This is a first, I hope, in a series of posts I plan to do. They will not be frequent, at most once a month. My goal is to introduce you to the various topics I touch on in my work that are a bit on the weightier side. These are social issues such as mental illness, abuse, addiction, human rights issues, etc. Most of them (not all) are things that have, in some way, affected me, whether that is on a very personal level or through contact with loved ones. I will present a character study, or characters if the topic is intrinsically tied to more than one person, and illustrate through a singular scene how I use them to speak to these issues. I will, as I often do, be fairly open about my own experiences. It is important to understand that I am speaking from my own experience. I am not an expert, a psychologist or sociologist in any way, but I will try my best to include links to some of the sources I have utilized to support my own work. I am a research fiend when it comes to my creative process. I also include a PDF list of my source links to websites and articles that will provide you more information should you wish to seek out further reading. I always encourage education.
I have chosen to focus on only one scene for each character to attempt to minimize spoilers for everyone, but there will, of course, be an unavoidable presentation of minor spoilers. So, if you do not wish to see even non-plot ruining events, you may wish to wait to read this post and any future posts of the series until you have finished the respective novel. I will (as per the header) make note of which novel/series/project I am pulling my character study from. And as I said, these are heavy topics. I am exploring things like mental illness, abuse, LGBTQ issues, addiction, so please be your own advocate and know what is best for you. My post headings will tell you what the topic is, so you can use your own best judgment, trigger warnings are redundant.
Please do let me know what you think of the first post. I’d love feedback on if you’d like to see more and if there are any specific themes you may like me to speak to, as I know I tend to hit on a lot of sensitive nerves in my work. As always, I’ve written as I speak. No softened language or pulled punches folks. This stuff is way to real for me to play nice and tip-toe around people’s comfort zones. Thanks for stopping by and I hope you stay a while.
JACQUELINE “JACK MOON” KYLE | A STUDY IN MENTAL ILLNESS
The year is 2127.
Most Neurocognitive Disorders, Mood Disorders and Mental Illnesses as we know today are preventable, curable or treatable without pharmaceuticals, which are viewed by most of the medical community as a barbaric way to treat a brain condition.
Who is “Jack Moon”?
Jack is a twenty-three yr old Australian artist with turquoise blue hair. Just about everyone she knows gives her a nickname, Jack, Jackie, Blue. She had shortened her name to Jacq but when she moved to Canada everyone pronounced it Jacque (like the French male name) so she caved and just spelled it “Jack”. Although her family is relatively wealthy, (a geneticist mother, an executive father and six siblings, five of genius status,) Jack spent most of her life in institutions, hospitals, boarding schools for ‘difficult children’ or eventually, on the run with her one “non-genius” brother, a career criminal. So unlike her siblings, she did not have a privileged life of violin lessons, fancy galas and pool parties with friends in a world where water is a luxury.
Jack is also a stand-in avatar for me to illustrate my experiences living with Bipolar I and PTSD.
Jack vs Me
I do not use her to point by point relay my individual experiences. That was not my goal. Beyond her being 23yrs old and that being the age I was when I was diagnosed, our personal life experiences are very different. I have never been in an institution save to visit a family member when I was a child. In the 1980s and 1990s mental health facilities were a far sight better than what is portrayed in many Hollywood films, but they still had a long way to come. Unfortunately, the portrayals of films like “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” are most people’s primary point of reference. And to the eyes of a 13/14 yr old child, the ‘modern reality’ was no less terrifying to see and was easily misunderstood. This left a mark on me and when my own illness manifested to its fullest at age 16, I did everything in my power to stay out of one. I should have been hospitalized due to delusions, hallucinations, suicide attempts and other dangerous behavior. I was masterful in manipulating my way around it and successfully keep myself out of proper care. This pattern has repeated into my adult years and I can honestly say now, turning 40 this year, it is not something I am proud of, and it has been a detriment to my health and the safety of those around me. Knowing this is part of what has led me to make Jack’s character as extreme as I have.
