Z is for Zachary Connor and Zhijian Mei #AtoZChallenge

Cigarette packet I made for Zachary, ca. 1900

Cigarette packet I made for Zachary, ca. 1900

I wrap up my A to Z gaming adventure with two wonderful characters from a GURPS Steampunk game Scott ran back in 2002—possibly the first game he ran, although I’m not certain of that. I’ve already written about my intricately detailed character backgrounds, and Zachary Connor certainly had one. Janica created a wonderful background for her character as well. I forgot until researching for this blog that both characters’ names started with a Z. How fortuitous! I’ve shortened the description for reasons of space, leaving out Zhijian Mei’s history before she met Zachary, although that part is fascinating (illegitimate daughter of a Scottish engineer in New Mexico and a Chinese laborer named Jian Ying, born in 1883).

The cousins [in New York] were aware that Ting Mei wasn’t full-Chinese, but they felt honor-bound to Jian Ying to care for her daughter. Cong Xi was an herbalist; his wife a cook. Ting Mei was no longer the vivacious, happy spirit she once was. She was silent and sad, carrying her secret guilt about her father’s death.

Ting Mei continued to learn, now from her cousins. She learned to write by labeling the containers of Chinese herbs. For five years, she studied the herbs and foods of her mother’s people.

Cong Xi never asked Ting Mei about her parents; it was of no concern to him. He knew his duty to honor his family, which was of utmost importance. He expected Ting Mei to honor him as a father, and when her willfulness began to show once again, he was quick to reprimand her.

The pressure of the strict life under Cong Xi, coupled with the extreme guilt Ting Mei felt about her father, finally caused a breakdown for the eleven-year-old. In a fit of tears and shouting, Ting Mei revealed the truth as she understood it: She had murdered her father. Details weren’t necessary. The horror of her action was enough. Cong Xi immediately turned her out onto the street—the shame and dishonor of Ting Mei’s actions was beyond anything he could allow for his family.

Ting Mei felt that it was no more than what she deserved. She lived as a beggar, scrapping on the streets. Word was that money could be made at the baseball stadium, if you could get enough of a concession to sell. It was illegal without a vendor’s license, but after two years of straightforward begging, it seemed a solid opportunity to Ting Mei. She’d learned to steal as needed, so she managed to score a tray of peanuts from an inattentive (but licensed) vendor.

Ting Mei actually enjoyed the stadium. There was green grass and blue sky and cheering people. They looked at her without pity or disgust—they just looked at her as a servant—infinitely better. She was bolder, more confident with money in her pocket, when the very vendor she’d stolen from caught up with her. His apoplectic rage terrified her. “It was only peanuts!” she stammered ash he grabbed hold of her, shouting vile obscenities. Ting Mei had seen this sort of thing on the street, but she had mostly been able to avoid such conflicts. As she trembled in the harsh grip of the enraged man, she realized that one of the players had left the field and was coming toward them. She watched silently as the tall, strong man calmly extricated her from the vendor’s grip. Her shock that a complete stranger would act so kindly toward her amazed Ting Mei. Without her knowing quite how, the man had solved the problem. The vendor was gone, and she was sitting quietly with a cool drink and hot meal before her. Gratitude shone from her eyes.

“My name is Zachary. What’s yours?” he asked.

“Ting Mei.”

“Ting Mei. That’s pretty. It suits you.”

As the food and drink worked their magic on her empty stomach, Ting Mei relaxed. She spoke less guardedly than she had in years. There was kindness in Zachary’s eyes, kindness like her fa—

Softly, Ting Mei began to cry.

“Hey! No, no. Don’t cry. It’s ok now. You’re ok,” Zachary awkwardly tried to comfort her. Ting Mei continued to sob, but she tired to stop, for his sake. He looked so uncomfortable, so upset by her tears. And he’d been so kind to her; to repay him like this was wrong.

Zachary learned that Ting Mei had no place to stay, that she’d been on the streets for years. He couldn’t bear the thought of this delicate young woman subjected to the horrors of street life, and offered to take her home with him. Ting Mei gratefully accepted.

For weeks, she lived with Zachary. She cleaned the flat, cooked for him, shopped (or stole) for him. She managed to procure a large amount of his favorite beer. Ting Mei cooked a fine meal, and liberally refilled Zach’s glass. Zach was getting drunk, and Ting Mei was flirting with him. She was drawn to him, to his gentleness toward her, and she knew that she owed him for all he’d done for her. He’d’ given her a warm bed—shouldn’t she share it with him?

Ting Mei loved Zach as only a thirteen-year-old could—obsessively, wholeheartedly. He was her whole life. She had told him everything of her past. Zach held her tenderly as she cried, explained that it wasn’t her fault—merely an accident. He never convinced her, but Ting Mei knew that he loved her in spite of it all, and that was enough.

Ting Mei and Zachary had only one argument—his gun. As a policeman (baseball players didn’t make enough to live on, and most had other jobs), he always carried a gun. Ting Mei had long since vowed never to touch a gun again, and she feared for Zachary. After one particularly heated argument, Ting Mei stormed out of the apartment. It took her a long time to go back. She loved him, after all. And If he could love her with all her terrible history, couldn’t she love him in spite of his carrying a gun? It wasn’t like he’d killed anyone with it.

When Ting Mei returned to Zachary, he was in bed with another woman. The betrayal was beyond anything Ting Mei had ever felt. She ran from the place, never to return.

The next few years were spent back on the streets. Ting Mei was dead—she no longer felt graceful and lovely. She felt cold. Never again would she be so hurt. She wouldn’t ever be so vulnerable. With firm resolve to survive, she changed her name to Zhijian Mei, “firm in spirit,” and did whatever it took to live.

