Flash Fiction: Cold Crawl

We lived in the Bones. The view is incredible, what with a million wrecks and a trillion shreds of debris, twinkling against a backdrop of nebulas backlight and glowing from embedded stars. You could say the ghosts of a billion warriors haunt the Bones. If you like that sort of thing.

Miners, scavengers, whatever you want to call us: we scour the wrecks for valuables and raw materials. We tend to call ourselves wranglers, a term whose origins are lost – kind of like ours.

Since the prime targets in any battle are the power units that drive the ship and its weapons, and since such power units tend to be physically isolated from the rest of the ship, a lot of sailors and settlers don’t get vaporized. The bodies, often still fresh in their suits no matter how long they have floated in icy space, we slap a microthruster on and nudge toward an eventual rendezvous with a nearby star. When we have the time and the spare microthrusters. Seems like the right thing to do.

On this side of the Cold Crawl there is territory worth having. This side is one of those rare oases of interstellar calm. Dozens of yellow stars near 1 standard mass; background radiation is tolerable with minimal magnetic shielding; nearly a hundred workable if not already livable planets. Close, but not too close. Good solid civilizations have lived in this little bubble, hardly 20 cubic light years, for millions of years.

The other side is not quite so nice, and not nearly as densely packed with habitable planets. Conquerors or settlers – remarkable how alike these classes are in practice – inexorably explore and push their way through the nebulas, in those comparatively cold parts where dust and debris shield them from the background radiation. At least three stars blew, those many millions of years ago, and their shock waves and nebulas interacted to create dead spots. Those shifting passages we call the Cold Crawl.

A thousand great battles have been fought right here in the Boneyard, where the Cold Crawl clears the nebulas. It’s the logical place to take a stand in defense of the bubble, the only place an attack from the direction of the galactic core can realistically come from. The conquerors/settles come in their millions, in their thousand ships, are met there by the defenders of the bubble.

Plenty of planets and resources on either side, really, but when has that ever stopped anyone? Empires conquer or get conquered, certain as the law of gravity. And so an economy of sorts has arisen. We junk wranglers fertilize the growth of the this pocket republic (a republic this week, at least) with the bones of a million ships.

Microthrusters are darn handy. Stick one or more on a part or a meteor or a body, tell them where you want them to go, and they take care of the rest. If it’s close by, might only take an hour or a week. Tell them to go to a star a half light year away, and it might take a few thousand years – but they will do it. We found crates of the things on a dead freighter when I was a kid. We’ve sent many a dead warrior to his own stellar pyre, and still have thousands of the things left. We slap them on smaller wrecks and let them reel them in. Darn handy.

The supply of wreckage never ends. It was only 11 standard centuries ago – yesterday, in space – when a long banished Usurper from the Outlands and his puppet emperor decided, in the name of the Empire’s gods, to take over the Empire and reinstate traditional Order. Ten thousand ships, so the story goes, crept through the Cold Crawl, and met the Master General, with 10,000 of his own. That epic battle restocked the Boneyard.

After 11 centuries, most of the things on board the wrecks that were going to spontaneously explode have already done so. We hope. None of us have gotten killed yet. Harvest has been good. For generations, my clade has grown fat.

Lucky us.

Nobody knows how many battles have taken place in the Boneyard, or for haw many years. We still come across tech we’ve never seen before from some battle unknown ages past. About 100 million standard years, give or take, is a popular guess.

My clade has a nice rotator, with a nice solid .9 g out on the rim. 315 of us live there, not a freak or a stretchy among us. Took us a couple centuries to build. Our power array orbits the red giant. Probably good for a few more millennia, at least.

But we’re most proud of our Gatling spinnies. We have three, top drawer, two deployed and powered up at all times. Nobody is messing with us. Until that one day they did.

I’d never seen a ship like that before, black and thin as a razor. It approached like a thin black line, some unfamiliar tech masking its approach. Somehow, it disabled the spinnies.

In the vast volume of the Boneyard, we wranglers some times come across the remains of tech nobody alive has ever seen before. Creatures not like us, not biologically human, seem to have fought over this same turf time out of mind. Sometimes, scavenger diagnostics will even figure out what it is, before some slipup kills them. My guess is we were being raided by just such a lucky wrangler.

Our scanners told us that they had us. Any attempt to power up weapons would mean instant death. And they’d already taken out two of our spinnies.

We were negotiating surrender, or, really, how soon and painfully they would kill us. We scavengers can’t leave a raid unavenged. It’s not how the game is played, at least not for long. So if you’re going to raid another wrangler, you might as well exterminate the clade, because you’ll need to kill them all sooner or later. All the parties involved knew this.

A synthesized voice came over the comm. “Send your stores over now, and we’ll let you live.” A blaster shot neatly sliced a small corner off our rotator’s hub, the piece of glowing metal spiraling off into the blackness. “Any more delay, and we will not be so kind.”

Our storehouses, per common practice, are at the ends of long arms radiating out from the rotator’s core, perpendicular to the Wheel. The doors opened, and a slow parade of salvage started slowly toward the attacker. Unless they really liked our rotator, they would wait just until the last item cleared the doors, then slice us up. We become more raw materials.

The nondescript crates and boxes, each with a dozen or so microthrustors, marched past. On one box was a body in a suit.

Nobody really likes to do it, but sometimes a suit is special. Sometimes you evict the late occupant and keep it. So seeing a suit in with the scrap was not so unusual.

This was not one of those times. Scanners showed nothing, no life in the suit and nothing powered in the box. We sometimes found cool ancient tech ourselves.

The box and the body on it got nearer and nearer to the attacker’s ship, until it was only a hundred meters away, beneath cargo doors that had just opened.

The plan became clear. The suit’s owner was waiting to get into what should be a blind spot in the attacker’s defenses. Right in the ship’s belly, with the doors’ wings blocking any clear shot. Just as the last crate was about to clear our warehouse, something came alive one the scanners. The box and its rider separated. The box accelerated as fast as several dozen microthrusters could push it, the rider shot like an arrow in the opposite direction.

“You displease u…..” began the synthesized voice, right as our backup gatling spinny simultaneously obliterated the box it as in and lit up the inside of their cargo bay.

Thousands of tungsten slugs tore through the attacker’s ship in an instant, then the spinny, overheated, blew.

The lone figure in the suit, flying at reckless speeds, entered the cargo bay just ahead of the debris from the shredded, exploded ship. She flew up the radiating arm under power, flipped and blasted to a halt as the armor door slammed shut.

That was some flying. I’m proud of my daughter.

Thoughts/Last July Update

Taking a brief break from headmastering.

A. The rental house is proving quite comfortable, if a little tight (it’s about 2/3 the size of our last house). One oddity: the owners don’t want us messing with the landscaping, which, IMHO, could use a little messing with. But I get it: their typical renter is not likely to improve matters.

