Real Life

Over at Mad Genius Club my friend (is that what he is?  It would seem our relationship would be much closer, we’d been sitting with the murky water of publishing side by side in the same trench for 15 years now.  We’ve seen each other’s kids grow up from a distance, we’ve shared the victories (few) and the kicks in the teeth (many) and talked each other out of the extreme dismals so many times.  You’d think he’d be more a brother-at-arms, a co-combatant, something closer than the much-abused word “friend.”) talks about realistic fiction and how to create the illusion of reality in fiction.

[One of my favorite such moments, in a biography of Christopher Marlowe came when he was arrested — probably while working a sting for the crown — for “uttering” false coin.  The author dropped the “this or that might have been going on, or this or the other thing might be true” and said “so there he was late at night, probably in wholly inappropriate clothing, likely dying for a smoke, and repeating that he must talk to Walsingham, but he also let slip, recorded as part of arrest that he didn’t see why the Queen had the right to coin, and he shouldn’t, since he was as good as her.”  It gave me suddenly the human side, and how young the man was and what I would call “reckless Libertarian” in an age that had no word for it.  Suddenly it made the creature of shadows and spying, double and probably triple agent for merciless powers real, and flawed and damnably young.]

See, even “realistic” non-fiction is still fiction, because reality is boring, incoherent, often intrusive at the worst possible moments, and full of coincidences, and just plain not very good storytelling.

The funny thing is that even non-fiction falls under that “realistic fiction” thing.  You can’t actually read the life of Julius Caesar or Catherine Howard, or Joan of Arc.  You read a narrative of it, which, in the hands of a skilled writer, can give you an impression of who that person really was, like… like when you meet a friend and catch up on what has happened the last ten years.

What you get in that case is a highly edited biography.  There will be some pivotal moments the friend won’t even tell you, himself.  You know, he’ll say, “And I decided I really was not suited to the insurance business.”  He won’t say, “It was that morning, I had a headache and was prone to my cyclical depression, and then I had to deny three claims, and I said bugger it all.”  Or he might, but it’s not guaranteed.  He might no longer remember exactly what made the luster go from the job, forever.

In the same way, your own image of your own life is sort of that edited biography.  I get a lot of “uh, what was I thinking?” when I open long-packed boxes, particularly if they belong to the “apnea years” when dan had apnea so bad neither of us was sleeping.  Or perhaps to the years when the kids were tiny, and we were either low on sleep or ill because we lived low on sleep.

I mean there are things I know how to do: like, oh, make a bed, or cook.  And you can say “you can do it in your sleep” and you kind of can, except you don’t do it the same.  Sometimes I find notes for novels and go “what the actual heck, surely by 2007 I knew a long, sustained whine wasn’t a novel.”  But either I didn’t, or at the time I was depressed/under the gun/too tired to realize what I had weren’t note for a novel but various walls to drop on a character.

If I ever do anything to merit having my biography written, it amuses me that so much of the last 10 years will be subsumed in something like “And then Sarah started getting seriously hypo-thyroidal and it affected her functioning.”  Maybe people will mind marks of the illness in my books.  Heaven knows they are probably there, as more and more, with my memory/verbal ability failing, it felt like all my energy was going towards hiding how badly things were going.

OTOH maybe that part will be lost, and they’ll attribute the hypothyroidism issues to something else, growing pains or whatever.

Even I can no longer remember everything that was going on when.

Yesterday was a very good day in some ways, but completely lost to writing.  In any biography it would be completely passed over.

Those state of the writer updates I do now and then is just enough to catch you up on what’s been going on, but not in anyway detailed.

I was thinking of the excellent William Patterson biography of Heinlein, a man who changed markedly through his life, and he gives us the times the man changed, and how, and sort of marks the places, but the hundred different ways he changed, and how he grew to be who he was.

Right now my life is working something like this: work like mad, finish work, get very ill with auto-immune, come back to life and work like mad to finish work.

My son tells me it’s not that I’m doing something wrong, and no losing weight will probably not make me get fewer of these episodes (though I am still trying to lose weight, or at least not gain) and no, exercise won’t help that much, except maybe for reducing my stress levels.  He says auto-immune syndrome (which I passed on to both boys) naturally gets worse with age, and whatever I die of eventually it will probably be because I lost that particular fight.

But none of this matters, in the long run, in my bio, just like last night’s dinner with friends won’t matter.  In the end it’s “the work of our lives” that matters.

Sure in my case that’s writing, to an extent.  At leas that was the realization that hit me like something very sharp when I was in the hospital dying of what would later be diagnosed as intercellular  pneumonia, and I realized that despite everything I’d done so far, the one thing weighing on me was all the worlds that would die with me, in my mind.  And that I was supposed to write, which I did, from then on, in a serious way, though it took me four years to sell a novel.

So I know writing is part of what I’ll regret not doing when my personal Ragnarok draws near.

The other part I hope is raising the kids to where they can fly on their own, and making whatever genetic contribution matters in the long run (hopefully not the curse of auto-immune.)

But it is not for us to make the decision of what will matter.  I wonder if Shakespeare would be shocked to know what a contribution he made to Western civilization when I’m sure his goal was pushing his children another rung up the social ladder of his time.

We just do what we can with our limited vision at that moment, but in the end all the stories and summarizing of life makes no difference, and it’s what we accomplished that stands and falls on its own, long after us.

All we can do is do the best we can and hope that it’s all for the best.  Everyday.

Just the Vignettes by Luke, Mary Catelli and ‘Nother Mike

Just the 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: confuse

The State of Things

Today is one of those days I woke up with absolutely nothing that deserves to be said in a blog.  It’s amazing how often the block hits only one part of the writing.  Today I don’t have blog-brain.

Of course, you’ll say, it was exactly for this purpose that I started doing a serial novel.  And you’re not wrong.  The problem is that I need to go over what I have of Rogue Magic, before I can finish it.  There are “wrong pointers” throughout it that need to be corrected before I go on with the thing.

Look, I’m printing it right now so I can go over it in my copious spare time, which usually amounts to in bed, before going to sleep.

I’ve started trying to take at least every other weekend off, but I’m not sure how that policy will hold up or work out.  We shall see.

Meanwhile, I’ve come to the conclusion what I was trying to do isn’t working: what I was trying to do is work on Guardian in the morning and for indie in the afternoon.  My brain won’t divide that way, and all I manage is stopping both.  I shall now attempt to finish Guardian in the next couple of weeks (enough to send on to the boss to do what he will, and then kick back, maybe) and then resume the indie, where, yes, I know, I’m late on a bunch of stuff, the second Vampire Musketeer and the fourth Dyce being the most pushy ones right now.  Then there’s the next musketeer mystery (probably) and then I need to work for Baen for a while.

Don’t worry, it will all get done, now I figured I need to concentrate on one thing at a time.

Of course it would help if I stopped having days where my body is awake but my brain is shambling around inside my head going “brainz” which it’s now sort of doing.

Ah, well, perhaps a better eating and exercise regimen and not being a derp about going to bed on time will help.  Now that the ankle is… not healed precisely, but not hurting like living fire, we should do okay.  And if you guys ever catch me going outside, over the ornamental stones, in my slippers, particularly on a wet day, you have my permission to hit me with the two by four with da nails init.

My for-fun reading right now is The Invasion of Europe by the Barbarians by J. B. Bury, which might seem odd — and is — but lately I’ve been reading a lot about ancient peoples movements, which I think relates to a project growing/festering at the back of my brain.  (Think of it as World of Tiers, crossed with Chronicles of Amber but… well, mine, which as you know is a terrible thing for anything to be.)  If all goes well and I do the mass of work (six more books) between now and the end of the year, I hope to start on this one in January, whether it goes for Baen or indie depending on a whole bunch of stuff, including how long the books turn out to be, which I won’t know till I’m further into it.

