Aravaipa Canyon

Acorns, Custodian, Over the River and Through the Woods, “Hang On”

posted in: Glitchy | 1

January 2018


Planet Maya: 300


     Ambling near the border of civilization, their projections began to fail. He was a little taller than she was. His hair was curlier. Their eartips became rounded. Their shoes crumbled as the force fields that managed kinaesthetic interaction between projection and real objects failed. The physical objects actually on their feet simply weren’t designed to withstand the crush of a human body.

    They laughed together and leaned against a tree to pick off the pieces.

     “Seriously,” she began. “Were you really on the way to Annie Gracious, or did you decide to follow me?”

     Without projection, he could see her blush as she asked.

     At the strange pleasure and surprise in his eyes, she looked down at her feet and concentrated on pulling little bits of adhesive from between her toes.

     What delightful, elegant, strong toes they were! She probably actually walked barefoot, even in civilization. He realized she had asked him something. “What?” he asked stupidly.

     She smiled and flicked a bit of adhesive toward him. “Were you really already on the way to Annie Gracious?” Her eyebrow went wicked. “Maybe you need a Reading for a questionable Expansion already in progress?”

     She wants to know if I’m attached!

     He grinned. “No. I – had a paper – I had a check, had to check.”

     “You’re editing.” Her fists on her hips proclaimed her opinion of people who edited in her presence.

     He wasn’t very good at editing anyway. “I study astrophysics. I think the Apocalypse is real and I need to talk to Annie Gracious about it.”

     “Ah,” she answered. “You must know my brother Greth.”

     “Know him? He’s my room mate. He’s my lab partner. We wrote the paper together.”

     “Interesting he didn’t tell Xochi about you. Though he does tend to edit, especially about other people’s contributions to his accomplishments.”

     He heard a tiny dose of baby sister bitterness in her voice. Knowing Greth, it was totally justified. He let it pass. Now he knew why editing made her mad, too. Good.  “So you’re going for a Reading about a questionable Expansion already in progress, yes?” He knew her answer was no. He just had to poke.

     He wants to know if I’m attached!

     She frowned. “No. Not at all. Not ever.” She realized she’d just answered a lot more than he’d asked. ‘Not ever’ was very unusual at her age. She changed the subject. “Greth told Xochi, Xochi asked me to ask Annie Gracious.”

     “So we’re on the same mission.”

     She pondered. “Yes,” she answered and resumed picking irrelevant bits of glue off her toes.

     Here on the edge of civilization, wild plants grew. Small capped wooden bowls about as big as a fingertip littered the grass around them. La’ii rolled the last dab of glue between her fingers and investigated the tree canopy above her. The little bowls were on the branches, too.

     Leor followed her line of sight. “Mr.Tupper brought us out here once. These are acorns. Seeds of this tree.  He said they’re edible.” Leor had a particularly sticky bit of glue and crushed plastic on his heel. He bent and twisted trying to get at it.

     La’ii was trying and failing to keep a straight face. She studied the acorns. “What do they taste like?”

     “We didn’t try any. We-”

     He fell over in the grass.

     A noisy whoop of laughter burst out, embarrassing La’ii. She wasn’t used to absolutely no projection at all. “We should try some. May I help you with that?” She reached toward his heel, still comically bent up toward his face though he was on his back on the ground. She stopped when she felt the warmth of his skin, just shy of touching him.

     Eyes exactly her color met hers. “Please,” he said.

     She had delicate fingers and precise, carefully groomed nails. They scratched experimentally, finding the best balance between enough pressure to get the glue and gentility.

     Something in him went absolutely dizzy, like tumbling in a wave pool. The rest of him glossed over it, instead wondering what kind of person actually groomed their nails? Except for hygiene, there simply wasn’t a need. It was like their real clothes (except the shoes, obviously), their minimal projections, and their truth ratio coding.

     She’d flicked off the last bit of glue. His mind was clearly wandering. She dropped her hand and picked up an acorn. She turned it, marveling at the smooth lower surface and the intricate layers of tiny chevrons on the rough cap. The tiny stem must have let nutrients flow from the tree to the seed like an umbilical cord, though she could see no tubules or vesicles at its end. Her mind drifted toward coding its textures, maybe animating the tiny chevrons.

     Leor sat up. Her mind was clearly wandering.  She held an acorn in one hand; the fingers of her other hand trailed absently in the grass.

     “Share it with you,” he said.

     “What?”, she asked, blinking out of her reverie.

