Who Goes Boing? – Full, complete short story

*Yes, some of you have read this in War and Other Punchlines.  It’s also in a collection.  However, I thought the rest of you might enjoy it.  Yes, Dark Fate should be done, but I have a million business things to catch up on and my brain is trying to engage with fiction and failing.  I’m sorry.  I’ll try to be better.  For now, free short story.  And yes, it’s crazy, but well… never mind.*

Who Goes Boing?

 

It was raining and the LT was grumbling.  As the seven of us moved around, setting up the tents and securing the perimeter with breach detectors, he set his back pack down and looked around at the desolate area of peaks and rock spheres as far as the eye could see and muttered a long complaint from which the words “nerd army” and “I must have been crazy” emerged.

I traded a look with Sargent Miller as he came over to help me affix the breach detector to a rock spire nearby. Sarge’s eyes wrinkled a bit at the corner, but he didn’t say anything, but “Having trouble with that, Bronk?”

I nodded.  Technically my name and designation is Specialist First Class (Xenobiology) Bronkowsky of the Earth Exploration Corps.  But just about everyone called me Bronk, and from the Sarge that was almost a compliment.

He was a hard-worn man of about fifty and he’d done countless drops.  The people he’d lead on their first exploration-drop now occupied positions everywhere, at every level, from Cabinet positions in several worlds, down to big names in research and science.  But he’d chosen to stay out here, leading parties through space gates onto newly discovered planets.  For the fun of it, I suspected.  Though of course the bounty for clearing a new planet was fabulous and he was probably by now a many times multi-billionaire.

You wouldn’t know it, as he fumbled at the sensor with clumsy-looking fingers, until he got the nanites embedded at the back of it to do whatever they needed to do to stick to the rock spire.  “Well, you know,” he said, speaking in a very low voice, and with every appearance of giving me some instruction about the apparatus supposed to detect any sort of intrusion – electromagnetic, infrared or biological – into our perimeter.  “The LT transferred from what it pleases him to call the real army.  He might be consorting with us, but he will always think he’s better than us.  He doesn’t even think our ranks are real.”

“Yes, sir,” I said.  “But the thing is, that I don’t know why he transferred, if he thinks we’re all so weird.”

“Yeah, but the real army, as he calls it, the people who come after us to make sure the world is safe for colonists, don’t get paid a tenth of what we do.”

I nodded, and moved off to set up another perimeter sensor.  I knew that.  We all knew that.  I’d always assumed it was because the EEC, or as they called us, the Nerd army required a heck of a lot more of education.  All of us had at least graduate-level training in our disciplines by the time we joined, and to that more was added during EEC induction.  There were few people out in the civilian population as trained as we were.

Had to be.  We were the first people through to a new location.  All that had been in this planet, once we’d first been able to open a  gateway to it were automated probes.  And automated probes didn’t get everything.  Or even most of it.  There had been that sentient planet, in the Hesperides which had not reacted at all to the probes, but had killed every man jack of the first three landing parties, before someone figured out what was wrong and closed that gateway for good.

And then there were the risks which awaited parties landing on planets with species that might be sentient, but which had no concept of machines, and thereby had left the first probes alone.

When I’d been a kid, back in Arrois, my dad said that even in our planet, so seemingly peaceful as it was, the first five exploration groups had been killed because of a microbe that could infect humans – a rare occurrence – and which drove them mad.

This is why before the EEC was the Nerd Corps, the popular name for us had been the half hour men.  Because that’s how long you could expect to live in any given planet.

The instruments had gotten better, though, and we’d gotten better as well.  Our training now allowed many of us to survive to ripe old age.  The others–  Well, colonists would find it odd if they came through a newly opened planet and didn’t find half a dozen of graves marked with name, rank and the symbol of the EEC.  There was a reason we carried markers in our basic kit.

When I finished setting the perimeter and came back, the LT seemed to be in a better mood.  Or at least Sarge was telling him “Yes, sir” a lot which usually put him in a better mood.

On my way to help the other four members of the party — Jackel, specialist in geology; Tadd, engineering; Gack in electromagnetics; and Lablue in Atmospheric science – prepare dinner, I heard the LT say something about not being a scientist and not knowing what to do with a passel of geniuses.

These were complaints I knew from our former two drops, and I suspected they were bad as all get out for morale, except that they weren’t because none of us paid him much attention.  We went around and did out thing and reported to Sarge, and he made it all palatable for the LT, which is what I suspect made the LT crazy.  Crazier.  Whatever.

The guys and I had been working together since basic orientation, and we started warming up the food packs, in silence, and with no more than the occasional glance around.  In no time at all we were settled down and eating from our ration bowls, when there was—

I can’t describe it, but it was a sound sort of behind and above me.  Only it wasn’t a sound, so much.  It was like the sensation you’d expect the sound “boing” to cause if it were a feeling up the back of your neck.

At the same time, Gack tried to jump up and backwards, only he forgot to get up first and got soup all over his pants.  And he didn’t even look at his pants, nor around him, but stood there, frowning behind me.

I turned around but could see nothing where he was looking, save a barren expanse of rock and spires between sheets of falling rain.

“Gack?” Sarge said.  “What happened?”

Gack was one of those enormous men that people tend to think grow in high grav environments.  This isn’t true.  He was actually from the same region I came from, an agricultural planet in Andromeda.  But he was square built and square-jawed, six feet seven with a growth of beard that resisted his twice-a-day shaving.  It went oddly with his wide-open eyes, and the hand he lifted to cover his mouth.  “I—“  He said.  Then stopped.  He wiped the back of his hand across his mouth, as though he were trying to gain time.  Then he took a deep breath.  “I saw a rabbit.”

Sarge looked at me.  I was the xenobiology expert, which in practical fact meant that I was the expert in anything biological, from the life forms on this planet to medic duties to my own unit.  I had studied the reports sent by all the probes that had examined this world for years before we were allowed through.  “There aren’t any life forms we’d classify as animals,” I said, slowly.  “Or at least none our probes reported.  The most advanced life form is a kind of mold spore.  Of course—” I paused.  “That is also the technical classification of the sheep in Proxima Centauri, the ones popularly known as Vegetable Lamb.”

Sarge shrugged.  “So, that means it could be a small pseudo-animal that looks like an Earth Rabbit, I supp—”

“No,” Gack said.  “No, Sarge, you don’t understand.  This wasn’t a normal rabbit.  It was… It went on two feet, and it had… it looked humanoid, but with really long ears, and huge eyes.  It was odd.”

“Um…” the LT said.  “You saw an awful lot in that glimpse.”

“I—It was just an impression,” he said.

“It could be an hallucination, caused by some undetected compound in the air,” I said.  And I dove into the tent for the medical kit.  But the med tech we had didn’t show Gack as suffering from any poisoning or any other undue influence.

We went to bed that night feeling restless and, in my case, worried.  I’d known Gack a long time.  It just wasn’t like him to freak out at some nonsensical glimpse of an impossible creature.  And what he’d seen was impossible.

I woke up in the middle of the night with another impression of having heard a sound.  The sound was “paff” as best I can transcribe it.  And there was an idea that there had been a scream of some sort just after it.

There is no duty to get up and check on things in the middle of the night, unless one of the perimeter alarms has gone or the officers give orders.  But in the Nerd Corps, you don’t wait for those.  Not if you want to live.

I got up. There was no sound around me, except the pattering of the steady, whispering rain on the tent roof.  I couldn’t even hear any noise from my squad mates.  Which was fine, since we had individual tents, and they weren’t that close.

My exercise fatigues, which I wore as pajamas on these missions, were not water proof, so I pulled on the regulation rain poncho before stepping out to check the perimeter units.

While I was looking at the last one – showing nothing had breached our perimeter line – I heard steps behind me, and turned to see Gack, also awake, and also wearing a rain poncho.  He was walking with a sort of exaggerated, comedic stealth, which surprised me, because Gack was known for many things, but none of them was physical comedy.

I said, “You heard it too?”

“What?” he asked, stopping.

“You heard the sound of something falling?” I asked.  “And the scream?”

His eyes shot out.  What I mean by this is that his eyes came out of his head, straight at me, then sagged onto his face, suspended from springs.  He put them back in, matter of fact, and said, “Uh, no.”