Anyway, this book is giving me a ton of insight into things I learned as a little kid, about the Germanic invasions of Portugal.  This one, weirdly, sort of anticipates the current theory that the Germanic tribes trickled into the Empire and changed it enough that by the time it fell it was a Germanic principality/institution falling to wild Germanic tribes, rather than Rome as we know it falling to the Germans.

Anticipates?  Well, this book is from 1928.  I know, because I went and checked the copyright page halfway through, because I knew/thought it was about 100 years old, and then in a passage about “refugees” who came into the Roman Empire turning out to be really enemies, intent on destroying it from within, it had the passage “Note the difficulties present day Europe is having with refugees.”

Turns out they were talking about Greeks fleeing Turks.  Which goes to show you that plus que ca change….

Anyway, that’s the state of the writer right now.  I’m going to write some Julie mayhem now.

 

Sin Eaters

A friend got caught in a discussion on Facebook where he was told that Lenin and Marx were center-right.

After he was done face palming, he asked what that even meant.  He was told that any military action or violence is right wing.

Now, we’ve long, here, and in many other places, said that left and right make no sense as universal designations, as they have have completely different meanings in say Europe and America.  Hell, they have different meanings in America from the seventies to now.

The old GOP operated on the idea that a planned economy was always better because this was scientifically proven (okay, mostly Russian propaganda made them think that) they were just trying to keep some liberties for individuals under it.  The other side, OTOH wanted “communism with a human face.”  (BTW it is that some GOP representatives remain from this time — hello Senator McCain– that makes the GOP appear schizophrenic.

After the fall of the Soviet Union and a glimpse at the sewer of corruption and lies under their official figures, and the sheer desperate poverty under that, the US shifted to the right being “less government always” and the left… well, they still want communism with a human face as their long term goal.  Because this time it will work.

And in Europe the right means, roughly, “Land, G-d and king” even when there is no king and they’re mostly post-Christian.  The left… Oh, yes, the buggers want communism and aren’t too picky on the human face, though they’ll say what they have to say to get the power.  They’re nothing if not consistent.

But at some point you have to go with what people call themselves.  (Curiously both SJWs and alt-right after calling themselves those names started whining they were unflattering because of the ideas that attached to them.  Gee. Sorry, we’ll still go with what you called yourselves.  Any new name you chose would quickly be as tainted.  We’re just saving you time.)

Communists, socialists and Jacobins and Sans Culottes called themselves left, and all of them throughout history have committed more violence than any other historical regimes combined.  In fact the violence committed by left wing regimes could bathe the whole world in blood twice over.

It is not a surprise when you consider what all those movements had in common was making the sin of envy into their cardinal virtue.  If you believe other people are keeping from you everything you could possibly want, you’ll do anything to get them out of your way.

But the new and improved definition of “left” and “right” didn’t surprise me either, mostly because I read my kids school books, in which hard core communist regimes like Russia and China are called “right wing” and in which any sympathy for the army makes you an evil despot in waiting, and on and on.

Part of this is the ethos of the education establishment.  Most teachers are incredibly maleducated and taught by hippy-left professors.  So instead of a clear view of history, they have this vague impression that anything resembling organizatioon, work, money or fighting is icky.  And being icky it must be right wing.

The other part of it is that for decades now (mostly due to Soviet propaganda and leftist dominance of the medica) the left has succeed  in making the right their sin eaters.  I.e. if communists are violent in Mexico and the government cracks down, it will be reported as innocent “liberals” being put down by the repressive right wing.  The same could be said of the Soviet Union rampaging through Africa.  Anyone who attempted to stop them were “evil right wing fascists.”

What it boils down to, has already been seen in this country.  Their violence is JUST free speech, and any attempt to stop them attacking us (physically) even to the point of telling them “No, stop.” is unbearable violence.

Well, they got away with that crap because they controlled everything.  Now their really fascist supposed antifa is exposed in the full light of day by blogs and citizens with cell phones.

The poor indoctrinated sheep to whom they taught all violence is right wing aren’t much help either.  what they internalized as “perfect left wing” is a sort of vegetarian pastoral society who fights off enemies by saying “we’re really peaceful.”  They’re best exemplified by the “anarchist” leader who had been bragging in advance of the DNC in Denver in 2008 on how they were going to roll over those hick cops (if you’re from the Denver Area you know our cops are often …. a little too enthusiastic.)  Surrounded by a circle of police on horseback, tightening the circle, this brave activist fell to the ground screaming he needed his inhaler.  …. yeah.

To the left: stop moving the semantic goal posts at relativistic speed.  We are not your goats.  We won’t be driven into the desert.  Your twisted envy-powered beliefs have been responsible for the needless death of millions.

Pointing at us, instead, won’t wash the blood off.  Nothing will.  It would turn the ocean incarnadine.

Own it.  No matter how much you call yourself “blue” we can still see the red all over you.  It’s a blood guilt you can’t pass off.  And a warning to anyone who thinks your crazy ideas might be worth another try.

 

It’s been that sort of month

For me, and for a whole bunch of people I love.

So, I just want to say no one asks you to be perfect, and no human beings are perfect, and some of the strongest and best people I know are those fighting the greatest handicaps.  And sometimes the handicap is just the way you are: in your mind and in your sense of honor, in what you can do, and the way the world is setup.

Sometimes it is when you fail and fall on your face that you find the path in which you’re meant to be.

And sometimes it is the fact you’ve fallen on your face that allows you to see things others don’t.

If my health had been perfect in childhood, I probably would be a housewife in a tiny village in Portugal.  I certainly wouldn’t be a writer, and not in English, of all things.

Or, to quote Leonard Cohen “There is a crack, a crack in everything.  It’s how the light comes in.”

Let the light shine.

breakbeforeshine

UPDATE: This just posted at Pjmedia: Mr. Acosta Can You Hear Me Now?

Massacre, War and Colonialism

So I’ve been reading this mystery.  Yes, yes, “It came from KULL” [kindle unlimited lending library] I know, but it’s actually decent.  I mean, it’s not exactly setting my world on fire, but it’s pleasant enough.  Until…

The book is set in the nineteenth century. One of the characters is reading her father’s diary, and her father was a scientist/explorer (who has disappeared.  This is sort of the background to the whole series, not the mystery) and she’s enthralled by his adventures, until…

Until his party is attacked by neighbors, and they fight back, killing a bunch of the natives.  The author then refers to this as a “massacre” and proceeds to act as though this tarnished the main character’s view of her father forever.

Then to make things clearer, this woman’s bone-headed brother in law comes in to say that the savages should be glad we bring them civilization even if we have to kill them.  And in case you know, the reader might be tempted to sympathize with this opinion, blusters about how men and women shouldn’t work together, because they might become — horror of horrors! — friends.  Then he huffs off, shedding straw as he goes.

[Sarah puts thumb and forefinger on either side of the bridge of her nose, closes her eyes and inclines her head.] Where to begin?

Let’s start with the fact that the attitude of the main character is seriously a-historical.  A woman of the time might be horrified by the “barbarous” doings, but would certainly not think it constituted a massacre.  To consider this a massacre takes knowing that in these clashes the white men would ALWAYS win and were disproportionately equipped to do so, and KNEW they’d survive and kill all the others.

Reality check, okay, even in this book that’s given the lie, since her father was almost certianly killed by natives.  But beyond that, the world is strewn with the corpses of scientists/explorers, even those way better armed than hostile natives, but at a disadvantage in the landscape.

Then there’s the brother in law’s opinion that colonialism is good for you.  You know… for most of human history it was.  Now, it wasn’t particularly good for INDIVIDUAL humans.  Being invaded and more often than not reduced to the position of serfs or slaves purely sucks. But when the colonialists bring with them a higher level of production/wealth creation/security… well…  I’d hate for it to happen to me or my kids, but in the long run future generations might be much better off.

