As a consequence of writing Monster, I was left without a Tien story in Things Were Better Then. His was originally meant to be the seventh story, aligned with Say It Ain't So, for I wanted to reference Destructivedisk's story Tien: Origins (that story's chapter names are all lyrics from "Say It Ain't So"). Almost immediately after I wrote Monster, though, I moved Tien's story to the fifth position. I figured that Undone – The Sweater Song could also work for Tien (though it would require a different story). My original plan was to have Tien dealing with Tao and Shen betraying him, which would go with "Say It Ain't So" (this was also a story consideration for The Brady Patrick Collection). However, "Undone" is a different song, which requires a different plot and different themes.
I didn't really know what I was going to do with this story until around April 14, 2015 (a day before I wrote the first bit of it). Everything basically came together right before I wrote this story. So what happened was, first and foremost, I was watching the first season of an anime called Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions in early to mid April. One thing I love about this anime is the subtle themes portrayed in the settings - particularly the desolate train stations that the characters are often at. The atmosphere of that show particularly influenced the setting and tone of the second part of Suicide Missionary.
A second bit of influence was a poem by Ezra Pound called In a Station of the Metro. I found this poem more than a year ago when I was looking for short poems to influence a poem I was writing for a friend (ultimately, I chose E.E. Cummings' [in Just-] for that). However, I did not forget "In a Station of the Metro", for it struck me as profoundly beautiful. This poem influenced the first scene of this story, particularly the part with Tien and the woman looking at one another. It was this influence that ultimately made me start writing the story, but more on that in the endnotes below.
The above picture shows an early list of theme colors for Suicide Missionary. I had it narrowed down to purple here, but notice that doesn't have a check mark next to it like some of the other finalized colors which were much more set in stone.
The above picture shows a very early notepad document I made for TWBT which was last edited on February 20, 2015 (two days before I wrote and published Glory). What can be seen here is that I didn't have much finalized (notice the different story name for Midnight City and how I was even considering Bulma for story 4). But what can be seen is that even at this early juncture, I had the theme colors narrowed down to black or purple, the only two colors from that point on that had any chance of being the final color chosen.
In the above picture, I had chosen Tien for story seven and also had brown for "Say It Ain't So"'s theme color (which was kept when I changed that story's protagonist to Kuriza). In fact, the above picture is completely accurate for theme colors, and only three characters are inaccurate. "Undone" was set in stone as having its theme color being purple by this point.
So the theme color being purple is basically based around to how the guitars and bass sound in "Undone" to me. I also considered black because the song has a dark feeling to it, one that feels like your confined underwater or in a dark shed or something similar. Purple seemed more accurate for this song than black, and black of course works better for the tenth song anyway.
So there isn't much else to say. I wrote one scene on my phone on April 15, 2015, but everything else was written on April 18. I wrote the first draft of this story on April 18 from 12:06 am to 12:54 am. From 8:19 pm to 9:19 pm I edited the story, and it was published soon after. This story was written very quickly. I just sat down and wrote what came to mind. I did not expect this story to be below 2000 words and was surprised to see it was even after final editing (where I usually add anywhere from 200-500 words for most chapters/stories). That's just how it turned out. The writing was very organic too. I didn't plan a lot of it. I just knew I wanted Tien to be around a busy train station and a desolate train station. Everything else was worked out in the actual writing process, including why he was in the city to begin with. Anyway, that's all I can think of saying for this opening monologue, so onto the endnotes!
|Things Were Better Then|
|Written:||April 15 - April 18, 2015|
|Released:||April 18, 2015|
|Genre:||Mono no aware|
|Theme song:||Undone – The Sweater Song|
|Things Were Better Then track listing|
This story's theme is Undone – The Sweater Song.