For me, this means there are not too many possible spots to plant some vegitables. One obvious spot: a 4′ x 4′ hole in the pavement along a side yard, which seems to have been paved at some point as RV parking, maybe. Don’t know why this hole exists, but:

Took some scrap particleboard, lathered it in water sealer, let it dry for a few days, and – we’ll see. Not a long-term solution. Those are two tomatoes and a red bell pepper. Room for one more tomato?

We will have 4 months – August, September, October, and November – for tomatoes to grow. It’s been running about 100F during the day (but, thankfully, cools to around 60F at night) so good tomato weather. Shouldn’t be a frost before December… Anyway, worth a shot.

The little darlings.

B. Took some cuttings from our favorite trees before we sold the Concord house – the lemon in the backyard, the fig and Mineola in the front. The figs are quite happy:

Got one fig moved to a bigger pot, about 5 more to transplant.

The citrus – not so much. This is the third round of cuttings. All but one of the first set of cuttings died (took me far too long to get them into soil – citrus seems far less tolerant than the figs). Maybe a couple of the second set survived. Maybe. But the third set, which has only been potted for a couple weeks, seems good so far.

Other figs in the front; citrus in the back in the plastic tub. This is all on the back porch/patio.

I read that citrus must be grafted onto certified disease-free rootstock. I’ll look into that sometime early next year. For now, if I can just keep them alive until then, I will consider it a success.

All these little trees, or at least the best of them, get planted on the homestead – once we find and purchase one.

C. Attended the Chesterton Schools conference in Milwaukee. Great people, really fired up about education and especially Catholicism. Got to spend a little time with Dale Alquist, the world’s leading expert on Chesterton, founder of the American Chesterton Society and the Chesterton Schools Network. Very nice man. I gave him every opportunity to talk me out of writing a book about the history of American Catholic Education, but, alas! he simply refused. Rather, he even encouraged me. So now I guess I’m going to spend the summer trying to get that thing finished.

D. Now for something completely different. I’ve been thinking a lot about disreputable professions and Vo-Tech schooling. Traditionally, education, and especially higher education, was concerned chiefly with passing on a learned culture and all the skills needed to maintain it. It was a group effort: with the possible exception of the occasional Aquinas or Abelard, no one person could carry very much of that burden. Thus, while all scholars prior to modern times were expected to have a broad knowledge of the works of their fathers going back at least to the Greeks and Israelites – the Great Books part of the education – only the most brilliant and dogged became true masters of more than a tiny subset of All That. At least, that’s how the story looks to me.

But then the Research University was invented and realized at the University of Berlin in 1811 with Fichte as its first Rector. The purpose of higher education was shifted with dizzying rapidity from passing on and possibly contributing to a rich and awesome patrimony to ‘moving the world forward’ through focused research. By the end of the 19th century, every American university declared itself a Research University. The pathetic little colleges that tried to keep to the more ancient tradition were eventually staffed entirely by products of the research universities, and thus wouldn’t be able to tell you the difference except by sneering at our primitive and long-obviated ancestors.

But research doesn’t train up much of anything except future ‘researchers’. So where are your professions coming from? The original answer was generally some sort of apprenticeship. A wannabe lawyer ‘read’ law with an existing lawyer, and hung out his shingle once he became convinced he could do it on his own. (Abraham Lincoln famously declined to do this. Instead, he read the lawbooks on his own, then took half a year off to learn the first 6 books of Euclid so that he would know what ‘demonstrated’ meant. He seemed to do OK.)

Soon, what we now call vo-tech arose to help fill this need. For manual trades, vo-tech seems mostly to formalize and layer on some theory to the apprenticeship model. A would-be welder or diesel repair mechanic goes to school, where experts show him how to do it, and then certify him. This all helps him get that first job, after which he’s on his own.

Here’s where things get interesting. The more white-collar trades are also, you may have noticed, the most generally mistrusted and despised. When Dick the Butcher says “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers,” the groundlings laughed. If any lawyers were present, they were in better seats, and could immediately start in on doing what they do best: explaining away the clear implications of that line. While Dick was a murderer and scoundrel, he was saying what a lot of people were thinking: lawyers exist to protect their wealthy patrons and enrich themselves. The whole legal system was rotten; it is not for nothing that Bolt calls Thomas More the only honest judge in England in A Man For All Seasons, a play set only a couple generations before Shakespeare wrote Henry VI.

A century and a half of white collar Vo-Tech – teacher’s colleges, law schools, medical schools, business schools – have had as their chief mission to get people to forget how despised the guild members they anointed were. Read any early American accounts of schools – for every one where the teacher was beloved, you’ll find 10 where he was despised by the students, and the feeling was mutual. Doctors were used as a last resort, as the chances he would help were slimmer than the chances he would take your money and speed your death. Madame Bouverie contains one of many accounts of medical hubris.

And lawyers? Do we need to even go there? The institutions that were created to smooth over the public’s distrust gave themselves fancy names, established tests and certifications, and resolved to pretend that, no, it was not the professions themselves that were the problem, but the lack of exactly that oversight and certification that they, the high-end vo-tech schools provided.

Right. It is similar to the creation of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – what a grand name! – as an attempt to gloss over the crude fact that the people involved in making movies are known to be panderers and prostitutes. Not ALL of them, of course! No no no! It’s not the profession that’s the problem! Really! Look at our shiny statues and grand parties! And definitely don’t look at the personal lives of the powerful.

So business people built grand bank buildings, temples to the solidity of the money trades, because people know it’s all a game. Teachers are processed and certified and join a guild, insulated from the products of their teaching. Rarely is the failure of the schools allowed to be laid at the feet of the people whose job it is to make them succeed. Lawyers and judges dress funny and insist on their dignity, like porn stars who let it be known that they might go through all sorts of motions for the camera, but they draw the line someplace. Beyond that line lies shame, but it is art on their side of the line, no matter where they draw it. Doctors create gauntlets for future doctors to run through, so that they can remain proud of their 20 hour shifts during residency and downplay that all they do, in the end, is follow protocols created by somebody else, without the agency to even acknowledge their lack of agency.

And yet in that very class (the powerful – ed.) there may arise good men, and worthy of all admiration they are, for where there is great power to do wrong, to live and to die justly is a hard thing, and greatly to be praised, and few there are who attain to this. Such good and true men, however, there have been, and will be again, at Athens and in other states, who have fulfilled their trust righteously; and there is one who is quite famous all over Hellas, Aristeides, the son of Lysimachus. But, in general, great men are also bad, my friend.

Plato, Gorgias, near the end.

Without education we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.

G. K. Chesterton

In a Cabin in the Woods (not working on my manifesto – I ain’t even got one!)

Checking in, from beautiful Arnold, CA. (pop 3,288; elevation 3,999′) where the entire family is meeting up. But am working on a few things, as follows.

