I was tired. It was Monday, our typical day for doing house at our respective apartments.
My roommate was telling me, Go to the Chinese Laundry around the corner. It’s the best decision I’ve made in the last two years. They even fold your socks.
And I remember it’s not the first time he’s telling me this. I remember it from a few months ago, from another Monday night. I remember it because I was equally tired then, again, after another long day of skilled labor that, despite being done in bits and bytes, is still back-breaking, still toxic, and you still make what you can of it just to survive.
Not saying I’d trade my lot for a coal miner. Too many of them still. I’m all for raising the minimum wage, but that’s a different conversation.
In that conversation we pull energy out of the equation, and make it a basic human right. In that conversation, greed is more easily conquered, less easily spread. In that conversation, we care about the greater good and not just the bottom line. In that conversation, I know my neighbor instead of thinking of them as the annoyance just beyond my thin walls.
My roommate was telling me. Go with the Chinese Laundry Option. And yet I worried that the Chinese Laundry Option was a bit too much like the Nuclear Option, and I knew how much I loved my nice, new soft wool sweaters purchased at the slightly more upscale than goodwill but, read here: affordable and time-saving as far as shopping for clothes I would actually want to wear as a thirty year old, boutique.
And, for me, the CHINESE OPTION equalled the NUCLEAR OPTION which equalled the HOT WASH / HIGH DRY option.
So I went to the crackhead laundromat around the block like always, and washed them myself, and listened to my music loud on my headphones to drown out the sound of the bad comedians.
And I reminded myself I got options galore…
This should be a huge scandal, the kind of thing that might force General Manager Grace Crunican to resign and BART directors to lose their seats — except for the fact that the media is ignoring this simple, obvious narrative and failing to do its job.–
rethinking right now some tough/not-so decisions i made years ago to take what was offered instead of fighting for what i wanted. in reference to allowing myself to be ‘the computer guy’, because that was a black art that few could master and for me was entertaining in an ‘i just beat level thirteen-four’ kind of way.
also, don’t forget, good in a ‘you’ve got to provide for you and her or you’ll both starve’ kind of way.
i remember thinking this. what happened along that bart line? i remember wondering how in the hell do we get a death on a system i’ve ridden safely since i moved here. particularly for workers, less so for passengers occasionally: see the naked ninja bartman video on youtube for reference.
but i think i’m happy doing this, too. not exclusively. but it’s a living. and i’m certainly happy getting paid better than a journalist - particularly in sf. i’ve always wanted to be something of the ‘computer guy’. so why do i feel like i’m not accomplishing ‘stuff’ in the bigger sense of the word? it’s all creativity. it’s all accomplishment. still i’m just a junior. a good maintenance man. today it took three senior project architect’s to get me up to speed. but that’s nothing. it’s just meeting the team. frustrating, sure, to spool up any two year old stack on an outdated how-to doc and waste everyone’s time not getting the config’s right.
but, naturally, a lot changes in two years.
things take time.
it took that long for this site to be built. it took fifty developers over two years. you do the math. i’ve never seen anything like it. it’s like a small city of code. but, slowly, i’m learning the landscape. and now, finally, i’m seeing my changes.
account service tally:
7.5 hours to get the stack to respond with the correct data.
.5 hours to correct the tracking bug.
greatness. no matter in what form. if you aspire to greatness, then you are living your life to the fullest.
kudos to the reporters behind this, and kudos to the art of journalism.
I don’t know how exactly Wumpets the dog got to be our company Vice-President. We used to have a normal, that is, human VP, but I think it was somewhere in the midst of our Spring ‘04 pledge drive when the on-air host declared that if we met our matching funds request for the evening, her dog, Wumpets, would be promoted to Vice President of the station for the night. It was an unlikely success, and the money just rolled in. Wumpets was nominated to VP, on-air, with a little celebration and the gift of a clip-on tie to complement her own hair shirt. We laughed. We drank a few toasts. And we went home, eventually, to our beds in various corners of the city thinking nothing much had changed, besides the fact that we’d staved off the landlord for one more season and that children in our town would continue to receive quality programming.
In the morning, we returned to work. The observant amongst us might have noticed that the pictures in the larger of the two conference rooms had changed. That Wumpets, now in a full clip-on suit front and tie, had replaced the picture of Dick Lessman, our former, and woefully non-distinguished, but still human, second-in-command.
It was not until the staff meeting, when the matter was brought up as a line-item that the rest of our jaws dropped. The anonymous donor who’d matched the funds the previous night had offered a sum ten times greater if we continued to keep Wumpets as the VP for no less than one year.
Some believed the donor to be none other than Lessman himself. He owned quite a lot of stock, and the ratings, with Wumpets in charge, if the night before were any indication, would have made him more money out of the VP chair than in it.
A few of us quit in protest, thinking that would shock them back to their senses. It didn’t. Other dogs were now allowed in the office, so that took care of the will of the canine owners/lovers, who no longer saw fit to question any of this as they were allowed to bring their own pooches to work, thereby saving on kenneling fees and also brightening the general demeanor of our formerly dreary office.
Say what you will, but Wumpets was actually calling the shots, and she wasn’t half bad at it, either. Her assistant would discuss the two options before her: only two options were ever allowed, to keep things simple; and in front of each choice would be placed an identical treat. If Wumpets picked one and not the other, then the choice was said to be decisive. If she ate both, then the matter would go back to the board for redrafting.
