Santa Cruz, California

Xochi through Timepull

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Xochi

Maya: 300

 

     Xochi twirled her fork in pale syrup. “One night on the trail, one night with Annie Gracious. She might be back by tomorrow noon.”

       Alice rolled her eyes. “Afternoon. Earliest.” Exasperation bubbles floated up and popped with wet smacks.

     “That audio coding is getting better.”

     An angry face rose and exploded. It sounded distant. “Well, mom, your coding is doing a really plausible job of hiding those wrinkles.” Alice speared a small block of waffle cells and chewed noisily.

     Xochi’s fork clattered. “Ok, that was rude.”

     Smug faces made an animated crown. “So was pointing out how much my audio used to glitch.”

     “Maya, Alice! It was a compliment!”

     “Not when you’re comparing me to La’ii the Hacker, it isn’t.” All the smug faces looked pointedly at Xochi at once. The edges of Alice’s blouse and scarf began to flutter upwards, as if she were surrounded by rising warm air.

     Xochi’s imp whispered “blood pressure” and ducked back into her earring. Xochi inhaled and exhaled slowly. Twice. Xochi’s projection cooled her skin tone and re-modulated her voice. “Practice coding and earn the extra equipment.”

     “…or use La’ii’s.”

     “She’ll be back tomorrow, Alice. I’m not giving you her stuff.”

     The blouse and scarf swirled now. “I’d just be borrowing it.”

     “…until you spend all night installing and coding and all day whining it’s too difficult to downgrade.” Even through the voice modulation, her syllables were clipped.

     “Just until she gets back. I can do uninstall codes.” Little puppy-eyed faces waggled around Xochi’s waffle plate and whimpered.

     “Practice coding and earn the extra equipment.”

     Little snarls swirled. “It’s just sitting there.”

     Xochi stopped reasoning. “Practice and earn.”

     More puppies. “Just to see what I want to earn for myself later.”

     “Practice and earn.” Xochi’s arms folded in a way La’ii would recognize.

     Weeping alligators death rolled with mouthfuls of Alice’s hair. She stomped a foot. “You always let her have everything!”

     Xochi started to pick up the dishes. “Practice and earn.” She turned her back on her daughter.

     Little banshees screamed in a glowering cloud. “I hope she never comes back!”

     Dishes slammed into the washer. “She’s coming back!” Xochi hollered, veins pulsing so heavily in her temples that her projection wavered.

Splash

Infinity: Nulltime

 

     Waking up in infinity wasn’t exactly waking up. Certainly, their bodies were entwined back on Earth in a pit sleeping. Leor felt that if he focused on waking up, he probably could. But he certainly wasn’t asleep, either. There was that crystalline, precise fitting of minds that happened in their sleep. That was when their hair started to braid itself into mandalas again. Dreaming became lucid dreaming, became shared lucid dreaming, became greater than the sum of their parts, became this oceanic totality.

     This time, they weren’t pulled anywhere. They could drift and look.

     Each bubble had an Earth. Each Earth had Leor and La’ii practicing. Leor wondered where into the future these lives went. La’ii’s mind began to answer and their tiny selves in the bubbles flickered forward in time.

     There were children.

     La’ii’s mind bounced off, sending them both careening toward a reality cluster in which they looked truly elvish. La’ii turned toward it and dove in. Bubbles scattered and splashed around them. The membranes of each reality were resilient, more so than the one around Gareth. They felt buffeted. They began to turn and kick, diving and slicing through the foam with gleeful abandon.

Tides

Earth: Launch +5

 

     Juan’s hand froze in space handing the old iron skillet to Fredo. Marino’s broad, tough hands paused on the kindling mid-break. The doctor’s gracile hands folded on her lap. They all stared at Gareth.

     Gareth’s lavender eyes rolled toward the darkening indigo sky. ”Timepull,” he whispered.

 

A Visit

Faerth: 14,829-14,975

 

     They were separate and physical again. Their minds remained interlocked. Every detail of cellular and molecular activity in the immediate vicinity thrummed through Leor, while the threads of melody in La’ii’s mind traced truths back and forth through time. Stars and sun breathed night and day. Seasons pulsed rhythmically around them as they listened quite literally to the music of the spheres.

     They stood like statues in the sacred grove. Younger elves changed their clothing for them at the spring equinoxes. After five years, they began to show rootlets and tendrils. After a hundred, their massive roots twined into the soil, their faces only suggestions within their bark. It took a hundred and forty six before La’ii and Leor began to think it was time to get back.

Shuffle

Earth: Launch +5

 

     The barrette in the doctor’s black and silver hair had fallen askew. It was a battered turquoise piece she had worn daily through the bunker, the launch, and the lean times.

     Gareth’s blue eyes twinkled. “May I?”

     Her eyes returned the smile.

     Gareth’s finger traced the loose strands, catching them deftly in steady fingers. He popped open the clasp, slid in the strays, and snapped the clasp closed again.

     Juana and Fredericka smiled from the hearth. They were sweet together, after all they’d been through.

Stack

Infinity: Nulltime

 

     “Ok, being elves was cool.” La’ii’s mind trilled with glee.

     Leor’s mind played a note of caution. “I’m not sure which Earth we came from.”

     A path paved with confidence stretched away from La’ii. “I can find it.” She tugged his consciousness with her.

     There had been some shifting while they were elves. Parts of the paths between realities had rotated, had attenuated. It meant popping through realities to get back instead of sliding between them.

     Leor rode along, fleeting truths and fleeting bodies flicked on and off his consciousness. The areas between physical reality and infinity moved over him like dappled sunlight. His ears grew rounder. His body grew shorter, denser, and softer.

     Disorienting, but La’ii seemed to know just where she was going.

‘Steading

Earth: Launch +5

 

     “That’s not just timepull,” mused Gareth. The vicious scar down his face occluded one blue eye.

     The doctor tugged the ends of her bound hair to tighten her malachite barrette. “I have an odd feeling that scar hasn’t always included your eye, even though I remember the scar from the moment I met you.”

     “I just wanted to clasp your hair for you.” Gareth studied her, as if from an unfamiliar angle.

     Juanita giggled. “As if you two would. I mean if five years of means, motive, and opportunity hasn’t done the trick.”

     A skinny girl flashed past, swiping a leftover burnt tortilla on the way. Juanita managed to cuff her, landing a negligible thump on the head. “Freak!,” Juanita called after the knobby elbows disappearing onto the brush.

     Gareth’s fingertips rubbed his sternum. It was much more than timepull. “What is that?,” he asked the air. His left ankle began to ache.

 

*****

 

     …which it had always done, ever since he broke it rolling that log in the swamp with Daniel. His eye caught the doctor’s lapiz barrette perched tight in her hair. That thing hadn’t budged in in the whole time he’d known her.  She stacked the hearth for morning, leaving the living coals banked under ash at the back. Her hands remained immaculate.

 

*****

 

     “Leor?” La’ii’s voice quavered. “This pit house isn’t exactly right. I mean the chamber pot is different and the blanket is different.” She rubbed her eyes.

     He tried the boulder at the entrance. “Looks like we’re still in quarantine.”

     “I wonder how long we were gone,” she asked, yawning.

     Footsteps approached. A woman’s voice filtered down through the roof. “First coherence check. Are you two ok in there?”

     They looked at each other and shrugged. “Yes!” they piped together.

     “Who is that?” asked Leor. “I’m not sure we’ve met.”

     They could both feel the immediate cloud across her thoughts. They should know her. They just met two hours ago.

     La’ii sidled up to her mind. Aghast, she whispered, “It’s Doctor Hernandez.”

     Leor pointed up helplessly while his jaw worked.

     Parts of La’ii’s face tried to make light of it. Parts tugged down on her mouth. “Try again in the morning?” she suggested.  

     He grunted.

     She touched the tips of his fingers, gentle as spring leaves uncoiling in a breeze, and led him to their rest.

