Arc 2, Expectations 12

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“Danny, sit.  Ali and I will explain.”

Danny looked behind himself and slowly sat, in his too-short chair, looking at me, Anne, and then at Ali, in turn.

I turned and looked at Ali.  He had a big, beaming grin on his face.  From the corner of my eye, I could see Anne frowning as she looked at Ali, but she remained silent.

I started to speak, “Ali, we agreed; you are not going to pretend to be my son.”

Anne’s head tracked from Ali to me, and her brow furrowed slightly.  I noticed, and considered what I had just said.  There were two ways the statement could be parsed.  Anne’s expression clearly indicated she caught it.

Need to clear this up soonest.

I spoke to Anne directly.  “Ali is not my son; he’s…” my voice was replaced by the sound of a squeaky toy as I tried to say Ahmed’s name, startling me.  I jumped a little.

Anne and Danny started looking at me extremely oddly.  I couldn’t blame them.

Ali was sitting in the chair, grinning at me.  “Telling who my father is wasn’t part of the agreement, Mr. Collins.”  He paused.  “Please don’t tell.  It’s not a big secret, but it doesn’t need to be common knowledge, and I’d rather not have to enforce my privacy after the fact, since we’re going to be working together.”

Threatening to mind-scrub my family.

I stared at Ali.  “I will not tell who your father is.  Do not pretend to be my son.  The reason I asked you not to pretend to be my son is that it might harm my family in the long term.”  I paused.  “Despite appearing to understand that, the first thing you said after I got my family together to discuss you was a statement with potential to hurt my family.”

Ali stared back at me.  I could look him in the eyes easily, unlike his father.  We locked gazes.

Several seconds later, Anne spoke.  “Zeke, what’s going on here?  Who is this?  How are you going to work with someone this young?”

“Ali is much more than he appears to be, Anne.  He’s a Jinn.  A genie.  A young one.  He’s spent the last several hundred years pretending to be preadolescent.  Do you want to tell this, Ali?”

“Nope, you’re doing fine.”  Ali smiled widely.

That damn grin again.

I’m going to hate him in a week.

“It’s hard to believe, but magic is apparently real, as Ali just demonstrated with my voice.  I can’t make a noise like that.”  I paused. “My shadow body is magical.”

Anne looked at Ali.  “Several hundred years?  Did you spend any time on farms?”

Ali nodded.  “Sure did.  Farmers had fewer neighbors, fewer people that might notice mysterious new kids and need to have their memories adjusted.”

Anne made a little acknowledgement noise in her throat before continuing.  “OK.  I grew up on a farm too, and my grandmother lived with us and taught me a few things that most children in this day and age won’t know.  If I asked you to help me card wool, what would you say?”

She’s challenging his age first?

Ali grimaced.  “I would say that sheep are smelly animals, and I did my fair share of willowing, lapping, carding, and drawing wool before humans controlled electricity.  I spent about a hundred years working in early textile mills as well, before child labor laws.”  He arched his eyebrow at Anne.  “Would you like to hear some stories about industrial accidents involving children in the early textile industry?”

“How many did you cause?” Danny asked, staring hard at Ali.

Ali paused.  “Danny, I prevented them in the factories I worked in while I worked in them.  If the owners were lax on safety, when it was time for me to move to a new family, I would create an accident for myself that was horrendous enough to get the factory shut down or force the owners to consider safety more seriously.”

Anne looked a little disgusted.  “You manufactured gruesome deaths for yourself when you needed to move to a new family?”

Anne shook her head minutely.  She was apparently recognizing what she had just said reflexively, and realizing how absurd it sounded.

Ali looked at her calmly.  “Sure did.  It was my sister’s idea.  She’s a few hundred years older than me.  She’s pretending to be seventeen now.  Back then, she was pretending to be fifteen, and every time she saw the death or maiming of a human child in a mill she worked in, it made her furious, for weeks.  All of us who were pretending to be kids started to enact terrible accidents upon ourselves when we needed to move.  Peer pressure, you know.”  He shrugged.

I couldn’t help but interject.  “Wait.  Ali, are you trying to claim that it was a bunch of adolescent Jinn pretending to be horrible accident victims that got labor laws enacted?”