     His smile lit up again. “Want to share the acorn? I think there’s a soft part inside. I think we have to crack it open.”

     “Have you ever eaten grown food?”

     “No, but the Loonies do all the time. Mr. Tupper was fairly certain it was safe.”

     “Did you see him eat it?”


     The seed rested in her hand, an enigma.

     He leaned toward her and bumped her shoulder with his familiarly. “You really couldn’t code this.”

     “I was just thinking of how to get these lovely little ridges on the cap and the way the shell reflects the light from the tree bark and the light from the grass differently.”

     “I mean all of it,” he offered. “I mean this lavender sky and this soft grass and this breeze in your hair framing your face and all of that reflected in your eyes and your expression.”

     She met his gaze frankly. “No. I really couldn’t code this.” She put the acorn in her teeth and bit. She spit it back in her palm, grimacing. “We’re going to have to hit this with a rock.”

     A soft step fell behind them. They gasped as if they’d been caught in the act of Expansion.

     “Those taste a lot better cooked,” someone said.


Planet Maya: Year 300


     La’ii had never seen a projection like it. It was close to a Yeti, but regular human sized. It had fur all over in goldens and browns and silvers. Each color seemed to have a different texture and length. The pattern brindled in swirls all over its lithe, muscular body. She had an urge to pet that felt almost shameful.

     The face was fuzzy, but looked mostly human. Its small breasts might indicate it was female, if the human analogy applied. It certainly had patterns of longer and thicker hair where humans in their natural states had longer and thicker hair. It had a mane of sorts from its crown down its neck to below its shoulders. It didn’t seem to have any clothes at all, though there may have been subtle arrays of fiber and glints of stone worked into the fur. Or it might have just been playing in the dirt. The skin of its face showed beneath the finer fur there. A goatee extended its chin. It had fingernails and toenails. It carried a wooden pole on its back slung with an intricate spider-woven chest strap. The chiseled arms hung relaxed at its sides, hands curved carelessly.

     Leor caught up first.  “Nice code! How do you get your projection to work this far out?”

     It showed bright strong teeth with huge canines. It made a noise combined of huffing and growling.

     La’ii and Leor reached for each other’s hands.

     It had spoken, hadn’t it? They stood their ground.

     “The acorns.” It pointed. “They really do taste better cooked. Though compared to that paste you people eat, raw might not be too bad, either.”  It gr-huffed again and held out a furry hand. The tiny lines of palmprint held darker lines of grime. It was either truly immaculate coding or possibly real.

     La’ii realized it was laughing, not growling. She managed to stick out her hand. The furry person shook it.

     “I’d like to get you two to a better campsite before dark. It will take another day to get to Annie Gracious and there are krav out here. Do you need to eat now, or can you wait a bit? There are a few nice things we can collect on the way, and I have stores to share at camp.” 

     “Leor,” he said dubiously, offering his hand. The furry person shook it, too.

     “Brrda. Silverback custodian. At your service.” The mane flicked as it bowed to them.

     Leor returned the bow. La’ii copied him and gave her name.

     “Nice to meet you both. Annie Gracious has told me all about you.”

     “I don’t think Annie Gracious knows us, yet. We hardly know us yet.” La’ii looked at Leor, who agreed with a dumbfounded nod.

     Brrda rolled lavender eyes. “You civilized people are so literal and linear.” It turned; La’ii saw the burnished wooden staff in its spider silk sling. There were obviously long years of handling in it.

     Leor glanced at La’ii now that the creature person had turned away. Wait to eat? La’ii nodded assent.

     “Good,” Brrda said without turning. “We have a long way to go, and acorns take hours.”

     They followed it, literally bewildered.


Over the River and Through the Woods

Planet Maya: Year 300


     Did you just hear me thinking? They asked each other simultaneously.

     Obviously so. They answered.

     Brrda felt them falling into a maelstrom of mutual amazement and admiration. Whe rolled wher eyes internally. For wher, this communication was a three dimensional thought construct in physical space via sound waves and psychic modeling. In the image, a local bird cocked its head in curiosity at a comical, possibly tasty insect mating dance.

     Leor asked, “Brrda, was that a growl?”

     Brrda didn’t turn. Brrda didn’t speak. Brrda said, Whe heard you both.

     La’ii and Leor turned to each other, then hustled to catch up with Brrda.

     It had a tiny amused quirk to its mouth. “Loud and clear. For humans, you two have active minds. Annie Gracious may be right about you.”

