One of my favorite tropes has got to be the one where something or someone that was lost and/or destroyed comes back. Sometimes it happens just in time. Sometimes it’s what lets the heroes know that they might have a fighting chance after all. Sometimes it’s one of the heroes themselves that returns. Whatever it is, it’s the sort of thing that gives me chills.
Given the nature of this, there’s going to be some spoilers in the following for Mass Effect 2, Pacific Rim, and the Lord of the Rings. Nothing too major, but if you haven’t read/played/watched, consider yourselves warned!
In Mass Effect, it’s that moment near the beginning of the second game when Commander Shepard gets the Normandy SR2– along with Joker. After the shock of the game’s prologue, which involved the destruction of the Normandy SR1 (which you grow deeply attached to in the first game), along with the death of Shepard him/herself and the scattering of the surviving crew, getting your first indication that the resurrected Shepard might actually have a few familiar things to hold onto in their continuing quest to save the galaxy is a powerful moment.
It’s a very similar scene in Pacific Rim when the rebuilt Gipsy Danger is revealed both to Raleigh in the audience. The last time Raleigh saw Gipsy Danger was in the battle where his brother and copilot was killed and the Jaeger itself was badly damaged. Because the movie has been following Raleigh so closely up to this point, it’s impossible not to catch some of the emotions that Raleigh himself feels at seeing the giant mech again.
Last, but certainly not least, in the Lord of the Rings we have the turning point in the battle at Helm’s Deep, when Gandalf returns with Eomer in tow. I should point out here that the version of this that I personally found most moving is actually the movie version. In the books, it’s a different commander who arrives with Gandalf, as Eomer is already in Helm’s Deep with the others. In the movies, though, it’s the very fact that Eomer was exiled that made it so powerful. Well. That and the gorgeous cinematography as our heroes’ reinforcements arrive from the east on the dawn of the third day.
At first blush, it might not seem like the third example fits with the others all that well, but let me try to explain. In all of these, we have something strong, working for good, that was broken. The Normandy was destroyed. Gipsy Danger was damaged badly enough to put it out of commission. Eomer, despite his loyalty to his king, was forced into exile because of Wormtongue’s machinations. And then, despite all odds, they come back. A new, better Normandy is built and returned to Shepard’s command. Gipsy Danger is repaired and piloted again to save the world. Gandalf brings Eomer back to save the lives of his king (and uncle!) and his people. And it all happened when the audience wasn’t quite expecting it. Or maybe, when the audience wasn’t quite daring to hope for it, because it seemed too impossible. And that, I think, is part of what makes this such a strong storytelling technique.
As a Christian, I find it impossible not to connect this to Christ’s death and resurrection as well. We have the loss in the crucifixion, followed by the period of hopelessness and sorrow and uncertainty about how things were going to go forward. And then he came back. And it wasn’t the end after all.
As you might have noticed if you’ve read any of the excerpts and stories from Tanner and Miranda’s adventures, Miranda is unapologetic and tends not to waffle. As you may have noticed from reading pretty much any of my blog posts… I am not. Certainly not to the same degree, at least. We can read more into that later. For now, I’ll just add that this makes writing from Miranda’s perspective (which I’m doing– I swear!) occasionally tricky, particularly when I’m out of practice (which I definitely am). My prose keeps ending up with extra words that I would say, and Miranda never would, and I end up glaring at my screen and deleting the offending phrases, only to realize that I still haven’t said what I need to say. I know I should just accept the rough draftiness of it and just push through, content to ruthlessly chop out said phrases later, but the part of me that wants to go slow and get it “right” the first time is still winning out.
The whisper of my breath filled my helmet. Its odor mixed with the smell of my sweat and complete exhaustion. The faint fog of it clung to the inside of the face shield, dimming my view, though not so much that I could pretend that the scorched control panel in front of me would ever function again. I stared at it anyway and delayed making the comm back to the ship. Maybe if I didn’t say anything it would stop being true.
My comm chirped in my ear anyway, and I sighed. So much for that idea. “Go ahead,” I answered.