The white walls and floor of the subway seemed to flicker and come alive in the artificial light. Despite the grime and myriad used newspapers, the whiteness of the place was steadfast. A faint chlorine smell lingered, though its faintness implied it had been a long time since someone had cleaned the train station. Tien felt himself wading through a sea of men and women who were scrambling to get to their trains. They shoved and pushed him – one man with a plum-colored vest even cursed Tien as he elbowed his way past the triclops – in general panic. They had places to go, things to see; and though Tien was there beside them, he was nothing to frantic commuters. They saw him inasmuch as they knew he was an object to move around and push aside, but they did not see him as a person, a human being. He had been a famous martial artist years prior. He had won a World Martial Arts tournament. And yet, no one knew Tien. That was partly because he was wearing strange garb – white and blue training clothes with black boots and a white cape, not to mention a hat. Tien wasn’t trying to stand out. He didn’t want people staring at his third eye, pointing and muttering to their friends. At the same time, not being noticed at all felt equally eerie, though in a different way.
He had gone to see her, to act on his feelings, but in the end, Tien had turned back. He had come so far as East City before acknowledging his folly. He wasn’t a romantic. He couldn’t open himself up again. Not since Tao. Tien’s hand brushed his chest unconsciously, feeling for the scar his former mentor had given him. That had been a dark day. Launch couldn’t understand. Tien felt lonely as he walked through the crowd. In some ways, he envied them. They had jobs, lives. They had families. Their biggest worries were money and getting to work on time. They hadn’t experienced the life threatening pain Tien had. They hadn’t died and been reborn.
Tien bowed his head and trampled over some sodden newspapers towards the platform. He should have just flown back. He wasn’t like other people. He couldn’t be so open, so out there. Just being around a crowd had made him feel dizzy. It had been years since he’d seen so many people. He didn’t miss the mountains, farming with Chiaotzu, training alone. But Tien did miss the connections he knew he’d never have again.
Amongst the swirling crowd, desperation and indignation in the air, he saw a face, flushed from the cold and pale. She had amethyst hair, wore a red-and-green dress, and held a weeping baby in her arms; he stared into her anxious, forlorn eyes for a moment, and then she was swallowed up in the sea of business grey. Trash danced lazily through the air. It reeked of sweat and gin. He watched another wave of men in identical business suits rush past him, briefcases in their arms, broad hats covering their faces. Tien thought of the woman, of her eyes, like two flaming drowned stars. In that moment their eyes had met, they had shared something he could not name but knew all the same. For a moment, Tien had shared the pain and beauty of his life with her, and she with him. A train came screaming into the station, its brakes so loud they hurt his ears. It was time to go.
Brooding blackbirds perched on twisted, broken metal branches. Some cawed when Tien exited the train, others blinked furiously, cocking their heads and opening their beaks, waiting for him to throw some food. He didn’t have anything to give.
The station was deserted, desolate. The wind blew softly; the train roared crudely in response. Only a few people got off, and by the time the train left, Tien was nearly alone. It was a smaller station, composed mostly of old black lacquered wood roofs and a few chairs. Behind the station, the waters stretched out across an endless horizon. The cherry blossoms were in bloom, Tien realized, but they were already starting to wither. All things fade, he knew. But there’s always next year.
Tien told himself that he would take to the sky as soon as he was out of eyeshot of the other people. He didn’t want to frighten them, bring attention to himself. A small girl with an eyepatch over her left eye was eying him from a nearby chair. She was eating a piece of fruit – an apple or a peach, maybe – and its juice was running down her chin as she gazed at him. Her legs dangled off the chair and swayed with the cool ocean wind. He tried to ignore her as he walked out of the station. It felt weird being stared at. Could she see his third eye? It was impossible. His hat covered it completely.
The sky was festering with wounds of orange and purple, and the clouds themselves shone with bleeding color. Tien wondered if Chiaotzu had prepared dinner. Shumai, he hoped. Gyoza wouldn’t be bad either. Feeling his mouth watering, Tien shook his head and cleared his mind. He had to stop himself.
“Hi, I’m Likka,” the girl with the eyepatch said politely, running forward to greet Tien. She was wearing a fuzzy woolen sweater that was far too large for her, and when she ran, she looked almost comical, like a half-drunk ghost. Upon reaching the triclops, the girl threw her half-eaten apple aside and shook his hand. “Want to buy some flowers?” She lifted a little basket and showed Tien her stock.