“Don’t call my sister a Jinn, she would be upset.”  Ali smiled slyly, clearly thinking mischievous thoughts.  A moment later, his smile faded.  “No.  We didn’t make it happen.  We helped give the humans who wanted kids out of industry more ammunition to use against the worst offenders.  It was happening to human children too, we just made sure our accidents were spectacular or noteworthy.”

Anne was clearly confused and irritated.  “This sounds like a fairy tale.”

I saw Danny nodding, agreeing with her.  Ali was also nodding.

Anne continued.  “What’s going on, Zeke?”  She paused and turned to Ali.  “If you are a Jinn, like the stories, can you do, you know, magical things and prove it?” She held her hands out a little in front of her and wriggled her fingers.

“Well, I don’t have to wriggle my fingers to do things, but yes.  I’m not really powerful, but I can prove what I am.”  He smiled.

I braced myself. “Ali, please do not do anything gruesome to yourself.”

Ali just looked at me and laughed.  “I wasn’t planning to.  Even though this fake body, what we call a seeming, isn’t really me, damaging a seeming hurts.  That’s one reason we made our deaths spectacular.  If we were going to put ourselves through the pain of injury sufficient to kill a human, and then spend the effort to fix the seeming afterwards before the next fostering, the death had to be noteworthy.”  He paused.  “You have all seen the old television show, I dream of Jiniri?”

We all nodded, looking at each other.

Ali continued.  “There’s a good bit of truth mixed into that show.  A practitioner or perhaps even a Jinn or Jiniri or some other intelligent magical being clearly helped the writers, somehow.”

I smiled.  “Maybe it was your father.”

“That’s possible.  He’s well known for his tricks, and he’s expressed irritation at how Jinn and Jiniri have chosen to hide from humans since you started keeping written histories.  He obeys the consensus, mostly, but it chafes him, I know.”

I was only kidding.

I’ll ask about that later.

Danny broke in.  “Dad, sorry to be a spoilsport here, and interrupting the story.”  He turned to Ali.  “If Ali can prove he’s a magical being, I’d like to see it rather than hear about it.”

Anne was looking at me suspiciously, but there wasn’t much anger in her eyes now.

She thinks Ali and I are pranking.

Ali looked at Danny.  “You’re one of those science geek types aren’t you?”

Danny looked a bit puzzled for a moment, and then agreed. “If you mean I’m an empiricist, yes.  Show me your magic in a way I can sense it.”

Ali scooted himself to the edge of his chair, slid off onto the floor, and started walking towards Danny’s room.  “OK, follow me, I’ll show you something in my room.”

Anne, Danny, and I all did a double take at that.

Danny spoke confidently, “You don’t have a room here.  There are two bedrooms.  Mine and my parents’.  Please don’t go into my room; I don’t know you.”

Ali shrugged as he continued to walk towards Danny’s room.  “The door to your room is on the left.  Mine’s on the right.  C’mon, you wanted proof, right?  Let me prove myself.”

Danny was right, there were only two bedrooms, and Ali certainly didn’t have a room for himself in the apartment.  I stood up and looked towards the wall where the door to Danny’s room was.  There were two identical doors, one next to the other.  The look on my face apparently convinced Danny to lean around his chair and look.

As he got himself turned around to see the wall with his door in it, Danny’s right elbow slipped where he was leaning on the armrest to look around the edge of the chair.  As Danny struggled to rebalance himself, the only noise he made was “Ack,” followed by muttering.

Anne was still seated, with all her attention on me as I stood, ignoring Danny and Ali.  When Danny made the startled noise, she turned to look at him.

Danny got himself under control and hauled himself out of the too short chair with a muttered curse, and stood up like me to look at the wall with two doors where there had been only one.  With both Danny and I standing there looking dumbstruck, Anne stood up to look for herself as Ali opened the right-side door, and it was most certainly not Danny’s room that we saw inside.

What the fuck?

Danny certainly didn’t have either plants or thick patterned throw rugs in his room.  There was a brief breeze carrying a strong scent of cinnamon.

Ali turned to look at us.  “I offer to prove to you that I’m a Jinn, and all you can do is stand there with your mouths open?  Come here, take a look.  I won’t bite, though I would strongly suggest you not enter my room without permission.  I’ve been creating my own personal space now for a couple hundred years, if you mess it up, I won’t be pleased.”

Danny kept looking at the door.  Anne tore her eyes away from the door and looked at me.  “This is real, Zeke?  We didn’t have enough weirdness in our life?  You adopted some magical kid sidekick?”