As you might imagine, there was a lot of redrafting. But that kept the suits happy since they were happiest in meetings. And it kept the supervisors happy since it looked, generally, like we were busier. The investors were happy since the stock kept rising with all the attention we were receiving. And Wumpets? Well, she was perhaps the happiest of all, because now she could grow fat on treats without having to perform like a puppet to get one.
I was all riled up and ready to complain until my request for sixteen new Xeon 12-core server clusters came through: approved without question. It was an upgrade I’d been trying to get for going on three years now, and every time there had been some excuse or another.
Wumpets made some bad decisions. But by and large the company grew leaner, more focused, and the staff grew healthier, happier and, while perhaps not more secure, they were now more suitably recompensed through Wumpets’ new profit-sharing initiatives and thus afforded a chance to save for that eventual rainy day.
It is now five years since Wumpets took over. We’ve been featured in Forbes, Fast Company, Wired, and Business Week. Interviews with the dog herself have graced the D-section of the Wall Street Journal. There are other companies following our lead. I heard Kodak just promoted a cockateel to Creative Director. It’s no longer a joke to have an animal in charge of a large corporation.
I was telling the new receptionist the other day, “It’s not even the inmates who run the asylum anymore, now it’s their pets.” And she just stared at me gape-faced before returning a platitude solely for my perceived benefit. “Yeah…” she said. “Weird, huh.” She then continued to sip her organic soda. And I thought to myself, you will never knew a time when all we had was Coke and Pepsi. You will never know a time before the reign of Wumpets.
Otherwise Known as, “The time we passed the casually naked guy on the street”.
Esme and I walked past the man first in front of the Voodoo. It was a Big Easy themed bar at the corner of Van Ness and Franklin, where the man with a beard stood chatting with a couple who leaned against the concrete wall sharing a smoke. The couple were reacting quite normally, I thought, considering the fact that the man with a beard was wearing an old ski jacket tied around his waist as a sort of skirt, in lieu of a pair of pants, and that his chest was bare.
I wrapped my arm a bit tighter around Esme’s waist, told her, “Looks like we got a real goldminer type here.” And proceeded to sweep her towards the entrance.
Years ago, when I first moved to the city, I was beholden to everyone that could catch me for a few words. At the time, my currency was cigarettes, and very often I’d give you one if you asked nicely. This couple was drunk, I could tell, and having a bit of fun with a homeless guy. It was tough to say who I pitied more: the guy with no pants (let’s call him Hector) who looked as if he might have just woken up in the middle of some feverish, mid-life crisis sex party, grabbed the nearest thing available, and then stalked off towards home… Or the couple who was clearly amusing themselves by torturing the less fortunate.
In either case, I had recently given up smoking, and after a decade and change in this town I only offered attention or money to those who were clear-eyed enough to look like they knew what to do with it. I liked to consider mine a case of selective compassion. In some folks’ book, I imagine that’s just double-speak for callous, but you try living here awhile and see how long it takes before you start to brush them off like coal ash on your Sunday best.
We were, in fact, on our way to the Black Horse Deli, a bar a few blocks farther up. On seeing Hector, and his naked spectacle, I had switched into automatic avoidance mode and steered us here. I confessed as much to Esme. She laughed. We stood then at the door to the Voodoo and looked in at the lively Saturday night’s debauchery, and decided to check out our original destination then circle back if that was full.
The Black Horse Deli had space enough for nine at full capacity. That’s people: not sports-teams or tour-buses. It was really more of a sandwich window that over time had mutated into a full-on micro-bar. But that’s splitting hairs. The fact was, it was just a nice place that was far too small - and far too often occupied - most of the time. But, in a way, that was its charm. The crowd tonight looked out at us somewhat plaintively. They seemed like nice folks. But there was really no way we were squeezing in behind them; not without having met before.
So we headed then back to Voodoo, with a few fresh pints of Guinness on our minds. And who should we see then trouncing down the street at a fast clip but our Hector. A fire in his eyes, he passed us in full stride; thankfully; not breaking to ask us for change, or to read a poem, or to tell us that the time for Martian Independence was nigh. I floated the orgy idea past Esme at this point, and she chuckled.
“Who knows. It could be true,” she whispered, “I’ve heard stories of people that have houses up in Pac-Heights, but come down here to wander around the streets all night. They look like they’re homeless, but in the morning they go back to their houses and sleep. Mostly they’re crazy, I imagine, and the city won’t commit them; or their families are too busy to look after them, so that’s what they do. I mean, it’s just stories. I don’t know of any one who’s actually seen them. But you never know…”
That idea hung in the air like the scent of ripening fruit as we crested the hill, passing tourist motels packed full as bees in a honeycomb hive. A muni bus trundled past, with enough wild eyed dirty faces peering back at us for it to be something of the homeless transport network at this point in the night. It’s usually past midnight or sometime thereabouts that the change from mostly normal folks to mostly homeless occured.
Ahead was the Voodoo. We entered the crowded bar. It was humid. A man and a woman sat at the table nearest, dressed in traditional German regalia. Esme knew them from the neighborhood. They explained that they were on their way back from Octoberfest, lederhosen and all. We bought two Guinness and sipped them quietly in the corner, enjoying each others’ company, and the 90’s revival that was currently determining the course of our stereo journey.
“Life is good,” I said.
