Through the Hostage – what’s in a name?

Through the Hostage – what’s in a name?

Always shoot the hostage

There have been books where I had to agonise over the title, and ask for help, and toss coins, and read the cards…Through the Hostage wasn’t one of them.

The title was inspired by an old, old Keanu Reeves film, ‘Speed’, where Keanu is working as an American police officer. Near the beginning of the film, his partner’s being held up by the bad guy with a gun to his head, and the partner keeps on mouthing ‘Shoot the hostage!’. In the end, Keanu’s character does just that, and much drama and manly distress ensues.

The concept seemed very appropriate for the first book in the Cortii series. Jack Connagh is the human hostage, held on a Cortiian Base, his only real protection the fact that an alien species has some very powerful leverage over the Councils of the magaii, and those aliens want him alive.

However, given that the magaii are violently allergic to being blackmailed, and that Jack is in the keeping of Khyria’s trainee unit, whose chances of surviving to full Cortia rank get slimmer every day, the chances that someone’s going to shoot him are pretty high. ‘Through the hostage’ seemed uniquely appropriate.

Cortiian Word of the Week: harena

Cortiian Word of the Week: harena

Harena, pl. hareni

Officially, the hareni don’t exist.

Reliable rumour, however, indicates that there’s at least a few hareni on most Bases.

There have been hareni at least as long as there have been Cortii, maybe even longer. The word ‘harena’, in modern Cortiian, has some nasty connotations built in, but historically the meaning was very similar to ‘berserker’, and was used to refer to the best fighters, the ones that threw themselves into the front line of a fight.

Like any unofficial group on a Cortiian Base, they’re extremely secretive. Membership is invitation-only, and the only qualification for staying a harena is ability to stay alive. The hareni allow any training level to join, which makes it a risky gamble for junior deriani. Those that do survive, through luck or fighting ability, have the advantage of training with some of the best fighters on a Base at any rank, and exposure to a diverse range of fighting styles and techniques.

While the hareni are primarily infamous as a fighting group, and the majority seem to have a strong focus on fight skills, they’re also the Cortiian equivalent of gremlins, frequently blamed (or praised) for the more unexplainable casualties.

Although time in the haren can be considered worth the risks, there’s also the point that discovery is a guarantee of a slow and messy death at the hands of the akrushkari. The Councils of the magaii do not tolerate disobedience. The hareni are also, by best accounts, a set of violent mavericks and thrill-seekers. Some of their reputation, according to solid Base rumour, is absolutely honestly come by.

On Corina Base, because Khyria got sucked into the hareni before even achieving full rank, there are several hareni whose names show up regularly: Khyria, of course, but also Ashan Maklin, Evor Leistor, and later on, Tayin Vern. They make up an over-powered set of powerful allies and enemies, or occasionally heavily-armed neutrals, depending largely on context and the mathematics of personal profit and loss.

What they don’t tell you about biometrics

What they don’t tell you about biometrics

My boss was lying on the floor.

That wasn’t a problem in and of itself; given the layers of security on this station, it should be reasonably unlikely that anyone who didn’t know her would be in a position to report her to the powers that be.

The pool of blood and the missing hand, on the other hand, were definitely problems, and unfortunately those were all mine.

I rechecked my helmet display, admiring the clueless series of green reads. Whatever or whoever was in here collecting body parts was apparently something completely outside our security program’s experience. It seemed over-optimistic to expect that my heads-up display wouldn’t be equally clueless if my mystery guest decided to add my head to their collection.

Happily, unlike my very ex-boss, neither my head, my hands, or anything else I need to do my job are vital to getting into anything important. I’m a firm believer in the first rule of biometrics: never use a body part for identification you can’t do without.

I slid out of my boss’s office, carrying the largest bit of my own personal collection out, loaded, and ready for use.

My name is Shayanna Willow Anstrim, because three of my parental units were dancers. I chose the Special Forces, instead.

Etymology Excavation: strong suit

Etymology Excavation: strong suit

‘Strong suit’ is a phrase meaning a strength, something you are good at. You can easily substitute ‘strong point’ or ‘forte’.

A common mis-spelling is ‘strong suite’, which may have its roots in common terms like ‘Microsoft suite’. It is nonetheless incorrect, however tempting,

My favourite sources are unusually firmly in agreement on the origins of the phrase, and they universally state that it derives from card games, where the suits are hearts, diamonds, aces, and spades.

To be more exact, most of the etymology sources say it originated from the game of bridge. Merriam-Webster and the Online Etymology dictionary disagree on when this phrase came into use: Merriam-Webster holds it was 1742, and Etyonline says 1845. I’m going to go with some considerable time after cards came into common use and before people all got too keen on online games to play cards.

Examples of ‘strong suit’:

  • Patience is not my strong suit
  • He’s playing the long game; it’s his strong suit.

