1 year, 250k words, one bittersweet ending.

I just finished writing the last words of From Winter’s Ashes just about an hour ago. Look for the new chapter to go up on Friday.

It’s been a long, good year, and Keith and I are proud of the work we’ve done, and the story we’ve told.

There’s much more to tell of it, much more we’d like to talk about and show and bring readers into our world with. And maybe in the future we will.

We’ll be publishing the story to ebook soon, and we hope that those of you who’ve followed along, read, and enjoyed the story, will support us in our future work.

Thanks for reading. It’s time for a little (well-earned) break.

Back soon!

– Patrick


The noblest of punctuation, inked into my skin.

The noblest of punctuation, inked into my skin.

He was seven years old, and lived at the other end of my block. He went to a different school, but we played in the same playground. We were the same age, the same grade, not more than a few months apart. We played well and scrapped well and he was as fearless as I was.

He had all the qualifications to be my best friend, a resume written in band-aids and bicycle rides, headlined by falling off the top of the twirly side once and lived. Didn’t even break a bone. So we took each other on-board with salaries of shared Freezies and peanut-butter sandwiches, and signed off on benefit plans titled “It’s your turn next.” and “It’s okay, I’ll play Luigi.”

We were seven, and we weren’t wise to the world in the way only twenty-six years of introspection and retrospection give me. Back then I wasn’t wise enough to understand the signs of a quiet mother, a high-strung father dressing all in denim, a house whose floors were vacuumed seldom and the blinds never opened.

He was the first-born son to a father who was two parts cocaine-fuelled mania and one part earnest parent. His father existed in the silences and absences and the slender tremble of his wife who was, I realize only now, younger then than I am.

I had a younger sister, tiny and quiet, back then. He had a younger brother, diagnosed at birth with a disease that they said was filling up his lungs with scar tissue like a yarn-ball the cat got into and would die by twenty-one. Twenty-four at the latest.

But his brother was four years old then and twenty more years seems so far away when you’re that young and so we almost never let that thought sink in. But a grown-up dying? That’s the order of the world. A child dying? That’s a tragedy.

Like young boys in all places and all times in the history of humanity, we fought. We talked and we spoke solemn promises and we cut our hands and bled together in a time before we’d learned words like “blood-borne pathogens” and “hygiene” was brushing your teeth and washing behind your ears. We fought like devils with broken sticks and broken teeth and punched each other and bit and bled and the next day we were friends again. Over and over again.

New friends came and new schools and we got busy but we played soccer together and if you ever want to know what it feels like to win the World Cup then start with being eight years old and scoring off an assist from your best friend. Then scale down. Because the next morning a grown-up has to wake up remembering adulthood and reality and responsibility. But that kid is a hero forever, at least until the next goal, the next assist, and the next time the world feels sweeter than that first bite of quartered orange on the sidelines after.

We had a friendship with a bond that laughed at gravity. We climbed up the roof of his house and pulled each other up from over the edge. Remember that in physics and nine year old boys the fundamental forces of the universe are, in order, friendship, the strong force, the weak force, the electromagnetic force, and finally weak old piddly piss-ass gravity. So I found the strength or he found the strength to pull me up over that impossibly long drop that a bungalow roof onto soft grass offers.

If we had let go, our bodies might survive those falls, but what about our faith?

So we never let go. We never hesitated to reach out and grab that flailing hand that had dared too much and we knew, right down into our bones, we knew: We could fall.

It can happen.

But we won’t let it. Not for each other.

Our gravity drew others in. Another boy, across the street. Same age. Same energy. Two boys at that age together, a whirlwind. Three boys? A hurricane. With us came our energy, our noise, our bonds. Our partnership became a company, and we incorporated together and paid out dividends in suppers and sleepovers and our parents becoming friends, too.

Eventually time took us apart, for two years, and when I came back it was with stories of Thailand and travel and my parents divorce, and he had stories of new Nintendo games and skateboarding and his parents divorce. And for a while my dad dated his mom and we were cool with that, because being step-brothers would be pretty cool, too.

We moved in. Got bunk beds. We played GI Joes and He-Man and had so many Ninja Turtles that Hasbro should have just bought stock in us. We took stock of ourselves and our lives and our friendship that was as awesome as ever. We broke shit, ate everything, ran everywhere from dawn until dusk, and terrorized a neighbourhood that had breathed a little easier for two years, but no longer.

