Writing, Updates, a Link

A. Finished one story that’s been rattling about unfinished for years, about a musician who doesn’t know he’s an artist, and an artist who knows he is. In space. With cool tech. And bureaucratic intrigue. And with some literal cliff hanging

I still like it, 3 days later. This is an achievement of sorts, whether of growing confidence or self-delusion, I don’t know. Now need to find some place to submit it, but I think I’ll let it sit a few more days first.

The coolest, most encouraging part of all for me is that this is the first story I’ve *finished* finished in the grand SciFi world that has been rattling around in my head for a decade or two. Have draft-like objects of a couple more stories, some outlines of couple more, and an incomplete outline and many pages of notes to what is looking to be a multi-novel series. (I can’t write one novel, but I can *plan* a series. Pathetic.)

In my head I call this world ‘the Systems’, a lame but functional title. It centers around a trip made by a generational ship to a three star system, where two of the stars are stable little suns, each having nice inhabitable planets and moons. These two orbit each other, and together orbit a third, more distant star, which is not so stable, but somewhere along the path to being a red giant.

Cool made up tech

The underlying future tech stuff is nothing screamingly original, although I of course try to make it cool; the interest for me is in how one would maintain a sustainable, liveable culture under the mentally and emotionally harsh conditions of the original trip, how people would deal with decades-to-centuries long terraforming exercises after the trip, and how successfully people can transition from epic explorers/conquerors of new worlds to – what? So, you won! Hurrah! Now what? You farm, or just hang out while the bots take care of it for you?

I’m attempting to deal with the central problem Star Trek solves by its most egregious handwavium: in a super cool high tech socialist paradise, what do people *do*? Some tiny percent explore strange new worlds, etc., but most, it is implied, become Trobriand Islanders, only with better toys and manners. They have no hope to better themselves or the world in any objective sense, so they raise yams, figuratively, and screw, trade ‘art’ to reinforce social standing and improve self-esteem , and scheme for enhanced social position.

Talk about Hell. I want to look at this in more detail.

The main challenge for very amatuer and inexperienced me is setting up the overall arc of the stories. It’s fun to fill in once you know where you’re going, but, for me at least, I have to know the destination. I’ve started writing out character arcs for major characters, which can run thousands of words each, but does help me get clear. The plot itself has 4 major incidents, where character is revealed and Rubicons are crossed; I must know how each of about 8 characters deal with them….

One very cool thing: I had a major plot point for which a sympathetic mom had to do something pretty terrible. I’d gotten hung up on that for a long time – why did she do that? Then, months later, I figured out why. Weirdly gratifying.

Another thing: so far, all the most interesting characters are women. Plenty of men, and plenty of derring-do to go around, but so far, it’s the women (and girls – children figure prominently in this) who are most interesting. To me, at least. This will likely change as time goes on.

Anyway, fun and frustrating. At this rate, I’ll be almost done by 2035 or so…

Then made the mistake, maybe, of rereading the last story I finished, a couple months back, which story, in a fit of reckless enthusiasm, I even submitted for an anthology.

Well. I sure can write some trite, awkward stuff, I can. Sheesh. I’m embarrassed by it. Making it better would not have been too difficult, but I seem to have needed some space to see it.

We are assured that humility is a good thing – I’m going with that. And I’m working on cleaning up and finishing some other half-finished stories. See how it goes.

B. As obsessively dedicated readers with long memories here may recall, I lead a religious ed group down at the local parish called Feasts & Faith. Each week, I give a talk/slide show about the week’s feasts, including the saints days. We try to have appropriate snacks, such as foods and drinks from the countries the saints are from. Many big or locally important feast have foods and activities associated with them already, which makes it easy.

The point of all this is that the Church gives us the saints as models and leaders, and the liturgical year lays them out for us in convenient and persistent small doses. There’s really is nothing happening to us today on a personal, political or ecclesiastical level that some, usually large, number of saints have not already gone through. Temptations? Betrayal? Political oppression? Church corruption? Reading the lives of the saints tells us these things are nothing new, they happen in every age, and will be with us until the Second Coming. And, most important, that people did get through them faithfully. I also, you’ll be shocked to hear, digress into long discussions of history, in order to provide some context. Doing the research for these meetings has been very enlightening.

