PSVT's Writings

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PSVT's Writings

Post by PSVT on Tue 2 Sep 2014 - 18:13

Hi all! I finally got around to writing the Giancarlo+Valentina story I've been thinking about and planning for over a year now. It's not the first story text that I've ever posted to this forum (see "Roundabout Life" by topgearbrzgt86 for that: http://gunslinger-girl.up-with.com/t3730-roundabout-life-title-subject-to-change). However, this is the place where I intend to post my own writings. Whether or not they are good or not is a whole different thing altogether sweat, though it's more likely the case that whatever I post here will be lightly edited. In other words, consider this early access. Stuff I considered finished eventually will be posted to my Fanfiction.net site. Either way, please let me know what you think and what improvements I could make.

Anyway, enjoy what I'm considering as the prologue to this still untitled story. Smile








Prologue: An Unexpected Meeting

Stone walls seemed to tower over him, surround him, and swallow him whole as he walked along the narrow passageway. An abundance of colors—canary yellow next to pink, beige and coral ahead of him—saved his eyes from what otherwise might have been a dreary gray and brown morass. Nature provided its own contribution in the form of brilliant green, both in the smattering of London plane trees that lined the streets further ahead and in the denser collection of those and other foliage within the park behind him. In all, it really was not as bad. Even as those very walls amplified the sputtering exhausts and dull collisions of rubber against cobblestone, he realized his surroundings could always be far, far worse. Yet, they also reminded Alessio Gaspari of how much he truly detested the city.

No, he didn’t hate cities in general, just this one. Just Rome.

He trudged onward, steadfast in his determination despite the weight tugging at and digging into his right shoulder. A sharp yank of the thick canvas strap brought him a brief respite. Not that he had to worry about his discomfort for much longer, for he was barely minutes away from his destination. The wide swath of branches and overhanging leaves growing ever larger in his vision would protect him from the beating he endured from the late morning sun.

Then again, so would not being outside in the first place.

The intersection of the cobble road and tree-lined boulevard held many shops and points of interest to locals and tourists alike. Of particular interest to him was a pizzeria to his right, tucked into the corner of an apartment building. Its white stone exterior buttressed the weathered red brick façade of the upper stories. A row of tables, a few empty but most occupied by blithely unaware locals, squeezed an already narrow walkway even tighter. He shuffled to his left to avoid hitting a patron with his bag, only to nearly shove another pedestrian into the row of motorbikes parked in front of the restaurant.

“Dammit,” he thought, letting his shoulder bag fall into his right hand so he could massage the sore muscle with his left. “What the hell was I thinking in waiting so long to get some lunch? Could’ve gone earlier and beat this mad rush—or somewhere else for that matter.”

It was a moot point now. As he breached the threshold he was greeted with the raucous din of a nearly packed establishment. For a moment he considered turning around and retracing his steps to a pizzeria two blocks away. However, the sweet aroma wafting throughout the building pulled him back in.

“Might as well wait here. It’s not like the other place is any less packed.”

Packed as it was, seating was remarkably quick. Luck placed him inside, well away from the overbearing sunlight from which the awning provided little protection. The cost of that good fortune was that he was likely going to wait several minutes before his order arrived. He reached down into the brown shoulder bag that occupied the adjacent chair and pulled out a laptop computer.

“Well, I guess I could get a little bit of work done, if only to pass the time.”

His annoyed huff as he slouched into the cushion easily overpowered the laptop fan’s mechanical whirring. A few seconds later the whirring subsided and the screen flashed to display a pale blue background. On it, a white text box beckoned him to supply a user name and password.

“Thank goodness for SSDs, else the pizza’d get here before this goddamned thing’s done booting. Heh. Anyway, I’d better take a quick peek around this place for any threats before getting to work here.”

A healthy dose of paranoia was necessary given Alessio’s prior career choices—doubly the case for his present course. The data his laptop carried merely added to his concern. He was not silly enough to actually store working documents directly on the machine, but that was irrelevant. It provided a conduit to the data, and if the machine fell into the wrong hands then he risked far more than a dismissal from his employers. A serious enough mistake meant all his technical precautions could be damned. No amount of encryption could save him then.

“Hmm… there’s a brunette in the corner. Eh, can’t rule her out completely, but she’s probably okay. Doesn’t really fit the pattern.” He slid his gaze rightward, exhaling a worried sigh as he soon found another source of worry. “No… no… not quite… Oh, that blonde, though. She fits the profile alright. Not perfectly, but close enough for trouble. I’ll definitely want to keep an eye on her.”

He returned at least a part of his attention to the laptop, his fingers flying across the keys with practiced precision. A darker gray background greeted him barely a second after he finished. Unlike the typical computer user whose computer desktop was littered with icons for various files, folders, and programs, his was rather sparse. It reflected the contents of his machine: only the bare essentials. Most essential of all was a program that enabled a secure connection from his laptop to another computer containing all the files he needed. Such technology made irrelevant any need to know the true location of the other machine. The program prompted him to type in yet another password. It wasn’t strictly necessary for setting up the encrypted connection, but a person in his shoes could never be too careful. He repositioned his hands upon the keyboard.

At that moment he encountered a major problem.

It was a problem that peered at him with inquisitive pale blue eyes. He found a certain coldness in that stare, and it caused him to flinch. That, or the fact she had seemingly come from nowhere. Despite her long blond hair, she certainly wasn’t the blonde he had spotted earlier. That girl remained seated three tables ahead, wrangling some rogue cheese dangling from her slice of sausage pizza. He didn’t quite fully know which was had set him off. As he swiveled in his seat to face this potential threat, he really didn’t care too much about finding out.

“W-What do you want?” His eyes narrowed as irritation swept away the initial shock. An open hand slapped the table as his other grabbed the back of his bench seat to steady his twisted frame. “Don’t you know it’s rude to just stare at people like that?”

“I, um…” In that instant, as he saw the girl lower her gaze and unsteadily loop her finger through a few strands of long blond hair, he almost regretted his angry outburst. That feeling subsided when he heard a steadier voice from the girl once she found the determination to speak. “I was just interested, that’s all. I-In your computer, that is.”

“Interested, huh? I sure as hell see nothing special about it, unless you’re looking to steal it or something like that.”

“No, I—”

She stopped talking the instant a pair of hands fell upon her shoulders, and when he looked up at the man connected to those hands he could see why. He recoiled from the pair with a grimace twisting his face, despite being met in turn by such a nervous if otherwise genial smile.

“I’m sorry. You’ll have to excuse my daughter here. It seems she takes after me in being quite the computer geek.”

If Alessio heard the man’s explanation or his self-deprecating chuckle that interceded, he didn’t make it known. Instead, a certain thought occupied his mind. “Where the hell did… oh, I see now. He was sitting right behind me. But I damned sure didn’t see that girl with him before.”

The other man continued, apparently undaunted by the momentary silence. “You see, she gets a bit overly excited sometimes at seeing brand new, shiny toys like your laptop. I can’t really say that I blame her.”

“Well, my laptop isn’t a toy for her to play with.” He huffed, and turned to the man a rather annoyed look. “I’m trying to get at least a small amount of work done here before my food arrives, and this girl of yours is getting in my way.”

“Understood.” He punctuated the words with a nod. “I’ll make sure she stays out of your way from now on.”

Before the man could usher his daughter away from the table of an agitated Alessio, the trio was joined by a fourth. He was the waiter, and he carried a glass of water destined for that table, along with assorted drinks for other patrons. That man approached the father and daughter pair from behind, which would have been absolutely no problem, had the girl paid any attention to her surroundings. With her gaze directed steadfastly at the ground, probably due to her mixed feelings of disappointment and embarrassment, she slammed right into the man. The glass of water swerved and teetered on the edge of imbalance for a disturbingly long second before finally succumbing to gravity. Alessio felt his heart stop as he tracked the trail of liquid fall from the tray and slam into the table’s polished wooden surface. His eyes then followed the water as it flowed over the edge.

“Oh shit!”

Whether that sentiment stayed within his thoughts or fled into reality did not matter to him as he felt more cold liquid against his skin. It felt really sticky and very much unlike water. He was split between investigating this new problem and containing the existing one. It caused him to freeze in place momentarily, until he remembered that his bag sitting alongside him was getting wet. Not that it was a huge problem in its own right, until he realized there was something even more valuable than that laptop sitting right there in that bag, and that he had left the bag wide open.

“Ah! My apologies, sir!” The waiter, with great haste, set the tray down on a nearby table before any more of the spilled drinks overflowed its raised edges. “Oh, let me grab some towels for you really quickly.” Then he noticed the water path migrating toward the laptop computer. “Oh, your laptop!”

“Don’t worry, I got it.”

Alessio heard the man say those words, but he didn’t pay any real attention to what he perceived as a blob stalking the edge of his peripheral vision. After all, he had greater concerns than that machine. It wasn’t as if they could get away with stealing it. He was right there, after all. Even if they did, it would’ve been rather useless without the item he was rushing to save.

That item was his cell phone.

Normally, he wouldn’t care. Most people wouldn’t. However, that phone was more than a mere mode of communication. For one, it was specially modified. For two, it provided the second factor of authentication for him to actually log into the remote server and access the files he needed. Without his phone, he might as well just return to his office. That alone was no major problem, except for the small fact that his office was a few hundred kilometers away. His early return would not please his bosses in the slightest. He felt his fingers grasp the phone’s damp aluminum exterior for an instant before the device slipped from his hand and back into the pool of water at the bottom of the bag.

“Argh!”

One more attempt was all he needed to finally extract the phone from his bag. A quick press of the power button would tell him whether his trip to Rome was all for naught. Naturally, his first priority was to make sure it was dry beforehand, lest he accidentally consign the phone to such an inevitable demise. He looked up just in time to see the waiter return to the table with a handful of towels. The fact that the man and that blonde were still hovering around concerned him slightly, but not nearly as much as the potential loss of his phone.

“Here you go, sir.”

He swiped one of the thick cotton towels from the waiter’s outstretched hand and, with great haste, set about dabbing at the phone. When he was certain it was dry enough he pressed the power button and stared, waiting—nay, praying—for the screen to illuminate.

Let there be light.

Pent-up stress and frustration fled from him in the loud sigh he exhaled, placing the phone in right pocket of his trousers. It felt awkward since his other phone, the one he used for more mundane purposes, occupied his left pocket. Either way, it was safer that way, at least until he could remove the remaining water from the bag. But that would have to wait for after lunch.

“Excuse me, sir.”

Alessio looked up to see that man yet again. The source of his current troubles, though his time he saw from the man’s face a more repentant expression. Now that the crisis had been settled, he could actually examine the man more thoroughly. First off, Alessio noticed that he and the man standing at the end of the table shared the same average build. He couldn't quite explain why, but that fact alone calmed him. Maybe it was that he expected his enemies to be stockier, more muscular. Ex-military or police types. They generally were, as recent bitter experience had so plainly demonstrated to him. This man, however, clearly lacked that same physical presence. So did he, by that same logic, but he ignored that point. Looking upward, Alessio found that they shared the same brown colored hair, though his was a few shades darker and several centimeters longer than the close trimmed look opposite him. It reminded him, vaguely, that a well-needed haircut loomed in his future, should he ever gain the motivation to find a barber. That was for later, however. The present moment demanded that he figure out what that unknown man had to say.

“What?” Paying attention didn’t mean he had to be particularly nice about it.

“My daughter here has something she wants to say to you.” Alessio saw the man give the girl standing before him a gentle nudge in the back. “Isn’t that right, Gabriella?”

The girl lowered her head, apparently in shame, before speaking in a solemn whisper. “I’m sorry for nearly breaking your computer.”

“And?”

“And I’m also sorry for ruining your shirt as well.” The suddenness as she snapped a wide-eyed gaze upward to meet her father’s jostled several long strands of hair, causing some to fall haphazardly across her face. “But, how was I supposed—”

“That’s enough.”

So that explained the continued feeling of dampness on his arm. A very alarmed Alessio had grabbed one of the towels the waiter had left him upon hearing the girl’s second apology. However, the stern voice that followed from her father made even him stop in his tracks. His recognizing the futility of his intended effort at that point, when his pale blue dress shirt had long since been marred by several red splotches, likely contributed as well. Either way, he let the towel fall back onto the table as he returned his attention to the matter at hand.

“Anyway, I have to apologize to you as well. This should be enough to pay for its replacement.  At least, I certainly hope so.”

Alessio heard the man’s nervous chuckle, but soon understood why upon seeing the pair of bills extended toward him. The bright green was very hard to miss. A tiny grin tugged at his lips as, with little hesitation, he grasped the bills to accept them as his own. After all, who but a fool would refuse a free two hundred euro—especially when his shirt only cost him thirty?

“Uh… yeah, I’d say so. Thanks.”

Transaction completed, Alessio saw a nod and a grin—though maybe, he thought, it was more of a grimace—from the man before he turned and guided the girl to the pizzeria’s front door. He shook his head as he watched the pair depart. A near disaster occurred because of them, yet at the same time he received a tidy little profit from the ordeal. He glanced at his watch. The numbers it told him caused him to sigh.

“I’d say about five more minutes before they’re done. Damn, that wasted a lot of time though. Might as well make good use of what little I have. Hopefully I don't run into any other stupid problems.”

Why not? The table was dry, thanks to the pile of wet towels that were shoved to one corner. His laptop and his phone both were equally dry and, more importantly, still functional. With that mindset he returned to the computer. Not surprisingly, that program continued to run, displaying simple black box and a blinking cursor next to the phrase “Enter Password.” Uttering little more than a harrumph, he placed his hands upon the keyboard and typed the very information it desired.

________________________________________

She said nothing as she followed the man outside, instead silently welcoming the warmth provided by the midday sun. He didn’t say anything either. It made perfect sense. Why would he after she put him through such an embarrassing, let alone expensive, incident? Her eyes found in the cobblestone walkway a more interesting view than the path ahead.

Fifty meters.


Though, maybe it was better that he kept his peace. The last thing she wanted was a public scolding, and a loud one at that. It would have been the most horrible thing ever. Well, maybe second most horrible to be honest. Or it could have been third, come to think of it. Regardless, she hated when he was angry at her. It made her feel absolutely terrible when she behaved in ways that made him angry at her.

One hundred meters.

And he certainly had to be angry at her. She had screwed up majorly. In one instant she ruined some poor stranger’s clothes and made herself and her father look like complete idiots in front of everyone. Because of that, she likely ruined their entire outing, and it wasn’t yet noon. Now he turned to her, ready to speak. She could only imagine what terrible thing he was going to say, now that they were far enough away from the pizzeria. Far enough away from the innocent gentleman whose day she singlehandedly wrecked.

One hundred fifty meters. Mark.

“Hey, baby girl.” With a widening smile brightening his face, he placed his left arm around the girl’s shoulders while gesturing backward toward the pizzeria with his right hand. “What did you think of that little stunt we pulled back there, huh?”

Well… it was exactly what she expected him to say. After all, they had managed to put enough distance between them and the scene. She could finally drop the charade and return to behaving normally. He clearly was not angry at her. He had zero reason to be angry at her.

Not to say it made her feel too much better, though. Her whisper carried more than a hint of disappointment.

“I wish I had enough time to deliver a more useful payload.” Her shoulders slumped despite the comfort of his touch. “All I can really do is gain a remote shell and perform key logging.”

He failed to stifle the chuckles that filled the air around them. A sharp beep soon followed, one that emanated from the long row of cars that filled the street-side parking. Among the plethora of small three-door and five-door hatchbacks was a three-door Ford Fiesta, and it was this dark-blue car that was responsible for producing that noise. He opened the driver’s side door and dropped inside, while the girl ambled around the front so she could pull the handle for the passenger door. With one hand she smoothed out her white skirt before taking a step down into her seat. He waited until she shut the door before he turned the key to bring the car’s small four-cylinder engine to life with a rumble.

“Cheer up, Valentina. You’ve accomplished far more than what I expected from you for today.” His exhortation didn’t quite create the desired result, so he made sure she understood what he was saying. “You did very well today. You do know that, right?”

The question was met with a guarded shrug, and nothing more.

Seeing a break in the traffic he carefully reversed the car into the street. Although it probably was quite illegal, he backed further into the intersection so that he could subsequently drive eastward along the narrow one-lane street. While it was longer, he preferred that route since it took the pair further away from the pizzeria and any suspicious eyes. Once he turned the car south onto a larger boulevard, he snuck a peek at the slouching blonde.

“Okay… I’m going to assume you know the password to that VPN client he was using.”

She nodded. “That and almost every keystroke he’s made within the last few minutes.”

“See, I told you.”

“But, papa…” She spoke with a high-pitched whine befitting a frustrated ten-year-old girl. “None of it makes much sense without any context. I don’t know whether he’s typing something new or making corrections to an existing document. I can tell you a bunch of monetary figures he typed, but I can’t tell you what they were for.”

In turn, his voice was calmer and more reassuring. “Baby steps, Valentina. Baby steps. You know that. Anyway, tell Priscilla what we know.”

“Okay, papa.” After a few seconds she turned to him a very curious gaze. “Do you think she wants a summary or a real-time feed?”

“Just a data dump and a brief summary should be fine.” Despite driving among the notorious Roman traffic, he spared her a brief moment to meet her stare with an amused expression. “Oh, and don’t forget to tell her about our little encounter with Mister Alessio Gaspari. I’m sure she’ll find that quite the hilarious escapade.”

“But that was your idea, I think. I didn’t even know the waiter was there.”

“Sure, but you recognized Gaspari. I never saw him, nor would I have even known a Padanian operative was nearby if I didn’t have you with me. Give yourself a little credit every now and again, baby girl.”

Looking over at his charge was far too dangerous given the dense traffic he encountered, but at the edge of his vision he could sense the tiniest smile on the girl’s lips. Slowly but surely, his hard work was paying off.

Then again, the old adage of two steps forward, one step back always seemed to rear its ugly head at the most inopportune times.

“So, as I remember from a few days ago, you were telling me about this neat little rootkit you were working on. I wonder, how far along are you on it?”

Valentina turned very pale and began to shiver almost the instant she comprehended his question. “I… I t-thought that y-you… that I had…”

“Huh?” He needed almost no time at all to recognize the impending calamity. He only wished for a place to safely pull over and stop, knowing none existed. “Oh God, don’t…”
 
Her shaking became more violent, further muddling her speech. “I… I-I’ll f-finish… right… I p-prom—”

Fortunately it was not the first time he had experienced such an episode with Valentina. From that moment he knew she would remain unconscious for the entire thirty-minute duration of their trip. Worse was the mess he would have to clean. He rather liked the white skirt that Priscilla had purchased for her, especially appreciating the patterns formed by the outer layer of lace. The odds of her wearing that particular article of clothing again, or the white T-shirt she wore for that matter, were extremely slim. The garbage bin was their most likely resting spot. Her shoes were spared. So was her denim jacket, but only because she had taken it off before going into the pizzeria, to her chagrin at the time. As for the car, he once again thanked providence for giving him enough foresight to order one with leather upholstery.