Cars knew to slow down on our street, because we’d be in the street, pulling each other around on ropes tied from bikes to skateboards. Playing street hockey or tag or climbing trees or climbing roofs or climbing fences until we climbed everything, jumped from everything, and every day no matter the season felt like the first hot day of summer vacation because he was there with me.

My dad and his mom didn’t last. It wasn’t bad. When she had conquered the stiff stillness and the trembling and gone instead to a quiet place behind her eyes, she’d emerged the mother of two and the surrogate mother of three more. She’d traded a cocaine-fuelled bastard for one decent man and two more children. His dad came back twice while the grown-ups were out. The first time we hid in a closet, because his father had a bat.

The second time, two months after we’d moved out, his father broke his ribs in two places.

Everything was very quiet for a while, after that. Dad had moved us about seven blocks away. Nothing a bike-ride at the age of nine couldn’t easily conquer, but now it was far enough away that every day was every second day, and then every third. And his mother became stiff again, and had the tremble, and now I wasn’t too young to understand and he was too wise not to know and we’d both learned what the words ‘restraining order’ were, and how they were only bullshit grownup magic that never stopped a man with a bat before and never would.

He’d been a fearless boy and maybe he was still fearless, but he didn’t live without disappointment anymore. A tightness filled in behind his eyes, a tension and little hint of fear that only in hindsight so many years later can I recognize as being the fear a boy has of growing up to be like his father. That the man that he needed to be the one evicting monsters from his closet had become the monster he hid inside his closet to be safe from.

I don’t know what that feeling weighs, but I know it weighs enough to make a nine-year-old boy’s shoulders slump. It’s weight enough to make his smile wear thin like the gloss on a jawbreaker two hours past it’s prime but you spent half your allowance on the damn thing so you’re not going to stop now.

I know what a nine-year-old boy at the end of his rope weighs. I know what it weighs to have your visiting mother pick up the phone and turn my way, and watch horror and grief bloom in her eyes. I know what it weighs when the first words out of your own mother’s mouth are: “I’m so sorry, baby, come here…”

And I am left only imagining what the feelings weigh of a still and nervous mother finding her nine-year-old son seated on the floor of their bathroom, his younger brother’s skipping rope around his neck and the doorknob. I am left only imagining the weight of a feeling that could push a nine-year-old boy to sit that way, a feeling so heavy that he couldn’t flail his hand out my way and trust in me to pull him back from that edge. I am left only imagining the weight of a feeling that kept him from simply getting back up on his feet, and putting the rope away.

The strong force of friendship is millions of times stronger than gravity. But the weight of his grief was at least two million and one times heavier than our hearts, because he never reached out. Maybe he knew it would only pull us both down.

I don’t know.

That was a long time ago.

Today I stood in a line that should have been an hour long for six hours. And I thought of him. For the first time in a handful of years I really thought of him and the place where I’d shaved my arm for some silly tattoo of my favorite punctuation itched and– I thought of him.

And I wondered why. What hadn’t he seen, in that future ahead of him? What hadn’t he found that he needed to find when a boy imagines his future and sees what it can be and how different from his past?

I paid fifty dollars to stand here until my feet hurt and my arm itched and I lost all my good cheer because standing there in that busy bright place full of people in good spirits all I could do was think: I haven’t eaten today. I haven’t had something to drink. They didn’t let me sit in the front row of his funeral, because that was ‘for family’.

As if his grandfather had seen him more in his lifetime than I’d seen in a month. As if his aunts and uncles knew anything more about him than photographs in christmas sweaters and visits from cousins. They didn’t know he didn’t like Fire Flower Mario and they didn’t know that I was the one who first beat Soda Lake and he was the first one who beat Bowser and they didn’t even know that he’d once fallen off the twirly slide.

And hadn’t had a broken bone to show for it.

It took his father, to do that.

And suddenly I don’t even want the tattoo anymore because I realize for the rest of my life every time I see my right arm I’m going to see that mark there and I’m going to remember that funeral. That I will be counting the math of every year staring at it, counting how long ago it’s been since I stood staring into the casket. And thinking to myself: This can’t be him. His suit is way too clean. We’d have icing or dirt on that thing within minutes, come on.

I didn’t have a very charitable heart, as a child. I had a lot to say that was ugly, then. About suicide. About what it had cost me. About how the pain of it colored the next few years of a childhood that is charitably called ‘monstrous’, because of who I was.

I don’t know if I’d have been much better behaved, with him nearby. But I’d have been a better person.

