Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Spy Who Came in from the Warmth


The office was small, crammed between a dentist and a lawyer in a strip mall. According to Langley, they wanted to make sure my cover wasn’t blown. ‘We’re protecting everyone in the field,’ is just government-speak to explain budget cuts. As far as anyone else in the building knew, I did tele-sales and some salesmen from the company visited me every so often.

The lawyer’s office was a front for the KGB, of course, under whatever names they were using this year. People act like the Cold War ended, when really it just paused for a time as both sides repositioned their pawns. We only won because we had more money. It’s never about ideolgy, only about pockets and what’s in them.

I’m thinking about that when Schmidt comes into my office. The heater hasn’t worked in three weeks. He’s nursing a tan and looks like he should be sipping margaritas on a beach. Which is what he was doing last week. I keep tabs on everyone out in the field as much as I can.

“Hollis. Buddy. Pal.” Schmidt offers a full-watt smile to hide his confusion. “Word from above is that I was called in?”

“There are issues in Russia,” I say. Which is never a lie: there are always issues everywhere. “Siberia.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Your next posting. You’ll need to brush up on your Russian, of course.”

The smile wavers. “I’ve been in deep cover for fifteen years in Costa –.”

“We are aware. This is your next assignment.”

“I don’t understand?”

“It is Siberia or you work in this office. You understand that, yes?”

He looks about the tiny office, unable to hide a shudder. “Replace you, here? I know four languages –.”

“Six. But not Russian,” I say flatly. “You’ll need to sell your clothing and buy winter gear. Langley will send you details about the assignment and cover shortly.”

“Why? Why me, why this?” Schmidt demands. “I came in from –.”

I smile. “No one cares about the spies who come in from the warmth. Your extended vacation from real work is over.”

He blinks. I hear teeth grind together. “I see.”

I doubt he does. But he will in time. They all do.

I don’t explain that his office will be colder than mine. He’ll learn. He might even understand.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Perils of Questions


“Help me.” I said those words, or something like them. I don’t remember.

One moment there was a jungle. The next another place, and another. I think I spoke like I did to Jia, on a world I crashed on. Spoke in a way that couldn’t be ignored. Survived a crash I shouldn’t have, survived her weapon firing point-blank at me.

I think my parents lied to me. Their sixteenth child. The one they took to Home, away from all galactic technology, the one they said had one minor talent for knowing when I was being lied to. I think they lied to everyone. They made me into a weapon. But I don’t understand what kind.

Four steps. Four steps, and I stumble through climates. Fall to my feet in tundra. I have no idea where I am. There is ice, a sky devoid of visible stars, my breath turning into crystals in the air. I should be freezing to death, perhaps already dead, but there is warmth about me. Brought from another place? Drawn from this one? I don’t know.

I don’t know how to know.

I should be dead. This should not be possible.

You don’t leave worlds by wishing about it. Only that’s how I left home. Because the boy who was sixteen and not from Home helped me save Home from desruction, said he could offer a way out if I had to go. I said yes, in the end. Ended up standing in a space station without ID, escaped a prison, stole a spacecraft, crashed it. It happened. It makes no sense. But it happened.

What is happening to me?” I scream. I must have screamed before, perhaps when I was a child. If so, I don’t remember doing it. I say the words again, with more force. And on the third time, my voice isn’t quite my own: “What is happening to me?” booms out of me, not a request, not a cry but a demand.

I drop to my knees, feeling as though I’d run between two villages from Home at a full sprint. There is silence. I am slumped on frozen ice, and the wind has fallen silent about me. Even the stars have gone silent. The thought comes to me, but makes no sense. The sky here has no visible stars. For one thing.

Oh.” There is a voice behind me. Soft.

I stand, spin. The nameless boy I met at Home is standing behind me, one hand raised up toward me in a warding gesture. He’s the one I knew was sixteen. The first knowing what led to – to this?

“Sixteen.” There is no question in his naming of me. There is a sadness in his eyes I have no words for.

What have you done to me?” My voice begins like it did, but the power – the force – falls apart against him.

I didn’t mean to do anything.” His voice is very soft. His eyes are too old for sixteen, but somehow for a moment his face is too young. “I think –.” He walks closer, circles me. “It has been a very long time, Sixteen, but I think this was an accident.”

“What?”

“My name is Jay. Jayseltosche, to some.”

I don’t move. There are stories. About something so old and wonderful and terrible that my parents thought such word the name of a weapon in some forgotten war. That there exists nothing that could, for example, cut a galaxy in half in a hurry to get to places. Destroy entire hyperlane systems. Prevent the Verkonis war. There were too many stories, and no one believed any of them. Not really. But we didn’t disbelieve either, I think.

There are holes in the historical records where all the galactic datanets and intergalactic weaves record one word: jaysome. That, and nothing else.

I don’t understand.”

He smiles. The smile is so gentle it almost makes me doubt every story. “I am old, Sixteen. I do not age as humans do, and it has been a very long time since I could let myself cause an accident, let alone an oops. To not be in control, no matter how terrible or angry I was, was not a luxury I could offer myself.” He lets out a breath. “But I think I did. It has been a long time since the universe has needed magicians. And now you are here.”

The word magician stops the silence. The world becomes just the world again about us. But I fee cenered, somehow. More myself. “What does that mean?”

“It used to mean many things. Now, I am not certain?”