I’ve been working on the pulp-style space adventure from 28 years ago that I found 50 pages of when packing up to move. ‘Working on’ here means taking pictures with my iPhone, offloading them to my laptop, then using Googledocs’ OCR function to open them up as text. It kind of works! I will need another hour or two to clean up the formatting and obvious mistakes, and still need to find the penultimate chapter that somehow got separated from the other draft chapters and read it in. Still faster than retyping it, for me, anyway.

While the writing is obvious amateur first draft level, I love the ideas. I’ve got Dante in there – one of the bad guys is named Smarrita, as in:

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,
ché la diritta via era smarrita.

In the middle of the journey of our life
I found myself in a dark wood
Where the straight way was lost

And the deal gone bad is with a race I call Selvans – our hero finds himself in a dark spot in the ‘woods’. And so on, I was being cute.

Funny: Brian Niemeier’s Soul Cycle (reviewed beginning here) is all about Dante in Space, and here I was, 28 years ago, writing a very different Dante in Space book. I would be happy to be half as good as Niemeier. Along the same lines, found a short story from back then where the premise is that explorers crash land on an Eden-like planet, only to slowly starve to death, as their bodies can’t break down the available nutrition – a variation on a theme from Michael Flynn’s Eifelheim. I’ve been obsessed with this thought for decades: that the chemistry of LAWKI is so weird and unique, with seemingly arbitrary ‘choices’ among chemicals and stereoisomers, with crazy things life-threatening prions, it would be amazing if encounters with alien life, no matter how superficially benign, didn’t kill us. I would think that the first step toward terraforming would be to nuke the planet from space, just to be sure. This is a theme in several short stories and two novels I’ve started drafting over the last 30 years or so.

Also, is anyone else bothered by the ‘enhanced’ pictures we get from the Hubble, and will no doubt soon get from the Webb? I look, and see nothing; I look, and see nothing even using fantastical modern tech. BUT – I don’t look, let that tech feed its input into spectrographs, computer algorithms, and other fancy stuff, and they produce:

Beautiful, but what is its relationship to reality? I don’t know.

This is also a ‘picture’ of the Pillars:

Also beautiful.

In what sense are either of those pictures real? Certainly, no naked eye look at the Pillars is going to look anything like either of these, even ‘naked’ eye through a powerful telescope. The question becomes: what information do we want to convey? In the old pulp draft, I have passages like these:

The small circular viewports on either side of the module cabin dimmed automatically for a moment, to protect the delicate eyes of the occupants from the brilliant flash of the cruiser disintegrating into plasma and dust. On the front viewer, a computer processed image revealed the details of the explosion, all extraneous light and radiation filtered away. On that screen, the ship neatly vanished into a gradually thinning aura. Neither man was watching,

and

The star cruiser appeared quickly, a sudden point of light, then a highly distorted image of a ship, trailed by a thousand house of mirrors reflections strung back into space-time. Then, just as suddenly, and with no apparent logic, a perfect little star cruiser was visible alone against the field of stars. Despite his predicament, Warner couldn’t help wondering how much of what he just saw was the result of the viewsys’s inadequate attempts to create a sensible image out of unknown inputs, and how much was “really” taking place. The question was nonsense, he reminded himself.

It’s a little bit like MiniTrue: somebody had to decide what is the important information, and arrange to have the ‘unimportant’ information filtered out.

Next, my beloved and I married 35 years ago on May 30; our older daughter married 2 years ago on May 30; our middle son married May 29th last year. Younger daughter married Jan 8 this year – but we let her and her husband come anyway. Joint anniversary celebration. Because 3 of our kids married over an 18 month period, it is now a running joke to remind our 18 year old son that he doesn’t need to get married anytime soon, it’s OK.

We, our 18 year old son, and our older daughter, her husband, and their 7 month old daughter are already here; the others are due in Friday morning and staying through Sunday. A rip-roaring anniversary hoedown! Elder son-in-law found a nice big cabin for us all.

It’s nice to have a family where everyone gets along. Anyway, we had lunch and a walk yesterday at White Pine Lake, a reservoir in Arnold. I walked to the dam and back:

The dam spillway
The creek flowing away from the dam.

And here’s the view from the back porch, where I sit typing this.

Temperature is sensory-deprivation-tank perfect: I was falling asleep earlier, sitting on the back porch, in shorts. Ideal.

Next next, our house is scheduled to hit the market tomorrow, if all things go well., with open houses this weekend. St. Joseph, please pray for us, that the Father may prosper the work of our hands to His glory! Meaning, of course, that we get a good offer soon, and find a good place to buy.

Starting next Tuesday, we will be staying in another very dear furnished rental in Auburn, and spending our time house hunting like mad. Not gonna look at the markets, no siree, not me, not one bit… AAAGH!

Interesting times.

A Scene…

Here’s a bit from that pile of writings I was looking over yesterday. This is a scene from the second half of the novel from 30 years ago of which I’ve found an outline and about 50 pages. There are scenes I remember writing that are not in this folder; and some scenes I don’t remember at all. So maybe there’s another stash; perhaps, all told, there might even be 100 pages somewhere in the papers.

One scene in particular that I don’t remember writing follows. Background: Dr. Smarrita, evil genius, is the original bad guy, a unscrupulous fellow who was a teacher of both Warner, the space jockey, and Sue Fallon, his most brilliant student from whom he stole most of his best ideas. Fallon is 4’6″ tall and somewhat crippled. Warner and she once had a fling when they were both Smarrita’s students; even though Fallon was nothing to look at, she’s the quickest wit, strongest character, and most brilliant mind Warner had ever met. Warner, in contrast, is the classic jock/leading man type.

Now all three are captives on a ship run by two symbiotic and vaguely insect-like species. The Firsts seem to be in charge; the Ranks seem to do their bidding. Chief characteristic: the only sense of aesthetics or morals these aliens have is based on bioengineering: an individual is just an expression of a certain bio-mechanical concept, and judged by how well they fulfill the design. Thus, they judge the very few individual humans they’ve seen as both models and ideals. Fallon and a dead crewmate were their first examples; Smarrita and Warner were the next two. When it becomes apparent to them that Fallon and to a lesser extent Smarrita, are in fact far from the fit, athletic ideal they see in Warner, the aliens decide to fix them – standard operating procedure for them. They have just lead Smarrita away – they will work on him first, then, if successful, come for Fallon, whom they have found valuable, and whom they had ‘repaired’ a little when she first was captured. There is no saying ‘no’ to this, it might kill them or be utter agony even if it works.

Fallon and Warner are left alone.

CH 8, II

Warner looked at Fallon, who was peering after the three creatures as they lead Smarrita away.

“I don’t know if I should hope they succeed or fail.” Fallon turned back inside. “I should pray they succeed, for the good Doctor’s sake, but, if they do, I’m next.”

Warner walked up next to her. “Look, I know you don’t take any guff about your body. I’ve known you for some time now, and you’ve never asked for any slack or played for any sympathy. But, now, out of the blue, you have a chance to be made whole. If this works on Doc, I don’t get it – why would you object?”