This seems to be a phrase that’s used in pretty much all variants of English, and it could be easily adapted for use in SFF world-building; admittedly, you would need to come up with some basic game concept to root it in first. The concept could equally easily be turned around in the world-building for a game-related phrase meaning a fatal weakness.

What is etymology, and why are you excavating it?

Etymology is like the archeology of a language (definition: the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history).

Mary Jane, gateway to the galaxy

Mary Jane, gateway to the galaxy

Gateway to the Galaxy

“It damaged the gateway drive.”

That much was obvious. If the chair being completely dark didn’t give it away, the curl of smoke rising from it might’ve been a clue.

“You think?” Ir-a-tuan’s weight leaving it didn’t bring the gadget back to life, although it did clarify that it wasn’t the chair smoking. “Shit! My ass is on fire!”

Kind of a shame. Ir-a-tuan’s species runs to fur, and the smell was more than the enviro filters wanted to cope with. Hard to blame them on that. While he put out his fire, it seemed like time to find out where we were about to land. Gravity’s nasty shit. That thought was too good not to share.

“Hey, gravity gets everyone down.”

Ir-a-tuan stared at me, the morose expression bifurcated by a single curl of smoke. Apparently his sense of humour was suffering from the stress. “Do they have gateway?”

“G-A-T-E-W-A-Y.” Amazingly, the computer displayed a lot of entries. “Ir-a-tuan! They do!” The computer was doing its thing, picking up information from local sources, and a picture of the globe zoomed in. “We need to land here. They use something for gateways called Mary Jane. The best Mary Jane on the planet comes from a place called Texada.”

“Calculating,” the computer said. “Destination: Texada, locality: British Columbia.”

The landing was smooth, and then the ship shuddered.

“They are shooting us up!” Ir-a-tuan’s language skills were letting him down. The computer clearly showed a welcome wagon, jammed up against the landing gear. Its nose was an interesting fractal shape. It didn’t look very threatening.

“It’s just the locals, welcoming us.” At least they hadn’t blocked the ramp, and unlike the gateway drive, that still worked. Ir-a-tuan looked doubtful, but I was too desperate to get away from the singed ass-fur.

“Greetings! We need Mary Jane!”

The two males at the end of the ramp were staring. They were also unnecessarily tall. The computer angle hadn’t been quite accurate.

“Dude,” one of them finally said. “Dude, did the UFO-guy just ask us for Mary Jane? Aren’t they supposed to, I dunno, probe us, or ask to see our leader, or something?”

The computer fed a suggestion to my headset, and I spread my arms. “Dudes! Take me to your dealer!”

True Lies: Fact and fiction

True Lies: Fact and fiction

True Lies

It’s something I like to play with in my books. Most of my characters are telepathic, generally able to pick up on a flat-out lie. However, someone misleading with complete truth…now that’s much harder to spot. Also fun for me, the writer, because my sense of humour could best be described as ‘malign’.

It also plays nicely into the Cortiian ethos, because Cortiian mercenaries aren’t what our maiden aunts would term nice people, and keeping secrets and making people work for their information is pretty much reflexive.

What do I mean by misleading with the truth? Let’s look at a case study. I’m going to tell you two absolutely true stories. They’re probably going to give you two absolutely different impressions.


Story 1: I went through five schools in seven years as a kid; my Dad was a captain in the Army, and we moved around a lot. I didn’t make a lot of friends, but there was always another move coming up. I applied to the Navy right out of school – best idea I ever had.

…that one’s cut and dried; probably a Forces brat, devoted son followed in Dad’s footsteps, maybe career Forces by now, probably quite young.

Story 2: My grandfather won a St. George Cross in World War I. My uncle Peter died on the Normandy beaches on D-Day, and my father never would tell me more about his time in the Army in India aside from how his unit trained to get across barbed wire fences in a hurry. Those men I never knew gave me my interest in family history.

…well, there we have someone much older, might be male but probably a woman, most likely a retiree with folders overflowing with sepia photos and newspaper clippings.

Aren’t assumptions fun?

Those two people are both me. Those stories are from my past – but if you read them without the grand reveal, about the only obvious thing they have in common is a father who was in the Forces.

My protagonist, Khyria Ilan, is a past master at the sport, which is probably just as well given how many people are trying to kill her at any given moment. Lying to heavily-armed people who may be able to tell immediately that they’re being lied to isn’t healthy, and is too obvious anyway. Khyria can tell someone something absolutely true and absolutely guaranteed to send them barking up the wrong tree, and while they’re profitably occupied molesting the foliage, she can act with a lot less scrutiny on her doings.

It’s also a lot of fun if the reader happens to know the actual backstory while reading Khyria’s version of it; the differences can be pretty marked, and at least for me, edits go much easier with some evil chortling to be going on with.

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