So I was pleased to read this post from David Warren. A sample:

Among the uses of the Catholic (and Orthodox) cult of saints, is the groundwork they provide for the student’s sense of historical time. The saints arrive in succession, some earlier than others. Yet each is a figure who comes from outside time, and leads us, as it were, back where he came from. There is no “progress” from one saint, or generation of saints, to another. Each is sui generis — one of a kind — and each is “perfect,” by which we don’t mean entirely free of sin but complete to a purpose.

In their immense numbers they provide a constellation of light to our dark world, invisible to most but visible to many. The liturgy brings one after another into view, to serve as searchlights of us: thousands or millions of “little Christ lanterns” spread as the stars from horizon to horizon.

The custom of assigning saints to functions, of naming “patron saints” for trades and activities, sufferings and conditions of life, should be self-explanatory. To the faithful, of course, it is more than just custom. The Christian faith was from its origin extremely practical. (“Do this, in memory of me.”) To say, as they teach in our schools today, if they teach anything besides juvenile delinquency and despair, that the cults within our religion are “pagan survivals,” or “old superstitions,” is all very well; so long as we realize that this misses the point entirely, as all acts of malice tend to do.

C. The Endless Front Yard Brick Project is slowly progressing. Did have one of those moments that is both encouraging and discouraging at the same time: Leading down from the front porch, which is already complete as far as brick paving goes, will be a gate and two steps down into the front yard orchard. For some reason, I have been wildly overthinking this. Curved footers on weird radii, lots of holes, steel and concrete, hard-to-stake out forms – every time I thought about it, it got more complicated. Been putting it off for like 2 years now.

The encouraging part: once I stopped making it into the Great Wall in my head, a good and very simple solution presented itself. Just not that complicated. So, on the encouraging side, I think I can knock it off in a couple days with a minimum of digging and concrete pouring; on the discouraging side – why do I work myself up into knots trying to make things hard? If only this were a rare event…

Further updates and pictures as events warrant.

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Reading, Writing: End of April Update

As noted in earlier posts, the Late Unpleasantness at our school has somehow unlocked whatever it was that was keeping me from writing fiction, as the recent flash fiction-alanche here demonstrates. (No claims to quality, here, just noting simple existence.) Today, after I impose on my long-suffering wife to do a final proofreading, I’ll be submitting a story for publication, a 4,200 word trifle. What’s not a trifle: overcoming my self-defeating self criticism long enough to hit ‘send’.

Wish me luck. Further notices as events warrant.

Moving from the ridiculous to the comparatively sublime, or at least from the whimsical to the mundane, writing up some basic marketing and business planning docs for a startup. This project also entails doing market research and honing a product idea to a scary-looking point. In other words, using the skills I’m institutionally certified to possess in order to eventually make money happen. What a concept!

It’s been surprisingly fun so far. Wish me luck, and even say a prayer or two if so inclined, please. Again, further notices as events warrant.

Next up, while I’m sleeping better than I was during Holy Week and Easter Week when all this gender theory nonsense was coming down at school, I still have some tossing and turning time to read in bed. But as I don’t want lights on in case they keep my beloved from sleeping, I’m stuck with choosing among the hundred plus books on my Kindle. Just as I read Honor at Stake late on night because it was there (it’s pretty fun – check it out), I’ve now begun A. Merritt’s The Metal Monster for similar reasons. The Prologue of this work is the proximate cause of the flash fiction trifle Prolegomenon to Any Future Old School SF&F Adventure recently posted here.

Or some purpler shade of purple.

Merritt’s prose pushes right past purple to solferino. But that’s cool – ultimately, writing is writing, and style or convention is far less important than having something to say and saying it well. I like Moby Dick and Last of the Mohicans not despite but because they are so over the top by modern standards. And I am indebted to Merritt for the word impedimenta, a fine, evocative and colorful term.

What the heck, here’s an extensive sample: sunset in Tibet, from the first chapter of The Metal Monster.

Then a silence fell upon us. Suddenly the sun dipped down behind the flank of the stone giant guarding the valley’s western gate; the whole vale swiftly darkened—a flood of crystal-clear shadows poured within it. It was the prelude to that miracle of unearthly beauty seen nowhere else on this earth—the sunset of Tibet.