Sue continued to look away, out the opening. “I don’t hate you, and I don’t wish you any harm. But, Bud, I don’t have to tell you anything.”

“I’m not asking for some great confession.”

“Oh? You want to know why I would object to having those disgusting creatures so much as lay a hand on me, no matter how much I may get out of it? Or do you think I don’t want to be ‘whole’, as you put it?”

“I haven’t known what to think about you for some time now.”

“OK, Bud, I’m gonna tell you something, a little for your own good, a little just because we are unlikely to get out of this alive, and little to just to have said it. Yea, I have wanted to be whole since the first time I understood that I wasn’t. I wanted to be the pretty little girl. Run and play, blow kisses and blush, the whole mundane deal.”

“But, no. The envelope of current medical practice has been pushed – what you see is what you get. On the upside, God, in His infinite perversity, gave me a very fine mind. I, in turn, used this mind to get to the highest levels of intellectual achievement, where, I naively
hoped, being a little crippled and a little ugly wouldn’t matter so much.”

“But, whom should I meet at the University? The good Doctor, for one. His genius is only surpassed by his ability to recognize genius in others. I felt I had found a mentor, friend and father, all in one. He pushed me, led me to discover how far I could really go. True, he
then promptly and without a lick of remorse stole my ideas. Imagine my pride in seeing him get that Nobel for my work! And all my school work records purged – how very thoughtful of him!

“But my real discovery at the University was – ready now? – you, Bud. You actually seemed to like me. What a couple! You, the dashing athlete, with me, the brainy cripple!”

Warner looked at the floor. “You think I didn’t care for you? You have some theory for why I spent my time with you?”

She continued to look out the door. “No, no, Bud, I found out how well you care for me-very well, by your standards. What we had was, rather, a breakdown in communication standards. Protocol incompatibility, you know.”

Warner looked over, “Can’t you stop being so goddamn smart for a minute?”

Fallon straightened her crooked frame just a little more, turned her face just a little more away from his. “Maybe not, Bud. Let me be smart for just a little while more – it is my strong suit. You recall the Incompleteness Theory from math?”

“My strong suit, you may recall.” Warner was getting hurt and angry, though he was hardly aware of it.

“It has interesting implications for communication – if there are propositions that cannot be proven or disproven from within any given mathematical system, then, perhaps, in any given system of communication – say, for example, two lovers – it may just be that there are thoughts or feelings that cannot be communicated.”

“That’s hardly profound, Sue. Why don’t you just say we didn’t see eye to eye, or some other cliché?”

“Now you’re loosing the thread.” Fallon voice was gaining an edge of urgency. “It’s not that we lacked a basis for communication, or that we had a basis, but reached an impasse. It’s that the proposition that we were setting out to prove was unprovable from the given
assumptions “

“I didn’t think I was trying to prove anything.” Warner was struggling to keep the hurt down, aware only of the growing anger that covered it up. “The only assumption that may have been a leap was that you are a woman like all others.”

“No need to get vindictive, Bud.” Fallon paused to regroup. “The proposition is hard to put into words – I’ve tried on occasion for the past 4 years. At the heart, we assumed that each of us was our own self to give, that we could give our selves to each other in measured, controllable increments. We set out to prove that we could pull back from the giving whenever we wanted, and take our whole selves back with us – no harm, no hard feelings. Well, maybe we can’t. Maybe nobody can.”

“You’ve lost me. I’m just a math guy turned swash-buckler – you’re the genius philosopher.”

“You underrate yourself, Bud. You held your own in Smaritta’s class – graduate level Universal CommSys Theory is not exactly P.E.” Her back was still to Warner. “You did use the ‘help me with my homework’ line quite successfully.”

“You still can’t believe that I cared for you?”

“On the contrary, I think you still care for me. I still care for you. It’s just that, within the system you’re in, the price of that – let’s go all the way and call it ‘love’- is too high.”

Sue turned to face him. Her voice cracked around the edges. “You know, when they rebuilt my face, the tear ducts sort of got lost in the shuffle – I don’t cry too well.”

Warner began to reach for her. She stopped him. “No, don’t touch me, and for God’s sake don’t say you’re sorry.”

“I still don’t get it, Sue. Why do you do this? All I ever did was treat you like a human being.”

“Did you treat me like a woman? You don’t make love to some generic ‘human being. Yes, you did- I felt like a woman in you arms. But then. you could not go further, and I did not know how.”

“So, what is this – you’re telling me now that you did not want me to make love to you?” Warner was exasperated.

“OK, William, here’s the real deal.” She touched his face with her hand. “There have been two occasions in my little life where my body has been given over to someone else’s mercy. The first time, no one asked me, and I couldn’t have said anything but yes had they.
I ended up in a trash can, a new born baby battered to the edge of death. My body is the work of God, modern medicine and a crowbar, according to theology, my doctors and the police reports. So much for a mother’s tender mercies, “

Warner began to open his mouth. Fallon spoke rapidly: “SHUT UP, William – don’t say anything!” She spoke softly now, “Then, there was you. This time, I was asked and I did say yes.”

She looked him in the eye. “I can’t say what it meant to me. Can you? That you would want me – ME! – and touch me so tenderly.”

She turned away. “But Paradise comes complete with a snake.”

First pass rough draft from 30 years ago.

More Archeology, Writing Division

(Update: I tried WordPress’s ‘verse’ format option, then mucked with the excerpts below until it looked right, only to discover it looks right only some fraction of the time, and runs off the page and is otherwise unreadable the rest of the time. Sigh.)

The neurons are finally coming back on line, as much as they ever were, after the physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting clean-out of the old house. Almost ready to start worrying about the next phase: finding a new place, and all that that entails.

In the meantime: found some more stuff I’d packed away and all but forgotten. Part of which is:

Files.

These files contain writings going back to about 1990. Among other things:

  • Pages of limericks. There was a time in my wasted youth when I practically though in limerick format – ta Da te ta Da te ta da and so on, such that spitting out a limerick was almost like breathing. They are mostly terrible. (Aside: people who don’t or can’t seem to follow limerick rules just – I don’t know what to say. Write something else if this is too hard. Sheesh.)
  • About 50 pages and an outline for a novel, a retro-space adventure. Swashbuckling space pilot, evil scientist, deal gone bad, frantic escape, insect-like aliens. The only deviation from standard is that the love interest is a crippled dwarf, a woman who is a genius and wit, but not a looker, with whom our dashing space pilot had a fling. Now, only she can save his life! It’s – not terrible. The main problem: my outline is far too spare for me to figure where in the heck I was going with this, 30 years later. On the plus side, the parts I did write I kinda liked…
  • Some Trek fan fic from the mid-90s. At the time, I worked for a company that had a proprietary sort of chat software running on its internal systems. Basically, you had a group on a message, and each new message was appended onto the last, such that you ended up with a massive run-on discussion. Social Media, circa 1993. So the geeks talked about Trek, and I used to mock it (in a sympathetic, friendly way – I like Trek!) by throwing out ridiculous plot outlines that were not quite unbelievable. In honor of Rodenberry, I’d find ways to get people naked as much as possible. It was a hoot, so much so that when I left that job, I killed a tree to print selections out.
  • A pile of short stories. Some are OK. When I start my new author-centric, politically silent blog to promote the fiction I want to sell, I may throw some of them up there.
  • Tons of song lyrics. Mostly, attempts to be hilarious, but some more weepy/emo ones as well. Hey, I was young at the time! And stupid!
  • Some poems. Yikes!
  • Some more music.