Ali was looking a bit irritated, so I tried to get us moving towards his room.  “Anne, Danny… Ali is demonstrating his ability in good faith, as asked, and we are not appreciating it.  Danny asked him to demonstrate in a way we can sense it.  Let’s allow him show us.  I will tell you how this happened after we allow Ali to show us a few things.”

Ali looked at me seriously, briefly, and nodded.  “Thank you, Mr. Collins.”

I collected Danny, and Anne, gently prodding them to join me and look at what Ali wanted to show us.  After a few minutes of Ali’s carefully orchestrated demonstration of the contents of the room, there really wasn’t much doubt that Ali was something more than human.  His room was at least twice the floor space of the entire Enclave apartment.  Anne was looking bewildered, and Danny looked like had a headache.  If I hadn’t been dealing with being a giant spongy-shadow guy with an anger field power for the last few months, and prepared for all this by my interactions with Ahmed and Ali, I’d probably have been more impressed.

Ali did not have the tastes of a human boy of eight.  The art, furniture, and arrangements were all first class and beautiful. As we walked from place to place, the transitions were smooth, with no jarring breaks in decor.  There were no games that I saw, other than a chess set with a game in progress.  The books were all well-bound hardbacks, heavy and durable, most had a look of extreme age.

As we were leaving the room, Anne complimented Ali, “Ali, the room is incredible.  Thank you for showing it to us.  You connected this place to the houses of people whose children had to work in factories in the early industrial revolution?  They didn’t notice?”

“No, I can put the door to this room wherever I want.  The effort involved in keeping people from seeing a room like this permanently attached to their house would be excessive.  I have a couple more rooms that are far plainer, and easy to modify.  Those are the rooms I use when I am fostering with a family.  This room is where I go for myself, when I can.”

Ali closed the door behind us and continued.  “Please, as I said before, do not try to enter my room without my permission.  Nothing permanent will happen to you, but it will be decidedly uncomfortable.”

Danny asked quietly, “Ah, Ali, what exactly are you?  I mean, you say you are a Jinn, but how do you fit into the world?  Animals all have things they do in the world, evolutionary niches.  Even humans.  How do your kind fit in?”

Ali stopped walking back towards his chair and turned slowly to peer curiously at Danny.  “No, you really aren’t magically gifted.  Ah well.  Good question.  In the magical world, Jinn are an analog of humanity.  Top of the food chain except for the more potent gods humans have created.  I’m a small fry for one of my kind.  My father is one of the oldest.  He survived the creation of Earth’s Moon.  It’s one of his favorite stories to tell.”

We all stared, expecting Ali to say “Just kidding.” Or something to retract that statement.

Ali looked back at us and huffed a little bit.  “It’s true.  My father and some of his family were lucky enough to be on a part of the Earth’s crust that stayed mostly intact when the collision happened.  The ley lines there stayed intact enough to feed them until the rest of the planet and the new Moon settled into a new natural order and ley lines expanded again as the Earth’s crust healed.  He and his family had to fight off hundreds of starving Jinn and other magical beings, or everyone would have died.”

Acting like an eight-year-old seems to be a hard habit to break.

Still, it’s an amazing story.

We’ll never know if it’s really true or not.

Anne, Danny, and I just stared at one another.

Anne recovered first.  “Zeke, why?  Why introduce us to this?  Why are you working with him?  Why are we being given this knowledge?”

Good question.

“Let’s all sit again before I explain.”  I addressed Ali directly.  “Ali, please no more bombshell explanations or stories until I’m done.”

“OK, Mr. Collins.”  Ali finished walking towards the chair he had claimed and hopped up onto it.  Anne automatically started to say something to him, but abruptly closed her mouth.  Walking on the furniture was something we had never allowed Danny to do, more for safety than for the furniture’s sake.  Ali was a bit different, and Anne probably decided to let it slide because starting an argument would only delay her answers.  Or she was afraid of him.

“Ali, when possible, please do not walk on the furniture.  Anne and I will automatically try to react and tell you not to, because that’s how we raised Danny, and he resisted it.  We know you aren’t going to fall and hurt yourself, but it’s a habit of ours.”

Danny spoke up.  “You said you were pretending to be eight.  Could you pretend to be a bit bigger as an eight-year-old?  I’ve known some eight-year-olds that were nearly five feet tall.  If you were that tall, you wouldn’t have to jump or climb to get onto adult-sized furniture.”