Now, to avoid as large a spoiler as possible, I will say only that I have, because it is fiction, taken Jack’s story to an extreme for one reason only: she is not only a portrayal of what it is like to have a mental illness AND how people view those with mental illness, but also a portrait of what Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can do to someone. Often times the behavior that is exhibited during our worst periods when reflected upon with clarity or in moments of depression can seem monumentally worse than it truly was. My condition is largely misunderstood or completely foreign to many people, and every action whether I am in a healthy state or not is misconstrued, misinterpreted or legitimate emotional responses have been dismissed. This has a two-fold effect, the first being, of course, that you are living in a constant state of fluctuating reality: what you have done, who you are and who people think you are is in constant conflict and can shift as quickly as talking to one person and the next; it also builds a snowball of internalized hatred, anger, self-loathing and frustration as you are constantly trying to prove yourself, to correct “truths.” It is exhausting to the point that too often it becomes easy or easier to believe the “truths” you are being told.
To use my own example, as someone who has Bipolar that can be traced back to a very young age (estimated at between 8 and 10) with psychosis manifesting at age 16, and also dealing with PTSD this causes a lot of conflicting behavior: I do not trust people, even my closest friends know that I am not quick to lean on them and am not comfortable in high-trust situations. My husband can also attest to this. Trust is something that if broken, especially repeatedly during childhood or by fundamental figures like parents, teachers, etc, it is a very difficult thing for people to relearn. So while I may be very open about facts and events, etc…when I am in a true state of vulnerability, I am often quick to anger and lash out to defend myself. This inability to trust has led to loner behavior, but because I do take care of myself and I don’t take bullshit from people, I have also been labeled as a bitch most of my life. Couple that with the internalized anger that occasionally reaches critical mass and you end up with Bruce Banner and Hulk, a comparison made more than once.
Back to Jack
Because the world of Vector H+ is set in 2127 and I believe in the next 100yrs we will have come a significant way in understanding the brain and addressing conditions like Bipolar, Schizophrenia and PTSD, it was illogical for me to give Jack Bipolar. Throughout history, however, every generation deals with different medical crises. When transhumanist body modification becomes a far more common practice, this future will bring us the potential for a great number of new medical and psychological conditions. Transhumanism is already in practice today, we just don’t think of it as “Transhumanism.” From Artificial hearts and Prosthetic limbs to Cochlear implants and electrodes implanted in the brain of Epilepsy and Parkinson’s patients, the upgrade of the human body using technology has been an active human practice for centuries. Some transhumanists argue that even the use of glasses and pharmeceuticals, in truth, qualifies as the foundational beginnings of Transhumanism. These are measures taken for health and well-being. There are those, however, whose interest lies in a god-like pursuit of Transhumanist Evolution. This includes Intelligence Augmentation.
Our society has, for centuries dating back before the intellectual elites of Socrates and Plato, been obsessed with Intelligence. Our concept of what constitutes Intelligence is under constant debate. Most people immediately conjure ideas of math equations and Nobel Prizes for Physics. Others argue there is far more to intelligence and that such limited definitions rule out other forms of genius like the art masters, literary genius, musical prodigies or the far more illusive Emotional Intelligence. Book Smart versus Street Smarts. An age old argument. Scientists know that there is no one flip-switch in the brain for intelligence because there is no one singular intelligence. Two Gene Networks were identified, M1 and M3, that look to have a bearing on intelligence and influence memory, attention, processing speed and reasoning. The problem is, network M1 is comprised of over 1000 genes and M3, 150 genes. No single “on” switch for Smart. This does not stop them from looking for a way to enhance us. Improve memory, improve reasoning, improve empathy – all current studies and I am sure there are and will be hundreds more.
As I said, Jack has two brilliant parents, one a Geneticist. In light of 2016’s CRISPR conference to debate the ethics of allowing human embryo genetics research, likely there will be more such conferences in the future, this seemed a concept to incorporate in a book relying heavily on concepts of Transhumanism. Few doubt that eventually the “Designer Baby” concept is an inevitability. So it is in Vector H+. Jack’s mother, pleased with her eldest, naturally-conceived son (a doctor,) but then terribly disappointed with her second naturally-conceived son (career criminal,) decided no more chances were to be taken. Designer babies from that point on! This led to Jack’s other older siblings: Keenan – architect, Maynard – computer savant, Gisele – prodigy musician, and Silas Lee – a bio-chemist. Then came Jack. Mom and Dad wanted a physicist, a mathematician or an economist. You know…someone “Intelligent.” They got an artist…because you can’t program “Intelligence” and no one can agree on what “Intelligence” means. But in the future you CAN Augment Intelligence. So Ma and Pa Kyle ran Little Jack through Intelligence Augmentation treatments.