We turned expectant eyes to the west. A little, cool breeze raced down from the watching steeps like a messenger, whispered to the nodding poppies, sighed and was gone. The poppies were still. High overhead a homing kite whistled, mellowly.

As if it were a signal there sprang out in the pale azure of the western sky row upon row of cirrus cloudlets, rank upon rank of them, thrusting their heads into the path of the setting sun. They changed from mottled silver into faint rose, deepened to crimson.

“The dragons of the sky drink the blood of the sunset,” said Chiu-Ming.

As though a gigantic globe of crystal had dropped upon the heavens, their blue turned swiftly to a clear and glowing amber—then as abruptly shifted to a luminous violet A soft green light pulsed through the valley.

Under it, like hills ensorcelled, the rocky walls about it seemed to flatten. They glowed and all at once pressed forward like gigantic slices of palest emerald jade, translucent, illumined, as though by a circlet of little suns shining behind them.

The light faded, robes of deepest amethyst dropped around the mountain’s mighty shoulders. And then from every snow and glacier-crowned peak, from minaret and pinnacle and towering turret, leaped forth a confusion of soft peacock flames, a host of irised prismatic gleamings, an ordered chaos of rainbows.

Great and small, interlacing and shifting, they ringed the valley with an incredible glory—as if some god of light itself had touched the eternal rocks and bidden radiant souls stand forth.

Through the darkening sky swept a rosy pencil of living light; that utterly strange, pure beam whose coming never fails to clutch the throat of the beholder with the hand of ecstasy, the ray which the Tibetans name the Ting-Pa. For a moment this rosy finger pointed to the east, then arched itself, divided slowly into six shining, rosy bands; began to creep downward toward the eastern horizon where a nebulous, pulsing splendor arose to meet it.

And as we watched I heard a gasp from Drake. And it was echoed by my own.

For the six beams were swaying, moving with ever swifter motion from side to side in ever-widening sweep, as though the hidden orb from which they sprang were swaying like a pendulum.

Faster and faster the six high-flung beams swayed—and then broke—broke as though a gigantic, unseen hand had reached up and snapped them!

An instant the severed ends ribboned aimlessly, then bent, turned down and darted earthward into the welter of clustered summits at the north and swiftly were gone, while down upon the valley fell night.

Wow.

The other many, many books I’m supposedly reading have been a bit back-burnered (Again! Alas!) because dead tree editions are not easily readable in bed late at night, and daylight hours are pretty much filled up at the moment.

Finally, our massive Easter Octave Pizza Party was fun. My Fitbit said I walked over 7 miles that day – that would be mostly walking around in the hundred square yards comprising the kitchen, patio and pizza oven. My feet were a little tired by the end. Made 14 pizzas, 4 roast chickens and a few pounds of steak in the brick oven, in addition to a vat of guacamole and a double batch of ciabatta rolls in the kitchen. Moderation and I don’t see eye to eye.

Happy Easter Season!

Prolegomenon to Any Future Old-School SF&F Adventure

An honest and fair reader is due an account of how the following manuscript came into my possession, so that he might properly judge the frankly fantastical story to be discovered therein, the veracity of which I, myself, am now reluctantly convinced despite my initial incredulity.

Having heard through the popular press of the now-infamous Horatio G. Bloomincracker, doctor of botany and prodigious collector of curious tribal artifacts, of his sudden disappearance 15 years ago and his unexpected re-emergence from the darkest India jungles, of the curious artifacts found in his possession and his simultaneous appointment to a chair at Oxford and a cell at Bedlam, and the subsequent and possibly related reduction of much of the Midlands to a smoldering crater, it was with some not mild trepidation that I received an invitation to meet the great man.

Image result for victorian gentleman cartoon

I am of some reputation as a botanist myself, as the reader is no doubt aware. Having traveled the world in an ongoing if so far futile attempt to obtain specimens of the legendary Walking tree of Dahomey, I am more acquainted than most scholars with the various lands and peoples of this fair globe. Thus, there is a logic to Dr. Bloomincracker’s decision to unburden himself to me. Such is my fate: to share his burden, and to make known his travails, as a cautionary tale to all of humanity.