Ali looked at me and asked.  “Can I explain?”

I nodded.

Ali leaned back in his chair and shrugged.  “I created this seeming two hundred years ago with my father’s help.  It’s a really difficult and complex thing.  It grows as I do.  There’s a patterning to it, a lot like DNA.  In fact, it’s modeled after DNA in a lot of ways, which is why it’s so complex.  It’s almost a living spell.”  He paused.  “Changing it would take me weeks of study, and I’d have to consult with my father as well, just to be sure I really knew what I was doing.  While I am with your family, I might be able to spend that time, but it’s not something I can snap my fingers and make happen.”

A limitation.  Good.

I sat down and leaned back.  After Danny and Anne had sat, I leaned forward and started explaining.  “OK, Anne, Danny, here’s the reason why Ali has been attached to me.  As they said to us before, the Enclave is going to be using me as a ‘heavy’ which is at least sometimes going to put me in contact with supers that are toxic and uncontrollable, who need to be put down.”

Anne muttered “An executioner?”

I let it pass.  Moral arguments could and certainly would come after explanations.

“Hopefully, that won’t be all they use me for because I really don’t want to be an assassin, but it was made pretty clear that people will die around me, because I’m going to be dropped into bad situations when help has been called for by other heroes.”

I paused.  “The reason I’ve been paired with Ali is related to how my power works.  The shadow form is a magical construct called a ‘soul well’ that has melded with me.  When someone dies in my anger field, their soul is consumed by the soul well, transferred into magical energy, and can be tapped by any magical being or practitioner that can touch me.” I paused before continuing.  “Apparently, magical beings and at least some magic practitioners can protect themselves from, or ignore the anger field, and would then be able to touch me and siphon the energy from my shadow form, and use it for their own purposes.  It’s apparently even possible for humans to use me to become a god, though I can’t do it for myself since I don’t have the magical gift.”

Anne thought for a moment.  “So Ali is more of a guard dog for you than a partner?  He’s there to keep others from using your power?”

“Yes, and no.”  I paused.  “Ali is going to be a line of defense to keep others from misusing my power, so the guard dog comparison is good.  He’s also going to be responsible for distributing the power collected when people die around me, and will distribute it to powerful beings, like gods, who might have serious issues with me carrying around a whole lot of magical energy.”

Ali was nodding at this point.  Anne looked at him, and then back at me.  “They chose a juvenile Jinn to do this because he would be the least threatening way to collect the power and distribute it?”

“Got it in one, Anne.  Jinn apparently grow by using magic, not consuming it.  By collecting the magic from my soul well and passing it on to gods and such, Ali will grow, so he gets some benefit out of the deal.”

“The more people die around you, the more he will grow?” Danny asked Ali.

“Yes.  I thought of that, Danny, and it’s been addressed in the contract.  I choose who dies.  Now and then I might need help from Ali, and I’m sure he will mostly be happy to help, but he isn’t going to be helping himself grow by increasing my kill count without me asking him to.”

Ali looked at me, briefly, with an irritated expression.  He was likely irritated because I had answered a question asked to him, but the glance was only momentary.  “Except practitioners.  Any practitioner that shows up around you is almost certainly going to be seeking to collect power from you.  You are dangerous, and so am I.”

That was something I needed to know more about.  “I still don’t exactly understand that, Ali.  Can you explain it better?  Why are you so sure we won’t run into practitioners by accident?  I did notice the wording in the contract, but I didn’t know how common practitioners are.  I still don’t.  Please clarify what you can.”

“One of the first things any human practitioner learns after they can begin to mold magic is how to create an aversion ward.  I have never seen a practitioner without one.  It warns them of danger, like the danger sense that some supers have, except it’s not really handy in a fight.  It’s a long-range aversion sense, not a short-range combat sense.  Any practitioner that approaches you will be in serious danger from me.”

Ali buffed his knuckles on his chest and clenched his hands into fists with a grin.  “This will deter almost any practitioner because Jinn, even little ones like me, are seriously dangerous to practitioners if we choose to be, and I will choose to be very aggressive if they approach you.  If they have an aversion ward active, thinking specifically about approaching you to collect power from your soul well is going to give them a warning that will feel like a brick in the face.”  He paused a moment.  “Even simply thinking about travelling near you is going to make them very nervous and they will take another path if at all possible.  The closer an unintentionally approaching practitioner gets to you and me, the more their aversion ward will act to make it clear that there is a danger ahead.”