“What does it mean for you?”

Jay laughs softly. There is no cold at all; and I think that is more his laugh than anything else now. “I think it means I needed a friend.”

I have no idea what I am. Less idea what he did. But there is a yearning in him deeper than anything I have known.

“Oh.”

“I know,” he says, softer. “I’m sorry.”

For needing a friend?”

I have put this burden on you.”

And words come. There is a part of me that goes deeper than I understand. “Is friendship a burden to you?”

He steps back. There is shock on his face. “No,” he says finally.

“Good.”

And I don’t have any other words, not against his grin. I don’t know what will come of this, but I think it will be a peril unlike anything I can understand.

And I find myself looking forward to it, without understanding why at all.

Perils of Travel


They say that any crash you walk away from is a good one. I have no idea who the ‘they’ in this are. I have no idea what it means when the crash you walk away from was impossible. Is impossible.

I stagger free of wreckage. Unscratched. Unscarred. In less than four days I have escaped Home, possibly because of some weird entity I barely understand, escaped prison at Osalax Station, stolen a semi-experimental spacecraft capable of short-term space jumps from inside a station hangar without damaging local space, survived piloting the ship while being unable to properly access the controls and then surviving the sudden inexplicable planetfall on...

I had no idea where I was. A jungle, of vast translucent blue leaves, yellow trunks and yellow-green moss at the ground covering. Slightly spongey underfoot, the air smelling of citrus. Ship had crashed here; I had no idea why. I had less idea how I’d survived, unless some facet of ship had involved a shield solely for the occupants.

Not being able to know that terrified me. I’d spent most of my life with my parents at Home. One of the least civilized worlds in several galaxies, by choice. There were some medbots. Nothing else of modern technology able to enter or leave the star system: everyone living there doing penance or hiding. I knew enough about my parents to know they’d been doing both. I was Sixteen: their last child, whose genetic gifts were intended for other things than war. I know when people are lying to me. That’s it, as far as I know.

And somehow Home stripped away the ability to interface with technology. The entire galactic Net, the deeper intergalatic Weave: the wealth of information and knowledge and I had no way to interface with it. No one had ever left home until me. All I know is that Home didn’t want to be forgotten. And the alien on Home who helped me solve a murder promised a way off home. And delivered.

Those were facts. What was also a fact was that I should be dead. Sneaking off of Osalax Station could just have been the universe owing me luck. Surviving the crash of Ship was far beyond that, to say nothing of landing on a world with a breathable atmosphere and nothing having tried to kill me yet. I walk slowly through the jungle, and I can’t shake the feeling that the trees are parting for me. That I’m being watched.

And something is pulling at me. A feeling that isn’t a feeling as much as a need. Somethng is calling me through alien jungle. I walk slowly. I should be dead. I am not dead. I have no idea what is going on. Did my parents change me more than they admitted? Did Home change me? The creature that let me leave? I set each aside slowly as I walk, the forest giving way to rolling green-brown hills and finally a small outpost. Human settlement, at least in part, and a star port fit only for small craft.

I have basic clothing, nothing like a weapon, no way to get information about the settlement. I take a deep breath and walk slowly toward it.

A girl emerges from a small house at the edge of the settlement, spotting me. She has at least one weapon and impact armour despite an age I’d estimate at ten. Barring rejuvenation treatments of a more unusual nature. She walks toward me as I stop, waving one hand in the air. Slows. Keeps walking, a small energy pistol visible in one hand.

“The scan isn’t working on you. Why?” she snaps.

I shrug. “I have no idea. I could be dead, but I rather think being dead would be more interesting.”

She considers that, aiming the pistol at my torso. “You have a name?”

“Sixteen.”

“You’re not sixteen, are you?”

“I was my parents sixteenth child; I’m seventeen, if you must know.”

“You seem older. I’m Jia.” The girl puts her weapon away. “You from the crashed ship?”

I nod.

She looks me over, eyes narrowing. “And alive without injury?” she mutters.

“I can’t explain it either.”

Jia jumps. “You know Xiong?”

I pause. She’s speaking her local dialect; I definitely had no business knowing it, but I’m hearing it as though it was galactic Standard. “... so it would seem. Something very strange is going on.”

“I noticed.” And she draws her weapon again, aims and fires at my chest.

I dive to the side at her movement; I’m quick. My parents built that into me too, but the weapon still fires and

something

the energy beam strikes my right shoulder
only it does not
there is a deep smell of citrus, of leaves, of forest about me
and the energy dissipates.

“What was –.” Jia aims again.

Stop.” And she stops dead at the edge to my voice. I stand, slowly. Jia doesn’t move, her eyes wide. I told her to stop, and she did.

“I – move. Be free?” I don’t think it’s the words as much as the intent, but wind blows around us as though the world let out a breath.

Jia staggers back, spins, and runs. Not firing at me again. Just running as fast as she can toward her home.

I don’t follow. I have no idea what is going on. Forests don’t protect random people. And I’d have wagered good credits that Jia didn’t have anywhere near enough tech in her for someone to take over her body like that. I don’t know what I did. I walk back toward the forest. This isn’t safe. Whatever is happening is real, but can’t be real. Shouldn’t be real. I spoke, and it wasn’t Jia. It was as though the world was listening to me. As though it is, all around me. Waiting. Observing.