Timepull

Earth: Launch +5

 

     It wasn’t her bed. It wasn’t her room, her house, her family, her planet, her time, or her life. Yet La’ii slept blissfully entwined in Leor’s arms. The mandalas weaving themselves around their heads included elvish runes for fate, volatility, and unintended consequences. La’ii’s fingers traced Leor’s skin: the curve of his belly near his hip, the grooves between his ribs, the sweep under his pecs to his sternum.

     He woke up. He listened to her mind. There was a reverberating awareness of his skin through her fingers, his scent comforting her deep into feelings of unquestionable belonging, and a burgeoning thrum of sexual delight. A hundred and fifty years as a tree had been a lot of waiting while their leaves stirred softly in the breeze, barely touching, keenly aware of every squirrel, every elf, every bark mite, every nightingale’s vivid life cycles around them. His body roared for hers.

     He unveiled his mind. He didn’t offer an image or a plea. He didn’t unleash his emotions within her consciousness. He simply existed sincerely beside her, enjoying the resonance between the physical thrill of her touch and her sleeping contentment tracing his body.

     She murmured and snuggled up to rest her head on his chest.

     He could simultaneously feel his heartbeat press her cheek and hear it through her ears. Maya, the woman could sleep through anything.

     Gingerly, he stroked her jawline with a fingertip. That jaw, if she woke, might clench, might bite back desire, might turn away from him. It had been a hundred and fifty years, but it was still only their second night together. Even back home with constant pressure to Expand, two days was fast.

     Her brow clouded, and he deftly turned his mind toward her jaw, the miniscule moisture between her cheek and his chest, his heartbeat in her ears.

     She relaxed. Her fingers traveled up his neck to his jaw. Her mind crossed into consciousness. With the slightest pressure on his chin, she turned his face toward her. She stretched her neck and kissed him.

     May I? He suffused it with his love for light on her dappled leaves, with the drip of spring rain on her bark, with more than a century of yearning, with her intoxicating scent, and the wailing of every cell in his body to enfold her.

     “Let me touch you,” she moaned.

     “Unequivocal yes.”

     “Here. Quotidian, 3D, in the flesh, no coding, no timesurfing, no borrowed reality. Now.”

     They clasped each other, rolling in the blankets on the dirt floor. Minds enmeshed, each knew the other’s needs: where to put a hand, how hard to bite, how tantalizing was the taste of sweat, when to shift weight to relieve pressure, what pressures racked and gloriously rattled the bones.

     The entwined mandala writhed in seeming agony, the tiny runic stroke that differentiated “death” from “rebirth” fluctuating as their bodies rocked.

     Their joy lifted their consciousness together as the physical distinction between their bodies simply dissolved. Microbes in the soil around them increased activity. They could feel infinitesimal dust mites feasting on the skin cells on the blankets, those minute satisfactions adding to their own. They floated quite naturally into nulltime, pulsing like electrons around a shared nucleus.

     In physical transcendence, La’ii opened her eyes to infinity. In shared motion, they swam like plankton in foaming masses of realities, each with an Earth, with a La’ii and Leor in ecstasy, with-

     She froze.

     Leor froze.

     -with La’ii, Expanded, burdened with child, aching and exhausted.

     She pushed him away. Their bodies parted. Their minds parted. Their safety in infinite nulltime collapsed and La’ii hurtled helpless and alone into an unknown reality.

Oracle, Arizona

Practice, Rip Curl

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Practice

Maya: 300

 

     It was going to be messy. Whe had to think of Gracious as “she”. That’s what she preferred, and that’s what was accurate. To wherfolk, gender identification was deeply intimate conversation. To wherfolk, people were literally zoo animals: physically truncated, primitive, insensitive, incapable of complex reasoning. It was going to be messy.

     “Whe’re lucky I know whe don’t believe that about me.”

     Her braid swung as she hiked beside wher. Her skin flushed deeper. Whe looked closer. It wasn’t only the exercise. Fine hairs between her cheekbones and jawline had changed angles. Probably strong negative emotions. “Whe’m sorry,” whe growled. “Whe forgot you could hear now.”

     I’m an Annie. I talk to Maya. It took effort not to hear wher when wher shields were up. Now? She shrugged.

     Whe sent an image of the three enclosures and a double helix.

     Yup. Zoos. Separated breeding populations. She sent an image of the rest of the planet, richly and densely populated with wherfolk and several other sentient species above ground, below ground, under water, and in the air. She added emphasis to the no-go zone around the human enclosures. She colored it with a sense of understanding it was probably for the best.

     Brrda’s moustache twitched. “Has Maya told you the purpose of the breeding program?”

     “No.” Gracious shook her head, and the braid rocked between her shoulder blades.

     An image of a golden brindle wherfolk’s mane rocking in obvious ecstasy escaped Brrda’s mind. Wher velvety lines stood up on wher neck. Traces of orange flashed in the lines on wher cheeks.

     Gracious blushed. “Do whe know the purpose of the breeding programs?”

     “No.” Whe smoothed the orange lines down.

     She sent a close-up image of the sable neck lines colored with her urge to trace them slowly with her nails. The sable on Brrda’s body delineated from wher nape, past wher slung weapons, and down to the backs of wher thighs. I thought that’s what the sable lines meant. She could feel Brrda’s purr thrumming in her chest. I’m going to ignore that until wher thinking about wherfolk’s opinions of me clears up. What whe’ll face leaves no quarter for doubt.

     You said “whe’ll”. The purring intensified.

     She felt it travel, deliciously, through her breasts and below her belly. That is hardly fair. She plucked the tie from the end of her braid. Her waving mane sprang loose, falling to her waist, clouding around her shoulders, spilling over her pack, trailing across her features. “Now that you can’t concentrate either, how much do we tell Xochi?”

     Brrda blinked. Who? Who?

     La’ii’s mother appeared in the air before wher. Above her, the binary suns glared. Around her enclosure, Custodians poured food paste and minerals into the systems. Gracious herself, as Loonie Annie Gracious, pontificated Expansions and mystic truths. La’ii was in a design on Gracious’ new robe, but nowhere else.

     “Ah, Xochi.” The purring took on a more gentle, pondering tone. “What do you suggest?”

     Gracious, if she’d been constructed for it, would have purred.

Rip Curl

Earth: Launch + 5

 

     Pinch sounded almost apologetic. “These are your quarantine quarters.”

     It was a pit. Peeking lower into the entrance, La’ii saw it was a pit house at least. There was a hearth, some stumps to sit on, a rough ceramic jug of water, and an area walled off with a hanging blanket. She reached out a hand. The hearth was warm.

     Leor also saw how well designed it was. Lined with timber, a central pole held up a dry brushy roof. It would be very, very easy to collapse the whole thing and burn them both to ashes inside.

     La’ii followed his eyes along the rafters and saw the log set as leverage between the central pole and the roof. It was both sturdy and rigged to collapse.

     Together they gaped up at his dark silhouette.

     The older man shrugged. “That’s why they call me pinché. Quarantine is three days. We’ll bring food, water, and fuel regularly. If you can both answer simple questions coherently, we’ll roll open the entrance long enough for you to bring out the empties and the chamber pot. If you’re incoherent, if it looks like you’re climbing the beam, if you work to escape, if I don’t like the smell in there, I incinerate you both.” His face wrenched in sympathy for an instant. “We believe you and you are honored guests.”

     Gareth laid his weight into the boulder by the entrance. “Practice if you can.” Pinch added his weight, and the rock rolled into place.

     “Well, Daniel.” La’ii’s fists jammed into her hips as she looked at the back side of the boulder.

     “Hey, it’s cozy in here!” Leor called from behind the blanket. He turned and faced her, sheepish. “So cozy there’s only one bed.”

     She managed to fold herself, her arms, and her legs up on a stump all at once. Her nostrils flared above an imperious chin. “I’m not Expanding. Not on a blue sky disease infested alien planet Sappho only knows how distant in how many dimensions from home without a Reading while locked in a dirt pit waiting to see if they incinerate me before I accidentally die flitting through time. Sappho crashing spider smashing no.”