Another brief aside…
One thing most people are not aware of is that most pharmaceuticals- specifically antipsychotics- used for any form of neurological or mood disorder, including anti-depressants in teens and children, cause brain atrophy. That’s right, they shrink your brain. Fun fact, some of these conditions (just like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s) already do that, grey matter erosion. Add excessive medication for prolonged periods (rampant problem) and eventually the white matter starts to decay too. An even larger problem is not just the over-medication of adults, the misinformation and miseducation of those very same patients, but the treatment of teens and children UNDER FIVE. 5 years old. FIVE. These are humans whose brains are not finished developing yet.
Remember how every anti-dope campaign you have ever seen makes a point of telling you that? “Here’s your brain. Here’s your brain on drugs. Here’s a kid’s brain. A kid who will never be a functioning member of society…etc.” Yeah, for some reason the pharmaceutical companies have been able to bury the research that says: Hey, that’s true about this shit you are giving our kids too. Here’s a quick data quote from this article (emphasis added is mine):
Antipsychotic Drugs and Reckless Child Endangerment
The sobering data below has been gleaned from here and here.
1) The Medicaid Integrity Group (MIG) has identified issues with the utilization of the atypical antipsychotic drug therapy class. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves product labeling for prescription drugs. The MIG has found that some providers have prescribed atypical antipsychotics outside of FDA-approved product labeling for indication, age, dosage, or duration of therapy.
2) Despite their widespread use, atypical antipsychotics are not FDA approved for children younger than five years old and the use for the under-18 group has been controversial, with no long-term studies concerning brain shrinkage, brain damage or drug dependency. By and large, the studies that the FDA has approved for using antipsychotic drugs in those young children (whose brains were not hard-wired yet!) were poorly designed, of low power and showing only modest improvement in a very few select outcomes.
3) More than three-fourths of youths receiving Medicaid are taking psychiatric medications for an indication that is not FDA approved. Atypical antipsychotics are being used off-label to treat the so-called attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and aggressive behavior, indications for which the FDA has not granted approval.
4) According to a 2011 Medicaid survey, children taking antipsychotic medications almost always receive one of the newer, more expensive, “atypical” antipsychotic drugs.
In the majority of patients the use is for an off-label indication.
5) The list of so-called atypical antipsychotics include Abilify, Clozaril, Geodon, Invega, Risperdal, Seroquel, Zyprexa, and Fanapt. They are promoted as being “safer” than the “first generation” anti-psychotic drugs like Thorazine or Haldol but they are actually only safer in that it is harder to commit suicide with them. In many respects, they are actually more dangerous, especially with long term use.
6) The use of antipsychotic drugs for very young American children with behavior problems approximately doubled between 1999 and 2007.
Jack and Intelligence Augmentation
All of this is brought out in Jack’s story through her parent’s decision to use the Intelligence Augmentation at the age of five. I chose this age specifically after meeting a woman while working at an upscale suburbia yoga studio. She had a beautiful little kid, sweetest thing on the same medication I was on at the time to “control his bipolar.” I was asked to keep an eye on him and let her know if he became a handful or if I couldn’t manage his behavior. I spoke to her about his bipolar, told her I had it (mistake) and asked what he had to deal with so young. “Oh, he’s just so moody, I just can’t handle his tantrums.” I asked if he was violent, verbally abusive, cried excessively? “He’s just so difficult, you know. Has to argue with everything. Runs around like a wild animal and calls it ‘playing.’”
Oh…so he’s a fucking five year old boy. Atrophying his brain because parenting is hard. I babysat plenty of kids in that studio while working. Not a single one was ever a ‘problem child’…and this is coming from one who routinely held her breath until she passed out as part of my tantrum-repertoire at 5, when I wasn’t beating up other children at school, telling vulgar jokes, burning my turpentine soaked dolls or drinking 1oz liquor bottles on the elementary school playground. Slamming your bedroom door is not a tantrum. That’s a pebble thrown at a tank compared to the shit some kids without psychiatric conditions can wield.
In a future with none of our current day mental health crises, I needed to introduce a new color palate for my illustration. Other futurists have already considered the effects of Intelligence Augmentation on the human mind. After all, look at many of the naturally born prodigies and the emotional and psychological problems that often accompany their heightened intelligence. Many articles I find tend to reference Dr. Manhattan and Ozymandias from the graphic novel “Watchman.” Two highly intelligent human beings, one who transcends the state of being human, and both lose their capacity for empathy, one key factor that seems to be an observation or a fear. Again back to the Book smart/street smart argument. You can have logic or you can have empathy but apparently, people believe you cannot have both. It would also seem, that many futurists fear, with too much logic and reasoning also comes madness. It has often been noted that those with a higher intelligence are also more prone to depression. Hence the idiom “Ignorance is bliss,” perhaps?
