20 November 2009

"Rieta Linbitter's Backstory"

By Curtis C. Chen

It still amazed Rieta that her husband could do so many delicate things with his metal appendages. The men in Rieta's family were rarely gentle. Her own father had earned his arms through military service, and he would have stayed in except that the rulers had discharged him. It happened to a few soldiers every year. The rulers never explained why, and nobody dared to complain.

Rieta's mother was happy to have her father home instead of being deployed to faraway lands at some commander's whim, but he had been denied a lifetime of glorious conquest and a warrior's death on the battlefield, and he felt cheated. Rieta's grandfather had been a ground general in the Amphibious War. All the men in Rieta's family had grown up in a martial atmosphere, conditioned to respect strength in others and cultivate it in themselves.

Rieta had learned the same lessons from the receiving end. Men were protectors, or destroyers, and for the longest time she believed that her own happiness and safety depended on choosing the right kind to be her husband. Then her father had been discharged, and she had watched him turn from a good man into something else.

She would always hesitate to say what he became after leaving the army. It wasn't that she couldn't put a name to it; she just feared that saying the word aloud would cement the concept in reality. Rieta knew the power of incantation, and she did not want to curse her father any more than he already had been.

He had only struck her once in her life. Rieta had been nine years old and late getting home for dinner one night. She had walked into the dining room to find the table set with food, and her parents sitting but not eating.

Rieta couldn't remember if she or her father had said anything. She remembered that her mother had stayed silent, with wide eyes and a pale face. She remembered that her father had stood and raised his arm, and she had wondered what he was going to do with it.

She remembered the pain. She winced when she thought of it, and her tongue went involuntarily to the space in her mouth where there used to be a tooth. She remembered blacking out for a moment, and her father being gone when she struggled back to her feet, and her mother still sitting at the table.

He had only struck Rieta once, and never again. The Pealers found him asleep in an alley the next morning and brought him home.

Rieta had not looked at made men and their metal arms the same after that. Where once she saw strength, she also now saw terrible power. She understood that even though those metal arms and legs were bonded to human bodies, they were no more or less tools than the shovels and lasers used by builders. And tools could be used for good or ill.


This week's 512 is an excerpt from my 2009 NaNoWriMo novel, which is based on a previous 512 story, "Better."