     “What is she right about since she doesn’t know us, doesn’t know the problem, and doesn’t know we’re coming to talk to her?” La’ii was feeling the need to be didactic.

     “Whe?” asked Leor.

     Brrda grinned, incisors gleaming. “She does know you, the problem, and that you are coming. She sent me to collect you.” Looking at Leor, “When you refer to yourself, you say, ‘I’. When whe refer to wherself, whe say, ‘whe’. When others refer to wher, whe prefer the same form. Whe wasn’t growling.”

     Wher smile was less soothing than whe intended it.  Those canines flashed. Leor quailed a bit, suddenly seeing bones crunch between them. He felt wher mind press upon his gently. He saw the image of his fear like a projection that effectively diminished her truth ratio. He dropped it, and sought to see wher clearly.

     He and La’ii rocked back on their heels simultaneously as a shimmering outline of a curious sparrow suddenly hung in the air before them, then dispersed. Both agape, one of them managed, “Brrda?”

     “Whe have a way of communicating images with a combination of sound and disciplined visualization. Most civilized people don’t have the wiring to perceive it. The meaning is in the shape of the waves in space and not the growl itself. What your ears hear is only a tiny part of it. Whe am pleased you recognized it as any kind of communication at all. Well done.”

     “Hang on!” La’ii stopped in the road. “Leor, check me on this. We’re psychic, it is a whe, Annie Gracious expects us, and whe can hear us thinking but we can’t hear….” She struggled.

     “Wher,” offered Brrda.

     “…wher psychic projections very clearly?”

     He smiled. “Completely accurate. Hug?”

     Brrda repressed a snort as he cocked his head like wher bird and held out his arms to La’ii. He was definitely impressionable. Interesting.

     “Hold my hand while I adjust to reality?” La’ii counter-offered, and he felt each ridge in her fingerprints brush his own as their metacarpals entwined.

     Brrda gruffed. “Whe have a long walk. Do what you can to keep your minds clear. Stay alert.”

     Neither asked what they should be alert for. Those metacarpals were seriously distracting.


“Hang On.”

Planet Maya: Year 300

     La’ii had had it. They’d been walking past four klicks already, over twice the entire length of town, in silence. La’ii’s thoughts, in that silence, started to get rather disorganized. There was Leor’s hand in hers. But he’d started tensing his arm in the rough spots on the trail, as if to help her up. But she didn’t need help, and frankly, having to balance with him tugging on her made the task harder. Plus of course, the implicit assumption of partnership was so glitching obvious – at least for the mission or whatever it was this was turning into – and she wasn’t going to get dragged in to an early (ok, it wouldn’t be too early in conventional eyes but way too early for her) Expansion over a glitching coincidence, for Sappho’s sake! Her heart panicked at the idea of parenting and giving up her life before she’d begun it for some scrap of future genealogy she hadn’t even met yet, then it strangled her with the idea of not touching the the palm that met hers and the infusion of life it represented, which of course, when she heard herself think it, sounded almost like a dirty joke and sent her swimming back to Point A.

     A brown brindle custodian, life wrapped around a golden tiger striped infant nursing in wher arms.

     Internally, La’ii accepted an invitation to feel the scene. It seemed like some psychic etiquette about consent Brrda was teaching.

     Externally, she stopped in her tracks, which confused Leor, which confused La’ii, since weren’t they suddenly all psychic with each other? Which irked her a bit, like an invasion of privacy.  I mean, who’d want to live completely in somebody else’s head all the time, sweaty palms or not for glitching Daniel’s glitching sake!

     …Nursing in wher arms.. pressed Brrda, just enough to distract La’ii from the mental whirlpool. La’ii followed the thought.

     Leor took a step back on the path as Brrda’s laughing eyes held La’ii’s.  

     …Tiny, sharp teeth and a greedy mouth latched on wher nipple, life bursting from wher body into this shining seedling life.

     La’ii’s explosion of deeply mixed emotions knocked her to her knees, but Leor valiantly caught her on the way down in the silliest fainting violet stereotype ever. Brrda purred reassurance and wher eyes were so kind and attentive to La’ii that Leor simply rested her back on the earth and watched from his haunches a few feet away.