Needing.

Wanting.

But I have no idea what it wants. And no clue how to help it.

How do you help anyone when you have no idea what is happening to you?

Perils of Freedom


“Prisoner 8246937-003519. State your name, species, place of origin, egress and destination.”

“Sixteen. Human. Unknown. Home. Unknown.”

There is silence after that. The cell is small, ten by twelve paces, a bed with a toilet and sink underneath. Everything is sterile and empty. This is the first time that I have been a prisoner, or in a prison at all. I pace the cell, trying hard not to think about how long the number had been.

Osalax Station began life as a rogue planet converted into the largest space station I knew of. I am at least two galaxies away from Home. I try not to think about that either. I told my parents I was leaving, but they didn’t believe me. No one leaves Home. No one left Home, they will have to say now. Or just presume me dead.

The room flickers a pale white. “Medical scan inconclusive; subject inconclusive,” the Intelligence says.

I blink. I have no idea what that means.

More time passes. An entity enters my cell. Some form of liquid synth they scans the room before departing. A human arrives some time later: male, military body, into a fourth or fifth rejuvenation treatment. He looks to be about sixty but is at least four times that age. No weapons; a single thought would be enough to cause the cell to deal with me.

“Interesting,” he says in a tone that speaks mostly of annoyance. “Home. Designated an aggressively low-tech world. No spacecraft can enter that solar system, transit to the world is via a relay junction on the moon and is only one-way. It is the last refuge of those who flee the wider universe for one reason or another. It is not possible to leave.”

“I did.”

“How?”

“I don’t know.” I don’t know the stranger’s name, what he put inside me. How it removed me from Home. I just know I’m here, far away from the world I knew. Without aid, without currency, with only basic clothing and a knife made of terraformed rock. I have genetic tricks, thanks to my parents.

“Very well. Come with me.”

“Am I free?”

“Yes,” he lies. One of those tricks is knowing when I’m being lied to. Another is being naturally gifted in survival.

Which is why I follow him into the hallway and he’s on the ground and unconscious moments later. It helps that he didn’t expect it. And that the cameras don’t seem able to find me. I run down a hallway, cells beyond the wall locked and hidden, find an open door, another, and step onto a concourse. A hundred species mingle and rush about, voices shouting commands – mostly in galactic Standard – and the rush freezes me for a moment.

I don’t think I’ve seen this many people in my life. I shake the thought away, reach. I don’t have any implants in me: no one can, and be part of Home. Nothing happens. I move into the crowd, one body among many. the cell I was in was definitely low security to be this close to any thoroughfare. I was very young when my parents took me to Home, but it doesn’t take long to find working kiosk and enter it. Not all species can or will use implants, so a kiosk is a free means of contacting the galactic Network.

I try for times. Unrecognized user. Other errors. Like the Intelligence in the cell. Home did something to me. Or the stranger who let me travel here instead? I have no idea. I try to picture surviving in any galaxy without access to a Network and shiver, force myself to exit the pale blue kiosk. Breathe.

This is the first time that I have been free. And somehow that extends to being free from the Network. From that data. From all that information. I take a deep breath. Another. Begin to walk. Somehow walking helps. I move toward the nearest hangar bay, judging it based on traffic and presumed pilots. I need to leave Osalax Station. I know that much, and somehow it’s as if my own need is directly me. Another gift from my parents, proof they knew what Home would do us? I don’t know. I just walk, and find a small shuttle craft. Golden trim, black body, small wings, a surprisingly large engine. The kind of craft designed to jump only a few systems, but the engines look too advanced for basic jumps.

It’s even turned on and empty. The kind of luck one only finds in stories.

The craft opens a door. I step inside. No strange stranger. Certainly not my parents. The craft sits one pilot, one navigator, space for two crew to sleep and talk.

“Prep a jump two sectors away,” I say.

“Welcome, captain. Please identify yourself.”

“Sixteen.”

“Identity noted. Jump prepped. Do you wish us to engage?”

I blink. “We need to clear a course with Osalax Station, move away from it –.”

The ship rocks a little under my feet.

“Jump complete,” the ship’s calm voice says.

I stare out of the screens that appear before me. A spaceship that can jump from within a space station and not kill everyone inside. It explains the engines a little bit.

“Ship. Why am I the pilot?”

“You asked to be let on board. And you seemed nice.”

That not how anything happens. Can you see me?”

“Only if you wish me to? It is quite confusing.”

I sit in the pilots chair, my forehead starting to ache no matter how hard I rub my temples. I begin thinking of every way I know to find out if this is a simulation and break out of it. No one just escapes a prison by being invisible to the warden, finds a turned on experimental spaceship, becomes the pilot of it and simply escapes Osalax Station.

That doesn’t happen.

Except it did. Every attempt to prove this is simulation breaks, leaving me only with truth that makes no sense at all.

I ask ship to land on the nearest inhabited world. The headache begins to fade. Making choices helps. I can’t connect to the Networks at all, but even so I can’t shake the feeling there is something wrong with this world.

I hated Home. I hate being a stranger to myself even more.

If this is a simulation, I’m terrified of how good it is.

Perils of Home


I hate it here. I understand why we’re here: the Noise Plague, the Collider Wars. People’s implants driving them insane, the biotech nightmares that melted organics into each other. I’ve lost relatives I’ve never met, saw vids of what happened. I’m the last of sixteen siblings. My parents saw whole worlds melt into darkness.