     Her thoughts were so turbulent they were turbid. All he could read was a swirling mass of refusal. He knelt on the dirt floor in front of her. “Shall I split up the bedding and sleep out here?” A glimmer of waking up next to him yesterday in Brrda’s cave flashed through her mind. Her chin dropped and her hair slipped down off her shoulders into her lap. He reached his hand near hers without touching. “May I?” Her fingers stretched just enough to make contact. He waited, feeling her mind settle, feeling her enjoy the texture of his fingertips, feeling her mask her enjoyment, feeling her organize her thoughts behind the whirlpool of refusal. He waited. He kept his own mind very, very quiet very, very carefully.

     She whispered. “I want to be near you. I don’t want to Expand.”

     “Deal,” he said. “Let’s get some sleep.”

     They ducked behind the curtain, circled a bit, and fell asleep curled together like kittens.

Need to Know, Digs

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Need to Know

Planet Maya: 300

 

     Brrda knew whe had a hidden agenda. Several, in fact. But the Twin’s folks needed to hear it from a human, and a human needed protection between enclosures. Whe sucked a tender fiber of rabbit meat from behind a fang and nibbled. Whe kept wher mind veiled. Anybody who could talk to Maya could probably read wher like krav tracks.

     Gracious’ braid swung behind her as she scrubbed the bowls and stewpot. Leftovers had gone with the young families. One less meal prep was a blessing for inexperienced parents. Her armpits prickled, just a little. Was Brrda watching her? Closely? She shrugged the idea off. They weren’t even the same species. To Brrda, she was only half there.

     “Gracious?”

     See? That was a problem. The growly thrumming way her name sounded in wher voice made it impossible to keep her thinking properly dressed. She kept her back turned and tried to sound casual. “Ya?”

     “Whe have to visit civilization and talk to the Twins’ parents. Whe can’t just let their cubs disappear without a trace.” Whe tugged at a few tight small curls on wher neck under wher goatee. Whe noticed wher own nervous habit.

     Gracious turned. That was going to be a tough conversation. Most civilized people didn’t know custodians existed. They certainly didn’t know Maya was sentient and running a breeding program in a quarantined zoo. “Are whe going to pretend whe’re a projection?”

     Wher nails ticked on the glossy table in jazzy triples. “If whe have to. Whe’d prefer a real human. Someone they already trust.” The drumming stopped. “Whe’d prefer you.”

     Looney Annie Gracious, matriarch, weaver, and speaker to Maya blushed head to toe. So much for ignoring it.

     Brrda’s nostrils flared.

     Neither could keep veils up after that. It was obvious as air. Whey agreed entirely about many very consequential, very personal, very public, and very impossible things.

     “I’ll pack my travel kit,” she said. Gracious saw those velvety black lines between wher shoulders stand up. May I? She asked. The standing lines traveled up wher neck and down wher back.

     That was a yes.

     Gracious traced the lines, gently as training spiders.

     Brrda purred.

     “Jumping Maya Hernandez Gareth and Daniel,” she murmured.  

     Whe huff-chuckled. “Do you know how hard it is to freak out a pride of wherfolk?” Wher mane fluffed. “Whe might just succeed.”

Digs

Earth: Launch + 5

 

     The food was good again, and that cheered La’ii up. It also kept her mouth full long enough for her to think. It wasn’t Leor’s fault, or Gareth’s or Dr. Hernandez’s. So far away from everyone, every place, every time she ever knew it was probably better to cooperate.

     Leor sat next to her wolfing loaded tortillas and boggling his mind about how impossible it would be to program a kitchen table to print it.

     They sat in a rock ring, the boy hustling food and water to them from the rock and fire kitchen. Merina and Duan hung back, delivering food to people she hadn’t seen yet. Gareth and Dr. Hernandez, lean and grizzled, waited patiently.

     The boy handed her another serving.

     “What’s your name?” she asked.

     “Freddo.” He turned and scooted away.

     “Are they afraid of us?” piped Leor.

     Gareth shrugged. “Afraid? No. Cautious, yes.”

     Dr. Hernandez rubbed the back of his hand with two fingers. “Strangers usually mean attack or disease. They’re quarantining and prepping for defense.”

     “Most don’t really believe I’m from the future,” added Gareth.”It’s just a story to them. They haven’t seen me jump.”

     Leor got didactic. “Dr. Hernandez’s future. Our past.” He hummed as he chewed.

     The doctor smiled. “Call me Pinch. I haven’t been a Pee Aych Dee for twenty years.”

     “Pee Aych Dee?” The Twins spoke simultaneously.

     The elder man turned up his empty palms. “An obsolete educational status marker. What matters now is these people are safe, sheltered, and fed.”

     “How many of you are there?” La’ii wondered.

     The men got vague, fast.

     Gareth volunteered, “Your clothes are high quality spider silk. Better than we could do in my time, but definitely from Planet Maya. I believe you. But these people’s lives are at stake and as far as we know, there aren’t many survivor groups on Earth.”

     Dr. Her… Pinch finished for him. “We treat you like any non-threatening, apparently healthy strangers. We hide everything and keep our distance until we can be sure.”

     “Fair enough.” Leor wiped his face with his hand and wiped his hand on his pant leg. “What if we were threatening or sick?”

     Pinch’s eyes drilled. “You’d be dead already.”

     La’ii’s eyes flickered to Gareth’s. His look confirmed the truth. “How long do you think you can keep them all alive?”

     Gareth’s voice lowered. “Not long enough to rebuild.”

     “The fungus flares up in any crowded environment. Humanity may be limited to small bands from now on. If any of us are immune. If immunity is genetic. If genetic immunity is a dominant trait. If small bands can mate and produce fertile offspring carrying dominant genetic immunity faster than recessive traits gang up in the dwindling genetic resources of the population.”

     She might call him Pinch, but he was definitely still Dr. Hernandez. “Looney Annie Gracious…”

     Leor interrupted in a parenthetical tone of voice. “Something like a priestess. Seems to have access to Sappho’s computer information or Planet Maya as an intelligent entity.”

     “Probably both,” said La’ii. “Annie Gracious sent us to bring you back to Planet Maya. We’re not sure why. We went to ask about the Looney plans to protect their people from the Apocalypse.”

     “…Hoping, if they had a plan, civilized people could be saved as well,” elaborated Leor.

     “…But as soon as she told us she wanted us to gather you two…”

     “…We disappeared…”

     “…And landed here.” La’ii finished.

     Gareth nodded. “I had a bit of a theory that when variables settled into a configuration that made what had to happen for the timeline to function possible, I jumped. Never had control of it, though. Never had a chance to experiment at all.”

     Pinch leaned forward. “This was your first jump?”

     They nodded.

     “Do you have the slightest idea how to get back?”

     Negative head shakes with cascading sunset highlights.

     “Do you have the slightest idea how to take us with you?”

     Negative again.

     Everybody folded their fingers and dropped their faces.

     Gareth broke the silence. “You’re going to have to practice.”

Not bad.

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Daddy uses the walker, though only at night. He suggests that a topless wobbly hula doll that dances on solar power attached to the center bar might alter his daytime disinclination.

 

Skipping the demeanment of traditional cultures, objectification of women of color, misogyny, and potential for generally broadcasting sexual harassment triggers in a weary pain-ridden old surfer dude… I totally love my daddy and his negative coping strategies.

 

Plus my mom is bucket-listing in China, and when she leaves he usually dresses up one of the silly dolls on her shelf to commemorate the trip. I spent yesterday making a teeny Chinese-inspired outfit for a teddy bear.

Morro Bay, California

Wabbly

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Weird sadness in the air yesterday. I suspect a town elder passed away. It feels like dozens of people are grieving nearby. That felt distracting all day.