But I should share a little. Why should I suffer alone? Here are snippets of lyrics and poetry from way back, starting with something really old:

Stone Age

(Circa Reagan. To the beat of marching soldiers. Call and response)

I don't like no Gorbachev! (I don't like no Gorbachev! - and so on)
Give me Ruskies like Molotov! 
This Cold War thaw thing do us in  
I'd rather wear those leopard skins

(In a Jack Nicholson type voice over some distant apocalyptic explosions and Fred Flintstone sound affects – yabadabado, etc.)

Just bomb 'em back to the Stone Age
Just bomb 'em back to the Stone Age.
Just bomb 'em back to the Stone Age. 
Just bomb 'em back to the Stone Age.

And so on. Dated, yes, but maybe funny if you’re old enough to remember…

Shootout at the Whirly Wash

Face down in some laundry stenchy
Bullets flew past the change machine
The bastards just put a bullet in Frenchy
bleeding like crimson red cotton sateen!

Shootout at the Whirly Wash
God, somebody just winged Michael
Cover me, Shorty, I'm going in
Like a red sock in a hot cycle

She dropped her basket, looked over me
Her trigger finger was twitching
So what if I got some Shout on her  T?
I don't need to listen to her bitching

Shootout at the Whirly Wash
Doc's covering the detergent dispenser
Lay down some fire! I'll head for a dryer!
Ol' Bessie's lead will convince her!

Fabric was flying and tempers ran hot
We had 'em pinned down by the phone
When the manager lady fired a round of buckshot
I guess we'll just fold 'em at home

Shootout at the Whirly Wash
Long may its infamy reign!
A tip if you ever get into that spot:
Use COLD water on a blood stain. 

Finally:

That Bug Might Be Your Mom

I used to be a Western boy with microscope and gun
But since I've gotten older, it's just not as much fun
Instead I want to take a tour of the Nothing that's my mind
For peace and love and happiness - what cool stuff I might find!

Careful! Careful! Easy now! All my desires die
Which is good, because I don't want to come back as a fly
Which brings us to a tricky point, a poser through and through:
what if that cockroach I just crushed was someone that I knew? 

I can sit with my legs crossed until both legs fall asleep
I can become Nothingness, and nothing want or keep
I can bank good karma by the pound with effortless aplomb
But I just can't stop worrying: that bug might be your mom. 

Yep. That was me what wrote that stuff, some thirty+ years ago. And I’m not sorry! Careful, or I’ll publish some more.

Quick Update: Fixin’ to Move, Music, etc.

1.Still crazy busy. The realtor says: you want anything the prospective home buyer is likely to touch to work. Seems reasonable. Trying to fix everything that a prospective home buyer is likely to lay hands on is proving expensive and time consuming – go figure. We’ve lived, sometimes for more than a decade, with:

  • doors with glitchy nobs, like there is a trick to getting them to open and close;
  • a downstairs shower that is broken – have been stashing the cat food, kitty litter and back-up TP in it for so long, we’d almost forgotten it was there. Do have two working showers, but
  • other showers have tricky ‘features’ as well, like one which drips if you turn it ALL the way off, but doesn’t if you turn it ALMOST all the way off, and another which has lost the relationship between the ‘H’ and ‘C’ settings and the actual water temperature.
  • broken light fixtures

And so on. And. of course, a plethora of broken stuff, including

  • cracked windows
  • broken cabinet doors
  • ratty blinds
  • wobbly banisters
  • warped baseboards

And on and on. PLUS – the Endless Brick Project of Doom. On which I’ve made huge progress with the help of my youngest son, younger daughter and her husband. Pics to follow soon. I even added a project, because of course I did:

There was no step by the south side door. So I built one – out of bricks.
Came out OK.
Had some Mexican tiles lying around, so I sort of decided I stick ’em places. Looks kind of cute.

None of this repair/replace/finish work compares in magnitude to the sort/clean/pack work. Can’t even think about it. That’s coming up soon.

2. Turned 64 on St. Joseph’s Day. Threw myself a pizza party, invited some friends and our younger daughter’s in-laws. Big family, in both senses – a good sized batch of kids, and dad’s a about 6’5″ and built like the former college offensive lineman he is; a couple of his teenage sons tower over 6’2″ me. Nice folks, we had a blast. Our youngest son took over the pizza making duties so I could socialize more, and did a great job. Torch-passing ahoy!

64 seems old in a way 63 or even 60 did not. This, despite my being in better physical shape this year than the last several. Lost 35 lbs so far; got another 65-70 to go. I’m feeling the obligation to get healthy and stay alive to help my kids and grandkids in any way possible. Granddaughter #1 is a little over 4 months old, and a real sweetheart. I expect more will be on the way, given our kids love of kids.

3. Realistically, if I can get into shape and lose the weight, I might have another 10 years of more demanding physical projects in me. This is good, as we hope to buy a ‘hobby farm,’ which sounds like a LOT of back-breaking work, if one is to make it work as one hopes. Big garden, big orchard, some chickens, maybe a pig. Youngest daughter wants a milk cow – fine, if she takes care of it. I want a hobbit-hole style root cellar, with a walk-in fridge and freezer space in the back. Because I’m insane, why do you ask? Then get some solar power to make sure it stays cold….

Then, God willing, I might have as much as another 10 years to work on less strenuous hobbies. My mom and dad made it to 87 and 88, respectively; my mom had her complete mental faculties to the day she died. Dad, not so much. So, best case, music and writing can continue for another 20 years.

The take-away: do it now. Don’t stop. Push. Get it done. And thank the Lord for every single day.

4. On the writing front, I’ve begun to pack all my education and history references up into boxes to be moved to our next abode, almost certainly a rental. No plans to do any writing until we get at least a little settled.

Musically, however, I’ve been greatly inspired by the almost 40 year old music I dug up while packing. It’s both inspiring and depressing – I think I have some real talent which, instead of being developed over the last 4 decades, has moldered. So, now, as an old man, I’m trying to rekindle the fire. All I really want is to give it one big try, finish a small set of compositions, and send them off to some real musicians for feedback and – a guy has got to dream – perhaps performance. It either works or it doesn’t, but I owe it to myself to give it a shot.