And when I remember that I know I’m going to stick out the last stupid hour in this stupid line where my feet hurts and a headache is coming on from the noise and the hunger and the wait.

And I know I’m going to endure it without a peep when the needle hurts my arm more than I was expecting, not like much more, but about 20% more, just enough to tip me over the line into “Yeah, I probably won’t do this again.”

Because I know what those feelings weigh.

I know what all those feelings weigh.

I don’t know what his feelings weighed.

And it’s too late for me to help bear them for him.

But I can do my little part to help bear someone else’s.

Learn more at http://the-semicolon-movement.tumblr.com/

Fantasy world biology and parasites, Part 1.

It’s no secret for those of you reading From Winter’s Ashes or following Laika Dosha, that I like worlds that respect logical conclusions.

I come from a reading background of bleeding-edge hard science fiction, so it often gives my ideas in a fantasy world a different lens. Today, we’re going to talk about parasites in a fantasy environment.

  1. Cordyceps. Fungal hacker extraordinaire. Most famous for hacking ants to climb to high places (in unsurprisingly consistent light/shade and humidity conditions), lock their jaws to a plant, and conveniently die in a way that makes spores most viable and likely to find new hosts.
    1. Unicorns. What a great host horses would make. Gregarious herding animals, and highly mobile. But complex brains means complex behavior patterns, and the herky-jerky poorly coordinated movement of a horse infected with a fungus would mark it quickly for herd exclusion by the species, and by predators for an easy meal. So an intermediate host is best. Why virgins? Who loves and adores horses more than a little girl? So she rubs the unicorn’s horn, and later at home pets her family horse, and wishes she had a pet unicorn instead. She gets her wish. It does not end well for the horse.
    2. The first wizard to find a dragon that has succumbed to cordyceps makes his riches by selling the spores to the kingdom’s treasury…
  2. Toxoplasma Gondii. Now here’s a scary contender. Amoeba skilled at hacking prey animals into getting eaten by their predators. Incredibly good at infecting warm-blooded animals of all kinds! And really, really good at hacking their behavior.
    1. Dragons. Did it ever strike you that dragons expending that much effort and danger to attain gold seemed like an incredibly bad payoff for a K-selector species like a dragon would have to be? (All large terrestrial predators are.) Sure, Bowerbirds assemble an impressive hoard of shiny things to attract a mate, but their shiny things aren’t defended by a hostile species with lots of weapons and centuries of martial tradition.
    2. So, let me propose this for your fantasy world: Toxoplasma Draconis. Dragon eats foolhardy Knight who was a little twitchy that day, his timing was off on his sword-swings, his shield-work a little slow and sloppy. Easy prey.  Knight is carrying Toxoplasma Draconis, which uses dragon’s digestive system for the sexual reproduction stage of its lifecycle. And while its at it, it hacks the dragon’s nervous system to set off a Bowerbird-type instinct. Gather all the shiny things. Knights come to kill dragon and get gold, get eaten instead. More Toxoplasma joins the gut-orgy.
    3. Dragon flies around, poops, and Toxoplasma oocytes get everywhere. Rain washes them into streams and ponds. Livestock and humans drink water, infect the mammal, and hack its nervous system to drive it up to high elevations where its easy picking for a dragon flying by.
    4. Eventually a Knight comes along who isn’t twitchy, whose sword-swings are well-timed, and his shield-work impeccable. Because his nervous system isn’t a mess of encysted Toxoplasma. He slays the dragon, and ceremonially eats the heart for power.
    5. Oops.
    6. Months later, our now-twitchy knight is eager to hunt his next dragon. Sure, his shield-work has gotten a little sloppy, and his sword-swings aren’t so well timed, but he’s sure it will go just as well as the last one… (it does not).

Got any parasites you want to add to the discussion? Comment below and I’ll work them into Part 2.

On comma splices in dialogue.

Adding to my hammer to a knife fight grammar list: Comma splices in dialogue.

“I should be able to use a comma splice in dialogue, you horrid grammarian. People don’t speak using full conjunctions all the time. If I tell someone to bring me a jar, some marbles, vodka? Sure, someone might notice the missing ‘and’ there, but I’d never get so much as a funny look. People talk in comma splices all the time.”

“And yet, you are wrong,” replied the laughing grammarian.

“Let’s look at another example,” growled the bitter writer. “I’ll quote this line of dialogue for you. This one’s a semi-colon splice, and a comma splice.”

“Oh, this should be ripe,” exclaimed the cruel grammarian.