Bedlam was chosen for the fateful meeting, as Oxford was all booked up. I was shown to a large and not unpleasant anteroom with a lovely view of the lawn and the howling psychotics that peopled it, not so unlike similar facilities at Oxford. I had heard Dr. Bloomincracker’s health had been failing, which would hardly surprise any reader who knew the tale.

The great man entered the room on the arm of the Dean of Divinity, a Reverend Schoppinvax, who steered him into a chair facing mine. After the briefest of introduction, the good Reverend made his departure as if his hair were on fire.

Dr. Bloomincracker appeared before me as a glorious ruin. A man who in his youth had first made his name as a bear wrestler was now withered and hunched, although not yet 50 years of age. His once thick black hair was reduced to a motley of grey thatch and bare, splotched pate; his once imposing frame a twisted hulk; his fine broad forehead as lined as a map of Khartoum; his expressive lips and strong chin now hidden behind a wooly mustache and a goat’s beard. His attire had suffered in a similar manner: what had been once proper morning dress was now a wrinkled, grease stained mockery.

His notorious blue eyes, rumored to have had a dramatic effect on both truculent natives and the weaker sex, were now watery and reddened, and focused, it seemed, at two different distances behind, above and to the right of my face.

Without further ceremony, he reached into his waistcoat and produced a bundle of withered banana leaves, upon which were scribbled, perhaps in Sanskrit but certainly in wax pencil, something utterly inscrutable.

“Read this!” he demanded. A look of confusion must have passed over my face, but the good doctor did not seem to notice. Instead, he again stuck a hand into his waistcoat and produced a small package wrapped in a scrap of cloth.

“Would you like to see the Artifact?” He thrust the package at me without waiting for the answer. I took it gingerly in hand, and unwrapped it as the doctor fidgeted eagerly.

The cloth disgorged into my palm a small metallic oblong about the size of a robin’s egg. On each side was carved a squatting frog-god, on one side with eyes and mouth gaping, on the other with them closed. The remaining surface was curiously graven everywhere with indecipherable runes. A blood red and unshaped gem was savagely afixed to one end. I was struck with fear: it looked for all the world like a trinket one might pick up at a country fair, albeit from a country with very poorly developed aesthetics. I felt a sudden urge to toss the Artifact out the window, but feared I might harm one of the psychotic with which the lawn below was thick.

Before I could speak, the good doctor began telling me the tale that follows.

Brief 4/17/19 Update

1 I forget who tells the parable of a man willing to sell his soul to the Devil, on the condition that when he gets to Hell he’d get to talk to him as much as he wants. The man was very proud of his intellect and heard that Old Scratch was the most brilliant of angels, so talking with him for all eternity didn’t seem to bad.

He discovers that, in his Hell, the Devil is a blithering idiot.

Now, I didn’t need to sell my soul to find this out, but it seems the unwitting (I will make myself believe) tools of Marxism in this world are, generally, none too bright. I suspect raving fury tends to reduce one’s capacity for thought.

Yes, this is an update on our little run in at school over gender dysphoria. The ever so loving and gentle folks who are Useful Idiots for Marxism are ever so gently and lovingly doing what they can to make my wife’s life a living hell. With no disrespect intended to my beloved, I think I can say: (using my Philip Marlowe voice) she’s one tough broad. Too bad duels over honor are no longer allowed.

Image result for philip marlowe
You know, like Bacall.

2 One of the few things that can get my mind to stop looping on this topic, wondering what I should have said and how I should have behaved, is writing fiction. Did the three flash fiction trifles posted her over the last week, and am working on a short story to submit to a particular anthology.

Still have not picked up where I left off in November (I lasted 2.5 days at NaNoWriMo) on the Undead Novel That Haunts the Earth, nor the short stories several of you beta read for me. I need to be a *little* bit less emotionally challenged, shall we say, before I’m ready for even the kindest constructive criticism. So, if you are one of the very kind and generous people who gave me feedback only to have me go radio silent 8 months ago, I’ll get back to it as soon as I am able. Rocky Racoon fell back in his room….