“Life is weird,” Esme echoed, with a smile.
“Yeah, like I said, ‘Good.’”
I pedaled towards her house through the early evening streets of San Francisco already gone dark and now alit by street lamps, and as I made my way slow and steady up the easy grade of Polk Street I noticed the police car in the derelict alleyway behind the porno strip club theater where H.S. Thompson had once been employed. It’s lights whisked silently from blue to red to white while a spotlight shone directly and without blinking on the small U-Haul truck parked in the transient hotel side lot. I could spot the officers to the side of him, their hands on their hip holsters while the man in question looking dazed and roused, more than likely rudely awakened from some bedbug infested mattress in the rooms above, pressed the key into the lock, swung open the latch and slowly pulled up the gate. I thought to tarry. Thought to wait. Something begged my curiosity. But it was getting late, and my need to snuggle tight with my lover won out over the need to scrape the dirty streets for forensic evidence of our collective destruction. If only meth was as clean and earnest as the TV made it seem. If only drugs didn’t bury you inside yourself like some inward facing ostrich. If only that metaphor could express the revulsion of what they probably found inside that trailer. Could communicate the lives chipped away at behind flimsy doors in fifty dollar a night hotels. In the shadow of the empire she tugs down her panties, sticks the needle deep and collapses in the dirty bathtub. She was once a prom queen. This is the memory that always returns to say hello after the rush but before the blackout. She wakes in the tub and immediately strips off the sodden clothes, washes the vomit from her skin and hair. Today’s another day. Another trick. Another lay. God Bless the U.S. of A.
I had had enough of everybody, and deep down I knew I wasn’t wrong to want to be alone. If the universe so wishes it, I was fond of saying - to no one, or to those whose names I didn’t know, or wouldn’t remember. And later I’d lay awake wondering if that was just me passing the buck. If, by chance, it was me who wished it, because I was perhaps not exactly broken inside but folded incorrectly, like when you stack a shirt away and it gets one deep, nearly uncorrectable crease in it. A crease that won’t iron out no matter how much steam and elbow grease you apply, and so you forget about it, toss the shirt away, and find another. If only bodies, minds and feelings were the same way. If only, like in some far flung science-fiction movie, we could rewrite our experiences, custom tailor our personality.
I had a dog once that I’d adopted from a rescue shelter. I used to imagine what sort of abuse she must have endured to make her such a fearful, skittish old bitch. But we are human, we tell ourselves. We are different.
I wasn’t seeing the evidence.
I had been a scientist: a data miner who sold trends to top brands. Before that, I was an academic, a realist kid who was simply more interested in math than anything else on the easily-convertible-to-employment-after-college list of major/minors. And before that? How far back did I have to go before I just met Greg the human being? Without pretense. Without doubt. Without the vaguest shred of this ingrown self-awareness that causes me to blush and turn away like some hot-house violet.
Do violets really do that? I imagine they grow them in greenhouses because it makes them better, or at least more reliably controlled. I don’t know anything about gardening. I could be wrong.
One thing for sure, I felt trapped. I was sick of burning for answers inside the greenhouse. If as humans we were so damned different from the rest of the animals I was going to prove it, and by that I mean I was going to change. Or die trying.
(a riff on HOWL) :: 2.0
I saw the greatest minds of my generation destroyed by targeted ads,
Schlepping their genius for the greater glory of pavlov’s point & click,
Forced to funnel their passions into their less than 20% time.
I saw would-be generals sucking it up for a paycheck and a smile, not because they were weak, but because they were realists and they realized that the 60’s were dead, no matter what they’d thought in college.
I saw men living neck to foot, coffin-style, in living quarters smaller than their first homes away from homes,
While modern luxury condos raised towards the nearby sky.
And the artisan cocktail joints lined up like ruddy, scarf-wearing, vest-draped dominos,
Squatting their brief patches of sunlight and tranquility
While outsiders like me
Trudge down wind-tunnel alleyways atop the uneaten loaves of gluten-free bread and compostable napkins,
I came for the BUST, but stayed for the BOOM.
And I look up at the cranes hanging listlessly in the night sky, and I think to myself, ‘San Francisco, you better just remember in the morning when you wake up, that this is the city you’re building for yourself.’
And I know you won’t. Remember, that is.
And I know you will. Complain:
To your lover, to your mother, to your sister, to your brother,
to your partner, your therapist, your friends at the local dog/kid/drunk park.
Because it feels good to be needed.
And given a like on Facebook.
And that’s the only way anyone can hear you above the sounds of construction, it seems.
Beside the bus shelter, they raise the latest Apple/Google/Yahoo/Levis/Audi/H&M/Target ad:
BUY ME. BUY NOW.
JUST WHAT THE DOCTOR ORDERED.
YOUR FUTURE IN MACHINED GLASS AND STEEL
It’s a dream that you, too, can afford.
A phone-sized part of it, at least.
Like when you were young, and in the museum gift-shop you found that fleck of gold immersed in the test tube and you marveled at the shiny speck trapped inside.
That’s real gold, you had said.
Beneath the ad lies a man blackened head to toe in city soot, sprawled and covered, half-in/half-out, of a dirty blanket.
And it’s hard to tell whether he’s living or dead.
While those beside him check the sports scores on their smartphones.
And THEY don’t see him,
And THEY don’t look down,
UNLESS they’re watching for dog shit.