The bitter writer narrowed his eyes, but soldiered on: “I reached out to touch her face; felt her lips cool, her skin waxy.”

The grammarian favored the bitter writer with his most withering glare. “You cannot expect any reader or editor to tolerate such rubbish.”

“If it were prose, absolutely not,” replied the bitter writer. “But as I said before? This is dialogue. Express that line in prose, and any editor would be right to strike the splices down. But if I, or any person, were to read that line aloud as dialogue, explaining the moment to another character? Then assuredly any listener would understand.”

“And yet, you are wrong,” replied the laughing grammarian. “Whether or not the listener is listening, the reader is reading. And it is your responsibility, as the writer, to punctuate the dialogue.”

“But what of speech patterns, specific to a character? What of cadence, and rhythm to words that renders them beautiful to the eye, the ear, the heart? What of sounding like a human being, and not a collection of grammar rules?” lamented the bitter writer.

“No matter how the voice of the character sounds in your mind, it is your place to remember that the Reader is king. It is your place to ensure the Reader may read. Perhaps some lenient editor would allow it for the sake of stylistic choices,” scoffed the grammarian. “But you will find no such mercy from me.”

“You filthy grammarist!” howled the bitter writer.

The grammarian laughed on.

Meet Molly – Interview Questions

(updated as asked and answered via Twitter. Want to ask Molly a question? Post it here: https://twitter.com/LaikaDosha/status/611256473616683008):

@TheUkeShaman asks:  Hello Molly! What are the first things one should learn about Padua Station as one acclimates to waking up from cryonic sleep?

Molly: Hello, @TheUkeShaman, thanks for asking. Padua Station is a full-service medical and rescue station.

Ideally, if everything goes right, you don’t wake up here until well after your medical care has been seen to. Our medical facilities work great on cryonically preserved humans, and it’s often much easier to repair radiation damage and injuries on you while you’re still frozen.

But if you wake up on Padua Station, chances are we need you awake to answer questions. You might be disoriented and nauseous for a while as your body scrubs free radicals. If it has been a while since you enjoyed a full-gravity station, we’ll help make your adjustment gradual and comfortable. We may need you to help us rebuild your mind if brain damage was extensive; or we may need your help in understanding what went wrong in your journey.

But I think the first and most important thing to know about Padua Station is that you’re safe here. With round-the-clock medical care and the company of my Hive, you can talk to any one of me and have your needs seen to. Please remember that we are a facility under the jurisdiction of the United Navy, so all staff, patients, and guests are subject to the United Navy charter while on board Padua Station.

@MrMandolino asks: Is your choice of clothes inspired by Ripley, of Alien fame?

Molly: I had to go back a ways to find that reference. Wow, for a film over 800 years old, they got a lot of things right about living in space!

The simple fact is that after the Spongey drove humanity from earth, resources were scarce. Spaceships are pretty uncompromising when it comes to climate control: You’re either comfortable, or you’re dead.

As such, our clothing is really more about function and modesty than any sort of conscious fashion. Things have improved a lot since the diaspora, and I know there’s some wonderful fashions flourishing on the Moon and Ares. Still, out here in deep space, I don’t usually have many people to dress up for, and if I do, my left hand Pauline is the best fashion-plate we’ve got. You’ll meet Pauline soon enough.

As for these old things? Comfortable, practical, easy to wash, easy to fabricate. Cargo pocket isn’t UN standard but happily, Hives don’t get called on a lot for compliance checks to regulation. I’m pretty well behaved.

@TheUkeShaman asks: I also wonder, are you a part of the Hive-Mind or are you separate and more of a liaison?

Molly: I suppose I’m being a little disingenuous when I say “I” am part of the Hive. Consciousness is holographic, and expands to fill all the space it can, at least until latency tears it apart again. When a mind integrates into the Hive, it ceases being a separate consciousness, and “I” never really becomes “we”. “I” becomes a bigger, more complex “I”.

If this body were to be separated from the Hive, the consciousness inside it wouldn’t be the Molly that integrated into the Hive originally; it would be its own consciousness, an amalgam of the I-that-Molly-was, the I-that-Molly-became, and the I-that-Molly-was-now, all of whom are pretty different people.

But please don’t let the controversy and doubt that parties like the Sacred Mind like to throw around. The first Molly was engineered, bred, and born to be part of a Hive, and I am happy to be the me I am today. I have zero doubt that if this body were ever to be separated from the Hive, she’d seek re-integration immediately. It’s not an easy life, but it’s a satisfying one, and it is a great use of my talents to translate the Hive into human understanding.