I was trying to tell myself I hadn’t seen what I’d thought I’d seen.  But there are things that you can’t deny.  And if I’d gone around the bend, it still wouldn’t run to seeing people’s eyes pop out on springs.  I kept my face as absolutely neutral as I could, and nodded, “Okay,” I said, but walked sideways towards Gack’s tent, and drummed my fingers on the outside of it.  When no one answered, I stooped momentarily to unfasten the magnetic closure in the front.

The tent was… covered in blood.  And in the middle of it all was an anvil, huge and improbable.  An antique anvil, of the sort that people had used to beat metal on.  The kind of thing you only saw in museums.

I jumped sideways at a whistle above me, and jumped out of the way, just as a big square thing fell where I’d been seconds before.  I turned around to see Gack – or whatever it was that looked like Gack – hop towards me at crazed speed.

I did what any man would do.  I screamed and ran.  Right into the LT who had got out of his tent.  I have no idea what I told him, but it probably didn’t matter, as he took a look at Gack, then jumped out of the way in his turn, pulling me along as yet another square thing fell where we’d been.

By now the camp was bedlam, with everyone running around in a state of undress, and pseudo-Gack hopping around and, somehow, perhaps causing heavy objects to appear.

LaBlue, finally, had the presence of mind to shoot at pseudo-Gack.  There was a sound like “phlui” as the energy weapon hit Gack, and there was a feeling like an implosion, as Gack disappeared and air rushed in to fill the place he’d been.

It was a while before anyone spoke, and then it was Sarge, who said, “What was that?”

“I don’t know,” I said.  “But it wasn’t Gack.  Gack is dead.  In his tent.”

The funny thing is that the anvil I’d seen in the tent was no longer there, only Gack pate all over the inside surfaces.  The other things that had fallen, mostly square boxes, were also not there anymore.  The LT said they were safes, things used to keep documentation and valuables in the pre-space days.  But none of us had any idea why the pseudo-Gack had dropped them everywhere, or even if he had or if they were just an associated phenomenon to whatever had killed Gack and taken his form.

Still, in moments like this, it was good to have protocol to fall back upon.  Gack had to be buried on this planet, and his grave appropriately marked. We decided to strike the tent and bury the whole thing, and did just that, digging a deep grave in an area just at the edge of the camp.  Everyone had gone around and checked the perimeter and verified that neither biological nor electromagnetic violation had occurred, so we were all jumpy and looking at each other.  And I, particularly, was alert to the sound of something that wasn’t quite heard with the ears.  Something like boing or paff felt at the back of the neck.

For a moment, as we were digging soggy reddish dirt back in atop the tent that contained the mortal remains of Gack, I thought I heard-felt that boing, but nothing strange happened.

Until we were setting the marker to show Gack’s universal birth and death date, that is.  That was when the LT gave Sarge a cigar.  This in itself was weird enough, because smoking was not just a rare enough thing, but a very expensive habit.  There were some planets where it might be more common, like the place in Andromeda where they grew tobacco.  But to carry one to Earth quarters and bring it on an expedition was unlikely, since if you had a cigar you could sell it for a lot of money on Earth.

Sarge seemed to sense the strangeness of it, and stood there, holding the cigar in between his fingers, until the LT snapped, gave an odd little laugh, took the cigar from Sarge’s hand, jammed it in Sarge’s mouth, brought out a little stick, aflame, and set fire to the end of the cigar.  At which point the cigar exploded, blackening Sarge’s face.

It took a moment, and I might have been the first to react.  I ran to where I’d last seen the LT before this, and found him behind a spear of rock.  He had been crushed by what looked like an antique musical instrument, the kind you still see on Earth sometimes, called a Grand Piano.

Four of us shot the LT at the same time.  Or rather we shot the creature who was hoping around our camp, looking but not moving like the LT.  This time it had no effect.  Or rather, for a moment, it created a hole in the middle of its chest, but then it looked at it and said “uh oh” and the hole healed.

LaBlue who was nearer hit the pseudo-LT on the head with his pack, the one he’d carried on his back here, and which contained his folded tent and all his gear.

The pseudo-LT folded down like an accordion, and ran.  He ran right off the perimeter, and disappeared.

Leaving us all breathing hard, scared, and not at all sure what we were facing.  Sarge organized those of us who remained.  He detailed Jackel and Tadd to dig the LT’s grave and move the body – easier since the piano had of course disappeared – and he and I and LaBlue went around the perimeter, checking all the readings.

“How is it possible,” LaBlue said.  “For whatever it is to get past our perimeter without setting off the alarms.”

I was biting the inside of my lip to keep from screaming in frustration at the events, but I’d been thinking about it since Gack had bought it.  “All the life forms we’ve found have been either energy or flesh,” I said.  “Well, except those bio forms that are plants, including ambulatory ones, but for the purpose of this discussion, we’ll call them flesh.  But that doesn’t preclude life forms made of something else.”

“What else could it be?” LaBlue asked.  “What other than energy or biological beings.”

“Minerals, I suppose?” Sarge asked.

LaBlue shook his head.  “Nah, the alarms would detect different substances from the ones previously identified for this site,” he said.  “It would detect movement too.”

“Are we dealing with another sentient planet?” I asked.

LaBlue shrugged.  “Even if it were, certainly we’d have detected movement.  And besides, why would aliens pelt us with Earth antiques?”

I had no answer to it, partly because at that moment I heard-felt “boing” and jumped aside just in time to avoid a black, globular object which fell where we’d been, and which said ACME on the side and had a sort of rope on top.  The end of the rope was burning.

I recognized it then, and it all fell in a pattern in my mind.  I screamed, “Take cover.” Then jumped behind a rock spear.

There was an explosion, and a flash of fire.

When we emerged, three of us were fine, but LaBlue had been too close to the explosion and was dead, a startled look on his face.

Sarge sighed, and Jackel and Tadd looked too stunned to even mention digging another grave, but I said, “Wait, I think I know what’s happening?”

“Oh?” Sarge said.

“Yes, Sarge.  You know how we got to some worlds and found that they were capturing our entertainment transmissions and knew about us from them?”

“Not very well,” Sarge said.  “I mean, they didn’t know about us very well.  The older transmissions, which would have reached the more distant stars are also more substantially degraded by the time they get there.  Some races managed to reconstruct all of a movie or a series of transmissions, which is why that place in Proxima is the ILoveLucy planet, but—”

“Cartoons,” I said.

“Beg your pardon?” LaBlue said, so surprised that he spoke before Sarge reacted.

“Cartoons were drawn adventures from the time before computers were significant in entertainment,” I said.  “Middle twentieth century.  Drawn adventures that were animated by drawing a lot of similar freeze frames, then making them move very fast to give the impression of movement, on movie.”

“Sounds inefficient,” Sarge said.

“It was, but it was also very imaginative.  The cartoonists, as they were called, created a whole universe of creatures, like… animated anthropomorphic rabbits, a world without death, where characters pulled themselves from under heavy weights, or recovered easily from explosions.  The projectiles were often safes, pianos or anvils.”

“How do you know this, Bronk?” Sarge asked.

“I grew up in a backward planet, sir.  Until we got more advanced technology when I was fifteen, we had locally built televisions and we watched a lot of antique entertainment on them.”

“I see. So you think the beings on this planet, whatever they are reconstituted those signals—”

“Possibly from one of the colony planets closer than Earth,” I said.  “Yes, sir.”

“And that they think this is what human beings on Earth are actually like?”

“It’s possible, sir.  It seems like few species have the imagination humans have, and those cartoons… well, if you didn’t know the time and place they came from, you too might not believe someone just made them up out of whole cloth.  Heck, even knowing the time and the place.”

“But what are they?” LaBue said.  “What are these creatures?  What makes them?”

I shrugged.  “We know there are energies in the universe we can’t measure or get a full fix on.  Take the singing ghosts of Antares 5.  Some people think they are powered by thought.”

“That is—” the Sargent said, and then used a word that was also archaic and referred to the excreta of an Earth bovine.

“Yes, sir,” I said.  “Or as we like to put it not scientifically proven.  But we still can’t explain the ghosts, sir.  Or it could be anything else.  There are those who posit time as a form of energy, and if that’s so, then these things could be time itself.  That’s not important,” I said.  “The important thing is this: how do we survive their attacks, their ability to mimic those of us they kill and replace, and how do we get back to Earth in one piece?”

The Sargent said a word that rhymed with ducked, followed by, “if I know.  The gate won’t open again for another six hours.”  He looked around at the shambles of the camp.  “The question is whether any of us will be alive and sane enough to report.”

