Archive for May, 2015

Storytime: Break Time.

Sunday, May 31st, 2015

The steering wheel is sun-warmed shit under my hands. It’s wobbling like it has carpal tunnel. I bet that’s expensive to fix. I bet I’d better make an appointment. I bet on most days that would be a straw fit to drive a hole through a camel’s spine and out its belly.
But not now. Today is the day. With a capital THE.
I am calm and I am in control and I am so happy you could probably get a Geiger reading off my face or maybe somewhere else. I am so relaxed my muscles have turned over management to my tendons. I am cooler than a cucumber could dream and nothing will stop me. Nothing can stop me.
I want this day. I want this moment, and then a lot more just like it. I want a cold one in my hand and a warm one in the sky and I want them five minutes ago but it’s okay because it’s all happening.
At last.

It was the overtime that did it. Paid overtime, so how bad can it be? Ask the man who’s been getting four free hours a day for forty months. You spend it all on caffeine and energy drinks and you brew them into nasty things that are probably illegal and then you lean on your mop until you can hear it talking to you.
Then you drive home (one hour) go to sleep (two hours) and then wake up already getting into the car and chewing something you hope was breakfast (one hour).
And then you’re back again, back again, jiggety jig. Enjoying that nice quiet hallway. Digging that clean calm boardroom. Trying hard not to launch a broom through a particularly insolent cubicle’s monitor, or empty toiler cleaner all over the chair of a noxious smiler.
Some days it’s hard, you know? Real hard.
Man needs a break. Man needs a holiday. A holy day. One day.

Smell that? I can. I’m not even trying but it’s all I can smell now. It’s salt on the breeze. At least, I hope it’s salt. Sea salt from salty seas, with salty beaches. Not the other kind. The kind that came in a tiny bottle and never stopped growing once it got out.
Bad stuff but a good job, that one. I wonder whose idea that wa-
No no no. We leave work AT work. We are not at work. This is a new concept but we will adjust or I will disembowel us and give us something to REALLY contemplate.

Work is not for contemplation. Work is for doing.
This is a philosophy that extended beyond me, you understand. This was the rock upon which the whole institute rested its aching back. So many things so many meetings labs silos bunkers fridges hot rooms all devoted, every last one, every room, ALL OF THEM places and spaces that existed for specific reasons and purposes none of which any of which had anything at all to do with anyone actually thinking. They were for doing.
I should know. I’ve cleaned every last one of them six hundred and no no no numbers. That routine goes BEYOND numbers. I am my mop and my mop is me and I clean and I spray and I spit quietly when no one is looking which is surprisingly common even though every square inch of this building is covered in cameras. When you have machines to do your looking for you, why bother? And this, of course, slides readily into the next step: when you don’t bother, why bother EVER?
I experimented, you know. This place is all about science (applied in a specific and practical way). I did my part by spitting on one camera in each wing for ten days straight.
No word. As it should be. Anyone who can take the time to notice the janitor clearly isn’t working hard enough. So no one did.

I’m running down the turnoff, wheels grumbling to themselves. I can’t complain too much about the car. It’s an old vehicle that needs more love than I can afford to give and more care than I’ve had in thirty years and also it’s not mine. But no one was using it. At the moment, that’s the best ownership there is. I needed to beat the rush and my old clunker was too fat and slow.
That reminds me of a thing I don’t particularly want to be reminded of: I wonder how many of them got out of work? It’s not like I went out of my way to pull the alarm or anything (Christ, do we even HAVE those? We’re too high-security for a lot of important things, maybe fire alarms are on the list), but at least some of those doors I went through started kicking up a damned fuss.
Fuck ‘em. I can already see the little yellow strip at the edge, where the blue meets the green. Even the spreading purple coming from the east hasn’t touched it. It’s perfect.
It’s so close.

One day. Everyone has one day.
Except me.
I filled out the forms, you know. In triplicate. On my lunch break. Which was technically breach of contract because I’m not allowed to have one, but I kept scrubbing with one hand through the whole thing. The bio wing has really shitty A/C and the vents practically hurt to look at with all the crud they get baked onto them, a job for two arms and maybe two feet, but I did it anyways. I did not complain. Complaining could get me denied.
I filled out the forms and then I passed back the forms and then I waited and I waited and I waited and three months later when the day came.
(it was yesterday)
I asked someone and they said oh no sorry never got that try again tomorrow.
And that was when I nodded and smiled and cleaned the physics corridor seventeen times in a row and then I put my mop on my shoulder and headed down to the labs.
One day.