 In 1901, Zhijian Mei was eighteen. She’d heard about the new airships, and she was determined to get on the one headed to San Francisco. The thought of an adventure and a new start was enticing. Tickets were impossible to obtain (by legal means), and she didn’t relish the idea of stowing away for a transcontinental journey. Zhijian Mei learned of a wealthy couple who had bribed their way into obtaining two tickets. She made sure that their cook would be unable to show for work, and applied for the newly open position. Pleased with the exotic cuisine Zhijian Mei created, they hired her full-time. Zhijian Mei had kept up with her study of Chinese herbs as she could, and she created a Chinese feast laced with enough medicine to ensure undisturbed sleep for the master and mistress of the house. Sure of their slumber, Zhijian Mei stole their tickets. She sold one of the tickets on the street to enable her purchase of the fine clothes she would need to travel on the airship without being questioned. Zhijian Mei was ready to leave her old life behind her.

Of course, Zhijian Mei met up with Zachary in the adventure.

Thank you so much for journeying through the alphabet with me! I hope, if you were unfamiliar with gaming before, that you learned a new appreciation for it.

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N is for Nia MacGavan #atozchallenge

English: Belgian Congo Postage stamp, 1925 iss...

English: Belgian Congo Postage stamp, 1925 issue, 50c (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Way back in 2002, my husband Thomas ran a GURPS Call of Cthulhu game for us. It was one of the creepiest and most entertaining games I’ve played, and I think he made up most of it as he went along. We started out in Massachusetts (of course), ended up in Louisiana fighting Deep Old Ones, “died” and woke up in giant clay jars in a landscape from Dante’s Inferno—literally. After a particularly harrowing experience summoning somethin’ they had’n’t oughta summoned, Drs. MacGavan and Nelson consummated their relationship. Nia got pregnant, and when Danny found out, he punched Kent in the mouth. Nia had morning sickness along the way. Great way to fight monsters. We ended up completely off track in Africa (and my dear husband allowed us to do so), traveling all the way to the Belgian Congo for no good reason. To this day, we refer to “going to the Belgian Congo” when characters are off track or in danger of becoming so.

Here’s Nia’s starting biography (see I is for Intricate Backstories). She and Kent married and had a baby girl (if memory serves). No, the baby did not have tentacles.

Nia [Niamh] Áine MacGavan, Ph.D, was born May 1, 1900, in Mulranny, County Mayo, Ireland to a devout Catholic couple named Caoilte and Áine MacGavan.  Her sister Caitlin was born two years later, and Brenna came along in 1904.  Caoilte’s mother Medb also lived with them until her death in 1912, but Medb’s tales of the Fair Folk and her superstitions stayed with Niamh the rest of her life.  She gave her granddaughter a locket with a four-leaf clover in it that she always wears, believing it to help her see through faerie glamour.

Niamh’s life was chaotic.  Her father, a day laborer, was passionately involved in the fight for Irish independence.  Toward this end, he moved the family frequently to wherever there was trouble or the possibility of stirring up more.  He taught his daughters to fire a rifle in self-defense—or offense, if necessary.  Niamh’s light sleeping tendencies and milder nightmares grew out of this constant uncertainty and risk.  Caoilte also believed strongly in women’s education, and he and Áine made certain that Niamh and her sisters studied.  Niamh had a flare for languages and an interest in ancient cultures that took her mind away from the terrors of daily life.

Caoilte successfully eluded the authorities despite his terrorist activities until 1916, when they moved to Dublin.  He was preparing a bomb in the kitchen of their home during the fighting that followed the Easter Uprising.  It exploded unexpectedly, killing him and his youngest daughter instantly; the ensuing fire took the lives of his middle daughter and wife.  Niamh was away at the time and returned just as the fire was being put out.  The terrifying nightmares about fire began shortly thereafter.

Caoilte’s older brother Arthur, who lived with his wife Muriel in London, took Niamh in.  Arthur and Muriel worked at the University of London and, with very little convincing necessary, persuaded Niamh to enroll in the School of Oriental Studies, where she studied Near Eastern languages and linguistics.  Her aunt and uncle were infinitely more liberal in their outlook on life than Niamh’s parents, and introduced their niece to a social scene unlike any she had ever experienced.  She gradually came to view her parents’ religion with scorn, contrasting the teachings they supposedly espoused with Caoilte’s love of violence and chaos.

Innately superstitious (she leaves cream out for brownies as she has since she was a child and really believes in the power of her necklace), Niamh became interested in the occult through acquaintances of Aunt Muriel’s.  One frequent guest of the MacGavans was Phillip Parnell, a medium who offered to teach Niamh about the occult.  The intensity of their year-long relationship alarmed Niamh’s aunt and uncle, who, after she graduated with honors in 1924, strongly urged her to apply for positions in America.  Arthur called in a favor and soon Niamh was hired by Blackstock College in Massachusetts to teach linguistics.

Despite Prohibition, in America Nia, as she is now known, has explored the taste for carousing she developed in England, although she does it discreetly to avoid censure by the school administration.  Her beauty has caused one scandal, when the dean cornered her in the cloakroom at the Christmas party and his wife walked in on them kissing.  As she finishes her first year of teaching at Blackstock, Nia has begun to use her beauty to her advantage and has become something of a tease.  She has become friends with a student, an aspiring movie stuntman named Danny, who accompanies her to speakeasies and roadhouses to indulge her desire for carousing.

Nia teaches Introduction to the Study of Language, Introduction to Linguistic Analysis, and Elementary Akkadian.  Her research interests include Akkadian and Sumerian literature, particularly incantations and magic.  She has developed a crush on Kent Nelson, the serious archaeology professor ten years her senior, and has made it her mission in life to encourage him to loosen up and relax.  She is somewhat in awe of him and his accomplishments, and would love nothing better than to go on a dig with him.

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