My husband’s voice came crackling over the connection. “What’s the bad news, Alice?”
“The gate’s shot,” I said. “Doesn’t look like we’re making it home for dinner.”
Or ever. But we both knew that.
“Copy,” he said, and then went quiet.
And we mourned.
We’d known it would happen, that it was the only likely outcome. We’d run the scenarios. We’d looked at every other possibility when the wormhole opened, anything that could save our galaxy without stranding us in this one. We’d tried a dozen different things, only to have them fail one way or another— because the theory wasn’t sound, because the tech just couldn’t handle it, because time ran out. The fact that the radiation from the other side was harmless until it reacted with the radiation from our own galaxy didn’t mean a thing. It was a quirk of nature, but deadly all the same. And in the end, this was our only option: fly through ourselves and set things right.
Close the gate. Save the galaxy.
Get back through if you can. But that’s not the primary objective.
I closed my eyes and let myself hang there, floating in the vacuum at the end of my tether while the greater part of myself insisted that there must be a way out, if only we kept on looking. It offered up all the cliches: we’d come so far, we’d done so much, it couldn’t end this way.
But that’s only true in a certain kind of story.
My comm chirped again, and I opened my eyes. The control panel was still there, still destroyed. The gate pylon was still inert, still damaged far beyond our means to repair. The expanse of a foreign galaxy still stretched out infinitely in every direction, and I couldn’t bring myself to look at it.
I shook my head, as if that was enough to clear it. It worked well enough. “I’m here.”
“I’m ready to bring you back inside. Whenever you’re ready.”
“Copy that. I’m ready now.” A pause, and then I added my quiet thanks.
It didn’t take long to haul me in at the end of the tether. The fastenings on the belt of my suit pulled taut and the pylon sank away and out of reach. I watched it and only it until my feet touched down on the airlock floor; the strange stars would cause me too much pain.
Gray, my husband, pulled open the door and met me as soon as the airlock finished cycling. I leaned into his chest, let his arms wrap around me, let him hold me. I breathed in his scent, the last remnants of his deodorant and his sweat and the unique smell that only belonged to him.
“I don’t want to be stuck here,” I whispered, though the words hardly made it past the knot that had grown in my throat. “I don’t want this to be the end.”
“It’s not,” he murmured, his lips pressed against my hair. “It’s not.”
It was a platitude. An empty, hopeless platitude. A flash of rage passed through my brain, all violence and panic and gut-deep wrath. I stiffened, chewing on the words of a dozen different diatribes that rose up from my chest. Only the simplest came out.
“It is. It is.” I pushed away. “The pylon’s dead. The control is dead. Our galaxy is ten million light years away, and even if our ship could cross that distance, we’d be eons dead before it brought us home. And so would everyone we’ve ever loved. We knew it when we volunteered. We knew it and we came anyway.”
“So we find another way,” said Gray.
“There is no other way!” I choked out the words and hissed them past my teeth. “That’s why we said goodbye.”
We both retreated to our own ends of our little ship, our fifty yard prison, me to the engine room, him to the bridge. I drowned myself in a dozen mindless repairs, all the little things that wear apart with everyday use, all the things our mission had stressed to a breaking point. The work was simple, and my hands knew their tasks. Each problem was the sort of thing I’d solved a thousand times before. Each thing fixed was a salve to my thrashing mind, though only when I kept my fears at bay. I didn’t worry how Gray spent his hours.
A day passed. Another followed. We came together at meals— sometimes— but didn’t speak. We slept in the same room, but not with each other. He wanted us to talk, but I had no words to say anything that mattered.
We stayed at the pylon longer than we needed to, until I’d fixed everything on the ship that I could possibly fix and a few more things besides. We might have never moved, but while the ship’s stores were well-stocked, they would not last forever. Better we move on now, while the choice was ours to make and not desperation’s.
Find a planet. Refill our stocks of food and water and medicine and fuel, whatever we could find. Keep floating on.
I saved the location of the pylon into the computer before we left. I wasn’t sure why. The thing hadn’t shown any indication that it would or could return to life. But it seemed the thing to do.