She had the largest facial tumor I’ve ever seen. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to have to endure that sort of societal torment. If I was otherwise the same, I’m sure, at this point, that I would find no reason to be anything less than a homicidal, pathological, sociopathic, chain-smoking train-wreck.
It took me far too long to quit smoking as is, and I’m a good looking man.
Wherever you are, LumpFace, I applaud you for not killing us all.
PREVIOUSLY ON TEMPER SOL: I woke up with a dead alien in my garbage chute. I was confused. I knew someone was following me, but it’d been a long time since I’d done anything of note. So why me, and why now? I got scared. Got my face replaced. Ran into my old girl’s roommate, who looked too spooked for words. I was on my way to the hanger. Going to fly off in my ship and get the hell out of here. But my ship was toast. The cops were on to me. After a brief tussle with her pimp, I met with Mio, the roommate. She wanted to get off world too. We made for her ship and were cornered by agents. Suddenly, the girl screams, everything goes black, and we’re floating in deep space. Turns out, we haven’t moved. Space has moved around us…
It all made sense now. Once we had adjusted our perception of the universe. I scanned the skies for recognizable star clusters. And found none. Or - not one exactly, not one that I could point out. Still, I was looking for Virgo or, maybe, the Shellstone nebula. The easy ones. I thought maybe I could spot the ribboning arms of the Luxus tripartite galaxy, but clearly I was going to have to use a different strategy, one I better understood. With the systems in full repair we now had floating point radio scanners with crystal clear accuracy, and if there was one thing I knew it was radio traffic. I moved the ship out of the path of a local star - the solar winds disturbed the signals more often than anyone would like to admit - and set the dial to scan for any and all. Within a minute we had six and counting.
The Galactic Beacon was an hourly reel, an automated repeater that relayed current news and affairs. It was the vanilla to my galaxy’s dark chocolate.
A few music stations came and went, but their songs were unrecognizable. “And who am I kidding,” I chuckled. “I wouldn’t have known what was popular if you gave me a list and told me to follow it verbatim.” In fact, I used to read such a list: the news feeds, reviews, and what have you, and all the while I still never had any idea what was good. “They could very well be the same acts.”
Mio was of equally poor help in that department, for she only listened to opera. Which, I told her, was a revelation. And which, she told me, just is, so just shut it. Something about her had been sharpened in the whole process. Like a knife raked against a piece of steel. Whereas I felt clean, and surprisingly so.
Then came a Fabian station, which peaked my interest mildly. “We must be in a working-class sector,” Mio intoned, “Or, at the very least, there must be a repeater on a moon somewhere nearby.”
“I’m surprised you know the Fabians,” I told her.
“Don’t be,” my companion scowled.
The Fabians were collectivist socialists. Their very existence was directly out of line with much of the Order’s message, but for time immemorial they’d been permitted to continue broadcasting, because their existence made good fiscal sense. It was cheap and effective to have a ‘voice of the people’ to rally round. It kept your workers happier and thus more productive. Most of the Fabian radio jockeys were recruited straight out of college by the Unions, given messaging training and a clear understanding of their missions, then sent off to far-flung star clusters to keep the troops running, and dreaming, and hoping for a better life. The key was delivering hope, and not much more than that. Sometimes a Fabian sect lost perspective. It got cocky. It thought it was actually established to be “the people’s voice”. Often you’d wake up and point the dial to your prescribed frequency and - not static - but country music would greet you, the message loud and clear amongst the twanging of guitars and the twine of fiddles: don’t you get any dumb ideas.
We rifled through the stations one by one. Each sounded similar, but not the same. I was starting to lose hope. We could very well just be in the Southern Galactic Arm, I thought. 50 light years away, and I’d certainly never been there, and neither had Mio. Maybe this was just what they played there? Other than the fact that our location was still clearly stated as Eridon proper, there was nothing to indicate that anything was out of the ordinary.
Then it hit me. The constant. The station that never scanned but that could also never be shut down despite every regime’s best efforts. I dialed it in now on that hunch: 0.0.0.0. The perfect baseline. RadioFree Gibrain. I punched enter and was greeted with silence.
Then a voice: “We are broadcasting from the center of everything. We are your voice. We are you. We are unstoppable. We are RadioFree Gibrain.” There came a sound I didn’t recognize. It was a flood of galloping horses, their hooves pounding dirt. And then a news report. Abuses. Violations. I’d never been happier to hear a catalog of hurt. The names were unfamiliar but the tone was the very self-same one I knew too well.
“Ah Gibrain. You sweet old bastard.” Mio noticed the tears in my eyes as I brought up a terminal and pointed the shell towards the signal’s address. I punched in: “50500505”. “SO SO OS OS”, in other words. It was something Gibrain had told me long ago, something I’d never needed to use until now. I hit enter and settled in for the long wait for a response.
Space is vast. Unimaginably so. And despite our best efforts at speeding up transit times, a relayed radio signal can only travel so fast. It was 19 hours and 52 minutes later, but, finally, there it was. A response. Coordinates. Six days travel at our full speed. A moon called Galiphon. I dialed it in and the cruiser accelerated pleasantly into motion.
Check out more Temper Sol HERE.
“What happened back there?” Mio asked. Her eyes betrayed sudden fear, then, perhaps out of habit, she grew bent and defensive.
“I have no idea,” I told her.