Therefore, my metaphorical stand-in for Bipolar became a condition I dubbed “Intelligence Augmentation Induced Psychosis,” or IAIP. For all intents and purposes, it behaves very much the way Bipolar I does. So let us run through what Bipolar I is characterized as, since this is not just a character study of Jack, but of her condition as well. As defined by NIMH, Bipolar I is characterized by “manic episodes that last at least 7 days, or by manic symptoms that are so severe that the person needs immediate hospital care. Usually, depressive episodes occur as well, typically lasting at least 2 weeks. Episodes of depression with mixed features (having depression and manic symptoms at the same time) are also possible.” Manic symptoms that are so severe the person requires immediate hospital care is (in my opinion) inappropriately vague/polite code for demonstrating psychotic symptoms. To break down what “manic” and “depressive” states mean exactly, here is a quick breakdown from the International Bipolar Foundation:
“Sometimes, severe episodes of mania or depression include symptoms of psychosis (or psychotic symptoms). Common psychotic symptoms are hallucinations (hearing, seeing, or otherwise sensing the presence of things not actually there) and delusions (false, strongly held beliefs not influenced by logical reasoning or explained by a person’s usual cultural concepts). Psychotic symptoms in bipolar disorder tend to reflect the extreme mood state at the time. For example, delusions of grandiosity, such as believing one is the President or has special powers or wealth, may occur during mania; delusions of guilt or worthlessness, such as believing that one is ruined and penniless or has committed some terrible crime, may appear during depression. People with bipolar disorder who have these symptoms are sometimes incorrectly diagnosed as having schizophrenia, another severe mental illness.”
Symptoms of Mania
- Increased energy, activity, and restlessness
- Excessively “high,” overly good, euphoric mood
- Extreme irritability
- Racing thoughts and talking very fast, jumping from one idea to another
- Distractibility, can’t concentrate well
- Little sleep needed
- Unrealistic beliefs in one’s abilities and powers
- Poor judgment
- Spending sprees
- A lasting period of behavior that is different from usual
- Increased sexual drive
- Abuse of drugs, particularly cocaine, alcohol, and sleeping medications
- Provocative, intrusive, or aggressive behavior
- Denial that anything is wrong
“A manic episode is diagnosed if elevated mood occurs with three or more of the other symptoms most of the day, nearly every day, for 1 week or longer. If the mood is irritable, four additional symptoms must be present.”
Symptoms of Depression
- Poor appetite or eating too much
- Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- Nervousness and worry
- Loss of interest in and withdrawal from usual activities
- Feelings of sadness that don’t go away
- Irritability or restlessness
- Lack of energy
- Feelings of sadness, worthlessness or guilt
- Inability to think or concentrate
- Repeated thoughts of death or suicide
- Chronic pain or other physical problems that don’t respond to treatment
- Increased risk-taking behavior, including reckless driving or substance abuse
Characterizing Mental Illness
Given the information above, you will find in Jack’s character through the course of the story that she does have moments that reflect many of these traits. Her episodes of psychosis come on as fits, however, not quite the way an actual psychosis might manifest. Because hers is caused by (essentially) brain-damage, it behaves a bit more like epileptic seizures in that they are sometimes randomly triggered with no identifiable warning, but most often are brought on when she is put into an agitated emotional state. As someone who has had migraines since childhood, I incorporated these into her condition as well, a logical side effect of both her condition and a treatment option she chooses to pursue as an adult in an attempt to correct the damage done by her parents.
Using some of my own experience with hallucinations and delusion, I am able to illustrate the distortion of Jack’s reality when her psychosis takes hold. When in these psychotic states, Jack loses all sense of our reality. The people around her become faceless creatures, like shadow-beasts intent on harming her and she feels she needs to protect herself. This was not an uncommon state for me as well. Shadows themselves would also animate into living things. Paranoia is a well known, very common symptom of any psychosis be it bipolar or schizophrenia. To have the reality around her distorted, it means she will not react to it in a logical fashion to those there, although from her perspective her actions make perfect sense. Within a reality of one’s own making, logic and reason becomes based on a set of one’s own rules. And oftentimes the actions taken ARE still following the conventions of the accepted reality, but because those around her are not privy to what she is seeing/experiencing, these actions seem illogical or inappropriate.
