Archive for October, 2012

On Your Pad.

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

That is, earth.  It’s a big place and we’re almost everywhere on it, including places where the average day temperature cooks skin or makes your toes fall off.  Let it not be said that we give up easily.  Listing all the kinds of places humans have learned to thrive would be an endless job so of course we did that and also did it for everywhere we can’t live and also made sure there were fewer than ten entries so we wouldn’t hurt ourselves trying to memorize the full list.  Also, it helped that we were willing to grind up all terrestrial habitats into massive sweeping concepts that contain wide variation within their bounds.  How’d we do this?  By classifying them based on dominant vegetation, of course!  Animals and individual species come and go across continents, but vague plant-types are forever, and certain groups of those reliably eat certain climates for breakfast.
Now, let’s look at these nine super-habitats.  And call them their proper names: biomes.
Starting from the equator and heading up, weeeee’ve gooooottt……

I: Tropical Rainforest

The joke is that this is not the same as That is what the joke is.

Tropical rainforests are easy as hell to quantify: lots of rain, high temperature, and dominated by the most gratuitous amounts of greenery you’ll find across the entire planet.  Ever.  Mostly evergreens that give short shrift to shedding leaves – when the climate’s like this all year, why bother?
Current usage: bulldozing.

II: Savannah/Tropical Seasonal Forest

As seen in the true-to-life documentary 'The Lion King.'

A hop, skip, and a jump north and we find us some more open ground, but with still enough trees that it’s not really a solo grassland.   The ‘seasonal’ bit is the keyword – this place doesn’t actually get that much less rain than the rainforest, but it only gets it for about half the year.  The other half it parches like crazy, which leads to a lot of migration from dry to wet by anything that doesn’t enjoy eating dry grass and being incinerated in regular wildfiresThe dominant plants are tough thorny buggers like these acacias.
Current usage: Poachin’ grounds. 

III: Subtropical Desert

Not actually a still from the first Star Wars movie. Pretty sure about this.

Contrary to the picture above, this doesn’t just mean the Sahara – subtropical deserts are pretty consistently found around 30 degrees north and south of the equator – the Kalahari and Mojave are another couple of examples.  Basically, warm moist air at the equator rises, gets cold, shits water all over the rainforests and floats aimlessly north and south until it descends and sucks all the moisture from the land beneath it like a hideous gas-vampire.  This produces subtropical deserts, where you can find tiny little shrubs that just won’t quit and a wide variety of animals with ridiculous ears that refuse to come out before midnight lest they be fried to a crisp.
Current usage: Oil, questionable journalism, questionable warfare. 

IV: Shrub/woodland

Shrubs + land = complex etymological origin.

Shrubland has what you could call a ‘Mediterranean’ climate.  You know, lots of poetry, philosophy, togas, and xenophobia.   No, wait, that was a few thousand years ago damnit let me try again.  Shrubland is dry and has wetter winters and periodically gets eaten alive by forest fires, which is why the plants there tend towards being evergreen and hard as hell – if the fire doesn’t take your roots, you’ll just spring back up again, madder than ever.  In california it is called ‘chapparal’ from the spanish ‘chapparo’ meaning evergreen oak and now I’ve filled your head with something completely useless.  Team effort!
Current Usage: Overgrazing and soil erosion. 

V: Temperate Rainforest

If you want to go big, you go here.  Douglas firs and redwoods – it might be nippier than the tropical version, but you can still find ridiculously huge evergreens and a healthy heaping of water (lots of it in fog).  New Zealand, California, British Columbia and such.  Don’t forget to bring your camera and a working pair of eyeballs, and try to save some memory space.  You probably don’t want to miss out on this.
Current Usage: Logging.

VI: Temperate Seasonal Forest


It's just trees. You know, trees. They drop their lives and grow new ones and that's it. Really.


Also known as ‘trees.’  It’s just a bunch of trees.  Just a bunch of deciduous trees that get some rain and get cold in the winter.  They do one thing for half the year and another the other half.  Look, it’s what’s right outside my window, I can’t find it very exciting what do you want from me damnit.
Current Usage: Logging, clearing, uprooting from lawn.

VII: Temperate Grassland/Desert

We could put a cow there.

In North America, this is a prairie.  In Europe and Asia, it’s a steppe.  In reality, it’s the same damned thing: no trees, some shrubs, and enough grass to choke a hundred million sheep to mindless woolly death.  Though really, the cold winters sort of take top tier as far as lethal dangers.  Speaking of hot and cold there’s a LOT of fires here, even more than in shrubland, but grass doesn’t really give a damn about that since it’s basically the plant equivalent of the Borg.  You know, that star truck thing or whatever it is.  “Resistance is silly” or something. 
Current usage: Too many goddamned cows. 

VIII: Boreal Forest

Imagine this, but going on for slightly a lot longer than you can possibly imagine.

Also known as ‘taiga.’  Basically, it’s evergreen conifers (exactly what types and proportions vary, but you can usually bet there’s a spruce in there SOMEWHERE) copied and pasted ad nauseum across the entire upper half of Europe, Asia, and North America.  It’s the largest terrestrial biome by a pretty sizable margin so I hope you appreciate it at least a little bit.  If not, you could have issues.  There are more trees here than you could shake any number of sticks at, and more sticks than you could shake any number of needles and leaves at, and more of THOSE than could be counted by any given omnipotent omniscient entity with too much time on his or her appendages.
Current Usage: Guess.