They were fine flowers, the kind Tien had seen dotting the edges of roads and growing next to trees. Some were blue, some red, some orange. They would have been fresher in the morning. He wondered when she had picked them. A blackbird screeched. Another took flight to race the day’s dying light. As it soared over the sapphire waters a larger bird with white-grey feathers shot towards it from above, its talons extended, its beak open in a soundless scream. The station was so quiet, so peaceful.
“N-no thanks,” he said, awkwardly and went to leave.
“Please, sir, just one!” She held up the basket and cocked her head. Tien thought she looked like the woman from the subway then, her eye helpless, but defiant. “I’m hungry, sir! Just one would pay for something to eat…!”
He thought her hair had been dyed at one point, but that had been a while ago. Time had deteriorated the color, and her brown hair flourished; but in small patches, her hair was darker, colored, though he couldn’t tell which color it was in the light of the fading day. Tien stopped and looked at her before feeling in his pocket for some zeni. In truth, he had brought the zeni only to pay for lunch with Launch. But he hadn’t gone to lunch. He hadn’t gone back to see her. Tien knew how Launch felt about him, and it made him sad knowing that she would never be happy.
“Here,” he said gruffly, thrusting a few zeni into the girl’s open hand.
She caught it ravenously; her eye seemed to feed on the money as she looked it over, making sure it wasn’t counterfeit. It was, indeed, real. It was some of the last of Tien’s prize money from his World Tournament winnings.
“Thanks!” She grinned and ran off. Tien knew he’d never see her again.
The city was far-off, and Tien could almost hear its constant, heartless buzz from the remote train station. Plumes of smoke and exhaust rose into the sky from the factories, and he could imagine all those people working in the buildings and skyscrapers. All those men dressed in grey rushing to their train, rushing towards jobs they knew they hated. But at least they had lives, families, purpose. Sometimes Tien envied them, sometimes he did not. He didn’t know which way was right.
It was cold and quiet on his way back to the mountain. There, fewer people lived, and Tien could fly without feeling like an Other. He wondered if anyone aside from Goku and the gang knew he existed. Perhaps one of the people he had harmed back in the days when Master Shen’s teachings had corrupted him. But they would not remember him fondly or truly. Tien had changed. The Tien those people remembered didn’t exist anymore.
Tien didn’t know if his training was pointless. He knew he would never surpass Goku, despite the lies he told himself as his muscles burned and sweat poured down his face. But he couldn’t go back. He couldn’t return to that city and face the crowds that saw him and forgot him. He wasn’t the same Tien who had once stood on the World Tournament stage and had boasted openly about his power and skill. The mere thought of those days past made Tien shudder.
He touched down on the mountain, landing softly on the dirt of an animal trail. The cherry blossoms up there were not as old as the ones at the train station. Their flowers wouldn’t die so soon. He could sense Chiaotzu in their home, not more than a few hundred feet away. It was for the best, he kept telling himself, as he returned home. The two of them couldn’t compete with the other warriors. They couldn’t protect Earth from anybody. They had learned that the hard way against that monster, Nappa. They had done heroic things in the past, Tien knew, but that wasn’t going to happen ever again. Tien and Chiaotzu would stay in the mountains for the rest of their lives, farming, training, keeping one another company, until they died. Then they would be forgotten.
Tien’s fists clenched and unclenched. “I’m me,” he whispered. “I am who I am. I don’t care what anyone else thinks.”
A keen wind was howling. The sun was fleeing behind the horizon. Tien’s stomach growled. There was a knot in his stomach – when he tried to wrestle it out, it just made him more nauseous. He hated Tao and his old master for betraying him. But they had saved him, too. They had brought him to this place. He felt the scar on his chest again, almost remembering the pain. Tien wondered then, as he walked home, if Tao had truly known the wound he had given Tien that day so long ago.
