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

byfirelight

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.


shrapnel

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.

“Laika Dosha” project begins.

So, the good folks at the Blackgate Game project have tapped me to write and direct “Laika Dosha”, a hard science-fiction visual novel that tells the story of a deep-space search-and-rescue dog team, that finds itself haunted by the ghost of Laika.

Here’s a blurb to whet your appetite:


Antimatter smells like bacon.

They knew what they were doing when they wired in that association. Two atoms of antihydrogen react off of a fine copper mesh a few atoms wide and light­seconds across. It’s one net of four hundred and thirty eight scattered around the outer solar system. To my proprioception, my nose spans most of the outer solar system, everything from Jupiter to the Oort.

The scent of bacon hits me, and abruptly I’m eight years old, watching my mother make me a BLT. I’m also, simultaneously, a german shepherd pup of only eight weeks, nose to the air, watching the same. Hive mind memories run parallel that way.

Shared proprioception across three bodies, two brains in a can, one quantum computer, and all those sensor nets, means it’s easier to think of every one of me as a body part of a whole. For example:

Right now my sinuses, Rocco, has his nose up in the air. His eyes are squinting, his ears perked forward, and his tail is doing a lazy spiral. Signals from our sensor array get split; telemetry goes one way, quantum spin data goes the other. Rocco’s a four year old german shepherd dog, with some polar bear and luna moth hacked in for the benefit of our vomeronasal organ.

Almost a third of Rocco’s brain weight is devoted to processing scent; and Rocco gets a direct feed into the sensor array. Through him, the aroma of bacon frying is so rich and overwhelming, I find myself salivating from all of my mouths.

Sensors tag the two little spikes of gamma decay as 1.3 milliseconds apart. Trajectory models bloom in our consciousness. My left arm’s name is Pauline, and her brain is doing the math. My left arm is a human, female, aged thirty, and so powerfully autistic-­savant on its own that it medically mandated hive mind integration. Before me, Pauline tried to  communicate with her caregivers through Fourier transforms of Pi, expressed by blinking.

Now, with integration, I can pretty regularly beat the computer on signal triangulation and sequencing. More importantly, I have a backup now in case the computer ever goes down, which my commanding officer assures me is inevitable in this environment.

My mouth’s name is Molly, the communication and integration specialist. I use her to relay the initial report to command: “Command, antimatter delta orbital ­north of Jupiter, relative earth angle one-­fifteen by three point five. Source looks like it’s off the orbital plane­, ninety-three percent certainty. Tracking. Updates will follow.”

Molly’s a genehacked hybrid, a cup of human, a cup of german shepherd dog, a few tablespoons of mynah bird and mockingbird for echolalic transmutations. My mouth has been born for this role; to transform complex hive­mind sensory input into language our command structure can understand. My mouth’s brain specializes in taking the mix of vomeronasal signals that Rocco understands, and the math that Pauline and the computer can come to agreement on, and transform that into words.

Hereford and Libby are my feet, and they boost up and off the station at a lazy two G’s, arcing up to start the long drift towards our target. They’re a pair of pygmy marmosets, eighty percent brain tissue by mass, permanently embedded in their happy little networked cans. Like matrioshka dolls, their cans each nest inside small spaceships with heavy industrial tools.

My job is to rescue people in deep space, and sometimes that means ripping apart a bulkhead or five to get to them. Stasis tanks are typically nestled in the heart of a ship, as far away from hard radiation as engineers can design. Hereford and Libby are here to kick the shit out of every piece of metal that stands in my way, and run those pods back here before the slow freezer­burn of radiation can destroy whoever’s inside.