Or maybe I just couldn’t bring myself to let it slip away forever.
In a week, the worst of my grief dulled to a different, deeper sort of pain. A resignation. Or a sort of healing, if a twisted, tender scar is healing. But I began to speak again, and chose to forgive or forget my husband’s well-meant hope and optimism. It hardly seemed important now, as the pylon fell farther and farther behind, and our daily life revolved more and more around survival and less and less around thoughts of getting home.
We found planets and moons and asteroids that held what we needed. Sometimes it was just scraps, the barest bits to keep us going. Sometimes it was more, or almost everything. Sometimes when we sat together on the bridge and the scan came back with its promises of life and riches we would exchange a look.
“We could stay,” I might say. “Scuttle the ship, make a home.”
And Gray might think, might ponder, might muse. “Maybe the next planet. The sunlight here is wrong.”
And so we wouldn’t. We would land and fill our stores, and then we’d leave and fly back to the endless stars. And we’d whispers to each other that we still might find some way back to our other home, safe in the knowledge that it could never happen.
Until it did, on a rocky moon that should have only offered us a little fuel, but showed us an ancient, alien colony instead. A colony like the one we’d found in our first galaxy. A colony that held the tech that we’d been studying when the wormhole opened and the whole of creation began to crumble.
We stared down at it through the viewport, as if our naked eyes could see the empty buildings. Three years had passed. A thousand days. Grief and terror had faded and given way to mere exhaustion and routine. And then somewhere, somehow, exhaustion had yielded to curiosity and the giddiness that came with the knowledge that an entire galaxy was at our fingertips, all full of things no one had ever seen. And there was nothing at all to stand between us and a million new discoveries but our own decisions.
“You were right,” I said. “There is a way.”
Gray remained quiet for a long, long while. “I guess there is,” he said. “But we said goodbye.”
And so we left the ruins to themselves, staying only long enough to refill our stores of fuel and choose our next coordinates. By habit, I almost saved the location of the tiny moon to the computer before we left, but a thought stopped my hand. Gray saw me and shook his head, and I let the void swallow the coordinates instead. The galaxy was bigger without them.
At the best of times, I am not the most patient of people. This was not the best of times. I was cold, wet, and hungry. I was tired– exhausted, even. I had watched a weekend that was supposed to be a welcome shred of rest go from bad to worse to something so unfathomably, irredeemably ridiculous that I could feel the hysteric laughter bubbling up the back of my throat. If someone said I looked like I was at the end of my rope, I would inform them that my rope had snapped sometime last week. Or I’d just cut to the chase and bite their head off.
Sometimes it’s just fun to write Miranda. Okay, scratch that. It’s usually a whole lot of fun to write Miranda. And the bit above is no exception. There’s a certain catharsis to getting inside her head when she’s about ready to start (or finish?) a fight, and if you said that might reveal more about me than anything else, I’d smile and shrug and admit that you’re probably right. And then I’d remind you that that’s half of what makes it so much fun.
So, recently I’ve come to realize that I’m actually pretty bad at writing physical descriptions of my characters. By which I mean, mostly, that I forget to do it. Because a lot of times I have at least some vague idea in my head of what my characters look like. Probably not as solid an idea as I ought to, but then, that feeds into the whole “bad at writing physical descriptions” thing.
On the one hand, I don’t think this is the end of the world, because even if I never say what color hair someone has, as long as I can reliably tell (or rather, show) you how they would react in a given situation, then I’ve at least got things moving in the right direction. For example, it’s far more important to know that Miranda’s first instinct is to punch a problem in the face (as opposed to, say, attempting diplomacy) than it is to know that she has brown hair. Which she does, by the way!
On the other hand, though, neglecting someone’s physical description while writing fiction can make it harder to fully and consistently flesh out a character. A character whose height tops out around five feet will quite literally view the world differently than one who is six-foot-six. They also might find it easier to hide in crowds. Or more difficult to convince someone that they’re a threat. Given that, it’s hard to argue that a character’s physical appearance is actually unimportant at all.