- "Suicide Missionary" was the name of an achievement one could get from beating Gears of War 2 on the hardest difficulty. I thought it was a cool title and worked well with Tien's nature, especially with how he doesn't actually show up to see Launch. There's a suicidal tendency with Tien and his isolation, but it's not the standard type of suicide - it's a suicide of potential. Tien could have been the strongest human, and he could have been quite rich if he wanted to be, but the life he chose separated him from the glory of the other Z Fighters and as such, he's not remembered in history as much as the others who did more. Of course, he does do certain things, particularly in the Saiyan Saga and against Cell and Buu, but these are just a taste of what Tien could have been. His steadfast inclination to not reach his full potential has always frustrated me about him, and the story title implies that's he's doing it knowingly and willingly.
- Stylistically, I meant for the first section to be just a few meaty paragraphs because I wanted to mimic the compressed nature of that packed train station. The second section is more spread out to mimic how the second train station Tien goes to has very few people at it.
- The thing about the white walls and the sterile smell is hinting at the crowd environment - how people put on a persona that it is fake and idealistic just to please others. One thing Tien struggles with in this first section is trying to be like those who can do this, and his emotional disconnect with them leads to his isolation.
- The man in the plum-colored vest is the first mention of this story's theme color. He was singled out as such so as to be emblematic of the crowd's panicked vibe. They are so desperate to get to the train, to get to their jobs, to go go go and never look back or think about what they are doing. They just have to do it because if they don't, they won't get money. This is something I've always hated about people, and I wanted to capture how truly perplexing it is. It's such a construct of society and not a good one.
- Tien wears his Buu era clothes in this story simply because I wanted his template picture to match what he looks like in the story. Also, I don't think he has many sets of clothes, so having him wear something different would probably be inaccurate to his character.
- Tien being a triclops is problematic because it's so strange. It would likely lead to more than a few people staring or accosting him. So I rectified that by having him wear a hat. This also allows for some character development, showing that Tien is, in fact, putting on a persona while in public, even if he doesn't realize it. Of course, his persona is primarily a physical one, not a personality one, so is still quite different from (most of) the others.
- The idea that being noticed or not being noticed leads to uncomfortable situations in either way - though uncomfortable in different ways - is something I've noticed, which is why I put it in this story. Tien is somewhat of an isolationist, particularly after he is resurrected from being killed by Nappa, so it was my intention to have his actions be slightly awkward or slightly out of step with the rest of the crowd to highlight his time away from them. In essence, he is not a drone of society, like the others, because he hasn't been a part of society for so long.
- I did what I did in Bonetown Blues here with Tien and Launch. Launch is mentioned later by name but her first mention is not by name; it's more organic this way, and I think it's just overall better to introduce her subtly, since her presence in the story, thematically and plot-wise is overall a secondary thing, despite it being the main reason Tien is at the train station in the first place.
- So Tao was supposed to be a major villain in the "Say It Ain't So" version of this story. I retained him here, but in a subtler way. The idea that he's given Tien a scar - physical and emotional - is at the center of this entire story. Tao greatly affected Tien with his betrayal and has made Tien into who he is at this stage in his life, even if it was by accident and not what Tao intended. Results speak louder than intentions after all.
- Tien is separate from the humans further just by being a Z Fighter. That isn't even mentioned until the end of the second paragraph, many words after Tien has already felt isolated and alone and out of place. That the Z Fighter angle comes up so late shows where Tien's priorities are and also shows how he isn't the premier Z Fighter he once was.
- I wanted to portray Tien's quandary not as black and white. He misses some aspects of being part of society, but he still likes living in isolation with Chiaotzu more. This is a striking difference to how he was in Dragon Ball when he was fighting in the tournament, and for good reason. He was changed after he learned of Tao's and Shen's betrayals.
- The fourth paragraph of the first section was what I wrote on my phone on April 15, 2015, three days before I wrote anything else for this story. The paragraph was slightly edited in the final version, but it's almost completely accurate to what it once was. Of course, this paragraph was inspired by "In a Station of the Metro" by Ezra Pound, mentioned in the monologue at the top of this page. It remains one of my favorite passages I've written for TWBT because, while there are thematic considerations in the text (which I won't go into too much detail on), it has power in how visceral it is. It's a collection of sensory details, but this affects Tien and changes how he acts later in the story, giving him some character development too.