I also fidgeted with myself about being unproductive even though I puttered at some housework, gathered photos to post my travels on October, read the end of Wyndham’s “The Kraken Wakes” and all of “The Chrysalids”, started H. R. Haggard’s “Treasure of the Lake”, ate healthy food in reasonable proportions, had a pretty fire in the fireplace, worked on training to dogs to accept the new cat, did a smidgen of calligraphy, topped off the tub, food/water/pooped/medicated the dogs and cats, and reorganized the cat/dog boundaries and furniture to help the new girl (Hex) be more comfortable. I chose active mental pastimes, left the TV off, and minimized the silly brain-sucking portions of social media. Contacting friends is good; reading the Top Ten Reasons Why: Your Dog Has Five Toes in Front and Four in Back, Your Clothes Wear Out, Your Shelves Get Dusty, You Feel Sick When You Only Eat Candy, Blah Blah Blah for 87 hours is bad.

Feeling new chapters of “Ouroboros” forming. May go get a hand truck and dog food, load the trailer with crap for the community clean up (old water heater, three toilets I don’t need, rotten lumber I’ve pulled off the house), and write. I always feel happy and productive when I’m writing. This is only a drag when I consider my bank account.

Thinking through a safe ride to California and a happy time helping my dad for two weeks. He won’t use a walker, can’t stand up without falling over, and is twice as big as anybody else in the family. Mom needs a break, I am not reporting to a job, and I totally love hanging out with Daddy even when circumstances are uncomfortable. It’s going to be fun.

 

Truth?

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The truth is I’ve been dogged with self-destruction most of my life. I learned it very early, though my folks did much better for me than their folks did for them, I still managed to leave home with poor self-esteem, a desire to stuff my head with a variety of analgesics, a tolerance for terrible treatment from people I love, and an expectation that I would have no reward at all for my efforts.

 

Fast forward to 49, now.

 

I was getting very, very sick. I was losing use of my hands and feet. My migraines were insane. I was taking tons of medicine, supplements, booze, and medical mj. When I wasn’t at work, I was sitting on the couch smashing out my brains. I let myself and the house go to hell.

 

Yet my whole life I have also been a writer, an artist, a rainbow warrior energetically working for peace and justice, and a woman with beauty, brains, and talent. I realized, finally, that the go-to-work-ignore-the-suffering path I’d been on since 1991 was killing me and killing my fate.

 

I quit my job and turned my focus to art, aikido, and personal growth.

 

I’ve dragged out of depression, I’m not smashing my brains, I’m not stuffed with pills, I’m not parked on the couch for weeks. I’m not subordinating my time and goals to the whims of seeking romance. I’m not so overwhelmed by the tasks ahead that I quit before I start. I’m not living in complete isolation.

 

I can stand to hear myself think. I’m writing. I’m fixing things. I can sleep at night. I’m going dancing for the fun of it. I’m bathing and getting dressed and eating relatively healthy food.  I’m visiting friends. I’m writing letters. I’m making professional contacts.

 

Am I all better?

 

Hell, no. It took almost a year to get this far, and a lot of it looked pretty bad from the outside, I suspect. I still have those self-destructive habits. I still hear myself excuse slovenly choices because it’s “just me”. Serving others is easy. Taking of myself seemed pointless.

 

But I’ve developed a set of techniques to notice when I’m fading and make a better choice. I have enough forgiveness for myself that when I falter, I can get up instead of crushing myself down with criticism.

 

So if you admire the books, photography, aikido, spirit work, talent, brains, and beauty – see that it hasn’t been easy and we share some fundamental human struggles.

 

Hopefully sharing that struggle here will 1) keep me honest so I don’t pretend I’m ok when I am not, and 2) validate and encourage others who are also struggling.

 

Love,

Laurel

Santa Cruz, california

Surfing, Earth, Gracious

posted in: Glitchy | 0

March 2018

Surfing

 

     Absolute darkness. La’ii waved her hand on front of her face.

     There was no hand. There was no face. There was no body.

     What there was was: Leor at her side sharing her mind, also without his body; darkness thicker than cheese; and the slightest glimmer at astronomical distance of sea foam in the moonlight.

     “We’re moving toward it,” murmured Leor’s mind.

     He was right. They were rushing towards it. The glimmer increased to a glint. The glint increased to a shine. The shine increased to a beacon. The beacon expanded into a break of crashing white-limned waves. The break became a shoreless ocean.

     “We’re going in!” He was trying not to flinch, which was funny since he had no body at this point. Yet their minds both cringed as they plummeted toward the waves, and they sucked non-existent air into lungs that weren’t there.

     They didn’t get wet. They seemed still to plunge toward the foam without reaching it. She began to see individual large bubbles in the surf. She began to see masses of tiny bubbles moving like wet mortar between the large bubbles.

     “Er. Errrr. Earth?” asked Leor. She could feel his absent head tilt quizzically.

     Following the line of his attention, she peered into one of the larger bubbles. She recognized it from history class: Sol, its system of planets, and blue Earth.

     The large bubbles loomed huge as houses. The tiny bubbles grew.

     She whispered, “All of them have Earths.”

     “Which do we choose?”

     “Choose?” she asked. “I don’t think we’re steering.”

     “Good point,” he agreed.

     What had been tiny bubbles were now enormous. Between them sloshed and tumbled masses of smaller bubbles, which also grew huge.

     She felt his brain lose focus.

     He mumbled, “Four dimensional fractal masses of related realities?”

     She increased her presence in his mind, exaggerating the points where it felt most like they were in contact. Something reminded her of Xochi snugging a boyfriend’s arm closer when a passing bit of code turned his head.

     She felt Leor put the astro-temporal theory away and snug back. The mass of bubbles turned a degree, and a bubble that had been quark-sized before consumed them. There was the slightest drag as they passed through its membrane.

     Thump.

     Sitting on the ground. Back in physical bodies. Hand in hand.

     Blue sky. Blue, mind you. And two shadows over them.

 

 

Earth

 

     Gareth didn’t bend back to grinding corn. It was that feeling, that old feeling of a time jump about to toss him willy-nilly into the universe. A keening pang struck him: the feeling always took him to or from Maya; would he see her again? Could he stand to see her again? Could he stand, inevitably, to leave her again?

     Two figures appeared at his feet, crouched and falling backwards as if chairs had been pulled out from under them. Masses of wavy light hair. Holding hands.

     No Maya.

     Stinging tears rose in his lavender eyes.

     The cheeky chap squeaked and ran. “Dr. Hernandez!,” he called.

     The pair looked up, a little dazed.

     “First jump?” asked Gareth.

     Leor recovered first. “Yu. Yyyy. Yes,” he managed.

     La’ii blinked up at the bizarre sky. Blue was a weird color for it. The plants around them had an almost fluorescent green hue. Leor’s auburn highlights flashed only yellow and his irises were pale. It smelled like outdoors, though a little different. It looked like outdoors, though the plants were unfamiliar. The man looking at them holding a rock in his hand looked like a man.

     She blinked. The man was speaking, putting down the rock, stretching is hand toward her.

     “Gareth,” he said.

     A rough, hard-working hand taking hers kindly like Annie Gracious’ did.

     “La’ii,” she answered with matching counter-pressure.

     “Leor,” he offered, reaching his hand toward the older man.

     She asked, “Captain Maya’s Gareth?”

     Again, that pang. “The same,” he intoned.

     The twins’ eyebrows popped up. Leor said, “That was easy.”

     “Don’t suppose you have Dr. Hernandez tucked away nearby?” She thought it was a hopeless joke.

     Gareth smiled. “Here he comes now.”

     The boy who had squeaked and run reappeared, towing a genial-looking man with a rather patronizing look on his face. After all, the boy was telling him twins had magically appeared in the clearing.

     Incredulity replaced patronage for an instant, then burning curiosity flared. Dr. Hernandez pressed hands, repeated names, and sat right on the ground with them. His merry eyes flashed with delight.