The instruments pinged away quietly in the background. I’d managed to discern that the system was doing some sort of full reboot. If I’d been smart enough to find the log-files by then, at the exact time of our “crossing” would be an entry, “TERMINAL CRITICAL EVENT”.
“What do you mean you have no idea? Where are we?” Mio asked.
I laughed a little because I had the same answer for her as before. “No idea.”
Her eyes filled with anger, her posture hardened. I had the distinct fear that a punch was coming my way. Somehow I had to swing the conversation.
“You tell me, Mio. It was you that screamed. You shook the whole damn world, the whole damn everything, and suddenly we go from Gurka Park Docks on Eridon to the dead middle of space. How did you do that? Because I know it wasn’t me.”
The girl was truly stunned, and in a fragile state as well, that much was apparent. Any more pushing on my part would have served only my bad temper and exactly zero practicality.
“I believe that you don’t know what happened, either,” I said. “But that’s the state of things as far as I know them.”
She nodded. The features of her face relaxed. She smiled and then a creeping look of fear washed over her. “What’s your name again?” she asked.
To be suddenly confronted with a moment of amnesia - to see it writ large across her face and then to doubt yourself as well - that was happening.
“Temper. Sol.” I brokered dryly.
She smiled then, and her face cracked, and she broke like a dam into an instant of tears. “Oh thank god,” Mio said. “I am so glad to hear you say that.”
“Why? What do you mean?”
“I don’t know. Just - Can I? I just have this feeling that everything else that we know has changed.”
“Can I have a hug?”
I obliged her, and soon after a bit of food I got back to work, while she turned away to watch the stars through the glass.
In the next few hours, I’d managed to set a verbose log of the system status on-screen and get a working REPL running beside it. It appeared that the ship was verifying its navigational data, and that while some of it may be corrupted - at 85 and 2% percent, respectively - the data itself was still there. In other words, we would know soon enough where we were.
Mio mused, she sung songs; but only to the glass, and quietly. She seemed as if she drifted in a fog. But perhaps I had just never heard her sing until then. Perhaps she sang often and my not knowing was just that: my not knowing.
I took the REPL and tried to figure out just what in the hell had happened, but it was useless, really, until the navs updated and the star charts published a new locale. Because how in hell were we ever to guess just where in all of the star-belt or beyond we were without it?
I’d never been able to account for the simple position of all but a few stars on just one planet, let alone an entire star system. Or a galaxy? We could have traveled thousands of light years. I didn’t recognize any of these stars.
Whatever the case, something was still wrong with the sys-logs because it continually responded to distance of journey queries from ORIGIN to CURRENT with ZERO.
Mio slept, while I worked away trying to lint that error. We had to have gone somewhere.
She was turning in her sleep, and I was sick of drinking coffee. The system was at 100% and it was still reading ZERO.
And then I got it, suddenly. I understood.
I looked over and Mio’s eyes were open, as if seemingly begging me to pose that one question.
“I need you to tell me what you meant when you said ‘everything has changed’?”
“The stars, Temper. The stars have re-aligned, and we can never go back to what we used to be. I saw it in a dream.”
It was true, then. Not because it was hocus-pocus from a dream, but because it was the most sensible answer to what was wrong with the reports.
There was nothing wrong. Not with the navs, or the system, or the logs. We had never moved at all, it was the universe that moved around us.
Like what you’ve read? Check out the whole story HERE.
Don’t forget to…
I grew up on a small moon, in a no-name, no-nonsense star cluster. I remember when I was five, looking up to the stars and seeing that huge planet hanging over-head, and my teacher telling us: We’re placing a select few of you with host families across the Southern Steppes of Barrymore for this year’s spring break. If you’re interested, please fill out this form over here.
And I thought it could be that easy. That the good died old and the bad never flourished. That fairness was a concept the galaxy actively practiced, instead of just the conceit of a selected few.
Ferryman was a resources and farming satellite. We processed mostly vegetables and schmeat, and provided a workforce for the nearest planet - which I’m sure you’ve heard of - the now and ever-infamous, Eidi-Palipo.
Heap upon me your criticisms, then. I’ve heard them all.
Ours was a peaceful planet, however, in a peaceful galaxy; or so I was raised, and so continued, to believe. Even after I became aware of the RiotGuild and the clashes in Westphalia, or the infocast of Minx258 in 2392, or other truths available only on certain numbers-only news sites that claimed to broadcast the true voice of the galaxy.
But that was all much much later. After I’d been off-world. After college. As a boy, we never left Ferryman because we were poor. We didn’t take vacations. We went to the nearby lake for the weekend and swam, but so did most everybody except for the Ross family, whose dad was the mayor. And, still, every night I stared up into the heavens and dreamed of what I’d do given access to a starship.
It took until I’d spent a bit of time away from family and friends and the security blanket of a warm bed at night. It took seeing how big the galaxy really was. It took Kant, and Zinn, and Orwell, and Kerouac, and Leao’Purell, and what sprung in my own head from their writings took longer still.
If I’d actually hopped that supply train for the off-world depot near Ferryman’s equator instead of just dreaming about it, or taken myself out of college like I was yearning but afraid to do, then perhaps it would have come sooner. But I don’t blame myself. I was taught to believe in the permanent record, in the dream of an ordered progression from idea to product, student to teacher, grad to candidate.