- So I don't want to go into too much detail on the themes I'm trying to portray, but there is a reason why the woman has amethyst hair and is wearing a colored dress before she is swallowed up by the men in business grey (who are mostly wearing identical suits). This idea of conformity versus individuality is a theme which I also explored in Ergo Sum to a small extent.
- I am particularly proud of my transition at the end of the fourth paragraph from Tien's experience to the train entering the scene. This highlights how time may feel like it's slowing down as one sees something powerful and then recollects what one has seen. The train entering the scene snaps Tien out of that daze as often happens when one daydreams in public.
- Birds come up several times across the Things Were Better Then stories. They are a cross-story symbol, though different birds symbolize different things. There are two different types of birds in Suicide Missionary. The blackbirds were inspired by the cover of Radical Face's album, Ghost and also by the symbolic meaning (although adjusted for my story) of Blackbird by The Beatles. The alliteration came to me as I was writing the opening to the second chapter, but it is not just something I did for fun. The alliteration highlights the blackbirds' purpose in this story and their relation to Tien and his arc.
- Notice the binary of the two sections - the first section is underground in a busy city with a busy train station filled with chaos and conformity. The next station Tien goes to is at the edge of the city, nearer to nature, with fewer people and less conformity. This idea that Tien goes from a place of great promise and chaos to a place of little promise but great beauty was done to mimic Tien's life arc from when he was important in Dragon Ball to where he ends up in Dragon Ball Z. Each has its pros and cons, but I think it's clear why Tien took the isolationist path when comparing the two sections.
- "He didn’t have anything to give." - this doesn't refer purely to food.
- This story is filled with little conflicts in the world that highlight Tien's own inner turmoil, acting as metaphors for various things in his life and in his past. The wind blowing and the train roaring in response is an example of this.
- The train station in the second section was based off of some of the desolate train stations seen in Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions. I think desolate train stations are very powerful images and are also places of great beauty. I've been to a few, not nearly as artistically-unique as the one in the second part of this story, but I've always liked being alone on a platform. I don't really know how to explain it, it's just a visceral feeling for me. So me writing this second part is as much me being influenced by the aforementioned anime as it is me trying to recreate that emotion in the text.
- The cherry blossoms being in bloom was chosen to symbolize spring or the start of the new year, however they are starting to wither. This is symbolic of mono no aware, a Japanese term for the recognition of impermanence. I don't want to overstate this, but I consider that idea to be the central idea of this entire story. It's why I chose it as this story's genre. Around the time I wrote this story, I was studying Japanese and Chinese nature paintings in one of my classes (which also influenced much of Burning Man), and the idea of mono no aware was very appealing to me. It's what I ended up writing my term paper on, and I think this story helped me with that a bit. The mono no aware aspects of this story are hinted at, not really stated outright. But if there's a character who fits that philosophy, I think Tien is him. This theme compliments several of the others, and plays off them too (like how the transient nature of trains is related to mono no aware). So there's a lot of complexity and depth to this story, which greatly exceeds its technical word count, in my opinion.
- Likka was influenced by Rikka, one of the main characters of Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions. She was the overt reference to that anime in this story.
- Notice how Likka is eating an apple/peach (unreliable narrator yo). This is a reoccurring symbol first seen in Glory. The peach is seen in several other TWBT stories too. It usually symbolizes naivety or innocence. The distinction between those two of course depends on the themes of each story; in this story, Likka is more likely to be naive than innocent, which mirrors Tien's own personality and show the readers things about Tien that may not be so obvious otherwise.
- Likka is referencing Rikka Takanashi, but her covering up her eye is more in reference to Tien doing the same (keeping his enlightenment hidden, or trying to forget his enlightenment) than anything else. I think this was a particularly effective use of blending a reference and originality into something that reveals something about a canon character's personality.
- "The sky was festering with wounds of orange and purple, and the clouds themselves shone with bleeding color." - the sky and often the clouds reoccur as a symbol in all of the TWBT stories. This description is my favorite of the ten or so seen in the collection. It also references this story's theme color which is not so common for the sky descriptions in this collection.