Which is when Jackel and Tadd started chasing each other with the shovels.  Which by itself was not as bad as the fact that when one hit the other with a shovel, the other would walk around for a while looking like he’d been compressed, then would pop back to normal size with a sound like “boing.”

Sarge and I fell back, retreating behind a spear of stone. Behind us was the edge of a cliff.  We stared at the camp where Jackel and Tadd hit each other amiably and ran around in the deranged motions of cartoon characters.

If I squinted, I could see two immobile forms, out by the graves.  Three, if I focused really hard, though the third was a little far off and indistinct.  Three.

I turned around to look at Sarge, who looked back at me.

I heard “boing” and felt it at the back of my neck, and rolled out of the way, and shot at Sarge, even as an anvil fell between us.

Sarge got a hole in his chest, said “uh, oh” and ran.

He ran right off the edge of the cliff in a straight line, until he looked down and realized there was nothing under him.  And then he fell.

I went to the edge of the cliff and looked down, to see his – its? – crumpled body far below.

Well, that was that.  I was the only human being still left.  I’d have to last long enough, until the gate to Earth opened again.

Back in the camp, the pseudo-Jackel and pseudo-Tadd were dropping pianos on each other and crawling out from under them to fight another day.

I couldn’t understand the purpose of it, and it made my eyes pop out.  I had to keep pushing them in when they dangled in springs against my face.  It got old fast.

Clutching my gun tightly, I prepared to keep the strange creatures at bay.

I couldn’t wait will the gate to Earth opened again.

 

Very Busy And It Came Upon A Midnight Clear, a Blast From The Past from December 2014

Sorry, guys, I’m going to blame it on the holidays and various doctors’ appointments.  I have a million things to do and no time to torture Grant (Dark Fate) though I’ll try to do it sometime this weekend.

There will also be other free fiction these next two weeks, but not today.

The story below was a dream so vivid, I had to get up and pound it out in about three hours.  Most of you will be familiar with it.  To those who aren’t, enjoy:

It Came Upon A Midnight Clear

The pounding on the doors, the words, “Open up in the name of the law.”

Juan Johnson who had been lying in the dark, in his little bed at the back of the house, half asleep, retained only a sense of explosions, a smell of something burning, papa up front saying he didn’t know anything of these Usaians and besides, he was a honest carpenter and what could they—

And mama! Mama, who had never left dad alone in any difficulty, Mama who rarely left the house without him and never at night, had gotten Juan and Angelita out of their beds, in the dark, wrapping the baby and putting her in a sling, and dressing Juan, fast, so fast that she’d put a sock of each different color on his feet.

This still bothered him, as they ran down the alley in the night, and then up another alley, all staying away from the police.

Juan could hear other pounding and “Open up—”

And fragments of other sentences, too, “Forbidden,” and “Dangerous elements” and “Seditious ideology.”

Juan knew what “dangerous elements” were. He was only ten, but Mama and Papa had taught him at home and he’d been allowed to read a lot of dad’s old books, the sort of thing they no longer taught in the school. Dangerous elements were things like Uranium and other things that gave off radiation that could kill you. Why the police would be looking for it, he didn’t know.

He did not however have any idea what Seditious ideology meant.

He repeated the words to himself as mama stopped in a dark alley, by a flyer. It wasn’t their flyer, but then Mama rarely drove their flyer, and she certainly never burned its genlock clean off, reaching in before it could do more than emit a bzzzt and burning something else, murmuring to herself as though to remember a list, “Alarm off,” Then went in, leaving Juan alone at the entrance for a moment. She came back and threw something to the floor. Juan didn’t know what it was – pieces of something electronic. “Tracker,” Mama said.

She pulled Juan in with one hand, and closed the door, then sat him in a seat, and – strangely – put the sling with Angelita around him. The baby was only three months old, but Juan was a slim boy and the sling – and the baby – very big and very heavy. He thought of protesting, but Mama looked as though she would start to cry, so he said nothing. He let Mama put the harness over both of them, and saw her consult a paper in Papa’s handwriting as she set the coordinates.

Moments later they were in the air, and Juan might have dozed, but he woke with the flare of explosions, and the shaking as Mama sent the flyer careening side to side.

“Mama!” he said.

“Say it, Juan, say it, my little Juanito.”

“I pledge allegian—”

Mama made a sound. It wasn’t quite laugh and not quite a cry. “Not that one. The other one. The human events one.”

Juan blinked. He’d learned all these from as soon as he could speak. The only time dad was really strict was in making sure he remembered everything, every single word. And the meaning. All the meaning. “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God—”

An explosion came very close, making them shake and showing Mama’s face, very pale and marked with trails as if she’d cried a lot. He hadn’t heard her cry. How could she cry so silently.

“Nature’s God?” Mama prompted.

“Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness—”

Mama sobbed then, but didn’t say anything but “Go on,” so Juan did, as explosions rocked the small flyer, and Mama, finally, just took them really low, and did something, and pulled Juan out after her, but never took the baby sling of him, and she pushed him against a wall and put her hand over his mouth, while the flyer lifted off again and flew a programmed course.

“It was only a second,” Mama said. “Only a second. Maybe they won’t notice.”

But then she was pulling Juan, and running down an alley, and then another.

Juan heard heavy boots after them, and was surprised when Mama pulled out a burner and shot a man down. Juan didn’t have a very clear idea of what happened then, save the man fell, and mama pulled Juan after her again.

Up, up and up, they were climbing narrow stairs in the dark. Mama was talking to herself in Spanish, something she only did when she was really worried. Juan didn’t know Spanish, but he knew a few of the words. He knew “must do something” because mama used to say it at Papa when she was really mad or worried.

“Mama,” Juan said. “My legs hurt. And Angelita is heavy.”

“Yes,” Mama said, which seemed not to be an answer at all. From somewhere to their right came an explosion and then someone screamed, and screamed and screamed, the voice getting weaker as it went. Mama, who normally went to help all the neighbors, didn’t even slow down.

“Juan, you know what we’ve taught you? Papa and I?”

They’d taught him so many things. To read and to write, and to brush his teeth, and– “To mind and be a good boy?”

Again, Mama made that sound that wasn’t quite laughter or a sob, and her hand came down and touched his hair briefly. “That too, my love, but not that. About the Usa. About how it existed and was blessed by God as long as it kept to the precepts of liberty and equality before the law. And how it fell and gave its power to supposedly enlightened rulers and then—”

“It was reduced in size,” Juan said, puffing a little as it was hard to keep up with Mama as she ran down one alley, then another. “And punished.”

“Not reduced in size,” she said. “What remains calls itself United States, but it’s not.”

“But you said, if it returned to faithfulness and the…” He struggled for the words Papa had said so many times, “the inspired vision of the founders it would be forgiven and be great again.”

Sob-laugh and mama said, “It’s not the same place. It can’t return. We’ll have to remember and make it true again. Those of us who keep the faith.”

“Daddy said,” and now he was having true trouble catching his breath. “Daddy said that as long as the belief in the principles of the declaration of independence and the constitution-” deep breath. “As long as those remained in one human heart, the Usa wouldn’t be dead.”

“And so it won’t.” Mama stopped abruptly. Juan could hear the noise of people running after them, voices saying “They went this way. The Flyer was a ruse.”

There were flyers above too, with low-pointing floodlights. As one passed overhead, Mama pressed Juan against the wall. She spoke quickly, in a low voice, “That’s why they made us illegal. That’s why they’re trying to exterminate us. As long as liberty remains in one human heart, the bio-lords won’t have full sway. And they want full sway. They want to dictate our every thought. Listen, Juan, my son. Do you know where the Peace Tower is? From here?”

Juan thought. He wasn’t sure where he was, but he knew the neighborhood, and they hadn’t gone very far. Their flight had been too short. The Peace Tower, built to commemorate peace in the Americas, even if Papa said it wasn’t peace at all, just surrender, was big and lit up and right in the center of the city.

He shook his head a little, because if the peace tower were anywhere nearby, he would see its light. They lit it up in white and green every night.