3 Weather is beautiful, and I’m feeling physically very well. Getting exercise, eating right – and getting 4 hours of sleep a night, or less. Side effect of the endless loop my mind is still in. This morning, woke around 3:30, started to get up, then forced myself back to bed and pulled up the Kindle. Tried a little Rousseau (Emile – save me from verbose Frenchmen!) and some Chesterton (umpteenth reread of Everlasting Man), but was able to read only a little GKC before it wasn’t working for me. So I tabbed through the backlog, and found a modern vampire novel – can’t remember how that got there, certainly not my usual cup of tea, but, at 4:00 a.m., what the heck.

The first few chapters were pretty good, the writing was excellent and the characters loveable and interesting. So we may soon have a review here of a vampire love story novel.

Bet you didn’t see that coming!

Finally started drifting off, put down the Kindle, rolled over, cuddled in – and the 5:51 a.m. alarm went off. Sigh.

A Philosophical Disputation

boats, chains, france

“We were having a discussion, were we not?”

The Freeman’s calves were bound to the stone floor with iron straps. Chains held his arms out at 45 degrees. A heavy metal collar bowed his head. He knelt, arms outstretched, and could hardly move.

“I believe we were. You were being both appallingly wrong and remarkably dense. As usual.”

The robed figure seated on the dias frowned, but the frown was perfunctory. His eyes twinkled. He fingered one of his rings and straightened his robe.

“Yet here I sit, well fed and finely dressed, free to come and go as I wish. My ‘slave’s philosophy’ as you would have it seems to leave me remarkably unfettered.” He lifted his chin and placed it on his folded hands while raising his eyes to the sky. “You, whose philosophy you claim liberates men, are somewhat less unencumbered.”

“Yet you hold that all of life is meaningless. One would thus conclude your freedom is likewise meaningless.”

“The strong give life meaning. My freedom comes from my strength.”

“Yet you will die like other men.”

“I will die having exercised my unfettered will over men like you. Powerless men.”

“If you are so free,” stated the bound man, “I have one small request, which in granting you shall prove to me your freedom and disprove my argument.”

A crooked smile spread across the robed man’s face. “Pray tell.”

“I owned a small medallion once, about the size of a walnut, cast of electrum, curiously carved and set with a single blue stone. I have it on good authority that it sits now on the king’s night stand. Go get it.”

“No one may enter the king’s bedchamber.”

“My point exactly. You are no more free than I.”

The robed man laughed. “Laugh all you want, O Paragon!” the chained man lifted his head an inch. “The difference between my freedom and yours, as you define freedom, amounts to so much smoke.”

“That I am free to decline being hung, drawn and quartered, and you are not, is smoke? The smoke from the fire in which we will burn your entrails before your still-living eyes? I feel such a difference in degree is significant.” The crooked smile returned, but his eyes became cold.

“Yet I remain free by my conception of freedom, while you are a slave even by your own.” He went for the kill. “A craven slave.”

“Would you like a tour of the abattoir?” The robed man’s frown was sincere this time. “We can drag you along the bridge upon whose finials are mounted the heads of men who recently chose to explore the limits of your philosophy. Would you like to see where this ends for you?”

“Are you going to go get the medallion, or not, O Highly Free and Nearly Most Exalted Lord, second only to the man who holds your chain and pulls your strings? The man-child who collects pretty baubles, yet can have your head? The man placed on the most exalted throne by …”

The robed man had stepped down from the dias and slammed his fist into the chained man’s face. His fist was unused to such usage; it may have suffered as much or more than the face struck.

“As enjoyable as these little exchanges have been,” he rubbed his knuckles and tried to act as if they didn’t hurt, “I feel it is now time to end them.”

“Thus conceding my point: I die a free man, you live a slave.” He raised his eyes as much as the chains allowed. “And a coward, afraid of a dim-witted boy.”

The robed figure raised his fist again, thought better of it, and kicked the chained man in the ribs.

“Unless you show me the medallion before I die, I win. You lose. I may scream in agony, confess all crimes, and cry like a baby – but I win, you lose.”

The robed man returned to his seat upon the dias, and pondered. At a slight nod of his head, a guard appeared. “Go to the king’s chamber. On his nightstand are his baubles. You should find a silver-colored medallion, about this big, set with a blue stone. Bring it to me.”