(It’s logging)

IX: Tundra

Did you know that walruses have penis bones? It's true. Unrelated, but true.

You head far enough north, you’ll find a place where the ground goes stone cold hard anywhere from thirteen to two feet down.  Roots can’t hack it, shovels get dented.  It’s permafrost, and it’s a big fuck-you to anything that dares want a sizable root system.  Trees can go hang (they really do just give up – the spot where the taiga and tundra meet is called the timberline, in case you must know), and where the permafrost runs close to the surface not much bigger than a shrub’s shrub can grow there, and most of them don’t.  No, you get lichens and moss, moss and lichens, maybe some grasses and a few sedges.  And that’s that, and most of THAT’S frozen for most of the year – summer is a brief, beautiful window into flora gone berserk with growth-frenzy that then gives way to bleak frigidness once more.
Current Usage: Oil speculation, pretty photographs, freezing to death.

And that’s about it – for the land, at least.  Aquatic habitats are a whole other kettle of fish – you’ve got your itty-bitty rivers, huge rivers, ponds, lakes, tide pools, and the oceans, which aren’t as big a deal as you’d think they’d be because 90% of all the interesting stuff is crammed into a coral reef or lodged up a continental shelf’s rear end.  Everything else tends to fall into either ‘enormous blot of empty blue space’ or ‘hideously crushing depths of infinite cold dark.’


Picture Credits:
Amazon Rainforest: Phil P. Harris on Wikipedia, 2001-03-07, north of Manaus.
Kenyan Savanna: Christopher T. Cooper on Wikipedia, 2011-12-16, in Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary.
Libyan Desert: Lucca Gazza at, 2007-04-07, in Tadrart Acacus.
Hawaaiian Shrubland: Forest & Kim Starr on Wikipedia, 2001-08-31, at Maui, Polipoli.
Sequoias: Public domain image from Wikipedia.
Canadian Forest: Cephas on Wikipedia, 2009-06-20, Jacques-Cartier National Park.
Canadian Prairie: Zeitlupe on Wikipedia, 2004-05, between Calgary and Edmonton.
Alaskan Taiga: Public domain image from wikipedia.
Greenland Tundra: Hannes Grobe on Wikipedia, 2007-08-31, Scoresby Sund.

Storytime: A Manner of Speaking.

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Behold the city, millions of souls strong, all of varying sizes and shapes! The site where ten thousand cultures and ethnicities dropped themselves off for a sleepover and stayed forever, bickering and embracing their neighbours and watching their children grow up. A hotbed of humanity that put any greenhouse to shame, a beehive with more frequent sex, an anthill that needed no queens. A billion mouths opening every second, talking, trading, pouring waves of sounds and information over one another, evolving constantly and using a trillion words from every language you could name.
A trillion and one, now. And that was the problem.

I nodded to Finneas Fabian as he picked his way over the broken glass of the study. “Professor. Glad you could spare a moment of your time.”
“I have it in plenty,” he muttered. Already peering at the walls, examining the hundreds of incredibly outdated packages of information stashed away behind sheet glass, safe from mildew. “And I’d say this takes precedence over any of my research, Inspector.”
“I more meant the Linguistic Singularity. Only every five years for a week, be a shame for you to miss –“ I pulled up short because I was being fixed with a glare that could’ve melted steel. For someone with eyes that watery, the professor could focus them until they gave you sunstroke.
“The Singularity,” he stressed, “of which we have had more than sixty, is hardly singular. It is also notably lacking in novelty. I will not be missed or looked for, and I hadn’t intended to go at all. They are not interested in my field, and I return the feeling tenfold.”
“Right, right, right,” I said, holding up my hands. “I get it. Forget I said a thing. You want to see the evidence now?”
Fineas relaxed, if only a little. He was a short, round little man, but his spine seemed to uncurve when he got angry, expanding him upwards like a vertical pufferfish. “Yes. Yes of course. Show me.”
There wasn’t much to show. A chalk outline, where the body of Sir Agnes Gabbley had been taken away. And a huge outdated monitor, the screen nearly a full foot across, monstrous compared to the sleek modern puter hooked into it, its case an inch across.
The screen’s monstrous width was even more pointless than it had been since the invention of the ICU. Only a single thing remained visible on it: a smudge of writing on a word processor.
“Prehistoric,” I said. “No idea why she didn’t just pop in an ICU – it’s not like her affection for old tech made her use these, uh, books any often. Lab sweep said the cases haven’t been opened for thirty years, and that was just to put them away.”
“I-C-U,” said Finneas absently, as he peered at the screen. “Eye-See-You. An initialism for a small screen placed across the surface of the eye, usually the right eye this side of the Atlantic. Very pleasing phrase, formed with punster’s heart. No. I am allergic to them. Put any electronics that close to my eyes and they give me seizures. I suspect Agnes shared my condition. Not uncommon. Point four percent of all humans.”
“Thought you were the Professor of Obscure and Forgotten words here, Finneas. Isn’t that a bit modern for your tastes?”
“I think better when I talk. A bit of a curse, you know.” He pointed his finger at the screen. “Don’t worry, Inspector. This… this I recognize.”
“Great. What’s it mean?”
“LAN.” The word came out without force, almost carelessly, cushioned. “A full-blown acronym, Local Area Network. Twentiesh century. Hasn’t been used in, oh, a few hundred years.”
“Brainlog says it’s the last thing she did. Sat down, mucked around with work and such, sent a letter to her brother-in-law-“
“Anything interesting?”
“It was about bonsai gardening.”
“And then she pulled up another letter, wrote, uh, ‘LAN,’ and drops dead. Shock, right?”
Finneas pursed his lips. “Definitely. A word that old can be a bit of a surprise, dropping right onto your tongue – err, so to speak. And Sir Agnes was elderly and had a bit of a congenital heart defect. That’s the problem with nobility; too much inbreeding leads to all sorts of nonsense.”
“Professor, someone is dead.”
“Yes. Yes they are. And if we don’t do something fast, they won’t be the only one.”
“The word won’t stay put. It’s mobile now – I’d say it escaped from someone’s private collection. Can you get your men to check on every linguist or dabbler of words in the city who keeps any sort of data on twentieth-twenty-first-century language?”
I made the call, and I winced a little inside. A lot of the names that were scrolling across my ICU were important with a capital Self, and wouldn’t take kindly to an emergency property search. This could have fallout. Hell, this could have half my career path glowing in the dark. But like I’d just told the professor: someone is dead.
“Good. Now, while that’s underway, find me the location of the next crime scene.”
I checked my messages. “How’d you know?”
“A guess. Where is it?”
“Coco Café. Downtown.”