Now this isn’t always true, of course.  Colonialism, like other Marxist buggaboos, has no existence in itself.  It is the abstract isolation of a phenomenon that can be good or bad or indifferent, depending on who is colonizing whom.  (It is also not, btw, a characteristic of white men.  All humans colonize. Which is why there are humans on every continent.)  Europe being invaded by the Moors might very well, on the whole, have redounded to the worse.  Some things were gained from the invasion, sure (almonds and the artesian well were among the ones we were forced to memorize in school) but had it not been thrown off, the level of individual happiness and wealth would probably have ended up lower (as it did in Africa) and it can be argued it left behind habits of mind that are at odds with modernity (which they didn’t know would come) as well as regressive treatment of women.  It’s far more complex than that, though, since each invading civilization brings both good and bad, and also changes while it’s occupying the land.

That change, btw, accounts for a lot of the disastrous effects of European colonialism in much of Africa: as Europeans embraced Marxist thought, the leading minds of Africa came to Europe to study it.  What communism, socialism, and its cousins have done to Africa doesn’t bear contemplating.

The author, btw, as though aware she’s being crazy and imposing her crazy on the story, goes on about how her father was “trespassing” and that’s why these young men attacked.

[Does sinal salute again.]  She never actually tells us what moral behavior in those circumstances would be.  Letting themselves be slaughtered when they were attacked, even though they aren’t doing anything wrong (objectively) but merely looking for specimens?

Look, I’ve described this type of encounter between western civ and tribal mind set before.  To an extent our current confrontation with Islam is that, writ large.  There is a tribal mind set that is very old, is probably built into our genes, because we were tribal long before we were anything else, and which goes something like this “strangers in our territory” (however defined, since most tribes lacked the concept of land ownership.)  “We’ll commit atrocities against them, so they leave us alone.  The greater the atrocities, the less trouble they’ll be.”

Unfortunately western civ interprets/ed atrocities as “these savages can’t be tamed/integrated.  Kill them all and let G-d sort them out.”

This is a problem, because in the language of violence (and violence, between human groups is a language, intended to convey a message) what is “said” and what is “understood” are completely different.  And it will escalate violence until the stronger civilization destroys the weaker one.

It’s a tragedy, but it’s unavoidable.  It’s been happening for centuries or millennia — alas, Cartago! — and absent the ability to telepathically communicate with a tribal civilization to make them back off, I do not know what the author thinks could be done to avoid the “massacre” of people who were trying to kill a scientific expedition.

But more importantly, speaking to the mindset behind this, the mindset that thinks colonialism is somehow evil, and can only exist from whites/Europe versus everyone else, and also that SOMEHOW Europeans are so powerful that when they kill EVEN PEOPLE ATTACKING THEM it’s always a massacre:

1- All humans are colonialists.  All humans are territorial.  Before we had anything as complicated as tribes, if our understanding of our nearer evolutionary relatives is right, we had family bands, who had territories.  Clashes occurred at the bands of these territories.  The band that was successful in taking over the territory and aggregating the other band, eventually became a tribe.  The tribe most successful in conquering others, eventually became a nation.  You can beat your chest and cry, but it doesn’t matter  We’re not angels.  We’re uppity apes and this is how we function.  All your scolding won’t change it.

2- Violence will always happen when two very disparate civilizations meet.  Why?  Because even when they talk, even when they learn each other’s language, the concepts will be different.  Take martyrdom.  In Christianity this means entering the Arena singing Hymns and acting happy, because overtime that will convert the spectators.  In Islam it means blowing yourself up killing the infidel.  You can talk martyrdom, but it doesn’t mean the same thing on either side.  Violence is also a language, and when even your violence is misinterpreted, it means you don’t have a language in common.  And violence WILL happen and someone will win.  If you feel that your civilization should never be the one to win, there might be something wrong with you.

3- Someone will win from this violence.  All the scientific/exploration parties that died and disappeared means that sometimes the tribal humans win over those who are contributing to the species knowledge of the world.  Those are sad occurrences, but they count for nothing, except that it encourages other tribal humans to fight and die trying to take down something they CAN’T take down.  It’s an escalation of tragedy, if you will.  In the end, killing the tribal band that first attacks you (instead of what?  Lying down and dying, to expiate ‘privilege’?  In a land where the privilege is obviously with the natives?) is the best thing you can do.  It sends the message “fighting is futile” and will encourage the local tribe to try to protect itself by other means, be they negotiation or trade.

4- In a clash between civilizations, if you decide that your morals require you not to fight/lie down and die, you’ll be the one colonized.

There is no option between human civilizations for ‘we’ll each go to our little territories and stay there’.  That’s not how humans work or ever have.  Population pressure; desire for goods; desire for a certain land; conviction of one’s superior civilization, will keep us fighting and trying to expand (and btw, that last applies to ALL human civilizations.  Yes, Islam believes they’re superior to and more powerful than the west.  They have Allah on their side, after all.)  Your choice is never “let’s all live in harmony.”  Your choice is colonize or be colonized.  Think carefully of where you’d rather live, and which mind sets and conditions you’re willing to encourage.

And stop mouthing pieties about “massacres” when someone fights in self defense.  Western Civilization is not always the winner, and will not always be the winner.

The fatal oikophobia you’ve been taught is the worm gnawing at the heart of the civilization that’s lifted most humans out of poverty.  Examine carefully how you’d like to live before your throw your weight behind the supposed victims.  They’re just another set of aggressors.  And if you wouldn’t like to live under their rules, that’s not the side you should be fighting on.

No humans are angels.  Some are just more accomplished warriors than others.  That doesn’t make them bad.  It all depends on what you’re fighting for.

What You Owe

Do not confuse “duty” with what other people expect of you; they are utterly different. Duty is a debt you owe to yourself to fulfill obligations you have assumed voluntarily. Paying that debt can entail anything from years of patient work to instant willingness to die. Difficult it may be, but the reward is self-respect.
– Robert A. Heinlein

I found this Heinlein quote yesterday, while working on the article for PJmedia (I know most of my Heinlein quotes at a remove, because I first read them in Portuguese, so I need to check every time to make sure I don’t mangle them.) At first sight this resounds a lot with Mister Obama’s statement that “Sin is being unfaithful to my principles” — which given the changeable nature of the left’s principles means that “sin is what I feel like it should be today.”

Of course, that is not it, and if you look at it, it’s quite a different sort of thing.  I’d never, at least consciously, come across that quote, but I’ve been living by it for years, partly because I absorbed its ethos from Heinlein’s books.  Stuff like, if you save someone’s life you’ve assumed a Chinese obligation for that life.  It was that principle that would not allow us, when we moved across the country, to do the common thing of giving away our cats, and just getting kittens after moving.  Instead, we orchestrated a three part move to a new city, with cats shipped in two batches after us (and Pete, the difficult case, moving with us, in the car.)

It causes us to pay on contracts, even when it’s not convenient.  It causes me to feel an obligation towards Baen, even in these days when Indie would pay me more.  It causes us to drive through the night to go help a friend, even when it’s the LAST thing we want to do.

This is because we’ve assumed those obligations voluntarily, as we did the obligations for our children, the obligations for our own upkeep, the obligations to employers and friends, to neighbors and places where we shop and the obligations to this country, like my freely sworn oath to defend the constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic.

What doesn’t it cover?  Well, it’s not my duty to make the TSA’s job simpler.  I might choose to do it, because the alternative is jail, but I don’t feel a DUTY to do it.  It’s not my duty to pay the maximum tax I can owe.  I can use deductions and loopholes (we don’t use loopholes, because we’re too poor to afford the lawyers, but you get my point.)  It is not my duty to “provide for those who make less.”  It might be my duty to exert Christian Charity, again freely assumed, but that’s QUITE something else from giving someone a portion of my paycheck simply because on paper I have more money.