“Might as well find somewhere out of the way to start cleaning up this mess before I get too far along,” he thought, lowering the windows with the hope of obtaining some fresh air. After a few more seconds of contemplation he peered over at Valentina’s slumped, unmoving figure and sighed.

Life never seemed to grant Giancarlo Rossi a dull moment ever since he decided to join the Social Welfare Agency.




(By the way, properly formatting this story here gave me flashbacks of posting stories in the fanfiction.net document editor. It's probably not on the same scale as a Vietnam flashback or so, but I wouldn't consider it particularly good either.)
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PSVT

Male

Forum Posts : 494

Location : Pennsylvania, United States

Fan of : Triela, Claes

Original Characters : Giancarlo Rossi and his cyborgs Valentina R. and Eleonora R.; James Bernard and his cyborg Rachelle

Comments : Working on an actual story now, so please be patient... ^_^;

Registration date : 2014-05-27
Your character
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Re: PSVT's Writings

Post by Alfisti on Fri 19 Sep 2014 - 8:34

Ok so, finally, I’ve found time to make, respectable-ish comment. Hopefully at least some of it should be helpful, or at least entertaining.



PROLOGUE
”PSVT” wrote: Of particular interest to him was a pizzeria to his right, tucked into the corner of an apartment building. Its white stone exterior buttressed the weathered red brick façade of the upper stories.
I don’t know if it’s just me, but I keep really wanting to read through the full stop between these two sentences. 


”PSVT wrote: Anyway, I’d better take a quick peek around this place for any threats before getting to work here.”
Between his dislike of the sun, and this passage here, I presume Alessio’s not naturally a field agent? The way he seems to be consciously thinking through his actions, and later is mentally noting and assessing each person he perceives as a threat, makes it feel like he’s been told what to do, but certainly has not had the experience for it to become second nature to him. It feels quite forced, which is not a bad thing if that is what you’re going for.


”PSVT” wrote:“Hmm… there’s a brunette in the corner. Eh, can’t rule her out completely, but she’s probably okay. Doesn’t really fit the pattern.” He slid his gaze rightward, exhaling a worried sigh as he soon found another source of worry. “No… no… not quite… Oh, that blonde, though. She fits the profile alright. Not perfectly, but close enough for trouble. I’ll definitely want to keep an eye on her.”
I seem to remember you saying your take on the universe was at a point where the Padania was aware of the cyborgs’ existence, and so was actively looking for them. Some of Alessio’s later actions seem to give that impression as well. I take it he’s looking for threats in general, and cyborgs/handlers in particular, here? If so, I would be interested to eventually find out how the Padania is briefing their people.

Or am I getting you confused with someone else?


”PSVT” wrote: He didn’t quite fully know which was had set him off.
“...which it was”?


”PSVT” wrote:...despite being met in turn by such a nervous if otherwise genial smile.
I’m going to risk turning into Vett here, but I suspect you need commas either side of “if otherwise genial”.


”PSVT” wrote:“You see, she gets a bit overly excited sometimes at seeing brand new, shiny toys like your laptop. I can’t really say that I blame her.”
From what you’ve said of Giancarlo before, I suspect he’s not entirely lying about his interest in new and shiny technological toys.


”PSVT” wrote:It felt really sticky and very much unlike water. He was split between investigating this new problem and containing the existing one.
I’m a bit confused as to what’s going on here. Some of what you say later suggests that Giancarlo and Valentina stumbled across their mark, but the way this is phrased, it sounds as if the spillage was set up; the glass containing something that would not short out Alessio’s gear.


”PSVT” wrote:He swiped one of the thick cotton towels from the waiter’s outstretched hand and, with great haste, set about dabbing at the phone. When he was certain it was dry enough he pressed the power button and stared, waiting—nay, praying—for the screen to illuminate.
Mobiles are, fortunately, tougher bits of kit than we give them credit for (which, on balance, is probably a good thing). I well remember getting drenched for hours at a festival once, with my phone in my pocket. After a day of drying out it worked just fine.


”PSVT” wrote:After all, who but a fool would refuse a free two hundred euro—especially when his shirt only cost him thirty?
That said: who on earth randomly carries two hundred euro in cash around with them these days? Unless he made a show of visiting an ATM, that may not have been the best “maintaining cover” move by Giancarlo ever.

That said, I seem to remember you hinting that Giancarlo was not exactly a field agent either... and Alessio doesn’t seem to have picked up on the incongruity either, so perhaps it’s for the best.


”PSVT” wrote:Well… it was exactly what she expected him to say. After all, they had managed to put enough distance between them and the scene. She could finally drop the charade and return to behaving normally.
I find it interesting that Valentina seems to be living her part, that of a chastised little girl, up to this point, rather than technically acting it. Or is it part of her inferiority complex showing through?


”PSVT” wrote:“Okay… I’m going to assume you know the password to that VPN client he was using.”

She nodded. “That and almost every keystroke he’s made within the last few minutes.”
Ok, more just a thought here than anything. Trying to look at this from the perspective of a new reader, ie. someone who hasn’t had the rundown on Valentina’s capabilities we on the forum have had, this section where she is disgorging information could be quite confusing. Some sort of hint that she carries additional modifications might help, even if it’s just to have her closer her eyes for a second, “concentrating on something only she could see”... or something to that effect. Something to hint that she’s getting data from somewhere, rather than it just appearing.


”PSVT” wrote:As for the car, he once again thanked providence for giving him enough foresight to order one with leather upholstery.
Ahh, the joys of having a jumpy cyborg. Leather upholstery or no, man may want to invest in some seat covers. Razz



Nicely done mate. I realise this is a fairly rough draft, but it’s looking promising. Giancarlo and Valentina seem interesting, as is the skew on the GsG universe you’re creating.

That said, some general thoughts: there were a number of cases through the story where you had words repeated in close proximity to themselves, which can be distracting to the reader. Not a big one, but something to pick up in editing.

The other though:  through some of the story, particularly when describing the ins and outs of the computer tech, there was a fair bit of tell rather than show going on. I realise G&V are intended as a high-tech fratello, but it would probably be worth, again in editing, working out just what is required for the story, and what you could perhaps get away without the reader knowing/could be rephrased into a show rather than tell.

Again though, I realise this is really an early draft, and those two above are really more clean-up and polish exercises than anything. The premise and foundation of the story is good, and I look forward to seeing more.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Your lack of planning does not constitute my emergency.
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Alfisti

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Forum Posts : 5734

Location : A Town by the Sea, NSW Central Coast, Australia

Fan of : Triela, Hilshire, Priscilla, Ferro

Original Characters : Jethro + Monty

Comments : If in doubt, overdress.

Registration date : 2009-07-21

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Re: PSVT's Writings

Post by PSVT on Sat 20 Sep 2014 - 0:33

Thank you so much for the birthday present, Alfi. Wink In all seriousness though, I definitely appreciate such a detailed review, even if you might think it's incomplete. Let me tell you, I rarely received such useful feedback when I was writing my Sailor Moon fics. Anyway, on with the responses.

@Alfisti wrote:I don’t know if it’s just me, but I keep really wanting to read through the full stop between these two sentences.

Hmm... Maybe it's a consequence of wording? I might want to see what I can do if anyone else says it's weird to make it less confusing when reading.

@Alfisti wrote:Between his dislike of the sun, and this passage here, I presume Alessio’s not naturally a field agent? The way he seems to be consciously thinking through his actions, and later is mentally noting and assessing each person he perceives as a threat, makes it feel like he’s been told what to do, but certainly has not had the experience for it to become second nature to him. It feels quite forced, which is not a bad thing if that is what you’re going for.

Nope. Alessio's a tech wonk of sorts, just like Giancarlo, though the two men are on opposite sides of the conflict (and Alessio doesn't have the convenience/pain of having his own cyborg). So, he's certainly not used to field work, especially not of the covert type where he'd have to deal with opposing agents who know all the tricks. He's been given some pointers and thrown into the fight rather hastily as Padania attempts to circument the Agency threat. However, his specific mission (and that of his small crew) is atypical when compared to the typical Padania agent.

Spoiler:
Alessio and his crew are tasked with monitoring other Padanian operations to identify fratelli when they inevitably respond. It ultimately leads to something of a "wild weasel" mission, where Alessio's crew and another crew create false missions specifically designed to be discovered by the SWA, strictly with the goal of observing the Agency's activities. It is during such a mission that Giancarlo and Valentina run into Alessio once again. This time the outcome is far different, leading to a few deaths (most by Padanian agents, though one by Valentina) and the critical injury to one Maria de Fiore (aka, the soon-to-be Eleonora Rossi).

@Alfisti wrote:I seem to remember you saying your take on the universe was at a point where the Padania was aware of the cyborgs’ existence, and so was actively looking for them. Some of Alessio’s later actions seem to give that impression as well. I take it he’s looking for threats in general, and cyborgs/handlers in particular, here? If so, I would be interested to eventually find out how the Padania is briefing their people.

Or am I getting you confused with someone else?

You're absolutely correct here. My intention is that Padania knows about the cyborgs and has an active program to identify them more specifically (as is part of Alessio's job). At this stage, which is early in the overall storyline, Alessio and Padania in general know that the cyborgs are all girls of a certain age range and that they most likely have male handlers. They know the girls are very protective of their handlers, and as such would be almost always close to them. Furthermore, they know the girls usually are armed with small arms and larger rifles, and to hide their larger weapons they use some sort of case, typically instrument cases. Of course, their knowledge isn't perfect since most people who see cyborgs don't live to tell others. But some did survive, or more likely were not noticed and managed to sneak a few peeks before/while escaping. That became the seed of their special mission to identify and ultimately eliminate fratelli.

@Alfisti wrote:“...which it was”?

Oops. sweat

@Alfisti wrote:I’m going to risk turning into Vett here, but I suspect you need commas either side of “if otherwise genial”.

You're right. I remember thinking about that when writing it, and ultimately chose against it. Now, however, I see how it is awkward without the commas.

@Alfisti wrote:From what you’ve said of Giancarlo before, I suspect he’s not entirely lying about his interest in new and shiny technological toys.

Oh, absolutely not! The toys were part of the reason why he worked for the NSA, and also are part of the reason why he accepted the SWA job (not to suggest that he thinks of Valentina as a toy, however). His other reason, of course, is revenge, but having sweet gear to play with makes the revenge only sweeter.

@Alfisti wrote:I’m a bit confused as to what’s going on here. Some of what you say later suggests that Giancarlo and Valentina stumbled across their mark, but the way this is phrased, it sounds as if the spillage was set up; the glass containing something that would not short out Alessio’s gear.

Giancarlo and Valentina were in the pizzeria before Alessio arrived, and as such did stumble across him. The whole spillage incident was also impromptu, an act of quick thinking on Giancarlo's part. The fact that the laptop didn't get hit (very much) was due to him pulling the machine out of the way in the nick of time after sending Valentina to walk into the waiter. In other words, it was luck. I don't intend for the scene to sound as if the waiter had any pre-existing role in the scheme. Also, it was soda that had spilled onto Alessio's shirt, probably something dark like Coca Cola, thus the reason it didn't feel like water to him when he felt the drink hit his skin. Either way, I may need to make some modifications to clarify the point that it's purely luck all the way around. It could have been that the water spilled all over the laptop, and their chance for a quick intel grab disappears. And, to be honest, they experience more than their share of bad luck throughout the story, enough so that they have an overall luck deficit.

@Alfisti wrote:Mobiles are, fortunately, tougher bits of kit than we give them credit for (which, on balance, is probably a good thing). I well remember getting drenched for hours at a festival once, with my phone in my pocket. After a day of drying out it worked just fine.

Maybe so, but he's being especially paranoid about it because he needs it for work, and while it's modified it's not ruggedized and it's certainly not waterproofed beyond factory level. That, and I admit it's a bit of a cheat on my part, giving him some distraction from the fact that Valentina's messing with his computer while he's looking down.

@Alfisti wrote:That said: who on earth randomly carries two hundred euro in cash around with them these days? Unless he made a show of visiting an ATM, that may not have been the best “maintaining cover” move by Giancarlo ever.

That said, I seem to remember you hinting that Giancarlo was not exactly a field agent either... and Alessio doesn’t seem to have picked up on the incongruity either, so perhaps it’s for the best.

Indeed, but Giancarlo's not a field agent (or, at least, not an experienced one) in the same way Alessio's not a field agent. If anyone were monitoring him, that move would stick out like a sore thumb. However, he's actually interacting with the guy who would otherwise be doing the monitoring, so Giancarlo gets away with it. And, Alessio's monitoring job is strictly that; interpretation of his data goes to someone more experienced. Thus, Alessio himself also misses the obvious sign.

@Alfisti wrote:I find it interesting that Valentina seems to be living her part, that of a chastised little girl, up to this point, rather than technically acting it. Or is it part of her inferiority complex showing through?

It's certainly her inferiority complex driving her behavior here. She's an okay actress at absolute best (maybe improving later on, but at this stage it's still rather early for her). In her mind, she did make a lot of mistakes, and Giancarlo should most definitely be angry at her. Ruining Alessio's shirt, however... that much the guy deserved at the very least. Wink 

@Alfisti wrote:Ok, more just a thought here than anything. Trying to look at this from the perspective of a new reader, ie. someone who hasn’t had the rundown on Valentina’s capabilities we on the forum have had, this section where she is disgorging information could be quite confusing. Some sort of hint that she carries additional modifications might help, even if it’s just to have her closer her eyes for a second, “concentrating on something only she could see”... or something to that effect. Something to hint that she’s getting data from somewhere, rather than it just appearing.

A very fair point. Regarding your specific suggestion, Valentina doesn't necessarily need to go through any particular ritual to access data locally or remotely (except for, in the case of directional antennas, pointing her antennas in the right direction) or to see information on her built-in heads-up display. Sometimes that causes problems. For example, Valentina attempting to run at full speed while glued to the monitor in her eye usually leads to her running head long into stationary objects.  Anyway, I'll do what I can to better ease readers in regarding the fact Valentina is something special when it comes to cyborgs.

@Alfisti wrote:Ahh, the joys of having a jumpy cyborg. Leather upholstery or no, man may want to invest in some seat covers.

Indeed! It makes the inevitable clean up sessions go much, much faster. Razz

@Alfisti wrote:The other though:  through some of the story, particularly when describing the ins and outs of the computer tech, there was a fair bit of tell rather than show going on. I realise G&V are intended as a high-tech fratello, but it would probably be worth, again in editing, working out just what is required for the story, and what you could perhaps get away without the reader knowing/could be rephrased into a show rather than tell.

I admit it's a difficult thing, showing versus telling. I'd argue that, to an extent, what Valentina did was absolutely showing rather than telling. I'd admit that Alessio's actions were told, but it's not like he's going to say that he's getting ready to type in a password to his VPN client. But, the fact that he's doing so is rather important to the story overall (regarding the potential for intelligence gained by the Agency.) If I had another person there with Alessio it would make it easier for me to show rather than tell, but he's alone for a reason. Giancarlo's hasty plan wouldn't work otherwise. Also, Alessio wouldn't expect to be meeting with his crew until later even in the absence of of Giancarlo and Valentina.

For the future, however, I intend to do as much showing over telling as possible. I'll also do my best wherever possible to minimize, or at least to make it easier for readers to understand at a base level, the technical aspects of what Giancarlo and Valentina are doing. Which, honestly, is my plan all along. While I like tech a lot, and it's a strong part of the fratello's identity for a reason, I'm no Mark Russinovich. I can only try to be a cheap imitation. Razz
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PSVT

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Forum Posts : 494

Location : Pennsylvania, United States

Fan of : Triela, Claes

Original Characters : Giancarlo Rossi and his cyborgs Valentina R. and Eleonora R.; James Bernard and his cyborg Rachelle

Comments : Working on an actual story now, so please be patient... ^_^;

Registration date : 2014-05-27
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Re: PSVT's Writings

Post by PSVT on Mon 10 Nov 2014 - 20:07

Here is the proper first chapter, and about damned time at that. sweat I placed it in spoiler tags because, at a little over 10,000 words, it's very long. However, there are five sections to the chapter, each clearly numbered to make navigation hopefully that little bit easier. Anyway, enjoy, and please let me know what you think.

Spoiler:

1 | False Start

—|1|2|3|4|5|—

Giancarlo Rossi uttered a soft sigh upon sighting the moisture glistening on the back of his hand, the result of a quick swipe of his forehead. Surely the missing sweat beads had long since been replaced in the few seconds that motion had required. He felt as though ensconced in flames. A stiff breeze blowing in from the north provided him very little respite. All he could do to combat the spreading warmth was to doff his coat and suck in a deep breath. He gradually released the air from his lungs while laying the heavy wool pea coat across the driver’s seat. Only then did he feel ready to lift the cell phone to his ear and resume the conversation that had created within him such nervousness.

“I swear to you, Sofia. This is going to be a good thing not just for me but for you as well.”

“Hmm.” Her tone, though measured, conveyed significant doubt. “Tell me, then. How on Earth is this new job of yours going to be any better for us? How is it going to improve the situation we’re currently in?”

“Well… they’re going to be paying me much more. I can’t give you the exact number, but I think to say it’s at least double what I was getting before. It’ll help me take care of you guys, build up a nice college fund for Alex so he can go anywhere he wants in the world.”

“Money’s not the most important thing in the world to me, you know.”

He nodded, even though he knew she couldn’t see him. “I know, my dear. At the same time, you can’t deny that it’s a very good thing.”

“Sure, but it’s no good if it comes at too great a cost. I don’t want to go through the same mess over and over again.” There were a few moments of silence. “If you really want us to work again, then I’ll need to actually see you more than every once in a while. Alex also needs a father figure around. None of that can happen if you’re working all of the time. We’ve already been down that road before.”

“You will get to see me, and more than every once in a while. I promise.”

“Really?”

Certainly he sensed hints of suspicion in her voice, but he decided instead to latch onto her palpable optimism. It forced a tiny smile to his lips.

“Yeah. And I’ll do everything I can to make sure of that, no matter what.”

“Okay… Can you remind me again who this ‘they’ just happen to be?”

Fingers further mussed already unkempt hair as he contemplated his reply. “I’ll be honest with you. It’s a government job, doing pretty similar work like what I did with the Agency before. I really wish I can reveal more than that, but there are restrictions.”

“Uh huh.” Her skepticism was back and in full force.