It didn’t even take one day. It was barely even one hour. I have no idea why they wanted the paperwork for time off in so early, and so badly. Control freaks.
Pretty shitty control freaks, though. I walked through those doors like they weren’t even there. You know this, my security badge only stopped working by the time I was heading into the silo, after visiting the whole of biohazards, and that was only because the system claimed the shards of broken glass embedded in the mop handle
(labels include: variola, lyssavirus, some other latin shit that all breaks nicely if you smack it hard enough)
were choking hazards? And then I just had to thump the door a little. They want me there to do my job as 24/7 as possible but some shithead had just thrown up a door and then gone home forever. Double standards, but who’s surprised?
So easy, all of it. We design for ease of use. We design for maximum effectiveness with minimal effort. We design for big returns on small actions. We design for results, we are results-oriented people. I was already seeing some results scream overhead at about eight kilometers a second when I pulled out of the parking lot. One of them couldn’t even do that properly; it landed off to the east and turned half the morning sky all orange and shitty, shot through with black dust and white heat.
Fuck it, it’s someone else’s problem. This is it.
One day.
Everything we’ve ever built here was meant for one day. And now I’ve gone and

I’m in the sand. I’m here.
I’ve got a cold thing in my hand I found abandoned in the beach bar and it’s even liquid and I’ve got warm stuff overhead and underfoot.
I sink my feet deep into the underfoot and oh man oh god that was what I needed. I can feel each toe individually. How long have they spent wrapped up in those boots, in those galoshes? One point two thousandish days. Twenty-eight-point-eight-thousandish hours. One hundred seven-
I lean back my head and squint into a burning blue sky that’s already turning green at the seams. That’d probably be the carnivorous algae. Or the ‘messiah’-strain anthrax. Maybe one of them ate the other, or fucked it? Who cares.
I did a lot to get this day off. For now, work is someone else’s problem.

Storytime: West Wind and East Wind; East Wind and West Wind.

Sunday, May 24th, 2015

West Wind and East Wind, children of the sky. One from above, one from below; a clash and a thrash and tied in a bow.
They were good, obedient children all day and all night, except on one little topic.

West Wind and East Wind, bickering all day. Never giving ground, each in other’s way.
Oh how those two fought and fumed. No sidling, no idling, no taking turns, just WEST or EAST with no backing down!

West Wind and East Wind, whistling through the glens. Ruffle through a tent’s walls, that’s where it begins.

The tent walls belonged to an old man, and this was their first mistake, because it is generally considered unwise to offend or trouble those who have had more planning time than you’ve had birthdays. “Hey!” he shouted up at them. “Who did that?”
The two winds paused for a moment on either side of the meadow. Because they were not bad children, they felt sorry. Because they were children, they looked at each other and glared.
“THEY did it!” each shouted, and then oh they were back at it in a flash, whirling and snarling and thundering against each other fit to wake the dead, blow away topsoil, and set the old man’s tentwalls flapping hard enough to give it wings. Which it did.
He watched the tent walls sail away over the trees with sorrow in his lined face, annoyance in his clenched hands, and vengeance in his (surprisingly strong) pulse. “Right,” he said. “That’s time to do things about this.”

So he went to their parent, the sky. It was a short trip.
“Problems down there?” asked the sky.
“Your children are endlessly quarrelling, which is giving us all no end of grief and also they have destroyed my tent.”
“Whoops,” said the sky. “Sorry. Kids will be kids, right?”
“They have kept us all up night after night with their swoosh and swish and wrestling.”
“Ah, I’m sorry,” said the sky. “Whatchagonnado, yes?”
“There’s starting to be Talk going around about your parenting skills.”
The sky bristled, giving people quite a start from here all the way on to there. “They WHAT?” it said in a voice so frosty crops failed three miles away.
“Oh, you know, the usual. Idle young people without enough to do, talking about how you leave your idle young people without enough to do. Nonsense! Chatterfluff! But it’s happening, and it’s happened, and it’s not stopping. Best fix that.”
So the sky yanked itself off its hinges and stood up and stomped on down to the glade and it glared at the two winds fit to give them hives of embarrassment which they acquired immediately.
“YOU!” shouted the sky.
“Yes?” said the winds meekly.
“YOU!” exclaimed the sky.
“…yes?” mumbled the winds feebly.
“YOU?” expounded the sky.
“What is it, parent?” asked the winds, somewhat confused.
The sky scratched its head and tried to wrap its head around this question. It didn’t get up very often, and the blood rushing from its head was a very strange and disconcerting experience. And seeing the ground from this angle was making it woozy.
“Be good. Or something,” it said somewhat lamely. Then it stomped off and lay down again, and no amount of fuss from the old man could rouse it from its snores. All that walking took a lot out of a body, even one made of blue and air.
The winds looked at each other in chufty disagreement.
“You heard the sky,” the West Wind said. “You must be good.”
“You mean YOU must be good,” said the East Wind.
“You mean YOU” and so on and before long the glen rustled with the gusts and gales of wrestling winds once more.