“If you take that alley to the left, and keep going, mind, Juan, as fast as you can, you will come to the plaza where it is. Don’t go to the plaza. I don’t know if your description is out, but it might be. Instead, the alley that leads to the peace tower plaza, just before you leave it, it has a branch that turns left. Take that. It runs behind a lot of restaurants. Keep on that until you come to the back of a restaurant called Silver Palate – remember that. The name is on big red dumpsters in the back. Turn right there. Follow that alley till it ends, and climb over the wall to the right. It will be difficult, but mind, Juanito, keep Angelita from falling as you climb.

“You’ll be in the backyard of an apartment house. It’s what used to be a large house, long ago, but it’s now apartments. Go in through the back door, run up the stairs to the left, all the way to the top. There’s a door there, marked 4 B. Knock on it. Say Paul sent you. Say treason. They’ll know what to do. The man in the house, his name is James Remy. Do what he tells you. Can you remember?”

He nodded. One of the great advantages of the long stretches of memorizing Papa had made him do was that he could remember things much more easily than any other kid his age in school. But a worry remained, “Why Mama?”

“Never mind that. Just remember, you must do that, or thousands of people will die.” The light had passed overhead. It was dark in the alley, but the sounds of steps and the voices drew closer.

She reached in her pocket and pulled out something. It was a burner. Not a burner like they showed on tv, all glossy and pretty, but a short, battered thing, with a rounded butt, that looked as if it had been assembled together from spare parts. “Papa showed you how to fire these, right? You remember?”

Juan remembered. It was hard to forget as it had been only this week. Papa had taken him to the basement, set a burner on lowest, and had him fire at figures painted on the wall.

Mama said, “If someone tries to stop you, shoot them. Don’t stop to see if you hurt them or killed them. Burn center mass, and run on.”

“Papa said never to point it at a person.”

“No, dear,” she spoke very fast. “Never to point it at a person you don’t mean to kill. But everyone is allowed to kill, if the other person would kill them.”

“How do I know—”

“Trust me, Juan. If they try to stop you, if they catch you, they’ll kill you and Angelita. Or worse.” She pushed something into his pocket. He didn’t know what it was, but she said, “There are two scraps of flag there, Papa’s and mine. Papa’s is the one with the stain on the corner. Keep it when you grow up. Give mine to Angelita, when you’re sure she understands. Now go.”

“What about you?”

“Never mind me.” Mama leaned over and kissed him, a brief touch of lips on his hair, and then she pushed him, hard, down the alley.

He ran to keep from falling, and then he kept running, down the alley, at full speed. He was aware of burners firing and of cries. Was Mama shooting people or had she—

He couldn’t imagine Mama hurt, Mama dead, anymore than he could imagine the end of the world. And that’s what it would be if Mama died.

Instead, he held on to the idea that she would escape, she would join him.

He ran as fast as he could, the route she said.

He met no opposition, until, running so fast he almost couldn’t see, and sweat trickling into his eyes, making them sting, he almost ran into the Plaza of Peace. There a uniformed soldier turned around and said “You, Kid!”

Juan didn’t think this counted as trying to stop him, and he didn’t want to shoot the man, who was young and looked a lot like the brother of his friend Klaus, back at school. So instead he ignored him, and turned left, into the alley with the dumpsters. Mama hadn’t said it would be this long.

He ran down it as fast as he could, but it wasn’t very hard, because his legs felt as though they were made of water, and his breath was coming in short puffs. He felt like he would collapse, but he remembered what mama said. Could he live with knowing he’d caused the death of thousands of people? Or failed to save them? He tried to picture thousands of people, but he couldn’t. That would be like everyone he knew.

“Hey, Kid, stop,” came from behind him. And as he ignored it, another voice told the first, “It’s just a kid, why are we chasing him.”

“It’s not just a kid. His description and that he’s carrying a baby is on the bulletins. He’s going to alert the other rebels. Those damned Usaians.”

Juan didn’t want to turn. Juan didn’t want to shoot these young men. But Mama’s words rang in his mind, and he could not doubt these people wanted to stop him. And they’d said damned Usaians. These men wanted to kill them. People like him and Mama. Mama had said–

He pulled the safety on the burner, as dad had taught him to do it, by touch. And he set it on high. Papa said it was just like the games, point and click.

Juan wanted to close his eyes, but he knew that if he did he’d miss, so he turned and fired, center mass, only he kept the beam on and cut straight across. He had the impression of cutting two bodies in half, but he didn’t stop to look.

Angelita had started crying and squirming. Papa used to joke she slept through everything, but judging by the smell, she must be dirt. He murmured soothing words he knew wouldn’t help, as he ran and hoped no one looked out the windows to see where the crying baby was.

He came to the dumpster and turned, in the almost blind dark, and ran. This alley was shorter, and it ended in a brick wall. There was ivy growing along the wall, and, fortunately, Juan was light. Fortunately, too, he’d always liked climbing.

Even so, Mama was right, and it was difficult. It was very difficult to hold on and not to squish Angelita against the wall. Particularly, since she was crying.

At the top of the wall, he hesitated. There was a man with the dog in the enclosure. He was old, about Papa’s age, and he had a pipe, and a little yellow puppy playing at his feet.

He looked up, as Juan sat there, and Juan didn’t want to kill him, because he didn’t think he was the authorities, but he had to go up and give the message… He had to.

The man blinked at him, in confusion. “Hello, there. What is wrong?”

The last was said in a tone of concern, as he looked from Juan to the baby.

“I must see my uncle,” Juan said. The idea just came to him. Anyway, at the great fall festival, when people gathered in some secret place to eat and trade stories, the kids called every older man uncle and every older woman aunt, so, it must fit. “James Remy.”

The man’s face froze. There was a long silence. He opened his mouth, closed it, opened it again. He looked kindly, with pale hair streaked with white, and grey eyes, and he said, “I see, you must be my nephew, Jimmy.”

“No. Juan,” he said. “Juan Johnson.”

“Of course Juan. Sorry, I got confused with your brother. Here, let me help you down from the wall.”

There was a bad moment, as the man reached up and took Jimmy’s hands, and helped him, till he was holding him and Angelita in his arms, together, and Juan thought he would hold him and not let him go, and then Juan would have to kill him. But the man must have sensed Juan’s discomfort, and put him down. “We can’t talk here,” he said. “We’ll go on up to aunt Mary, shall we.” He whistled for the puppy, “Come on Pie.”

“Pie?” Juan asked, as he noted they were going in through the back door and trotting up the stairs Mama had described.

“Pumpkin pie. My daughter Jane named him. She’s very silly.”

The puppy followed at their heels, as they got to the top of the stairs.

The shock when the door opened was almost too much for Juan. He’d been living a bad dream for the last hour? Eternity? But here was normal life, just like it had been at home before that knock on the door. They had a Winter Holidays tree set up, all decorated and lit with lights, and presents under it, and there was a smell of food, and there were two kids, just older than him, and a baby, and a large blond woman, with a kind face, who looked at the man he’d come in with, and then at Juan, with Angelita, and said, “Now, Jim, what?”

But the man was walking past her, and telling the two children, “I think this is bugout. You know what to do. Go.”

The woman said, “Oh, no. Can’t be. They’ve eased the restrictions on religions. We can even have trees if we don’t call them—”

But the man turned to Juan and said, “Son, what is your message?”

“Paul sent me,” Juan said, feeling like he would cry, and he wasn’t sure why, repeating Mama’s words. “Treason.”

The man said a word. One of those words Papa said when he cut himself with one of his tools. And then took a deep breath. “I’ve been wondering. First the Christians, then us. Anything that might stop the state…” He looked at Juan’s uncomprehending face.

“How do we know?” his wife said. “how do we know it’s not a trap so we reveal ourselves?

The man looked at Juan and said, very softly, “In congress, July four, seventeen seventy six—”

Juan nodded and answered with the remembered words, “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires—”

“Enough, son. He’s one of ours. Mary, I’ll pack, you change that baby and give this young man something to drink, and maybe something to eat. I think he’s been through hard times, just now.”

The big blond woman took him by the hand. She felt like Mama, even though she couldn’t be because Mama was small and dark. Presently, she was giving Angelita a bottle while Juan ate a bowl of warm oatmeal with cream and brown sugar and told her what had happened. Her eyes got misty when he talked about Mama being left behind.

Juan had been thinking, he said, “She’s dead now, isn’t she, ma’am?” It seemed impossible, and yet he was sure of it, in a way. “Papa said if you died defending the Usa, you’d be born again in a land of freedom, is it true? Do people live more than once?”