“I know what you’re thinking, but I just said that I would do everything possible to make time to see you and Alex often. Besides, if I couldn’t then I wouldn’t have accepted the job in the first place.”

“Why not just take a normal job where you can come home every night and we can have an actual normal family instead of taking these super-secret government jobs, hmm?”

“It’s… really the only place where I can use my skills for the best.”

“Yeah…”

As he reached back into the car to grab his coat, he was unsure whether his shiver was due to the cold wind or her blatant disappointment. “Anyway, I have to go. My meeting with my new boss starts in about fifteen minutes and it wouldn’t look good. But, don’t worry. I will see you very soon, probably this weekend as a matter of fact.” He hesitated for a few moments before adding, “I hope you know that I do love you, very much, and I that I really to get back to the good times we had before.”

“I really do love you too. I just don’t want you to keep making yourself so sparse around us.” Through her softly-spoken words, punctuated by a light chuckle, he could feel a tremendous weight of his apprehension lift off his shoulders. “Now, hurry up and go see your boss. The last thing I would want is to have you getting fired because of me.”

A slight grin came to his lips the moment his smartphone’s screen went black. It soon disappeared, a casualty of both a timely stiff breeze and his subsequent recognition that standing outside while holding instead of wearing his coat was not a brilliant plan. Swinging his gaze leftward, he could see looming hundreds of meters in the distance a low-rise building apparently constructed of solid stone. That was his destination, connected to the small parking lot by a gravel pathway. He slid his arms into the sleeves of his navy blue pea coat and fiddled with the large buttons on its front while setting off at a brisk pace.

“Ah, finally out of this damned cold.” His next thought after passing through a threshold guarded by twin glass doors and looking around came with a snort. “Heh. Funny, though, that the inside of this place looks even more antiquated than the outside. Holy cow, what a tiny lobby! Then again, I guess they don’t really expect many visitors.”

“Mr. Rossi?”

He jumped at the abrupt sound of a female voice and swiveled around to face its origin. From a door to his right emerged a short-haired brunette. The simple black business suit skirt and jacket she wore was covered by a tan trench coat. Both worked to emphasize the very apparent no-nonsense attitude also conveyed by the unwavering stare she leveled at him. In her right hand she carried a short stack of manila folders, the topmost one opened to reveal to her its contents.

“Those must be part of a file on me,” he thought, blue eyes falling upon the set of documents before rising to meet green counterparts. “Yes?”

“I understand you’re meeting with Chief Lorenzo. Please follow me.”

“O-okay.”

He rushed to catch up to the woman as she turned and walked down a narrow hallway. Heels clicked harshly against the wood floor and reverberated across stone walls as the pair made their way to a separate exit on the other side of the building.

“Um, who are you, if you don’t mind my asking?”

She spared him only a quick glance, never breaking her stride. “Calling me Ferro is good enough. My job here is to ensure handlers like you are properly briefed prior to and supported during their missions.”

“Uh… handler?” Confusion played with his features, forcing him to lift an eyebrow and tilt his head slightly to one side. “Is that like a field agent of sorts? The guy I talked to before—Jean Croce if I remember correctly—told me that my job wouldn’t involve any field work. Well, not much field work anyway.”

“And Jean is correct, caveats included. Your job does not merely involve creating unique technical exploits but also implementing them. Of course, the idea is that you will operate in an intelligence-gathering capacity well prior to any actual combat operations. That way, you and your cyborg are exposed to less harm.” Bitter cold greeted them when she pushed open the door leading outside. “Then again, it is the cyborg’s duty to go into harm’s way when necessary.”

“Their duty, huh…”

Waiting in the tiny, tree-lined parking lot was a light gray Fiat Punto. A soft beep signified the unlocking of at least the driver’s door, which Ferro had already pulled open by the time she turned around to face a very pensive Giancarlo.

“You’re not having second thoughts, are you?”

“I know what a cyborg is, relative to robots and androids. At a certain level it is… disturbing.” He lifted his head skyward, massaging already mottled hair with his right hand as he did so. “Very disturbing, really. I understand that you’re using children to create these cyborgs. After all, that whole ‘I hope you like dealing with children’ deal Jean told me seems extremely weird otherwise after being approached for a clandestine government job.” A loud sigh passed his lips as he lowered his gaze to meet Ferro’s. “I guess what I’m trying to say is that if I had any real worries about your cyborg program I would have backed out of this long before now.”

Ferro nodded and motioned to the passenger side door. “You’re free to get in whenever you want, but be aware that Lorenzo’s expecting you soon.”

Giancarlo did not need much time to comply, and within seconds the miniscule car’s engine hummed to life. The first thing he noticed upon slumping into the seat was that space around his shins essentially was nonexistent. He had a few centimeters advantage over Ferro, but by the same token he wasn’t quite that tall. While his fingers fumbled across the bottom and side of the cushion in search of the seat controls, he took a moment to peer about the cabin. An austere field of mostly charcoal gray comprising the dashboard below met a pair of tan pillars to lead into the headliner above. “Kinda bland” was his mental verdict when comparing it to his Ford Fiesta’s interior.

Aloud he asked, “Is this your car?”

“It’s an Agency pool car. I figured it would be faster to drive to the offices than to walk, especially in this weather.”

“Much appreciated.” A grin appeared, but it soon faded as the stone building shrank in the rearview mirror. “So, Ferro, are you a handler as well?”

“No. I only work with them. Given the difficulties of your job—which, in all honesty, is one I absolutely do not desire or even envy—you guys definitely need all the help you can get.”

He scoffed. “Heh. I love the tremendous amount of encouragement you give to new employees.”

“Stuff it, Rossi. We sought you out because we believe you are both a perfect fit for what we intend to use you for and because we think you’re capable of handling the stress.” The narrow-eyed glare she leveled at Giancarlo made him flinch. “But, we are human. We’ve made mistakes before. And we’re prepared to correct them if necessary.”

At that moment, he found more inviting the view through the side window of the sparse landscape as it passed by. Ferro replied with barely a trace of a grin as she returned her attention to keeping the car on the gravel roadway.

“Anyway, we are an antiterrorism unit, plain and simple. It doesn’t require a genius to realize just how dangerous our job is. To counter that danger we choose exceptionally skilled people as handlers and provide them with cyborgs that are equally skilled, if not more. Even though you’re not directly involved in combat, the same is true for you and your role.”

“I understand.” Silence dominated the next few seconds before it was broken by rubbing of wool against polyester. “If I might ask, how many handlers does the Agency employ?”

“You’re the twentieth.”

“Um… just twenty? That seems somewhat low.”

“Cyborgs do not come cheap, and neither do handlers. Also, we’re an extremely secret organization, much like your former NSA employers. Or, given recent news events, it may be more apt to say we’re very much unlike them.”

“There’s an episode I’d like to forget.”

She readily ignored his subsequent groan. “In any case, the Social Welfare Agency’s mere existence, beyond the public-facing side, is shrouded in absolute secrecy, even from the rest of the government. As you might imagine, that makes securing funding for our organization all the trickier.”

“Clearly you’re getting money, though, and an awful lot of it.”

A half shrug punctuated his statement, only to be met by a dismal shake of her head.

“Not enough to accomplish all of our goals.”

The foliage surrounding the roadway disappeared to reveal a series of buildings set roughly at right angles to one another. Giancarlo immediately noticed that most of them were long and relatively narrow, a sharp contrast to the square building in which he had met Ferro. Their earthen stone facades topped by orange shingle roofs reminded Giancarlo of a really ancient suburban apartment complex. Another feature he found interesting was that none of the structures stood taller than four stories. Then again, there was no pressure to build skyward when it seemed the builders had all the land in Italy at their disposal.

A fork in the road approached. Turning left would have taken the pair down a tree-lined road that ultimately led to a large plaza amid the buildings. Ferro instead continued straight, directing the tiny Fiat to a parking lot situated next to an edifice whose appearance was decidedly more modern by comparison. She pulled into one of the few open spaces and shut off the engine. Giancarlo continued to stare at narrow panes of tinted glass interspersed within drab gray concrete slabs that formed the exterior walls.

“If you’re wondering, this is the hospital where our cyborgs are assembled and maintained,” Ferro said, pushing open the driver’s side door and stepping out onto sandy gravel as she spoke.

Giancarlo, still feeling somewhat bemused, did the same. “Sure, but why does it look so different from all the other buildings? Surely somebody could have given it a similar design to everything else here. It stands out like a sore thumb.”

“It’s one of the few buildings here that was actually built within our tenure. Personally, I don’t really care what the outside looks like since what’s inside is far more important.”

“Fair enough.”

Giancarlo turned to his left, peering over the top of the Fiat and past Ferro to the building’s doorway. There he saw an older man with closely cropped hair staring back at him, cupping his chin in one hand while a series of furrows worked their way across his brow. Glasses obscured a better view of the man’s eyes, but Giancarlo did not need to see that much to know the man was evaluating him. Knowing nothing else, he surmised that the unknown man was someone of great importance. On the other hand, he immediately recognized Jean and his piercing blue eyes affixed beneath blonde hair that was buffeted by the wind. Both men wore dark colored trench coats over suits and gloves, an obvious nod to the dismal weather.

“Welcome to the Agency,” Jean said. He shuffled off one of his gloves before stretching a hand toward Giancarlo. “I hope you had no problems making your way here.”

“It was easy enough, bar this atrocious weather.” Giancarlo readily accepted the handshake. “However, I had no idea the campus was so huge. Why did you guys make me park completely on the opposite side?”

The nonchalant tone belonged not to Jean but to the unknown individual. “It was an obvious security precaution, given the sensitive nature of what we do here. That was why I had Ferro escort you here instead of having you make the drive yourself. However, I have been informed that all is clear.”

“Well, uh, I’m certainly happy about that, mister…”

“Pieri Lorenzo.” He shook the hand extended to him by Giancarlo. “I am in charge of Section Two, the special operations branch of the Social Welfare Agency.”

“Ah. A pleasure to meet you.”

“Likewise.” Lorenzo pointed an extended thumb over his shoulder, toward the entrance of the dull gray building. “Now, before we travel to my office to take care of the rest of our business, I thought it would be apropos to give you a quick tour of our facilities. Follow me.”

Giancarlo did as instructed, trailing Lorenzo, Jean, and Ferro through the threshold and into the lobby. Indeed, Ferro’s words rang true as the interior décor was far more modern than what the outside had suggested. The section chief was busy saying just as much. However, the Agency’s newest handler was distracted from the view and accompanying speech by yet another blonde, this one far shorter than the man behind whom she stood. He bent down to take a closer look at her face and was immediately struck by her vacant stare into apparent nothingness. A shiver ran down his spine.

“My goodness…” he thought. “Jean wasn’t kidding after all. Sure, I guess you can’t have killing machines acting like actual children, but this girl—if anyone can actually call the cyborgs that—looks creepy as all hell.”

Creepy wasn’t the word that Giancarlo imagined when he found his gaze directly meeting those same blank cornflower blue eyes. They disappeared just as quickly. He blinked, spending the moment to figure out why. Eventually he noticed her tremendous grin, one met with lidded eyes and a slight tilt of her head. One might have considered it a friendly gesture. Instead, it left him feeling very uneasy.

“Don’t worry, Giancarlo.”

The sound of someone speaking his name snapped Giancarlo from his reverie. Only then did he realize who had spoken to him.

“You’ll have a cyborg of your own soon enough. That way you won’t need to be so enamored with Rico.”

“Rico, huh…” His hand muffled a few rough coughs as he cleared his throat. “Interesting name for a girl.”

“Handlers are free to give any name they prefer to their cyborg.”

“Speaking of which,” Lorenzo said with a sharp inflection, quickly grabbing both men’s attention, “it should be another week before the doctors will have fully prepared your cyborg. At some point today we should talk about what activities you have planned during the interim.”

“I figure I would continue doing what I was doing. That’s why you hired me, right?”

“Absolutely. But you are still a handler, and that means you’ll still occasionally go into the field. Otherwise we’d have hired you as a mere tech, and paid you much less to boot.”

Giancarlo knew it was a risky question, but he felt compelled to ask it anyway. “Why didn’t you?”

“Because what we intend to do is more important than just writing a few lines of code. If that were the case, then anybody mere computer science graduate would do. No point in paying you damn-near half a million euros per year for that.” He stopped in his tracks and turned to face Giancarlo, startling the younger man. “Don’t you agree?”

“I-I can’t argue the point.”

“I thought so. Anyway, that’s a discussion better suited for later, in the privacy of my office.” He resumed his stride. “Right now, I thought you might want to have a brief discussion of what will happen in the future regarding your cyborg. Ferro?”

The woman nodded and held out toward Giancarlo one of the document-filled manila folders she carried. “Bianca Mantovani.”

Confusion washed over Giancarlo’s features as he accepted the folder. “Is there anything different here than what Jean told me at the hospital?”

“This is the girl’s complete history, as far as we were able to determine,” Jean replied. “I strongly recommend becoming very familiar with it prior to meeting your cyborg for the first time.”

Ferro shuffled a few of the remaining folders she held in her arms before passing four of them toward Giancarlo. The move only further perplexed the man.

“Huh? What’s this?”

“Dossiers on girls who would serve as backups to Bianca should anything go wrong with the conversion process.”

“I don’t understand…”

Lorenzo’s voice was low and calm. “Converting these… unfortunate girls into cyborgs is an imprecise science at best. Though, with the second generation of cyborgs, we have removed most of the complications through a combination of more rigorous procedures and tighter candidate selection. Then again, what we intend for Bianca is something far more technically advanced than anything we’ve previously attempted. Thus, it increases the probability of a mistake or unforeseen circumstance.”

“However,” Jean interjected, his brusque tone startling Giancarlo, “I wouldn’t worry too much about that eventuality if I were you. The doctors are exceedingly skilled. And, even if something were to occur, which is unlikely, they would be able to correct the problem. In the end, you will receive a working cyborg.”

All Giancarlo felt he could do at the moment was nod, so he did. Slowly. That motion, apparently, was his cue to Lorenzo to continue speaking.

“Now, I think it would be a good idea—”

Of course, fate had a different plan. Loud beeping derailed Lorenzo’s soliloquy and drew the group’s collective attention to Ferro. Or, more accurately, her coat pocket, where she had stashed a small radio handset. Fortunately the piercing noise lasted only for a second, but it was merely the start of what proved to be a more complicated situation. Giancarlo saw the woman reach inside the collar of her trench coat, retrieve a wired earpiece, and place a small loop containing a specially molded speaker over her left ear.

“Ferro speaking. Go ahead Bernard.” Palpable apprehension swiftly replaced her initial calmness during those several seconds. “I think I understand you. You should switch to contingency plan zero-three and await further instruction.” Another tense few moments of silence followed. “What’s that Bernard? I didn’t quite make out what you were saying. James? Come on, talk to me.”

Lorenzo rubbed his forehead with the palm of his hand and groaned. “What happened?”

“Apparently the Bernard fratello ran into an ambush. They expected and successfully engaged five to six Padanian operatives at the safe house. However, we did not have any intelligence on the presence of other suspected Padanian operatives in the area. These previously unknown operatives were the ones responsible for the attack.”

“How many?” Jean asked.

Giancarlo glanced down just in time to witness a subtle shift in Rico’s otherwise expressionless gaze. However, he couldn’t tell whether it signaled concern or mere curiosity.

“Approximately a dozen. I couldn’t quite understand what James said, but it appears the operatives are wielding heavy weapons, including at least one twenty-millimeter grenade launcher.”
 
Clearly, she had delivered news the section chief did not want to hear. “The hell? Do you think it’s possible they had advance warning of our attack?”

“It’s difficult to tell.” Ferro exhaled a deep breath. “Regarding the grenades, James did not say whether they were actually being used. Though, I had lost contact with him by then.”

Lorenzo turned and started retracing his steps, heading toward the exit at a hurried pace. “Either way, you should go find out what assets we can wrangle on short notice.” She replied with a quick nod. “Meanwhile I’ll contact Major Salles to see what options GIS might provide. If nothing else, they might be able to launch an assault on the apartment themselves. If the Padanain operatives are acting as boldly as it seems, then they should have plenty of justification. Let’s just hope these idiots don’t end up blowing our cover.”

The type of information he was seeing and the rapidity of its appearance was new to Giancarlo, but he was erudite enough to pick up on one crucial piece of data. It forced him to close his mouth and not verbalize the question that had initially formed in his mind. Instead he replaced it with a slightly less silly query.

“Um… none of this craziness is happening in Rome, is it?”

“Florence, actually,” Jean replied. “We would be able to send another fratello or two as reinforcements this were occurring in Rome.”

It appeared the senior handler’s remarks had reminded Lorenzo of the newest handler’s presence, causing the man to slow his pace slightly. “It seems our tour will have to wait for another time. Your room in the handler’s dorm should be ready. Jean can point you in the right direction. We’ll talk later once we’re this problem is solved.”

Giancarlo waited for Lorenzo and Ferro to depart before turning his attention to Jean once more. “So, where exactly is this handler’s dorm again?”

“It’s fairly close by. Follow me.” He lowered his gaze to meet that of his cyborg. “Rico, you’re free for the rest of this morning. However, don’t forget that we have target practice this afternoon. Three o’clock sharp.”

“Yes, sir.”

Despite lasting for only a fleeting moment before she ran with determination toward the cyborg dorm, a brilliant smile had graced her lips. It’s similarity to her previous grin piqued Giancarlo’s interest. He couldn’t help but to track her until she disappeared from his vision. It was a blessing that the trip from the hospital to the handler’s dorm was relatively short, only a few minutes’ walk along the gravel pathways. Further, Jean was not the type to fill his ears with useless drivel, so the pair was silent for most of the walk. It suited Giancarlo, as it allowed him to contemplate that girl’s strange mannerisms. In the end, it all boiled down to a simple conclusion.

“Don’t know why, but this Rico scares the hell out of me. I really hope I know what I’m getting into with this cyborg business.”

—|1|2|3|4|5|—

“That was…”

Giancarlo dropped stack of papers atop a short pile of manila folders and slowly exhaled a deep breath. His gaze wondered back to the photograph of a girl with hair and eyes an equally dark shade of brown. Written next to the portrait was her name and age: Bianca Mantovani, 13. However, it was the many blocks of text below detailing her life and near death which inspired his feelings of revulsion.

“I know these poor girls had to endure terrible tragedies to end up in a place like this, but this is just horrible. Reading this really puts it all in perspective. To see a young girl snatched from her family and… Gah!” Another few seconds passed, during which time he took a sip from the glass of whiskey on his desk. “Then again, that’s life, shitty as it is. This place wouldn’t exist, and I wouldn’t even be here, if people were inherently good. For Luciano’s sake, I just have to do my best to put a small dent in the insanity that is this world.”