The old man’s hat blew off his head. That was surely the final final straw. His wife had told him it had granted him a rakish character. Without it he just looked like a character. Nobody takes those seriously, as he had found throughout much of his younger years.
But he still had plans. Big plans. So he made a big cone of his hands and put it to his big mouth and let out a big holler.
“Hey up there!” he hollered.
“Hello down there,” said the clouds in a breezy, pleasant sort of voice.
“Nice weather, huh?!” bellowed the old man.
“Sure is,” said the clouds contentedly. “Feels good to give it, too. Better to gift than to receive, our mother ocean always said.”
“You could give a mightful gift of peace and quiet to everybody right now, and also my lost hat, if you would do a favour and go and tell those two winds off, over yonder in the glen!” the old man shouted.
“Mmm,” said the clouds, in a polite way. “Well, we could… but I’m not sure if they’ll listen. They’re awfully noisy young things, and we don’t know if it’s our place, and besides it’s only Tuesday, and…”
“Just do it!” screamed the old man. “Go on!”
“Oh alright,” murmured the clouds sadly, and they slid sideways through the air (discretely, and apologizing to it for the trouble) until they hovered over the glen, which was still filled with thrashing air and cursing. The clouds practically turned sunset-pink at the language, which was not at all fit for ears.
“We beg your pardon,” the clouds said, “bu-”
“Your head in a platypus’s belly!” shouted the East Wind.
“Your face on a rhinoceros’s rump!” snarled the West Wind.
The clouds cleared their throat and tried again. “We’re sorry to interrupt, but if it’s at all possi-”
“A weasel’s guts and your brain!”
“Defecation in your eye!”
The clouds were now almost fluorescent, but they made one last heroic effort. “Would you both PLEASE stop-”
“Brown bear’s anus! You!”
“Copulation! Sideways!”
The clouds stiffened their spine, hardened their resolve, and fled without dignity.
“What was THAT then, eh?!” yelled the old man at the clouds. But they only apologized at him, and he took his leave with much muttering and griping.

After THAT the old man’s pants blew away, and this was the final final FINAL straw for good, seeing as the old man’s skinny chicken legs now did not even belong to him but rather to anybody passing by in possession of working eyeballs and a reasonable amount of bad luck. He sat and he grumped and he didn’t cry because he was a big boy, but his not crying made such an awful fuss that an old woman slipped out from under a corner of the sky (which was snoring) to check on him.
“Boy,” said the old woman (who was his wife) to him. “Don’t you remember anything about all the things I said to you?” You’ve screwed up good here, my love.”
“I know, I know, I know,” muttered the old man (who was her husband). “But they blew away my hat and my tent and now my pants. I have nothing left, not even dignity.”
“Aw, nothing of value lost anyways,” said the old woman. “Come on, use that little brain of yours, husband-mine. What’d I always tell you?”
The old man’s brows knit. There was a lot of brow; you could’ve made a sweater with their output. “It takes more muscles to frown than to smile?”
“Naw, the other one.”
“A watched pot never boils?”
“Warmer. But no.”
“A kind word gets more done than a harsh one.”
“Yeah! That one! Now get ‘er done smart guy, that’s my lad.”
The old man nodded and gave the old woman a kiss on the cheek. They both blushed a little, and then she went back under the sky where all the dead people went.
“Right,” said the old man. He straightened a hat that wasn’t there and hiked up pants that weren’t there and he put on some real and very solid determination. “I’ll do this now.”

So he walked up to the clouds and whistled them down again.
“Hello,” they said.
“Hey,” said the old man. “Listen, I’ve got a message for you. It’s from the sky. It says it’s awful tired and sore after all that running around it did today, and would you mind giving it a nice soft place to sleep for tonight?”
The clouds puffed to themselves. “Oh! Oh yes indeed! Sure! The poor sky. We’ll help it out, no fear. Thank you.”
“All good,” said the old man. Then he strolled away nonchalantly and the moment he was under tree cover he ran like mad because clouds travel slow but so do old men.
Next up he walked down to the loose corner of sky that the old woman had slipped through, and he picked at it until the sky snorted itself awake.
“Ow,” it complained. “That stings.”
“Hush up,” said the old man. “I’ve got news for you. The clouds are all tired tonight, you see? Your Winds are keeping them up all day and all night, and they just want a place to have a nice nap. Do you think you could give them a nice place to sleep tonight, where there’s no fuss?”
“Oh, the poor clouds,” said the sky sympathetically. “Nothing worse than to be tired, and woken up all the time. If you know what I mean. Yes, of course I can help them.”

So that evening the sky comforted the clouds, and the clouds comforted the sky, and everybody else sort of coughed and looked the other way and hummed to themselves a lot. And in the morning down in the glen, as West Wind and East Wind paused in their labours, both of them felt a shove.
“Was that you?” asked East Wind.
“No, it was you,” said West Wind.
A shove, a shove, a shove shove shove, and West Wind was spinning and East Wind was twirling, all out of direction, gridlocks broken.
“It was us!” sang a happy fresh voice.
“It was me!” added another, proudly.
“And who’re you?” asked the two winds, confused – and a little happy – as they were blown all off course and away from each other, already starting to slide over distant lands and far-off horizons.
“South Wind!”
“North Wind!”
“Oh no,” the two older winds groaned, “more siblings!” And they grumped and complained and whined but they were basically alright with this because they were already seeing so many new places, and it had got awful boring wrestling with each other in that glen. Besides, the new winds were so very young it was hard to stay angry with them, or with their far-away sibling. Not with so much new to say and do.

All in all, it was a good day for most people. The winds explored. The sky and clouds snuggled together, beaming quietly. And the old man retrieved his tent and hat with the aid of a fine stick.
His pants took some doing, though.

Storytime: Digging.

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

It has been said that life is a cabaret.
This is true.
It has also been said that life is like a box of chocolates.
This is also true.
Furthermore, across varying times, places, and people, life has been asserted to be a highway, a theme park, a rollercoaster ride, and a bitch.
All of these claims are true, both independently and collectively. This is possible because life is, when you look at it under a microscope, essentially fractal, and therefore any given portion of it, however small, inevitably turns out to be a precise blueprint of the whole. Once you know that one fragment, you know everything.