I considered that.  “So, if a practitioner does approach me, they are going to be either stupid or aggressive?”

“There are very few stupid practitioners.  Being able to harness magic at all typically requires a degree of intelligence beyond normal humans.  There are prodigies who can use magic they really don’t understand, but they normally get themselves killed in short order.  Magic in the hands of the unintelligent is extremely unkind.  Most unintelligent magical prodigies are never taught at all and have their gift stripped from them to protect them from themselves.  The Black Lodge sometimes uses gullible magical prodigies though, training them in such a way that they never learn about aversion wards.  The unfortunates are then normally used as part of a greater plan that the Black Lodge needs a distraction for.”

An early warning system.

Must be nice.

“So that’s one reason some practitioners live as long as they do.”

“Exactly.  Magical health maintenance is another.  It doesn’t take a lot of magic to address natural entropic forces acting on human biology.”

Anne spoke up.  “So if a practitioner shows up near Zeke, and they don’t have an aversion ward, can you give them one?”

Ali paused.  “I hadn’t considered that, but yes, I could.  That’s an elegant solution to the whole Black Lodge throwaway acolyte problem that I can’t remember hearing before now.  Put an aversion ward on a practitioner without one, who will almost always be a Black Lodge catspaw.  Then tuck a little document explaining it into a pocket, and that catspaw might not only leave me and Mr. Collins alone, but probably also recognize that they are in danger from the Black Lodge too.  A human practitioner couldn’t manage that, but a Jinn or Jiniri could in most scenarios.”  He paused a moment.  “I bet my father will like that too.  I think he would have mentioned it if he had thought of it, so this might be new to him, and will make a fine gift.  Thank you, you have no idea how hard it is to get my father a gift he appreciates.”

It’s been less than two decades for me, and half of what I get are ties.

I understand completely.

Wearing the fish tie to an executive meeting the day after Fathers’ Day was fun.

“No problem.” Anne responded, smiling a bit.  “I imagine Fathers’ Day gets a little old after one has been around as long as your father.  Some years it’s hard to get Zeke a gift.”

Ali nodded enthusiastically enough to make me smile.  “You have no idea.  We mainly use Fathers’ Day to prank my father.  Now and then we give a real gift, when we think we have something useful or interesting.  New ideas and the social antics of humans are about all Father has left to amuse him.”

Ali’s expression grew serious.  “Going back to the Black Lodge acolytes who are trained in magic but not taught about aversion wards.  Mrs. Collins, that was something I worried about a little.  They normally don’t know they are being trained by the Black Lodge, and are typically clueless and innocent of anything more than maybe a bit of greed.  If I were to kill many innocents, it am certain it would drive wedges between your husband and me.  That’s important, and was a real worry.  Now it is less of a worry.”  He paused.  “This is an opportunity for growth for me, and while I am growing at a fast pace, I’ll be keeping some unscrupulous practitioners and heavyweight magical beings from hunting Mr. Collins for the power he will eventually contain if it’s not drained off and spread around.  You have offered an extremely useful idea that will help your husband and I work together with less conflict, thank you.”

Anne looked at me, then at Ali.  “You’re welcome Ali.  If it will help you avoid unnecessary killing and indirectly help Zeke, I’m glad I had an idea you think might be useful.”

Ali cocked his head a little, looking at Anne and I sitting next to one another on the couch.  “In exchange for your excellent idea, Mrs. Collins, I offer you a boon.  Can you think of a favor you might want from a Jinn?  Please, nothing like ‘world peace’ or ‘no more pollution.’  I’m a Jinn, not a miracle worker.  Large-scale social engineering or world-changing things are off the table.  Nor can you ask me to leave.  I’m under contract with Mr. Collins and the Grey Lodge, as well as a substantial number of gods and other very powerful magical beings.  The boon should be something personal to you or your family.  A prized possession lost or damaged, a family member with a fixable need, help at work or school that can be accomplished once, and not need constant re-organizing to maintain it.”

Anne looked at me, nervously.  “Can you make Zeke’s powers disappear, or at least be completely controllable?”

Ali looked at me carefully, before shaking his head slowly.  “No.  It would kill him if I tried to unravel the changing mechanisms either to remove them or to modify them.  His entire nervous system and his brain are linked into the mechanism for change, and it’s on both a physical and magical level.”