Apart from the dossiers on his prospective cyborg and the potential backups, the only items on his desk were a mostly empty glass and a mostly full bottle of Johnnie Walker Black. Contemplating for a few more hours on such a morose subject would flip that situation, which was why he pushed the folders aside and added one more object to his desk. The aluminum body of his laptop computer almost seemed to glisten beneath the fluorescent lighting. This machine was small, lightweight, and easily portable. It was also very unlike the far larger desktop and monitor setup that he favored. However, it would serve his purposes for now, so long as he could find an internet connection.

That was a task that would have to wait. His ears detected a sharp grumble from his gut. The pain in his stomach corroborated both its source and the reason.

“I guess it really has been a while since I ate breakfast.” He glanced down at the watch on his wrist, a basic digital model. “Jeez! Seven hours. Hmm… Jean told me about the cafeteria. I didn’t really pay too much attention to his directions, though. Hopefully it’s not too far away.”

Only thirty minutes had elapsed since he separated ways with the lead handler, meaning that cold was still the prevailing temperature outside. He gathered his pea coat in one arm and retrieved the keys to his door from his trousers pocket. The door secured shut and locked, he swiveled on his heels to the left, soon pointing in the direction of the nearest stairway. Another door closed a few rooms behind him, the faint thud echoing down the hallway. Feeling curious, he stopped and turned his head around to peer over his shoulder.

Three steps. That was as far as he had moved from his doorway.

As far as he could tell, his mind remained firmly in his possession. Judging by the annoyed expression he received in return, his bespectacled counterpart begged to differ. In any case, she was the first to break the silence hanging between the pair.

“I figure you must be new here.”

He continued to stare for a few more awkward moments before finally asking, “What are you doing here?”

“Dropping off a book on horticulture and picking up one about classical music during eighteenth-century Europe. And you?”

She delivered both her reply and her snarky rhetorical question with ease, as though she belonged and his presence in that hallway was an anomaly. But that was impossible, at least as far as Giancarlo knew. He needed to know what was going on. Standing with arms akimbo, he repeated his question with a firmer tone.

“I mean, what are you, a cyborg, doing here in the handler’s dorm?”

She looked at the floor and heaved a loud sigh before meeting his gaze once again. “My name is Claes. I’m visiting my library here. Signore Jean has given me permission to enter the library whenever I like.”

“Huh?”

He removed his hands from his hips and slowly approached the girl, eyeing her closely the whole time. At no point did she flinch. Then again, she was a cyborg. But she was also a child, or at least a teenager. He estimated her age to be either twelve or thirteen, making her only a few years older than his eight-year-old son. That put him in familiar territory, or so he imagined.

“Can’t really tell, but it doesn’t look like she’s lying,” he thought. “Then again, it’s hard to tell anything with these cyborgs.”

“I understand your suspicion. You can ask Signore Jean if you don’t believe me.”

“No, I understand that much. But, Jean? Wouldn’t your handler have more to say about this than him?”

Her gaze dropped to the floor once again, though this time Giancarlo sensed more melancholy than disappointment in her expression. “I-I don’t have a handler. I’ve never had a handler, at least as far as I can remember.”

“Heh… never? That’s strange.”

“Not really.” A miniscule grin formed on her lips as she shook her head. “In a way, it actually makes sense.”

His stomach grumbled once again as he turned around, preparing to walk in the direction he had originally planned. “Eh, I don’t get it, but I figure I’ll find out what’s going on with you sooner or later.”

“It’s up to you, but I suggest going this way instead.”

He had barely taken his first step before she interrupted him. “Excuse me?”

“Unless I’m mistaken, you’re headed to the cafeteria.” She lifted her left arm and pointed behind her. “It’s faster to exit the building on the east side. That way it’s essentially a straight shot.”

“How do you know I want to go to the cafeteria?”

“Call it intuition. Or a hunch. It’s really up to you.” She punctuated that statement with a nonchalant half shrug before walking in the same direction she had indicated.

“Okay, that was… interesting,” he thought, running a hand through his hair and watching her shrink in the distance. “Maybe not all of the cyborgs are as disturbing as Rico. I’ll still want to check the notes Ferro gave me on the existing cyborgs though to see just what’s going on with this Claes.” One more groan emanated from his midsection. “Oh, and get some lunch for God’s sake. What the hell am I doing standing around here?”

—|1|2|3|4|5|—

Curiosity indeed had gotten the better of Giancarlo.

That was why he found himself standing at the door of the shooting range at three o’clock sharp. He twisted up his nose immediately upon entering the long and narrow building. Being a computer geek by trade, he was very unaccustomed to the pungent odors of gunpowder and gun oil. Waving his hand before his face provided him no respite from the smell.

“I’m going to be spending a lot of time here anyway, so I might as well get used to the smell,” he thought, shaking his head as he continued walking inside.

A snicker to his right attracted his attention, bringing his gaze to meet that of the attendant. He raised his hands as if in surrender while frowning.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m a complete newbie at this. I got it. No need to laugh at me.”

The other man shook his head while attempting to stifle any further chuckles. “Didn’t mean to insult you.” A few tiny coughs, muffled by his fist, seemed to do the job. “You’re the new handler Lorenzo hired, right?”

“Yeah,” was all Giancarlo said aloud, that word accompanied by a short nod. Inwardly he added, “Apparently gossip seems to move around here just as quickly here as it did at the Agency.”

“Figured as much.” He leaned forward, sticking his head out of the window slightly. “So, you’re here to start your firearms training already?”

“Um… not really. I hadn’t planned on it.” He shrugged. “Though, I guess it might not hurt to do it now rather than later.”

“In any case, you should probably go talk to Marco.” Giancarlo’s gaze followed the man’s outwardly stretched finger until it landed on a man sporting a narrow goatee and wearing glasses. “His cyborg hasn’t been doing too well lately, so I’d imagine he has a bit more time on his hands. Don’t let his occasional foul mood put you off, though. He wasn’t always like that.”

“I see…”

“If that doesn’t work for you, you can always go ask Ferro to see if any of the non-handler staff is free.”

“I’ll give Marco a chance first.” He pulled his lips tight and hummed while continuing to stare at the man across the room. “After all, I might have some questions pop into my head which are better answered by a handler.”

“Suit yourself. I’m just here to help.” The attendant pulled his head back behind the window. “Oh, by the way, you don’t happen to be left-handed, do you?”

Giancarlo tilted his head slightly to the side. “Not that I know of.”

The attendant chuckled again. “Good. That means we don’t have to worry about finding you a special weapon.”

“That’s good, I guess. Anyway, I’ll see you later.”

Giancarlo tossed a quick wave toward the attendant before stepping further into the range. Spread before him were ten shooting stalls, each containing a small bench and preparation table. He saw Rico in one of the center stalls. The young blonde’s right hand held what he recognized as a semiautomatic pistol into which she slotted a loaded magazine with her left. Next to one of the center stalls stood Jean, wearing protective earmuffs and sporting a studious expression on his face as he observed Rico at work. The girl then lifted the pistol in front of her body and peered down its sights at a series of targets.

Even with having a faint idea of what was to come, he flinched.

“Dammit!” He felt as though he needed to pick his stomach up from the floor. “That was so freaking loud. And so many at once.”

Straightening up, he looked around at the other stalls and noticed two other fratello. In the stall immediately to the right of Rico’s was a smaller brunette with a bobbed haircut. There, a perplexed expression fell across his face. Unlike the fairly standard pistol wielded by Jean’s cyborg, he had no idea what on Earth that girl was firing short of the fact it was a rifle. Whatever it was, it hurled bullets downrange at a frightening pace. He swiftly raised his hands to cover his ears when the first report struck his ears. Fortunately, the pain did not last for long, for she had expended the entire magazine within mere seconds.

“Here.” The man identified as Marco stood next to Giancarlo, holding toward the latter a set of earmuffs. “It’s always a good idea to bring hearing protection before entering a shooting range.”

Giancarlo immediately accepted the earmuffs, nodding as he took them. “Thanks. I knew it would be loud, but I just didn’t appreciate exactly how loud it would be.”

“Now you know.” Marco faced toward the stalls once again. “Anyway, I take it you’re Giancarlo Rossi.”

“I am. And you are…”

“Marco Toni.” He stuck out a hand, which Giancarlo readily shook. “Welcome to the mess that is this Agency. How the hell you, someone with no military or police experience—or even firearms training for that matter—managed to land on Lorenzo’s radar I have no idea. And as a handler at that. But, you’re here now and you probably aren’t leaving anytime soon, so it helps all of us to bring you up to our level.”

Giancarlo decided to mimic Marco and observe the other fratelli at work as well, not that he had many other options. “Lorenzo has some sort of special mission for me and my cyborg. That’s what he told me earlier, though he’s yet to tell me what this mission exactly is. We were supposed to meet earlier this morning, but some sort of crisis derailed that.”

“Ah. You’re talking about the fuckup in Florence I gather. The good news is that we didn’t lose anybody today despite everything that happened.”

“Glad to hear.”

Marco motioned toward the exit before starting off that direction in a slow saunter. It was an obvious hint to Giancarlo that he should follow, and so he did.

“I have plenty of time. All I have these days is time, so it won’t bother me to train you. We should get you a gun or two from the armory, something simple to operate and maintain given that you’re new to this. The Beretta 92 FS is our standard handgun, so I recommend we go with that for now. We’ll come back a little later and start training once you have your kit.”


—|1|2|3|4|5|—

“Huh.” All Giancarlo did for those few seconds before he spoke again was to gaze contemplatively at the woman sitting at the table across from him. “He wants a camera. And a DSLR at that. That is quite the interesting present, especially at that age.”

That woman, Sofia, could not help but to grin as she lowered the glass of wine from her lips. “If it’s any consolation to you, I felt the same way. But it’s a healthy hobby, and I can think of many worse things our son can be doing. It certainly beats sitting in front of the television all day long. Or a computer.”

“Okay, okay… Point taken.” The fork in his hands made a soft clang against the porcelain plate as he set it down. It made leaning across the wooden surface to direct a pointed gaze at his wife all the simpler. “But, I’m here, am I not?”

“Yes, you are here. And I pray for many more moments like this.” She repeated her husband’s motions, strands of black hair nearly brushing against the tabletop as she did so. “After all, I didn’t marry you so that we could never actually see each other again, save for the odd visit on holidays.

“I know that, Sofia. And I regret not having the time to actually be a real husband to you.”

A thud echoed about the room, the result of her chair striking the floor after she fell back into its cushion, sighing as she did so. “Which is why you’ve accepted a very similar job with similar restrictions on what you can tell and to whom and when you can leave and see your family.”

“I…” He slouched under her intense stare, urging his mind to find an answer that would satisfy her. “You’re right, in a sense, that I did choose the same type of job that contributed to the mess we’re currently in. It’s for a very good reason, though.”

“And that reason is?”

Another sigh, though this one was louder and more desperate. “My brother. You remember what I told you about him, right? About how he died?”

“Somewhat. You told me he got caught up in some nasty business here, something to do with the Mafia or some similar crime organization.”

“It was Padania, not the Mafia.”

“Oh.” A pall of confusion fell over her features. “But wasn’t there something to do with the Mafia in how he died? I could swear there was a connection.”

“Well, there was some attempted cooperation between the two, at least from what I heard at the time. Luciano had nothing to do with that stuff, though. I wouldn’t know what the Mafia would want to do with a group that desires the splitting and eventual destruction of Italy.”

“The money would be my guess. For some people money is far more important than anything else in their lives, even if it causes the world to fall apart around them.” A few seconds of silence passed before she ended that line of thought with a shrug. “But, okay, so your brother was involved with crime and Padania was involved with his death.”

He exhaled a deep breath and slowly shook his lowered head. “Yes and no. They weren’t the ones who shot him dead, but they put him in that position. Their beliefs, their actions… all of it is completely unforgivable, but what they did to my baby brother is the worst of it all. They manipulated a naïve kid into believing their bullshit message and now he’s dead. Hell, I’d bet the people at the top don’t really believe it themselves, so long as they can recruit enough young souls to fight their stupid little war for them. Poor Luciano’s was probably only one of many.” By then his whole body had started trembling as anger and despair filled him. “But he was my baby brother, my only brother.”

“Giancarlo, honey…” With haste she stood from her seat and walked the short trek around the table to grab hold of his hand.

“I’m okay, babe. Really, I am. It’s just…” Another sigh. “I hope you know now why I’m working for the government and not some private corporation or even starting my own business or whatever.”

“Yeah, I do.” She used her free hand to delicately stroke with her fingers the back of his. “Just keep in mind, vengeance is extremely dangerous. I don’t want to lose you to that lust. Not that I could dare claim any holier-than-thou persona. I’m probably the last human being to criticize you for that given my history. But, I figure maybe you could learn from my mistake and not go down the dark road that I did way back then.”

Merely looking at his wife and witnessing the raw anxiety and pain in her eyes told him everything he needed to know about how she still felt. The trembling in her touch merely accentuated that message.

“I hope I don’t. I’ll try my damnedest not to. That much I promise you.”

As she wrapped her arms around his shoulders and pulled him into a tender hug, he reminisced about her words and the history surrounding them. “She’s absolutely right, and I don’t want to make a liar out of myself. I just don’t know if I can truly keep that promise.”

That meditative mood ended nearly as quickly as it had begun, broken by a tug of his left arm. Maybe he should have heard the light thuds of footfalls against the hardwood flooring as a warning, but by then it was too late. Not that it was ever a problem to be met by his eight-year-old son. He merely wished for a little more time to mentally change gears.

“Mama! Papa!” the child exhorted. “Look over here!”

Acquiescing to such a simple request led to the pair meeting the brilliant white light of a camera flash. It took about half a minute for their eyes to recover from the photonic assault. Conversely, Sofia needed mere instants to scold the boy.

“Alex! Stop right there!” Even while nearly blinded, she still had enough dexterity to hop past Giancarlo and grab a hold of her son’s arm. “What did I tell you about using that bright flash?”

“But…” Alex looked down at the ground and mumbled the rest of his retort. “I did tell you before taking the picture.”

“Yes, but you have to give us more warning than that. Nobody likes suddenly having a bright flash in their eyes. It really hurts.” She shook her head and sighed before shifting the hand on his arm to his shoulder. Her other hand moved to tilt his chin upward so that she could look directly into his eyes. “Give us at least a few seconds before you take our pictures if you’re going to be using the flash. Do you understand me?”

“Sorry, mama.” His slumping shoulders and pitiable pout worked to eviscerate his mother’s remaining disappointment and annoyance. She let go of his shoulder. Before running off toward the living room, he said, “I just wanted a really nice picture of you and papa.”

Giancarlo spoke in whispered tones. “In a way, he has a point. I haven’t really been around here with you all that often, so he misses us being together.”

Sitting at the dinner table once again, Sofia gazed directly at her husband’s face as she adopted a similar tenor. “It’s what I’ve been saying. We need you here more often. We want you here in our lives. Which is why, even though I fully understand why you did it, I’m still frustrated that you accepted that job.” Silence dominated their conversation for a few seconds, with only the tings of flatware against porcelain audible. “Anyway, I guess while you’re still here in Naples, it might be a good idea to have a new family portrait made. What Alex said made me think, and it really has been a while.”

“A few years, actually.” A smile tugged at his lips. “You know, I have a few rather light days this week before my job truly has me busy. It should be plenty of time to find a really good photographer.”

“Do you dare suggest that our Alex isn’t quite good enough for the job?” It was a question punctuated by a wink.

“Surely not with that old thing.” His chuckles echoed about the dining room, soon met by her rampant giggles and his sly grin. “But, maybe once I get him that DSLR…”

“Oh, don’t forget the lenses as well. They’re very important. I have a few select kits already in mind.”

“Sofia, darling… are you sure it’s Alex asking for that camera—” Giancarlo raised an eyebrow as he regarded his wife with a slightly tilted head— “or you?”

—|1|2|3|4|5|—

“Wow. All those wires and tubes hooked up to her like that—and the specialized computer equipment too. I don’t recognize any of it as what I’d see in a normal hospital.”

Giancarlo heaved a heavy sigh, leaving a small spot of fog on the glass, as he stared at the work occurring on the other side. From his vantage point he could see the doctors and technicians, five of them in total, milling around a space no larger than the patient’s room at a typical hospital. A litany of machines strewn about the floor almost haphazardly served to shrink the room even further. Yet, the chaos appeared to have a certain organization about it. That was not in the handler’s mind as he continued his thoughts.

“Poor Bianca barely even looks human right now. Once they’re fully done with their work she won’t be human at all. She’d be more like… hopefully more like Hillshire’s cyborg. Triela, if I remember correctly. I have no idea what I would do if she’s anything like Rico. And, Lord help me if she’s happens to take after that insane redhead.”

“We should be just about ready to release her from the life support machines and begin the awakening process.”

The sound of a man’s voice broke Giancarlo from his reverie and all but forced him to swivel around to see who was speaking to him. Only after recognizing the white lab coat and goatee was his apprehension replaced by confusion. He pointed an extended index finger at the glass.

“Shouldn’t you be over there with the others, Doctor Bianchi?”

“I figured you would want an update on Bianca’s status.” Bianchi struck a casual pose as he leaned against the window. “At this stage she’s stable and everything is working as planned. So far, we have only experienced minimal complications with attaching the new implants to her nervous system. However, we won’t really know if she’s adapted to them until we wake her from her medically induced coma.”

Medicine was not really something with which Giancarlo had a tremendous intellectual grasp, and the advanced kind practiced by the Social Welfare Agency was even further out of his league. So he just nodded. After a while, he said, “I hope whatever you guys did to her works out well.”

“While we do have a standard protocol for creation of the second generation cyborgs that works very well, I will admit that the changes for Bianca are very substantial, which increases the risk probability for a mistake.” He ran a hand through a closely-cropped head of hair. “By the way, have you thought of a name for your new cyborg?”

Giancarlo fell silent for a moment, his gaze fixed on his shoes. With a sharp inhalation he looked up at the doctor. “Valentina.”

“That’s a pretty name, if I may say so.” Bianchi leaned slightly forward, sliding closer to the handler. “And, though it’s not my place, I’m somewhat glad you didn’t follow Jean’s advice on cyborg naming.”

“He might have his reasons, but I figured it was still rather stupid.”

“It’s difficult to disagree with that assessment.” Chuckling subsided, and his eyes narrowed into a concerned stare that he then pointed at Giancarlo. “At the same time, I would caution against being overly personal with your cyborg, and while giving a girl a boy’s name might be going too far I certainly understand his mindset in doing so.”

Unsteadiness in his voice belied the nonchalance of his shrug. “Maybe I’m being equally silly, but no other name really makes sense to me.”

