This James Cavanagh story takes place right before he shows up at the science fiction convention in Dreaming of Xeres (DoX), and where he ends up embroiled in exactly the things he’d hoped to avoid. Orion had already written this vignette and another James story, Crossroads, before we’d even thought about adding James to the DoX cast. But in he walked, telling us he had history with another character and didn’t we need a cop anyway?
We’ve noticed that characters tend to walk onto our stage and demand to be included in the action. It’s like they’re fully formed and waiting in the wings for their chance in the spotlight. The more fully realized the character, the more likely he or she is to tell us what they want to do. This is where the prep work of building a character really begins to pay off
NEW DAY DAWNING
Running thru the smoke and din of battle, I clutch my M4 in a death grip. I jump at every sound.
I lost contact with my squad.
Where the hell is everyone?
The shockwave from a bursting mortar shell sends me tumbling through an open doorway.
Sliding down the wall to the earthen floor, I gasp for air. My heart thuds against my rib cage like it’s trying to escape.
A sound―the merest scrape of a shoe sounds to my left. My rifle leaps to my hands like a living creature. I fire until the gun clicks on empty.
Silence closes in around me.
Struggling up from my defensive crouch, I reload and edge silently along the earthen wall.
One step more.
I jerk around the corner, muzzle swinging to cover every inch of the dim room.
Beside my boot, eyes open and staring, sprawls a boy clutching a chunk of bread. His white robes glow in the surrounding darkness.
Dear God, he’s just a few years older than Morgan.
I back away in horror.
Turning, I burst back out through the doorway.
“Cavanagh! There you are! Thought we’d lost you, James.” Sargeant Blake shouted, sweeping an arm to the right. “Get over there and cover our flank!”
I took two steps, then felt white hot fire explode in my shoulder.
Thoughts of the little boy in white drowned in darkness as a tidal wave of pain crashed over me.
I almost welcomed that bullet.
I sat up in bed screaming, sweating, heart pounding, nerves jangling.
I groaned, Not again.
I shook my head, trying to clear away the memories.
I try not to think about it, but every Goddamned year it’s always the same nightmare.
I wish I could forget.
Maybe I deserve it. Maybe it’s the price I have to pay for taking an innocent life.
Around me, the gray pre-dawn light illumined my sparse bedroom. Beneath me, the floor rocked with a gentle rhythm. The sound of water lapping against pilings coming through the open window imparted the beginnings of calm.
Extricating myself from the damp sheet, I climbed out of bed.
At least Catherine wasn’t here, cringing away from my thrashing and shouting. It hadn’t taken her long to figure out that the man who came home from Afghanistan wasn’t the husband she’d kissed goodbye. Wasn’t the joyful man who’d cradled our newborn son. It’s no wonder she’d abandoned me, back in Boston, taking Morgan and moving back to the safety of her rich, overprotective parents.
Shrugging on a robe against the chill, I climbed the stairs to the second floor of my floating home. Step by laborious step, I pulled myself away from the nightmare. I heard the coffee maker turn on as I passed, the automatic timer anticipating the start of my day. The smell of brewing coffee stopped me in my tracks and completed my journey back to the waking world.
Sipping from my favorite mug, I padded into the living room. It had taken me almost a year to renovate this floating wreck of a houseboat. Now, with light gray carpeting, white walls, and black leather furniture, I thought it looked like something straight out of Architecture Today.
Setting my coffee aside, I slid onto the lacquered black bench of my baby grand piano. My fingers roamed meditatively across the ivories. Soon, Moonlight Sonata filled the air.
The sun rose and golden light streamed in as I played on. Peace washed over my soul. As the last notes of Claire de Lune died away, I glanced over to check the clock.
Yikes! If I don’t get a move on, I’m going to be late. Traffic sucks this late in the morning between here and the station.
I headed back to the kitchen to fix breakfast.
One more day, I thought. One eight-hour shift. Then I’m free, trading my mundane life for a weekend of role-playing, exploring the dealers’ room, and checking out the art gallery.
Three days when I don’t have to worry about chasing muggers, solving crimes, or dealing with murders.
Three days where, hopefully, the demons from my past will leave me alone.
Three days to lose myself in my alter ego: the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz miniseries.
The man with no heart.