Coco Café was a lovely building, even surrounded by big swaths of alarmingly-coloured police tape. Real nice walls, early twentieth-century stuff renovated only a few times, cared for with love. Even the paramedics rounding up the gurgling, twitching stroke victims seemed to be admiring the view.
“I will need a compilation of their ICU’s displays at the time of event, please,” the professor had asked. “Hardcopy.”
“I’m sorry?”
“Put it on a piece of paper or something or transfer it to a monitor. I need to read this.”
Now, twenty minutes after thirty amateur novelists had screamed and dropped their morning coffees all at once, here it was. Five pages of dead tree, single-spaced even with my bad handwriting. Contents: a bit of porn, but mostly dictionaries, thesauri, and grammar guides.
And the last page. The last page was just one word, on each ICU:
I blinked at it. “What the hell does this even mean?”
“It’s an initialism.” Finneas was sweating now, sweating in the coolness of the September evening. “El-oh-el. Laughing Out Loud. Originated as a descriptive phrase, became a quick way to express amused and happy emotions in a text-only medium. Again, early twentiesh century. Inspector, can you get your men to search faster? Have they found anything, anything at all? A hint?”
I checked. “No. Most of them just got permission to search, and one team hasn’t even gotten the guy to answer the door yet. What’s the hurry? It took this thing three hours to jump from Agnes to the Coco.”
“Yes, but it’s not the same word,” he said. “There’s a link, but it’s not the same word at all. Same era, same area of prevalence in dialogue, but nowhere near the same meaning. Inspector, we are dealing with a reigning word.”
“A what?”
“You know about bees, Inspector?”
“Apologies. Ants?”
“This is a Queen word we are hunting. So far we have only found her children, left behind in the wake of her passage. She could have a handful, Inspector, or she could have dozens. Or a hundred. Have your men found anything?”
I checked again. “No.”
Finneas shut his eyes. “Oh dear.”
I blinked, and the ICU changed. “Get in the car.”