The woman’s eyes misted, blue beneath a veil of tears. “Some people think so. Some of our people. But my husband and I we’re Chri– We believe in another religion, too, an older one. We just think there is a better land, and your mama and papa are already there. You should call me mom now. It will make things easier. Your name is Juan? Maybe we should call you John.”

“Juan is the name on my birth certificate,” he said, “But Papa said my real name was John Adams. And Angelita is Martha Washington. Johnson.”

“Let’s forget the Adams and the Washington. We need to be even quieter than we’ve been,” the father of this family said, as he did things around them. Juan wasn’t sure what the things were, but he was bringing small bags from inside, and checking burners, as though to make sure they were okay, then setting them atop the bags. “Your name now is John Remy, can you remember that? And Mary is your mom and I’m your dad. And Angelita is Martha. Just Martha. I think we’ll call her Marty, shall we?”

Juan was too tired to protest. The oatmeal had hit his stomach and somehow made him feel warm and really sleepy.

“You go with your brother Jimmy and mom,” the man he was to call dad said. “You know where to go,” he told his wife. “Take the baby. I’ll take Jane and go the other way after I pass on the alarm. We’re just a normal family, going to visit relatives. If you run into trouble, send me signal. I’ll try to retrieve you. That message – someone gave away our enclaves and we don’t have very long. I’ll pass on the codes, and then I’ll join you.”

“Where are we going, sir—uh—dad?” Juan said.

“Olympus Seacity. We’re not forbidden there.”

“Yet,” his wife said.

“Yet, but we’ll survive this,” her husband said, and kissed her. “You can’t erase the idea of the USa until you kill every one of us. And they can’t. We’ll move on. We’ll be secret. We’ll keep going. And someday, someday, we’ll be free to be and to believe again. The idea of freedom and equality we hold might be small and frail compared to the will to power of the tyrants, and the idea that our betters should always lead. But once it had been kindled in human breasts, it is unquenchable. We’ll go to Olympus. We’ll start again. They always need skilled people. And if we should fail and if we should fall, someone will go on, someone will believe. Maybe one of these children.” He kissed his wife again. “Go on. Jane and I will join you and take Pie with us.. And you too, Johnny, go on. Your Mama and Papa and you saved a lot of people tonight. And you might have saved the hope for a future in freedom.”

Juan didn’t understand it all, but as he went out into the night again, this time held in the arms of his adopted mom, he felt somehow that he’d accomplished something big, something that would be remembered. The young man, Jimmy, was carrying Angelita, who was asleep again.

They walked down the street, in the muted street lights. Above the moon shone with a bright, clear, silvery light.

And it seemed to Juanito that up there, somewhere, Mama was watching and smiling. Perhaps he’d saved many people, but he’d only done what she wanted.

That was enough for him.

She’d believed that the words he’d been taught, the beliefs she held, would one day make the world better.

He didn’t know if she was right, but she was Mama. Dead or alive, he’d follow her beliefs.

“Life, liberty,” he whispered to himself.

“And the pursuit of happiness,” his new mom said. She kissed his forehead. “And we will pursue all three, little one. We will. However long it takes to attain them,There are dreams so big you must keep chasing them, no matter how long it takes.”

Juan only half heard her.  He was falling asleep, slipping into a dream where the great summer high holiday was held in the open, in a park with green grass, and there were red blue and white streamers floating in the wind, and fireworks, like what dad had told him about in the old days.

Mama and papa were there, holding hands and looking up at the fireworks.  And in their faces was the most radiant happiness he’d ever seen.

It was a terrible and beautiful sight,

HRC: Making History – Amanda S. Green

HRC: Making History – Amanda S. Green

No matter what you think about Hillary Rodham Clinton, she did make history in 2016 by being the first woman to be a major political party’s nominee for president. It is also something she isn’t about to let us forget. It is a major theme in What Happened. A theme she repeats over and over and over again.

I’ll admit, when I saw she had a chapter entitled “Making History”, my first thought was to sneer at her ego. Then I had to actually admit she had a point. With that reminder of my own feelings about her in mind, I took another look at the chapter and the one that followed. Now, before you start worrying, it didn’t change much.

For a change, she actually begins by talking about the campaign. In this case, the Democratic Convention and the weeks leading up to it. “The delegate count hadn’t been in question since March, but Bernie had hung on to the bitter end, drawing blood wherever he could along the way. I somewhat understood why he did it, after all, I stayed in the race for as long as I could in 2008. But that race was much closer, and I endorsed Barack right after the last primary. On this day in New York, Bernie was still more than a month away from endorsing me.” (pg 244)

Of course, the delegate count hadn’t been in question, especially when you look at the super delegates. However, if what we’ve been told about the “fix” is true, Bernie didn’t know he’d been stabbed in the back by the party. He didn’t know HRC was going to be the candidate, no matter what. So why would he have conceded when there were still delegates out there to be had?

And HRC acknowledged the role these “super” delegates played in the nomination. In case you aren’t familiar with who these delegates are and how they impact the election process, HRC gives us an insight. They are “the party leaders who join delegates selected in primaries and caucuses in choosing the nominee at the convention.” (pg. 245) These delegates are unpledged. In other words, they can vote for whomever they want at the national convention. In 2016, they made up approximately 15% of the delegates casting votes at the Democratic Convention. So, yeah, the fix was in and I firmly believe Clinton knew well before the final primaries that she would be the nominee based on the fact super delegates exist and she would have that extra 15% margin of votes.

As she writes about finally realizing she would be the Democratic nominee, HRC said, “I was now all that stood between Donald Trump and the White House. . . I was about to become the first woman ever nominated by a major party for President of the United States. That goal has been so elusive for so long. Now it was about to be real.” (pg. 246)

Wow. SHE was the only thing standing between Trump and the White House. Not the voters. Not Trump himself. Her. Ego much?

And there we have it again, she was making history. I’d happily give that to her if she hadn’t soon followed it by this:

I was torn. I wanted to be judged on what I did, not on what I represented or what people projected onto me. But I understood how much the breakthrough would mean to the country, especially to girls and boys who would see that there are no limits on what women can achieve. I wanted to honor that significance. I just didn’t know the best way to do it. (pg 247)

She didn’t want to be judged by what she represented? Then why did she keep telling us every time she could that she was the first woman to be nominated by a major party? For that matter, why does she continue, page after page and chapter after chapter, bringing up the fact? My objection to the above quote goes further. Why is she only worried about letting the “girls and boys” see “there are no limits on what women can achieve”? I’ll tell you why. Because, despite her protestations, she wanted the election to be one of male vs female and not one about who the best candidate was. Otherwise, why wasn’t she trying to show our children that there are no limits on what anyone can achieve, no matter what their sex, race, creed or anything else?

As you probably guessed by now, she spends time in this chapter painting then-candidate Donald Trump as divisive and, well, evil. “He wanted Americans to fear one another and the future.” (pg 249) I don’t know about you, but I remember Trump talking bluntly about what problems the country faced. I didn’t always agree with him. Hell, I often disagreed with him. But I also remember Clinton and her supporters being the ones talking about how we would have blood running in the streets if Trump was elected. They were the ones who tried to promote fear and distrust. So, at best, this is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Except HRC won’t see it and certainly will never admit it.

There’s more of the same in the chapter but most of it all revolves around the same theme: I still believe that, as I’ve said many times, advancing the rights and opportunities of women and girls is the unfinished business of the twenty-first century. That includes one day succeeding where I failed and electing a woman as President of the United States. (pg 257) Wow, “the unfinished business”. Not fighting poverty. Not finding alternative energy sources. Not building better relations with our allies or ending the hostilities in the Middle East. Not even healing racial wounds that are still so prevalent in this country. But she didn’t want to be judged on what she represented – the first woman to be nominated by a major political party.

Riiiiight.

But it gets better. Or worse, depending on your point of view. The next section of the book bears the title “Frustration” and HRC doesn’t hold back. Not. One. Bit. Her frustration and anger – let’s be honest, her bitterness – at not being elected are plain to see. Any doubts I might have had about it were dispelled with the first couple of paragraphs of the new chapter, “Country Roads”.

“We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.” Stripped of their context, my words sounded heartless.” (pg 265) Anyone following the election remembers that statement. HRC is right about one thing. That comment made the rounds and Trump’s camp used it to their advantage. HRC is right about something else, we weren’t always given the full context of the quote. Not that it matters nearly as much HRC wants us to believe.