We run into these situations all the time.  The public schools where my kids went tried to convince everyone it was their duty to volunteer.  No, it’s in fact not.  The schools get funding from our paychecks, and they should make do with what they have and not conscript parents to come copy papers or whatever.  It is my duty to see my kids educated to the best of their ability (and mine) but it is not my duty to do it the way the school wants me to, or to help the school fill their heads with mush.

It is not my duty to bear the burden of a society where other people who work less or make less effort want part of my earnings.  It might be the government’s bright idea that’s my duty, but it’s not.  I have not agreed to be conscripted to pay for others’ easy ride through life.

But if I still have to do things, even though they’re not my duty, because otherwise they’ll put me in jail, what is the point of saying that.

It’s a very great point.

At various times in history, humans choose to comply with force, because they don’t have the means to fight it.  But unless they internalize force as “right” they remain free to disagree with it, and free to overturn force in the future.

If the founders had thought that England had the right to impose taxation without representation and, as good British subjects, they’d thought it was their duty to comply with his majesty’s whim, we wouldn’t be here.  Sure, some people paid because they had to, and the road to the revolution was long and complicated, but the seed was there, as not internalizing  as your duty things you did not and would never agree too.

Fulfill those duties you freely assumed, yes, even unto death, because that’s the price of your honor and your adulthood.  But those obligations imposed on you by force majeure?  Accept the need to do it, if there is no other alternative, but do NOT under any circumstances internalize it as your duty or feel guilty for not fulfilling it.  Down that path lie socialized medicine and your obligation to die when the government wants to guarantee your “death with dignity.”

Living and dying free demand a lot of sacrifice, and for those of us of an honorable disposition, taking care of the weaker people in our sphere influence.

But they prevent your being a sheep for your betters’ shearing.  And they allow you self-respect.

 

 

Reading and Relevance

I come from a strange time and place.  Most science fiction people are “strange” in that most people who read science fiction in the US are considered a little strange.  At least I’m reminded of this every time I go out in public, and mingle with normal every day people.  If they discuss books at all, it’s the latest bestseller.  In a gathering of women, you might get some love for romance.  But our stuff?  That’s coo-eee, out there and “why would you want to read that.

That’s fine.  I don’t expect science fiction and fantasy will ever be more than a bleep in the total number of book sales.  We’re natures little oddkins.  It’s enough for a writer to make a living, though, particularly in indie.

And yeah, it’s weird to be a woman who writes this stuff.  Not within the field so much.  We’ve been in the field from the beginning, we’ve shaped it from the beginning, and frankly geek-boys love any woman crazy enough to like the stuff they do.  The little girls (even those who are technically male) who try to pretend otherwise are sad, silly little things trying to make themselves seem brave and important.

But there are or were fewer women in the field, at least if the field is science fiction (fantasy is different and with urban fantasy, paranormal romance and urban fantasy, we’ve come a long way from that time my Mother in Law thought I had invented the writing of fantasy for adults (no, really.  She wanted to know why any adult would read my Shakespearean series, and enjoined me — for the thousandth time — to “write for children, because they’re the only ones with a mind as open as yours.”  (snort, giggle gasp.)

Look, it’s baked in the cake outside geek culture, okay.  Nine times out of ten when it slips out I write, in meeting a perfect stranger, I get asked “romance?”  and when I had little kids trailing along “Children’s books?”  Or even — my favorite — “Do you draw the pictures yourself?”  I’ll be honest, I think the last one is the result of “lady, you have an accent.  There ain’t no way you can write in English for grown ups.”  (The twin to this is “what language do you write in” and if my kids and husband aren’t around — it embarrasses them mortally — I answer with “Mandarin Chinese, but then I have to pay a translator, because I don’t speak it or understand it.”  I’ll note in all the times I’ve given this answer, the person just nods.  No one has gone “Uh?”  Sigh.)

But I think most women who write get the “romance of children’s books” particularly if they’re married and/or totting kids around.  It’s not exactly that people are heinous in assuming this, either.  Kris Rusch says stereotypes exist because they so often fit reality, and this is definitely one of those.  Most women who write write romance (look up and down a bookshelf someday.  And many women start writing because they want to tell stories to their kids. (Me, I find writing for children incredibly challenging, probably because my own children were… well… odd.)

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this.  It’s just betting the odds when meeting a stranger.  If it’s a woman writer, you assume romance, if it’s a man writer you assume thriller.  Most of the time, you’ll be right.  Sure, if he’s particularly cerebral-looking, you might assume science fiction, but look, there are so few of us over all, that we’re… well, not a good bet.  And women — even though we outnumber men in the field now — haven’t fallen into public consciousness as “science fiction” yet.  (Which is why the general public buys that there is ‘orrible discrimination against us.

But I come from a weird time and place.  That I read and wrote at all (I don’t mean being able to, but enjoying it) was very, very weird.  It will surprise no one that grew up in a Latin culture or is close to one, that I could be studying for finals, and/or doing translation work, and mom would feel free to interrupt me at random, for any reason or none  at all, but if I were embroidering or doing crochet — something I did very rarely because I didn’t have time, and which was a hobby (still is) — she’d tiptoe around me, turn on lights if it was getting dark, and refer to it as my “work.”

And don’t go judging her particularly harshly either.  She made her living designing and making clothing.  In her lived experience being able to sew a neat stitch or figure out the drape of a fabric made much more money than being able to recite ancient history.  (She made more money than dad until she retired because of one too many tight deadlines, and heart attacks.) Also, there might have been some idea that being able to do hand-work was feminine and attractive.  At least I can’t figure out why my classmates (my friends were odd, okay) were working on their trousseau from age six.  I’m not good at reading undercurrents if they don’t fit in my view of the world.

Anyway, reading and writing were frivolous useless things.  And reading science fiction was despised by all my teachers from elementary school on.

My elementary school teacher gave me Alice in Wonderland and collected fairy tales, I suspect to keep me off the silly stuff.  Other teachers, from middle school on, were more blunt.  “Why do you read that trash?” they’d ask, behaving exactly as if I were romances, with pictures of fainting ladies.

More than once, I shocked teachers by doing “free work” on Ray Bradbury, and once made my Techniques of Literature teacher revise her whole opinion of the genre by translating short stories.

But the point there is that I knew how to play them, and I knew what it took to make them respect sf/f: relevance.  The writing had to have some relevance for our current age, meaning it had to be a “critique” of some social aspect or other.

Granted, that has been a strain in the field since the field existed (I wonder how much of it was to justify spending time dreaming about other worlds.)  But there were others.  The “what if” strain can be a warning or a critique, sure.  BUT it can also be “wouldn’t it be neat.”  And particularly in fantasy, it’s often the joy of discovering a new world.

Discovering new worlds is why I read science fiction and fantasy.  Oh sure, some psychologist, given this information would mutter about an overly restrictive environment, and escapism.  Sure.  But what he’d miss was that EVERYWHERE is too restrictive, and the escapism is the joy of running free beyond the limits of this all to solid flesh, the limits of the place and time we happened to be born into.

An interesting thing — under the “this might be useful” — is that years ago, my husband found himself as part of a working team that performed miracles.  They were handed the projects other people had utterly fallen down on. And they pulled it off, time after time.  And one day they found out they all read — preferentially — science fiction and fantasy.  Perhaps it is a matter of flexible minds, and flexible minds like to flex.

What I know, though, is that both in reading and writing, I’m well beyond the “this must be relevant so people will respect me.”

As social critique, science fiction and fantasy sucks.  All the disasters we predicted — and no, not because we predicted them — from overpopulation to the machines taking over, are not only unlikely, but in some cases impossible. All the things we tried push — even the best of us — like the United Nations, have proven stupid schemes that only people who create worlds in their minds, and think people would act rationally all over the world, could believe.

In general had our schemes been adopted, we’d do more harm than good.

But as worlds to dream on, even the stuff we know is impossible, now, we’re champion, and we change peoples minds into more flexible ones, better able to cope with fast technological change or different perspectives.