City Councillor was one of those positions that depended entirely on the person holding it. You could change the lives of a hundred million people, or you could take lunch breaks and read novels during meetings. Councillor Brevish had opted for the simpler option.
We got there before the emergency response this time. It made accessing the ICU a bit difficult. Well, finding it anyways.
“Aren’t you going to help?” I asked Finneas.
The professor had turned an unusually green shade of brown. “I’m sorry?”
“Professor, a cutting-edge ICU is the size of a fingernail. A LITTLE fingernail. And it’s somewhere inside, oh, call it eleven pounds of pulverized meat and bone, spread over three square meters of floor and wall. Any help would be appreciated.”
“I understand that there are forensic sweeps-“
“Don’t have one. I haven’t had the time to upgrade in six months. On your knees, Professor.”
To his credit, Finneas did as I asked, and without even throwing up, although his hands shook an awful lot. Within four minutes the cleanup crew was there and I was running a search through the blood-and-brain-stained ICU of Councillor Herman Brevish.
“What does this degree of response tell you, Professor?”
Finneas looked up from the corner he’d slumped in. His hands were still shaking. “What?”
“The head exploding.”
He turned a bit green again. “Massive force. He must’ve been neglecting it. We put out warnings and instructions on proper care every week, Inspector, but there’s always some fool that doesn’t listen, that wants to keep some multisyllabic gargantua in their attic and check up on it only when they want to show off their vocabulary to guests.” He shook his head, the anger overcoming the nausea. “You cannot do that. It simply doesn’t work. Pen up something big like that and the pressure just…builds. And builds. And then it.-“
“Explodes?” I asked. The search was running slowly. Brevish’s files were a mess; something had rampaged through their guts and thrown them willy-nilly.
He looked at his shoes. “I was going to say escapes. But yes. Sometimes it is violent.”
“So this is expected?” There we go, clarity was emerging. I’d had to practically rebuild the whole damned thing.
“NO!” he shouted. “No it damned well isn’t and I’d thank you to stop reminding me that I spent any amount of time picking through a human being’s grey matter, thank you very much! At most you get cerebral hemorrhaging, perhaps if milder a concussion! This is…unheard of. God knows only what sort of monstrosity this moron was keeping cooped up in here. But it’s escaped and now who knows where it’s off to. Are you listening to me Inspector? We are facing a worst-case scenario here!”
I blinked.
“Inspector, would you please look at me?”
I blinked. My ICU didn’t change. Still stalled. Still dead still.
And right in the center, a word.
(Of course it would’ve come home to hide)
A word with a thousand words on it, crawling with them, dangling off its sides, a concept made of concepts coated with concepts concepts concepts concepts concepts
I woke up and rolled to the side, head aching from where the floor had made contact, eye a blazing pain of soon-to-be-swollen flesh, fists ready to strike back at whoever’d socked me.
Finneas was wincing and rubbing his hand. “Are you alright?”
I remembered, and relaxed. “Barely. Thank you. Head hurts. Do you have my ICU?”
He pointed at the floor where a white-hot puddle of metal and plastics was quietly spitting to itself and ruining three-hundred-year-old marble.
“Needed the excuse to upgrade anyways.”
“Do you remember anything? Anything at all? Inspector, did you see what we’re hunting?”
I thought fast, because the headache was cruising in over the horizon, fast and furious, ready to turn conscious thought into a thing of short sharp peaks and deep, aching valleys. “Yeah. Yeah, I saw it.”
What was it?
I frowned. A nonsense word. “Internet.”

The emergency team had brought along a spare ICU. Kindly of them, although using it in the left eye American-style made my head hurt – well, everything made my head hurt.
Finneas hadn’t stopped pacing and muttering since I’d spoken to him.
“Professor,” I said.
He stopped.
“We need to know what this thing is, and where it’s going next.”
“Right. Right. Of course.” He ran his hands through his hair. “I’m trying to think, you see. Inspector, you just came face to face with the word for, well, ah, hmm, well, uhm. You know, it’s sort of hard to explain. I imagine fish have a similar problem describing water.”
“Tell me.”
He pointed at my ICU, and at the bloodstained puter on the Councillor’s desk. “The…linking mechanism between these machines. Between all machines. The ability they have to communicate over distances.”
“That’s what this thing is?”
“Of a sort. That is a rough description of what the internet was. Is. Was.” He ran his fingers through what hair he had left – was it thinner now than it had been at the night’s beginning? “The term lasted from the late twentieth century up until, oh, about a hundred sixty years later. Past that, well, why bother? It’s too ingrained to describe.”
“And what makes this word so…loaded?”
“Because it in itself contains almost every single odd-end and discarded concept, meme, and thought formation that existed during the period of its conception!” said Finneas. “It’s a damned linguistic dragon, a conceptual giant! You look at it and you look at an entire series of dialects, all overlapping, all cobbled-together on the crudest levels! It’s like wringing your brain through a kaleidoscope! And that damned dolt Brevish kept it cooped up like a spelling-bee prize.”
“Halfway there, Professor. Where’s it headed.”
“Well, for the biggest target where it can feel safe,” he said. “Somewhere it can get lost in the noise. It won’t help it, of course, poor monster. It’ll tear apart its own cover just by using it, like a brushfire trying to hide under a single blade of grass.” His face went blank.. “A single blade of grass. Single single oh no no no.”
I was already running to the car.