For Addrea Cut, life at the moment was a rough-sided pit whose bottom was stubbornly resisting her past three hours of extertion to shift it from dirt to sandstone. It was also tired, sweaty, and sore-kneed from three hours of exertion. She was trying to place her perspective of life in general and hers in particular in perspective despite this recent disappointment, but it was a little tricky due to her having just wasted three hours of exertion.
Really, when you looked back on three hours of exertion, it was all to laugh.
Addrea sighed, the sort of self-pitying sound her grandmother would’ve thrashed her for (now, in adulthood, secretly relished), and glared up at the lazily uncaring sides of her trench, taller than her head and a monument to wasted effort after THREE HOURS OF etc.
“Fuck this blind,” she declared, and with the patience and care of someone who knows there’s only one obstacle between themselves and a good (well, filling) dinner, she began to commit violence upon her pockets. Past three layers of wadded paper, pencil stubs, and crumbs from lunch her fingers closed on cold stone.
Once upon a time, it had been a claw, attached to something slightly taller than Addrea, six times as wide, and shaped a bit like an armadillo crossed with a pile of rocks.
It knew what to do with soil.

Addrea staggered into camp some three minutes and six steps later, covered in speckles of backwashed soil and disappointment. Dinner was whatever was within arm’s reach. Dessert was disappointment and note-taking.
Test pit B complete failure. Again. Will try tomorrow. Again.
Food low. Still. Again.
She wished she had more to add, but she’d run short of both facts and pencil.
This was almost worse than the Hihle Marshes had been. At least the wildlife in the badlands was friendlier. Mostly by dint of its absence.
One more try, right? One more. Tomorrow she’d wake up, spend half the afternoon scraping out a damned pit, and then go to bed and then the day AFTER tomorrow she’d get up and leave and travel down to the rails and go home and be scolded at by her mother in between attempts to feed her with real food that wasn’t half-rotted trail biscuit.
Addrea looked up at the just-emerging badlands stars and contemplated their endless, happy twinkle.
Well… the day wasn’t QUITE over. And if she started now, and finished (failed) now, she could catch tomorrow’s rail instead. Really, it was good scheduling.
And so, with the noble aim of perseverance in the face of adversity in her heart and visions of pie in her head, Addrea Cut stepped out from her camp and into the past again.
For good.

Time was the thing, the principle, the money-maker. Any excavationist worth their hunch would say that. Time wore away at you, whether beast or rock; it eroded soil; sagged skin; ground stone to sand; and chewed away flesh from bone.
And, as had been illustrated oh-so-many-years-ago by Menny Agling on the gloomy cliffs of a faraway beach, in both cases the ultimate result is the same: the preservation of the toughest core when all dross has been devoured by the centuries.
The Hadly had understood that. Eight thousand years ago they’d understood that. Living on the sides of old buttes, growing crops in the short and surly shadow of erosion, counting pebbles as they fell off crumbling mountains and ground them down to immortal molehills, they’d have been idiots not to.
And then, they’d gone one step better.

Addrea turned over the little fragment in her paw – her hand. She tucked away the claw and concentrated: no pigmentation; the barest of geometric design, curvature showing something deep-dished and thick-walled. Built to last forever in all respects.
Late-era Hadly, to be precise. Geistoff Hadly himself had speculated on that in his later years, theorized that as time wore on and on at them they decided to emulate what they saw around them, every day, and strip away the extras. The earliest Hadly pottery sherds were coloured like dreams; purple and blue and a searing pale pink stolen from sunsets. Their sides were eggshell-thin and marked with pinprick care.
Pretty, but mostly useless. Not like this one.
Addrea clenched her hand and sorted her thoughts, in order: grubs, maize, antelope, nuts, berries, wa-
cool blue pale grey light dust of red sand on top trickle down
-ter. Her hand unclenched, and she smiled. Then she nestled it in the dirty dregs of her empty coffee pot, concentrated for about a minute, took it out, and set the batch to brew.
The Hadly had been a remarkable people, really. It took skill to build to last. It took more to build to accumulate.
She fortified her plan over the coffee, turning the map in her head over and over. Pits Z through B had been on good ground for Hadly; in the shade, out of the deadly badlands sun that would eat your mind and then your body; and with enough soil to grow the stubborn dead-end stalks they had settled for as corn. Pit A was – and she felt a bit guilty at this now that she admitted it – a token effort. Right at the very southern corner of the butte, where the sun would fry you from morning to midnight, and on ground that was more rock than dirt. She’d just been planning to scrape the surface, call it a night, and head for home.
But this was the first Hadly artifact she’d found since she’d set up here, three weeks ago.
What had they been DOING?
The claw was back in her palm again, and Addrea hummed to herself in tune with its urges, low and lower, grumbling in a clueless sort of way. It had been a simple animal in life and death and age, like the Hadly knew, had only focused it further.
“Hope you’re ready, pal,” she whispered to herself. “Hope you’re ready.”