     Gareth spoke. “You’re on Earth, six years after the Sappho launched. Where are you from?”

     “Planet Maya,” said Leor.

     “Three hundred years after Sappho landed,” added La’ii.

     “How did you get here?” Dr. Hernandez asked.

     La’ii shrugged. “We went to Annie Gracious to talk about the Apocalypse. She told us we were eugenically-developed time travelers and we had to bring you two back.”

     Leor waved a hand above his head, stirring vagueness. “Fate of humanity, I think.”

     “We don’t really have details,” La’ii apologized.

     “As soon as she told us, we just disappeared into….” Leor fumbled.

     “…A vast oceanic timespace?” offered Gareth.

     “Yes!” They agreed together.

     Leor’s eyes widened. “You’ve been there. You really are Gareth.”

     La’ii gaped.

     Dr. Hernandez smiled. “He really is Gareth.”

     A low whistle from Leor marked his amazement. “Her-nan-dez,” he muttered.

     “Yes?” asked the doctor.

     The twins gaped together.

     La’ii stammered. “He didn’t mean you. I mean, he did mean you, of course, since that’s where the word came from, your name, you, originally. But he didn’t mean you because we just say that, ‘Hernandez’, when it’s good or surprising or awe-inspiring or…” Etymology failed her, and she trailed off.

     Dr. Hernandez smiled. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”

     “Eugenics?” Gareth probed.

     Leor shut his mouth and looked at the ground. Better hear what La’ii had to say.

     “Right?” She said. “Pisses me off. I mean, generations of Readings and pressure to Expand, generations of visiting the Annies to check bloodlines. The story was ‘small population, small gene pool, gotta be careful’. But the truth was breeding time travelers! Breeding me! Manipulating me, making me a particular type of person, on purpose, without any choice at all, then raising me to expect to participate, accept a Reading, and Expand just for, for this.” She waved an exasperated hand at the irrational cerulean sky.

     Leor touched her fingertips very, very carefully. “It brought us together.”

     “It brought you here,” added Gareth.

     At her temper, a wistful twist touched Dr. Hernandez’s mouth. “It brought back a glimpse of my girl.”

     La’ii folded her arms. “It pisses me off.”

 

 

 

Gracious

     Brrda stirred. “We’d better contact their parents,” whe mused.

     Annie Gracious blinked at the two empty chairs. “We’d better find a few more folk for dinner. I don’t think you and I can put away three whole rabbits by ourselves.” Her braid thumped the table as she stood; she flipped it back; it swung saucily behind her as she went for the door.

     Brrda ginned in a way that would have made those rabbits, in life,  freeze in their tracks for a solid hour. Wher folk had manes, but never long hair falling to the waist. Then, of course, there was the tantalizing weirdness of immutable truncated gender. Wher claws absently traced downy lines of auburn on wher thigh. Whe had to admit it: Gracious was sexy and whe’d like to see that braid unbound.

     Whe kept wher eyes on the simmering stew as Gracious returned. The auburn streaks stood on end as whe caught a whiff of the fragrance of her hair. Luckily, humans rarely noticed any change in her fur and never knew what it meant. Whe had plenty of love to enjoy back home in wher pride. Whe inhaled over the stew, suffusing wherself with the mouth-watering food scent instead.

     Two more couples came in carrying infants. Whe looked and whiffed, needing to concentrate to identify them accurately. All four had the sweet odor and swollen dugs of nursing parents. It was an old tradition, but Annies tended to offer any extra to those in lactation. The first parent – whe leaned slightly away from the stew to get a clearer whiff – was a male. He beamed beatifically upon the tiny creature latched to his nipple and sucking greedily. The second parent was female. Their smiling mates were both male.

     Of course, in a pride it was damn rude even to try and determine gender without an obvious mutual and immediate consent to privately reveal themselves.

     Here among humans, whe couldn’t even talk without the gender-based “he” and “she” constructions they used. This made wher folk so deeply uncomfortable, most of them wouldn’t take wher job even if they had the chance. At least here, led by the Annies, the males chose to lactate. Brrda knew that among the civilized and those at the coast, males never nursed – usually didn’t even know that they could nurse even though all it would take to find out was to pick up an infant and let it latch on. Whe shook wher head. To have truncated static gender was bad enough, but to choose – as a culture – not even to know the capabilities of one’s own body!   

     Whe heard wher name. “Hm?” Whe purred.

     Annie Gracious grinned. “Worried about the cubs?”

     Brrda blinked. Cubs? Ah, La’ii and Leor. “Out of wher reach.” Whe shrugged. Wher folk didn’t worry. If one could act, one acted. If not, not.

     Wher lips quirked in a way only the closest adults in wher pride might understand. Whe hefted the cauldron to the table. “Soup’s on.”

Fresh Meat, Looney, Merina, Annies

posted in: Glitchy | 0

late February 2018

Fresh Meat

 

     It had started with holding hands, then paying attention to the landscape, then a little practice with the mind-clarity-sharing thing, then showing each other about the plant cells and answered questions.

     Brrda was as curious as they were about what their brains were up to, and whe let it all go on. It was definitely better than yesterday’s drivel.

     But now. Whe hadn’t seen this. They’d gathered firewood and stacked the fire. Whe’d set a few snares. Whe told them to sink in and wait, expecting the usual cub disruptions.

     They had been immobile and silent, eyes in soft focus near the snares, for two hours. The curling ends of their hair had begun to weave again. Their minds combined and locked into the landscape. Reading them, whe read soil chemistry, microbes, nutrient flows, root growth, water cycles, insects, burrows, and paths. Their identities as whe knew them were absent. Whe had a strange sense of shaping, felt an overbearing curiosity, and three rabbits stepped into three snares.

     The Twins blinked and whooped, back to normal and chattering.

     “We were practicing the brain thing-”

     “-Because helpful-”

     “But it was-”

     “Greater than the sum of its parts.” They nodded mutual agreement.

     “I started seeing the plant cell thing.”

     “And I got to letting answers reveal themselves.”

     Simultaneously, they said, “Then we were the landscape.”

     “We got the rabbits curious.” Leor ended.

     “They walked in.” La’ii finished.

     Brrda considered. Wher mane fluffed at the base of wher neck. “Time to head to Annie Gracious.”

     “No barbeque?” Leor almost pouted.

     “Time now.” Incisors flashed. Whe made a beeline to the snares, thanked the rabbits, slung their carcasses over wher shoulder, and set the fastest pace the Twins could maintain.

 

Looney

 

     She sat staring at a mass of tiny bright spiders swarming over a filmy panel of fabric. Her bare feet rested on a dirt floor. Her grey braid hung to her thick waist.

     “Maya?” she asked. “Sappho? Was that you?”

     She was alone in the room, but she nodded and answered nonetheless.

     “I didn’t think so. My, my, my Hernandez.”

     The spiders paused as she reframed the pattern in her mind precisely, then went back to work.

Merina

Earth Launch +5

 

     Merina patted the little boy. “Don’t you get cheeky with Gareth, young man. There are still mouths to feed.”

 

Annies

 

     It was a little village of mushroom houses with tidy gardens in pretty fences. Water trickled here and there; clusters of flowers bloomed. Smoke trickled from neat chimneys. Chickens scurried into their yards as the trio approached.

     La’ii saw a solid woman leaning in her door frame. Piercing sky blue eyes made her feel a little ashamed. La’ii lifted her chin.

     Annie Gracious straightened, swung her braid back over her shoulder, and grinned. She rushed to Brrda, hugged wher tight absolutely heedless of those fangs, and gave wher a decadent scratch along a small set of silky black lines in the brindle between wher shoulders.

     Brrda purred.

     “Welcome,” said she. “And you must be La’ii and Leor. Welcome, welcome. Come inside.” She bustled them in. “This will quench your thirst.” She passed mugs of cool water.

     Brrda took whers toward the stove and held up the rabbits. “Shall whe do the honors? You three have a lot to talk about.”