And herein lies a large part of my intent behind her portrayal. Most of what I find in media portrayals of those with mental illnesses, especially Bipolar (Hollywood’s favorite Go-To uber-drama condition) is that as much as it is framed as being from the Bipolar patient’s point of view (“Homeland”, being a great example) it very rarely is, in fact, portraying what their point of view truly is. What we are shown instead is a voyeuristic, peek-through-the-window at the ‘wild and crazy shit’ s/he’s done now and when the fall out comes and we should be empathizing with her/him when their family/friends/bosses etc throw their rampage, cry, throw them out, etc…instead, we are given a front seat to the “Do you see? Do you see how fucking hard it is to live with you? Shit Show.” Nearly everything I have seen, with the exception of some excellent independent films like “Manic” and Maria Bamford’s recently indie show “Lady Dynamite”, ACTUALLY portray things from the internalized position of the patient. Or, when they do (valiantly) try, they portray the condition so horribly incorrectly or don’t even tell the audience what the condition is that it may as well be a giant ‘all crazy people‘ flag, (like “Girl, Interrupted”) that it’s difficult not to turn off the TV and cry.
With Jack, yes, I show how the people around her react to her condition, to the horrible-no-good-terrible-thing she’s done, but I also show how it is distorted, used against her repeatedly and most importantly, how Jack internalizes all of this. This last part is SO SO SO SO VERY IMPORTANT. Because here’s the thing. WE FUCKING GET IT. No really, we do. We know we’re a burden. You don’t have to tell us. We fucking know. There is a gigantic garbage dump that most of us carry around like those old trash-women in the movie Labyrinth and while we may not acknowledge it all the time, trust me, when that Depression Bullet List rears it’s ugly head, we are very aware that it is there because we’re picking through it remembering every goddamn horrible thing we ever did, magnifying it to 100 times bigger than it ever was like fucking ANT-MAN showing off his new suit and we’re finding more and more things to throw on that dump-hump. So it all gets internalized and every single word that is used gets scrutinized, obsessed over and eventually internalized as well.
“Wait, he said he was glad to get the report. Not happy or thrilled. Does that mean he hated it? Oh god, am I getting fired now? What if he calls every other company and blackballs me and I NEVER WORK AGAIN?! I am the worst typist ever. I can’t even copy a report.” Seriously…every word scrutinized, obsessed over and internalized.
So, while I do show throughout the story others reacting and discussing Jack, her condition and her past and current actions, they are there to frame HER experiences, not the other way around. They are there, the ever present, faceless shadow beasts that, even when she isn’t psychotic, she is always fighting, because the truth is, they DON’T really know Jack. They only know this IDEA of Jack. The idea they have constructed in their minds that, with one horrible incident in her story, they allowed to be completely altered. Those who truly know her and understand her condition and do not just pay lips service to “being there for you no matter what” know she is still Jack. Only now, she’s also Jack with more nightmares.
Jack’s experiences are illustrated through the use of symbols. Her choice to self-medicate using an illicit drug is not an uncommon one made by many people with mental illnesses. But that Jack’s choice of drug is Tailored Water, a drug tailored specifically to a persona’s DNA, when it was the meddling with her DNA that caused her condition in the first place, was a very conscious choice on my part and perhaps an additionally self-destructive one on hers. As an artist, her artwork is used to, literally, illustrate things at points in her story. And Jack was trained to use a sniper rifle, a weapon she keeps with her for self-defense, but is also a metaphor for how she keeps the world at a distance. These three symbols do not feature in this scene, but they are key insights into her character, how she views the world and play a large role in her story.
So keeping all this in mind, here is a single scene with Jack. She has just left a hospital facility with her career criminal brother, Tristan and met his best friend Ty. In this scene you will see an illustration of her impulsive tendencies, a glimpse of her suicidal tendencies from the past, the “well-meaning” but misguided nature that sometimes comes when people believe ‘needing help’ equates to ‘being like a child,’ and you can see how she views her brother’s concept of treatment. Is it more for her good or for his own?I am sure you may see some other things as well, but I think this scene is the best, singular scene to illustrate as many of the things discussed above as possible.
EXCERPT FROM VECTOR H+…
“I don’t want to be on this jet.” She bared her teeth as she cut free another chunk of hair. The blade slipped, its tip slicing at her wrist and drawing a crimson line.