“Well…” He paused, taking a second to glance at the ceiling and contemplate his response. “If it works for you, then I’m not going to stand in your way. You’re going to be her handler, not me.” A deft sideways nod of his head signaled his intentions. “Anyway, I’m going back in there to begin waking Valentina up. You’re free to join me if you want.”

“I do want to be there with Valentina when she finally comes to,” Giancarlo thought as he followed Bianchi. “As her handler, I owe her at least that much.”

The pair ultimately approached an adjacent room, one smaller and even more confined than where most of the action was occurring. Giancarlo shivered upon being struck by a blast of cool air, forcing him to rub his arms with his hands. He scanned the room as he did so, rapidly finding among the various machines a computer desk tucked into a far corner. Bright blue light from the monitor filled an otherwise dim room, casting a silhouette around the person sitting in the chair. Despite the effect, it didn’t take him very long to identify the individual.

“Good seeing you again, Ferro,” Giancarlo said.

He could see that she swiveled around in her seat to face him, but not much more than that. Conversely, her flat tone revealed far more. “Do you have a name for your cyborg?”

“Valentina.” A mischievous grin tugged at his lips as she typed the name. “A mechanical keyboard, huh. I can recognize those loud clicks from anywhere. An IBM Model M, maybe?”

“That’s all I really needed from you.” Ferro placed her hands on the armrests and pushed away from the chair. She stopped midway on her ascent. Not even the low light could prevent Giancarlo from detecting her intense glare. “I notice you didn’t come bearing any gifts, Mr. Rossi.”

“Um… gifts?”

Her declaration left him befuddled, but that emotion didn’t last for long. Seeing an irritated Ferro spring up from her chair and close the distance between them with frightening speed startled him. He raised his hands in front of his chest, if for no other reason than self-protection.

“What the hell did you think you were going to do once she wakes up, huh? Did you even remotely consider Valentina’s psychological wellbeing before coming up here?” She took another step forward. “That gift is not a mere accident of a tradition.”

“Well, I’m here, am I not?” It was with a very gentle and careful touch that he placed his right hand on her opposite shoulder. “And, it won’t do so much damage if I don’t have it immediately on me, so long as she knows she will receive it soon.”

She stood with arms akimbo and showed no hint of backing down. “I wouldn’t be so certain about that.”

“Hmm…” Bianchi’s pensive utterance served to remind the pair that he still was in the room. “Lacking any real data, it would be interesting to see what her reaction is. Maybe Giancarlo’s right and there’s no real harm to be done.” His eyes narrowed upon Giancarlo even as he continued speaking to Ferro. “Even if there is, it would be his mess to clean up.”

Giancarlo muffled a light chuckle as he nodded. “Let’s just hope I’m not so fortunate.”

“Anyway, the whole awakening process should take about ten minutes.” Bianchi walked toward the door. “Shall we?”

Only in the absence of that glass barrier could the Giancarlo fully appreciate Bianca’s stark new reality. He was the one who had chosen her to be his cyborg—his girl. He knew every single detail of her terrible history that led her to the Agency. Yet only now, as he stood at the head of her bed, had he ever been so close to her. A few strands of black hair spilled across plain white sheets and over the edge of the mattress. Tracing them upward led to a round face that he remembered from her photo to carry a healthy tan. Instead, he shuddered upon seeing a frighteningly pale visage that revealed even more tubes and wires extruding from her nose and lips. The mask concealing her eyes and ears probably would have startled him more had he not already seen it through the glass.

“It’s… scary seeing her like this.” Despite that thought, his curiosity overcame his apprehension. A finger lightly poked at the mask’s metallic silver surface where her right eye would be. “Um, I figure this mask thing is how you guys transfer all that information straight into her brain.”

“Somewhat,” Bianchi said. He turned away from a monitor showing the cyborg’s vital statistics. “We use other equipment for the early stages of mental imprinting. That mask is used to reinforce the neuronal connections that we force onto her brain, as well as to impress upon her the last bit of vital information.”

“You mean, her name, right?”

Bianchi chuckled. “A cyborg who doesn’t know her own name isn’t all that useful, now is she?”

Appearing in Bianchi’s right hand was a syringe far larger than any Giancarlo had ever seen. The doctor’s other hand held a glass bottle, one voluminous enough to fill the syringe. A bright orange label marked with symbols unknown to the handler initially concealed the contents of that bottle. However, he soon could see Bianchi draw a colorless liquid into the syringe.

“What is that?”

He flicked the syringe a few times before uncapping the needle and inserting it into a small tube. “It’s the drug that should wake Valentina from her induced coma. There’s also a small dose of the conditioning medication, for good measure.”

Watching as Bianchi pressed the syringe’s plunger, which caused the liquid within to slowly recede from the cylinder and into his cyborg’s veins, Giancarlo could not help but to utter a meditative hum. “That medication seems like pretty nasty stuff, at least from what I’ve read.”

“To be honest, I’m not a tremendous fan of the conditioning medication or how it ultimately mangles a cyborg’s brain. However, there’s no way so far that we know how to create a cyborg without using the conditioning medication.” He dropped the syringe into an orange bin branded with one of the few symbols from the trade his handler counterpart actually could recognize: the trefoil-shaped emblem for biohazard. “While conditioning levels are the prerogative of the handler, the good news is that the second-generation cyborgs do not require nearly as much conditioning compared to the original set. Furthermore, we’re continuously working to reduce the base amount of conditioning these girls require, and Valentina here benefits from that work.”

Giancarlo opened his mouth to ask yet another question that had racked his mind. A speaker fixed atop one of the monitoring devices beat him to the punch in the race to make a sound. It created a series of shrill beeps, which in turn forced a flinch from both men. Bianchi’s fixed his attention upon the screen, his brow furrowed as he attempted to make sense of the constantly shifting numbers and graphs. Pure curiosity drew Giancarlo’s gaze in that direction. A sharp yank of his arm pulled it back toward the bed. It had to have been from a harried and annoyed doctor, one of the others that had been in the room before his and Bianchi’s entrance. That doctor’s other hand inevitably would have gestured with a pointing motion toward the back wall, a wordless order to “get the hell out of the way.” So, while swiveling his head around to face the bed, Giancarlo started shuffling backward to do exactly that.

So strong was the force that had jerked him forward, it was a near miracle that he did not smash his face into the tile floor.

“What the—”

He would not complete that statement. Instead, Giancarlo slammed his eyes shut and grimaced as he finally perceived the biting pain in his wrist. An attempt to grasp that wrist with his left hand went unsuccessful. He needed that hand to brace his body as it was slammed into the floor yet again.

“Giancarlo!” That harried shout came from Ferro. She had raced into the room upon seeing the commotion in her video feed. “I got you! Hold on!”

By the time Giancarlo had regained his mental faculties he found himself slumped against a wall, his wrist held with a far gentler touch than the vice that had gripped it. He immediately realized he no longer was in the room with Bianchi and his cyborg. Instead he was in the dimly lit room with the computer, except it was much brighter than he had remembered. Beyond the most obvious question in his mind and a few others that formed in the interim, he wanted to know why Ferro there and why she hovered over him. A quick glance at an expression that contained far more anxiety than usual for the agent helped him to form the answer.

“You’re very lucky that your wrist isn’t broken, at least as far as I can tell,” she said. “We’ll have the doctors take a closer look at it when they’re free.”

Not broken was very different from not aching like mad. An attempt to flex that very wrist resulted in shooting pain along his entire right arm.

“Don’t try to move it too much. Even if the bones are intact, who knows what other damage she might have caused you.” She grabbed a hold of his left arm beneath the elbow.

As he accepted her help in climbing to his feet, he turned to Ferro with a very confused expression on his face. “What happened?”

“Well…” She hesitated for a few seconds before shaking her head and exhaling a loud sigh. Her tone, already solemn given the circumstance of his injury, became even more subdued after that. “I don’t have any good news to tell you, or to Chief Lorenzo later today. The short answer: our one hundred million euro investment just went down the proverbial drain.”

“And Valentina?” He delivered that question upon a rough and equally somber whisper.

“Lorenzo is committed to making this project work. You will have your Valentina. I can guarantee you at least that much.” Ferro turned and made a slow walk toward the hallway door. With her back still turned to Giancarlo, she stopped, took one more deep breath, and added, “It just won’t be Bianca Mantovani anymore.”


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Fan of : Triela, Claes

Original Characters : Giancarlo Rossi and his cyborgs Valentina R. and Eleonora R.; James Bernard and his cyborg Rachelle

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Re: PSVT's Writings

Post by Alfisti on Fri 14 Nov 2014 - 18:42

Great chapter mate, and an... interesting... ending.

More thoughts to come.

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Re: PSVT's Writings

Post by Thescarredman on Fri 28 Nov 2014 - 19:53

"False Start" - fitting title.

Part 1: My first impression is that Giancarlo is a bloke who's not at his best around women, be they estranged wives, cool professional women, or cybernetic murder machines. Typical geek shortcoming. He's easily taken off-balance and has a tendency to babble. He seems much more composed around Jean and Lorenzo and, later, the range master and Marco.

Part 2: Giancarlos's unease around cyborgs assumes a different form in this chapter; he seems affronted that a cyborg should be in the handler's dorm (wait till Jethro and Monty drop in for a visit!). I would have thought he'd still feel unsure of the proper role and disposition of cyborgs at Section Two, less than an hour after meeting Rico.

Why is Claes visibly annoyed at an adult stranger as soon as she lays eyes on him? Does having someone in residence next door to her library irk her that much? In the manga and the anime, she occasionally makes a remark to a grownup that might be construed as snarky, but she never shows open contempt for Agency personnel - which the man in the room next door must surely be, new or not.

Part 3: You have Marco's character per the manga nailed. Familiarizing Giancarlo with firearms could most likely go two ways: he could fall in love with them, or he could forever be struggling with them, barely acquiring and maintaining the competence to range-qualify. No doubt Valentina will end up coaching him.

Part 4: Dinner with the wife. Their estrangement shows pretty clearly in the exaggerated courtesy they show each other. These are two people who aren't sure if they know each other anymore. But the affection is still there, and a willingness to make something more of the relationship. But Sofia shows signs common to the wives of addicts: she keeps a certain distance, accepting her husband's promises of change with a do-it-don't-say-it reserve. After all, there's nothing crueler than allowing oneself a little hope, only to have it jerked away.

Part 5: Ferro clearly doesn't think much of the new handler. It's nice to see her show a little solicitude towards the cyborgs (“I notice you didn’t come bearing any gifts, Mr. Rossi.”). Bianchi is far more directly involved in the cyborgs' conversion process here than in the manga; he seems to be taking Belisario's role.

I think the wrist-grabbing sequence would benefit from a little pruning: less introspection and observation, and more raw impressions. It's the part's only real action scene, after all.

Chilling twist ending, PSVT. So far as I know, Professor Voodoo is the only other forum writer whose OC handler lost a cyborg before deployment; nobody has lost one on the table before they were even introduced. Letting Giancarlo read the girl's file beforehand was an unintended cruelty. "We'll get you another Valentina-" I wonder what he thinks of that attitude?
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Mario Bossi would make a better handler than Marco Toni. Come to think of it, so would Christiano.
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Re: PSVT's Writings

Post by Alfisti on Thu 4 Dec 2014 - 5:55

Alright, so, I’ve not got some free time to sit down and give some half-proper comment...

@PSVT wrote:Giancarlo Rossi uttered a soft sigh upon sighting the moisture glistening on the back of his hand, the result of a quick swipe of his forehead. Surely the missing sweat beads had long since been replaced in the few seconds that motion had required. He felt as though ensconced in flames. A stiff breeze blowing in from the north provided him very little respite. All he could do to combat the spreading warmth was to doff his coat and suck in a deep breath. He gradually released the air from his lungs while laying the heavy wool pea coat across the driver’s seat. Only then did he feel ready to lift the cell phone to his ear and resume the conversation that had created within him such nervousness.
An interesting start, it certainly gets across Giancarlo’s nervousness... this is definitely a conversation he has not been looking forward to having.

From a technical standpoint, and far be it for me to accuse anyone of getting wordy, but it could possibly use some streamlining to help with the flow. Maybe lose the second sentence? Unless, of course, a nervous jerkiness was what you were going for.

Also, nit-pick: you’ve used the word “coat” twice in two sentences, one after the other, which can be distracting as a reader. Perhaps change the “pea coat” to “garment”? If need be you can move the actual description of the coat up to the first mention of it.


@PSVT wrote:“I really do love you too. I just don’t want you to keep making yourself so sparse around us.” Through her softly-spoken words, punctuated by a light chuckle, he could feel a tremendous weight of his apprehension lift off his shoulders. “Now, hurry up and go see your boss. The last thing I would want is to have you getting fired because of me.”
This whole conversation sets us up with a rough outline of Giancarlo as a person quite neatly. It gives us some background for him (though, interestingly, I note you’ve so far left out that he’s not exactly a combatant) and, as TSM noted: he’s not someone who seems to socialise so well, and is perhaps slightly misguided in how he tries to make up for that.

The big take away for me however, was that Sofia, the estranged wife, obviously still loves him, and that tells us a lot about his character right there. He’s someone worth trying to make things work with, and she gives the impression of having tried and feeling spent... it’s not so much him as a person who has caused the split so much as the lack of him, if that makes sense.


@PSVT wrote:From a door to his right emerged a short-haired brunette. The simple black business suit skirt and jacket she wore was covered by a tan trench coat. Both worked to emphasize the very apparent no-nonsense attitude also conveyed by the unwavering stare she leveled at him.
Ferro or Jean, those are pretty much your options for “first introduction to the SWA”.  Razz


@PSVT wrote:That way, you and your cyborg are exposed to less harm.” Bitter cold greeted them when she pushed open the door leading outside. “Then again, it is the cyborg’s duty to go into harm’s way when necessary.”
Well timed exit to help punctuate the cold truth. Razz  I’m not certain how much of it is Ferro’s usual professional, distant, demeanour, but I get the distinct impression she’s sizing Giancarlo up somewhat, and is not entirely impressed with what she’s seeing. On balance though, he is something new and different, so whatever yardsticks she may normally use may not apply.


@PSVT wrote:“I know what a cyborg is, relative to robots and androids. At a certain level it is… disturbing.” He lifted his head skyward, massaging already mottled hair with his right hand as he did so. “Very disturbing, really. I understand that you’re using children to create these cyborgs. After all, that whole ‘I hope you like dealing with children’ deal Jean told me seems extremely weird otherwise after being approached for a clandestine government job.” A loud sigh passed his lips as he lowered his gaze to meet Ferro’s. “I guess what I’m trying to say is that if I had any real worries about your cyborg program I would have backed out of this long before now.”
This is an interesting passage, it gives the distinct impression that, whatever Giancarlo might be saying, he’s still not entirely at ease with the whole cyborg concept. It’s rambley, a bit disjointed... I actually might have pulled it up as being a bit info-dump-ish were it not for the pause and final “I guess what I’m trying to say...”. It’s the words of a man having trouble getting his thoughts together and out to the world neatly. I can relate.


@PSVT wrote: “Stuff it, Rossi. We sought you out because we believe you are both a perfect fit for what we intend to use you for...
Probably a very truthful choice of words... having a little trouble fitting my head around “stuff it” coming out of Ferro’s mouth, though that’s probably more a personal thing.


@PSVT wrote:“Um… just twenty? That seems somewhat low.”

“Cyborgs do not come cheap, and neither do handlers. Also, we’re an extremely secret organization, much like your former NSA employers. Or, given recent news events, it may be more apt to say we’re very much unlike them.”
Could be worse, could be Sony...

Nice shoutout to real-life events, without being too specific, just enough to help solidify the world in readers’ heads. I’m also a fan of having some form of count on fratelli and handlers, again it just sort of helps lay out the situation of the SWA.


@PSVT wrote:Giancarlo immediately noticed that most of them were long and relatively narrow, a sharp contrast to the square building in which he had met Ferro. Their earthen stone facades topped by orange shingle roofs reminded Giancarlo of a really ancient suburban apartment complex. Another feature he found interesting was that none of the structures stood taller than four stories. Then again, there was no pressure to build skyward when it seemed the builders had all the land in Italy at their disposal.
Despite his technical background, he seems to be quite an observant, albeit also quite consciously so, sort of chap.


@PSVT wrote:“Pieri Lorenzo.” He shook the hand extended to him by Giancarlo. “I am in charge of Section Two, the special operations branch of the Social Welfare Agency.”

“Ah. A pleasure to meet you.”
“I’m your boss’s boss.”


@PSVT wrote: “My goodness…” he thought. “Jean wasn’t kidding after all. Sure, I guess you can’t have killing machines acting like actual children...
I thought that was kind of the point? That said, I guess he’s yet to see Rico away from her handler yet. Interesting though that, at this stage, he very much seems to be treating the cyborgs as things rather than as people. It shall be interesting to see how/if that changes through his tenure.


@PSVT wrote:No point in paying you damn-near half a million euros per year for that.”
Your handlers obviously get paid more than my handlers do. Razz


@PSVT wrote:“Dossiers on girls who would serve as backups to Bianca should anything go wrong with the conversion process.”
Nice piece of foreshadowing here: “we don’t expect things to go wrong, but we expect things to go wrong. Part of me can’t help but feel that the couple of paragraphs afterward are perhaps a little heavy-handed on this front though, to be fair, that is with the benefit of hindsight. I don’t remember it feeling quite so on the first read through, and they do serve the purpose of putting across that the build being undertaken is not exactly standard.


@PSVT wrote:“What’s that Bernard? I didn’t quite make out what you were saying. James? Come on, talk to me.”
Nice bit of setup for (presumably) later introducing Valentina’s predecessor, not to mention again helping put some structure around the SWA’s current situation/that of their fight though the ensuing paragraphs.


@PSVT wrote:Giancarlo waited for Lorenzo and Ferro to depart before turning his attention to Jean once more. “So, where exactly is this handler’s dorm again?”

“It’s fairly close by. Follow me.” He lowered his gaze to meet that of his cyborg. “Rico, you’re free for the rest of this morning...
Now, I’ll admit, I found this a little off-putting. It could just be personal preference, but Jean is the field commander and, while Lorenzo is the senior body present, surely it would be Jean screaming off with Ferro to sort out problems on the ground? Command and control of those in the field is, afterall, technically his responsibility, with Lorenzo the next port of call.
Just a thought anyway.