Four feet down, she found the firepits. Charcoal and ash spewed like vomit through the straggly turf, fragments and drifts locked up and now free to drift away.
They looked like ovens to her eye. The sort of heat they’d been trying to generate here was beyond anything a bonfire could want; this was something you’d rig for pottery firing. A pit of late-Hadly sherds, even discards… that would make her rich. But why build the oven out here in the blazing sun? Even a potter had a boiling point, and there was no clay nearer nor farther to here than anywhere else.
Five feet down she hit the pit, and things started to make sense.

The profession of the excavationist was made respectable by the efforts and diligent scholarship of Dr. Geistoff Hadly, a man so impeccable in his presentation that he never dug in anything less than a full suit and tie, and so resilient in the face of danger that he had survived no less than forty-three cases of severe heatstroke by his retirement to academia at age fifty-seven.
The profession of the excavationist was made period by the pressing need of Menny Agling for money in the face of an ailing father, a dead mother, and a society that viewed an unmarried woman as only slightly more respectable and useful than an unkilled rat. She couldn’t sew, couldn’t sing, couldn’t cook, and couldn’t clean. But as a child she’d spent days wandering the broken shorelines of the Grey Coast, bringing back crabs and shells and stones to her father, and as an adult she went there with a pick and brought back… well, money. Seashells that sounded of waves when you held them to your ear. Flattened stone fronds pressed into rock that smelled of dew and heat. And at least one famous fish that had almost seemed to move under your eyes, although no measuring tape had ever confirmed it.
She’d never made all that much money, Menny Agling – that she had been able to live on her own at all was considered socially appalling at best. But she’d made a little dent into history, and as the years pressed down on her dozens of others had quietly lined up to take a crack at it, pickaxes ready.

Now, as Addrea stared down into the half-empty hole in front of her, it struck her that the Hadly had been there first. And they hadn’t so much left a dent as a full-blown smash.
It certainly made her own work easier; now she was excavating someone else’s backfill, rather than chewing through stone by stone on her lonesome – the Hadly ovenfires had cracked the side of the butte open like dried mud in the sun, giving them room enough to dig what seemed to be a deep, if narrow pit. This had been filled in; the layers were all out of sorts, the stratigraphy was a jumble of hastily-squashed dirt and rock.
A hurried burial. Was she about to break into a Hadly tomb? That’d be a first. Most speculation on the Hadly had their dead as burned into crisps; the one case where their preoccupation with aging and weathering was deliberately averted. The Hadly would build a spear-point of mammoth bone that would soak in the weight of centuries to build a killing edge, but they’d turn themselves to fickle smoke and ash in a heartbeat.
Maybe if you spent that much time using and copying the bones of the long-dead, you started to get a little concerned about what your grandkids might do with yours.
Addrea’s claw stubbed against solid stone again. She was at the bottom of the Hadly pit, and no coffin or bone in sight. So much for that theory. No garbage either; not a midden. It was past midnight now and ten feet down and she had nothing to show for it but another layer of dirt, sweat, and bruises. She leaned back against the butte and sighed, then fell through it.
A short and confused burst of flailing with the claw later, Addrea had cleared enough space to breathe and light her lantern in. In the quick flash of its light against her swollen pupils, she could almost see the air streaming in around her, filling up…
A tunnel. The Hadly had dug a tunnel into the side of the butte.
For all the bone-turned-stone and finely-ground rock that were material fixtures in almost all their artifacts of all eras, no-one had ever found an undisturbed Hadly fossil mine.
‘Till now.
Addrea’s face felt funny and after a moment she realized that she was grinning to herself like a maniac. It had been a while, since she’d felt this hopeful. The last time had been… on the rail home from the Hihle, she thought. No more lice and midges and fat-mouthed fish that mistook your toes for minnows and especially, ESPECIALLY no more of the damned storks. Ever.
This was that moment turned inside out: she wanted this to last forever.
But first, she had to see what happened next.
Claw out, she began to tunnel, humming its song again. This time it was perkier.

Six feet in the dirt thinned out and she was left in the raw newness of the old tunnel, the floor still strewn with the same dust, the same pebbles as the day it had been filled in and abandoned. It was the early morning now but Addrea hadn’t felt as awake as she was in… years, even. Her mouth tasted like blood and victory. She held the lantern high like a conductor, basking in the sight.
The walls were full.
This was an impossibility, she admitted to herself through the haze of giddy greed that had settled over her mind. There were chisel marks everywhere; the Hadly had collected thoroughly from this place. But somehow, each and every track and turn of the stone was reflected, trick-image-like, into a backbone or a leaf or a rib or a limb or a skull.
Skulls. A hundred glittering tiny emptied eyes looked back at her.
It was like an entire forest had been gift-wrapped and packaged in stone, just for her, all for her. What had happened here? A flash flood? Eruption? Whatever it was, it was hers, beautifully and fully hers in a way she hadn’t felt as piercingly since the birth of her little brother.
Then she leaned in deeper and started to examine them, because she was a professional. A very rich one.