One thing for sure: I ended up better off than the majority of those I grew up with, whose defining achievements have been the purchase of duplex housing blocks with new washer-dryer combo units and space lawn fertilizer packages at discount, and whose big news of the week is a long-meandering, soporific story about church or the savings of a hundred dollar nature in the latest of various consumer product-oriented pyramid schemes.
And come adulthood, and its maw opening with a shackle of debt and a series of downhill intoxicants, and no more excuse to put them off in the evening since I wasn’t studying anymore.
Still, I was fuzzy, academic. Still, I was weak and unfocused. But also: Nice. Unsullied. Optimistic.
When did that change?
There was this dull taste in my mouth of gunpowder and cinnamon.
And yet I dream of home.
Because, in Ferryman, we didn’t have mines like on Eridon, or brothels like Eidi-Palipo, or slave armies like the Varzsht. In Ferryman, our doors had no locks, and we could see the stars at night.
Above us the whole universe waited, and we were promised that it did so with open arms. So, naturally, I developed a hunger. By the time I learned how the universe really worked, and how she wasn’t so friendly, I was hooked. Forever after would I make excuses for her, like a deep Septarian junkie makes excuses for why it had to be this way and none other.
I licked my lips. It wouldn’t leave me. I drifted half-in, half-out of consciousness.
Mio sat beside me, sacked out like a spent fuse. Her face hung slack, and a small bit of drool was slowly gathering at the deeper corner of her lower lip. I shook her. I screamed at her. I stopped when I saw that wasn’t working. And, still, she slept like a rock, and for ages. I don’t know when I woke or how long I had slept. I tried to keep my eyes open, but they had other plans.
The measurements and charts and records would remain, to peruse at great length as we drifted through the deep black of space. As would the questions, the chief of which being: How in hell did we ever survive?
These things would grow clearer soon, I promised myself. At the moment, I just had to remember to breathe. Deeply and slowly.
Don’t forget your mantras, I told myself.
A few moments before all this I had sprung awake with a start from a terrible dream. I was, in effect, catapulted back to life. My chest hurt. I gasped for air. The dream was a common one in space, but one I hadn’t experienced since I was younger, greener, new to the silence of the void. It’s hard to describe to someone who’s never experienced it, and dead simple to someone who has. The feeling is something like being the size of a pinprick, one pure pixel of awareness in three dimensions of ink-deep blackness; and the terror of it is feeling all that blackness pushing in on you with the great force of the entire universe behind it. It’s like being a wad of paper in the palms of god, about to be pitched into the garbage can, and then…
I had a crick in my neck that wasn’t going away despite my best measures. I was tired of trying to get Mio awake. I looked out the large glass canopy in front of us and stared at the stars which hovered there like a loose skein of spun glass.
When a spaceship is powered down and it’s in full stop and there’s no HUD, the bridge can be a powerfully serene and centering thing. The sheer quiet, and the magnitude - particularly on these luxury liners with their wide sets of side windows - is indescribable.
I was flatly surprised that we were still alive. My fingers bit into the muscles of my legs as much from vacant tension as it was the sheer surprise of my own continued existence. The bullets had been traveling towards us! I saw them. I had no idea how Mio had done what she had done, and I was fairly certain she didn’t either. As I reiterated all this to myself, her eyes opened.
“Are we dead?” she asked.
“I’m not sure,” I told her.
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The Ethnic Museum
A story of madness and reptiles.
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Neville was the guy she’d always insisted was “just a friend”. Neville was six inches shorter and had a receding hair-line. But I guess Neville, that little fucker, was a craftier one than I’d imagined.
There is something about Neville, she says. Without even trying. Sort of spits it down on the hardwood floor between us after I’ve turned my back and am on the way out the door because it’s another night of her hurling insults and me not in the mood to hurl back. She says it with a click of her teeth that’s the equivalent of, You don’t care and never will so why don’t you go back to your precious boys club.
But I didn’t want to.
I was angry.
I hit her.
It didn’t feel good, and the baby just cried louder. But it happened. I sort of watched it in slow motion. It didn’t even feel like me doing it, until afterwards when I felt the rush.
Ten stitches. She lied and said it was the oven that clocked her. She said she’d slipped while making casserole. On a baby toy. Yes, a baby toy, she repeated to the disbelieving doctor.
She felt terrible, and she’d been beaten, and yet she covered for me having hit her after she confessed to having an affair with her middle manager at Office Depot.
I don’t know why we kept at it so long. The innocent, they hang themselves. The rest they tire or go insane. It’s the few who keep their logic who have the choice to make.
I wanted to continue to see my kids. That’s the crux of it. The reason I didn’t come all the way unhinged.
So I didn’t burn down the shed with her in it, like in my dream. And I didn’t take out my regret upon my children anymore.
And It felt better, too. That was the weird part. It was like quitting smoking. Like suddenly you feel better and yet you never knew how much this thing was killing you in the first place until you got rid of it and took a step back.
I’ve been smoke-free six months. I like going on jogs. I like weaving in between the fat tourists sucking down their cancer sticks as I jog by, shirt off, stride in my step, a hard, granite countenance behind black sunglasses.
Me and the ex have always stayed on speaking terms.
I get every other weekend and whatever nights for dinner I’d like. So long as I give her some lead time.
Did I miss, a little, the napalm and neighborhood leveling that could have been had? Forgone, instead, for the sake of keeping things civil. For keeping her mouth shut and the police uninvolved.
