Archive for January, 2017

Storytime: The Crack.

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017

I’m awake before the alarm, as usual. Awake before a lot of things. If I turn my head right now and look at the clock I know the numerals I’m seeing won’t be Arabic. Probably won’t even be numbers.
Things are like that here. On this side of the crack.
My bed’s trying to eat me again; I can feel it gnawing on my legs past the sweet anesthetic of the covers. The pillow is swelling, smothering. I want to turn and toss once and never move again.
But I can’t. Because I can’t, because I can’t. So I tear myself upright and kick free of warm and soft and stagger over to where my clothes might be if they are.
They are.
That’s a good sign. One of many I’ll need to make it.

The hallway this side of the crack is longer but thinner. Sharp edges, ice-cold bruisers, all waiting for the toes and the heel. You can cripple yourself here if you’re not careful, or in a rush. And there’s always a rush.
The kitchen’s simpler. The food’s there. What it is right now is harder to understand, but it’s there.
So I pounce on the first cupboard to creak and snap open a flapping lid and tear through thick plastic and it’s cereal, hard on the gums but easy on the stomach. Once it’d been flour. Fun day that was.
Down, down to the doormat, stomping boots on sloppily before fumbling for laces. Feet-covering first, then fuss. I’ve already spent too much time with nothing but wool between my toes and this side of the crack. And it’s about to get harder.

The car keys are treacherously tangled with all the others and I lose precious seconds or years fumbling with colt metal and cold fingers. By the time the engine’s on and warm the fuzz has crept back into my brain and eyes and blood. I’m flying blind with highbeams on as everything screams HUSH at me, stumbling round corners and forgetting my lunch, route and name. It’s all pushing down on me as I crest the hill.
And from there, about to be swallowed up, I see the crack.

It’s not quite gold or red. It’s not quite anything; there are no colours on this side.
But it’s enough.
I drive forward. I fall through it.
I hear the world breathe again.

And it’s morning.

Storytime: Naughty.

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

It’s quiet here.
I’m not used to that. Not after the screaming and the shooting and the fire and the crash.
Not after the shouting and the kicking and the punching and the crackle-hiss-zap of the taser.
Not after the long, slow sirens.
But most of all, not after the last few hundred years. I’ve lived a busy, noisy life in busy, noisy places.
Not like this. I’ve never been somewhere like this.

They feed me. It’s simple food, nourishing food. They didn’t know what to feed me at first, then I wouldn’t eat it, then they stuck a tube up my nose and forced it down me until I threw up and gave up and started cooperating. Anything to not feel the sting of crushed ginger cookies and milk against my sinuses again.
It’s not bad food. It’s my favourite food. It’s what I’ve always eaten and every time I open my mouth to chew I have to try not to cry.

When the meal is over, they bring me in to the calm room. They give me a special, calming treat – a little cupful of fruit-flavoured gelatin – and they ask calm questions, with earnest, open faces. How? When did you how? Who told you to how, when? Why?
Especially the last one, it always comes down to that. It’s the least likely to give them any useful answers, but they can’t stop asking it. Why? Why, why, why, why and z.
So today, I tell them.

It’s a big storm. We seem them a lot, this far north. Billowing and blustering their way over the planet’s balding crown.
But it’s big and WET and warm, and there’s too much water lying around for it to push against, lying bare to the sky when it should be sheathed in ice. Waves are forming. Water is surging. Ice is cracking – and there isn’t much ice to crack.
And nobody’s noticed, nobody’s ringing the alarm-bells, because we’re all too busy inside! Don’t get me wrong, we plan ahead. We plan ahead all year! But there’s always the last bit of loading, there’s always the checklist, there’s always the last-minute additions, the last-minute subtractions, the ephemeral wavering between the lists.
Besides, we’re not blind. We’re not stupid. The workshop’s been equipped with buoys for the last decade and a half. Just in case of what might happen.
Well, it happened. It happened right as I was picking up the reins. The floor shook and then rose, and I slid off my feet and bam, out the front door I goes.
And into the water. I didn’t expect that. It had been snow just an hour ago as we performed the final flight check. But it was liquid now, and I was paddling for my life, swimming to the workshop’s lights until I realized they were below me now, the whole workshop, glittering in the black-and-blue as it sank.
For centuries and more I’ve made things, I’ve seen things. And no matter what the shape or form, I’ve been able to look past it and see the thing inside that made it shine. But I’d never seen anything as beautiful as my drowning workshop as it slipped away from me. And that was what hurt most of all.
The hammers were still ringing. They were sinking and they were still ringing, louder and louder until I broke the surface and it stopped all at once.