First, she still refuses to admit she screwed up with the comment. Instead, she called it “unfortunate” (pg 265). She contends that, had we listened to her entire comment, “my meaning comes through reasonably well.” (pg 266) Reasonably well. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like she knows she screwed the pooch but is blaming us for taking her at her word and not reading her mind. But let’s look at the quote.

Instead of dividing people the way Donald Trump does, let’s reunite around policies that will bring jobs and opportunities to all these underserved poor communities. So, for example, I’m the only candidate who has a policy about how to bring economic opportunity using clean renewable energy as the key into Coal Country. Because we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business, right, Tim? And we’re going to make it clear that we don’t want to forget those people. Those people labored in those mines for generations, losing their health, often losing their lives to turn on our lights and power our factories. Now we’ve got to move away from coal and all the other fossil fuels, but I don’t want to move away from the people who did the best they could to produce the energy that we relied on. (pg 264)

So, did she say she’d put the coal miners out of work? Yep. She most certainly did. Oh, she says she doesn’t want to forget about them but she doesn’t say what she is going to do to help them when she closes down the mines and takes away their jobs. She doesn’t say what she will do about the towns that will be decimated by her actions or what will happen to those companies she planned on putting out of business. In fact, all she did was tell these proud people that they were no longer important in her plan. At best, she would put them on the dole. Is it any wonder they didn’t take well to her words?

She “felt absolutely sick” (page 265) because they didn’t understand what she meant. In other words, they understood what she said and that was a big oops!, not that she’d admit it. She blames Fox News for playing the quote. She blames the media for being hard on her for it and not for being hard on Trump each time he said something “offensive” or for “garbling a thought”. (pg 266) Poor HRC, to hear her say it, she got punished for “being too cautious and careful with her words”.

Except this time she was neither. In fact, to prove she still doesn’t understand what she did with that comment, she later calls it her “gaffe”. (pg 270) Yet again, she simply can’t admit she might have misread her audience and made a mistake.

Usually when I meet people who are frustrated and angry, my instinctive response is to talk about how we can fix things. That’s why I spent so much time and energy coming up with new policies to create jobs and raise wages. But in 2016 a lot of people didn’t really want to hear about plans and policies. They wanted a candidate to be as angry as they were and they wanted someone to blame. . .  but I’ve always thought it’s better for leaders to offer solutions instead of just more
anger. . .

Unfortunately, when the resentment level is through the roof your answers may never get a hearing from the people you want to help most. (pg 272)

Oh my. I don’t know whether to say, “Bless her heart” or tell her to grow the fuck up. There are so many things wrong with her comment. Things that, if she possessed at least a little self-introspection or empathy would have given her answers. Not once does she consider that, before offering “solutions”, she needs to understand the anger and frustration. Instead, she basically blames the people for not wanting to hear what she had to say.

“Since the election, I’ve spend a lot of time thinking about why I failed to connect with more working class whites . . . The most prominent explanation, though an insufficient one on its own, is the so-called war on coal” (pg 273) Wait, what? Does she really believe this is one of the main reasons why she didn’t connect with “working class whites”? Is she delusional?

The answer to that is possibly. She blames the Obama Administration for not  being more proactive in fighting the perception that the government was trying to kill the coal industry (pg 274). And then we get to the real heart of what she feels is wrong with those voters she couldn’t connect with.

After John Kerry lost to George W. Bush in 2004, the writer Thomas Frank popularized the theory that Republicans persuaded whites in places like West Virginia to vote against their economic interests by appealing to them on cultural issues – in other words, “gays, guns, and God.” There’s definitely merit in that explanation. . . Then there’s race. (pg 274)

She so conveniently forgets that man Bill talked to her about earlier in the book. The one from Arkansas who said he was going to vote Republican because he knew they’d screw him but he’d given up on the Democrats after years of waiting for them to do as they promised only to see them do the opposite. She ignores the fact that “gays, guns and God” is a vast oversimplification of the importance of religion and 2nd Amendment rights to much of America. And, just to be sure she covers everything, she has to throw in race.

Not once does she ask herself why these are important to the voters. Not once does she consider how what she said during the campaign, or before, would make voters uncomfortable. Nope, far from it. They weren’t enlightened enough to understand what she wanted to do, so they were the problem. She might not come right out and say it but it is clear that she blames these working class whites for not voting for her.

Here’s a telling quote on several levels. “There’s a tendency toward seeing every problem as someone else’s fault, whether it’s Obama, liberal elites in big cities, undocumented immigrants taking jobs, minorities soaking up government assistance – or me.” (pp 276-277). She is so quick to assign this anger and finger-pointing to conservatives and yet she fails to see that she is doing just that sort of assignment of blame to everyone who did not fall all over themselves to get her elected.

Trump brilliantly tapped into all these feelings, especially with his slogan: Make America Great Again. . .What he meant was: “You can have the old America back one I vanquish the immigrants, especially Mexicans and Muslims, send the Chinese products back, repeal Obamacare, demolish political correctness, ignore inconvenient facts, and pillory Hillary along with all the other liberal elites.” (pg 277)

OMG. Not 20 or so pages earlier, she bitched and moaned because people held her to her words. Now she wants us to condemn Trump based on what she tells us he said. She ignores the fact he didn’t want to deport every immigrant. No, he wanted our immigration laws followed and enforced. He wanted to make sure trade agreements were fair and not tilted against America’s best interests. You get what where I’m going with this. So now it is not only Trump’s fault for being unenlightened but ours for voting for him.

Not convinced? “How do we help give people in rural counties such as Mingo and McDowell a fighting chance? The most urgent need right now is to stop the Trump Administration from making things a whole lot worse.” (pg 281) How? How is he making it worse for them than the Obama Administration did? But, a more basic question is why is she writing about this in a book that is supposed to be about the 2016 presidential campaign?

The more I read of the book, the more I find myself wondering why HRC wrote it. This is not a book about the campaign. Not really. What it reads like is the opening salvo for another political campaign or, perhaps, for a bid to be named as an important political appointee. The one thing I am sure about is how glad I am that the American voters did not elect her. “But I wish I could have found the words or emotional connection to make them believe how passionately I wanted to help their communities and families.” (pg 287) She knew from her 2008 campaign that voters didn’t feel connected to her. She knew from the media she was seen as an ice princess, cold, etc. But she couldn’t figure out how to get her message across. How in the hell would she have been able to do so as president if she couldn’t do so as candidate?

We dodged the bullet, in my opinion.

Next up, we get to see what she has to say about her emails. Won’t that be fun?

(You can find the other installments in this series at the following links: What Happened or How I Suffered for this Blog and had to ShareGrit and GratitudeHRC Gets Caught TryingA New Deal, A Square Deal or How She Wanted to be the Next RooseveltIt’s All His Fault, Turning Mourning into a Movement and HRC: Idealism and Realism.)

[I know this is hard to watch, imagine what it must be like to read the book.  If you want to help finance Amanda’s liquor bill, use this address  Send the woman a drink-SAH]

Let There Be Light

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Let there be light!

For a while I used to annoy my mom, whenever she asked me to turn on the light by saying “Fiat Lux” while doing it.  Anyway..

Other than my twerpy teen self, moving right along,

Yesterday I indulged in an annual fun trip and Dan and I went to the botanic gardens to see blossoms of light, their winter illumination show.

First, I must now be full blown introvert.  Well, I think I always was, because first week of school used to exhaust me so much I slept all the time I wasn’t in school, but I was more used to enduring human contact than now that I’m a bummish writer who spends most of her time in her office with imaginary friends.

I found I enjoyed the light show much less this year when it was warm and really busy than last year, when it was bitter cold, and the gardens were — therefore — almost empty.

But all the same, it’s a beautiful experience, all that light, in the darkness of mid-winter, and it is in many ways amazing.

Amazing?

Well, when i was a kid, if you could have transported 10 year old Sarah there, she’d never have wanted to leave.  You might have to knock her out to drag her away.

I remember being starved for light.

Sure, we had electricity, but it mostly amounted to either a light in the middle of the ceiling, lost in a vast realm of shadows, or little side lamps that put out as much light as a night light.

I remember walking through the dark to my grandmother’s house, and CRAVING light.

I remember dad taking me to the lighting of the lights in downtown Porto and thinking it was magical (and by our standards it wasn’t lit up at all.)

Light.

You usually can see the Hoyt house from space.