The Linguistic Singularity could’ve been hosted anywhere. It could’ve been held in any one of its attendee’s studies, on a puter somewhere on the moon, inside Oxford… and all without a single person having to budge from their homes.
Thankfully, the convention’s guests were just stodgy and old-fashioned enough to want a big, physical get-together. This made following the screaming much easier.
The doors were wood; an ancient luxury. My boot was steel; a modern convenience. It was an easy contest.
What a damned sad, horrible sight. Dozens of them, writhing in the aisles between display racks of ancient books, of carefully-preserved hard drives.
“Get their ICUs out!” I yelled to the crew behind me. “And whatever you do, don’t read anything!”
I ran to the side of my first victim: steel-haired, iron-spined lady, foaming at the mouth. I put my finger and thumb to the corners of her eye socket and PUSHED.
Nothing. Damnit, must be wearing hers American-style. I tried the other socket.
I looked closer. The eye was blank with mindless terror, but also empty. Physically empty. “FINNEAS!”
The professor was staring around him in total horror, trailing in the wake of the emergency response squad. Whatever tough line he’d talked about his colleagues before, I doubted he’d have wished this on them. “What? What?!”
“Where’re their fucking ICUs?!
He twitched under the swear. “Reg. Regulations! They changed them ah, uh, three – two years ago! Naked eye only! Purists, stupid purists did it!”
“Then where are they getting the damned seizures from?!”
A short, sharp yell of panic and total existential terror came over my ICU link, then a thud. Man down, Jean Chang was down. He was on the second level, above us.
Above us, dangling on a tether thicker than a human torso from the sky-high ceiling of the hall, was a monitor, a screen. Magnificently obsolete, a titan of the old ages, measuring more than fifty years across. I could practically feel the static of its power from underneath it.
A thousand tiny lines of text were streaming across its face.
I averted my eyes hurriedly as I strapped my handgun to my palm, never being so thankful as now that I was a slow reader. Power source: built into the frame. Had to get up twenty feet and inside a titanium casing. The staircase seemed to turn to molasses under my feet as I ran up it, adrenaline turning my ears into ocean-roars, sounds from the insides of seashells.
It was a ten-foot gap, and over a railing? Could I make it? The question didn’t enter my head until I was in midair, which was perfectly fine because the answer was yes. At least for my fingertips.
I dangled there, underneath the belly of the beast. And that was close enough for me to reach up and twitch the trigger on my handgun, sending a gratuitous amount of volts straight through the metal of the monster’s base and into a coiled serpent’s nest of delicate wiring.
Smoke filled my mouth. I cough, spat down, nearly hit Finneas. “Is it cooked?!”
He glanced up, froze, and started foaming at the mouth. The professor froze for a split second, then ran to his side.
I glared up at the monitor above me. Of course it wasn’t using the old power source; the thing was a century out of date, maybe two. They would be passing the current through the air straight into the screens: no muss, no fuss, no worry of staining ancient, precious wiring. No way to block it, no way to stop it.
Fine. Old-fashioned it was then.
I’m no jock, never have been. And it was the happiest day of my life when I got promoted to a (mostly) desk job. Paperwork was a chore, not a curse. And I never cursed these parts of myself as much as I did then, as I hauled myself up and up over the face of twenty-seven feet of sheer-faced screen, ripping what handholds I could with boot and nail.
Words leaked in. I kept my mind on my job and my eyes on my hands, not on what they clutched, but words leaked in. So many words.
lol lmao lmfao lolcats lolcatz lulz brb wtf
Acronyms, right? Finneas called them initialisms. Don’t pay attention to them, you’ll just attract the big one…
Climbing faster now, eyes moving quicker, but so’s the brain, and it’s picking up more and more and more raptor jesus first-world problems at first I was and then I lol’d rofl roflmao LAN browser Google Google Google Yahoo anyonymous blog blogger
I shook my head – shaking my whole body in the process – and nearly slid away as my fingers clamped onto solid metal again. So much empty space beneath me. Empty and filled with words like omg omg gtfo gtfo qq moar GTFO
I raised my hand, gripped the base of the cable, flicked the grip of my handgun to heat.
And there it was, right in front of my eyes, a thousand words suckling at its belly, half-formed. The internet.
It looked back at me, straight into my hindbrain.
wtf pwnt wut
And I’d love to say that I had a one-liner ready, even if it would’ve been wasted on a word, on a nonsapient linguistic concept. But I’ll be honest: when your entire body stiffens up in unconscious dread-induced paralysis, your hand clenches. And mine clenched at many, many thousands of degrees Celsius, taking about half of the cable with it.
The rest met gravity, and embraced it. And that was all for me for about a week.

Rough job. I got a promotion, though. New title, new ICU, new hand (new forearm, nearly). New hookup, too, if Finneas’ll get off his ass long enough to phone me back.
And a new vocabulary. But he’s advised me to try to keep that under wraps. I’m inclined to agree.

Storytime: Creation.