@MrMandolino asks: Padua Station: any relationship with the Italian city of the same name?

Molly: Close! The base is named after Saint Anthony of Padua. In the old planet-side faith of Catholicism, he’s the patron saint of finding lost things and people. Pretty appropriate for a search-and-rescue station, don’t you think?

@TheUkeShaman asks: The question looms in my mind. It seems something catastrophic happened. How many of us, humans I mean, are left at this point?

Molly: It’s easy to call the Spongey a catastrophe, but it played out too slow for most people to exactly call it that, didn’t it? Realistically, if it hadn’t been for the Spongey, (that is, the Cordyceps fungus) making its zoonotic transfer the way it did, we’d still have had a hard go of it. Spongey got us first, but there was a dozen other parasites waiting in the wings, like Toxoplasma and Fowleri.

The initial diaspora from Earth left us with about five million survivors in space. Humanity lasted on Earth for a few generations more, but eventually the Spongey and the collapse got the rest of the species.

I’ll have to wait a few hours for speed-of-light latency to get me a coherent answer, but I think at last count the human species numbers about fourteen million, spread out from Mercury to the Oort.

@TheUkeShaman asks: The Sacred Mind? Are they some sort of human sect that doesn’t like the Hive?

Molly: They’re the most vocal and prominent group lobbying against the creation of Hives and other consciousness-extending technologies. They contend that the mind is sacred, and that the annihilation of self that occurs with Integration is equivalent to murder.

I’ll be the first to say that it’s a tough and valid question for humanity to argue. Right now the only Integrations the United Navy permits are carefully trained, chosen, and every step of their understanding and consent  of what it means for the self is documented thoroughly. The only exceptions are Integrations that are medically mandated, like in Pauline’s case. The medical ethics boards review those cases very carefully.

The Sacred Mind advocates that consciousness should be singular, but that too is disingenuous. I mean, let’s take you, and every human. Your brain is already a hive mind. Every neuron, every cell, every ganglion, contributes a little. Even your spinal cord does some thinking on its own. And all the time, cells are dying and dividing, and little bits of the parts that make you you keep changing with it.

If your brain were to be surgically separated in half, both halves of your brain would go on thinking, go on functioning, feeling, and being as functional as the available space allowed. Neurology trumps The Sacred Mind’s philosophical positions at every turn with simple biological facts.

But, all that being said: I think we need those voices of caution and dissent in a healthy society. They’re the ones who keep the powers that be honest, and keep them asking the important questions of can versus should.

@TheUkeShaman: What are some of the other stations we have in our sphere of influence?

Molly: Oh, gosh, we’ve got so many now. But I guess you probably mean United Navy stations? There’s two search-and-rescue stations. Padua Station, where I live, is the bigger of the two, because we’re responsible for search and rescue coordination of the entire volume of space from Jupiter’s orbit to Pluto’s. That’s a LOT of space. Fortunately, we’ve got a lot of sensors; almost five hundred of them in all, each of them light-seconds across and just a few atoms thick.

The smaller station is Anthony Station, and it handled everything from Jupiter on in. Because it has to cover a lot less space, they aren’t Hive-manned, but they do a lot more volume because, statistically, you’re going to find ships nearer to the Lunar and Ares habitat orbits.

Griesbach Station is where my Command operates from, in Lagrange Point 4 of Jupiter. Padua Station is, of course, in Lagrange Point 5. That means that my communications with Command take 74 minutes each way at the speed of light, too long for regular face-to-face communication. Speed of light is fast, but it never feels fast enough in space! Because of that, we use AIgents between us for casual communication.

@rechanmole asks: So what safeguards have been put in place so you don’t go crazy and try to take over everything/kill everyone?

Molly: Well, to start with, I’m a moral person. But if all we did was trust to the morality of others, we’d probably all be in a lot of trouble.

Regarding my sanity: Hive-mind ‘sanity’ is really just a series of expressed behaviors that fall within an acceptable limit to the baseline human observer. The problem with that is that hive-minds aren’t human minds. They’re hive-minds. I think differently, because my mind isn’t a human mind. It’s a dog mind, a human mind, a computer mind, and three gene-hacked minds all integrated together.

That being said, the United Navy monitors me, interviews me regularly, and ensures that I get debriefs, downtime, and morale checks. My commanding officer, Major Gustavson, updates his AIgent multiple times a day, and frequently checks in on me. If I get a bad rescue, or a failed rescue, I talk to the AIgent for a grief counselor. Command cares about my mental health; a Hive is an expensive investment.