Well, I’ve still got my kids. And my beer. And my friends. And online dating.
Some days I feel like I won. Some days I think there is no such thing as winning.
I have a feeling I’m not alone in my confusion.
And some days I light up a joint in my apartment and watch the gulls soar past, and think about all the anger I used to have, which seems now like such a bad bad dream and so far away that it had to have happened to another person altogether.
The plan was to get out. The plan was to do it in any way possible. The plan was to do it without killing ourselves in the process. Two out of three, in this case, didn’t cut it.
“Well it looks like we’ve got three options,” I said to Mio as we both stared down the amassing force of Eridon’s armored police, “We can do this dirty, lucky, or not at all.”
I punched button sequences mostly on the assumption that this cruiser, built by the Buick Intergalactic Horizons Corporation in 2475, was similar to the Cresada 250 I’d piloted for—considering the current situation—a frighteningly brief time as shuttle driver for the Big Double-S Atlas some ten odd years ago. There, I had been responsible for ferrying passengers between the two small moons of the third, privately owned settlement planet in the system Cygnus Ramplaign, and nearly everything about that gig was automated. Flying by the seat of your pants meant simply sitting down.
After a few moments pause, I heard the glorious snnicccckk of the engine louvers shunt into place, however, and felt generally better as that was the button I had originally intended to push.
“You said you knew how to drive a starship!” Mio screamed. She didn’t really understand the finer points of the safety routine.
“I said I knew well how to drive a starship, my starship, not your starship. Anyone that’s anyone that knows how to drive will tell you it takes a bit of time to get used to—”
“We don’t have a bit of time.” She was right about that.
There comes a point in every man’s life where he has no tricks left up his sleeve, where everything that comes from here on out is left to chance because it must be. That time was the three to five seconds it took for the agents to point towards our boat and then open fire.
As the shots traveled towards our craft I was aware, for a moment, of our imminent death.
Then Mio screamed.
It was a piercing, head-splitting, ice-pick to the temple shot. I experienced the brief moment of being unable to believe that it came from her. And then the whole scene reset itself. I watched it. One minute we were in a space hangar, and the next we were in an empty starry quadrant, coasting normally, adrift residual solar winds, as one would expect if they’d berthed and dropped anchor.
One minute it was there, and one minute it wasn’t. I blinked. Beside me, Mio was slumped now over the co-pilots nav screen. I clicked through a few menus. Status: GREEN across the board.
I laughed and then nearly fainted from fear.
The Brass Tiger: a veritable sea of flesh, neon and leather punctuated by the throbbing bass of the latest pop track pumped through speakers taller than myself. In a past life, I made my home in places like these. One tab of Perfection on my tongue and I could dance until the sun rose. It was the closest thing I knew to making love with my whole body, the closest I could get to that feeling I’d known once before, but so long ago it felt like something I’d only read about, some memory coopted from a friend. Your eyes closed, lips open in ecstasy, you glide your tongue across the nape of your partner’s neck coated in sweat, drag lips across teeth, suck their bottom lip, and they respond, bite yours, you pull them closer, the small flair of violence in your exchange is just the passion talking.
I found Fila at the end of the bar. He was Malgoon, one of the larger crime syndicate families/favelas here. This meant his skin was a deep, radiant umber and his hair a tight but wiry forest of bottle blonde atop his head. His pants and vest were both white. Typical Malgoon fashion. He smiled easily, and falsely, and beneath the shifting colors of the bar lights his teeth glowed several shades of electric neon. “What you want with Mio?” he asked, in a nearly incomprehensible drawl.
“It’s personal,” I told him.
“$5000 to start. And that’s to me, here. You say, ‘Personal’? It just go up.” He smiled at his own cleverness. “And, no offense, but you don’t look the type to carry that kind of scratch.”
I stared at him, unwavering.
“I just trying to save us all from the inconvenience of having to go down that other road,” Fila said.
“It’s not business, man. I just need to talk to her,” I repeated, “It’s personal, like I said. She’s a friend.”
“Everybody Mio’s friend. For $5000 to start, like I say. And it go up from there.” He bared his lips back, reminding me of a stray dog I had once interrupted as it perched over the body of man dead in some back alley. With an easy hand, the pimp grabbed the tumbler of alcohol in front of him, sipped with slow confidence, and shoved the glass back atop the bar. The ice cubes slopped in the dregs of leftover brown liquid.
“Let’s let her decide,” I remanded.
“Funny boy,” he said, chuckling. “You think you can tell me something?—”
I noticed figures in the background looming. Figures that had been watching and now took this as their cue.
“Fila!” It was Mio. How she’d gotten here? How she’d known? Something about her was disarming in this light. My regular suspicions fell by the wayside. I was at a loss, as well. What was I to do? Who was I to trust? In so much as I was still possessed of an instinct towards self-preservation, I needed her help. And, perhaps, she needed mine by the way she looked.
I needed not to worry that this might be a decision I’d come to regret. I needed to remember that coming to regret anything meant I’d been afforded the opportunity to live just that much longer. That there would be time in the future to worry about that. Time for just about anything so long as I got there first.
“He’s with me,” Mio told the pimp.
“Yeah, whatever, bitch,” Fila said. His attention had completely reverted to the comlink he clasped in his two gaudily bejeweled hands. His eyes were distant, trapped in some divertisement fed directly to his optic nerve. I wondered, did Mio actually carry some weight around here? Or had he just lost interest in the whole affair? Maybe she wasn’t his top girl? Or maybe it was just as simple as being mid-way through a long day of a long year in an even longer decade of the same tired shit? And if that was the case, then I knew exactly how Fila felt.