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

In the beginning there was nothing. And then there was a dial tone. And there was an answering machine, and a message left. And there was a name of business as well the concept of ‘names’ and ‘businesses’ and the business was Bailey and Sons Home Creations.
Near the end of the beginning, they arrived and did a preliminary project assessment. And Bailey said “this job’s a good ‘un,” and it was a very good ‘un indeed, and the project began.
And Bailey did say “Shit, I can’t see worth balls in this dark. Someone turn on the lights.” And someone – Simon, the youngest of the Sons – turned on the lights. And Bailey said “that’s great.”
And Bailey said “Christ it’s damp, fetch me a freakin’ mop willya? So Thomas, the second-youngest of the Sons, fetched a freakin’ mop, and used it to sop up some of the moisture so that there was a space above the rest of the waters, but he didn’t clean it up all the way. And Bailey said, “that’s no goddamned good, Thomas, but we’re rushed so I’ll let it slid. Just pull your thumb outta your ass and LISTEN, okay?” And Thomas did that, and Bailey said that was just fine.
And Bailey said “I guess if you wanna do somethin’ right you gotta do it yourself,” and he took the mop and shoved all the water into one large mass with a bit of dry space in the middle, where he stubbed out his cigarette. And he vowed once again that he would quit soon, just so Lorraine would get off his back. He’d quit soon, real soon – tomorrow or something. And that was good enough.
And Bailey said “Damnit this thing’s as sterile as your uncle Rob’s nutsack; Joey, pour some fertilizer onnit.” So Joey took the big burlap sack of ancient and musty Beget-Thou-Hence and spilled it like the clumsy sot he was, being the biggest even if he was only the third-youngest. It sprayed all over Bailey’s cigarette butt and the genes got all scrambled and algae and plants colonized the sea and the land. And Bailey did swear a blue streak at him and cuff him and spent a good half hour trying to pry up the weeds before he gave up in a huff, stuffed his cigarette butt into orbit, and decreed that it would ‘have to do.’ And it did.
Then Bailey complained that it was ‘too damned bright and unfocused, somebody tune the light a bit.” And Douglas did, and he accidentally ended up guaranteeing the land widely varying intervals of freezing cold and searing heat on seasonal, yearly, and geological time scales. But he did trim the lights, so that there was one big one during the day and a lot of tiny little ones at night, plus Bailey’s big dimly-glowing cigarette butt. And Bailey said that this was good.
At this point it was realized that they hadn’t been keeping close track of time, and Bailey said that four days would do as a guestimate.
And Bailey did squint heavily and slope-browedly down upon the land, and he did say “Jesus H. tapdancing Christ on a crutch with a piston up his pooter, the place is CRAWLING with the little green SOBs! Get me a can of heterotrophic herbivores, ASAP!” So Daniel brought the big metal canister, rust and all, and carefully tipped out about one millionth as many herbivores as were needed in the sea, and Bailey grew impatient and wrested it from him, and spilled animals of all kinds and types and diets all over the sea and the sky, and blamed Daniel for it and punched him in the jaw and hurt his fist because Daniel, the second eldest son of Bailey, was nothing but skin and bone and brainless vapidity. And Bailey sucked his bruised knuckles and remarked bitterly that it was ‘done, at least.’ And that was the fifth day gone and blown, as far as he said it.
And Bailey said, “Fuck it, nobody looks in the ocean anyways. Let’s just do a good job on the dry stuff, okay? Just that. Then we can ship it and book it.” So Bailey and ‘Rat-Nose” Rasputin, his eldest son, carefully put animals all over the land, aiming for style over substance and writing off all of Australia’s fauna the moment anything else came into contact with them. And Bailey said that it “painted a pretty picture,” which was good enough.
Then Bailey said, “Hey now, we’ve still got time and a bit in the budget. Boys, take lunch, I’m gonna leave a little showpiece here for our customer.”
So Bailey grabbed together a few piles of ape genes and kludged together something amusingly bipedal, something that would get just as many backaches and achy shoulders as he did, a handful of males and females was good enough to get the job done.
Then Bailey said, “Tool-users…yeah, that oughta do it. Man oh man, either they’ll croak it during their first glaciation or they’ll turn into motherfuckin’ locusts.”
Then he said, “Hey, see that big mess over there, lying all over the place? All that crap my useless good-for-nothing kids made? Go on, give it a try, take it on. Dare ya. Double-dog-dare ya, you ugly li’l primate shitheads! G’wan!” And other things like that.
Bailey straightened up and rubbed his back as he looked upon all that he had made, and it looked good enough to ‘pass the eyeball test and get a check cut.” And that was the sixth day. By his watch and his hourly pay rate, at least.
That was when the project was deemed ‘done.’ At least, after lunch.
Lunch took up all of the seventh day, and it was billable. Then Bailey poured one out on the ground to celebrate the project’s completion, killing all the marsupial mammals of South America, because screw it, it was time to go home.
And in the end, there was a mess, and we sort of coped with it.

Storytime: Someone Chipped a Rock.

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

Someone chipped a rock.
Nuk took the chip from the rock that someone chipped and put it on a stick. It was a spear.
Mala took the spear that Nula made from the chip from the rock that someone chipped, and she made it smaller, and fletched it. It was an arrow.
Neb took the arrow that Mala made from the spear that Nula made from the chip from the rock that someone chipped, and he shot a deer with it and traded the hide for iron, which he smelted and shaped. It was a dagger.
Titus took the dagger that Neb made using the arrow that Mala made from the spear that Nula made from the chip from the rock that someone chipped, and he had it smelted down and reforged into steel. It was a sword.
Gao took the sword that Titus made from the dagger that Neb made using the arrow that Mala made from the spear that Nula made from the chip from the rock that someone chipped, and he had it melted and reshaped into a pick. He mined sulfur and a few other interesting things with it, and shaped them into a sort of explosive. It was gunpowder.
Diego took the gunpowder that Gao made with the help of the sword that Titus made from the dagger that Neb made using the arrow that Mala made from the spear that Nula made from the chip from the rock that someone chipped, and he placed it in a long tube and fired a little bit of lead out of it. It was a gun.
Hiram took the gun that Diego made with the gunpowder that Gao made with the help of the sword that Titus made from the dagger that Neb made using the arrow that Mala made from the spear that Nula made from the chip from the rock that someone chipped, and he used all manner of interesting little machines to make it fire extremely, extremely fast. It was a machine gun.
Wernher took the machinery from the gun that Hiram made with the gun that Diego made with the gunpowder that Gao made with the help of the sword that Titus made from the dagger that Neb made using the arrow that Mala made from the spear that Nula made from the chip from the rock that someone chipped, and he arranged them and fuelled them and launched them into the air and watched them fly and fall down into the ground, where they exploded. They were rockets.
Julius took the rocker that Wernher made with the machinery from the gun that Hiram made with the gun that Diego made with the gunpowder that Gao made with the help of the sword that Titus made from the dagger that Neb made using the arrow that Mala made from the spear that Nula made from the chip from the rock that someone chipped, and he made a very special sort of substance to place inside it. It made small machines tick, click, and squeal when you held them close to it.
An elected official took the special payloads that Julius made with the rocket that Wernher made with the machinery from the gun that Hiram made with the gun that Diego made with the gunpowder that Gao made with the help of the sword that Titus made from the dagger that Neb made using the arrow that Mala made from the spear that Nula made from the chip from the rock that someone chipped, and he pushed the button.
There probably wasn’t really a button.