“I don’t know what to ask for then, Ali.  Money isn’t an issue for us, and I don’t know enough to ask for a safer place than this to live.  Most of the things I really care about are durable things.  My parents are in good health, and I’d have to ask their permission before having you do anything that would affect them.  I don’t know what you can do.”

“Dealing with uneducated non-practitioners is definitely challenging.  That’s part of the reason I’ve been so chatty about the nature of things.  We can fix ignorance over time; it’s certainly not your fault.”  Ali smiled, probably to show he was trying not to insult us.

Anne nodded.  “Zeke and I have done that before.  Lots of college classes to add to our verbal skills and knowledge.”

Ali looked at Anne with an expression of concentration for a moment. “OK, since you don’t know what you want, I think I see something you will agree with.”  He snapped his fingers with a flourish. “No more breast cancer, Mrs. Collins.”

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  1. farmerbob1

    We’ll be moving on from getting Ali settled in to more active things soon. I felt it was needful to demonstrate that Ali has limits. He’s not going to be a get out of jail free card for Zeke, and while he’s inhuman, he’s not just going to erase people for getting too close. Jinn and Jiniri generally have a mutually beneficial relationship with humans. We amuse them and keep them interested in the world. In return, they help us in little ways.

    Does this chapter give you that feeling?

    • Mian

      Mostly what I felt got established is “Yes, Zeke can work with Ali, without needing Ahmed around at all times.”
      A secondary point is that Ali does indeed have emotions, and is not purely selfish.

      The other stuff? it’s there, it’s just significantly less important.

    • AvidFan

      I think the most amazing thing about humans is their diversity. You can have a human who’s a saint, protects people and puts themselves in harms way to help someone. Then you get people who commit atrocities for enjoyment, hurt people because they can, and wouldn’t even blink to use their friends and family for their own gain. You just don’t find that in any other species. Humans are sick, sick monsters.

      • Bart

        You can find those traits in many other species. For instance, some dolphins are friendly peaceful creatures. Some dolphins rape other dolphins to death. Look it up, we’ve found the corpses on the California coastline, there’s about six per year or so. Many, many other species exhibit those traits, enough for us to generalize and say that any species with intelligence enough to not all be featureless drones are going to exhibit a range of traits.

  2. Fiona

    Was there supposed to be something between these two sentences?

    Ali nodded. “You have no idea. We mainly use Fathers’ Day to prank my father. Now and then we give a real gift, when we think we have something useful or interesting.”

    Ali’s expression grew serious. “This is something I worried about a little. If I were to kill innocents, it would drive wedges between your husband and me, Anne. That’s important. Can you think of a boon you might want? Please, nothing like ‘world peace’ or ‘no more pollution.’

    I’m not clear on how we got from Father’s Day to killing innocents to a boon for Anne.

    • Mian

      I got the shift from “fathers day” to “kill innocents”… (that’s what the “grew serious” is about, he’s switching subjects).
      It’s the next part that I don’t really get… except, I’m afraid I do.

      Ali is trying to Bribe Zeke with curing his wife’s cancer? Bwah?
      That has This Is A Bad Plan writ all over it.

      • farmerbob1

        I’m not sure you could call that bribing. Anne gave Ali an idea, and Ali repaid her for it. However, if you wanted to bribe Zeke with anything, his family’s health and well-being would be about the best possible place to start.

        • Mian

          The “repaid” bit was far from clear, that’s all (as originally written, the prior focus was on ‘killing innocents driving a wedge between us’ — a quick shift from that to “I’ll give you a boon!” sounded a heck of a lot like a bribe to me). It’s now greatly more clear, although I’d personally add an “In return” to the beginning of Ali’s lead-in…

    • farmerbob1

      The Father’s Day bit was an offshoot conversation. Ali starts the side-track, and ends it. I’ve rewritten that section some to clarify, because it was a bit muddy. Please let me know if it makes more sense now.

      What was happening there was:

      1) Anne offered a suggestion that Ali hadn’t considered, and his Father hadn’t mentioned to him.
      2) Ali thinks it’s workable and it strikes him that it might be something his father might appreciate, a gift of knowledge.
      3) They sidetrack, and talk about Fathers day a bit.
      4) Ali gets them back on track, and explains that what Anne offered as a suggestion greatly improves the potential for Ali and Zeke to work together long term. That will help him grow, and indirectly protect Zeke, through their partnership.
      5) Ali offers Anne a boon, but she doesn’t know what to ask for. He examines her for health issues and finds cancer, then cures it.