But I still hate Home. No other name, no other designations. No space port. An automated satellite on the second moon transits people down to the world. And that’s it. No implants. No modern tech. No premodern tech. No data feeds.

The only modern tech in Home is the tech that keeps tech from working, the medbots for major injuries and drugs. There is a transit system outside the solar system. It, to the moon, to Home. No space craft can exit subspace near Home, let alone fly through the solar system. No way in, and no way out.

Home has been billed as an experiment in primitive culture. Probably because that sounds better than Hell.

Everyone else is old and war-worn. Some were relieved to lose their implants. I can’t understand that, even if I believe them. There are galaxies of data flowing through the universe. But here we are deaf and blind to all of it. Out there is everything. Everything.

There are farms here. Nothing as good at the vat grown food on Ios 4. Hours of work just to eat. I’ve been told that people starved in the early days of Home centuries ago. As if that should surprise me. The day is cold and I’m walking home through the brush from helping clear fields. We don’t even have machines for that. For medicine, but only just.

My father comes out of the house. Shouting my name, in Home and galactic Standard. It’s not a rule that no one uses Standard here, but it is. I don’t need an implant to know he’s scared. I shout his name – in Home – and he spins to see me. He orders me inside.

I follow. Mom is sitting at our table, the glowlight ceiling making her face a ghost.

“The –.” Mom gathers herself. “The medbots were destroyed today. The ones in Riverest. And every other town in comm range over the last week. No one knows who. Or why. Or how.”

“But we are dead. Without them.”

“Others died defending them, we think. We worried –.” Dad adds nothing else. I visit the medbots more the I need to; they remind me of better times. Better worlds. Our old life.

“Toram asked for you. To examine them. If you will?” Mom asks wen Dad remains silent.

I blink. I know of Toram, who is old and travels the towns rather than staying in any single one. We’ve barely met. “Me?”

“Do you remember when you beat up the Cof boy?”

“He lied about stealing a pie. He blamed me.”

“Yes. And you were certain he had lied. It is a – generic gift you have. Nothing implanted. Nothing intended for war. But you see more than others do. Your other siblings had... other talents; you were the first with ones not suited to war. There is an urgency to this; we will explain later?”

I nod. I have a knife I carved from terraformed bedrock in my room. A magnifying glass I won in a bet. I take some rope and string as well heading out after at an easy run. The villages have an old communication system for emergencies, but even it is often broken. As a result, running is common enough that the paths are plenty and even. I break into a faster run. Not just to reach the medbots, but to escape questions.

Ten steps, twenty, by the time I can no longer see our house I fall into the rhythm and slip out of it as I reach our town. It has two medbots, as most towns do. They repair each other, broken bones, damaged organs, offer advice. You can die if you don’t reach them quickly, and they can do nothing against age or some diseases. Some have been damaged because they couldn’t heal or fix things, but destruction on this level – aimed at all medbots – I do not have words for it.

I hate it here. But not that much. Not enough to kill everyone else. Never that; there are limits even to hatred.

I pass empty fields and shuttered homes, the village of Riverest being quieter than I have ever known. The medbots had their own small building on the south end of the town, a dome of pale stone to distinguish it. All medbots have such buildings in every town, so everyone can find healing if they seek it. No one ever thought that would be a danger, because even in the spats and battles that can occur no on wishes to remove such vital aid from the world. Until now.

There is no sign of Toram. No one has been left on guard at the medbots building, I think, until I hear movement inside. I draw my knife, push open the door.

The man standing inside the room is not Toram. He is sixteen, crouched down beside some of the remains of medbot 1. He has no weapons, but I don’t put my knife away. It isn’t much, my knife, but holding it is a small comfort as I take in the ruins of the room. The room has four tables for patients, of differing sizes. Cupboards along walls with supplies, a couple of storage shelves for spare parts so the medbots can repair each other if something breaks down. The tables are fine. Even the cupboards are mostly fine. But the two medbots have been torn apart, sliced through and scattered into hundreds of pieces.

“Thoughts?” The young man doesn’t stand, sifting carefully through the remains of a chassis with bare hands.

I put my knife away, fingers shaking. “A blade. I have a terraform knife. It might pierce one, but never slash like that. It would take decades to make a working sword of terraformed bedrock that would work and cut through a medbot. To do it fast enough to avoid alarms: that I do not understand.” He does not respond. “Who are you?”

“From another town. Not the killer.” The stranger chuckles. I believe him. He doesn’t lie. Not that he can’t, but he doesn’t.

“Why don’t you lie?” The words slip out before I can stop them. “Everyone else does.”

“Because I gain nothing from lies. And I am strong enough to bear the truth.” His smile is a flash of gentle humour, gone as his gaze flicks back to the medbots. “There are fifty villages on this continent. Over thirty have lost their medbots now. What does that mean?”

“More deaths from injury. But many die from injury even with the medbots. More will die without drugs to help them.” My parents sometimes take those to sleep. Other people take different ones. Home is the last place one goes to, for many different reasons.

“There were store houses that contained seeds of those drugs in case they needed to be planted; they have all been destroyed.” The stranger stands.

“We never planted such things?”

“They can have uses other than healing, as I understand it.”

“… and that is reason to deny them? To destroy them?”