Mio took my hand and led me away from the main chamber. Behind us, I heard Fila utter—eyes still glazed and staring off into the non-space in front of him, fingers twiddling away, lip bit between teeth as he skirted some imaginary pitfall— “Talk all you want, baby girl. Just don’t you be wearing out that pussy. Cause it’s Fila what pays them refurb bills, you know?”
“How could I forget?” Mio mumbled, my hand in hers. She pushed through a set of doors which swung wide and easy, then led me up a long, winding series of iron steps. We penetrated deep into what must have been an old series of mining tunnels, the walls unfinished, black, slick rock that was cool to the touch.
“They like it rustic here,” Mio opined. We arrived at a cell door. She waved her wrist across a sensor pad, and I saw the blue light of an authenticator chip beneath her skin register access. Once inside, she walked slowly to a table arrayed with liquors. She poured herself one, and drank it down quickly, her back still to me. She began to pour another, and asked, “What’s your poison, cowboy?”
I refused politely.
“I don’t like folks who don’t drink,” Mio said. She leaned against the table, facing me now, and scowled.
“Well, that’s not really a problem, most times. Let’s just say it’s somewhat involuntary, ok. I owe you one. And normally I’d be taking you up on all sorts of offers, but—”
“—You need my help.” I must have looked stunned. “You look different,” she said. “But I knew it was you. You’re Temper, right? You were Gaby’s man.”
I nodded. I didn’t see much hope in denying it.
“What happened to you?” Mio asked.
“You mean, the face?”
She shook her head. “No. I mean, what happened? Why’d you stop coming round?”
That question made me livid. “What do you mean? I didn’t stop coming around. Why’d you stop answering the door. What happened to Gaby? What happened to you? Last I knew she just stopped answering my calls, then all of a sudden she’s gone, and you’re gone, and the place is up for rent and it’s empty. I came round a few times before I figured that out. And then… Well, you know, life just sort of sweeps you downstream eventually.” I noticed the abrupt change in mood that’d come over her as I spoke.
Mio nodded absently, wrapped up in thought. She’d barely noticed I’d stopped speaking.
“Hey, you…” I waved my hand in front of her face.
The girl seemed to snap out of it with a final shiver. “What happened to us?” she mouthed. “Indeed. That’s a good question. I don’t know.” She regarded the drink in her hand a moment, and then, as if suddenly recognizing it’s nature, brought it to her lips and drained it in a gulp. “I really don’t know, to be honest. It’s sort of a blur.”
“Well, it seems like all of us have issues with that, Mio. But I need your help.”
“I mean, it’s weird. That’s why I had to talk to you. That’s why this whole artifice, and me seeing you in the street and knowing it was you. I mean, that can’t be a coincidence. You got face-scaped, and a pretty good job from what I can tell, but the instant I look at you I know you’re Gaby’s man, or you were, and it all comes rushing back. It’s like I was meant to forget it all, but not memory wiped and all that, I was just meant not to question why waking up in an entirely different apartment on the other side of the city with your things in nearly the exact same order, but minus a roommate, should be weird.”
I knew exactly what she was talking about, oddly enough.
“Can you get me off this rock?” she begged, grabbing hold of my jacket. We were suddenly close, the air between us hot. “I just need to get out. I don’t feel safe here anymore. And I have a bad feeling that if I stay something terrible will happen.”
“You have a boat?” I asked coolly.
“What else does a girl with no drug problems do with all this cash?” She smiled devilishly, then cowed a bit. “I just… Don’t know how to fly it yet…”
“Well, you’re in luck,” I told her. “Together, we might just save both our necks.”
It took a scant few hours, but we’d made it back to the docks without incident. Mio’d grabbed a few effects and we raced out a small service outlet at the back of the club. I don’t know what I was expecting to find: some poorly outfitted pleasure docked piece of shit with mirrors on the bedroom ceiling and no space worthiness? Surely, it wasn’t the regal 250ft. Star Liner 6500 that Mio now presented before us. She clicked the key ring and the locks shuddered, eased, then opened. “Mio My” was emblazoned on its stern in profane street paint script.
I whistled through my teeth. “Well we’re gonna have to do something about that shitty paint job,” I chuckled, thankful I had at least not yet lost my wit as well as everything else.
“You got another thing coming, pal, if you—”
I put my finger to my lips. Pointed to the entrance to the ship’s berth. She complied soundlessly. We passed inside the cabin without being spotted. Or so I hoped. Down near the end of this arm of the pier, those same two agents who’d been snooping around the wreckage of my own boat appeared to be questioning the owners at various other slips.
“Where’s your guide for takeoff prep?” I asked.
She pointed. I got to work.
“How long do you think it’ll take?” she asked.
“An hour, tops.” I was skimming the book. Making sure checks were made, etc. “Why?”
“You might want to get on that,” she said. “And hurry it up as best you can.”
I looked up, and noticed the speedy arrival of three armored police vans, saw the two agents duck behind available cover. They were shouting to folks to get inside their crafts and into safe berth and not come out until they’d said so. They were pointing, I saw, at us.
Oh Mio My… I thought. Oh Mi-Oh My…