Dr. Geistoff Hadly had published the bulk of his writings on the excavationist trade some sixty years ago.
Menny Agling had died forty years before that.
The Hadly had persisted from approximately nine to five thousand years ago before…disappearing.
Addrea’s claw had been estimated by a particularly obnoxious yet useful professor as being somewhere between five hundred and two hundred thousand years old.
The oldest tools used by the Hadly were often reshaped from the limbs of creatures that looked much like rhinoceroses, but far too large. Addrea had seen a skull once, with a strange and malformed-looking set of horns that resembled a pair of balloons grown out of control.
Most of Menny Agling’s fossils had vanished into private collections once she was dead enough to become acceptably fashionable. The Revered Goven had examined one of her larger fish, once, and had said that there was something odd about the shape of the bones that didn’t quite make sense… but that was a textbook and ten years ago.
But she didn’t think anyone had ever seen anything like these.
A herd of… things. Words defied her. The skeletons made no sense; the tails were too long; the posture was alien; the teeth were…
Lizards, maybe? Iguanas? No.
She reached out and touched the smallest skull she could find, concentrated, and felt a brief burst of pitter-patter terror as over-large lungs and a lightning heartbeat failed to carry her away from…something. She had no skin she had scales or no wait that couldn’t be right.
None of it made sense. But oh how she could see now with her hand there, could see fresh new colours and so bright in the darkness. A useful one, whatever this was.
Addrea drifted deeper down the tunnel in a daze, a hand on the skull in her pocket, light shining on new old bones. Larger ones.
This was a horn. A horn attached to a skull. A skull bigger than she was.
There were two more horns. She considered this superfluous in the best possible way.
A touch…
force unimaginable a thirty-foot frame solid legs sharp beak chewing through the stalks brace your back and face it head-on
…and, just to see if it was possible, one hand carefully gripping the horn, she lightly smacked her forehead against the stone wall.
It gouged open like soft cheese, and her smile would’ve split her face if it could’ve. Too big to carry out in one piece by herself, but just the horn would do for now.
Pockets filling, the deeper calling, the tunnel narrowing, on and on and on past bones and bones.
Here’s a toe. A touch and its owner comes rising up, strong legs under a body forty foot and more, voice echoing forever deeper.
Here’s a claw. A nimble thing from a nimble thing that hops and leaps and scurries through ferns and ferns and ferns like the ones mashed deeper into the stones.
Addrea shook her head and looked closer at the claw, followed the thin leg into the barely-there body splayed against the wall, fingers tracing its deeper outline and the rough marks around the tiny torso.
Something on her skin she could feel, soft and tough and protective
Now she looked with fresh eyes, saw the deeper shape of the limbs, the deeper angle of the neck. Tiny sharp teeth but oh how it looked like a bird to her. Deeper.
The tunnel was curling deeper she was sure, wrapping around itself like a snake. Her pockets were full of bones-come-stones and as she went deeper she found more and more she was overflowing with the past. Her heart was a drumbeat and her skull was a weapon and her eyes were lamps and she reeled with the intoxication of being the first, the absolute first, to see or know any of this as she went deeper.
Deeper down she traced the ferns deeper and found the plants that looked like horsetails from deeper days, giants that meshed with half-air-drowned fish like lungfish that took deeper breaths of air but died anyways and fell deeper into time go on deeper and come down where she was deep.
A breath. Addrea took one and realized she’d been holding it, or maybe she hadn’t. She was certainly dizzy enough to feel it. The air was…no, it wasn’t bad down here, just a bit stuffy. She’d smelt bad air before. She’d smelt
the haze in the air from the ash and slurry
No, no, that wasn’t her. That was from something
the blood-slick smell the soft grunt the wet tearing fear
in her pocket.
Addrea’s jacket was a gift to her from her parents and had lasted her over ten years by dint of stubbornness and a watchful eye, particularly around her mother whenever she made meaningful noises about replacements. It had character, Addrea always argued. It had comfort, and character, and no it is not worn down to a hole-mangled nub that’s just slander.
It was also blessed truth because it was what allowed her to shuck it off and onto the floor without so much as undoing a button. Bones scattered against her toes and the lantern jangled in her grip.
It was out. How long had it been out? How long had she been down here with nothing to guide her but… but hallucinations, pictures from inside an ages-empty head?
Well, she wasn’t blind yet. Her hand was on the wall, and she could still feel the grooves of the Hadly chisels. Someone else had been here, someone else had left their mark, someone else…
The grooves stopped. And on her face she could feel the soft movement of once-stale air, moving on and out as it escaped from something
Addrea’s legs were moving before she could even swear, and then they were moving over nothing as she slid and bounced and clattered and the lantern flew away and she landed and it landed on her and dirt landed on that and stone and.

At some point, Addrea opened her eyes. There was still nothing but the dark, but now she could see it a lot better, and she was almost sure she didn’t have a concussion.
There was dirt on her. A little dirt. And stone. A lot of stone. She probably didn’t have any broken bones though. She remember what THAT felt like.
Well, she could make it. The contents of her pockets might be scattered some…however many feet above her head in the tunnel, but her PANTS pocket was sitting tight, claw inside. She could dig through this.
Her free hand crept its way inside, gripped smooth stone, and paused a little, sorting through an unfamiliar feeling leaking its way out of the old bone.
Absolute terror.
Addrea realized she was humming again, this time slow and soft. Like a lullaby.
Slowly, softly, with the tenderness of a mother tending her cradle, she began to scrape away the layers of years covering her, fingers brushing stone that was also bone, mind ready to reject the images that were…
Nothing was speaking. Back above, the fossils had seemed practically seeping with life, diving in through any sense she exposed. Here they were mute rock.
The last layer shed itself from her, and with it her patience for the mystery. Right. She’d get up, feel her way out with her jacket QUICKLY, make a lot of money and hire people that weren’t her to dig this place up.
She stood up, brushed herself briskly, felt her way to the wall of the slope she’d toppled down, and realized that her fingers were touching something breathing.