“I would think not but often destruction only seeks to destroy. Nothing grater, for all its proponents claim.”

“Who is doing this?”

The stranger doesn’t reply but I catch a glimpse of movement behind me. I spin, knife in hand, find myself facing Tomar. He is the oldest person in the surrounding towns. All white hair, bone and sinew with eyes like a frozen lake. I know of him more that know him – he travels, belonging nowhere, and I find myself lowering my knife without sheathing it.

“You I know of –.” His gaze flicks to the stranger. “You, I do not.”

“Why did you ask for me? I do not know you,” I press.

“You do not know me?” He looks – no, he is genuinely offended.

“I know you are old and travel through the towns?”

“Children.” He sighs. “Who do you think allowed you access to the medbots when you did not need to be healed? Do you think this kind of access is given lightly?”

“What?”

“You see things, boy. I expected you to see how useless – how dangerous – that medbots are to Home. How they corrupt what Home was meant to be. You have a knife that could cut a medbot: you were expected to join me!”

That’s when I realize why I haven’t put my blade away. Why I’ve been facing him tensely this entire time. “I saw. I am new at this. I saw, but did not perceive.”

Tomar has murdered medbots. People are something else. That’s what I think as I move, but the old man steps aside. I’m young and fast. Age and experience best that every time. He has a sword seemingly pulled from thin air, making one movement for every four I do.

I am not like the rest of my siblings were, I think, but I was still bred for survival. Every movement is as natural as breathing; but Tomar is simply better.

I slip on a piece of medbot. Luck beats genetics I have time to think my parents would be ashamed of me, and then the blade stops.

Somehow, I had almost forgot about the stranger.

Tomar’s blade is sharper than my knife. But the stranger has caught it between his fingers. And yanks it out of Tomar’s grip, throwing it across the room with a grace that puts the entire fight we had to shame.

“Who? What are you?” Tomar demands.

“Just another person who was seeking peace at Home.”

“Impossible! I was one of the first settlers! I have access to the records of everyone!”

“And you should not. You came here with DNA that has kept you alive for centuries. And all you have done with what was given to you is abuse it. You drown in nostalgia for a past that never was and you call yourself just? You destroy lives and think it justified? You think power makes you justice. But it never does. There is perhaps some justice to be found with power, but never any kindness.”

“I alone know what Home was meant to me,” Tomar snarls. “I cannot count on one hand the number of hopes I have lost, nor name how many dreams I have seen wither and rot. I swore Home would not be like them. Home will be free if I must unmake everything to ensure that comes to pass!”

“Everything means more than you think it does. It has always been so. And everything changes to mean what you did not intend.”

Tomar yells a word, and the sword moves through the air toward his hand. And then then it isn’t, gone between moments.

“I imagine many trusted you, that no one blamed you for this.” The stranger stares at Tomar without any expression I can discern.

Tomar’s eyes widen. “You are sixteen,” he breathes, staring at the stranger. There is a truth bubbling from him, words seeking expulsion into truth.

“Yes.” And Tomar vanishes. Here one moment, gone the next.

I turn to the stranger slowly, hands far from my own fallen knife. “... You did that. To him, to the sword. How?”

“There are technologies older than those that protect Home.” That is true, but not the whole truth. The stranger lets out a tired sigh. “His body will be found in a field. A casualty of the lack of medbots. People have a right to mourn even monsters, after all.”

“Tomar wanted me dead.”

“Or joining him. He knew you’d be asked to look into it, and you’d eventually find him out. He didn’t expect me to be here. I liked being here. Home is – quiet.” The stranger gestures, and the air in front of him becomes a hole leading somewhere else.

I make a sound.

He looks at me. There is a weight inside me that wasn’t there before. “When you need to leave, concentrate only on that and I will come back for you. I dare not fix the medbots. I cannot help Home without destroying it.”

“Why me?”

“Because your name is Sixteen,” he says softly. “And because I recognize the look in your eyes. There must be a way to escape even paradise, or it is never that at all.”

And the stranger steps through the whole he made and is gone.

And I am left alone, to try and explain some version of the truth. I walk back outside slowly, begin walking toward home. Decide on the story I am going to tell.

I hate it here. But I won’t be here forever now. And that helps so much more than I have words for at all.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

2018 Status Updates

Jan. 2018

The chief danger of a famous place is not the danger of it, but the degree in which it can only disappoint you.

You told me you were a poet, but you haven’t written any poems?”
I have no desire to sully my poetry by reducing it to mere words.”

“I told you the world could only disappoint you.”
“But you were wrong. The world never disappointed me. Not a single rainbow or storm. Only people. Only you.”

From a WIP:
There is pain like a distant lover. I taste smoke in the back of my mouth. Two people are walking - no. One person, and their shadow wrapping about flesh, armour against the world. The armour cracks, fracturing light like the inside of a rotten tree. I move across the road.
I am damaging people. Not meaning to. We change, but we never do it alone. Dragging others into our wounds before our hearts.
I shake my head. Not sure how many of the thoughts are mine. Are any mine? No one answers. That’s good. Good.
My shadow giggles. I ignore it.

“I told you the world could only disappoint you.”
“But you were wrong. The world never disappointed me. Not a single rainbow or storm. Only people. Only you.”

the bus won’t move and you are the metaphor i can no longer afford digging for spare change even two pennies for your eyes and two bits for everything between us

From WIP:
I breathe out. In. Money never tastes good. No matter who has it there is always nothing sweet to it. All offerings are burnt. What happens when we mistaken the offering for the altar? Economics.