I have a tendency to turn on every light, and not want to turn them off.

At this season, I could just drive around the most gaudy neighborhoods and revel.  Too much is not enough.  Give me light.

In the whole extent of mankind, we are so incredibly fortunate to live now, when we have the technology and the the wealth to turn night into day, to fill the darkness with dazzling light.

Yes, I do understand “light pollution” can keep you from seeing the stars, though calling it pollution is silly.  It’s not like it sticks around when the source is turned off.

But if you really crave seeing the stars either move out in the middle of nowhere, or drive there now and then.  Don’t try to make everyone keep in the dark for your benefit.

As for “earth hour” when you turn off every light, don’t talk to me about that abomination.  These people’s ancestors’ who huddled in the dark waiting for day break would slap the ignorant idiots for heresy.

Light IS civilization.  Arguably we became modern humans once we controlled fire, once we came near the fire.  Even our domestication of animals like the cat, can be described as “they came close to the human fire.”

Those people who hate light, hate civilization.  And where they get to rule, you get the dark poverty of North Korea.

While I live, I’ll strive to live in the light, to make light (real and metaphorical) and to carry light with me.

For each of us, and for our species as a whole, it will be dark enough in the grave.

While we live, let’s live in light.

Fiat Lux.

The Spheres of Heaven

My country of origin kept a (very bastardized) expression from the Moors that occupied the land for centuries: Oxala, the Portuguese version of Insh Allah and roughly translated as it’s used as “May it be G-d’s will” (rather than, “if Allah wants it.”)

It seems brazen, like walking around naked, to say “Tomorrow I’m going for a walk” without adding “G-d willing.”  The most simple predictions, of the most trivial nature “I think tomorrow we’ll go to the beach” get a “G-d willing” appended to it, because if I said “oxala” people might take it wrong.

Now, I’m not stupid — most of the time — and I’m 55.  This means I’ve seen a lot of “Man poses, G-d disposes” or “I can’t believe this happened to me” both good and bad.  On the balance, for me, good.  I’m a highly improbable creature, on a highly improbable life path (starting with still being alive at all) and so far so good.

But at the same time I know what that “can’t predict/can’t be sure” in reality — not just, you know, giving Himself his due to change plot on a dime — can do to a mind.

For years as a traditionally published writer, I experienced total and complete lack of control.

Sure, I could write the best book I could, and I neurotically did that over and over again.  Neurotically?  Well, madness is after all doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

But the thing was, once it left my hands, it was … out of my hands, quite literally.

The ones most extensively twisted-by-editing with the Magical British Empire books, part of the reason they aren’t out yet, because my “go over” for a writers’ edition amounts to a rewrite.  (Yes, I know.  But the files I have are… interesting.  I don’t seem to have a final/delivered file.  Don’t ask.  I think in the dozens of back and forth editing exchanges, I overwrote it.)  But all of them could be twisted.  Words are plastic (in the sense of malleable) and if someone inserts the wrong thing at the wrong time… it can change the whole sense of the book.  And yeah, sure, copyedits and page proofs are supposed to be run by the author.  But often they’re not.  And often, in the round robin of a publishing house, things appear in the book that weren’t there at “final” viewing of typeset pages.

For instance, in my Shakespeare books, there was an entire paragraph added, heaven only knows why, of someone’s idea of Elizabethan English.  It didn’t add to the plot.  It ddn’t add to character.  It was just someone’s bright, last minute idea.  And this person thought that “illiterate grammar mistakes” was the equivalent of “Elizabethan English.”

Now, I can honestly say stuff — I’m sure — gets through my final reading of page-proofed manuscripts.  By that time I’m on my 11th or 12th go round of the book, and in traditional rhythms it usually lands on my desk as I’m nearing the climax of the current book and running a week behind.  I’m sure that’s how I missed someone at Baen changed one of Simon St. Cyr’s names to Michelle from Michel (probably a spell check thing, honestly combined with not knowing Michael is spelled differently in French.)  Those are minor, won’t make or break a book, and just get me half a dozen letters from fans saying “change this.”  (I can’t guys.)

But that paragraph?  No way in hell I’d have missed it.  No. Way. In. Hell.  I about hit the roof when I found it while casually flipping through the printed book.  (I don’t normally read my published books unless I’m preparing to write more in the series, aka “reading myself into the world.”)

Also edits…  Until five years ago, with a short story, and probably because I was on the verge of killing myself with an ear infection, while trying to prepare to teach a workshop, I never talked back to an edit. My mind had this setting that went “I’m ESL, so if they change wording, they’re probably right.”  And also “they are paying for it.  If they want it purple, I’ll do it.”

But mostly, really, I wanted to be known as “easy to work with” so my career wouldn’t end.

Has that stopped?  Not totally.  The awareness there’s indie makes a difference, though.  When the first publishers of Sword and Blood gave the book to a “volunteer” to edit and she kept doing crazy stuff like correcting my French using some online translator (I no longer have the confidence to SPEAK French to French people — though it would probably be solved by reading in French for a month or so, if I had the time — but I do have a bachelor’s in French via some French college’s Portuguese outpost (I don’t remember which university.  It’s been 26 years since I used it professionally.  Heck, until last month I hadn’t told my husband I also had an equivalent of a BA in Italian from the University of Milan.  It never came up, and also I never need to show the diploma.  Until we tripped on it while cleaning my closet. Anyway, my Italian, like my Swedish is really gone.  I can still READ in Italian, but can’t even start to speak it.) BUT I guarantee to you that my French is better than some online translator program.  Also, (I ran into that in a recent edit, again) if I use a word in French, I mean that word, not whatever you think is more likely.  This particularly editor of Sword and blood also decided I should change all the musketeer names, and not even to the names that people think are “right” because these people were the “inspiration” of the musketeers (look, inspiration and fictional characters are not the same.  For one the inspirations were ALL Gascons and cousins.  Clearly this is not the case in The Three Musketeers.  Where the only one of the four with a first name is Aramis.)  No, this special bunny had “researched” via google, and wanted me to give them the first names they’d been assigned in a 1920’s silent movie.  She was also upset because I didn’t seem to know that Porthos had been a pirate.

That particular edit got returned to sender with a rhino-blistering letter, and they actually rolled it back.

But by then I’d been swallowing just as preposterous edits and editorial letters for years, because after all they were paying for it, never mind my name was on the cover.  (And oh, the reviews I got sometimes, after Amazon became a thing. On errors not-mine.)

So, there’ s that.  There’s also cover, over which we midlisters had no say, and even most bestsellers didn’t really have any control.  There’s distribution and push, which means that in the nineties especially, when publishing houses got to tell the bookstores how many books to take of each title, you know… you could be published and never see your book in a bookstore, ever.  (The Musketeer’s Seamstress and The Musketeer’s Apprentice.  And no, according to my statements it wasn’t because Death of A Musketeer didn’t sell.  It’s because in the four months between traditional publishing decided that historical mysteries didn’t sell.)

So you could write the best book possible, but after that it was all “Oxala.”  And your entire career rode on it.  And you had no control.  None.  In the long view of things, actually, whether the story was great didn’t even count that much for sales.  There were any number of “pushed” bestsellers where you facepalmed so hard all the way through that you looked like a domestic abuse victim.

Sometime in the oughts I read a book on overcoming burn out.  And the first advice was “Find a way to take control of your career.”  I laughed, and laughed, then I put it down.

Now there’s indie.  We have that control, right?

We have more control, sure.  And I appreciate it, but it’s still a chaotic system with a million unknown variables.  At least, though, no one can tell you your career is over.  And you don’t need to walk on eggshells.  There is always a third or fourth or fifth chance.  Change your name, try another subgenre.  You can always start again.

Of course, in the meanwhile and while you’re learning the ropes, you can eat pretty lean.

I think this is part of the reason my old-pro friends are having so much trouble with the change. Sure, it’s freedom, but it’s also being alone, bare to the world, with nothing to back you up, nothing to hide behind.

My friends in the fiction world are not the only ones running scared.

My journalist friends are half and half.  The younger ones are thriving, writing for various sites, moving fast.  The older ones are bitter, lost, sometimes giving up on their (traditional journalism) profession completely.

These are the fields I know well, but it’s hitting EVERYTHING.  Non-fiction writing, sure, but also … well, everything, including apparently retail.

Information technology is changing the way we live, the way we work, the way we do business.