So there is more merit, sure, in all this playing in worlds that never existed.  But, let’s not fool ourselves, ladies, gentlemen, dragons and sentient mice, mostly we do it because it’s fun, because we enjoy running free through a panoply of endless possibilities.

And honestly?  That’s all the justification we need.

Sure, if mom read my books (she doesn’t read English) she’d probably think this wasn’t real work.  Sure, she’d still turn the light on for me, when it’s late at night and I’m exhausted and just doing crochet to unwind.  But you know? At a little past the half century, I don’t need mom to approve of my occupation.  Or my professors.  Or anyone, really.

When I want to send a message, I write one of these posts, or an article for PJMedia.

When I want to dream and share my vivid dream with other lost souls who like exploring unlikely and impossible worlds, walking down streets that never existed, and tasting flavors not of this earth?

Then I write fiction.

Vignettes by Luke, Mary Catelli and ‘Nother Mike & Promo, Now With More Audio by Freerange Oyster

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: person

 

 

Promo, Now With More Audio by Freerange Oyster

Pam Uphoff

Time Loop

How many ways are there to destroy the world?

And how many times must Time Traveler Dr. Augustus Sturm go back in time and save it?

Well, he’s a stubborn old man and he’ll do it as often as needed until it sticks. And he doesn’t need these nosy cops who snuck aboard, and why did he ever save the life of that child? Then those soldiers… and…

The realization that there’s a reason humanity always dies…

Peter Grant

Take the Star Road

The Maxwell Saga, Book 1

Steve Maxwell just wants to get his feet on the star road to find a better homeworld. By facing down Lotus Tong thugs, he earns an opportunity to become an apprentice on a merchant spaceship, leaving the corruption and crime of Earth behind. Sure, he needs to prove himself to an older, tight-knit crew, but how bad can it be if he keeps his head down and the decks clean?

He never counted on the interstellar trade routes having their own problems, from local wars to plagues of pirates – and the jade in his luggage is hotter than a neutron star. Steve’s left a world of troubles behind, only to find a galaxy of them ahead…

Now in Audio

Brings the Lightning

The Ames Archives, Book 1

When the Civil War ends, where can a former Confederate soldier go to escape the long memories of neighbors who supported the winning side? Where can Johnny Reb go when he can’t go home? He can go out west, where the land is hard, where there is danger on every side, and where no one cares for whom you fought – only how well you can do it. Walt Ames, a former cavalryman with the First Virginia, is headed west with little more than a rifle, a revolver, and a pocket full of looted Yankee gold. But in his way stand bushwhackers, bluecoats, con men, and the ever-restless Indians. And perhaps most dangerous of all, even more dangerous than the cruel and unforgiving land, is the temptation of the woman whose face he can’t forget. When you can’t go home again – go west!

Now in Audio

Yes I am alive And Free Short Story

Sorry, got ambushed by various unavoidable situations, including a long call with parents (no, nothing wrong, just talking.)

And now it seems rather weird to put a post up.
To compensate, have a free short story (not proofed, though it will be up soon in a collection which is proofed.)  This story first came out in As Time Goes By, the Baen Valentine’s collection for 2015.

I was rather disappointed there wasn’t a Prometheus for short stories, as I this story took me forever and a day to research and write, as crossing between different timelines made my eyes cross.

So Little and So Light

Sarah A. Hoyt

©Sarah A. Hoyt 2015

I landed with a stumble at the foot of Calbeck Hill in England in 1066, during the Battle of Hastings when the English routed the Normans for good and all out of England.

The landing was rough, as it sometimes is. I half fell and my feet squelched as I instinctively spread them apart seeking for purchase in the marshy ground. No one saw me appear. The human mind is very good at censoring out the impossible.

I was dressed as a man. Not difficult for a woman of the 23 century transported back to the eleventh. More likely to pass as a man than as a woman. Wearing the uniform of a housecarl—a professional soldier—in woolen tunic, and trousers, with a straw padded surcoat under the chain mail hauberk, my breasts, never all that noticeable, were wholly invisible. The conical hat with face shield hid my features and my lack of beard. And the kite-shaped shield, the battle ax in my hand made sure no one got very close to me.

The man next to me made a sound at my stumble, something like, “Hey there, watch it,” but then turned forward.

Forward, as all the history books had taught, the forces of William the Bastard fled our side, their mounted cavalry decamping in ground that had never been suited for cavalry. As a trainee time-Hunter, in history of war, I’d heard all about the mistakes William had made. Still, wasn’t prepared to see them enacted before my eyes.

Few Breachers make it for battles and confrontations. The romantic mind that thinks the past a better place always goes for parades, for grand events, for triumph and celebration. But this was not a common Breacher. He’d been, before his transgression, a Satrap, a member of a good family, of an hierarchy unbroken for ten generations. And a director of the Time Corps.

Ahead of me, Harold’s forces were moving and presently we too started running, chasing the Normans as they fled. Before I’d arrived, already half the forces had abandoned the safety of Caldebeck Hill for the plain where the Normans were fleeing. I joined in the pursuit, excited to finally be in an event we’d studied so often.

For a while it was all a blur as I met the enemy, and had to counter their sword thrusts with my ax blows.

It used to be, back in the beginning, that people were afraid of time travel. They thought any misstep, any foot laid wrong, any butterfly trampled, made us all Breachers and changed history forever.

We’ve found of course that history is more elastic than that. It takes willful intent and major changes to make history take a different course.

So I lay about with my ax and a clear conscience. It’s hard to explain without believing in predestination, but I couldn’t kill anyone who hadn’t died. Not in a chaotic event like battle.

And to me they weren’t quite real, these men I fought.

What was real was the tracker and the time-tagger. The arrows and flashes, in lights, atop my shield, could pass by mere play of light, but I knew what they told me.

The Breacher was here. Very close.

And then the man facing me spoke, in Panlanguage, in a soft throaty voice that barely rose above a whisper, “Ah, Hunter. You’ve found me.” A chuckle. “But too late.”

I looked up and for a moment caught a glimpse of the Norman whose heavy sword knocked my ax blow aside. An impression of red hair, of soft red beard, of laughing blue eyes shining from either side of his helmet’s nose-piece.

I was so stunned at Panlanguage and at the smile on his eyes that I lowered my ax. He could have killed me then, but he didn’t. He only laughed, and then vanished, the bone scales of his armor making a sound as a soft rain while the time-current grabbed him and pulled.

I came to myself as another Norman rushed towards me, and I pushed at the pendant at my neck, the aten that disguised my retrieval mechanism, and which would have become inactive in the absence of the nanites in my living blood, so if I died or lost it, no one could use it.

There was the time current grabbing me like invisible claws, and pulling me, with force that made my teeth rattle.

And then I was in the mission room.

#

“You failed,” Alvin Windham said, even as I dropped my helm and weapon, and started tearing out of the sweat soaked, uncomfortable clothes.

I undressed completely, and went into the delousing room, saying to the room in general, knowing the pickups would relay the words to Time Command Center, “It was a bloody battle. And he faced me directly, instead of running. And he spoke to me in Panlanguage.”

I got out of the delousing room, my body stinging from the short shower of the disinfecting/cleansing solution. The Hunters called it delousing, but I knew it was something else, including inoculating against any virus, any bacteria, anything of the time that might hitch a ride back to the real, present world.

It used to be believed that nothing could attach in the short times a Hunter spent in the past, and then someone who had spent a day in ancient Egypt had brought back the first epidemic flu and killed half of the Hunters. Now we deloused.

The room I entered as I left the delousing was a dressing room, circular, with pegs on the wall. On one of the pegs hung my everyday clothes: short tunic and leggings in a fabric that neither scratched nor clung to your body with sweat. I wanted them so badly. I wanted nothing better than to put them on, to walk out the door into the world where I didn’t have to find a dangerous maniac bent on destroying history.