Someone chipped a rock.

Storytime: Practice.

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

A very long time ago in that misty location called Someplace, there was a man. And this man was a chef. And this chef’s name was Nim.
Nim cooked all the food for his village. It hadn’t always been that way, but now every last meal went through his fingers, a stream of cuts and chops and bushels and bundles. It was such a waste not to have this happen. Nim could make a fish fly straight through your stomach, could put a bird to swim inside its juices, could take a handful of leaves and an anonymous root and make a dessert that would bring an old miser to tears of gratitude and vows of charity for just a taste more. There was no count to the number of recipes he knew, for he knew none; each dish was spontaneous.
People asked him how he fit all that knowledge inside just his one head, how he did it. Very often.
And each time this happened, Nim would think it through carefully as he stirred the pot or tossed the pan or shut the oven door. And he would say, “Practice. First a bit, then a lot. Then more. That’s practice.”
Nim’s practice caught the eyes of all kinds of people, from the watery eyes of fellow serfs who tended his home for him during his long cooking hours, to the desperate eyes of mayors who pled with him for bowlfuls, to the very pudgy eye of his lord, King Jot. King Jot knew what he liked, and he liked the little bit of Nim’s food that he had confiscated from an upstart peasant. King Jot also got what he wanted, and so Nim was yanked bodily from his home in the dark of night and brought up to the king’s castle, hauled between the arms of a dozen strong and rough men.
“They say you’re the best,” said King Jot, to Nim. “Is it true?”
Nim thought about this. “Maybe,” he said. “If someone knows more, I do not know him.”
“Well, get to work then!” said King Jot. He sent Nim off to the kitchens, and inside an hour he had eaten the best soup of his life, soon followed by the finest breakfast, the perfect luncheon, and a roast that had him thumping the table with his palm after each bite, sending the silverware a-quivering.
Things changed for people that weren’t Nim. The peasants had to do their own cooking again, the castle guard endured the scent of that which was untouchable for them, the king managed (somehow) to grow broader. But Nim remained in the kitchen, day in and day out, having only a bigger stove. If he felt resentment, he didn’t show it. He just practiced. First a bit, then a lot. Then more.
One day the king’s brother came a-visiting, Duke Crumb. King Jot put especial emphasis on Nim that this meal be perfect, so as to properly show off – though he needn’t have bothered. Everything was exceptional, always exceptional, and the boar and potatoes was transformed into something unearthly for the plate. The duke, a thin and darting man, twitched and snapped at his plate until he’d eaten enough for five hungry lumberjacks, resentful though he was of his host and his endless boasting.
“Now wasn’t that the finest thing you’ve ever eaten!” laughed King Jot as the servants carried away their plates. “No chef can compare to mine, not even yours! Don’t you agree, brother?”
Duke Crumb fumed a little. “It is true, maybe,” he said. “Possibly. But tell me, is your cook a true royal chef?”
“What d’you mean?” asked King Jot. “He cooks, doesn’t he?”
“Yes, yes, any old housewife can COOK – well, maybe not like this,” admitted the duke. “But a royal chef must be willing to make sacrifice, to burn bright and hard and fast, to cook the finest no matter the cost to life and limb, to give himself to his employer body and soul!”
King Jot’s eyebrows were hopping like crickets. “Well now! Do I hear a suggestion from you?”
“Have him cook us his hand for breakfast,” said Duke Crumb. “A truly royal chef can make anything taste wonderful, even under the worst pain, even the least palatable morsel, without hesitation.”
King Jot grumbled and twitched. “Fine!” he shouted. “I’ll have Nim cook us his hand for breakfast! You’ll see how true and royal he is!” And so the order was given.
Nim woke up early the next morning, and prepared his kitchen carefully, with tourniquet and dressing (medicinal) and butcher’s knife and cleaver and dressing (light and fruity). Then he placed his hand in the frying-pan, and cut it with a strong blow and a twitch, and he fried it finely and sliced it thinly. And it was the best breakfast that either of the two royal brothers had ever had.
“Magnificent,” said King Jot thickly, as he licked his plate. “Wondrous. Amazing. Don’t you agree, brother?”
“Yes,” muttered Duke Crumb, “but we’ll see how well he cooks with one hand!” And he stalked away home, to his own (long-suffering) chef, who made him a very nice dinner that wasn’t quite enough.
Nim stayed up late all week in the kitchen, a tidy bandage wrapped around his stump, changed daily. He hoisted his pans and pots with exactly five fingers and one thumb, and became adept at holding many things in just one palm, salt shakers and pepper grinders and spice containers dancing from countertop to dish and back again, nearly juggling. He practiced. First a bit, then a lot. Then more. And he cooked meals exactly as fine as he had before.