     Annie Gracious nodded. “Sit, sit!” she commanded, and drew the Twins to a glossy wooden table. “Questions?”

     Leor’s wry grin appeared.

     La’ii said, “It started with the Apocalypse.”

     “And it got weirder from there,” he finished.

     Brrda’s laughter snarled. “Whe can vouch for that. They called these rabbits.”

     “They didn’t.”

     Brrda’s claw slid with deft accuracy between the hide and flesh, peeling them apart. “Oh?”

     “They made them curious to death. The problem, of course, is how you did it.”

     La’ii felt that twinge of shame again.

     “Problem?” Leor asked.

     “On the one hand, you altered reality to get the rabbits in the snares. On the other hand, after a day out of civilization together, you’re already altering reality. On the other hand, you have no idea what you’re doing, what you’re up against, or the consequences of your actions. On the other hand, this is exactly what humanity needs right now.” Her sturdy fingers tapped the table in rhythm as she enumerated.

     “Confused!” piped La’ii.

     “Parse!” added Leor.

     “The Apocalypse is real. The binary suns will conjoin unusually close to the planet, creating extremely uncomfortable living conditions, especially on the surface. It will be survivable to people who follow the Looney path. Civilized people or Coasties who try to ride it out at home will cook, Maya knows. With me so far?”

     Leor clapped. “Well, mission complete.”

     “Ha,” replied La’ii.  “You know we’re in way deeper than that.”

     He shrugged. “Call it a milestone, then.”

     “Point is, this problem repeats at intervals. You know Maya’s time sense is non-linear?”  

     “You mean the planet?” Loonies had some strange ideas. “How can the planet have time sense?” La’ii wondered.

     Annie Gracious peered at her like she had a hole in her head. “Planet Maya is intelligent, self-aware, capable of effective action, and in direct communication with me and the other Annies. Maya’s memories are in astronomical time scale and, to a great extent, include portions of time we’ll experience as ‘future’.”

     Leor’s eyebrows popped up. “Seriously? Then how does this all turn out?”

     La’ii was calculating the boundaries between reality, metaphor, religious fervor. They seemed messy.

     Brrda skewered the rabbits.

     “I have no idea how it turns out. What I do know is that Maya created the Readings and Expansion to intensify time shifting genetics in the civilized population. You two are the result.”

     La’ii never heard the word “Expansion” calmly, and being the result of generations of eugenics really didn’t suit.

Leor cringed as her thoughts glowered scarlet.

     Annie Gracious continued. “Your lifelines are mixed in with the fate of the entire human race.”

     La’ii’s arms crossed in a way her mother would recognize. Leor and Annie Gracious felt her mind bunker down. “What if I don’t want to?”

     Those sturdy hands spread on the ancient table. They left a halo of sweat. “Maya started the time experiments when Gareth was young. He is the only traveler who came back and the only traveler who shifted without the equipment. Maya theorized it was his entanglement with Captain Maya and not the technology that triggered the initial shift. Once set in motion, the shifting continued until Maya’s death and Gareth’s last desperate, dusty jump.”

     La’ii’s jaw squared. “What if I don’t want to?”

     “I’m assuming there were other unexpected psychic events besides making those rabbits curious?” She leaned forward, and her braid thumped on the table.

     Leor squelched a totally childish urge to distract the argument by playing with it.

     Annie Gracious gave him a quick glance and dropped the braid behind her back.

     Brrda muttered, “Kitten” over basting the rabbits.

     Rigid and testy, La’ii spoke. “We were suddenly psychic with each other, we saw a little of the image Brrda projected, we could hear wher when whe thought words at us, we could share mental resources, he started reading cell interactions, I started getting answers from nowhere, we combined our brains and melted into the ecosystem, and then we did the rabbit thing.” She gave no quarter. “What if I don’t want to?”

     Annie Gracious reached for her hands.

     La’ii didn’t budge.

     “La’ii, you two have to rescue Dr. Hernandez and Gareth from Earth. You have to bring them here. Your timelines are deeply entangled. Maya says you could simply vanish at any moment. She hopes, if you stay together and that mind-combining works, that you’ll be able to steer – to control your shifts and bring the others. Maya knows poor Gareth just bounced around for decades.”

     Now she was snarling. “What if I don’t want to?”

     Leor realized, as his ideas of his future self vacillated between a mathematical astrophysical scholar and a time shifter tripping in an astrophysical plane, that Fate and La’ii’s stubborn streak might battle it out for eons.

     Her eyes darted to him. “Daniel glitching right. Stubborn.” Flinty eyes went back to Annie Gracious.

     Brrda basted and hummed.

     “You were born for this. Maya willing, it happens naturally. I’m just trying to prepare you.”

     “Prepare me for getting thrown into timespace with a guy I barely know away from my home and family with zero warning to collect dead men from a diseased, abandoned planet?”

     Leor spoke gently. “Your mind must be part of the process. My mind must. We won’t go if we don’t want to. We don’t even know if we can.” He reached for her hand, which she cracked from the edifice of her folded arms just enough for him to hold a few fingers. “If you don’t want to, you don’t have to.”

     La’ii could feel the press of Fate at least as well as the next person, but it was exactly the wrong thing to say because she relaxed, his mind reached for hers, and they disappeared.

 

Grand Canyon, Arizona

Camp, Stew, Morning, Homesteading

posted in: Glitchy | 0

early February 2018

 

Camp

     “Brrda? Assuming I can see at least three krav pacing us…”

     Sizzling, mouth watering, fat dripping, crunchy skin swiping, claw licking meat while grandparents make organ sausage and sprats turn the spit three day roast on the beach MEAT!

     The trail led them into a blind curve of cliff. Trapped, panicked La’ii.

     Dripping knife meat slapped on the grill.

     Her mind accepted Leor’s knock. He flooded in a boost of pristine clarity and presence. Survive now, freak later. She locked in to his state.

     Nicely done, interrupted Brrda with a very sincere single fang hiss purr.  Wher mane and goatee were standing on ends, huge.  Now up.

     A winding staircase in deeply worn footsteps ascended the cliff face. Why hadn’t that been obvious before?

     Fast!

     They scrambled up. Each step was a flaring curved outline of a custodian foot deep in hundreds of tiny layers of rock. Crevices held clusters of blossoming mosses. Was is cultivated?

     Walls rose on either side as the stairs turned into the cliff face high above the ground. La’ii tumbled onto a very nice rug in a bright, warm, furnished room.

     Leor, dumbfounded: “Wwwww, zerp?”

     La’ii felt his, and therefore her, clarity collapse. Krav trying to eat them and she’s thinking about cultivated moss? She sunk to her knees in deep pile carpet.

     Growl chuckling and drawing wher claws decadently through some short auburn stripes on wher ribs, Brrda smiled. “We camp here for the night.”

     Leor hung his head, where it shook sadly. “At what point will I stop being constantly disoriented while my entire reality warps around me?”

     Wher mane flicked as whe cocked wher head. Velvety brows drew together with unexpected sympathy and tenderness. “Never, sprat.” Wher nails scratched him behind the ear delicately as whe patted his head.

     “We were just about to be torn apart by a pack of krav, right?” La’ii’s body, blistered feet, pounding heart, aching lungs, and adrenaline soaked flesh was having trouble reconciling vanished clarity and the surreal change in environment.

    “Ya.” Brrda shrugged, and wher mane settled down. “Pull up a rug. Sit down and watch. More productive than the freak outs you’re both contemplating. Think of it as a meditative practice.”

     Whe flipped a small rug from a large, inviting pile. Whe flopped it on the open side of the cave, folded and sat, then peered down.

     Leor and La’ii picked the next rug in the pile, carried it together, and sat hip to hip upon it.

     They followed Brrda’s look, gasped, and forgot to exhale for a solid twenty seconds.