There was a moment.
It was a moment shared across countless childhoods, when you turn around and realize your parent was there all along, watching you.
It was a moment from Addrea’s days in the Hihle Marsh, when she met the eyes of a giant Murdun stork as it ate an entire flock of ducklings, one after another.
It was a moment from hundreds and thousands and millions of years ago as the thing under her fingers raised her head from her kill and peered at the small creature huddling in the bushes through the sulfurous clouds.
And then, Addrea made the mistake that small, terrified creatures always do in that moment.
She blinked.

The cave was emptied. The tunnel was a broken mass of debris. The camp was hollowed, left waiting for the badlands sun to smooth it away into nothingness.
And the rail had an extra passenger that night, headed towards a home.
It was a strange new place she found herself in, but this was nothing new. Life is, after all, essentially the same across time and space. It gets simpler as you grow older and harder.
Once you know that, you know everything.

Storytime: The Rules of Civilization.

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

These are the rules of civilization.
A civilization must: begin, seed, spawn.
Oon-Above grew from a single family lost in the drifts meeting a single family stuck in a hollow. It filled the hollow and tunneled into the drifts and found them pleasing, if chilly. A safe place, and less cold once you wrapped yourself in the furs of a lemmer. Food and comfort both, down under the midnight that lasted months.
A clan dared venture beyond the forest for want of room and roots, and found that the oldstone, though so much heavier than wood, was ready to carve and twice as strong. If you heated it just so, if you hummed to it just right, it would do as you said and make homes that no fire could consume or storm thunder down. That was the root of Tnekt.
Guna was already ages-old when it was settled, but it had only poked itself above the surface some forty years before the canoes came. Then came more canoes, and more, and more, for the fishing was so very good. There were too many canoes and not enough Guna, and then someone asked what if they encouraged the growth of the atoll through fishmeal, and cleaning, and regular blood. And then came Great Guna.

These are the rules of civilization.
A civilization must: grow, thrive, sprawl.
Oon-Above filled quickly, oh too quickly. The crystalline snow-domes arched higher above the many hollows and the tunnels were bored deeper into the drifts for more space, more room, but still there was not enough. They flowed through the ice like water through cracks, and at last they came to a crack and chiselled it through to see a strange horizon that was green and blue, not white. They had found the edge of the glacier, and underneath them lay all the taiga in the world.
Tnekt did not grow. Tnekt chiselled away. Dispassionately, carefully, endlessly. Giant ridges and blocks are shaped hollowed and stamped. Walls are made from buttresses. Lamps from lumps. The average size of a dwelling in Tnekt is over fifty feet at the shoulder, and it holds hundreds. The inhabitants struggle to reach their own steps, like children wearing their parent’s clothes. But it is sturdy and invincible to assault and every day there is less oldstone and more Tnekt.
Great Guna grew and grew and grew without limit, feeding off the sea and its heady intellect both. Coral-shaping and coral-breeding were the greatest of professions, artistry and craftsmanship swirled together like the rainbow colours of its output. Some shone softly for light; some grew into natural fishtraps, some even floated, and then Great Guna grew rootless islands and sent vast expeditions into the world, to chart and to explore and to recruit. Join us, they said as they sailed. Join us, and make land from nothing. This is our word. This is Great Guna.

These are the rules of civilization.
A civilization must: crush, mangle, mutilate.
There were people down there beneath Oon-Above in the taiga in the trees, soft strange people who had never known the low creak and groan of living encased in ice that could crush continents. They did not know of the tunnels and had never seen hollows, not until they were brought back packed in slush and too cold to feebly resist. There they were warmed and put to work digging deeper, ever deeper, to grow, to expand, to render the hollows grander, the tunnels broader; to tend the lemmers and slaughter their flesh; to shine the ice-mirrors until they gleamed and spat fire from the sky. They hated and were despised and this was good and proper as Onn-Above took their timber and their bodies and their metals and crushed their land flat one league at a time.
Tnekt grew restless. There were wars to be fought, and feuds had grown dull; there were riches to be coveted, and their own had become everyday. Beyond their borders lay new foods, new goods, new trinkets. So they clothed their warriors in oldstone hauberks and gave them flaked spears and set them loose to demand tribute and teach construction and burn villages and sow crops. And in Tnekt’s name, they accomplished much of this.
Great Guna encompassed three separate island chains by the time of the breeding of towermaker coral. Less than a decade following that, it held eleven; seven in shackles. A war-island would sail into a bay. Join us, they said. Join us, and make land from nothing. And if they were received impolitely, or perhaps not eagerly enough, or maybe refused, they would flood the bay with towermaker spawn. Without the hour it would be a clot, within the day spires fit for ballista would raise. A bay into a beachhead, a village into an abbatoir, an island for Great Guna, which grew greater still. The corals still needed blood.