The young guard’s face blanched. “Yes, m’Lord Chancellor, but…”

The Lord Chancellor inclined his head and stared at the guard, a look of death to those who knew. The guard continued nonetheless. “…I have not the key.”

The Lord Chancellor hesitated, then removed his own medallion of office from around his neck and handed it to the young man, who took it, terrified, as if it were a live viper, then bowed deeply and hurried off.

“Very brave. You can deny you ever sent that boy, if he’s caught, and no one will dare challenge your word. He will die the death you have earned.”

“Your philosophy has no room for simple prudence? No wonder you Freemen remain our slaves.” His crooked smile returned. “You shall see your medallion, and then I shall hear those cries of agony, confession of crimes and cries of a baby.”

“I think not. You have not so well run the empire, despite your cunning. The king remains your weakness, because, as I’ve said, you are his slave. The contempt between you is mutual, although his is childish and yours diabolical.”

“Screams. Crimes. Tears.” The Lord Chancellor had walked over again and bent down so that the chained man could feel his whispered breath.

“Your king, fool, collects not only baubles, but pretty girls and interesting slaves.” The chained man raised his eyes and locked them on those of the Lord Chancellor. “There are many pretty girls and interesting men among the Freemen.”

The robed man stood suddenly erect. The footfalls of the returning guard were the only sounds. “Do not be afraid. We Freemen are merciful, and kill our enemies quickly.”

The explosion threw the Lord Chancellor to the ground. Dust and chips of stone began to rain down on the courtyard as a plume rose from where the palace had stood moments before. The militant roar of men rose from the direction of the explosion.

The robed man, ears ringing, opened his eyes, and found himself looking up into the face of the chained man.

“And your philosophy is stupid.”

PAST

I slept, and wept, and slept again, the black bracelet on my ankle tethering me to my PAST – Personal Assayed Sentence Tracker. I had such high hopes, back when I’d managed to deactivate it and sneak aboard the longship. I watched the parasol unfurl, catching the sun like a breaking wave, and the superconducting magnetic loop spool out, kilometer after kilometer, stealing momentum from every passing charged particle.

But it was the ion drive I felt, from the floor of the forward storage area where I’d stowed away. Four massive nuclear reactors inside the asteroid, which the L2 shipyard had worked into a three-kilometer long iron/nickle cigar, reducing chunks of that cigar into superheated plasma. Ion drives fired that plasma fuel out at near-light speed. Unlike the sails, those babies could produce enough delta V to feel. I felt their silent rumble in my belly pressed against the composite hull.

I avoided discovery for months. During those months, as the ship spiraled away from earth, slowly gaining speed as it deployed first the parasol, then the magsail, then the ion drives, the 576 legitimate passengers and crew were too busy or distracted to notice. There were crates of food, back up in case anything went wrong with the hydroponics. There was, thankfully, a toilet and shower. There were even spare clothes. So I was pretty comfortable and could mitigate my boredom by looking outside, at least at first. After we’d reached system escape velocity and straightened our course, the view didn’t change much.

They eventually did find me. They knew I was a stowaway at a glance. They knew I was a fugitive by my PAST. After threatening that they’d just let me age out and die on the trip, the crew decided to slow-grow me, just like the legit passengers. Spent 243 years, relative time, out like a light, in a box I shared with bots that trimmed my hair and nails every year or two. Slow-grow isn’t no-grow.

That’s how I came to wake up as we dropped into orbit. They’d checked my criminal record, and were thinking it it might not be safe just dropping me with the other colonists. That’s when I started to get a hint that maybe my escape wasn’t an escape at all. Maybe the feds had let me walk, hoping I’d stow away and get permanently out of their hair. Things had gone a little too smooth.

Anyway, the bots were programmed to wake us up, and give us a light trim and a manicure and pedicure whenever the ship dropped into orbit. To make sure everybody is ready to go and all. The crew never thought to override it for me. So, before they could even miss me, I, clean-scrubbed and with lovely nails, stole a landing craft.

I just take things, see. It’s me being me. I also sometimes use a little too much force. I don’t think I killed the landing bay guard, but sometimes things happen. I dragged my PAST onto a craft, set the auto landing, jimmed the craft release, and proceeded to land.