But then I read the words emblazoned around the room, “Time Hunter Corps. Saving the past for the future,” and I stayed naked, ready to put on whatever clothes I needed for wherever the Breacher had gone now.

Alvin stood in front of me, in his dark brown uniform, the clipboard in his hands. “We’re not faulting you, understand! This is not a common Breacher and this is why we chose you to catch him. We knew it wouldn’t be easy.” He frowned slightly. “The problem is that he could be anywhere. This is not a home-made time jumper. He stole our best.”

I grunted understanding and pulled back at my shoulder-length dark hair and glowered at Alvin. “How did I fail?” I’m nothing special to look at and he’d seen me – and every other Hunter – naked too often for it to occasion any surprise or any appreciation. Not that there was much to appreciate, as I was no fashion plate. Few Hunters are. Too memorable can kill you when you’re back in the past, and we can only take so many legends of the beautiful fairy up the hill.

But he noticed my frown.

He shook his head a little. “We are not quite sure how, but we think he got the ear of William the Bastard. He must have been in the time and place for years, without us seeing it. He must have confounded our tracers. And he … he advised William on the use of Archers, on the use of ambush. The retreat was a deception. Your momentary comrades were ambushed and massacred.”

“The Normans won England?” I said. “But that—”

“For now,” Alvin said. “For now. Inside the command we don’t change, of course, so we know the truth, and once history settles we will change it again. Ten years. Twenty. But first we need to catch him. We think he’s trying to create so many break points, so much instability that we can’t repair it; that even within Time Time Command Center the memories change.”

“Can that happen?” I asked.

He shrugged. “We’d think not. But Seth is a Cowden. Not only was he an expert in time and time-disruptions, but his family have been time-experts forever. He might know something we don’t.” Alvin consulted something on his clipboard. “Ah, there. We found him again.”

#

We were sliding down the Nile on a boat filled with dancers and servers. I was in the boat of Queen Nefertiti, principal wife of the great innovating pharaoh Akhenaten. Above us the stars shone on a velvet sky. I wore a linen dress with precise pleats, and a wig, having taken the part of a serving lady in the throng of the followers of the queen. Not a real server, but one of the daughters of provincial nobles sent to the court with the pretext of attending the queen and the real aim of perhaps finding an advantageous alliance.

All night my jewelry – the heavy lapis-lazuli looking necklace around my neck – had been communicating through slight shakes that the Breacher was near. But how near?

We were headed for the Heb-Sed of Akhenaten. He had many, having started in the third year of his reign with the Heb-Sed normally reserved by other pharaohs to celebrate thirty years in power.

It was generally acknowledged among historians that it had been such a bold move in celebrating the Heb-Sed, the festival of the tail, that had helped Akhenaten establish a monotheistic religion. And it had been that monotheistic religion that helped consolidate the Egyptian Empire under his son, Tutankhaten, and his sons’ sons.

Such a strong empire had Egypt funded that neither Greece nor Rome could dislodge it and little by little their confusing polytheism had been subsumed into the worship of Aten, which in turn had propelled the world into the new era.

Twice during the night, someone had touched me where my back was bare and I’d felt the necklace vibrate. But every time I turned around, I saw only Egyptians. Not the Breacher. And I doubted the tall, redheaded man I’d seen at Hastings could have disappeared in this dark crowd, even if he’d worn a wig.

Presently the boat docked where the preparations had been made for the Pharaoh to run the ritual course and do the dance that would prove both his ability to still rule the country and to have the approval of the gods to do so.

His boat had already docked and his retinue had disappeared past a series of refreshment tents set up to receive him. I had to wait until the Queen and her close attendants left the boat. From where I stood I could see her exquisite profile as she stood.

Near me a voice said, “You, girl,” and thrust a linen cushion fringed in gold at me. “Carry this.”

I took it. I hadn’t had time to establish an identity. Even my command of Egyptian was limited. My goal was not to intrigue, nor to carry on a careful subversion, but to find the Breacher, to neutralize him, to take him back with him or kill him, if I could not take him back for judgment.

Judgment of Breachers was always preferable, but in this case it might not be possible. The Breacher was far too clever and at any rate, if he died before being dragged to the twenty third century, it would spare his powerful family embarrassment.

On my turn I processed off the boat, holding the cushion to my chest, as though it were precious, which it was, since I’d be severely punished, I was sure, if I lost one of the Queen’s possessions. Worse than displeasing one of the Satraps.

We processed past the refreshment tables, and to stand under an awning while the priests pinned a tail to the king, since Heb-Sed or the festival of the tail related to an obscure wolf god. Akhenaten had said the wolf god didn’t exist, that all power belonged to Aten. But he still wore the tail.

Just before the run, he stumbled, as though he’d lost balance, and I thought that the sun must be exceptionally hot. After all, Akhenaten was supposed to reign another fifteen years.

A finger caressed my dress at the top. A voice said, speaking throatily in Panlanguage, so that anyone hearing him would think he was making mere, random noises. “He will be dead within the year.”

I jumped and tried to turn around, but couldn’t. Somehow the cushion – and I couldn’t imagine how – was holding me in position, holding me turned forward.

“That is right,” he said. “That cushion is a neutralizing device for your necklace and it has… other effects. You will neither be able to let go of it nor to turn, till I let you.”

I cleared my throat. I wanted to shout, but instead, I spoke in a whisper too, the whisper that prevented us from disturbing those around us. It was no part of the mission of a Time Hunter to create time disturbances. And I would not. “You are mad, Seth Cowden.”

He took a deep breath. His finger continued to trace the width of my shoulders, the dip between my shoulder blades. “Perhaps I am, Lady… what is your name? Your real name, not the assume Egyptian one?”

“Iset,” I said. “Iset Creuly. But I am not a lady. Not from a Satrap family.”

“Ah,” he said. “No. You wouldn’t be. They don’t risk their daughters in these runs.”

“I was sent because I’ve dealt with difficult Breachers before. If you return and turn yourself in,” I said, “we’ll make accommodations.”

This time it was a soft laugh that answered me, “Don’t lie to me, Lady Creuly. There are no accommodations for a Breacher who has succeeded. Oh…” He paused and seemed to think. “I suppose my family will make sure my death is painless.”

I should have told him that he could escape death, that he would be considered mentally disturbed and not fully in control. Surely he was mentally disturbed. Had to be. Why else would someone of a Satrap family run into the past to change it?

But I knew he had been in command, and probably knew the truth better than I did. He was right. Crimes such as his couldn’t be forgiven, not even in the Satrap families. And at any rate Akhenaten had stumbled again and I made an involuntary exclamation, lost in the sounds of those around me.

“I wonder,” he said, in the tone of a man who dreamed, “What your name was originally. And also why they made such a beautiful woman a Hunter. I thought they chose for lack of memorability?”

I opened my mouth to protest that I was unmemorable, but he only said, “Goodbye Iset. I wonder what that will be when I next see you. Iset is such a perfect name upon the tongue. Little Isis, a perfect miniature goddess.” He laughed softly. “No matter. Akhenaten is done. I have been in his court for years, slowly poisoning all his family in a way undetectable. Even Tutankhaten, soon to become Tutankhamun will die young and without descendants. If my calculations are right, Greece and Rome will supplant them and some other religion will give the world names that we can only imagine. And perhaps—”

I couldn’t breathe. I wished to believe he was bluffing, but something told me he wasn’t. I wished to believe his finger on my skin was an imposition and a boorish trespass, but I felt it was both the taunt of a man who knows in the end he’s doomed and the indulgence of a man who found me beautiful. Which was strange and miraculous both.

“Perhaps?” I said, curtly, trying to make him stop tracing arabesques on my skin with his fingertip.

“Perhaps we’ll meet again, Iset Creuly. In a freer world.”

#

I stood in the hall of Greenwich Palace, outside the queen’s bedroom. This time I had been there for three months, and managed to establish myself as Mary Wingfield, a relation to the Wingfield’s of Kimbolton Castle.

