A challenge I shall answer

Which sounds a bit funny when you know the whole story. I’ll only relate part of it, though.

A while, back, I issued a challenge to someone as a proposed exercise to improve or test how well one writes a group of varied characters. It was very simple. Take about five characters, all people who have to work together, and write a scene wherein they are introduced, either to each other, or to the audience as an already cohesive (or at least formed) team.

I have thought on this since, and wondered how difficult it is. Writing groups is kind of my thing, although I have been giving myself much smaller casts lately (no idea why) so of course I didn’t think it should be hard.

Is it?

There’s also the fact that this is not quite what I built up experience doing. I have a fairly consistent tendency of forming my team bottom-up, even when some of the characters knew each other before joining the team.

Anyway, I thought I should answer my own challenge, whether it is met or not. Just in the interest of fairness and so that I don’t have some boring rant on something no one cares about posted for today.


Keyboards clicked throughout the room. No one would say much until Denver arrived, but none of their jobs required conversation. Not so early in the morning, at any rate.

Aitne twisted her chair in tight, 45° turns, her wavy red hair swishing over her narrow shoulders. There was nothing for her to do yet. She didn’t know why she still came in early.

“Has anyone heard from Denver?” she asked, tapping one key with one finger like a ballerina hopping in place over a tiny stage.

The most rhythmic typing paused. Charles spun round and took the pencil out from behind one of his big ears, then held it between his index fingers as a wobbly bridge. “Ask Grey.”

She glared at him. “I asked everyone.”

They both looked over at Grey, the little black-haired translator. She was wearing headphones.

“Like I said. Ask Grey.”

“When would she have had a chance to talk to him?” Aitne slumped in her chair. “I’ll call him.”

One of the office phones rang. It was closest to Grey, but Charles hopped out of his chair and made an aerobatic leap to answer it.

He did so in Cantonese, which Aitne rather resented. She rolled up a Post-It note and flicked it at him. He did not appear to notice. However, she did managed to get it stuck on his Disneyland-approved fedora.

She decided not to tell him of her small victory.

However, a giggle from Grey’s desk told her that it did not go entirely unseen. Grey held up her fist, one thumb extended skyward. She took off her headphones. “Normal morning,” she said, her normally reedy voice somewhat raspy, as though from disuse.

“He said he had to swing by and pick up Latishia,” Charles announced as he dropped the phone back into the cradle.

Had it not been a juvenile thing to do, Aitne would have blown a raspberry. As it was, she rolled her eyes and pushed her chair so that she spun to face her desk again. “Better look busy then,” she muttered.

Through some form of uncharacteristic hard work on the part of her computer, she managed to get a few files open. They were already done, but if she opened iterate saves, she could look as though she was in the middle of a complex project.

“Reviewing what you have done?” Grey asked. Aitne imagined she could hear a wink behind her.

Aitne turned round to grin at her and shake a fist. Then the main door opened and they all spun to look at the new arrivals.

There was their perpetually tardy Denver, a tall man who would have looked more at home in a fireman’s uniform than the loose street clothes he usually wore. He did not enter the room with Latashia. She wouldn’t share an entrance if her life depended on it.

Their department liaison, Latashia Honeywell, walked in after Denver. She gave him a gracious, over-whitened smile and thanked him for holding the door. Then she walked up to Charles’s desk, heels clicking like a time bomb.

He continued standing by Grey. “Thanks for escorting our project leader up,” he said, smiling so broadly that Aitne wondered if he’d taken acting classes in uni. “But we wouldn’t want to keep you.”

He must have, she thought, as she watched Latashia smile at him. She tapped her fingernails on his desk. “But of course,” she said, glancing over her shoulder at Denver, who was hanging up his jacket. “I know you lot can’t get a thing done without him.”

As usual, Denver was oblivious to this jab. He gave Aitne a painfully friendly wave and walked over to give her a manila envelope. Grey had already put her headphones back on.

“All right guys, just let me fire up my rig and then we can get started.” Denver did not apologise for being late. Nobody wanted him to. Usually, Charles used the other man’s poor timekeeping skills as a reason to nap or read, and Grey would occasionally bring a small karaoke machine. Aitne was considering starting a webcomic to fill in the time.

Aitne was less willing to forgive Denver anything when he brought Latashia anywhere near the office. The dreadful woman did have to ‘check on’ them from time to time, but Denver did not have to help her.

Bright red fingernails travelled to Aitne’s desk, then started tapping a rhythm that she would have liked to end with a pair of cymbals. She looked up from her desk with her chin down, allowing her glasses to slide.

Latashia was smiling. It was not the same smile she had used on Denver or even Charles. “It’s been a while, hasn’t it?”

Only great force of will kept Aitne from saying that it had not been long enough. “I suppose.”

“You look different. Positively glowing. Are you pregnant?”

“No, but I can see why it’s on your mind.” Aitne perched her glasses atop her head and gave the liaison a brilliant smile of her own. “How far along are you?”


Now I think about it, the post title would be a good novel title. Heh.

That was fun to write. Kinda funny is that the exchange at the end was actually the first thing that I thought of before I wrote this.


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