The bastards. This planet is a paradise, at least to look at. Water is very good, almost sweet. Lots of edible plants. But there are no animals here, just plant after plant. Green as hell.

I thought, hey, I’ll drop down early, hide away somewhere, and wait for the colonists to set up shop. Then I could live like I always have, and still pick up a few things from the colony when the urge arose.

But the colonists never came. Crew must have determined that this rock wasn’t good enough.

Landers are just that, landers. They aren’t shuttles. The last I heard from the longship was a message that I’d been convicted of stealing a lander and putting a guard in the hospital, and sentenced to being banished to this rock. Then radio silence.

It was just after sunset when they left me here. I cursed the specks of light glinting off the longship, visible in the darkening sky. I watched until distance and the horizon swallowed her up.

Thus I sleep and weep. That’s two escapes that weren’t escapes. I’d fallen for it like a rookie.

Then, this morning, the ankle bracelet fell away. Signal from the longship, is my guess. Did the bastards always know how to do that? Good thing, too, as the chow on this planet is not only bland, but you need to eat a lot of it. Something about a mismatch of my enzymes and the chemical bonds in the alien plants. I’m effectively grazing all day long.

Eat that much green, and the spore starts piling up. It’s not pretty. Same thing works in reverse: whatever biological activity is at work here decomposing dead plants, it doesn’t work too fast on human waste. I’d probably go nuts, if I weren’t already a bit of a sociopath.

Like the longship leaving Sol, I’m spiraling out away from my original camp. Funny thing – once in a while, I go back to visit my PAST. It’s all I’ve got.

The Seneschal of the Holy Accoutrements

“Summon the Marquis de Vela.”

“It is spoken!”

The First Chamberlain Inferior, Acting Subdeacon of Light and Word, leaned upon his crooked staff of office and nodded his mitred, jeweled head solemnly to Lady Vortex of the Interstitial Whispers. She stood slowly, her pale mask animated by a wash of color like a peacock’s tail, her eyes hooded. Her skirt, waves of shimmering material that defied all attempts to focus directly on it, spread like an incoming tide until it enclosed the space around her in a dome of color and light.

The skirt became alive with the scurry of myriad creatures.

Onto the translucent marble floor tucked and rolled a tiny putto, complete with cherubic smile and tiny feathered wings. He cleared the still-writhing skirt and gracefully came to his feet. Lady Vortex’s skirt quieted and rolled itself back into its merely voluminous original size.

Lady Vortex raised one hooded eye, and the putto, eyes fixed on her face, rose improbably on its tiny wings and flew. An ornate window, paned in sheets of gems and crystal and standing 50 meters high, opened behind and above the Imperial Majesty as the putto approached, enough for him to exit with alarming alacrity.

“Alphonso, even now, wings his way to the Imperium Lux,” Lady Vortex spoke in a voice of honey and ice, “and shall cause to be issued a summons to the Marquis de Vela.”

“My dear lady,” came a voice from the Throne of Imperial Majesty, “most chaste and powerful mistress of the Interstitial Gates, Lioness of the Between, Sender of the Messages both mortal and eternal, pray, when should we expect the Lord Marquis?” A slight pause. “You may dispense with all but the first 50 honorifics of imperial address to my person, and answer plainly.”

Behind her mask, Lady Vortex and her extended brain, present in her creatures and, indeed, in much of the throne room’s furniture and all of one of the many massive sub basements, brooded. A thousand suns even now were being consumed to open the Gates; space would be delaminated for a hundred million light years; the interstices would disrupt countless systems and worlds; billions might die.

The first 50 imperial honorifics, including references to lordship of supernovae, the making of galactic collisions and the righteous conquest of thousands of clusters and structures, took only 15 minutes despite Lady Vortex’s unhurried drawl. She, including her extended mind, had finished the calculations after 12 minutes. “Oh Light of the Imperium, Cause Supreme of Harmony and Death Merciful yet Fell of the Unenlightened: the Marquis de Vela can be expected in 11,432.51 standard years!”

“Then we shall have need of entertainment. Summon the Seneschal of the Holy Accoutrements.”

Far below the throne room, with its towering windows, sky-like vaulted ceiling held up by pillars of living water, filled with a light both subtle and powerful, in a sub basement dark and cramped, machines moved. A tiny figure, illuminated only by the light of a heads-up display, moved one hand.