These are the rules of civilization.
A civilization must: bloat, fester, rot.
The lenses kept Oon-Above safe. Who could threaten them from below, with the ability to reflect light until it steamed flesh and fired wood? They took what they wished and burned what displeased them and crushed the rest as the glacier moved under their feet. And as time went on, they took more and more. The hollows and chambers of Oon-Above grew clotted with loot and plunder; the gentry competed and boasted and outdid one another. This one had more slaves. This one had more gold. This one had grander chambers. The chambers in particular were easy to rectify; have your slaves carve more, have your gold commission more. Oon-Above was already a warren, but year by year it was nearly coming to resemble a collection of soap bubbles.
Tnekt glutted itself. Every year thousands went to the fields on its behalf and every day thousands moved cartloads on its behalf and every night it took itself to the table and satiated its stomach on their offerings. The stone was cold but the nights were warm, and warmer still if you were of the oldest of the oldstone, the families who traced their roots back to the dawn of Tnekt itself, when that ingenious clan had first began to heat it and tap it and hum at it just so, just so. HE was of grander lineage than SHE, but not as much as THEY, and so on and so on. Harmless arguments that turned deadly when it came to politics and it always does.
Great Guna wrapped half the world, albeit much of it quiet blue. They decided what was land and what was sea, and dominated wherever the two met. They took up the spear and the shield and the great ballista when this was questioned. Where the war-islands sailed they were obeyed, and they sailed everywhere, expanding as the years rolled on and each being caroused and welcomed and feasted when it returned home with an admiral bragging their conquests. All were glad to listen and toast. Except, perhaps, the other admirals.

These are the rules of civilization.
A civilization must: rupture, erupt, drain.
Oon-Above’s most sacred and respectable and beautiful of places was the Hearthollow, where the oldest and riches and most impressive of its gentry lived. And this was why when the slaves revolted, it was here that the fighting was fiercest, and this was why it was here that the lens-operators grew desperate enough to turn their glares on Oon-Above itself, and this was why it was here that the thin-sliced shelled of Oon-Above was first revealed to be, alas, only too thin. Entire hollows slid away, sheared side from side. The glacier groaned and bucked underfoot and slid and crumbled at its edges. Oon-Above burned as it froze, screamed and fell silent save pattering footsteps and muffled weeping.
The Tennekta died. This was not unusual. The Tennekta died young and childless. This was unusual. The Tennekta’s mother’s family was accused of treachery by her father’s family, and the Tennekta’s father’s family was accused likewise by the same. This was not unusual. The Tennekta’s families put each other’s crops to the flame after a hard, drought-ridden year. This was unusual. Six months later, half of Tnekt was starving and the other half was putting each other to the spear. This, by then, was usual.
In all of Great Guna’s grasp, none were greater than Admiral Deeg. Born on the eighteenth isle of the fifth chain of the ninth conquest, his ambition had risen him from slave’s-son to island-driver to Admiral to the heights of the fleet. He had brought thousands into the grasp on voyages of years, each time returning with a fresh crew of strangers to behold Great Guna itself for the first time. And although all toasted him in the streets, his fellows stared at his back and groused at its foreign shade and shape. It was not right, they said, for Great Guna to rely so upon a man who was not proper of it, raised right. And one day they all said so to each other, and they gave him a toast that night that was a good deal stronger than usual. So strong, in fact, that he smelled it as he raised the cup. That night, Deeg returned to his war-island. That night, Deeg sent word to his old lieutenants. That night, Great Guna itself saw towermaker coral fill its harbours.

These are the rules of civilization.
A civilization must: wither, unravel, crust.
Oon-Above was emptied, its people long-fled into the forests to hunt for roots and beg aid before its greatest accomplishment was done. After the long slow years of its dissolution and collapse, very little of the front third of the glacier remained, and it retreated in sulky silence, leaving broken trees and grooved ground and the odd lump of shiny metal that had once been an admirable statue in the halls of a respected family. Now gone.
The oldstone heated just right and hummed to just right came apart in just the right way, and soon enough just the wrong one. A building falls into a building falls into a building like dominoes made of oldstone and flesh and screams and the fields and the harbour are clotted with screaming refugees. What is left is gripped by war-lords, and soon after the strange great coral-island appeared on the horizon, its walls manned by keen-eyed and hungry-toothed warriors, they found themselves grasped low and made to bow in the ruins of their grandfathers. Now gone.
Great Guna’s grasp reached halfway around the world the night of Admiral Deeg’s escape from death. By the day he breathed his last, it no longer existed. The last of the war-islands had sunk each other ten years before; the secrets of the towermaker had been long lost, running into the saltwater with the blood of the coral-architects as Guna was laid low by ballista and torch and thunderous strife. As the fleets streamed home to devour one another their subjects rose up one by one to look above the horizon and find that where once land had been made from sea, only blue remained. Now gone.
And they thought about what they would build now.

These are the rules of civilization.
Much as they would pretend otherwise.