Sometimes the in-between forms, particularly where government gets its nose in, is practically non-functional.  But by and large the more personal, more individual, information-rich new economy is a freeing one.

And yet people are scared, people are losing their minds.

The human animal is not a rational one.  I know that, from myself.  Even things that I know are hurting me, if they’re established ways of doing business/living are hard to leave behind.  You mourn the old way of life, even when it sucked.

But the times they are achanging.  The wheel in the sky is turning a little faster these days.

Those who do best are those with multiple streams of income, who keep it agile, keep it adaptive.

They are the mammals as the meteor nears.

Be a mammal.  You might sometimes scurry in the undergrowth, but you’ll survive.

Keep moving, keep abreast of new conditions, cultivate multiple streams of income.

And don’t give up.  Never give up.

Places of Power

There are individual places of power, places when you just feel right, places that recharge you.

I know most of you are going to say something about majestic redwood forests or some such, but well… different strokes for different folks.

After deciding at 8 that when I grew up I was going to live in Denver and be a writer (and keep in mind that my geography was so great at the time that I actually thought Denver was by the sea.  I might have had it confused with Dover…) I found that there are places in Denver that are “places of power” for me.

Perhaps they were invested with extra power by being visited when we had a “vacation” with the kids, when they were little, but there’s very few times when I’m depressed and dragging that can’t be made way better by taking me to walk around the lake in city park, or to the natural history museum, or to Pete’s.  Perhaps Pete’s most of all.  It’s not unheard of for us, in the middle of an otherwise normal evening, to go to Pete’s for coffee.

As for power… well, going there restores my mood and I feel better, more able to cope.

Most individual places of power are like that, but not all.  I don’t have any bad feelings/memories associated with any particular place, but I know people who do.  Returning to one of those places might be traumatic for people.

In the same way civilizations have places of power, good and bad.  I once had dinner where the founding fathers discussed revolution, and it had a feeling of energy and excitement.

In the same way I have heard people describe sites of great disasters or worse of evil events, like the death camps, or the pyramids of Mexico, as places where even the birds won’t sing, and things feel odd and hushed and depressing.  The same has been described of battle sites of WWI, for instance.

How much of that is because we know what happened there?  How much because there is something that attaches to a place where mass death occurred in quantities?

Whether you believe that there have been other civilizations we don’t even remember, in the potentially 250k years we’ve been human (again, these would have to be either bronze age level or so much more advanced than ours that they returned the Earth to pristine condition when they left, and only some troglodytes, our ancestors, stayed behind.  Either is POSSIBLE, but I’d bet on a lot of the first kind) the truth is even in the history and pre-history we do know, there are tons of such places that have potentially been forgotten.  Some we’ll have forgotten the location, (no one quite knows where the battle Cannae took place, for instance) and some that it even occurred.  One of the things humans have always been good at is batch lot slaughter and genocide, often for what the people doing it believe are laudable reasons.

Would those places also feel hushed, strange, weird?

The fact is that there are some places in which most people experience a feeling of oppression and even some of the other strange things “being avoided by birds and animals” and magnetic issues, for no reason at all that we can figure out.  And most people just sort of avoid it.

I don’t know exactly where I’m going with this — Havey is now sick, and we spent a disturbed night, other than having to clean bathroom and carpet when I woke up because Euclid-cat has old age incontinence — except that if you find a place in a highly populated area and no one has built on it for centuries, don’t.  You might not feel the unease until you’re living in it full time.  (Aka my parents’ house.  And judging from things we’ve unearthed while setting in gardens, etc, probably ancient battle site, Romans vs Celts.)

It fascinates me: the idea that places where great evil occurred have been forgotten, and yet something lingers to tingle the back of our conscious.

The same way of our being gone for so long and our civilization so thoroughly obliterated that what we sense as unclean places are forgotten disturbs me in a way I can’t even explain.

Perhaps it is the fate of humanity to again and again build civilization, which gets forgotten along with all its sins and glories…  only to tickle the unquiet the dreams and the restless senses of those of their descendants who don’t even have any idea of their existence.

 

Sunday Vignettes by Luke, Mary Catelli and ‘Nother Mike & Promo to the Left of me, Promo to the Right – by Free Range Oyster

*Sorry this is late.  I actually did have technical difficulties with WP.  Also, okay, I’m a little afraid of this week’s word for the vignette.  What were they thinking?  – SAH*

Sunday Vignettes by Luke, Mary Catelli and ‘Nother Mike

So what’s a vignette? You might know them as flash fiction, or even just sketches. We will provide a prompt each Sunday that you can use directly (including it in your work) or just as an inspiration. You, in turn, will write about 50 words (yes, we are going for short shorts! Not even a Drabble 100 words, just half that!). Then post it! For an additional challenge, you can aim to make it exactly 50 words, if you like.

We recommend that if you have an original vignette, you post that as a new reply. If you are commenting on someone’s vignette, then post that as a reply to the vignette. Comments — this is writing practice, so comments should be aimed at helping someone be a better writer, not at crushing them. And since these are likely to be drafts, don’t jump up and down too hard on typos and grammar.

If you have questions, feel free to ask.

Your writing prompt this week is: leather

Promo to the Left of me, Promo to the Right – by Free Range Oyster

I’ve nothing witty to say, so rather than attempt and get only half way, let me say that you are a wonderful bunch of folks, and I hope you enjoy these books. All hail the Beautiful but Evil Space Princess! As always, future entries for the promo post can (and should!) be sent to the new email that I messed up last time! Happy reading!

Jason Dyck, AKA The Free Range Oyster

Muse Denier, Shenanigan Enabler, Totally Not a Vegetable

TL Knighton

Sabercat

Tommy Reilly Chronicles Book 1

Despite his rich-kid roots, Tommy Reilly is struggling to make it as a freighter captain. Despite a universe of possibilities, he finds himself running afoul of both pirates and corrupt bureaucrats who seem determined to get in his way at every point. It’s like karma for his bullying past is smacking him in the back of the head.

All of that changes when a figure from his past asks for his help.

Now he’s finding himself at odds with a greedy and overly ambitious business owner who has government backing who happens to be the same man who impounded the very load he needs on his ship. The fact that the load is only the first step in securing information that could bring down the status quo might have something to do with that, however.

Tommy and his crew of misfit rejects have to use skills most of them would rather forget to secure their load, all with eyes watching them everywhere.

Alma TC Boykin

Grasping for the Crowns

The Powers Book 2

Armies and peoples clash and the Powers stir.

The war that began in 1914 grinds through 1916, tearing apart countries and families. István Eszterházy struggles to keep his family fed and his House intact, as British, Italian, and now American treachery threatens to rip the Habsburg Empire asunder. The war is winnable, but the peace the Entente demands could undo centuries of work.

And the land itself stirs as the Powers, poisoned by hatred and fed by war, begin to move. Caught between Pannonia and Galicia, between his family and his liege, István must find a way through. Or the entire empire may collapse around him.

Francis Porretto

Innocents

A novel of the Onteora Canon, set in the very near future. Genetic engineering and zygotic microsurgery have produced both wonders and horrors. Wonders such as drugs tailored to attack a specific disease in a specific sufferer, or surgery to eliminate genetically borne handicaps before mitosis can begin. Horrors such as blindness or deafness deliberately inflicted upon unborn babies, or pitiable creatures whose bodies and minds are warped to satisfy the whims of wealthy perverts.

Security specialist Larry Sokoloff is on vacation far from home, straining to forget a woman he loves but cannot have, when Fountain, a teenaged escapee from a malevolent institution, comes under his protection. What he learns of her nature and origins lays bare the darker face of the Janus of biotechnology, and catapults him and his colleague Trish McAvoy into a mission of vengeance and cleansing. For adults only.

JD Beckwith

eConscience Beta

Peacekeeper Incorporated’s breakthrough nanotechnology could bring repeat offense crime to an end, freeing society from the need for criminal incarcerations. But first, they have to finish testing it. With funding on the line, and time to prove out the project getting short, the lead scientist must find a way speed things up. That’s unfortunate for his guinea pig, and anyone who would stand in his way.

Can the goal of ending most crime justify committing one… even a few?

And what happens when you conflate altruism with egotism?

Find out in eConscience Beta, where two lab techs and an uncouth petty criminal must outwit a brilliant but sociopathic scientist who’ll stop at nothing to establish his legacy as the man who ended crime.