The Last Battle . . .

I took off from blogging here for a while to do other things, including some short stories for anthologies.

At 500 words, my story "Outside the Wire," occupies about .6% of the real estate in the Battlespace anthology of military science fiction.

However, it has a much bigger place in my heart. When Battlespace was announced, I knew I wanted to submit. First, my respect for editors Jason Tudor, Keith Houin, and Michael Wistock of The Science Fiction Show. With their combination of military service and love of the genre, I knew the book would be done right.

Next was the cause. Warrior Cry Music helps wounded soldiers reconnect with the world and their own souls with the universal language of music. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars are unique in human history. Technological advances have made all but the worst combat wounds survivable. However, those survivors are often left grievously scarred and maimed – physically and emotionally. We need to apply our same tenacity to treating post-war wounds as we do the battlefield injuries.

"Outside the Wire" was inspired by a sketch I saw in a milblog many years ago. I talked to Ken, my combo brother-best-friend-biggest-fan and he encouraged me to run with it. Ken served in the Navy from 1962 to 1966 on the aircraft carrier USS Valley Forge ferrying Marine amphib units from Subic Bay to Vietnam. He was in basic training during the Cuban Missile Crisis and told me about the dark-thirty announcement that if "Mr. Bear got frisky," they would be on their way to the blockade. I helped Ken see that he'd had a front seat to history during his service.

Ken was my go-to guy for questions on military terminology and mood. He put the skids on more than one plot line with a simple, "nope." I don't know how many times I read drafts to him over the phone until the cadence sounded right.

 However, the story stalled at 1,700 words. To make the 3,000 mark, I would have to expand a simple tale of two guys deciding that today was not a good day to die into a more action-laden techno-driven narrative.

Nothing worked. Then it hit me, instead of going twice as long, how about going one-third as long. The other story slot was at 500 words. So, I edited 1,200 words out of the stalled story, reducing it to about 20 minutes in one corner of a bigger war. Then I did what I always did, called my big brother. I read it to him and his response was, "that's powerful stuff." We discussed a few minor word choices, but the story was written. I polished off the fingerprints, submitted, and was very proud when it was accepted.

My next goal was to surprise Ken with a print copy of the anthology. The day it arrived, I called and got his answering machine. I called again three hours later and felt a vague unease when he didn't pick up the phone. Two hours later I got the message that he was in the hospital. His health had been fragile for many years because of all those smoke breaks as a younger man. Still, he'd been sick before, so I set his book aside for when he got home.

Except this time he didn't come home. On July 20, 2012 my brother quietly left this world. My grief is without bounds. However, blessedly, we had the kind of relationship where nothing was left unsaid. So my only regret is this copy of Battlespace that he never got to see. If you have a veteran in your life who would appreciate it, contact The Science Fiction Show Battlespace Facebook page. It would be my honor to send it to them.

Comments

Beth Bartlett said…
A lovely tribute to your brother. Thanks for sharing.
I'm honored to share the pages of Battlespace in memory of your brother, Terri. Thoughts and prayers for you and your family.
Carolee said…
Rest well, Ken. And know that you're loved by people who never even had the privilege of meeting you.

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