Which, if I follow my own logic, probably means that I should put a little time into actually writing down what Tanner and Miranda (and all the rest of my cast) actually look like. Because at the moment, I think the only thing I have written down in any of the stories is Miranda’s height.
“See if I let you go investigate anything on your own ever again,” I muttered. “‘I’ll be careful,’ you said. ‘It’s nothing,’ you said.” My mutter became a growl as I lost my footing on the steep slope and half fell, half slid a few feet down. Somehow, I stopped myself before tumbling off the edge and down the rest of the way to the canyon floor below.
Tanner wasn’t around to hear my rant, but that wasn’t about to stop me. With all the practice I was getting, once I finally got to deliver it to my brother’s face it was bound to be a rant to end all rants. It would remain unparalleled for all eternity. It would be the platonic ideal of a rant. Or at least one that would make him think twice about getting himself captured while gallivanting around without backup.
I tried not to think too hard about the fact that I was doing more or less the same thing.
Hey, look! An excerpt! This is one of the stories I’ve been looking forward to writing, mostly because it puts Tanner and Miranda in a situation that I haven’t played with much: on their own. But the question remains… do they get into more trouble when they’re together or when they don’t have each other to hold them back?
All things considered, the Duster Gang’s hideout was one of the best ones I’d seen. For one thing, they hadn’t set up shop in the Outlands, and I appreciated the change of scenery. For another, the panoramic view of the valley was truly impressive, and made moreso by the clear and cloudless sky: unless I missed my guess, that smudge off to the southwest was Coville itself. But the best part was the water.
There was a whole pool of it in the deepest part of the cave: cold, sweet water. As soon as Tanner and I saw that, it made sense how the eight scruffy miscreants we had tied up and disarmed in the mouth of the cave had been able to run their cattle rustling outfit for as long as they had. It was one thing to have enough water for a handful of people. It was another entirely to be able to keep twenty or thirty head of stolen cattle in good condition while you waited for a chance to sell them off.
Somehow, I managed to avoid venting my spleen until after we were out of Kemp’s earshot. Or until I thought we probably were. Or could argue to Tanner that I thought we were when it turned out he heard us—or rather, me—after all, and it came back to bite us. Not that he didn’t deserve every word I said, of course, but working with a butthurt and testy ranger would just be working for trouble.
So, I waited until we were out of earshot. Probably. And then I let loose with nine hours worth of frustration and righteous annoyance.
“…and he’s probably just working as a ranger so he can get filthy rich,” I finished. It didn’t sound right even as the words left my mouth, but I didn’t particularly care.
Tanner raised one eyebrow. “I’ll ask Paul next time we see him how that’s going for him.”
I glared at him. He would derail a perfectly good rant with a quick dose of logic.
“Alright, look. I’m the first person to admit that the last job got a little out of hand.” That was, of course, not strictly true. Or true at all, really, but admitting that would undermine the point I was trying to make. “But don’t you think this might be a bit of an over-correction?”
The “this” in question was the job that Tanner had just finished telling me about. It was a bit of a departure from our usual fare, if only because we wouldn’t be getting paid to do it.
“Actually, I’ve been wanting to do this for a while. We just couldn’t have afforded it until now.”
“So, you’re saying that letting Surr hire us was a good idea after all?”
Tanner narrowed his eyes. “No. And don’t push it. But we did, and there’s no reason we can’t make something good come out of it.”
He was baiting me; I could tell by the wicked twinkle in his eye. That, and he was my brother. It was usually a good bet.
“See, I thought having money in the bank account was something good.” Of course I took the bait. What else was I supposed to do with it?
“It is. But only because of what we can do with it.”
“I should have known you were going to go all philosophical with that.”
He grinned. “You really should have.”
I signed. “Fine.” Then I grimaced. “I don’t know if there’s any way to say this that won’t make me look like a heartless mercenary, but I’m going to try anyway.”
“You know, it’s never a good sign when you have to lead with that.”