They’re asking me why again. Why, why, why. And I tell them I’m telling them why, just leave me alone for a moment and let me finish.

You see, the team had made it. They’d been set and bridled, they must have flown out the roof just after I left through the front door. And they’d brought the pack with them.
I had my pack. I had my team. I had nothing else, nothing else at all. The list was lost.
But I could make one. It would just be much smaller.

It wasn’t very hard, in the end. I only had to visit a few thousand, instead of billions. And they only got one present each, which made it even faster.
Still, they caught on to me as I started my second pass. People pay more attention when something naughty happens to someone important. And they DO something about it.
So the planes scrambled and the missiles launched and I dodged and weaved and laughed until my dimples ached and they didn’t bring me down until dawn, when the night was over and I had nowhere to land and nothing left to fly with.
And then they brought me here, where they’re still asking me why, why, why.
I’ve told them why, but they want more. They don’t want my why, they want a why they can accept and make reasonable and understandable and rational. This is the calm room, it’s where they need to hear calming things.
So I shrug and I chuckle and I tell them this.
“It just wasn’t a very merry year.”

And I sit there and laugh, with my bowl full of jelly.

Ho. Ho. Ho.

Storytime: Ever Higher.

Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

“It’s a marble.”
Jen squinted at the near horizon. The sun was already coming down; the days here were just a little bit shorter than her body was insisting they should be.
“Yeah, a marble. A big, beautiful blue marble.”
Jen shook her head. “Man, you’ve got to get off that ship and see for yourself. I promise there’s more than blue down here. I swear, these mountains are PURPLE.”
“I’m looking at the big picture, you know. That’s my job.”
“You’re a cargo hauler, Davy, not a pilot.”
“Yeah, and who gets the big picture better than the guy who has to load it, pack it, shift it, and drop it? Trust me, I’ll be down before you know it.”
More lavender, she decided. The foothills, now, they were definitely purple in places. Not an unhealthy glow, though; they glistened with plant life. She breathed in deep and felt that strange, off-tilt taste that was air filled with hundreds of thousands of trees. So strange after the lifetime spent on board Requin. Would it have been stranger still to grandma and grandpa, fresh from the grey smogs and the dead seas?
“That’s old news, Davy. I’m looking at the new big picture right here. All we’ve got to do is assemble the pieces.”
The chainsaw fired up on the third rev, grumbling about it. Well-designed, but it HAD spent more than half a century in storage.
“Alright, alright. See you in a month, jigsaw.”
Jen smiled as the blade bit into the trunk of the tree. “See you in a month, Davy.”
The smell of sap drifted up around her, and the world seemed to grow a little bigger because of it.
A step beyond the cradle.

Item 00001: Chainsaw
Used for logging. The materials science behind this device is far less advanced than that required to reach the planet’s surface, and is similarly at odds with that of many unearthed structures. This, and design discrepancies within this and other retrieved timber-cutting equipment, indicates an overall improvised set of tools, often retrofitted from spare parts for more sophisticated devices.
Item 00001a: Preserved Sap
Removed from the cutting mechanisms of Item 001. The sap is that of the Netterli Allpine, which formed large dense forests over much of eastern Tendyssa at the time of landing. Shortly afterwards, it became extinct in the wild, presumably due to the sudden and enormous pressure placed upon it by land clearance for crops and settlements.

Roiann looked up.
Sparkling lights. Ten million diamonds floating above her head, close enough to see but far enough to sparkle. And hundreds of them belonged to her, floating just above the atmosphere. Beaming news, data, gossip and games and stocks and a thousand imaginary necessities.
Roiann looked down.
A hundred million people, all building, booming, growing, surging, improving, learning, prospering.
Hundreds of thousands of them belonged to her too, although they would’ve put it differently. They put in their hours for her, and that was enough.
And in the middle distance, between Roiann’s two planes of ownership, there was the horizon. Curving gently off beyond her sight.
Not her reach, though. Landing was still humanity’s heart, but she’d been making moves. Expeditions. Research, mining, mapping, whatever excuse could be used and budgeted.
There was profit out there somewhere. Enough for everyone, and why shouldn’t she get first pick?
She turned her gaze back to the object on her desk and smiled.