- The foods Tien hoped Chiaotzu had prepared are his favorite foods. Also, notice how he stops himself from salivating. I don't explain why he does, but it should be understandable from how I've portrayed Tien in this story, showing how he's evolved emotionally.
- The sweater Likka is wearing was added in simply so I could reference the sweater in "Undone". Of course that is a metaphorical sweater, but I was just poking fun at that with Likka's ridiculous sweater.
- Likka throws her apple/peach aside before asking for money. This was done on purpose. She can't be naive when she doesn't have her peach.
- I had Likka sell flowers for two reasons - for one, there's a girl in Windhelm in the game Skyrim who does just that; a second reason is that flowers fade quickly - they are classic signs of mono no aware (beauty that fades). Tien even notices. They would have been fresher in the morning. But they aren't so fresh now. This of course does not just apply to the flowers.
- I specifically did not have any of the flowers be described as purple. I considered doing it but thought it would have been the easy way to go.
- The seabird is the same type of bird seen in Ergo Sum. As to why it attacks the blackbird, one must understand what both birds symbolize in their respective stories. The seabird being in this story is having that symbol reoccur in a different story. The attack is very significant for understanding Tien - of course, one may guess at what it means - there may be many different readings for what it means - but what is important is that one has some kind of opinion about what it means, regardless of what I intended. What's important is what the reader gets out of the story, less so what the writer intended.
- I like contrasts, and I feature them heavily in this story's collection. The contrast between the bird attacking the other bird and the peaceful, desolate atmosphere of the train station was an intentional transition.
- Rikka's hair looks purple to me. I referenced this with Likka's hair, but made it seem like her hair had been dyed purple and had not been like that in a while, implying some stuff about Likka's past and also vaguely hinting at this story's theme color and the theme of mono no aware.
- I had Tien decided to go to lunch with Launch (as opposed to any other meal of the day) for obvious reasons.
- I wanted to only hint at Launch throughout this story, only bringing her up in organic transitions and whatnot. That is why I only revealed a bit more about her in the second section. It is notable that Likka got Tien to think about her again though.
- Tien having just a little bit of zeni left from his tournament win over Goku is another example of mono no aware. This impermanence is complicated and multi-faceted, though I like to think it's mostly an impermanence of fame (though mono no aware is mostly used in relation to things in nature). I thought it was a striking image, showing how far Tien has fallen from his most glorious moment. He's clinging to the past as much as the past has plagued him with pain.
- I thought it would be sad and unique to present how Tien feels about Launch - he probably has some feelings for her, but he's not a romantic, and he knows she'll never be happy with him. That he's sad she'll never be happy says a lot about Tien. The fact that Tien doesn't settle down with Launch is influenced by a recent Toriyama interview where he said Launch came to Tien's house sometime after Buu and tried to get him to marry her, but he never did since he wasn't a romantic. I tried to show this in an artistic and emotional way that was more complicated and expansive than what Toriyama said, but not contradicting what he said. I figure this story takes place a short time before Launch traveled to Tien's home and was rejected. Basically, Tien not showing up to have lunch with Launch later prompts he to visit Tien's home.
- Tien not knowing if he should hate or envy the businessmen is again me playing with binaries and showing how things aren't black and white.
- The mention of the Other is me working with the same theme shown in Glory and Monster.
- I thought it was a sad prospect that most of the people who would remember Tien were those he harmed, since those he saved probably didn't even know he saved them; they didn't know how he changed or cared about that. And there's really nothing he can do about that. Sometimes life just sucks.
- Tien shuddering about something stupid he did in the past is him having a bit of chuunibyo himself.
- The bleakness of Tien's life could be compared to the bleakness of a desolate train station, with the themes and symbols related to that playing off Tien's character growth.
- The cherry blossoms aren't so old on the mountain. This is a reality - often times cherry trees at different elevations bloom at different times, but it shows the spiritual dissonance between Tien and normal people as well. This is later heightened when Tien thinks about how useless he and Chiaotzu are. Chiaotzu of course is unquestionably useless, but Tien proves to be quite useful even in the Buu and Cell arcs, if only for a short time and not really for an actual fight. So there is a bit of falseness in Tien's thoughts, which shows how he underestimates himself.
