted up and took its position over the red one. Carly realized she was gritting her teeth, and made herself stop. The red box lowered for a moment, stopped, and then continued with more care and precision than she had used with the other ones. It went in without a sound, and again Carly breathed.
A drop of sweat rolled down the side of her face and she flicked it away without moving her hands. Simon’s writing filled her ears and she wanted to turn around and make him stop, but she knew how that would end. She lifted the red box and positioned it over the blue one. She bit her lip and braced herself for the alarm. This is where it always came. She took flexed her fingers and forced them to lay flat on her thighs, rolled her shoulders and did a slow count to five. The red box started to lower.
Just before it went in, she stopped it. She wanted to stop entirely, to turn around to Martin and tell him that she couldn’t do it – she’d never do it. The first time she had done that, they didn’t feed her for a day. The second time, for two days. There was no third time.
She reached out, feeling the two boxes, feeling along their edges. In that moment, it was like she was both boxes. And she was the air around them, the boxes inside them, the table, the room. She kept her attention on them and closed her eyes. She felt the red box slide into the blue, felt the space between them and a smile broke out on her face. Her eyes flashed open and she spun around to look at Martin. The young man was writing, but he looked up at her through his horn-rimmed glasses and pointed at the last box – the silver one – with his pen.
Carly rolled her eyes. She could feel them, and she understood what it was she was feeling, and why she had failed before. While she kept her eyes trained on Martin, the blue box lifted up into the air, and, without pause, dropped into the silver box without a sound. Martin’s eyebrows rose, he made a note on his form, and stood up. “Well done, Carly,” he said. He extended a hand, and she used it to help herself up. “You’ve made wonderful progress.”
She smiled despite herself. “Thanks,” she said. She glanced back at the nested boxes. “So… what now?”
Martin looked down at the forms on his clipboard. “I take these to my boss, and we figure out what to do with you next.” He patted her shoulder. “You should be very proud of yourself.” He turned for the door, fishing in his pocket for the passcard that would unlock it.
“Martin,” Carly said. He stopped and turned around. She glanced up at the window and walked over to stand between him and it. He looked from her to the door, and he reached into his other pocket. “No,” she said. “You don’t need the alarm – I’m not going to hurt you.” That didn’t seem to ease his mind, but the alarm didn’t go off. “I need to know,” she whispered. “I need to know when I’ll be okay. When they’ll let me out of this place.” She looked up at the window again and then back to him. “Martin, when am I going to go home?”
He held her gaze for a moment, and then looked down at the floor. He cleared his throat. “I don’t know,” he said, his voice thick. “Soon. Okay?” He gave her arm a quick squeeze. “Soon.” He turned around, slid his passcard across the reader, and left the room, the door locking behind him.
She started at that door for a long time. It wouldn’t be hard to open it, that much she knew. Brute force had never been a problem for her. She rubbed the lump in her side, the place where they had implanted the tranquilizer pump. With that inside her, she wouldn’t get three steps out of the room. She sighed and went back to her bed, lay back and stared at the ceiling.
This was her home now. This was where she was going to get better, and where they would help her to stop hurting people. And someday, they had promised, she would be able to leave. She closed her eyes and started counting again. And she breathed, as she counted, the boxes on the table began to un-nest themselves and hover in mid-air. By the time she got to thirty, they were turning in lazy circles around the table, one never touching another.