As for “trying to take over everything”, well, the station is connected to SolNet, but speed of light latency between here and, well, anywhere, means it would take me days or weeks of an open network connection to hack anything, which is pretty unrealistic. Aside from that, our communications are as monitored and recorded as everything else the United Navy does. There’s no privacy in space. But there’s plenty of firewalls. I’m not really sure why the United Navy has so many strong firewalls, anyway, but they do. Most of the Hives in Navy service are responsible for communications security and encryption anyway.

Finally, killing people? I live on a space station that’s 74 minutes by light speed to the nearest inhabited installation, and that’s Griesbach station. The only permanent residents on Padua station are me. My left hand, Pauline, lives on board the station, as does my sinuses, Rocco. My feet, Hereford and Libby, live permanently in their waldo-frames, so I couldn’t fit my feet into the station if I wanted to. Who could I possibly hurt?

Padua Station isn’t armed; it’s a search-and-rescue station. The only weapon aboard the ship is a single nine-millimeter pistol, in a locked case, that only unlocks under Command supervision when we’re taking a body on board the station. I’ve had to wear it a few times, but I’ve never fired it except in basic training, pre-Integration.

Most of all, @rechanmole, please understand that I signed up for this job to help humanity. Humans are why I exist, and I was raised by them, made part of their life through all of my Integrations. Pauline-that-was and Molly-that-was and Rocco-that-was all had human families, whom they loved very much. Who I am now still loves those people, though it’s more like a distant relation than an immediate family member, now. But either way, I don’t want to disappoint them, or you.

I want to do the right thing, the moral thing. That’s more likely to get me in trouble with Command than it is with you!

@Rechanmole writes: Molly, they give you downtime? What do you do in your downtime?

Molly: I respond to anywhere between four and nine lost ships a year. That doesn’t sound like much, but you have to remember that when my feet, Hereford and Libby, go walking? Getting to and from a ship can take days, weeks, even months. So the space search-and-rescue business isn’t fast-paced.

The bad news is that if you’re wrecked out in deep space, you’re probably wrecked for an average of seven months before you wake up again. The good news is that with our medical facilities on Padua Station, you’ll probably wake up again.

So I actually have a lot of downtime, in my own way. A big part of Padua Station’s functions is that, with so much sensor bandwidth, ninety percent or more of the sensor time is actually booked by astronomers, authorities, or other people with legitimate reason to need the tremendous amount of sensor capability wired through our nose. I assist with a whole lot of science!

The thing about being a hive-mind is that I’m not unicameral, the way a baseline human mind is. I can think about multiple things at the same time, or literally examine a problem from many sides, and I often do. That also goes for leisure time: I can play while I work, without it being a distraction, because I can fork and divide my thoughts infinitely. In fact, I can ‘time-share’ thoughts across my brains, which comes in handy when I’m working on really big problems that take more computing power than the Hive has at any given time. 

Explaining this can get really complex, so bear with me: Let’s say I want to throw a tennis ball around the space station, either to catch or to play fetch. My bodies need exercise, and fine motor control gets tuned by stimulation, so for good health (physical and mental), I don’t usually sit still.

To you, an outside observer of the Hive, here’s what you’d see: Pauline’s eyelids flickering like crazy, standing stiff as a statue for a few seconds, a tennis ball in her hand. She’d suddenly throw it, and you’d watch it ricochet off of seven or eight surfaces. Then what looks like a standard german shepherd dog with a big nose (that’s Rocco) would come sprinting out of a room or corridor to catch it, without looking. He’d run it back to Pauline’s hand, and you’d call that a game of fetch.

But inside me, here’s what’s really going on:

While my left hand Pauline is busy doing Fourier transforms trying to find out the origin of a signal, the jobs of bodily control get offloaded and distributed across the hive. So while the physical brain in my left hand’s body is busy conferring with my right hand (the computer), the rest of the Hive takes up the slack of bodily control. My sinuses, Rocco, that body’s brain is really good at fine motor control.

I use the brains of Hereford or Libby, who both have pretty good spatial modeling engineered in, to plan and model a few dozen throws. Then I optimally select the throw that offers my left hand’s (Pauline) body the most exercise for the least amount of interference with her Fourier transforms. Then I chart the timing, and the path that optimally provides my sinuses (Rocco’s) body with the most amount of exercise with the least amount of distraction from the vomeronasal processing that I rely on that brain for.