- “I’m me,” - this is the lyric reference to "Undone". I have to say, the lyric reference for this story was the hardest out of all of the TWBT stories because "Undone"'s lyrics are just not suited for being referenced in a story. One of the last things I did for this story was add in that line of dialogue. I considered not having any lyric reference, but once I thought it over and settled on that line, I realized that it fit perfectly (thematically-speaking) with the story. Tien is troubled; he doesn't know if he wants to be like the other people or if he wants to be an individual. One will lead to success and people remembering him; the other will lead to personal satisfaction but oblivion otherwise. This struggle is overcome with that line of dialogue where Tien rejects what society wants of him and does what he wants to do without feeling guilty about it anymore.
- One thing I really like about this story is that I had multiple problems for Tien going on at once - his problems with Launch, with Tao and Shen, and with himself. These are all resolved at different times to varying degrees, showing a more stream-of-consciousness approach to this story that is perhaps only comparable to Ergo Sum's memory fragments.
- So the way I end this story, I basically say that Tao and Shen made Tien who he is, both by first making him a bad guy and then betraying him when he went to the good side. Though they scarred him physically, they also left him with mental scars which they probably didn't realize. Still, those scars led Tien to where he ended up in this story, for better or worse. Tien seems to think, ultimately, that they helped him find his true self, but he still feels sick and still questions if Tao knows what he did. I had a lot of fun with Tien's physical scar that was given to him by Tao. Referencing that and having Tien often unconsciously brush it added a lot of depth to me talking about the scars Tao and Shen gave him.
- One may wonder why I had Tien struggling with loneliness so much in this story. It was because that was what "Undone" is about. Not many people seem to understand that about "Undone", which makes its author Rivers Cuomo sad, but I did a lot of research on each of the ten Blue Album songs' meanings before writing each story, and what I learned about "Undone"'s meaning greatly influenced the themes I chose to talk about in this story. I wanted to be respectful and faithful to the song and connect its meanings realistically and cleverly to a Dragon Ball character, which I think I was able to do successfully in Suicide Missionary.
- This story ends at a weird place. It's not overtly a sad or happy ending. Perhaps it's a bit more on the happy side, but I'm not so sure. I don't have a definitive opinion on which one it is, one way or another, so I think perhaps it's a combination of the two, which makes it more like life itself.
Suicide Missionary was one of the fastest stories I've ever written, but I was able to pack a lot of meanings into the words, sometimes giving phrases or sections double and even triple meanings. I am satisfied with the plot and the stream-of-consciousness approach I took with having Tien dealing with multiple complicated issues in his head that had no solutions. The tone of this story is one of the best I've ever done in a story. The atmosphere and setting is the best in all of Things Were Better Then, perhaps only rivaled by Before Creation Comes Destruction. I love the train station imagery and the thematic stuff related to mono no aware and the impermanence stuff. That has always resonated with me. The idea that "everything goes away" is bleak and beautiful and makes you appreciate what you've got now. The symbols and references were highly effective, I think, and the prose was amongst my best. There were numerous lines, be they the one about the sky festering with wounds, the opening sentence of the second section, the closing couple of sentences, or the fourth paragraph. I think I was consistently very good with the prose. So overall, I'm very happy with this story. I like everything about it, and I wouldn't change anything if I had to write it again (an impossible task, surely). Of the six TWBT stories I've anthologized so far, this is the best one, I think. I'm pretty sure it's the best one out of the ten (that was my feeling ever since writing this story, and no subsequent stories changed my mind about that), but I'll have to anthologize the other four before we get a definitive statement on that. For what it's worth, I think only Before Creation Comes Destruction of the remaining stories rivals it, but Bonetown Blues is likely better than that one anyway (and Bonetown Blues is not even as good as this one, so this could all be a moot point). Anyway, I consider this story to be one of the best things I've ever written for the above reasons. I always try to write like this, but I just think this time, the themes and prose and tone all came together in complimentary and complex ways that play off one another. So that was all very cool to me. Anyway, I'd give Suicide Missionary an S.
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