Item 00978: Office Desk.
A workstation. This specimen is highly decorative in design and likely belonged to a wealthy executive; the drawers and filing equipment are overly diminished and show little use, while the materials used in construction are not only high-quality but show the traces of individual craftsmanship rather than mass production. This was a commissioned sumptuary good, used to display status.
Item 00978a-q: Shards of Allglass.
These microscopic flecks were retrieved from a hairline crevice in the desk’s surface, and are possibly the earliest allglass traces in Landing. There is still no record of the precise date when expeditions from Tendyssa first travelled across the pole to Wender, but this may have been among the first curiosities brought back from those early ventures.

Taddle was a runner. And he was good at it. He’d practically raced out of the crib. He’d nearly become a professional sprinter in his school years. He could tap a friend on the shoulder and be round the block by the time they’d finished turning.
But he’d been a little foolish to hope to outrun bullets.
Now here he was, bleeding out all over his broken nearly-but-not-quite-bulletproof shirt. Lying on his side, watching the world spin and wondering why he’d decided to do it. Yes, his brother had needed the money; he had no legs thanks to their grandfather. Yes, his father had needed the operation; all those years down in the foundries did wonderful things to your body from the outside in. Yes, his daughter would need food; she was already barely eating enough to stay awake in classes.
But now they’d need all that and his funeral bill too.
His back was on fire. Not from the bullets, from something crushed and splintered and eating into his skin like bugs on butter. The package of allglass he’d been hiding down his back had smashed. It was a good thing he was already passing out; if he’d had the energy he would’ve screamed.
A boot came into his field of view, followed by the rest of the mine guard. And then – if not for very long – Taddle realized he could scream after all.

Item 02931: Improvised Bulletproof Jacket
An illegal and improvised item, produced by melting ‘Red Silica’ over heavy cold-weather clothing. This particular specimen possessed two fatal flaws in its manufacture: it was adulterated with low-quality ‘Blue Silica’ to save costs and the base substrate was a smaller, lighter shirt that did not protect the wearer’s extremities. The latter may have been a necessary compromise; the shirt appears to be employee wear from Hibber Air & Earth, one of the larger allglass exploration companies in Wender during the era, and was likely intended to be a disguise first and last-ditch protection later. Bullet damage on the specimen’s exterior, along with massive allglass scarring along its interior, suggest that this plan failed.

The sky was red again today.
Pline had breakfast with what was left in the cupboard that had been her fridge before the last power surge, then dialed her old company.
No answer.
She hadn’t expected one; three weeks with no offices since the downtown floods had crippled the branch; the mills had been completely unsalvageable and every technician with any useful skills had long-ago left the city behind for work in the privateland holdouts. The owners had probably just walked off and vanished rather than deal with the paperwork, and the difficult of finding anyone to manage the paperwork. .
She dialed her best friend, next-closest friend, and then a few more.
No answers.
They’d probably just walked off and vanished. A lot of people did that.
The alarm in the ceiling hissed, and she slipped her mask on before peeking out the window. The air was a thick clot of bloody sand.
Allglass storm, again. The third one this week. Hard to believe in grandmother’s day they’d never seen one dip into the lower atmosphere before.
Her stomach gurgled, and she opened the fridge and realized there was nothing left. It was the end of the day and she was back at last night again. Again.
Pline’s face hurt. It had hurt since she was a little girl and she was used to it, but it was enough.
She took off the mask, put it in the fridge, and walked out the door.
And vanished.

Item 07003: Storm Mask
A mass-produced item of low quality, the many imperfections in this specimen’s design can be traced to many wider disruptions in global supply chains leading to the use of low-cost and inferior local materials. The sealing of the mask’s jaw in particular is badly malformed from use and likely caused extensive discomfort when prolonged use occurred, which was likely frequent at the time. Allglass storms not only increased in frequency as more and more of the substance was destroyed and released into the atmosphere, but were aggravated by even the most minute particle pollutants, which they would aggregate into and subsume. A heavy smog could become a killing clot of sharpened particles, but deadlier still were the long-term physiological and psychological ills brought on by constant low-level exposure to the wear and tear of allglass-laced dust and pollen.