So, I’ve been working on some pieces, usually in the morning after breakfast before I get going on home projects, and in the evening after I’ve cleaned up the day’s work. So far,so good. We’ll see.

Further bulletins as events warrant. Both Severain and Briggs have been on fire lately, but I have little time to comment. And I still want to comment on the comments made here lo, these weeks ago now. Maybe after the move?

Writing Research: MHI

Reread Larry Correia’s first novel, Monster Hunter International, this time looking for answers to the million dollar question: what does a highly successful first novel look like? What can I, a very modest writer with 1 – count ’em, I mean, it – *1* paid work published in my soon to be 64 years on this earth, learn from it?

A lot, it turns out. *Spoilers ahoy!*

First off, the overall structure is what you’d expect: epic fight scenes tied together with character introductions and character building. The only surprise, perhaps, is the use of visions and flashbacks to fill in the blanks. So the story looks like:

  • Epic Battle
  • Vision
  • Character introductions/development
  • Prep for next epic battle
  • Repeat to finis.

It’s not quite this clean, as many of the visions are broken up into segments by more connecting tissues. Also, what I’m calling here character introductions/development always involves actions that move the story forward – Correia is way too good to put in very much stand alone yakking. But that’s the overall shape. Starts and ends with an epic battle; key characters are introduced and slowly revealed in a very satisfying way.

Many characters are drawn well enough to make you emotionally invested in them – major characters, including the protagonist Owen, his love interest Julie, fellow newbies Trip and especially Holly, as well as any number of minor characters such as the Orcs Skippy and Gretchen, and Agents Franks and Myers, are generally deftly and sympathetically drawn. The Old Man of the visions and many of the other characters are stereotypes but not, generally, in a bad way. In most cases, they are fleshed out enough to make them distinct enough personalities that you grow to like or loath them as appropriate over the course of the story.

A few don’t quite work as well. Earl Harbinger is supposed to be mysterious, which works to his disadvantage as far as making him likeable or sympathetic. It’s more like you know he’s supposed to be likeable and sympathetic rather than those emotional ties developing more organically. Being utterly indestructible without a Lois Lane weakness to offset it also dampens one’s emotional investment. The elves, intended as comic relief, fall flat, unlike the orcs, who quite literally rock. The difference might be that Skippy and Gretchen get fleshed out and have heroic moments, while the elves are simply appalling.

But these are minor quibbles. Most emphatically, the characters work. The battles are all epic and emotionally (if not always logically) satisfying.

Characters are a major strength in this book. It’s almost the anti-Asimov approach: while the old master tried to wow the reader with cool ideas so that they overlooked the cardboard characters and their often numbingly dumb motivations, Correia alternates between blistering action and getting the readers to invest in the characters. The stand out for me was Holly Newcastle. She is fearless, remorseless, irreverent – and a former pole dancer built like a brick house. By the end, it’s impossible not to love her.

As far as the plot goes, stuff done got blowed up good. The conceit – that B-movie monsters are very real, and we’re being kept in the dark about them because people can’t handle the truth – makes for a lot of hilarious banter, and epic battles. That some monsters – some orcs, one lone werewolf, a Wendigo – might be good guys or at least not bad guys, is a nice touch. But in general, the bad guys are cannon fodder, meant not to elicit any sympathy when they meet their generally gruesome demises. Correia goes out of his way to mock the whole sparkly misunderstood vampire thing, which I appreciate.

Correia lavishes attention on the weapons, which was part of the appeal to his original target audience – other gunnies. I had no idea what he was talking about much of the time, and looked up some guns just to get an idea. Evidently, his descriptions of the gunplay is dead on, which, again, appeals to his target audience.

The way the story unfolds is just amazing upon rereading. Even though I’d read it before, I still was kept hanging: each bit of information about what’s going on and who these people really are is, itself, a cliff-hanger. We are left wondering how much more we don’t know after each bit or clue is revealed. Correia is juggling a lot of pieces, and rolls them out just an inch at a time, yet, by the end, we feel satisfied. The twists revealed in the final battle are all set up nicely. Lord Machado is righteously despicable but not incomprehensibly so, and ends up being the dupe. That Owen ends up being the hero of the prophesy made more sense on this rereading, as the clues were all there.

The magical elements are simply used as needed. I’m usually not aa fan of magic, for precisely this reason – it tends to be an easy out. How do we escape from this inescapable situation? It’s MAGIC! Here, it’s used about as well as anywhere this side of Lord of the Rings. Magic is important, as is the nature of the beast, but not overdone. Character reigns supreme.

The only parts that fell a little flat for me were the elves as mentioned above, and the rather loose logic of the last battle. Stuff just kind of happens a lot of the time. Only once was I taken out of the moment, however. Skippy rescues Owen and Julie who are falling to their deaths from – a mountain in a pocket Universe? Just how does one fly a helicopter into such an event? And figure it out fast enough that you’re already up in the air and ready to go when it happens? And you see it happen? In a story full of vampires and zombies, that was the only time I went ‘O, come on!’ – which is pretty impressive, when you think about it.

I don’t know which would be more impressive: plotting all this craziness out in detail before hand, or winging it an yet making it come out in the end. Either way, this is some good work.

So, what are the take-aways? What should I do to increase the chances that my first novel will find some readers?

First off, on the non-novel side, Correia had a ready-made audience for his writings through his involvement with the gunny community. This only worked because he understood what they wanted and gave it to them.

Next, Corriea is a very intelligent guy, extremely well-read. This allows for him to add all sorts of detail. He writes scenes in modern day Alabama, WWII Germany, and ancient Mesoamerica with Conquistadores and native Indian civilizations. It would be easy to lose people with false steps, but, at least for me, he made none. It all seemed real.

On to the writing itself. The strength of the story for me is the characters. It’s almost a fish out of water story, given the fundamental goofiness of the premises. What we have are a group of somewhat normal people from all walks of life who 1) survived being attacked by B-movie monsters; 2) get trained up as commandos; and 3) face constant life-or-death challenges. The key that makes this work is Correia’s convincing portrayal of the Monster Hunters as real people with understandable motivations and emotions. We get why Owen turns out to be a great hunter, why Holly is fierce and fearless, even why Skippy considers Owen royalty, and so on. It’s a trick, and Correia has mastered it.

While loving care is lavished on the fight scenes, and they are great, it’s really in the visions and most especially just the ‘normal’ interactions of the characters that the story is made. The trick of ratcheting up each battle is largely achieved by ratcheting up the emotional stakes. It’s not just more stuff getting blowed up good, or even the ultimate ‘the fate of the Universe hangs in the balance’ battle, it’s the Hunters having believable emotional stakes in the outcome, especially in the survival of their comrades. The characters care about each other through all their flaws, and so we care about them and identify with them. I need to study more how he does this.

Finally, and I’ll need to think about how universally applicable this may or may not be, but Correia rarely lets a page go by without some sort of comedy. His dialogue is often pretty brilliant and very funny.