      • Fiona

        Thanks, I get it now. I just wasn’t making the connection between Anne’s idea above and what he was talking about below. Now it’s very clear, actually now you may have overexplained it in the revised text. I think it just needed one other bridging sentence or reference.

  3. thomas

    “No more breast cancer, Mrs. Collins.”
    I don’t think this qualifies as helping in little ways but it does help cement Ali’s position in the family. Z and Danny owe Ali in ways they can never repay now. Now, you need to convert the relationship from formal to informal, i.e., no more Mr. and Mrs.

    • Back then she was pretending to be fifteen
    Missing comma after then
    • All of us who were pretending to be kids started to enact terrible accidents where our current seeming would die when we needed to move.
    I understood after a little bit how Ali is using seeming here but it is confusing. You might consider persona or italicizing it.
    • Don’t call my sister a Jinn, she would be upset.”
    Missing opening quotation mark.
    • Ali stopped walking back towards his chair, and
    Comma not needed
    • Large scale
    Needs hyphen

    • farmerbob1

      Fixed / reworded / explained.

      Danny and Zeke sure do owe Ali, but I haven’t decided yet if Anne knew she had cancer, and if so, if she had told Zeke yet.

      If she knew, then Ali’s intervention will be welcome. If she didn’t know, she might have some problems dealing with the claim.

      And then there’s the whole mental issue too. Ali can play with their minds if he chooses to, and they know it. That’s one reason why he’s trying to open up to them a bit and let them see who he is, rather than just do his contractual duties.

      If they distrust him, nothing they know about him can be believed. Even if they trust him, there will still be trust issues whenever something unlikely, unfortunate, or perhaps too fortunate occurs. They will never have a comfortable relationship, no matter what, but they might have a workable relationship for a very long time if nothing blows up.

  4. Mian

    Omg. They didn’t ask for superpowers! (particularly one that might mitigate the Soul Well’s anger causing field).

      • Mian

        No, you don’t need to explain a thing (though you may if you’d like, you’re the writer).
        Just because I spotted a plothole doesn’t mean your characters would.

        • farmerbob1

          I know I don’t have to, but I probably will. Or I might work it into the end of this chapter in the section where Anne and Ali are discussing her boon.

  5. Bart

    I think I know what Zeke and Anne and Danny would really appreciate. “If you could make Anne and Danny, and maybe also Miss Perfect, live as long as Zeke will live for, in the same condition that he will be living for, with the stipulation that if they’re going to lose all mobility such as being ground up, mixed with clear plastic then dropped off into the deepest part of the ocean, or if they ever wish to die for some reason that they can simply die.” “Oh, wait, and also that their memory could be protected from ever being changed or rewritten by anyone except someone like a jinn.”

    • farmerbob1

      Ali might take exception to that request. The whole never dying thing would require a lot of micromanagement over time. Including defending his enchantments from others.

  6. Bart

    I really love this story and just binge-read it from the beginning. I think it’s an amazing story. I’m not sure whether it passes the Bechdel test, however, which is something that you might want to work on in the future. To do that, it must have at least two female characters, who talk with each other, about something other than a man. I think the only female characters we’ve had have been secretaries and people who only talk to a single man in the story, Anne, and Miss Perfect and the only tangential conversation that Anne and Miss Perfect have apparently had have been regarding Danny and/or Zeke, which doesn’t meet the Bechdel test. This is still an amazing story, which I really like, I just think you might want to work on that a little, down the road.

    • farmerbob1

      Interesting. I’ve never heard of the Bechdel test before. Since this story is intended to be from a first-person point of view of a middle-aged man, and I’m avoiding changing points of view in interludes, it might be a while before two women talk to each other about anything more than a sentence or two in random conversation. I suppose I had opportunities in fight scenes, but I don’t think combat quips between women would really count. There are certainly, eventually, going to be interactions between Anne and Miss Perfect, and it’s very likely that Ali’s elder sister might show up to either check on her little brother, cause mischief for him, or both.

      • Mian

        One doesn’t have to pass the Bechdel test to have strong female characters.
        (it’s far more useful in film, with its more omniscient narrative, anywhoo).