Ty crossed the cabin, small as it was, and sat. He took the knife from her and set it down to examine her wrist. Brown, concerned eyes peered up at her, shaded by his brow so they nearly looked as dark as his sable hair. His fingertips brushed over the faint lines that crossed beneath the cut, pale tracks where her wrist had bled before. No remark was made on this.
“Barely a scratch. Why don’t you let me finish this…at least it will be straight.” A soft smile accompanied the jibe.
Jack averted her eyes and reached for a stray garment nearby to press to her wound. The slicing at her hair was done gently, as if he were afraid to break her. His calm only stilled her anger some as she demanded, “So… they going to put a bullet in me too? First time I have a–? Tristan didn’t even try to stop them.”
“No one is putting a bullet in you.” The man’s voice was very terse, although she sensed it was not her that he was directing that anger at. “There is a lot about Echo that maybe she didn’t tell you. Stuff about Tristan’s girl that, frankly, creeps me the fuck out.”
“Wait– what?” Jack started to turn, but he caught her shoulders.
“Whole point is not to catch a knife, remember? Hold still.” Patiently he finished and cautiously explained. “The tall, dark assassin, Shoreisai, she and your brother are sort of a thing.”
Hanging her head, Jack’s brow knit and she whispered, “so because he’s sleeping with her, he let her kill my friend?”
Finger combing her hair then setting the pocket knife well far away, the man seemed to be stalling to answer the question. Jack turned to face him. Finally meeting her eyes again he sighed. “No, he didn’t interfere in things he didn’t understand.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“Means, Echo wasn’t going to get better. She was just going to get worse until she died or someone put her down when she was so far out of her head that… it’s not right to let anyone go on that long.” His eyes were sad, but she could see he was being honest. “It was better this way. She at least knew who she was, where she was… could make it her choice.”
“There was no choice!”
“There was. It’s… look, I saw the others. Not all of them, but a few. What Sho and Eion are doing it’s… it’s a horrible thing but, the truth is, it’s a mercy. What their creators did was the real horror and they are all paying for it now. If your friend hadn’t been picked up after what she did–”
Jack leaned forward and hissed, “that wasn’t her fault. You don’t under– you wouldn’t understand.”
“I know. I don’t pretend to.” His hands were tender and calming on her shoulders as he soothed her. “Echo doing what she did, it’s how the twins found out what was happening. The others weren’t as strong as Echo. Most were far more gone than that when we found them… it’s… please, believe me, whatever they put in these kids’ heads… what they did to them in that place… they aren’t right. They aren’t safe, not for themselves and not for anyone else. It’s the best thing and the twins, cold as it seemed to you, they’re doing right by them. If the Corp or the Initiative found them, it would not be merciful.”
Shaking her head, Jack turned away again, shoulders curling and tears flowing in a torrent that she tried her best to hold back. Fingertips trailed down the freshly bared skin of her neck and traced her spine before his hand rest flat between her shoulder blades, his will of serenity flowing through his palm like some healing mystic.
“You should go,” she gasped between stifled sobs. Last thing she needed was an audience for her breakdown.
“This doesn’t scare me, Jack. You don’t scare me.” His hand didn’t move. “I saw the files. Tristan’s told me enough.”
Hanging her head lower she fought not to recoil from him. “Well that’s just great.”
“I’m just saying… I know you don’t want to talk to T. right now and the rest of us are all strangers but, I just want you to know you can talk to me. I’m not going to judge you.”
“Everyone says that until the first time they see the real me.”
“You’re wrong. This is the real you.” His other hand rose and combed at her auburn waves again. “The hallucinations, delusions, the episodes created by your parent’s failed attempts to play God… they are exactly that, creations. They aren’t you, they are the symptom of things done to you. Anyone who runs off because of that doesn’t deserve the woman you are.”
Turning her juniper-green eyes on him, she stared searching for lies, for manipulation, for a motive. “Why do you care? You don’t know me. I’m just some girl to you. Another merc job.”
“You’re my best friend’s kid sister.”
An unintended scoff escaped her lips. “And that’s enough for you? Just… adopt the crazy girl as your pet project because your merc-bro said so?”
He chuckled, “no, actually he said ‘if you lay a hand on her, Ty, I will break every bone in your body twice.’ But, since I’ve already screwed that up, I figured I should at least be useful before I’m in traction.”