What I need to try to do:

  • Never let an opportunity to make a character more sympathetic and human pass;
  • Put them in situations that reveal their character without having to talk about it;
  • Go easy on interpersonal interactions that don’t move the story forward at the same time;
  • Write humorous dialogue where appropriate.

And blow stuff up good.

Year End(?) Update: Wedding, Writing, Stuff

I’m going to use the following feeble excuses for not writing here for over a week:

  1. Younger daughter is getting married in 3 weeks;
  2. I’m ‘working,’ mostly in the sense of worrying about and planning, the sale of our house in (we hope) March;
  3. It’s the week before Christmas.
  4. Volunteered to help the Caboose execute his Eagle Scout project, which tied up the better part of the last 2 weekends.
A local cemetery, managed by our parish, has suffered from neglect and vandals for many years. It is the resting place of many of the pioneers of our town, with graves dating back to the mid 1800s. The local historical society as well as the parish and some of the neighbors have been trying to fix it up. The Caboose’s Eagle project: put in two benches, replace the vandalized and missing cross from the central monument, and clean up. Above: one of the benches, concrete still wet.
An epoxy resin cross (getting granite was not in the budget) affixed atop the central monument, from which vandals had destroyed the original. It came out way better than anticipated – this angle distorts the scale and might make it appear too small, but it’s not.

Other than that, I got nothing. What I have been doing:

A. Making Christmas gifts for the family. They are coming out nice, but, since it’s possible some of the recipients might read this blog, I’ll have to skip the pictures and of course any further details until they have been delivered.

B. Finishing the Gloria I’ve been working on, and working on the Kyrie. I’m at the point where I need to let the Gloria sit – I can keep tweaking it forever, but I probably will just let it go.

I switched over completely to composing in Musescore. It – just works, and revisions are so, so, much easier. Sigh. All that time mastering buggy whip making writing fair score by hand is now useless. My son-in-law swears by Musescore as a composition tool, as you can get instant playback as you go and the fair copy is a print command away. Beats stomping stuff out on piano, which is my usual method.

Sheepish request: any musicians out there with Musescore who would like to hear it/offer feedback? It’s all of 4 minutes long. If so, send me an email at yardsale of the mind (without the gaps) at G-mail dot etc. and I will email you the file.

C. Watching a Youtube series on counterpoint and fugal writing, based on Fux’s Gradus ad Parnassus. On the one hand, I know some of this stuff; on the other, I’m largely an ignorant fool. As I think Nadia Boulanger once said: composition is not theory, but technique, and you get technique by practicing. Will I live long enough to work my way through all of Fux’s and Gran’s exercises? Writing in this style – counterpoint and fuges – is highly technical and mathematical – there is structural stuff you need to work out before you get very far . I’m very bad at that part. Don’t know how many times I’ve written myself into a corner…

D. Had this very vivid idea for a story. Of course, I’ve got half a dozen other writing projects I have not been working on, so now I get another idea. Saw a meme the other day, where this writer is musing something like: “Some people got to bed and *sleep*? They don’t toss and turn working out the plots for a 7-book series? And then they wake up *refreshed*?” I haven’t slept well in years anyway, seems I just need to get mor4e productive about it. I may throw up a chapter as semi-flash fiction when I get a minute.

F. 3 years into involuntary semi-retirement. I need to get a job. Don’t need the big bucks anymore, just something reasonable.

Aaaand – that’s all I have time for at the moment. Tomorrow and Friday begin the annual Great Christmas Cooking & Baking Event. With married kids, we have multiple Christmas/New Year’s/Epiphany parties to go to/host, my beloved is in demand as a pie maker, and I’m always making something, too. So, maybe catch y’all next year.

Have a happy, holy, and blessed Christmas season, not to end before Epiphany at the earliest!

Year-End Update (a little early)

A. First of all, gratitude to all the readers of this blog. Not sure why the beloved 100 readers (on a very good day) come back for more, but thanks. Just know that you’re only encouraging me.

The writing here has come out even more unfocused than my original intent, which was pretty broad. “Culture. Religion. Politics. Science. Philosophy.  Music. Art.” was the original charter 11 years ago. We do do that here, but also a lot of Home Improvement Projects and blithering about the books I intend to write. Which brings us to:

B: The ‘I should write a book about that’ books I’ve worked on here on the blog, ones where I might be qualified to have an opinion, are:

  • A book on the origins of the Catholic schools here in America, and how they have arrived at their current sorry (with very few exceptions) state
  • A more general book about the origins of schooling in America, circa roughly 1700 – 1940. An expose of the clowns and poseurs involved, and the paper-thin fantasy world that constitutes the foundation of all modern ‘scientific’ education.
  • The How to Think About Science book.

Starting with the last one first: as the Crazy Years progress, it’s painfully clear that ignorance of how science works is so far downstream from the real problems as to be all but irrelevant. The best case scenario, where someone reads my book, reexamines his world view, and changes how he thinks about things – sigh. Not happening in the real world.

And it’s not even the rejection of logic, which you have to have at least some grasp of in order to begin to understand how science works. Underlying both logic and the science is the notion that the world makes sense. That the world IS. Our well-schooled contemporaries specifically reject the very idea of shared objective reality in favor of a world willed into being by their own narcissistic selves. That any such world is definitionally inconsistent, and conflicts necessarily with anyone else’s similarly constructed world is not a problem for the dedicated narcissist. That they hold both to the sacredness of people’s self-constructed reality AND bow and scrap before the altar of social and political conformity isn’t a problem – they never expected the world to make sense. It’s Will all the way down.

When my teeth are set on edge by patently anti-science claims of ‘settled science’ and ‘scientific consensus’ or people doing as they are told claiming they are ‘following the science’ which they haven’t read and wouldn’t understand if they did, I imagined the problem was the general lack of scientific literacy, and thought I might be able to help a little by writing a book about basic science.

Silly me.

Therefore, I’ve reconsidered the point of this proposed book, why I would write it and who it is for. I’m reading Kreeft’s Socratic Logic now, and perhaps will write this book as a sort of follow-on with a focus on the specific application of Aristotelian logic used by modern science, insofar as it has any legitimate claim to our acceptance of its conclusions.

So, basically, a high-school level book. (Kreeft’s book is also supposed to be a high school level book, but it’s pretty tough. He, an expert, isn’t leaving much out, and there’s just a lot of logic that’s not obvious or simple. Good, but tough.)

Time frame: Once we’re moved and settled.

The other two books I get bugged by my kids to complete. They’ve heard some of the points I make about schooling from the cradle, and have found them to be true in the world. They’d like there to be a book (or two) summarizing these things. These works have been in the works for years now. It is time.

Time frame: Once we’re moved and settled. I’ve recommenced reading source materials. as evidenced by the last post.