Alvin, after dressing me down, asking me, “What could you have been thinking, Mary Creuly? You should never have taken that cushion. Did it not occur to you it might contain a nefarious device?” had talked to me about how the Breacher had been traced to the time of Henry VIII, to be precise to 1535, when the king shared the crown with the beautiful and impetuous Anne Boleyn, his second and final wife, the ancestress of the Tudor dynasty which would retain the English throne until the twenty second century.

She’d given him a daughter, but no son, and in October 1535 she’d miscarried a son. Mid 1636 she’d have her second son, Henry, who would reign as Henry IX. Before he ascended the throne, England would reconcile with the Catholic church. Swayed by the health and vigor of the English heir, and by more material concerns, if the historians were to be believed, Pope Paul III would come to believe Henry VIII’s crisis of conscience over his too near relation to Queen Catherine was correct and had been based in divine inspiration.

Everything forgiven, by the time Henry IX climbed the throne on his father’s death, he’d be a most Catholic subject. Carefully juggling alliances with Spain and France, the ninth Henry had created the basis of a stable empire.

Queen Anne had given the king two more sons and another daughter, all of whom had been used as marriage fodder around the world. She was sometimes called the mother of kings, and it was true that everyone of royal blood, even all the Satraps in our time, had her blood.

For months I’d watched over her health. I’d managed to get assigned as a lady’s maid, and endured endless games of cards to make sure nothing was eaten by the queen, nothing came near her that wasn’t carefully monitored by my various disguised apparatus.

If the queen were poisoned, if she died, that would destabilize the future enough that the pieces would be hard enough to put together again. But not on my watch.

As for the Breacher, all my various tracers told me, time and again that he was nearby, but never close enough to the queen to make a difference. Never close enough to hurt her.

The only times I left her alone at all were while she was sleeping, usually watched over by her women, or when she ordered me away. And even then I kept my tracers on her to make sure the Breacher didn’t come near.

It was during one of those times, while I walked in the courtyard at Greenwich palace, my tracer telling me the Breacher was nowhere near the queen, and was in fact quite near me, that I realized he was walking towards me.

As at the Battle of Hastings, he was tall and redheaded, with grey-blue eyes and the shadow of a smile on his lips.

That he recognized me was obvious. I reached under my kirtle for the burner that I kept handy if I came across him. I’d shot men before. No. I’d shot simulations of men before, in exercises. I’d brought in all my captured Breachers alive. I didn’t want to shoot him. I wanted to capture him. But he was a difficult one.

“Seth Cowden,” I said. “You are under arrest for stealing a time device, for violating the ban on unauthorized time travel, for trying to change the past in order to—”

He grinned at me. He made no effort at all to go for his burner. “Am I, Iset? Is that your name?”

“I am Mary,” I said. “Mary Deven.”

He smiled a little. “Ah, Mary,” he said, testing out my name as though it were an exotic confection upon his tongue. “I must have forgotten.”

His smile, his lack of concern with my trying to arrest him disturbed me. “Seth Cowden,” I repeated. “You are under arrest. You can let me hold your wrist for transport, or else I will terminate—”

“Yes, yes,” he said. He made a gesture with his hand as though dismissing the burner I was pointing at him from under the folds of my kirtle. He had to know it was there, and also that I could shoot through fabric and burn him through the heart. But his eyes were unconcerned. And though I was tall for an Elizabethan woman, he was a giant, as he was tall even for the twenty third century. He was in fact every bit a Satrap, tall and broad shouldered, with perfect teeth and a look of complete self-possession. “But first let’s walk in this garden. Let me tell you why I did it.”

I hesitated. “Tell me—” I said, and then, decidedly. “I don’t need to know!”

He shrugged. “Oh, perhaps not. But don’t you want to know? You know who I am. The Cowdens have been in charge of the government of Earth and the twenty worlds for centuries. Why would I throw it all away?

“You are disturbed. Your mind—”

“Do I look like a madman to you? Give me your arm, Mary, and I shall walk with you in the garden.”

“It is raining!”

“So, you are not a real Elizabethan, whose clothes will be ruined by a little rain, and who can be killed by a cold. Walk with me, Mary. I will tell you why I did what I did, and if you still think I deserve arrest, you can take me back. Or shoot me for all I care. If I still exist when we’re done talking.”

“If you still exist?”

“Ah, in the multi universe each individual’s life is such a small thing, isn’t it? So little and so light. It counts for very little even under the empire, does it not? And the slightest shift can make it vanish.”

#

It was madness of course. What can I tell you, but that Hunters are human too? Aye, and in my case a woman. A woman who had never been rich or connected or, for that matter, beautiful.

I’d been born to a clerk in the Imperial administration, and my rank in life was restricted. That a Satrap wished to speak to me was a little intoxicating. That he’d called me beautiful had to be a ruse, or a trap. But there are traps so seductive we would fall into them willingly. I followed him to the garden, under the fine rain, and he put my arm in his. I could have held his wrist. I could have activated the transport. To this day I don’t know why I didn’t.

The garden was sad under the rain, but you could tell where things had been planted that when green would make the place delightful. We walked down paths I didn’t very well mark, and he talked. “Have you never thought, Mary, that the Empire perhaps cares a little too little about people? About each person?”

“The empire preserves people,” I said. “Lines, families, groups of people. Surely individuals are preserved too as part of it.”

“But only as part,” he said. “And only in their proper ranks.”

“The empire is stable,” I said. “Over the generations, the families have perfected their peculiar specialties. Each of them is good at what it was born to do, clerks and Satraps, commanders and planners.”

He gave me a look, sly, out of the corner of the soft grey eyes. “So, Mary, how many Hunters in your family?”

I shrugged and blushed. “Does it matter then?” I said. “The Hunters are not a clan nor a family specialty. They come from every family and every class, provided a taste for adventure, an interest in history, a quick mind.”

He grinned. “Aye, then, Mary, from every class. And have you thought, perhaps, that in every class, in every specialized family, there are individuals born whose talents differ from that of their family, that if they were allowed to use their talents, to create their own path, the world might be unimaginably richer?”

“No,” I said. “That is madness. Anarchy.”

“When I was younger,” he said. “I was a Hunter. And on a field mission after a Breacher, I pursued a man who created so much instability that for a few… moments? Days? Years? However you measure inexistent time, a society was allowed to exist where the empire had never come about. In it, men were free. Individuals. It was a beautiful— Oh, it was scary,” he said, probably having seen my expression, “and maddening and fast and chaotic, but that world, as it was, was also beautiful. No ordered ranks, no classes, no exams for advancement.” He sighed. “Their interactions were mad things, with no rhyme or reason. Then the repairers and tracers from headquarters got to cleaning up the time line, and reestablishing it, and I was brought back, and I became one of the planners, and I never saw—” He paused suddenly, both in speech and as though his feet had brought him to an unexpected place. “We,” he said. Then stopped again, as though that beginning had no end. He sighed. “When I saw you, the first time you came into the center, a Hunter, newly minted, I realized—” He paused again. “But no, I could never explain it to you, could I?”

And I realized we were standing in the middle of the kitchen garden, where vegetables, stunted by the cold of winter still remained enough to see what they had been. “I didn’t know there was a kitchen garden here,” I said

Which was when the screams echoed, loud, from the main part of the palace, and suddenly, as suddenly as my startled wheeling around to look at him, Seth wasn’t there, and there was just me, standing, under the fine rain, my French hood plastered to my hair, my gown sodden, my heart thudding, thudding, thudding.

He’d done something. He’d evaded my careful surveillance. He’d—

I ran. I ran in the direction of the screams, to stand outside the Queen’s bedroom. From inside came the screams, the sound of a woman sobbing.

Suddenly the crowd parted, and the king, King Henry VIII in all his majesty came thundering down the corridors of Greenwich, and into the door of the Queen’s room before we had so much as time to curtsey. From inside the crying of a woman stopped, and now came the voice of a man – the king – raised in scolding.