@PSVT wrote: “I know these poor girls had to endure terrible tragedies to end up in a place like this, but this is just horrible. Reading this really puts it all in perspective. To see a young girl snatched from her family and… Gah!” Another few seconds passed, during which time he took a sip from the glass of whiskey on his desk. “Then again, that’s life, shitty as it is. This place wouldn’t exist, and I wouldn’t even be here, if people were inherently good. For Luciano’s sake, I just have to do my best to put a small dent in the insanity that is this world.”
A thought that occurred to me just now, but I wonder if the SWA doesn’t hand out dossiers to prospective handlers for the specific purpose, or at least in part, of giving them that perspective.


@PSVT wrote:She delivered both her reply and her snarky rhetorical question with ease, as though she belonged and his presence in that hallway was an anomaly.
Well, I guess, to be fair, it is... Always good to see Claes, and another useful dual-purpose scene: introducing her, building the SWA a bit more and helping cement Giancarlo’s current views on cyborgs.


@PSVT wrote:“Apparently gossip seems to move around here just as quickly here as it did at the Agency.”
I think it might have been Voodoo made the original observation, but the SWA is populated by law enforcement, military and intelligence types... and teenage girls. There is probably no faster rumour/gossip-mill on the planet.


@PSVT wrote:...noticed two other fratello.
fratelli(?)

@PSVT wrote:“Marco Toni.” He stuck out a hand, which Giancarlo readily shook. “Welcome to the mess that is this Agency. How the hell you, someone with no military or police experience—or even firearms training for that matter—managed to land on Lorenzo’s radar I have no idea. And as a handler at that. But, you’re here now and you probably aren’t leaving anytime soon, so it helps all of us to bring you up to our level.”
Marco being his usual, friendly self I see. Razz

On that note however, and it’s probably more personal taste than anything, this (and a few other places as well) feels a little forced/long-winded, as if you were trying to cram a bit more information into the passage than really comfortably fits. It’s an easy trap to fall into, I do all the time, but it could feasibly use a bit of trimming or streamlining to get it to flow a bit better. For example “How the hell you, someone with no military or police experience—or even firearms training for that matter—managed to land on Lorenzo’s radar I have no idea.” ...Marco’s not really telling the reader anything new here, so it could feasibly be cut down to something like “how the hell a boffin like you landed on Lorenzo’s radar...” the implication is the same, as is Marco’s tone, without drawing out another pass at the same data. Unless, of course, it’s information you particularly wanted to draw attention to, or particularly wanted that more drawn-out comment from Marco... sometimes it is worth sacrificing a bit of flow if you’ve some other ends in mind (and the disruption cannot be moved elsewhere).


@PSVT wrote:...sighing as she did so. “Which is why you’ve accepted a very similar job with similar restrictions on what you can tell and to whom and when you can leave and see your family.”
Some punctuation, perhaps, through Sophia’s words here? It’s a bit confusing to read as the single sentence for the reader. Option b of course could be to play it as her speaking fast and emotionally, but then it might be worth ditching the sigh as, to me at least, it’s the wrong signal to follow on from with something impassioned and fast.


@PSVT wrote:I’m probably the last human being to criticize you for that given my history. But, I figure maybe you could learn from my mistake and not go down the dark road that I did way back then.”
Something to link into the later story? Or simply some character-building background? Noted for later reference.


@PSVT wrote:“Oh, don’t forget the lenses as well. They’re very important...
... and often more expensive than the camera body itself.


@PSVT wrote:And, Lord help me if she’s happens to take after that insane redhead.”
 Which one? I’m guessing Marisa?


@PSVT wrote:“A mechanical keyboard, huh. I can recognize those loud clicks from anywhere. An IBM Model M, maybe?”
His nerd’s showing again. Tough the keyboard does make for a nice detail.


@PSVT wrote:“What the hell did you think you were going to do once she wakes up, huh? Did you even remotely consider Valentina’s psychological wellbeing before coming up here?” She took another step forward. “That gift is not a mere accident of a tradition.”
 I must admit to being a bit of a fan that the “gift” is an important part of sealing the deal between cyborg and handler, the final piece needed to complete her programming. A sort of token to prove the bond.


@PSVT wrote: “Lorenzo is committed to making this project work. You will have your Valentina. I can guarantee you at least that much.” Ferro turned and made a slow walk toward the hallway door. With her back still turned to Giancarlo, she stopped, took one more deep breath, and added, “It just won’t be Bianca Mantovani anymore.”
...such are the trials and dangers of balancing on the cutting edge. Loved the ending for this one: a stark reminder that the SWA’s work is still very much experimental, and prone to failure.

Good chapter too. Overall you’ve done well to set up Giancarlo in our heads, and set some foundations the SWA as it appears in your universe. There were one or two places which could probably used some ironing out and neatening up but, overall, good stuff. I look forward to more.

Hope some of this was at least moderately helpful.

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Alfisti

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Re: PSVT's Writings

Post by PSVT on Wed 10 Dec 2014 - 0:07

Many, many thanks to TSM and Alfisti for your amazing comments on my first actual chapter. I'll make an attempt to put my replies in some semblance of order, but I can't guarantee my success. sweat

@Thescarredman wrote:Part 1: My first impression is that Giancarlo is a bloke who's not at his best around women, be they estranged wives, cool professional women, or cybernetic murder machines. Typical geek shortcoming. He's easily taken off-balance and has a tendency to babble. He seems much more composed around Jean and Lorenzo and, later, the range master and Marco.

I'm glad that you picked up on that personality point from Giancarlo. He certainly does still have a lot to learn around women, though at the same time he's done well enough to get married to Sofia and keep her around long enough to have a child with her. Though, evidently, not well enough to keep the marriage stable.

@Thescarredman wrote:Part 4: Dinner with the wife. Their estrangement shows pretty clearly in the exaggerated courtesy they show each other. These are two people who aren't sure if they know each other anymore. But the affection is still there, and a willingness to make something more of the relationship. But Sofia shows signs common to the wives of addicts: she keeps a certain distance, accepting her husband's promises of change with a do-it-don't-say-it reserve. After all, there's nothing crueler than allowing oneself a little hope, only to have it jerked away.

and

@Alfisti wrote:The big take away for me however, was that Sofia, the estranged wife, obviously still loves him, and that tells us a lot about his character right there. He’s someone worth trying to make things work with, and she gives the impression of having tried and feeling spent... it’s not so much him as a person who has caused the split so much as the lack of him, if that makes sense.

Indeed, to start with Alfi's point first, it very much is the case that Giancarlo's lack of presence around Sofia and Alex, due to his job, is the source of the angst and the estrangement between him and Sofia. They do still, if not love each other, at least have strong affection for each other. Neither individual in the relationship is worthy of strong contempt, as neither has done anything particularly "wrong." Though, at this stage in their relationship, it is a lot like dating once again. Though, it's dating with the benefit of previous knowledge on Sofia's end, which is why, despite desperately wanting her relationship with Giancarlo to improve, she also remains extremely skeptical that it will happen as history seems to repeat itself. As TSM said, Sofia's waiting for Giancarlo to do instead of say. His accepting the SWA job doesn't help such matters.

---

Regarding Giancarlo's initial views on the cyborgs:

@Thescarredman wrote:Part 2: Giancarlos's unease around cyborgs assumes a different form in this chapter; he seems affronted that a cyborg should be in the handler's dorm (wait till Jethro and Monty drop in for a visit!). I would have thought he'd still feel unsure of the proper role and disposition of cyborgs at Section Two, less than an hour after meeting Rico.

seems to go with

@Alfisti wrote:I thought that was kind of the point? That said, I guess he’s yet to see Rico away from her handler yet. Interesting though that, at this stage, he very much seems to be treating the cyborgs as things rather than as people. It shall be interesting to see how/if that changes through his tenure.

Giancarlo is uneasy around Rico, mainly because of her cold and expressionless mannerisms when she's with Jean. From his earlier conversations with Jean, implied within the story, he gains the idea that they cyborgs are nothing more than tools. His encounter with Rico only solidifies this so-called fact in his mind. I do understand TSM's point that maybe he wouldn't have a fully-formed opinion on handler-cyborg dynamics. He does know that the handlers are dominant and can hold exclusive domain over their cyborgs--this much must have been told to him prior to his arrival at SWA headquarters. I think he would have arrived on his own at the idea that, it being a handler's dorm, and with handler's having primary domain, that cyborgs are not allowed inside. It's not necessarily an exclusive case (Claes as the obvious stated example and Monty notwithstanding). His encounter with Claes helps to reshape his opinion on that point.

And such changes are, indeed, the point. One of the cruxes of my story is Giancarlo's evolution in his opinion on cyborg humanity through his evolving relationships with Valentina and later Eleonora. Whereas at the beginning he does see them as tools, later on he considers Valentina and Eleonora (despite the fact that she refuses the relationship to a point) his daughters. Not "like" his daughters, but the real deal, though minus the whole birth and decade-plus of child rearing.

Note that this doesn't mean he forgets his job or their role in it. Nor does it prevent him from making some difficult but otherwise necessary decisions during missions. It just makes him all the more thoughtful and fearful of what might happen to them during their missions, more than most other handlers.

---

@Thescarredman wrote:Part 3: You have Marco's character per the manga nailed. Familiarizing Giancarlo with firearms could most likely go two ways: he could fall in love with them, or he could forever be struggling with them, barely acquiring and maintaining the competence to range-qualify. No doubt Valentina will end up coaching him.

I'm very glad you think so. Depicting the canon characters (and other's OCs whenever they might appear) accurately is something I always want to achieve, but not sure I always get right. Alfisti does make some good points about him maybe being a little wordy with Marco's welcome to Giancarlo, though.

Since Giancarlo is a computer geek and intelligence agent and was hired by the SWA for those skills, it's doubtful that he would come to love firearms. The kicker is that Valentina was constructed to match and exceed the same skills Giancarlo possess. So, while she does have a basal level of firearms knowledge, hers is lower than that of her fellow cyborgs, replaced by more technical knowledge her compatriots don't need to possess. Needless to say, she's not of particularly great help to him.

Fortunately, Marco is a good instructor, and there he has plenty of time to work with Giancarlo.

---

@Thescarredman wrote:Part 5: Ferro clearly doesn't think much of the new handler. It's nice to see her show a little solicitude towards the cyborgs (“I notice you didn’t come bearing any gifts, Mr. Rossi.”). Bianchi is far more directly involved in the cyborgs' conversion process here than in the manga; he seems to be taking Belisario's role.

Well, Ferro is more familiar with the military and police types for handlers. Both you and Alfisti did catch on to the fact that she is sizing up Giancarlo, and that at least for the moment he's not quite making the grade in her mind. That he also makes a crucial mistake in forgetting the cyborg's initial gift only hurts him. Yet, she remains dedicated to him (or at least to the program he is a member of).

@Alfisti wrote:I must admit to being a bit of a fan that the “gift” is an important part of sealing the deal between cyborg and handler, the final piece needed to complete her programming. A sort of token to prove the bond.

I wholeheartedly agree with this. Fortunately, Giancarlo is smart enough to not make the same mistake twice.

---

On the chapter ending:

@Thescarredman wrote:I think the wrist-grabbing sequence would benefit from a little pruning: less introspection and observation, and more raw impressions. It's the part's only real action scene, after all.

My intention there was to have the readers initially feel that, while something clearly is going wrong, that it's not anything that directly impacts Giancarlo--that he's something of an observer in this slow catastrophe. Then, with the sudden reveal in the next short paragraph, they see what has happened. It's both a bit of a deliberate tactic for the situation and a more ingrained writing style that I adopt overall. Having said that, I'll see during editing whether a more active style works as well or better in that scene.

@Thescarredman wrote:Chilling twist ending, PSVT. So far as I know, Professor Voodoo is the only other forum writer whose OC handler lost a cyborg before deployment; nobody has lost one on the table before they were even introduced. Letting Giancarlo read the girl's file beforehand was an unintended cruelty. "We'll get you another Valentina-" I wonder what he thinks of that attitude?

It was something that I had in mind, if not at the very beginning of plot development, then very close to that. The agency is not perfect, and none of the people who work for it are perfect. Alfi sums it up very well:

@Alfisti wrote:...such are the trials and dangers of balancing on the cutting edge. Loved the ending for this one: a stark reminder that the SWA’s work is still very much experimental, and prone to failure.

Indeed, even though they've improved from their initial attempt with Bianca Mantovani to their second attempt with Adelina Conti, it's still not perfect. Valentina's main personality flaw, that she consistently thinks of herself as failing at her work and failing her handler--despite exceeding all realistic goals, is partially if not fundamentally due to a conditioning mishap. It's essentially the same conditioning mishap that terminated Bianca, just manifest in a different way.

To answer TSM's question about what Giancarlo thinks of Ferro's last statement: I think it's fair to say he finds it very disturbing. Especially after getting to know Bianca through her dossier, and doing the same with Adelina and the other backup girls. It is very cruel, and he thought he understood the level of cruelty, but now his eyes are further opened.

I guess it does say something frightening about his character though that this new awareness about his employers doesn't deter him from his ultimate goal.

---

Now to respond to some of the remaining comments, starting with TSM's note on Claes.

@Thescarredman wrote:Why is Claes visibly annoyed at an adult stranger as soon as she lays eyes on him? Does having someone in residence next door to her library irk her that much? In the manga and the anime, she occasionally makes a remark to a grownup that might be construed as snarky, but she never shows open contempt for Agency personnel - which the man in the room next door must surely be, new or not.

She certainly is a bit annoyed at having encountered this new person who clearly hasn't been fully informed about the goings-on in the handler's dorm. His obvious surprise and subsequent question, to which she gave him a fully honest response, plays a role in her annoyance. There is a little bit of snark present, being my attempt to capture aspects of her character. Whether it rises to outright contempt for Giancarlo I guess depends upon the individual reader. In the end, what I intended was to demonstrate that he was more of the stranger there than she was, at least at that moment in time.

@Alfisti wrote:Your handlers obviously get paid more than my handlers do.

It's the danger pay. Wink  Oh, and some incentive for people to become handlers in the first place. Having said that, for Giancarlo to make €500,000 immediately upon joining, which is on par with what the other handlers make (in my universe), speaks volumes to how much Lorenzo values the program he's putting in place and Giancarlo for guiding that program forward.

@Alfisti wrote:Now, I’ll admit, I found this a little off-putting. It could just be personal preference, but Jean is the field commander and, while Lorenzo is the senior body present, surely it would be Jean screaming off with Ferro to sort out problems on the ground? Command and control of those in the field is, afterall, technically his responsibility, with Lorenzo the next port of call.
Just a thought anyway.

Excellent point. The intention was for Jean to let Rico free, but to also remind her about shooting practice, the same practice that drew Giancarlo's curiosity. But, I do see how it's not quite correct, and I've made the appropriate changes now rather than waiting for editing later.

Spoiler:
Lorenzo turned and started retracing his steps, heading toward the exit at a hurried pace, followed closely by his two subordinates. “Either way, you should go find out what assets we can wrangle on short notice.” She replied with a quick nod. “Jean, go contact Major Salles to see what options GIS might provide. If nothing else, they might be able to launch an assault on the apartment themselves. If the Padanain operatives are acting as boldly as it seems, then they should have plenty of justification. Let’s just hope these idiots don’t end up blowing our cover.”

The type of information he was seeing and the rapidity of its appearance was new to Giancarlo, but he was erudite enough to pick up on one crucial piece of data. It forced him to close his mouth and not verbalize the question that had initially formed in his mind. Instead he replaced it with a slightly less silly query.

“Um… none of this craziness is happening in Rome, is it?”

“Florence, actually,” Jean replied. “We would be able to send another fratello or two as reinforcements this were occurring in Rome.”

It appeared the senior handler’s remarks had reminded Lorenzo of the newest handler’s presence, causing the man to slow his pace slightly. “It seems our tour will have to wait for another time. Your room in the handler’s dorm should be ready. I can point you in the right direction if need be. We’ll talk later once this problem is solved.”

The interlude also served to remind Jean that he had one more duty to fulfill for the moment before going on to help extinguish another metaphorical fire. He lowered his gaze to meet that of his cyborg.

“Rico, you’re free for the rest of this morning. However, don’t forget that we have target practice this afternoon. Three o’clock sharp.”

“Yes, sir.”

Despite lasting for only a fleeting moment before she ran with determination toward the cyborg dorm, a brilliant smile had graced her lips. It’s similarity to her previous grin piqued Giancarlo’s interest. He couldn’t help but to track her until she disappeared from his vision. It was a blessing that the trip from the hospital to the handler’s dorm was relatively short, only a few minutes’ walk along the gravel pathways. Still, it was long enough to allow him to contemplate that girl’s strange mannerisms. In the end, it all boiled down to a simple conclusion.

“Don’t know why, but this Rico scares the hell out of me. I really hope I know what I’m getting into with this cyborg business.”

@Alfisti wrote:
PSVT wrote:...noticed two other fratello.
fratelli(?)

Gah...

Thanks. Also corrected.

@Alfisti wrote:On that note however, and it’s probably more personal taste than anything, this (and a few other places as well) feels a little forced/long-winded, as if you were trying to cram a bit more information into the passage than really comfortably fits. It’s an easy trap to fall into, I do all the time, but it could feasibly use a bit of trimming or streamlining to get it to flow a bit better. For example “How the hell you, someone with no military or police experience—or even firearms training for that matter—managed to land on Lorenzo’s radar I have no idea.” ...Marco’s not really telling the reader anything new here, so it could feasibly be cut down to something like “how the hell a boffin like you landed on Lorenzo’s radar...” the implication is the same, as is Marco’s tone, without drawing out another pass at the same data. Unless, of course, it’s information you particularly wanted to draw attention to, or particularly wanted that more drawn-out comment from Marco... sometimes it is worth sacrificing a bit of flow if you’ve some other ends in mind (and the disruption cannot be moved elsewhere).

Noted, and made a change to that section as well.

@Alfisti wrote:
PSVT wrote:...sighing as she did so. “Which is why you’ve accepted a very similar job with similar restrictions on what you can tell and to whom and when you can leave and see your family.”
Some punctuation, perhaps, through Sophia’s words here? It’s a bit confusing to read as the single sentence for the reader. Option b of course could be to play it as her speaking fast and emotionally, but then it might be worth ditching the sigh as, to me at least, it’s the wrong signal to follow on from with something impassioned and fast.

I wrote her words the exact way I envisioned her saying them, not super quickly or with a lot of passion but with great disappointment and maybe the tiniest bit of resentment. That includes her multiple uses of "and," as though her mind had just recalled yet another thing just in time for her to say it, but not in time to include the comma pause. So she just says "and" and keeps on going with her mini-rant.

@Alfisti wrote:
PSVT wrote:I’m probably the last human being to criticize you for that given my history. But, I figure maybe you could learn from my mistake and not go down the dark road that I did way back then.”
Something to link into the later story? Or simply some character-building background? Noted for later reference.