I did know, but that didn’t mean I was about to let it stop me. “You have a point, and I’m not trying to say that we shouldn’t do this. I actually think it’s a good idea, truly. But this whole thing is going to be a bigger…” I waved my hands around and tried to come up with a better word than the one that first came to mind. I failed. “A bigger thing than the jobs we get paid for. If it all goes south, we’re not going to have a lot to fall back on.”
I didn’t mention that this particular job seemed at least as likely to go off the rails as the aforementioned and much maligned Surr job. Because doing so would invite a little too much scrutiny into the nature of a whole bunch of our jobs, and we’d need more time for that discussion. That was strange. If I didn’t know better, I’d think I was being the voice of reason to our little family enterprise. What was the world coming to?
“I’ve thought about that. And first, I don’t expect things to go sideways.” I opened my mouth to remind him that that was exactly how we were going to get jinxed, but he waved me off before I could get the words out. “But, even if they do, we’ve got enough people around here who like us now that we’d be okay. Heck, if we get hurt trying to help out the whole colony, Folks around here are going to make sure we’re taken care of.”
I narrowed my eyes. “You’ve been thinking about this for a while, haven’t you?”
“A bit, yeah. I just didn’t want to bring it up until we had the foundation to make it possible. Or at least something other than a patently bad idea.”
A part of me still wanted to argue the point. It might not be a bad idea anymore, but I wasn’t sure that meant it was a good idea. More like an idea that involved a whole lot of risk and not much in the way of reward. Not for us at any rate. The only problem was that while it wasn’t the best set of circumstances for us personally, if we succeeded in pulling it off, it was undeniably going to make things better for the colony as a whole. And that gave me the sinking feeling that the only reason I was really balking at it was the selfish thought that it wasn’t going to be worth our time. Maybe it wasn’t the only reason, but it was probably the biggest reason. And I didn’t like that.
And that’s how Tanner and I ended up offering our services to a group heading out into the deep Badlands with the intention of setting up some basic defenses for the group that was already out there figuring out a way to safely provide more water for the growing colony.
Now. Before we go on, let me do a little to mitigate some of the damage done to my reputation by admitting that I was less than enthusiastic about the idea of offering our services free of charge, despite how important an endeavor it was. First, despite the fact that it was deeply important, it wasn’t an urgent problem. Not yet, at any rate. But the colony was going to be growing. A lot. Maybe not this year, and maybe not the year after that, but construction was already well underway on a sister ship to the Overland, and as technology continued to advance, it was growing easier and easier by steps to reach this planet. And that was without counting on whether or not the Anchor station tests continued going as well as they seemed to be. Because once that was done, things were going to be getting even more crowded out here.
Add to all that the fact that we had already heard for sure that there was another big colonization push going on back on Earth, and it didn’t take a civil engineer to figure out that we wouldn’t have anywhere near enough water to go around once everyone showed up. So, instead of waiting until everyone was actually on their way and we were all living just short of disaster, a number of bright minds among the Verdant colonists decided to get together to do something about it before it became a problem. They had tried to get official backing from any number of the colony companies back on Earth, but hadn’t gotten more than what amounted to token support. Certainly, they hadn’t gotten the financial backing that would make it easy to pay for the time of a couple of freelancers at the going rate, and the defense system they had provided, while not terrible, was certainly not top of the line, either.
It just so happened that Tanner and I were going to be able to help with both of those.
“Miranda, get back in bed or I’ll break your other leg.”
That was my brother’s version of compassion for the wounded. But, as I was only ninety-nine percent sure that he wasn’t serious, I muttered something derogatory about his bedside manner and limped and crutched my way back to my sickbed and dropped back onto it. I also let my crutches clatter to the floor in a noisy protest. It was an exercise in cutting off my nose to spite my face, of course, since I was going to be the one to have to pick them up next time I wanted to get around the room, but for now, I allowed myself to take some pleasure in annoying my brother.
“I’m not useless, you know,” I said. “I can still help.”
Tanner didn’t turn around as he answered me. “Sure. Right until the pain meds kick in. We went through this yesterday.”
And the day before, and the day before that. Though, granted, yesterday had been the worst.
“Fine,” I grumbled. “But don’t come complaining when you can’t find any leads.”