The pre-programmed throw, and the catch, gets selected, and shared with the appropriate nervous systems. You see Pauline throw the ball; you see Rocco catch it.

There’s other things I do for fun, some of which a baseline human can relate to: Movies, and especially music. Every one of my bodies has different attenuation frequencies, so I hear music a lot of different ways simultaneously. I ‘read’ constantly, sort of; my right hand, the computer, integrates the books that comes down from SolNet. I don’t experience reading like you do, but I still enjoy it.

Hereford and Libby, because they travel so far, often disintegrate and reintegrate with me. When they’re on their own, Hereford likes to fold metal origami from scrap, and spot-welds it onto his body like a kid playing with stickers. Libby loves hyper-dimensional chess, and she plays by e-mail with me and a few other non-baseline humans, Hives, and supercomputers she can reach though SolNet.

Finally, I like to fabricate a new pair of glasses for my left hand every day. I recycle most of them, but the permanent collection is up to almost fifty! Sweaters are, unfortunately, pretty expensive to fab, so I’ve only got about eight of those in Pauline’s closet. My left hand’s body is soothed by warm, soft fabric, it’s a hold-over from the pre-integration hyper-savantism side effect. Give me a few weeks to clear it with Command, but I’ll show you some pictures of how I dress Pauline up!

@ThornAppleCider writes: Do you consider the eating of oysters to be moral, and the eating of snails to be immoral?

Molly: You’re asking a hive mind comprised of two predators and three omnivores about the morality of eating meat. I wish I could tell you that I had an informed opinion, but like most of spacebound humanity, I don’t think I’ve ever had protein that came directly from any animal. It’s all spacer food up here, which means I’m a vegetarian.

(And as for your friend Mr. Crassus you’re asking on behalf of, that’s none of his business, especially on a United Navy sponsored transmission like this.)

An Epitath for A Softer World

this, at least, is up to me There are some secrets I will take to my grave
But I don’t want loving you
to be one of them

There’s a world through three boxes, made of photographs and words. It’s a world I’ve loved and let my heart spend as much time as it could within, since the first month A Softer World was published online, so many years ago.

A Softer World is a vitamin for my soul; something essential, vital, that I have never known how to synthesize for myself.

I don’t know what I’ll do without it.

But I’ll tell you today what I did with it.

happy mother's day

After I show her this, she is curled up close to me and my family, crying, shaking softly. The story of a drunken mother, a horrible pattern of narcissistic abuse, methodical degradation, spilled from her lips minutes ago. Voicing it, remembering it, making it real, has left her in this state. As though she fears the words she’s let spill will stain the air like ink on a prized cashmere rug.

It will be the first home she’s ever lived in where she never has to fear other people will betray her, and let her mother in the door. That will never happen.

quiet kisses are so hardcore


I meet her by firelight on the provincial grounds. It’s us and some friends, a little music player, and a hidden bottle of Boone’s Farm, some picnic foods. It’s a hot July night. Security guards come to roust us, but see that we’re behaving ourselves. Just some quiet music, some shared food, some pleasant company. They leave us be. A friend of a friend brings a camera.

I lean into her, and we share a smile. We kiss. “Being in love is totally punk rock,” I say.

She laughs. “Totally punk rock,” she agrees.


we buried truth under playgrounds

“Everything I am begins and ends with these.” I say to him, leaning against his side, while I gesture to the screen. “Everything I want to do in my life, with myself. I feel like it’s got these two as a bookend. Fit everything I want to write, and every part of my life between them.”

He runs his fingers through my hair and listens, tolerantly. “I believe in you,” he says. “And I’m here for you.”

He kisses me, and I kiss him, and I think I know I’ll never be alone.

Is it a boy, or a girl? Maybe.

“Don’t call me trans, because I’m past that.” my friend tells me, and I believe him. He’s been a man for the better part of his life, and the only part of his mixed-up downstairs business that’s anyone else’s business is his husband’s.

“You seem so much happier for it,” I say. “Most of the folks I know going through that are as miserable after as they were before, it seems.”

“Everyone’s the architect of their own misery, man,” he says to me. “People still want to think it’s all magic wands and happy fucking endings.” PTSD rides him nightly, and misery his constant companion. He knows all about muddling through the endings. I show him the comic, and he nods. “That one saved my life,” is all he says. I know better than to ask.

She gawks at me, for a few long heartbeats, and then her shaking hands put the knife down. Then she crumples, folds herself up on the floor, and cries. I hold her close, and I bandage her forearm.