     First of all, the fading sunlight across the vast and verdant plain broke into tumbling darkness and light among the cliff maze. The cliff maze itself melted their minds: a branching terrain of secretive rock faces much larger than town. And on the ground below them paced snapping krav. When they opened their mouths, the camouflage illusion failed. Tongues scaled in back-facing barbs licked forests of ochre sabres.

     You really couldn’t code it, what with the different viscosities of saliva, the urban density of cliff facets all chock a block with textures, co-

     “All that minutiae, all those scales, all those distances, that texture! You really couldn’t code it,” sighed Leor, which reminded La’ii to breathe.

     Brrda growled. “The view is pretty, attend to the krav. Nearby and deadly is a rare learning opportunity. They’ll leave for an easier meal. They can’t perceive the stairs, much less climb. But like most, they know what you have in mind. Wher walking formation and all that meat told them that whe were pack predators, likely difficult prey, and likely to have other pack members nearby. This prevented their pack from devouring wher. That trick with the intense and shareable clarity was quite useful, Leor. Remember it. Both of you.”

     “That’s the first time you’ve used my name.”

     “You distinguished yourselves in battle.”

     “That was a battle?”

     “And won in the best way,” whe purred. Whe patted them both on the head, tousling them. “Watch the krav until they leave. The pack will begin to see you as predators without wher presence, though don’t bet your lives on it. But practice seeing them, finding their lines as the light changes, seeing how they move in their surroundings. Whe’ll get wher fed and dig out the unguents. You’re going to start to feel how famished and sore you are soon. Whe’d like a fire, too.” Whe bustled to the fireplace.

     Leor leaned into La’ii, and she propped him up. “You next to me, “ he fumbled.

     La’ii leaned into Leor, and he propped her up. “Seems to be,” she mumbled.

     “The one stable point.”

     “In the universe,” they replied, so enamored they ignored the silly rhyme.

     As they peered into the fading light, learning to see the krav bodies and limbs within the shadows and color, that one stable point grew into a true singularity between them, a permanent reference point toward which they were irresistibly drawn, terra firma just for two.

 

Stew

 

     La’ii’s feet pounded, now that the fear had settled. There was definite, pervasive pain in her feet. How could she not notice? She bent a sole up toward the firelight and gasped.

     “Hm?” inquired Leor absently, still studying the play of faded light on the last krav. It must have been a sentry. They were smart.

     “Brrda, I’m wounded!” There were huge blisters on the edges of her feet, puffed full of fluid.  

     Leor glanced, then checked his own feet. The same.

     Pain was an unusual experience and they hadn’t heeded its warning. By the time the krav appeared, survival and mental calisthenics put all thought of pain away for later. And now was the time to feel it. There were open blisters, wet and stinging; there were hot blisters under pressure; there were deep sneaking blisters that would take days to develop. They poked themselves, yelping.

     Whe set a tray of viscous, warm liquid close to the fire. “Whe’ve put herbs to keep the wounds healthy. Dip your feet and let them dry by the fire. Layer on a few coats. It dries tough. It’ll protect your feet on the trail. It stings at first, though.”

     “Stings?” asked La’ii. Leor stuck his foot in and screamed.

     “It passes quickly,” Brrda hummed.

     Leor’s breath slowed in controlled pulls. His shoulders drooped. He pulled up his foot. A golden, flexible, translucent layer covered him up to the ankle. The wounds felt comfortably covered and bound. The herbs soothed the pain and he caught an image of light working in tiny building blocks around the damaged flesh, shoring it up cell by cell to protect healing and deliver nutrients. He blinked.

     “Brrda, was that wher?”

     Wher goatee wagged as whe peered at him.

     “Telling me what the herb is doing?”

     “You can tell what the herb is doing? That’s a surprise.” Whe hummed thoughtfully and went back to stirring the stew.

     Now that he knew what to expect, the second foot wasn’t so bad. His awareness of the plant’s work intensified. His done, he lined up to La’ii. “May I?” he asked, hands near her feet. She smiled with a light in her eye that hadn’t existed that morning and extended her foot toward him.

     Leor continued, “I was feeling what those herbs were doing in my body, almost on a molecular level. I wonder if I’m touching you if I can feel…”

     She flinched and sucked air through her teeth as the liquid flowed into her torn skin, burning the edges. She gripped his arms and left marks. He never felt it; his mind sought the business between plant and flesh in her body. And there it was: more distant, less distinct, certainly needing more concentration to perceive, but real. Nobody coded stuff like this. Getting the input past sensory straight to cognitive alone would be unprecedented.

     La’ii began to relax, and his attention shifted outward. “Other foot?”

     With tender intensity of focus, he propped up one foot to dry and dipped the other. She certainly didn’t need help, but had reached her toe toward him slowly, let him hold a little of her weight as she flexed in pain, let him feel the pain subside.

     She met his gaze. “That wasn’t embarrassing. I don’t want to make fun of you.”

     They turned back to the fire, musing silently through two more layers of shoe.

     Brrda saw the curling tips of their hair intertwine on the rug behind them. Whe shifted the stew where it would keep warm. They needed some processing time. Wher meal could wait.  

 

*****

 

     Soon enough, their bellies growling and tumbling like cubs, their eyes shifted from the fire to the stew kettle. Brrda brought mugs of cool water and warm, heavy bowls.

     La’ii sniffed hers and drooled. Leor wiped his chin. “What’s in this?” He gasped.

     “Food. Herbs, roots, meat, spices. Real food. It should be a treat.” Whe hummed and blew steam off wher bowl.

     La’ii sniffed. Nothing from home smelled like this. There were pangs and tangs and specificities to the fragrances she’d never imagined. No high end hack came close. She sipped a drop of broth from the rim of the bowl. “Hot!” She squeaked.

     “You do your own temperature testing, now.” Brrda’s elaborate snarl chuckled.

     Leor’s eyes rolled to the cavern roof. He moaned. An emulsion of spice infused animal fat and soft sweet root mash trekked across his tongue. Flavor profiles and complexities of texture easily two or three orders of magnitude beyond… He moaned and rolled a tender disintegrating mouthful.

     “Her-nan-dez, that’s good.” La’ii closed her eyes in reverence.

     Brrda purred and drew wher claws through wher goatee. “This is cave stores. Jerked martin, root preserves, dry herbs. If you’re good kitties, whe’ll give you fresh one day.” Quiet happy yowls gurgled through swigs of stew.  

     The Twins wiggled their golden toes and slurped. You could almost feel the nutrients and cells rushing to embrace, to absorb each other.

     “What has that paste been doing to us?” Leor’s face twisted.

     La’ii saw it: a single food product in infinite forms pinioned everyone in constant metabolic struggle. She saw it down to hungry mitochondria.

     “Don’t spill your food.” He caught her bowl.

     “Was that wher?” La’ii murmured. “Answering the question?”

     A thoughtful, sibilant hiss answered, “Wasn’t wher. There may be hope for humanity yet.” Whe winked and flashed a fang.

     La’ii looked into her empty hands for her bowl. Leor passed it to her; she made a question face. “You dropped it when you saw what the paste was doing.” Thankful face. Hernandez, she was sweet to see happy.

     Their cupped palms lifted their bowls; they supped. As their bellies filled, they forgot their bowls and began to sleep. They really were kittens. Brrda took the dishes and dropped on a heavy blanket.  They curled beneath it, entwined but inert with exhaustion.

 

Morning

 

     La’ii floated down from a dream state in which her civilized life was a silly delusion, a lonely toy box of distractions. In her dream, real life burst with hope and true excitement. Any moment, she’d wake in her bed, hear her sister and mother carping down the hall. Little whirring machines would dispense hair ties and vitamins. The table printed blueberry crepes for breakfast.

     A bit closer to awareness, her blankets were heavier and scratchier than usual. A density of fragrant human smell mixed with dew on bare rock and cooling ashes. Warm filaments of sunshine sneaked in sideways between the leaves. She squeezed her eyes and rolled away, smack into Leor.