Lady Vortex, who stood stock still, somehow froze. Could the Imperial Command have been inadvertently directed toward her? The Seneschal was stored well within this current effective frame of reference. Invoking interstitial delamination would be extraordinarily wasteful, even for this court. And the effort would kill her…

“It is spoken!” The First Chamberlain Inferior, Acting Subdeacon of Light and Word, leaned again upon his crooked staff of office and again nodded his mitred, jeweled head solemnly, this time to a Knight Pre Imminent of the Sidereal Garter, who bowed impossibly so that his cheek, freed from his Helm Imperial for the purpose, was on the floor. His armor, a swirl of light and metal, clanked musically – for thus it was designed – as he stood and marched out down the miles long throne room nave.

The Lady Vortex nearly allowed herself a sigh. Reinspiritualizetion was such a pain.

By the light of the display, the lone man’s face twitched. He dare not even think – parts of his mind, untrustworthy parts, were integrated into small nooks and crannies of the throne room and thus accessible to the Court. For reasons his conscious mind was not and could not be allowed to think, he pushed a particular spot on his left wrist with his right index finger. The command to do this action was encoded in certain proteins and enzymes, keyed by stereoisomers that mirrored natural chemicals but behaved differently when faced with their biological targets: the keys no longer fit the locks.

They fit other locks. These they turned. His left hand, a blur in the dark, cramped sub basement, shot forward and began manipulating data and instructions. The man’s mind was blocked from noticing. The man’s mind was dying as his right hand ran through a series of commands to the machines and minds throughout the imperial palace, which were systematically being fractured and disabled. He continued to summon the Seneschal, his right hand unaware of what his left hand was doing.

The man’s instructions could only propagate at the speed of light, to late for the thousand suns dying now at the Emperor’s whim. It would be many millennia before the outer systems discovered they were free; many millions of years before the entire Imperium knew. The remnants of his people, whose sun had been consumed in the sending of a message announcing the winner of an imperial card game, would most likely be extinct before they knew. It did not matter; his mind was prevented from even thinking it. Gates were being closed, and welded shut.

The man’s mind stuttered to a halt.

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11,432.509 standard years later, the Seneschal of the Holy Accoutrements entered the throne room, carrying such fripperies and baubles as might amuse the court. Four meters tall and dressed in a tall hat, a gray coat that hung to the floor and writhed with patterns, and black boots, his eyes spunn like pinwheels in his long, gaunt face. His entire body was constructed of independent creatures, each built to both add to the Seneschal and perform possibly amusing tricks. Some would scurry off now and again, then climb back into place as he strode the pavement.

The Seneschal came before the throne, his mind clouded. On the floor to the right stood the First Chamberlain Inferior, Acting Subdeacon of Light and Word, leaning motionless upon his crooked staff of office. To his right stood Lady Vortex, her mask frozen into the faintest hint of surprise. Several Knights Pre Imminent of the Sidereal Garter stood guard without moving. Invisible on his throne, shadowed by the Imperial Splendor, sat the Emperor.

Deep within the dark sub basements, on a machine poised and suspended for over 10,000 years, a final tumbler fell.

Suddenly, a shimmer filled the air between the Seneschal and the the throne. With a loud, undignified *pop* the Marquis de Vela reached the end of the delaminated intersticial, and fell unceremoniously to the marble floors. He raised himself up on one arm, and felt his head.

Lady Vortex gasped. She could not feel her extended mind. Her human mind, what was left of it, took in the scene and knew. He mask went dark and fell clanging to the floor, revealing the face of a startled girl.

“I can’t move,” mumbled the First Chamberlain Inferior, Acting Subdeacon of Light and Word, still leaning upon his crooked staff of office. Forgetting protocol, the Marquis de Vela spoke in the Imperial Presence, going so far as to omit even the first 25 honorifics.  “What, what has happened? Why am I here?”

Several animate pieces of the Seneschal of the Holy Accutroments chose this moment to fall from his coat and clatter and chatter upon the floor before scurrying back to disappear in the swirling patterns. From the Throne, hidden within the Imperial Splendor, a small confused voice answered, “I don’t know. I can’t seem to remember.”