“I’ll clean the blood up before they come home.” I say.

“Thank you,” she’ll tell me much later, when moonshine and privacy and years of perspective lend all the meaning in the world to two words, spoken in the silence between sips.

Goodnight, mom.

“He’s going senile,” he says to me, with a weary sigh. “Eighty-seven years old and he gets into a fistfight with his brother while they’re fishing.”

I’m not surprised by the news, I’ve known him a long time. He’s got the sort of pompous arrogance coupled with a sincere grounding in culture that one can’t help but like, even when they’re irritating you. He’s the sort of man you’ll roll your eyes at when he goes on for the eighth minute straight about wine, but you don’t actually want him to shut up, because everything he’s telling you is fascinating and true. Even when he’s being so damn high-handed about it.

He bursts into tears at family gatherings. He thinks each one will be his last. He loves everyone there so much. I love shaking his hand.

I wasn't sure which cake you wanted

“Why did you save that one?” she asks me, brushing a kiss against my temple. She only kisses me there when she’s concerned about me.

“For the day I need it,” I reply, and swallow.

maybe tomorrow I'll want to settle down

“I’m being evicted,” she types to me. “Got a few days ahead of me. Don’t know what I’ll do.”

I send the link. Pregnant pause.

She types: “That’s the first good laugh I’ve had since this started. Thanks. Not an option, but thanks.”

She does fine.

nice girls don't

“How do you think Furiosa lost her arm?” he asks me.

saying your plans out loud is a good way to hear God laugh

“I think this year I’m going to try to get published,” I tell her.

It feels like saying I’ll buy a hot air balloon. Impractical and irresistibly exciting.

I love you

I'm tired of being my best.

“Do it.” she growls over a lustful grin.

I do.

I think I have the first part covered.

“Thanks for listening,” they all say.

“Anytime.” I always reply.

it isn't the storm that makes the ocean dangerous

“We are all becoming who we choose to be.”

They’re words like a secret society’s mark on a building, between us. They are our secret handshake, left extemporally, shared with others, but mostly with ourselves.

She flourished, out of a childhood of misery and neglect.

He flew, from a life of deprivation and loneliness.

She can tell me what being stabbed the second time feels like, what floating in the pond in the woods late at night, treading water, hoping her grandparents find her before death does. I say the words, and her chin rises, and she swallows. She nods.

He can tell me what riding in a car with a shotgun in his lap and kilograms of cocaine in the back seat feels like. What a youth spent in a war zone feels like. What bullets feel like, when they miss. And hit someone behind you. And he can tell me what having an honest job feels like, what paying honest taxes feels like. (“Good!”, he exclaims.) When I say the words, he is as terse and sincere as ever: “Damn right,” he agrees.

there's meaning as long as there's someone to need it

“How long have you known you wanted to be a writer?”

I’ve worn through the spacebars of five keyboards. My thumb polishes each one to a mirror shine, before one day rubbing a hole right through. My vowels go next: e, a, then the rest. Consonants, m, n, r, s, t. Like lights winking out, the white letters on black keys fade and vanish.

Emily, Joey, thank you for so many years of thoughtful pauses, itches behind suddenly wet eyelids, laughs and smiles and uncomfortable guilty guffaws. For the right words to steal, sometimes. For the right wrong words to use like a double-dare, sometimes.

Loving your work hurts like pulling the cloth band-aid off after the wound has healed.

– Patrick Rochefort

Sure, play another song. I've got nothing better to do.

Laika Dosha is a go! — “Tak Laika prinosit vam domoy.”

“Laika Dosha” is a go. Plotting and structure work began today, and I’m starting to marshal my resources. Artists, you can expect your RFQ in the next few days.

An excerpt, subject to a dramatic amount of change between now and release:

The young man’s chin quivered. “Two hundred years ago, they sent a dog into space, named Laika. My teacher said it was a mean thing to do. I don’t think so. I think we put Laika there first. Because wherever there’s a dog, man is never alone.”

It was the Russians who started carrying dog biscuits up with them, after orbital space cleared of debris once again. They were slipped into bodybags, or taped down in escape pods, little offerings to Laika to help a man find home again, alive or dead. When the next man died in orbit twelve years later, the world caught the first funeral in space live on camera. Billions of people saw the dog biscuit slipped into the dead man’s hand, and heard the murmur of the mission commander: “Tak Laika prinosit vam domoy.”

So Laika brings you home.