#magnus pyke from Old School Science Fiction

C. Then there are the fun books I’m supposedly writing. Well, I set a goal for this past June for the first of several speculative fiction books I hope to write, and got thousands and thousands of words into them…

But I didn’t finish. May 2021 was when the insanity finally began to get me down. It started taking work to just get on with it, whatever ‘it’ happened to be at the moment. As it became clear I wasn’t going to get any of the spec fic done by June, I got distracted by a musical composition. Why? I have no idea. Writing music and writing stories really are very similar: you get an idea, you pound it into some sort of shape, you write the next part and the next part and so on, sometimes skipping ahead to more fun/clearer ideas, and then backtracking to write the connecting scenes. Then read it out loud/play or sing it, rewrite as needed, then get other people to read/listen, and take their feedback…

And I’ve gotten maybe 5 minutes of a 6-part Gloria written, with a minute or so more to write, plus outlines/sections for a Kyrie and Agnus, and a idea or two for the Sanctus. Haven’t even thought about a Credo yet.

Why I found it possible to write music and not possible to write fiction is anybody’s guess.

Time frame: I’ll keep working on the Mass while we pack up and prep the house; the books I’ll take up again once we’re moved and settled.

D. We gotta get out of this place. We had the house tented a month ago; getting quotes for painters. Spoke with the Pods people, looking to start loading out in January.

Yesterday, picked up 10 bags of ready mix; today used 8 of them to put in what I intend to be the last segment of the vast, endless front yard home improvement brick project. Scaled it well down from the original plans – no grotto, less fancy brickwork. Sigh. Need it simply not to look ugly and unfinished. So, simple wall topped by some redwood lattice.

Aaaaand – a million other things need to be done. Not to mention the final pack what’s left up and get out of Dodge push in a couple months. Then finding a new place to live….

E. In a somewhat round-about way, I’m looking for a job, specifically, seeing if a new Chesterton Academy that is to open near where I’d like to live might hire me to corrupt the minds of our youth, after the fashion of Socrates and Aristotle. And quote a lot of Chesterton. It would be nice to teach, and have a little income.

F. All in all, I’m very grateful, and have gotten past letting myself get too down about the current insanity. For the most part. I used to pray in thanksgiving for getting to live in a land of plenty in a time of peace. Now? I pray that God will remember His promise of mercy, and, for the sake of His Name, for the sake of the Blood shed by His Son, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, He will not judge us as our sins deserve, but rather forgive us yet again. That He will send Mary, who crushes the head of the serpent, Joseph, the terror of demons, and Michael the Archangel to lead the heavenly host down to cast Satan and his minion out of our lives, our nation, and our world, bind them and cast them back into Hell where they belong. Then, that He may grant us the strength to endure whatever we must and the grace to die to ourselves and live only for His Will.

Otherwise, who can stand?

Have a happy and holy Thanksgiving!

Flash Fiction: Caryatides

“Is the pressure getting to you, dear ?” The tone of Lady Forthwith-Huntington’s question was not solicitous.

Lady Forthwith-Huntington stood in the middle of a vast unwalled pillared chamber, on a dais of polished serpentine, around which flowed burbling waters. Four dark towering fountains, intricately carved in the shape of fantastic animals and inlaid with glowing gems, fed the waters. Surrounding the fountains lay a narrow beach of black sand, behind which in every direction stood a dark tropical forest. On all four sides of the chamber, the forest ended in mountain ranges, cunningly fashioned to provide the illusion of great distance and height.

Above the mountains, a thin band of the sky glowed pink with the last moments of twilight. In the dark above the twilight as in frames, the heavens were filled with the beauties of the universe: a spiral galaxy dominated one, a glowing, ghostly nebula another, a galaxy cluster another, and a ringed gas giant the last.

In each corner stood an onyx column, slender, deeply fluted, with a florid Corinthian capital, set, like the fountains, with glowing gemstones. Across the ceiling spread the Great Galactic Wall, strands of galaxies like pearls against a field of black. The entire structure, a thousand meters to the side and a thousand tall, was alive with subtle movement and sounds at the edge of hearing. The Construct was, it had to be admitted, beautiful.

Mistress Elizabeth Boward-Campanile knelt atop one of the black columns, her forearms held parallel above her bowed head, holding up the capital. Three other women topped the remaining columns in similar postures, their onyx bodies motionless.

“No, m’lady.” At that moment, a slight tremor passed through the entire structure. “Then what was that, pray tell?” One of Lady Forthwith-Huntington’s hands now rested on her hip.


Intelligences that might be called life forms gathered in the dark voids between the luminous galactic filaments. Presences were projected; some were present to the others merely as persistent ideas. A few had even arrived in space ships. The Greater Intelligences did not judge, but accepted whoever came in good will.

The gathering had taken 500,000,000 years; the decision a mere 100,000,000. The preliminaries had been surprisingly easy. The Greater Intelligences were able to provide a syntax suitable for discussions among the varied intelligences. Coordinating ethical systems had taken less than a million years. Analysis took the most time; possible courses of action were presented and discussed, and, finally, a plan was chosen and commitments made.

The Great Galactic Wall was an artifact indistinguishable from both magic and nature. The subtle science of the Greater Intelligences had seen its true and artificial nature 10 billion years ago. Others had seen hints, which when studied and piled together for a million years or so, gave more and more dire hints.

The Great Wall was truly a wall, a wall to keep others out. Dark matter had been manipulated to create it, and had shaped and arranged the galaxies behind it. Inside, the insatiable appetite for energy, the dreams of a Kardashev IV civilization, drove its builders.

Outside the wall, stars died too soon. Kardashev II civilizations died before their times, outside the Wall. Energy was being drained from what to the Builders of the Great Wall were the hinterlands. The gathered intelligences decided that this must stop.


Another tremor shook the Construct. This time, Mistress Katherine Barbican-Allbright, on the column diagonally across from Mistress Elizabeth Boward-Campanile, noticeably sagged under the weight of the sky. Despite the conceit of the Construct, the four Mistresses and Lady Forthwith-Huntington could see and hear each other in detail across the distances.

Mistress Elizabeth spoke: “M’lady, when may we be relieved?”

Lady Forthwith-Huntington sighed. “I am here to witness the Fall. You may not leave until I see it.”

“We are to die.” I was a simple statement.

“Come now. You – we – are all going to die.”

“We might live millions of years more. The Fall will be long.”

Lady Forthwith-Huntington sighed again. “Very well. I suppose a triviality like a few millions years more life might be important to some. I grow tired of this life. Our sad little imaginations cannot keep up with our abilities to satisfy them.” She shook her head. “What difference does it make if the barbarians breach the Wall? Let them come! You are dismissed.” She vanished from the Construct.

The four caryatides heaved together, impossibly thrusting the ceiling up off their forearms. The leapt from the columns as one, and vanished as they fell. The ceiling followed them down, the columns crumbled, and the Construct flickered and died.


Trillions of intelligences, wielding subtle engines, breached the Wall.

The looting began.