Inclining her head she squinted, “Ty, huh?”
“What’s your favorite color, Ty?”
“Cyan… it’s a shade of–”
“Blue.” Jack smirked, “you saw in my files that I was supposed to be the art genius of the Kyle Clan, yes? I know my blues and greens.”
“I saw that you are the art genius of the Kyle Clan.”
Jack turned away from the compliment, rose and crossed the cabin to where a small case rest. Opening it she looked inside at the neatly arranged preset doses for the medipen. “The crazy probably helps with that.” She lifted the medipen and examined it. “I bet Tris lifted cratefuls of this shit special…just for me.”
“Does it help?”
Jack dropped the pen back into the box and flipped it closed. “Helps everyone else, mostly. Quickest way to put me down. Not much they can do about the rest of it. Lost on theories, tested all sorts of things on me like a goddamn lab rat, but… they don’t know. How do you fix actual crazy? It’s not a neurological problem like every other condition they’ve cured or at least know how to treat or prevent. It’s brain damage… only so many ways they can fix that and they fixed as much as they could when I was nine. Shit out of luck now, unless someone comes up with some brilliant new plan.” She turned back around and leaned against the cabinets. “And every episode only gives me just a little bit more damage. So…that’s always a bonus.”
The angle of his cheekbones and his jaw, his cleanly defined nose, he had the kind of face she would draw and a teacher would call it too perfect. Jack looked closer for the real beauty, the truth of Ty. Lines carved his brow, one at an angle that could have been a scar. His eyes feathered just enough that she could see he was closer to her brother’s age than hers, perhaps older. The brown of his skin was not so dark that she could not see the faint circles that shadowed his eyes, or the few speckles of freckling on his cheeks and nose. A few of those freckles had darkened into what a woman may have called a beauty mark once, but now was a sign of too much sun. Jack still found them beautiful, a constellation map that guided her to the lines and scars that marked his life on his face.
Unless he was much older than she guessed, his skin showed too much exposure for him to have grown up in the upscale, privileged cities and colonies, Eco-spheres, Enviro-hives, where every protection from the Earth’s environment was provided.
“You were never an eco-kid,” she surmised.
Ty’s eyes squinted with genuine delight as he smiled and laughed. “No, I most certainly was not.”
Leaning to the side, hair dangling into her face a bit, she smirked, “no wonder Tristan doesn’t trust you near me. Can’t imagine what kinds of contagions you might expose me to.”
“So that’s a Kyle thing, then?” His tone was still jovial but a bit more tart. “The being an asshole thing.”
“Yeah, that’s a Kyle thing.” She laughed and looked toward the mirror that until she faced it had appeared to be a window. Her reflection was not as appealing as she’d hoped. She looked tired and beaten down, faded and gaunt. There was so much more here than a simple shower and a haircut was going to fix.
“You should do that more. It’s nice.”
Jack looked back, confused at his remark, her thoughts having wandered. “What’s that?”
“Laugh,” he lowered his eyes to pick at the seam of his pant leg. “I like your laugh.”
“You’d be the first.”
“See, now, why do you do that?” Exasperation soured his face as he looked up at her again. “Someone says something nice about you and you have to cut it down. Did no one ever… tell you nice things? Compliment you?”
Wrapping one arm up to hug herself, Jack thought about it. “Not really. My family… a compliment is a stepping stone toward an ask or an underhanded insult. I mean, I guess Tristan and Brian have probably said nice things to me, maybe, I don’t know. We’re just not like that.”
Standing up he closed the distance to her, careful to relax his gait and posture when she flinched back from him. “We need to fix that. You need to hear how special you are. Hell, I can’t go half a day without my moms telling me how great I am.”
“Oh, really?” Jack smirked and eyed him. “And these moms of yours, whats this laundry list of amazing they have?”
He lifted his brows and bobbed his head. “Amazing is definitely on there, probably right near the top.”
Jack chuckled, “naturally.”
“And handsome, but that is self evident,”
“Definitely humble. Kind and very helpful.”
Lifting her brows she challenged him. “Helpful, how are you helpful?”
Reaching out to frame her face, just brushing at the edges of her hair he beamed, “obviously, I am an amazing hairdresser… so that is helpful.”
“Yeah, did you cut that haystack yourself?” She eyed the patch of black hair on the top of his otherwise nearly shaved head.
“You don’t like the long, spiky look?”
“Oh well, sure, if I want to be reminded of how you look first thing every morning, it’s perfection.”