The more I think about it, the more I'm compelled to include a little bit of her darker history (not as an info-dump, mind you) into the story, if only to provide a hint of clarity into just who she is. Having said that, the mere implication that she's not quite so nice either is a definite character-building touch, and it is very deliberate at that. That is, it's a pre-planned part of her personality.

Or, to put it another way, Giancarlo and Sofia are perfect complements of each other as they're both are very "nice." Wink

@Alfisti wrote:
PSVT wrote:And, Lord help me if she’s happens to take after that insane redhead.”
 Which one? I’m guessing Marisa?

The one and only. Razz


Aaand, done! Finally! Once again, most gracious thanks to the two of you TSM and Alfi. I'll post Chapter 2 here when I'm done with it... eventually...

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------


The perfect might be the enemy of the good. Then again, so is the mediocre.
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PSVT

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Forum Posts : 494

Location : Pennsylvania, United States

Fan of : Triela, Claes

Original Characters : Giancarlo Rossi and his cyborgs Valentina R. and Eleonora R.; James Bernard and his cyborg Rachelle

Comments : Working on an actual story now, so please be patient... ^_^;

Registration date : 2014-05-27
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Re: PSVT's Writings

Post by taerKitty on Sat 17 Jan 2015 - 0:01

What follows are the opinions of kitty, no more. Like all cats, this kitty is mecurial, opinionated, and has a higher-than-justified sense of self-worth. And, like most cat-offerings (dead rodents, hairballs, and nausea-inducing organic odor-grenades), much of it should be disposed of in great haste.

@PSVT wrote:stone walls seemed to tower over him, surround him, and swallow him whole as he walked along the narrow passageway.

Purely a matter of personal preference and style, but this seems a touch confusing for me. I get the sensory input, but lack the initial context so I could have a proper frame of reference. The wordplay and lyricism are well done, but it seems they cause clarity to be sacrificed.

Setting description is often (almost always) languid and static. The effort in finding the right words to describe the at the right level of details for the right setting is often matched by the reader's energies in buffering said information. After all, it's there for a reason, right?

@PSVT wrote: No, he didn't hate cities in general, just this one. Just Rome.

Regarding the above, this would be a great initial line, one to give the desired setting and context.

@PSVT wrote: He trudged onward, steadfast in his determination despite the weight tugging at and digging into his right shoulder.

Starting with Gaspari is risky. It's tempting to try to "give the reader the unexpected" by starting with someone who ends up being on the other side, but that can lead to the reader feeling unfairly surprised when this is revealed.

Now, if Gaspari were to return as the Big Bad, or one of his/her lieutenants, then this initial cost would be justified. At least by chapter's end, he seems more a clueless drone.

It comes down to investment, and return on investment. By thing this, the author requires the reader to take on the initial cost of waiting for the answers to the basic character background questions: "Who is this person? Why should I care? What's in it for me?"

The canonical reference for writing, Writing Fiction for Dummies says, "What is entertainment? After Writing and teaching fiction for many years, we're convinced that entertainment can be boiled down to one thing: giving the reader a powerful emotional experience."

No, WFfD is not the end-all of our shared obsession, but the book did say that.

The reader is investing in holding off those questions in the expectation of some emotional payoff. The intellectual reward of, "Surprise! I bet you weren't expecting that!" isn't sufficient, at least not for this reader.

@PSVT wrote: He shuffled to his left to avoid hitting a patron with his bag, only to nearly shove another pedestrian into the row of motorbikes parked in front of the restaurant.

Chekhov's pipe (or pistol, your choice) advises that, if an item is described, then it should serve a purpose. Sometimes that purpose is to give the reader a sense of setting, as was prior sentences. Sometimes, the purpose is to mislead readers, to provide a red herring. This could be Gaspari's purpose, although prior notes on return on investment still apply.

Here, we might have a major incident should the motorbikes fall over. Vespa scooters, not so much. In the United States, were someone to touch a riding club (e.g. Hell's Angels) motorcycle, there would be great pain as a consequence.

We have an abundance of sense-of-setting, so this sequence of events may call undue attention and expectation on itself.

@PSVT wrote: "What the hell was I thinking in waiting so long to get some lunch? "

Giving the reader a mental monologue often indicates this is a Major Character. This "doubles down" on the notes on the risks of starting with Gaspari, above.

@PSVT wrote: "Hmm & there 's a brunette in the corner. Eh, can 't rule her out completely, but she 's probably okay. Doesn 't really fit the pattern. "

Great example of using seemingly-extraneous details to develop characterization - he's careful, alert, and perceptive.

@PSVT wrote: The program prompted him to type in yet another password.

There's a huge grey zone between "feeling real" and "reality." Some fiction tries to put the reader into the character's life, warts, aches, ennui included. These are ones where key scenes are interminable. The reader is aware of every tick of the clock, every breath. These are stories that try to capture the character's reality.

There are scenes that focus in at some critical moment, but do not make the reader live the whole of the story at that pace. Most action fiction opts for this path.

This purely this kitty's personal preference, but having established Gaspari's need and adherence for security protocol, there may be a point where this is overdone.

@PSVT wrote: "Interested, huh? I sure as hell see nothing special about it, unless you 're looking to steal it or something like that. "

Great reaction. off-putting, and perfectly plausible given the chaos of the situation.

@PSVT wrote: "she gets a bit overly excited sometimes at seeing brand new, shiny toys like your laptop. " / "Well, my laptop isn 't a toy for her to play with. "

Ditto above. Strong initial engagement with what looks to be our actual protagonists. They're memorable, and the interplay feels fluid.

One possible quibble about the use of 'toy' - if our handler is a fellow geek, that seems too dismissive of a laptop. Someone who knows what a remote shell is should also be well aware of the damage a laptop can do. Perhaps "tool" might be a better choice here.

It feels that this may be a case of perceived necessity driving the converstation. If so, this comes at possible cost of verisimilitude.

@PSVT wrote: Even if they did, it would 've been rather useless without the item he was rushing to save.

That item was his cell phone.

There are times when the rules of grammar dictate a single sentence as a paragraph. Conversations, lists, etc.

Other times, especially when there is a 'building up' prior to the singleton, it is an important sentence for the story. 'Building up' is usually when some key part of the prior sentence(s) is omitted, leaving the reader on tenterhooks. Again, return-on-investment indicates that the payoff should be justified.

Please note that the above caveat is relative to the story. A damaged cell phone would be a disaster for our Mr. Gaspari, but it's not of any particular significance to the story, as we later discover. A building up sequence is the author saying to the reader, "Pay attention, what is coming up is important to the story, and to you, the reader."

Even without a prior build up, singletons tend to stand out. Writing fiction is a strange art: the individual building blocks for prose are critical, but most should remain anonymous so the parts that matter, that really matter, stand out.

Think about it as the audio track to visual medium. They're similar in that they are omnipresent, but they normally don't call attention to themselves. If an act has an increase in volume, in tempo, in vibrance, then the viewer knows it's something important.

This reader, at the very least, reads with a writer's eye. When seeing a short, single-sentence paragraph, a subconscious question is, "Can this be integrated into either the preceding or the following paragraph?" which is an wordy way of asking, "Why is this solo?"

@PSVT wrote:
"My daughter here has something she wants to say to you. "

Again, realistic and believable. Nicely done.

@PSVT wrote:
Transaction completed, Alessio saw a nod and a grin though maybe,

Hm, poor tradecraft on Giancarlo's part.

@PSVT wrote:
He didn 't say anything either. It made perfect sense. Why would he after she put him through such an embarrassing, let alone expensive, incident?

@PSVT wrote:
"What did you think of that little stunt we pulled back there, huh? "

Well & it was exactly what she expected him to say.

With the section break, contiuning the ruse seems superflurous. At this point, it may feel like the author is deliberately and needlessly toying with the reader. Of course authors toy with readers by necessity. If the author were to tell the reader everything in a "Just the facts, ma'am" fashion, there would be few stories worth telling.

However, the reader should feel that the ruse is necessary when it is revealed. This reader, and this reader alone, doesn't feel this is the case, not at this point and in this manner.

It's perfectly natural for them to maintain their facade as they exit the scene. It's essential, even. However, that's an external presentation, a facade. By giving the reader a mental monologue, the story adds on a new level of 'proof'. Were it just a description of our handler's scowl, his tensed hand jerking his daughter along to keep up with his hurried pace, that's one thing. When it's revealed this is all merely good tradecraft, then it all makes sense.

To (over)use the movie-as-parallel-form example, imagine a voice-over during the scene. When the ta-da is sounded, the curtain yanked aside, how would the audience feel?

@PSVT wrote:
... and it was this dark-blue car that was responsible for producing that noise.

Similar to orphan sentence paragraphs, the recurring sentence pattern of revealing the origin of something (sound, hands, etc.) leads this kitty to expect something more. This uncommon sentence pattern causes the reader to work, to read a sentence, or the first part of the sentence, then to have to recall it so as to interpolate it for the pronoun or reference in the following clause or sentence.

"A pair blue eyes stared at him. These eyes belonged to a girl, a blond."

Again, to abuse the movie metaphor, this is a rapid zoom-out. Note, this is not a zoom-in. We start with the tight focus on some object (or sound in this case), and then reveal more of the context. It's rapid because we jump from the object to the context.

Again, because this is being read with a fellow author's eye, "Was this necessary?" is omnipresent in the back of one's mind. Why not "A blue-eyed girl with long blond hair stared at him?" Why not "A dark blue Fiesta chriped?"

@PSVT wrote:
"I can tell you a bunch of monetary figures he typed, but I can 't tell you what they were for. "

Again, excellent touch to add reality. It's something that many works of fiction overlook, and it's added here in a natural, seamless fashion.

@PSVT wrote:
"Give yourself a little credit every now and again, baby girl. "

This, and most of what she said in the car, are well-done insights into her character: insecure, self-deprecating, and overall unsure she is up to the expectations others have. It's a good way to establish the ground work for her later overload episode.

@PSVT wrote:
"you were telling me about this neat little rootkit you were working on. "

"I & I t-thought that y-you & that I had & "

I'm not sure I see what triggered this, but at this point, I'm willing to hold that question and see what develops.

===

Overall, a strong opening. Quibbles about style aside, this is an interesting pair of characters, and I look forward to reading more.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Alfisti: "Welcome to the SWA... don't worry, your cyborg is probably less confused than you are".
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Re: PSVT's Writings

Post by PSVT on Sun 20 Dec 2015 - 11:31

It's been a while since I've visited this page. Too long of a while, really. So, here's a reminder to you all, and maybe even to myself, that I have an actual story going. This is quite a bit shorter compared to the behemoth that was Chapter 1, though I do want to keep future chapters somewhere between 4000-7000 words. Also, I hope to get Chapter 3 written and posted before the end of January.

As always, I hope you enjoy it, and please let me know what thoughts you have and where I may improve.

======================

2 | Starting Anew

—|1|2|—

“You have to listen to me, Manny.” A loud groan filled with displeasure and annoyance echoed off nearby walls. The succeeding words contained very similar sentiments, if the slight increase in volume and lowered tone were any indication. “You and your ilk are going about this whole damned process the wrong way, and if you continue doing things in a stupid way, then you’re going to ruin all of us. I’m not going to let that happen.”

A glance at the office’s rear wall would have revealed the dark outline of a slightly hunched figure surrounded in pale yellow light. That soon changed as the man who sourced that shadow leaned back in his chair, exhaling a curt sigh into the air. His right hand held a cell phone to his ear while the fingers of his left drummed the oak surface of his desk. The thumping increased in intensity in the several seconds his conversation partner needed to mumble his reply.

“Yeah, yeah… I am fully aware of the severity of the problem.” His voice was not quite a shout, though its timbre was reminiscent of one. “What I don’t quite understand is why you insist on not changing your tactics so that you can solve said problem. It’s like the definition of insanity—doing the same things over and over and expecting a different result.”

Yet another reply, this one compelling the man to slowly shake his head while pinching the bridge of his nose.

“Okay, think what you want. But, I’ll tell you, you only thought you had an advantage there. I can see why you thought that, but you were wrong. You didn’t have an advantage.” The voice emanating from the speaker was more forceful this time, but the man cut short the response. “No, you didn’t. If you did, your guys would still be alive, and I wouldn’t need to worry about taking on a goddamned new job right now.”

Silence prevailed, but only for a brief moment. The sound that followed was the mangled cross between a wail and a deep-throated grumble. At the same time the man used his free hand to massage the back of his head, his fingers intertwining and yanking at curly black locks. Another sigh from the man signaled a resumption of their discussion.

“Look, we can spend all evening arguing the merits of your strategy, but I’d rather not. For all I care you can continue working along whatever path your pathetic little mind thinks is best. Just don’t come begging to me for funding as I’ve had enough of constant failure. Now, I have a few more calls to make, so feel free to get the hell off my phone.”

Twenty years ago, Donato Lombardi would have slammed a sizeable handheld receiver down atop an even larger and more substantial body to end the phone call. Merely pressing a button on a touch screen did not provide quite the same satisfaction. Either way, he was just as glad that he no longer needed to speak to Manfredo. He had better ways to spend his valuable time. First among them was to make good on his denouement and start making more calls. A few more taps on the phone’s screen unearthed the name of the first of many contacts.

Then he heard a piercing yell. Donato flinched. Another shout, one slightly lower in pitch, soon followed. With a hand poised on his desk to add haste to his escape, he shifted his gaze toward the office door. Nary a moment later he ascended from his chair, letting it swivel freely as he marched toward the threshold.

It meant someone would soon find themselves in major hot water.

Annoyance graced Donato’s features as he stuck his head out of the doorway. “Okay, what on earth are you girls fighting over this time?”

Standing before him was a pair of young girls, both of whom matched Donato in possessing brown eyes and a complexion one might consider healthily tanned. That was where the comparisons ended, however. The older girl had long dark-brown hair that fell to her waist and carried a natural curl. Her sister’s was slightly lighter in color, straight, and far shorter, ending in the middle of her back. The brown coloration in both girls’ hair came from their mother, who all but ignored Donato to fix her ire upon the older girl.

“Perla! What the heck did I tell you about taking Agnese’s toys while she’s playing with them?”

At a mere seven years old, Perla was the elder. That didn’t help her much when she cast toward her mother a bemused expression while clutching the doll closer to her chest. “But she wasn’t playing with this one when I took it!”

“N-nu-uh!” Tears streamed down Agnese’s face as she reached toward her sister, only nearly trip when her target spun out of her grasp. Her stammering, already a feature of her speech as a four-year-old, was enhanced by her sadness and anger. “I was p-playing with it, and then she t-took it from me a-and said I couldn’t have it a-anymore!”

Fierce anger swept away Perla’s confusion. “That’s not true! She’s—”

“Quiet, Perla.” So stern was her tone, she did not need to shout to grasp the girl’s undivided attention. “Give Agnese the doll. Now.”

Silence reigned for several seconds as Perla stood still with her mouth agape. The porcelain toy hung to her side, slowly swaying with the movements of her arm as she deliberated her options. Not that she actually more than one. Her mother’s glare grew more intense, and her impending punishment became ever worse, with every second she delayed the inevitable. So, even as the heat of rage intermingled with sadness and disappointment, the young girl relinquished her hold of the doll, letting it drop to the floor with a light thud. Then, with a huff, she turned and started for her room, hoping to escape both the sight of Agnese’s joyful conquest and her mother’s admonition.

Sensing as much, the woman started after Perla. “Oh, don’t think for a second you’re getting out of trouble…” A gentle tug of her arm stopped her before she even made her first step forward.

“Oh, Luisa.” Donato’s prior annoyance had since subsided as he glanced down at his youngest child before turning his gaze to his wife. “Give the poor girl a break for once.”

If Luisa was moved by his entreaty, she made sure not to show it. “I’m not going to let that girl get away with bullying her sister. She’s better than that.”

“Bullying, huh?” After watching Agnese depart the hallway with a slight waddle, he leaned backward against the wall, raised his chin upward, and exhaled a sigh.

“Perla needs to learn not to be so aggressive with Agnese. Just because she older, that doesn’t mean she can just take whatever she wants whenever she wants it.” The frustration in her tone grew, even as its volume shrank. “She already knows she has plenty of her own toys to play with, so why steal her sister’s too?”

A tiny yet telling grin pulled at Donato’s lips as he nodded. “I know the feeling, darling.” It soon disappeared, replaced by a grimace. “Though, I’ve seen that look many times before, and it makes me wonder who exactly bullied who in this instance.”

Luisa waved off his accusation with a shrug. “In that case, she should be old enough to know not to put herself in such situations in the first place.”

“So says the youngest of four siblings. Situations like this make me glad I was an only child growing up.”

“Oh, come on.” Clearly her irritation had returned with full force, as evidenced by the heated glare she pointed at Donato combined with a frosty tone. “You make it sound like I enjoy putting Perla through such hell.”

“No, I’m merely pointing out a potential bias in your consideration of this moment.” He did well to conceal any intimidation he might have felt behind an impassive expression.

Expelling a loud huff, she crossed her arms in front of her chest. “Heh. Bias my ass. I’m only doing what’s fair for the both of them.”

“Quite the interesting definition of fair.” Indeed, Donato had quirked an eyebrow in suspicion upon hearing the word. “I’d wager Perla believes she’s received a raw deal right about now. Don’t you think?” He then lowered the eyebrow and regarded Luisa with a look that shouted understanding. “Look, all I’m saying is to not be too harsh on her without giving her a chance to explain her side of things. You might be surprised where the real fault lies.”

The woman shook her head slowly, but even he could see she was reconsidering her position. “Ever the one to deny needed discipline. You’re always a bit too soft for your own good.”

“Hey. I can be strict when it matters.”

“Right…” A chuckle, mirthful but containing a hint of derision, slipped from her mouth to accompany her half-wink. “Anyway, let’s hope that our dear children can stay quiet and peaceful for long enough for me to get some actual work done tonight. Not that I’m looking forward to any of it. Sometimes adults can’t help but to act like kids. I have to remind myself that I only have three.”

Donato nodded. “I feel your pain.”

With his wife making her way downstairs, he retreated back into his office to make the necessary phone calls. A quick glance at the clock hanging on the far wall showed that it was seven minutes past eight in the evening. That gave him more than enough time for him to slump back into his seat and suck in a quick breath. As he slowly exhaled he shook his head and reminisced on the previous situation.

Despite the occasional insanity, they help me remember what I’m fighting for. A chuckle escaped lips pulled into a wry grin. Something of a microcosm of the insanity this whole country’s going through right now, really. Though, if I have my way, we won’t have to suffer for very long. So, let’s call ol’ Aldo and see if he’s willing to help me along.

Only two rings were required before Donato heard through his phone’s speaker the sound of Aldo’s low-pitched and gruff voice.