Minutes only, and he came out, saying at the door, “You’ll get no more boys from me.”

The crying resumed then, quieter. And then minutes later a woman came, carrying something in a folded towel. She looked at us, and she looked at the floor, and she said, “Queen Anne has had a miscarriage of her savior.”

I blinked, realizing in shock this was Henry IX, the Great Harry of English history, the ancestor of most of our Satraps. And he’d died. He’d died unborn.

History was tilting on its axis, and I knew the Breacher had done it, but I didn’t know how, and I reached for my bracelet and pressed to return to control center.

#

I was in a room. A broad room, wide round, that looked a little like Time Time Command Center, and yet wasn’t. I looked up, and there was no inscription around the door.

And then Seth Cowden appeared, from an internal door, and smiled at me, “Back so soon, my darling,” he said. He extended both hands to me, and took me in his arms. “How was the expedition? Did you find what you wished?”

I was mute for a moment because my first thought was to tell him I knew how he’d done it. Henry IX had died in utero due to something added to his mother’s food. I’d monitored the food itself, from the kitchens on, but not what had grown in the kitchen garden. Some fruit, some herb, some winter vegetable had grown with the nanites already upon them that would stop that life, before it was born, that would send history into a different path.

The other part of my brain told me it was all no sense. There was no Time Time Command Center. There was no Henry IX. England had remained the excommunicated child of Europe, separate. Because of its less rigid adherence to religion, it had spawned a much different culture, one that tolerated different kinds of thought.

The empire that united all the lands of Europe had never coalesced. There was some thought too that a certain rigidity of Egyptian religion, encased in millennia of tradition had never occurred, and the thought that the England itself was very different from the land of Saxons. It all flitted through my mind, like a whirlwind, like scraps of a dream half-remembered. And then it crashed into the thought that I’d been sent to retrieve Seth, that Seth—

But there was no Time Time Command Center. Time travel was regulated, in a way, in the sense that it was overseen by several scientific bodies, and that people had to be trained before going back. But the time stream was free to archeologists and sociologists, to investigators and historians.

I was an historian. I’d just gone back to study the Tudor period and to copy some documents relating to Anne Boleyn’s trial for witchcraft.

Looking up at Seth, my world solidified. He was my husband of three years, and a chair of history in the University of New America, a planet in Alpha Centauri. It was a new colony, funded after the old Earth country, a free colony that took all those wishing to join it from the heart, and willing to contribute to its mad whirlwind of invention and innovation.

“I found the documents,” I said. “And copied them.” I removed the French hood and the dress. This was our very own antechamber. Seth was quite wealthy, being older than I and famous in his field, and he had built a time-travel-chamber onto our house.

Naked, I allowed Seth to envelope me into his arms, feeling his red beard tickle my face. “I’m so glad we live in a world where I can’t have arbitrary charges brought against me, and everyone will go along with a despotic king. I’m so glad that the rights of the individual count for more.” I frowned, as a feeling of uneasiness persisted. “It could so easily have been different,” I said.

“Very easily,” he said, and gently kissed my forehead.

“And in a different world, I might never have met you, even,” I said. “Our families being from so different a level of wealth.”

“Oh, what does wealth matter, or class,” he said, and kissed me again, this time intently, as though kissing me were the only thing of importance in the universe.

Then he took me within, by the hand, into our chamber.

Hours later, we were lying together on our bed, dozing. “I had a dream,” I told him. “I think it was a dream. But it is so strange. And the world was quite different. I was hunting you down because you were bent on…”

“On?”

“Disrupting the time stream.”

He laughed. “Foolishness. Disruptions tend to heal.”

“Yes, but not for a while, and I remember it was odd that you… I have an idea you killed your own ancestor, in that dream.”

“That is madness,” he said. Amusement made him narrow his eyes, an expression I knew well. “And quite impossible. Given that women are women, which man can be sure who his ancestor was?”

Just then the communicator played a sharp note, calling our attention. Seth groaned. “Alvin,” he said.

Alvin was his assistant, the man who kept all the paperwork in order, the man who made sure that all the events of the day happened on time. Not brilliant, not innovative, but faithful and exact. I had a feeling he bored Seth a little.

Seth pressed a button and a hologram of Alvin appeared in the middle of the room. He was dressed very oddly, in a golden tunic, and strange molding pants, not at all like the loose, informal clothes favored in New America.

He glared at Seth, too, for what I’m sure must be the first time. “You thought you’d been so clever,” he said.

Seth sat up straighter, and said, in a tone of deep loathing, “Oh, it is you!” and I got a feeling he wasn’t talking about Alvin or not the Alvin I knew at all. “Very clever sending her after me. You knew I would not hurt her.”

“And very poor planning, very unworthy of a Satrap,” Alvin said. “To change the whole world for a woman. And a common, low born woman at that.”

I opened my mouth to protest, and I might have said something about Alvin needing counseling. But neither of the men paid attention to me.

Alvin said, “Fortunately I found your real ancestor, the Lute player. Did you think I didn’t know? Your ancestor looked just like him.” He spoke in a low, vicious tone, and I remembered a lute player accused of consorting with Queen Anne, but Queen Anne had been executed and—

Seth grabbed at my wrist. “Whatever happens,” he said. “Remember that I love you.” He put something in my hand. It felt solid and small. And he closed my fist over it.

Alvin didn’t notice the small gesture, he was ranting, “Fortunately I retain my memory. It will take centuries for us to clean up the time stream, but until we do, you will be punished for your actions. Even now, the assassins are destroying your true ancestor, before he can—”

#

There had been as though a sick twist in my guts, a momentary dizziness. I lay in bed in my small apartment, which overlooked Kansas, the capital city of New America. Outside my window the bustle of the largest city in the system went on. A reflection of light from a passing flyer sent lights chasing into my room.

And I opened my hand and found I was clutching a ring. It was so wide, it would only fit my thumb. I slid it on, hesitantly.

Suddenly I remembered. Hastings and Egypt and Tudor England. But with it came a feeling of Seth, too. And I realized he’d worn this ring that created a bubble of stability in the time stream, a mental barrier against the changes to the past, and allowed you to remember all the adjustments.

An expensive bauble, but then, in the original world we both came from, Seth had been a Satrap. Wealthy beyond the dreams of common people.

And he’d had this bubble, and he’d become a Breacher . . . for love of me.

The memory came with the ring, of the world accidentally created in which we were lovers, and of his despair, until he’d seen me again, in the real? Original world.

I got up from bed and went to the window, and looked out at the tumultuous world outside that would never have happened but for Seth’s meddling.

In that first world, it had been ordered, with palaces and slums in very different areas, with castes, with rituals, with rigid control of every individual action.

Individuals. So little and so light in the stream of time, in the pageant of history, in the swirl of the worlds.

But he had roiled time and history for me.

And I remembered too, this world, and our three years together, and the way he laughed, and his teasing look, and the sudden, unexpectedly vulnerable glances he gave me, that spoke of love.

So little and so light.

I clutched my hand in a fist around the ring on my thumb. Alvin had missed something when he’d not destroyed me, when he’d not seen this ring being given to me.

I remembered.

How hard could it be to go back in time and save a man from death? Oh, sure, I knew that scanners and fixers, planners and reweavers of time would all be at work even as I spoke.

But there was a good chance Alvin himself was gone, and any number of his helpers. Satraps had all been descended from Henry IX and who knew how many times Henry IX’s wife, Queen Catherine, had been unfaithful.

And yet, even if they all still existed and arrayed themselves against me, they couldn’t stop me. Sure, there were many of them, but that just meant I must fight them all.

I remembered our love and our marriage that had only existed in that world created by Breaching the past. Our love for which he had sacrificed all.

I must plunge into the time stream and from it rescue and bring back the one life that mattered and to me.

So little and so light. It outweighed all the possible worlds.