Ty shifted just a bit closer, his height causing him to look down at her. Though she knew he must have heard her breath catch in her chest, he just smiled and said, “You’re right, that’s probably a terrible look.”
Jack’s eyes flicked down to where his hands were still playing with tendrils of her hair. “Not that terrible.”
One of his hands drifted closer to her cheek and brushed it with a hesitant graze. “Since your brother is going to break all of my bones–”
“–Twice.” His smile reappeared amidst what seemed to Jack as nothing but the abundant sun-glow of the artificial jet windows. “Would it be alright with you if, before I go out to have said bones broken, if I kissed you.”
Jack’s lips parted, though she could not claim surprise. Body language had already spoken. “But we just met.”
“Yesterday. So this is actually the second day we’ve known each other.” Ty worked the loopholes and let his delicate brushes on her cheek sweep back to a cradle. His thumb stroked the apple of her tanned cheekbone just beneath her eye. “I held you while you cried and slept last night and everything, until we were on the jet and Tristan made me put you in here. I’m not saying I deserve a reward–”
“Because that would be a dick move.”
“Yes it would. I’m just pointing out that you wouldn’t… have this amazing haircut if not for me.”
The two dissolved into giggles as he finished his sentence. Then seeing no resistance on her part, he leaned down to kiss —
“Fucking hell man!”
Jack’s head fell back, lips untouched but pulse racing with the want of it. Tristan stood in the doorway, arms crossed and full glower etched into his face. Ty glanced over at him but looked back to Jack and smiled. “Whoops…bone-breaking time, I guess.”
“Tristan, I am not a child,” Jack reminded him. “Twenty now, so you can stop coddling.”
The older Kyle showed no signs of being dissuaded and was not amused when Ty gaped at her and gasped, “twenty? Oh… damn, now see, I thought you were younger.” He looked back to Tristan. “You know I like them younger than that, T. I’m sorry man. If I’d known she was all grown up, I never would have–”
“Get the fuck out,” Tristan barked, unamused as Jack and Ty snickered between each other.
Once he had left, Tristan closed the door and looked her over with worry. “You just came out of a terrible ordeal, Jack. I don’t think this is a good idea– especially not with Ty. And he’s more than a decade older than you.”
“So? If I were sixteen that would matter, but I’m not. Plus, he’s your best friend.”
“That what he told you?” Tristan snorted, “all the more reason not to trust him.”
“Yeah, you’re right. Best friends with a guy who screws a murder does sound like he’s lacking judgment.” The woman’s tone had gone cold.
Shaking his head, but avoiding her gaze, he pleaded, “don’t talk like that. You don’t understand everything–”
Waving a hand toward the door, she growled, “oh no, Ty explained it to me pretty goddamn well. Didn’t have a lot of details to fill in, but you know… kids with damaged brains do psycho shit so you and your girlfriend fly around and SHOOT THEM. Perfectly logical.”
“That’s not what she is doing. And I’m not helping her. She helped ME to find YOU when SHE saw that you were listed on the same hospital records. You should be thanking Sho.” Tristan’s voice had risen some, but he was visibly trying to maintain his calm.
Forming a silent ‘Oh‘ with her mouth Jack nodded and stepped back from him. “Of course, I do. In fact, I should just go give her the same ‘Execute Me on Account of Crazy’ order that Echo signed, right? I mean… she had one of those or something, yeah? Is that what family is to you now? What these twins do to their siblings? I mean, you sure as fuck made sure there were enough KO-pens on board, didn’t you?”
“Jackie–” She bared her teeth and held a hand out when he showed signs of moving toward her. “–you need to calm down.”
“Did you show them all your scars? Tell them about your little beast of a sister? The twelve-year-old that broke your jaw, the teen that came at you with a knife? You tell them all those fun family anecdotes? Oh, how about when I killed the Janesson’s baby? That’s a good story, right? Ty said you showed him my files. You make sure he saw that? Your precious sis, the infanticidal psy…”
Staggering back into the wall with a whining gasp, Jack missed it with her back and fell sideways to land on her hip and one hand. Her other hand rose to her head, eyes wide and glazing as Tristan ran toward her screaming names and orders. The pain mounted to a breaking point and she let out a gut-powered scream. Having no understanding of where she was, unable to identify the faces around her as people, she began to assault any distorted figure that came near to her, all the while screaming and crying at the stabbing pain and siren pitch in her head.