“Ay, Donny.” A cough and grumble was barely audible during the brief pause. “What a pleasant surprise to hear from you.”

It’s a good thing that old man can’t see me right now, he thought. Indeed, were Aldo present in that office he would have witnessed a very wide smirk on the younger man’s lips. Aloud, Donato said, “I’d be happy if that were an honest sentiment, but I know you better than that. You’re still holding a grudge against me. That’s not healthy, you know. You’ve gotta learn to let go.”

“You’re fucking with me, right? That was two thousand euro you lost me. It’s not like I can just let it go that easily.”

No, that was two thousand euro that you lost yourself. It’s not my fault I was the beneficiary of your error. Besides, it was two years ago. I’m sure you’ve long since made it up by then.”

“That’s not the point.” Another short pause, one punctuated by the raspy clearing of Aldo’s throat. “Donny, I know that behind that shit-eating grin you’re wearing—and don’t try to bullshit me ‘cause I know you just as well—there’s something going on in that mind of yours. You’re not the type to go about calling me unless you had a damned good reason to do so.”

“Straight to business, I see. No time for idle chit-chat. That’s the perfect attitude for the type of person I want to work on this new business project of mine.”

Silence dominated for a few seconds before Aldo finally spoke. “Project, eh? I have no idea what you’re thinking, but I’m damned sure interested in finding out.” Donato could hear Aldo hum in contemplation. “You remember the last time we met in person?”

“Yeah, that restaurant you took me to.” He nodded despite knowing his conversation partner could not see him. “If I recall it was fairly close to the river. It was also pretty damned expensive for what we got.”

“I enjoyed it, for what it’s worth. At least, that’s what I told myself after paying all that money for that crap. Anyway, though, there’s a little place I know on the other side that serves the real deal and not that fake stuff. How ‘bout you come meet me there this Saturday around three.”

“That’s awfully short notice, you know. I’m a very busy man with many responsibilities and I can’t just take off whenever I please.”

“As awfully important as this plan must be to you, and it must be if you’re calling me, I’m sure you can afford this tiny accommodation. Besides, you’re the goddamned owner. You can take off whenever you damned well please.”

It was Donato’s turn to hem and haw. He took a brief moment to peer over at a calendar displayed on his computer screen. A myriad of colored rectangles filled the columns representing the days. Of particular importance was Saturday. Despite it being devoid of any boxes, their absence did not mean he had no plans for that day. Furthermore, it was already Wednesday, which gave him precious little time to make travel arrangements.

“That’s awfully easy for you to say when you don’t have any mandatory executive staff meetings that are planned weeks in advance.” His frustration mounted, and it was evident in his voice. “Plans that I made, mind you. Now, yeah… you’re right. I can easily screw over my execs by cancelling my Friday strategic planning meeting with short notice so that I can hop on a plane to—” he nearly bit his tongue as he swiftly snapped his mouth shut and hummed—“to meet with you. Just keep in mind this would be yet another favor I offer you. What favors do you have in store for me?”

“The assurance that you won’t have to worry about how you’re getting there, for one,” Aldo said. “If you give me the go-ahead, I’ll get all the necessary transportation set up.”

Donato pinched the bridge of his nose as he sighed. “Fine… fine. Okay, I’ll let my execs know that our meeting will be postponed to Monday.”

“Good.” Aldo’s tone carried more than a hint of satisfaction. “Besides, it’ll give us a better opportunity to catch up on old times as well.”

“Oddly enough, I’m actually looking forward to it. See you there, old man.” Before Aldo could make any retort, Donato tapped a button on his phone’s screen to disconnect the call.

Silence returned to Donato’s office, but it faded in the repetitive clicking of metal striking metal. The sound’s source was the heavy cap of an old Zippo lighter as it slammed against its silver-toned tank. He had received the lighter as a gift from his grandfather. Despite not being a smoker and thus not needing its flame, he had kept the trinket for its sentimental value. It gave his hands something to play with when his mind was otherwise occupied. Then, almost as quickly as it had started, the clicking stopped.

Yeah… Actually, that might just work. It’s far from perfect, and Luisa’s approval could down it before it even lifts off the ground, but I’ll be damned if it’s not worth a shot.

—|1|2|—

The room was beyond familiar to Giancarlo. Every aspect of its being, from its dim and depressing lighting to its chilly, cramped confines, matched his memory without error. Though her attire had changed, the computer monitor’s light cast an equally imposing shadow against the rear wall of the brunette as she once again stared intently into the screen. Just as before, he shivered upon his entrance.

“Quite the pleasure seeing you around these parts again, Mr. Rossi.” Ferro managed a slight tilt of her head in Giancarlo’s direction. Though her tone was laced with sarcasm, Giancarlo returned the gesture without delay. “Let’s hope our second time at this goes much better than the first.”

He leaned with his back against the wall, turning his gaze toward Ferro. As he did so he cradled the wrist of his right hand in an almost unconscious motion. “Do we still not know what happened with Bianca?”

“Unfortunately, no. Our investigation determined that Bianchi followed Belisario’s conditioning protocol for Bianca to the letter. Furthermore, Belisario found no procedural mistakes when he examined the video. So, we continue to consider this incident nothing more than an untimely and unavoidable mishap.” After a beat, Ferro swiveled in her chair to meet Giancarlo with her own impassive stare before adding, “At least as far as our side is concerned.”

“What’re you implying?” Even as he towered over her, he couldn’t help but to flinch at her barb. “That what happened to Bianca somehow was my fault?”

“You’re a handler, not a doctor. So such an accusation would be extremely inappropriate, don’t you think?” She tilted her head slightly askew. “At least, that’s the case for normal second generation cyborgs. Your Valentina, whoever it might be, represents a complicated combination of cybernetics and computer technology. I’m as much an expert in writing software as I am a scientist or physician.”

“Sure, but it’s not like I wrote Valentina’s code from scratch.” He pushed away from the wall and placed his left hand on his hip. “Or did Caterina ever have any problems when she awoke? ‘Cause it’s her brain-computer interface code that I used for reference. If there were any problems with that code—and while I admit visual inspection is hardly infallible I did scour her code multiple times—I think I would have found them before then.”

Ferro sighed as she returned her attention to the monitor. The keyboard clacked loudly beneath her fingers. “Indeed Caterina awoke without issue. But that’s irrelevant. Caterina, for all the value she provides the Agency, represents barely a baby step in the direction of Chief Lorenzo’s ultimate goal.” The sound stopped, and once again she turned to face him. When she spoke it was with a voice barely louder than a whisper, one carrying an unusually sympathetic tone. “So we’re clear, I don’t blame you for Bianca’s failed awakening. Not anymore than I blame the medical staff. For what it’s worth, it may just be the case that, for all our tricks and technology, Bianca never really wanted the fate we planned for her. Maybe… maybe she decided to create her own fate.”

Giancarlo was not an expert at detecting nonverbal communications, but even he could see her tremble, minute as it was, at the implication. Not that he could blame her. Nonetheless, once the concept entered his mind its heavy weight leaned upon his curiosity. His subsequent question was inevitable.
 
“Is that even possible? For a cyborg candidate to consciously reject conversion, I mean?”

“It’s never happened before. Yours might be the first, if it’s truly the case.” Ferro closed her eyes as she sucked in a deep breath and slowly exhaled it. “I hope you can excuse me if I find fathoming such a thought to be… rather difficult.”

A slow nod accompanied his reply. “I feel the same.”

Giancarlo rubbed his arms to with his hands to recover from a sudden blast of chilly air that coincided with the dearth of conversation. A seemingly deadly silence would have permeated the tiny space if it weren’t for Ferro’s keyboard. Not talking gave the man a brief moment to reflect.

Maybe it’s for the best that Bianca didn’t survive. Given the horrors forced upon her, I don’t know if I’d want to continue living if I were in her place. But, wasn’t the conditioning process supposed to suppress such memories? I know I didn’t want them to use so much of the drug with Valentina, but they told me that only mattered after conversion—that the memory erasure was identical for all of the girls.

“What prompted your decision?”

“Huh?”

He thought he had heard Ferro’s voice, and a quick glance in her direction found the woman peering upward at him while wearing an expectant expression.

“Of the four candidates to replace Bianca, you selected Adelina. I was just wondering why you chose her instead of the other three.”

“Ah.” Folding his arms before his chest and staring upward at the ceiling gave him a few precious moments to formulate a response. “Well… I figured she was the most suitable girl for what I wanted out of a cyborg-handler relationship.”

Ferro waited. She waited some more. When Giancarlo still failed to elaborate, instead giving her a curt shrug, she twisted up an eyebrow and decided to press harder.

“And what exactly do you want in your relationship with your cyborg, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“She’s… I know Dr. Bianchi warned me about being too personal with the cyborgs, but I feel more comfortable thinking of her and treating her as I would my daughter instead of as a mindless, inanimate tool.”

“Maybe you should speak with Dr. Bianchi again, this time in a more professional setting.”

He chuckled and cracked the smallest of grins in spite of her insult. “I know exactly what you’re inferring here. No, I haven’t gone insane. Not yet, at least.” The levity disappeared behind a more solemn demeanor. “To be honest, the question weighed on my mind quite a bit, and I spent way too many nights drinking way too much in trying to find the answer. Looking at those girls and what pain they’ve endured in their awfully short lives, I couldn’t bring myself to consider treating them in any different manner. I feel I owe them at least that much, even if they don’t remember—hopefully—what happened to them to bring them here.”

“So, by that metric, the fact that Adelina, at ten years old, is four years younger than the next youngest means—”

“Means maybe I figured she would be best since she would be closer to how old my little girl would have been,” Giancarlo interjected. “Sure, Adelina is older by about four years, but all the other girls are older still.”

Ferro had opened her mouth to speak, but closed it upon hearing Giancarlo’s last sentence. Instead she merely nodded.

“But I chose her for more than purely sentimental reasons. At one-hundred sixty-two centimeters she’s extremely tall for a ten year old, especially in her legs, which given the antennas located there only improves the range and reception for a broad spectrum of frequencies. But at the same time she’s not so large as to limit my options. She can blend in with children around her actual age and, with a little work, also mimic a teenager, someone thirteen or fourteen years old.”

“I believe I understand your logic. But, what would you do in other scenarios, where the presence of a child would be inappropriate?”

He hummed for a second, cupping his chin in his hand as he considered his reply. “It… I guess it depends on the situation, really.” Uncertainty prompted his initial halting delivery, but confidence soon set in. “If I can’t bring her with me, I’ll just have her do the same thing on the outside. Or we both sit outside. If we’re dealing with wireless systems, then as long as we’re in range of the signal we can monitor and intercept whatever we want.”

“Certainly, but that doesn’t answer my question.” A flat stare accompanied her retort.

Giancarlo answered with a nod, one soon followed by a half grin. “I’d have to rely on social engineering then. Convince whoever needs convincing that Valentina’s presence, while unusual, is merely benign.”

“You don’t really seem the type of person capable of such levels of personal deception.”

His grin expanded. “Believe me when I say it doesn’t require much. I know from experience.”

“And how much experience could you possibly attain from sitting in an office and writing computer code all day? Really esoteric code maybe, but you’re far from a field agent, which is a fact to which you’ve already admitted.”

“Let’s just say that my teenage years were a bit more… oh, shall we say, unruly.”

“Uh huh.” That simple utterance and the slightest of nods constituted the entirety of Ferro’s response. Her gaze initially found the floor before travelling along the tile to a small cardboard box sitting near Giancarlo’s feet. “I see you’ve followed my recommendation and brought along a gift this time.”

“I’m a quick learner, especially after what happened last time. Either way, it’s something more befitting of Valentina.”

“Good. I couldn’t imagine you bringing a firearm.”

The chirping that echoed about the room was mercifully short, though its abrupt arrival and piercing tone had evidently startled Giancarlo. Conversely, Ferro maintained a veneer of calm as she turned toward the computer monitor.

“Dr. Belisario just notified me that they’re ready to start the awakening process for Valentina.”

Ferro rose from her seat to lead Giancarlo through that familiar threshold. She hesitated once her hand made contact with the door’s steel handle, instead sucking in a deep breath. For all her willingness to needle the rookie handler, she knew just as well as he did the enormity of the risks he faced. Finally exhaling the air in a low sigh, she spun around and pointed a solemn stare at the sole person tasked with standing in the room and facing whatever outcome awaited him firsthand.

“I hope it’s far less exciting this time around, for your sake and hers.”

He couldn’t help but to match the seriousness of her whisper with his own. “Yeah… Amen to that.”

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The perfect might be the enemy of the good. Then again, so is the mediocre.
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Re: PSVT's Writings

Post by Alfisti on Mon 28 Dec 2015 - 23:14

Well, it's taken me a little while to get here, but nicely written mate. Donato looks like an interesting character, and I like that you've humanised him here. Particularly in regard to his two daughters, it in some ways allows the reader to draw parallels between him and Giancarlo's bit farther down the page. He's also obviously not stupid, never giving exact operational details over the phone, such as the location of a meet etc...

@PSVT wrote: “Plans that made, mind you. Now, yeah… you’re right. I can easily screw over my execs by cancelling my Friday strategic planning meeting with short notice so that I can hop on a plane to—” he nearly bit his tongue as he swiftly snapped his mouth shut and hummed—“to meet with you..."
...that said, he also gives the impression of perhaps not having quite reached the stage where that paranoia comes as second nature. That said, the halting in that line also does a good job of drawing the reader's attention to the fact that he is not giving details of the location, so it's a good ploy from a literary perspective.

One wonders how often he cancels, reschedules, or misses meetings etc. in his business life, and whether doing so may flag for someone carefully going through his appointments and records at a later date. On that note though, you've given a bit of a notion now where he stands in life, I shall be curious to learn more details on how and how indepth he interacts with the business itslf and (presumably) Padania as well.


@PSVT wrote:He leaned with his back against the wall, turning his gaze toward Ferro. As he did so he cradled the wrist of his right hand in an almost unconscious motion. “Do we still not know what happened with Bianca?”

“Unfortunately, no. Our investigation determined that Bianchi followed Belisario’s conditioning protocol for Bianca to the letter. Furthermore, Belisario found no procedural mistakes when he examined the video. So, we continue to consider this incident nothing more than an untimely and unavoidable mishap.”
Nice line out of Ferro, it says volumes about how disposable/inhuman the SWA as an organisation views the cyborgs... or perhaps how desensitised those working with them regularly, particularly in the experimental divisions, have come to the unintended cruelties, and failures, visited upon their subjects as a result of the experimental process.

The scene also makes for a good segue into telling us a bit more about Giancarlo's reason for being at the agency, as well as hinting that his involvement with his cyborgs early on might be somewhat more intense than other handlers may have experienced.


@PSVT wrote:“Is that even possible? For a cyborg candidate to consciously reject conversion, I mean?”
Certainly an interesting notion. I that case, I wonder whom it would be doing the rejection; the cyborg, or her donor?


@PSVT wrote:“She’s… I know Dr. Bianchi warned me about being too personal with the cyborgs, but I feel more comfortable thinking of her and treating her as I would my daughter instead of as a mindless, inanimate tool.”
Having seen Giancarlo and Valentina in action elsewhere around the forum aside for a moment, it will be interesting to see how closely what he gets resembles what he expected... and what adjustments he may have needed to make to his own thinking and expectations along the way.


@PSVT wrote:“And how much experience could you possibly attain from sitting in an office and writing computer code all day? Really esoteric code maybe, but you’re far from a field agent, which is a fact to which you’ve already admitted.”
I see Ferro's falling into the trap of believing the media stereotype of what a hacker does...

That said, in fairness to her, Giancarlo can give the impression that his social engineering plays a support role to more technical approaches, rather than vice-versa.


Anyway, looking forward to the next chapter mate.

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Re: PSVT's Writings

Post by PSVT on Sat 5 Nov 2016 - 18:36

Better late than never, I guess, but I'm finally getting around to posting this story on fanfiction.net. You can find Red Destiny here. I will still post future chapters here whenever I get around to completing drafts of them.

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The perfect might be the enemy of the good. Then again, so is the mediocre.
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Re: PSVT's Writings

Post by Thescarredman on Mon 29 May 2017 - 18:31

Except that he didn't...

New chapter of 'Red Destiny' up. Giancarlo introspective.
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Re: PSVT's Writings

Post by PSVT on Mon 29 May 2017 - 18:54

Link to Chapter 2 of Red Destiny: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/12220933/3/Red-Destiny

On a side note, I'm still working on new chapters beyond what I have here on the forum (Chapter 3). Working on the writing challenge on the Discord channel with ID has actually refueled some enthusiasm and inspired me to actively work much harder on the story and getting it done. So, while I haven't had much to put up here yet, there will be some new content sooner than you'd think.

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The perfect might be the enemy of the good. Then again, so is the mediocre.
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Original Characters : Giancarlo Rossi and his cyborgs Valentina R. and Eleonora R.; James Bernard and his cyborg Rachelle

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Re: PSVT's Writings

Post by Lyndist on Mon 29 May 2017 - 22:50

I just love it!

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Re: PSVT's Writings

Post by Alfisti on Thu 1 Jun 2017 - 6:46

Glad to hear you're producing again mate, looking forward to it.

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Re: PSVT's Writings

Post by PSVT on Sun 2 Jul 2017 - 22:15

@PSVT wrote:So, while I haven't had much to put up here yet, there will be some new content sooner than you'd think.

Delivered.

Here's a link to the Google Docs page where I have Chapter 4 of Red Destiny: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1wYFwKrt-Z4hBkKCY_8SpfTHq9e5Rw1pn6yL6ow-Grno/edit?usp=sharing

I figure it's easier to put it here as a link than trying to correct the weird formatting that happens when I copy-paste into the box. It's set to allow comments, though it may be easier to comment here in the forum, as it were. I'm fine with either, though honestly I prefer having the comments here as it's easier for me to parse them, especially if you guys have a lot of them.

Chapter 5 is next. Let's aim for before the end of this month.

(EDIT: For clarification, Chapter 2 that I posted above in this forum was posted as Chapter 3 on fanfiction.net. Thus, this is Chapter 4.)

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The perfect might be the enemy of the good. Then again, so is the mediocre.
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Re: PSVT's Writings

Post by PSVT on Wed 5 Jul 2017 - 19:40

Link to Chapter 3 of Red Destiny as posted on FanFiction.net: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/12220933/4/Red-Destiny

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The perfect might be the enemy of the good. Then again, so is the mediocre.
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PSVT

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Forum Posts : 494

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Fan of : Triela, Claes

Original Characters : Giancarlo Rossi and his cyborgs Valentina R. and Eleonora R.; James Bernard and his cyborg Rachelle

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