It was too dark.
Hobb held his breath and held still and his nose tickled but he did not sneeze not even a little because it was too dark.
The other people were out there arguing, yelling in their strange voices, brandishing their rust and plastic and shouting and trying their hard to be the scariest possible because if they did they wouldn’t have to kill each other the way they’d killed Hobb’s family and nothing made them more worried than that.
Hobb was trying not to think about what they’d done, but there it was again, fresh and red in his mind as it hadn’t been in reality. All the blood was red and bright and clear and shining and the wounds showed great gouts of colour inside, oozing and glistening.
Not like this. Not like it had been, with dark liquid and grunts and screams in the black. Because it was too dark.
The other people were still shouting. Didn’t they know it was too dark? They’d stood on the fire, they’d thrown Hobb’s uncle into it. Why? Were they crazy? They’d been outside, in the storms. Only crazy people did that. And they dressed crazy, with all those heavy coats and clasps and the masks. And they’d come from the privlands, on foot, in the day.
They didn’t know anything.
One of them shouted, loud enough to hurt ears, and they all stopped talking at once.
Hobb sneezed, even though it was too dark, and that was that.
He never had a chance to tell them about the Deepmakers. They never gave him one. And so, when they were sleeping, it came as a very large surprise.

Item 07991: Security Helmet
Although for a time complex international society persisted in the form of communication passed between fortified compounds in the heavily-guarded holdouts and refuges of what the common folk called the ‘privatelands,’ several centuries without maintenance destroyed the satellite communications networks necessary for any real cooperation, along with mutual distrust and competition. Lacking trade networks for resupply and repair, each individual stronghold lived and eventually died on its own. Many were abandoned when vital survival systems broke down, their inhabitants dispersing into the new wildernesses, but few of these voyagers integrated successfully into new communities. This particular specimen is an example of a typical though well-illustrated story: an aging but almost pristine security helmet that suffered several months of intense weathering from brutal allglass storms before being abandoned in a secluded cave. The culprit behind this last event is particularly evident: the bite marks lining the inside of the skull are undeniably those of the Tendyssan King Walleater. The eusocial burrowers ate the privateland exile from the inside out.



Item 08200: Patella
This skeletal fragment is the youngest evidence of Lander civilization on the planet. It belonged to a subadult in poor health, who likely received little care from family members shortly after weaning, which she did early. It is possible, although not confirmable, that she was the very last Lander alive; certainly the nearest archaeological site to her grave is notably older. If she was not the last in fact, her existence was nonetheless very similar to that hypothetical other, unknown Lander. Each would have never known the difference, and if they had met would possibly have not even as recognized the other as kin. Landers were socially intelligent animals, and without any prior contact with their own kind, their existences must have been intensely uncomfortable. Even without malnutrition and the hardship of the changing environment, it is unlikely this nameless child would have lived long alone.

No Swimming.

Wednesday, January 4th, 2017

The beach is closed.
Why? Who knows.
It’s nothing that I’d know about.
Was it the sharks? The dogs from the parks?
They did shit a lot, the louts.

The beach is closed.
Well, so it goes.
Never much liked to swim here.
It could’ve been the needles, or the carnivorous beetles.
Maybe both, I fear.

The beach is closed.
No more sand ‘twixt my toes.
Not that there was much left, sad to say.
Half of it was rock, the rest was just blocks
Of compacted refuse, from back in the day.

The beach is closed.
Where will seagulls doze?
Half-filled with trash, half with spite.
That look in their eyes as they came for your fries.
Jesus, that’d give God a fright.

The beach is closed.
Well, that just blows.
There go my plans for the summer.
Where will I go, where E. Coli don’t flow?
Man. What a bummer.

The beach is closed.
Could’ve been the glows
Of strange light, down past the pier.
The places they say, where the fishmen did lay
in wait, to rip, gnash and tear.

The beach is closed.
Well, go with the flows.
That’s what all the others did.
Grabbed by riptides and taken for rides
Down deep, where dark things hid.

The beach is closed.
Unfair, I knows.
It was homely, safe, and cool.
What was the harm, I say, if children did play
A bit close to the sewage plant pools?