The winter grew cold and long, and as his peasants shivered King Jot invited his brother over to the castle for a lavish solstice banquet. Nim laboured long and hard into the evening, and at the end of the food King Jot threw down his napkin and smugly pronounced his chef the finest there could be. “Even one-handed he is twice the match of any other, times ten!” he crowed. “Don’t you agree, brother?”
“Fine, fine, fine,” muttered Duke Crumb, steepling and unsteepling his fingers like an indecisive carpenter. “But he is no true royal chef.”
“What’s that?” asked King Jot, sharply.
“He has given a hand for you,” said Duke Crumb, “but it was his left! A TRULY royal chef would’ve given us his best and finest first and foremost, no less! Have him cook his right hand, and we’ll see what sort of chef your man really is.”
King Jot fussed with his moustache and sucked on his lip. “Fine!” he bellowed. “Let it be done, as proof of his skill!” And again the order was given to Nim.
Nim had a short nap after dessert and woke up before the night had left, and he prepared his tools once again, asking a brave and stout servant to swing the cleaver for him. Then with a swish and a thud, Nim’s next challenge began. He filleted the hand and fried it and drizzled it with oils and spices. It was prepared in time for breakfast and served crispy-golden, and it was the best breakfast that the two royal brothers had ever had, except for the last one.
“Glorious,” said King Jot tearfully as he picked crumbs from his beard and devoured them, one-by-one. “Outstanding. Beauteous. Don’t you agree, brother?”
“Fine,” said Duke Crumb, sulkily. “But let us see how he can cook without fingers!” He grumbled the whole way back home, and badgered his own cook to prepare him a snack at two in the morning, which he didn’t like for no good reason.
Nim barely slept for a month. He used tweezers between his teeth to grasp objects, and his toes to hold pans and pots, and his stumps to manhandle roasts and apply rubs. He practiced. First a bit, then a lot. Then more. And every single dish he prepared had never been more delicious.
Spring came, the flowers blossomed, and the kitchen became unbearably hot once again. To celebrate the labour of the farmers, Duke Crumb was invited to enjoy much of the fruits of their previous year’s labour. A great salad was made by Nim, with hundreds of different ingredients applied in exactly-measured quantities, and when the great bowl was emptied King Jot belched loud enough to rattle every window in his castle. “I own the greatest chef in all creation,” he proclaimed, boldly, “and may God strike me down if I say otherwise!” And God didn’t, so he smiled even wider.
“Fine!” snapped Duke Crumb. “Fine! I admit it! It is true! But he has not given you his all yet.”
“Whatever do you mean?” asked King Jot, puzzled. “He has no hands left!”
Duke Crumb’s lips were thin, bloodless strips already, but somehow he pressed them thinner still. “He still has his head,” he whispered.
King Jot shrugged and sighed noisily. “Will THIS prove his superiority to you, brother?” he asked.
Duke Crumb nodded once. “Indeed,” he said, and managed not to smile.
“Then let it be done!” roared King Jot. “Guards! Inform Nim!” And they did.
“This is not a good plan,” he warned the guard captain. “Tell the King to reconsider this. It will not end well for him.”
The guard captain gave him a look. “Just do it.”
Nim did not sleep that night. He sat and thought and planned. A great cauldron was set up, and spiced with every last thing in his kitchen, brothed and prepared five-times-over. The exact temperature was calculated and reached. The cleaver, honed to the thinness of a sliver, was clutched tight between his toes. And with a single, clean motion Nim cut off his head and sent it – plunk! – into the pot, where it boiled and bubbled until noon, when the servants obeyed his instructions and took it out and served it for lunch.
It was simply the best thing that King Jot and Duke Crumb had ever dreamed of. Ever.
“Terrific,” said King Jot with a sigh as he threw the bones over his shoulder. “Miraculous. Divine. Don’t you agree, brother?”
“Yes,” said Duke Crumb, face a twisted mask of misery. “Yes. I admit it. I MUST admit it.” He burped. “It does go down a bit…rocky though.”
“Does it?” asked King Jot, and belched. He felt most strange. “It does, doesn’t it? Ow! Ah!” And both the brothers clutched at their temples as migraines bloomed and blossomed inside their skulls, migraines with shapes and names, migraines that smelled of garlic and chives and knifes and soap and spices. A thousand thousand things and know-hows and to-dos and meal-plans and shopping-lists all sprouting through their heads, like a flower. First a bit, then a lot. Then more. Then more.
And all at once.

The new King was an estranged nephew; Jot had never found a wife, claiming them quarrelsome. King Root was a far more even-tempered and restrained man than his late uncle, and on the whole people were happy enough, especially since Duke Crumb’s estate had been restored to farmland. That fed a few more mouths in each house, and that’s always good.
The royal kitchen sat unused, as part of some agreement that no chef ever spoke aloud or broke. But now and then someone, usually an adventurous apprentice, would wander down there and touch the big cleaver embedded in the countertop next to the stove. For luck in their studies.

It never helped, of course. The only way to learn is to practice.