The security guard stood watch over the parking lot to ensure it remained empty. Her friends and family did not understand her job and she prayed to all the gods she no longer believed in that no one would ever have cause to understand it.

From WIP:
How do you say you’re sorry for destroying someone’s life when you also destroyed your own?

From WIP:
The school planted land mines to deal with recalcitrant students. In the long history of warfare between students and administration, this would come to be looked on with horrified admiration by those whose job was to try, by any means necessary, to turn children into functioning human beings.

The law passed turned out to be sadly simple:
people could only go on marches during March.

The monster, lamenting:
I made you a dream of a perfect day. And you swore it was a nightmare despite everything I tried.

“Everything made sense. That was when I realized it all had to be a lie.”

Once upon a time, there was a man who tried to make the dark woods safe for travel by making short cuts through it. The gods of the wood, angered by this temerity, turned him into a wolf that ate everyone who tried to use those paths. And they made sure he remained himself the entire time because the gods are nothing if not cruel.

“You think you can defeat me?” The monster roared.
“Most certainly not,” the child replied. “But my mother taught me how to use the bells of summer and to dance down the moon.”
The monster fell back and away, both power and prisoner to its own story. “You cannot destroy me.”
“There is a river south of here. It is old and mighty. And now flows a path it did not centuries ago. It is possible to destroy in small ways that do not feel like destruction.”
The child smiled, a baring of teeth. “This is your only warning: do not come this way again.”

“But we aren’t trapped in a fairy tale,” I sneered. “I don’t see a single fairy in it.”
Eyes glinted like broken stained glass windows as the creature smiled. “Not even your little bother?”
“What?” Ralphie squeaked, his face red with broken secrets.
And that was when I began to learn what a monster really was.


Feb 2018

“Even for an hour a day, I could pretend I was not me.”
“I am sorry,” the copy-editor said as the author wept, “but that pretense was always a lie.”

Once upon a time there was a grandmother who wasn’t a witch despite having no children at all.

They had no idea what to expect. The war was over, the monster vanquished beneath the seas. The hero had died, the land been wrecked to ruin. But nothing stopped them. Nothing could.
The tourists always arrived, even when they could not leave their hazmat suits.

He shrugged. “Stories have power. The way they’re told has power. Humans manage to still fear each other when there’s a sizable minority of preternaturals to really hate and fear. Vampires remained hidden, so the stories about us making us kin to rock stars, angels, celebrities. Unattainable, powerful alien. Werewolves and the like are little more than beasts, all demons are monsters.
“And, too, a lot of it is played for comedy. If a witch could do all the things stories claimed, no one would have ever tried to burn one at a stake. People have to remind themselves that monsters exist, but as important are the ways they defang us.”

“You don’t understand. Our jury needs more jaysome.”
“… I don’t know what that is.”
“If you did, I am not certain you could remain a judge.”

It shouldn’t have to be like this. But your front door insists I have to log into Facebook before I can enter your house. As if I can recall any password other than your name.

I was never afraid but everyone believed I should be. If that is not weakness, what is?

"I just realized that I can't be the main character of this novel. I don't have a tragic backstory at all."

Home has been billed as an experiment in primitive culture. Probably because that sounds better than Hell.

The most amazing thing about the dance was how they all thought it was about them.
“This I tell you, only for free: there are more in this world who wish you harm than not.”
“But I am the Champion destined to defeat the ancient forces of the Dark -.”
“Quite so. Have you ever met anyone who liked destiny? A lot of people - understand the world as it is. They don’t want change. Not on any term you would offer it.”
“…. but -. I am going to save them?”
“Have you been saved? How did you like it, eh? Stuck in your craw, didn’t it? To need another so badly. To be in debt so deep that you can never pay it back, no matter what you do?”
The Champion wept then, and stumbled away from the ancient Witch. Who smiled and reached with thought and will. To tell the Darkness that was her only child that the Champion was broken.
They broke so easily these days.

The end of the world was a minor thing; the end of our world all that was major.

The best part about playing D&D at level two:
Me: *does ill-advised idea getting into a mess of enemies so other PCs can reach scene, gambling on dodging and decent AC to survive.*
*fails to survive*
*character fails first death saving throw. I roll a 1 for the next one*
…. my character is only alive because I made a halfling :)

“He has scars that tell a story we have never heard.”

“I cannot count on one hand the number of hopes I have lost, nor name how many dreams I have seen wither and rot. I swore Home would not be like them. Home will be free if I must unmake everything to ensure that comes to pass!”
“Everything means more than you think it does. It has always been so.”

Once upon a time there was a story that did not begin with once upon a time, and the people in it never knew they were part of a story. Not until it was far too late to escape.

“You can’t buy me,” I protested, but the painting was considered valueless without the painter and I had rent to pay.

Sometimes the hardest thing is to be a secret that everyone pretends they do not know.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Lessons Of Jaysome


The problem with being a magician is that it is often not a problem at all. The universe bends to meet your needs, the magic a bonus on top of that. For those who need money, The Bank provides it. Or the fae, in my case, because there are debts and balances and no one, especially not the fae, want to see what Jay would do to get money if he didn’t have an unlimited credit card.