     Right. They’d fallen asleep. Together. Dream and real life interposed; waking and sleeping destabilized. Real waking life without projections had become this hiking adventure with truth ratios through the roof. True food, true pain, true love. There was the piercing, simple truth.

     She reached to touch his shoulder. Her thumb swept a tender stroke, and he stirred. Probably he’d been faking sleep until she woke up.  Probably inadvisable to disturb a girl in your arms.

     Exactly. He yawned.

     She sat up, but only made it part way. “You rolled on my hair, I think.” La’ii tugged.

     Leor investigated, then handed her a tangle of their hair.

     Only it wasn’t a tangle. It was a fractally gorgeous woven spiral. She’d seen a sunflower blossom projection along the same lines, but this…

     “Was this wher?” they asked.

     “No, but it was interesting to watch,” harrumphed Brrda. “Usually that takes spiders. And practice.” Whe flipped wher wrist toward the skillet and delectable smells burst on them.

     La’ii looked haplessly at their hair. “So would you unweave yourself, then?” Their curls relaxed and slipped, nearly falling apart.  She startled and looked across to Leor. “Did you see that?”

     “Now that’s a cool trick,” he pointed for Brrda to see.

     She held up the ends of her locks. They were inert now.

     “Eat.” Brrda handed them plates of eggs and grilled golden root.

     Their amazement at the food was comical, their conversion to wild over civilized food complete. Eventually they’d learn whe was an average cook with average ingredients. If they lived that long, poor kittens.

     Whe handed them each a pouch. “Magnesium, steel, knife, hook, hunt blanket. Grass, fatwood chips, ironwood chips. Twine. You’ll learn to make a fire before you eat another hot meal. You need moving from kitten to cub.” Whe winked. “Long walk today. Good place to set snares about the middle. Whe’ll stop there and you two can have a fire race.”

     Twin heads tilted, eyes bright.

     “Kit only, immediately available materials, first one ready to grill a rabbit wins. Or one mile radius, accelerant allowed, three hour time limit, 30 minute art burn.”

     Leor’s eyes lit up. “Fire race!” La’ii matched him, with squealing.

     They actually jumped up and down. Absolute kittens.

     “If you have the attention spans for it, you’ll see how to make and set a snare as well. If we’re lucky, Annie Gracious by nightfall.”

     “And if we’re not lucky?”

     Brrda shrugged. “Separated, lost in the cliff maze, and dead of exposure instead of predation. Be mindful and stick close.” Whe yawned wide with those commanding fangs. “You two practice setting bits of dry grass on fire with the mag and steel. Whe have to set the cave for the next guest.”

     “We don’t mind helping,” they offered.

     “Guest caves should remain a custodial secret. You play with fire like good little cubs.” Whe snarled indulgently. “Scratch the mag, stroke the steel, catch the grass.”

     They dug into their pouches. Long use marked the folding knives, but the scratches told what to do. The shorter blade had a cerration on one side with tiny flecks of magnesium on it. The other side had straight deep striations from a harder metal – the steel.

     “So, make flecks of this.” She rolled a rough surface of the magnesium under the blade.

     “And stroke that.” He dragged the knife edge on the steel. A little spark hopped.

     “Spark on the magnesium?” she suggested.

     He angled the next spark strike toward her little pile of metal shavings. One of them lit a fleck, which burned hot enough to leave a dark spot on the rock.

     “So try shavings and bits of grass together with spark?” he asked.

     She grunted, scraped more magnesium, and crumbled in dry grass.

     He scraped out a few small sparks. Tiny fires started and faded before the little dust pile of tinder burned away.

     “Bigger flecks?” She scraped deeper and made a new pile with more crumbled grass.

     He made more sparks, and bigger ones. But they bounced off the bigger flecks of metal.

     “Mixed sizes?” He wondered.

     She made a new pile, carefully changing the depth of her scratches to mix the size of the metal shards. “Little ones light easier, big ones burn better? I’ll mix up the thickness of the grass, too.” She crumbled about half and left the rest whole.

     Leor pulled a heavy drag. Fat sparks jumped; the small mag lit. As the sparks faded, the small mag lit the big mag, which got the grass fragments smouldering, which got all the big mag hot at once, which flashed over and lit the biggest strands of grass.

     It burned out while they laughed and slapped hands.

     They regarded the tiny ash pile. Leor held out the steel. “Want to try the sparks this time?”

     La’ii handed him the mag. “There’s more dry grass near the cave mouth. Be right back.” She gathered two big handfuls of brittle stalks.

     He’d made mag shavings in carefully graduated sizes.

     She handed him the grass.

     He stacked pinches of sizes, layering shavings and fibers.

     Once she’d gotten the hang of dragging against the steel for fat sparks, his construction blazed up so well, they moved the game to the fireplace and started pushing in twigs.

     Brrda reappeared. “Progress, I see. Stacking the other sizes of fuel both alternating and increasing – as you have done with the firestarter and kindling – grows the fire best. Now put it out cold, then stack a new fire the next guest can light with one strike of the steel. That’s no secret, that’s just manners.” Whe turned back toward the recesses of the cave.

     It was La’ii’s turn with the magnesium, so Leor organized tinder, twigs, sticks, and logs in a trapezoid. Smallest material on the bottom, largest on top. The larger pieces would fall into the embers as the smaller pieces collapsed. It should light, stay lit, and ignite the logs.

     La’ii made three mag tinder piles; it might help the fire start, and scraping the magnesium was fun. She really wanted to strike the steel and make it burn.

     Not for you, called Brrda.

     A custodian rushes up the cliff, cold, exhausted, hungry, hunted. Whe strikes the steel, coat bristling, hands shaking. Flame leaps; relief floods.

     “Was that – “ La’ii began.

     “That was wher,” confirmed Brrda, entering the cavern dusting wher palms. Wher beard and mane shook; whe cackled. Whe appraised Leor’s work. “Nice stack. La’ii, whe like the multiple ignition points. That’s extravagant if you don’t know where your next mag is coming from, though. Careful.”

     “Do whe expect that I will not know where my next mag is coming from?” La’ii’s fist jammed into her hip.

     Whe growled. “Whe expect the unknown. Time to walk.”

     Their muscles creaked clambering down the steps.

     Brrda swung wher staff and purred.

Homesteading

Earth (Launch +5)

 

     Gareth rubbed the dry corn kernels off the cobs. Dr. Hernandez rocked the grinding stone, swirling the larger grains back under pressure. Merida swept the fine meal into her ball of masa, patted tortillas together, and flipped them to Duan. He toasted them on the hearth.

     There were twelve of them left. They’d found an arid elevation far from any Enclaves or Paramedics. Airborne spores didn’t survive well in very dry air.

     They’d managed small crops of corn, beans, and squash. Mesquite bean flour and cactus fruits were a seasonal abundance. They caught small game and gathered wild onions.

     This morning one of the little ones brought back a pair of eggs. She proudly added a tiny dab to the warm, full tortilla Duan handed her then passed the meal ceremoniously to Gareth.

     He put down the corn cobs and took it with both hands, bowing a litte. “Gracias. These eggs will be good.

     The girl smiled and bustled the next to Dr. Hernandez. The grinding stone stopped. He winked. “I’m still not clear on how the time travel worked, Gareth.”

     Merida and the little girl rolled their eyes at each other as the food passed. Those two could lay it on thick.

     The green eyes twinkled. “We had a time lab, theories, equipment. We certainly knew how to make people disappear, but very few of us came back. At first my journey began in the lab. I sat in the projector, the tech activated it, I slingshot through time to Maya. But after that, once our stories entwined, there was no equipment at all. There was only timepull. Reality would feel a little stressed, my consciousness would slip, and I’d come to somewhen else either with Maya or back home.” Sadness passed through; he covered with a bite of food. “But it seems my job is done, and I can grow old here with you lovely people.” He flicked a pebble at the little girl, who deftly deflected it.

     “Time travel,” she dead panned. “Talk is cheap unless you’re grinding corn.”