        I have the impression that most of your characters are white (in rural Georgia?)…
        Having folks of Color is another standard critique for “waspy authors” (I give every
        author at least one story before I start bitching. Build confidence first, then build range).
        But since Someone Else brought it up, it bears remindin’.

        • farmerbob1

          Heh I’ve got about 500k words in a few books in Symbiote already, there’s a link to it in my about page. I tend to completely ignore race, intentionally avoiding the topic because it’s really not hard for one to accidentally anger others when about race, especially when one identifies with being “white” even though I have a chunk of Algonquin and Iroquois in me. I do the same thing in real life. I couldn’t care less what color you are, if you treat me with respect.

          That being said, I have specifically attempted to avoid bringing race into this book. The only human character I can remember assigning a skin color to was Miss Perfect, and that was only to allow me to have Zeke see her blushing under her eyes when she was in her mask. She’s probably a white person, but might also be of Asian origins, or perhaps light-skinned but identifying with another race. Ali isn’t human, but I had to make him a red-headed stepchild. Just because. Ahmed is also not human, but adopts the appearance of a middle-eastern man.

          In fact, I am probably going to go back to writing Symbiote after I reach the end of a book here in Reject Hero. I plan to start over completely from scratch with Symbiote, I will salvage a couple characters I liked, and that others liked, but bring them in differently. A couple powerful scenes will probably be tweaked to retain them.

          I learned so much writing Symbiote! One thing I learned beyond simple story crafting things was that I have a tendency to power-creep. I intended that in Symbiote, it was part of the story arc, but even still, it got a bit out of control from time to time. Bob’s biggest enemy wasn’t others, it was himself, until the last book. Bob starts out human, and by the end of the books would probably be quite capable of surviving in most superhero universes as a combatant, if he was forced to.

        • Mian

          Ignoring race just means you get a bland, bland world

          Can you imagine what a black man would say to Zeke,
          if he was told “they took your family away?”
          … because that was a primary concern with slavery.

          I’ll actually be pretty disappointed if Zeke’s tinker business doesn’t involve a fairly active international presence, at some point. [Worried about screwing up other cultures? Have no fear, they’re tinkers — you’ve already written yourself an auto-bailout.]

        • farmerbob1

          Ah, the balance between a bland, bland world, and falling flat on my face trying to describe the world through the eyes of a culture that isn’t mine.

          I don’t even have the fallback/luxury of being far in the future, long after cosmetic appearance no longer has meaning. David Weber’s Honor Harrington universe, for example, mentions cosmetic differences in appearance and connects them to genotypes, but there is no recognition of ethnicity being important in the “present day” in the Honorverse, beyond the appearance of characters and the occasional moral nose-tweaking of some people in the series by ex-slaves.

          Going to try to put out a chapter tonight. I’ve been struggling with writers block here, and several other issues and projects not related to Reject Hero. I’ll complain / explain more after the next chapter 😛

        • Mian

          yeah, it’s tricky isn’t it. Helps if you’ve got some folks around to proofread your stuff.
          “This is lame and stereotypical…” (or whatnot).

          Plus, actually knowing people of other cultures helps to get you thinking about how other people think.
          Well, if all else fails, there’s always looking at other people’s blogs
          ( — here’s a lawyer from Philly’s…)

  7. VcSaJen

    “Reject Hero is the story of Zeke Collins, a middle-aged man who acquires powers and abilities beyond those of normal men, becoming part of the superhuman community. He wants to be a hero, but his peculiar powers are not exactly hero material. The heroes don’t want him on their side, not after he activates his powers near them in a fight. Everyone hates him when he uses his powers, even villains. Civilians hate his alter ego so much, they forced a name on him that he can’t escape. This is the story of the super-person, ‘Strangest’”
    Real story:
    0) Enclave screws him over, he’s pissed off, then placated with “wow, you’re so clever to see our scheme post factum”. Ad infinitum.
    1) Zeke’s origin superhero story is rudely interrupted. He never had a chance to answer “How to be hero” question, there’s no epiphany. He’s just forced to be executor.
    2) His alter-ego not really immortal anyway, nor everyone wants to kills him in that form.
    3) Superheroes/villains do not matter, we into magic and gods and fae now.
    We are already at halfway point, but there’s no hero stuff, only internal intrigues and blackmail.

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