There are perks to being ‘Honcho’ to an eleven year old from Outside the universe who could unbind everything if he tried to. The small, nondescript office I’m standing outside is the flip side of that. Even to magicians, the house seems like a normal home converted into a few offices. I can see it is really a thick stone tower connected to one of the fae castles at the edge of the universe. It remains an office even so.

A door appears and opens before I can touch a wall. The fae that comes out looks human enough; I can see through fae glamours put on places, but fae can still hide themselves if they try. This one is.

“Hello. I am here about Jay.” I pause while the fae visibly pales. “His credit card.”

“Your pardon?”

“I’d like to know what he is spending his money on over the past two days. Please. And how the credit cards work.”

“You did not ask before?”

“They are an arrangement Charlie and Jay made. But I am asking now.”

The fae blinks, eyes unfocusing for a moment. Then tells me. I thank them and walk away, reach out. Magic. Need. Will. Desire. And the bindings Jay has with me. I take one step, another, and the third has me half across the city to where Jay walks out of an apartment building with a huge grin.

“Hi, Honcho!”

“Kiddo. What are you up to?”

“I’m doing jaysome!”

“Instead of just being jaysome?”

“Uh-huh! Did you know that food stamps aren’t just stamping food in stores when you leave but! people need them for food?!”

“Ah. Yes.”

“And lots of people need food and a Jay eats a lot Honcho!”

“I do know that,” I say dryly. “But you can’t buy it for people on your fae credit card, Jay.”

“Huh?”

“Sometimes there are recessions where a lot of money is lost; money that would have existed if not for a recession goes on the those cards. And using up too much money would cause another.”

Jay blinks, mouths the word recession. Feels bindings. Begins to understand. “Oh,” he says, in a very small voice.

“But every time you eat, you pay for food. That money goes to people who spend it, help themselves, each other.” I reach out and poke his belly. The growl that responds has more teeth to it than he does when he’s a jaysaurus. “And you have to look after yourself, and eat for all of you.”

“Oh!” He grins, slams into me with a hug. “I’ll do a supper now,” he says happily, vanishing in the middle of the sidewalk. Almost no one notices, simply because people do not vanish in the middle of the street.

I call Charlie to warn her Jay is liable to be at the hotel room for food soon. And then reach, through the bindings I have with Jay, and gently – oh, so gently – mute his understanding of recession. Because if Jay understood how economics worked, I am certain he would do things only he could do. And he would live with them, because he was jaysome. But others might not.

I let out a low breath after. Some days – some days all I want to do is let Jay fix the world. And every logical reason why he shouldn’t grows less and less with each year that passes. It is the duty of magicians to protect the universe against threats from Outside, and there is perhaps no greater threat than kindness without understanding.

But even so. Even so.

Monday, February 12, 2018

DARE to be Jaysome


Charlie almost kicks the door in on the magician’s motel room. And it has lots of wards, cuz Honcho is really good at them, but Charlie is really good at being Charlie too!

He walks out of the motel room in his robe for sleeping even if it’s way past sleeping and yawns. “Charlie. I was up late trying to fix –.”

“This.” Charlie shoves the gift at him like it’s not a gift at all. “What is it?”

“But I told you –,” I explainify.

“Jay.” Charlie says my name in a way that makes me kinda hide for a bit!

Honcho considers the gift. “Well, it looks like Jay was given a dog biscuit. Which turned into something else.”

“He told me it is LSD.”

“Oh.”

“Jay. On LSD. That warrants more than an ‘oh’ magician!”

“Kiddo.” I appear beside Honcho, who looks at me like a magician and pokes bindings and everything! “How are you?”

“I’m not sure? Cuz I got LSD from Dogmeat, who is a DOG and that’s close to LSD you know!”

Honcho pauses. “Ah. Continue?”

“And I had it and everything cuz Charlie said jaysome was a drug and coffee isn’t and sugar isn’t if it is and I’m really confused and I found out that lots of stuff is in nature like belladona and poppies, which are also –.”

“LSD isn’t found in nature, Jay.”

“But it comes from bread, and you can use morning glory seeds and ergot and –.”

“So you made some and took it?”

“I think so, but I wanted to be sure so I gave some to Charlie and she brought it to you and kicked your door a lot!”

“I did notice that.”

“And! she hadn’t even tried it yet.” And I totally sulk like a Jay.

“Magician,” Charlie says carefully.

“I imagine it is LSD.” Honcho shrugs. “But this is Jay, who is tough like a Jay. That includes poisons, and things that aren’t poison at all. Which means it did nothing?”

“I saw less bindings than normal for a second, and that was it!”

Charlie stares at the biscuit, then at me. “And you figured it would be safe for me to take this?”

“I figured it was a lot more boring that jaysome, and you’re used to jaysome,” and I offer a hugey grin as Honcho starts laughing.

“That – that is – right.” Charlie lets out a sigh. “That is a very good point, but it might be safest if you never do drugs again. Please,” she adds, and there is even a binding in that!

“I won’t at all when I’m eleven,” I say firmly, cuz I can’t bind my future-me’s like that too much.

“Good,” Charlie says, and then crumples all the LSD in her hand and says we’re going to have a normal adventure now, and I might have to apologize to people?!

Which is pretty weird cuz I didn’t do anything at all!

