At The End Of The World – Snippet 01
At The End Of The World
By Charles E. Gannon
Set in the Black Tide Rising world created by John Ringo
Truly excellent authors thrill and even startle us with the singular creativity and unique vision that spills from their pages. But in many cases, they cannot or will not take the risk of allowing others to work within their world.
However, many of the very best of these excellent authors do not merely permit, but invite and encourage colleagues to expand that original edifice of imagination. This is because they possess the confidence and wisdom to recognize that these enthusiastic additions only serve to enrich and adorn the world they brought into being. And in so doing, honor it.
This book is dedicated to one of those very best excellent authors: John Ringo
Thanks for letting me play in your outstanding sandbox, John.
My Journal, 2012
May 29 (revised)
My mom always had a knack for making friends. Friends who were men. If you know what I mean.
That’s probably not the best way to start the first journal I’ve ever kept. But if I don’t lead with and explain that, you’ll get the wrong impression of her and of how I came to be on a ship when the plague hit.
See, she didn’t want to leave me on my own in Los Angeles for a few weeks, but it was really the best move. For both of us. Ever since I was born, it was just the two of us. The deadbeat who was my biological father was out of the picture six months before I popped into the world. Then Mom’s otherwise super-religious Catholic family did a role reversal and tried to convince her that I shouldn’t be allowed to exist at all. Because: racism. They were worried I might have darker skin than theirs, apparently. Which is kind of weird, considering they were victims of discrimination their whole lives. But before they could disown my mom and me, she disowned them.
We managed to hang on in New York until I was about eight. Mom didn’t start out with a great job, but between weekends at the closest community college and a few online courses, she managed to earn an associate’s degree. That allowed her to get into executive assistant positions, at which she was pretty darn good.
And at every job, she always seemed to find friends. Friends who were men. It’s not like any of them took a lot of interest in me, but that was cool, because I knew what the deal was before I knew the words for it.
Now it’s easy to make all sorts of nasty assumptions about a person who will approach their career that way. But here’s the deal. Mom got better jobs by changing employers. And every time she got a new job, she needed a new ally, somebody who could keep her from being a victim of office politics or other bullshit. And while she always liked the men she dated at her job, this wasn’t the life she would have chosen for herself. I mean, with me along and no family, she didn’t have any margin for error.
But mom never said word one about that. She made sure I always had a quiet place to study, a patient ear to talk to, and, when needed, a single spank to set me straight when I was in danger of steering wrong. There was always food on the table, always a shoulder to cry on, always a person take care of the cuts and bruises that I got from all the fights. Which I didn’t win very often, cuz I’m not a big guy.
So it was kind of a surprise when we had to pick up and move out to L.A.. I’m not sure why things went south so quickly at her last job. She didn’t say much, which was unlike her. She usually tried to explain things to me like I was a grown up, but this wasn’t one of those times. Looking back, I’m guessing her man-friend at the last job got married and his new wife couldn’t stand him having his former squeeze in the same building. Which meant she squeezed my mom out of her job. And that put us on a bus to the sunny City of Angels.
I wasn’t too surprised that we didn’t see any angels. Instead, the real surprise was the cold climate we encountered in the Hispanic community. It hadn’t been like that back in New York. Maybe that was because there you were always surrounded by other ethnic groups and — since they are seen as the competition — you tended to be tightest with the people who came from the same culture and spoke the same language.
That wasn’t the case in California. In our neighborhood, you almost never saw anyone from any other culture. Where my mom worked, almost everybody at her level was a Latino or Latina — just not as skilled or experienced as she was. She was willing to share what she knew and to pay her dues, but they didn’t want her help or her friendship. They just wanted her out of the way.
Except there was one little problem with that. My mom was smarter and tougher than all of them put together. In just four years, she was working as an office manager. And of course, as she got better positions with each new change of employer, she always made new friends. Yeah, friends who were men.
Me, I wasn’t so lucky with our new home. My school was like her first workplace: wall-to-wall Latino and Latina. And, like my mom, I was The Outsider, the kid from the wrong Coast, the kid who didn’t fit, and the kid who was so small that he was pretty much sure to lose any fight he got into. Which the other boys spent a lot of time proving my first year there. However, unlike my mom, I couldn’t change my gig.
That’s why I got involved in aikido. I didn’t let anybody at school know about it because it had zero street cred. It didn’t look cool like kung fu or karate. And I was just one guy. So they didn’t notice any change, and I didn’t make any waves about it.
But when I got to high school, the guys with stubble on their chin decided to make me their punching bag again. I guess it was to prove that their cojones were as big as their egos. Bad surprise for them. But I had to be smart about when and where I was willing to let something get physical.
See, if you think there’s any honor left in big-city public high schools, you clearly haven’t been in one recently. That’s why I had to keep the fights as private as possible: one or two bystanders at most. That way, when a bully got dumped on his ass by a pipsqueak like me, almost no one saw or heard about it. And if I didn’t open my yap, he sure wasn’t going to either. Which, in turn, made him less willing to take a second chance at it.
So by the time I was ready to graduate, I was pretty much left alone. I’d been an okay swimmer, a pretty fair soccer player by any standard outside of the Latin and Jamaican communities, and yeah, I did pretty well in school. Salutatorian, with A’s in pretty much everything except art. My rendering of the human form really hadn’t improved much since I was about four. Maybe it had gotten worse. Frankly, I didn’t much care.
However, there was going to be one problem with that long-envisioned moment where I sat bored at graduation, not envying the valedictorian. And that problem was because — you guessed it — my mom had made a new friend.
But this time it was different. She met this guy while he was consulting for her company for three months. He was a Brit, had a cool accent, was funny, kind, and seemed to genuinely like me. But if the relationship was going to have any chance to develop into something serious, Mom had to follow him back to London for a while.