Back To Basics


The world takes its time waking up on a Saturday morning. People grumble their way out of bed or fling themselves into the day in a despairing attempt to not lose all of two precious days off from work. I am not in either group even if I was up early. The air is cold as I continue to walk through the town, snow and rain teasing each other with promises in the air. The local coffee shop didn’t open until seven and I was the first in line; I’ve been back to refill my coffee twice, walked the streets of the town once in that time.

On the surface of it, there is nothing here for me. No creatures from Outside trying to enter the universe, no monsters hunting down tender food, no magicians not yet come into their nature or understanding. But there is no place that does not need a magician. Sometimes the weight of that truth almost buckles my knees.

There should be other wandering magicians. But there are not, perhaps because the story of me has grown too deeply in the past five years, and in the time before that as well. Fifteen years as a magician leaves a mark on the world deeper than I like to think about. I have faced impossible odds in my time. I’d like to think everyone does, but the stories of mine don’t need to grow with their telling. Sometimes I won because I was clever, or knew one thing my foes did not. Other times I had the right allies, or I was stupid enough to do things I should never do.

But a wandering magician is for wandering. For helping places without magicians to call their own. Everything else isn’t important next to that. I didn’t pay attention to the name of this town as we entered it, but I have come to know it. Angers surge under calm waters, everyone drowning in things they think they understand. Pressures grinding together like cultural tectonic plates. I work magic as I walk. Shifting pain, moving hurts, lessening griefs. Not balance, but change.

To be a magician is to walk a world of small miracles and gentle secrets. To be a protection for the world, yes, but that is being a magician. The magic is about need and desire. I shift needs, meet desires, gently hint toward other paths for people to take. No one will know I’ve been here, no one have any reason to suspect magic is real at all. My coffee refills itself without my having to return to the shop. I give the coffee to an older man who needs it, return anyway.

Two children are reading news of the wider world on their phone, trying to hide fear from each other. I turn their fear into a ward about myself, weakening it enough for them to see through the other a little bit. A few jokes become something else, their voices shaking. The least I can do is stop people from being islands. There is nothing save pain along that path, though it took me years to understand that. And, too, there is pain along every path. But sometimes not as much when one has others to share the journey with.

I leave a generous tip as I walk out. There are homes scattered out past the edge of town, and I hitch a ride toward them. A small conversation with an older man suspicious of me without knowing why. I fix the suspension in his car when he lets me out, thank him and walk away. Some things can’t he helped with magic, especially if they can. I walk and meet desires with needs, meshing places and people together until my coffee grows cold.

It’s a couple of miles back to the town, and I wander through the woods toward it. Helping the forest directly, giving aid to some animals, keeping company with a slumbering elemental for a time. There are things I have to do, futures growing up ahead of me like inevitabilities but sometimes going back to basics is the most important thing one can do. I relax, and the magic does what it needs to and for a time I can pretend I am anything other than another magician doing what I can to make the world a better place in my small ways.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Dog Days Of Jaysome


“Magician.” I walk into our hotel suite. “Jay isn’t in his room and he didn’t answer his phone.”

“I know,” The wandering magician says calmly.

“Then where?”

“Last I knew, he was being a wolf?”

“A spirit animal for @madworlddiary. Because Jay.”

“There are consequences for acts of jaysome.” He sighs. “He’s in the pound.”

“And you’re not getting Jay out?”

“He has to start learning, Charlie.”

“That might not be the best place to teach Jay.”

“And any place is?”

“Shit.”


*


I enter the pound before it is open for the day, stilling alarms with a faint trace of magic.

Jay isn’t in a cage. There isn’t a cage that can hold a Jay, even if he’s being a JayWolf. He has used bindings and opened every lock, changed back into his human form and is just talking to animals. There is nothing Jay can’t talk to, sometimes because it simply never occurs to him that he couldn’t. And most reply, not wanting to disappoint him.

“Honcho.” He doesn’t look back at me. There is slightly less enthusiasm than when he normally says my name as he turns to me, all eleven, from far Outside the universe and looking both baffled and hurt. “You did a binding so I couldn’t leave this place last night.”

“Kiddo. You got captured.”

“I was having an adventure!”

“Yes. And sometimes they lead to different sorts of adventures.”

“But but all these animals don’t have families and finding some for all of them is pretty hard and –.” He hiccups. “Why?”

For a moment, I think he understands: why I’ve been forcing him to understand the consquences of his actions and power, why he’s been having to fix up his own oopses and accidents.

“Why what?” I ask, and it takes everything I have for my voice to be even. Some day I will hurt him more than I ever want to hurt anyone; I don’t want it to be today.

Jay scratches his head. “Why lock them up when they’re just having adventures too?”

“Sometimes adventures can’t overlap with the adventures others have, Jay. And sometimes people are just very confusled and trying to help the best they can.”

“I try and help a lot!”

“Yes. Yes, you do. And you being safe in the pound overnight was a trying to help you. We can’t take them with us.”

“But we have a really big hotel room,” he protests.

“Yes. And are leaving for another town today. But I asked the fae, and they’ll work some glamours and do what they can.”

No one wants to disappoint Jay. No one wants to be the one to break that hopeful, helping innocence even if the power behind it is beyond anything they understand.

He beams, following me outside and I pretend I don’t notice the bags of treats that appear in every cage.