     Internally, La’ii put her awareness inward and discovered she was feeling a custodian body. Yes, primal yin yang of pleasure and pain in nursing. A dim, distant awareness of her personal disgust and its complete irrelevance to her true animal nature. Yes, a stretched body and aching limbs. Yes, those those swirls and bands of textures were sweet to pet. A strange, illuminating sexiness was the literal parent of parental love. A full bladder, which was normal to notice when feeding was almost over. Feeding delayed every other urge, but they rushed back in their turn. Something in the body was different from La’ii’s. Something fundamental. Bladder, conscious effort to hold… There was definitely a difference in plumbing.  La’ii’s custodian body had a full set, both types. This was natural and normal for custodians, as was the seasonal and volitional fluctuation in their relative sizes and shapes, as were double females and double males.

     Externally, La’ii’s eyes popped open. Leor’s relief flooded when her eyes showed comprehension and drained when a strange unfathomable wisdom flashed within. Then she grinned. She pointed like a toddler telling on her brother and commanded, “Show him!”

     Brrda snarled and yelped in an alarming sound Leor later learned was custodian for a piggy-snort guffaw.    

     Then it hit him.




     Leor opened his eyes, and found himself blinking up at La’ii.

     “You passed out, too,” she smiled.

     He sat up. “Hold on.”

     Brrda made a sound like a cat purring while chomping a squirrel’s head. This was a repressed snicker, but the hairs on the back of Leor’s neck stood up nonetheless.

     Plaintive, he begged. “Why?”

     More of that squirrel-chomping sound.  “I really shouldn’t be poking you two like this. But after hearing you think at each other all day, I couldn’t stand it.”

     Plaintive, she begged. “What?”

     “Both of you broadcasting all your fear and hope and crazy civilized ideas about parenting and gender all over the atmosphere all day long while maintaining rickety blinders between you. Absolutely maddening. Plus, from what Annie Gracious says, you two have a bigger stew to stir than who does the midnight feedings or custodian physiology.”

     Wher mane hackled up the slightest bit, as did a convergence of vertical brindle lines below wher navel. She licked her chops and snapped her jaws.

     “The point was the payoff of parenting, to soothe you. The physiological differences were,” she showed empty palms and shrugged, “incidental.”

     La’ii folded her arms. “I am not soothed.”

     Leor hadn’t got past transitive multiple gender identities yet.

     Brrda growled. “Annie Gracious warned whe. Look, whe don’t know enough about the big picture to explain it. But you two are entangled and spinning on an outward path, starting already. Obviously explaining created another problem. Interacting with civilized people is not my usual custodial task. If whe keep moving, whe can get to camp before nightfall. Talking might help quiet that spiralling mental chatter. Questions?”

     Leor and La’ii got up, dusted off, and gestured for Brrda to lead.

     “You start,” he offered La’ii.

     She put her hands on her hips. “How come there are no custodians when we walk for Readings? How come there are no krav?”

     A lean, strong finger marked a missed point. The brindle here was more ash and silver. “There are both. During those seasons, custodians keep the path clear of krav so civilized people can walk unconcerned. Readings are important, and ignorance of the world beyond the enclos- beyond the towns shouldn’t be a death sentence.”

     “We haven’t seen a creature all day,” observed Leor.

     Another hissing purr. “You haven’t seen a creature all day. Whe have seen many. There is a pack of krav pacing wher now. They’re too patient and cautious as hunters to attack wher in daylight. Alone, you’d be crunchy by now.” She flashed those teeth again.

     They glanced around them, seeking sign of krav.

     An approving snarl rolled over Brrda’s lip. They were finally beginning to look around them. “Krav usually move behind the third line of trees. They watch your line of vision and only shift when your attention is away. Their hides color shift in camouflage. Whe’ll be more surprised if you see them than when you saw wher bird.”

     “What are whe custodian of, exactly?” To La’ii, this expanse of grass and distant trees was empty.

     “My pride, the group you call “Loonies”, and Maya. Though whe don’t work alone.”

     “Personal pride?”

     Huff-grrr. “Family pride. A group living closely with shared hunting and parenting roles.”

     Leor questioned, “The Loonies need custodians?”

     A furry shrug. “All humans do.”

     “Do we?” she asked.

     That snarling peal of laughter again. “Small founding population on a different planet from which your species developed with minimal wilderness experience and fissured cultures? Yes, you do.” Wher eyes flicked to the line of trees and a ripple of raised fur traveled up wher mane to the crown of wher head. “No more talking. Walk in front of wher, chests high, eyes on the trail. Whe will send you images of grilled meat. Concentrate and keep moving. If you break and run, they will attack. Whe have weapons work to do here, and if you lag you might get brained.”

     Wher heavy, polished staff gleamed in wher hands; the intricate woven strap tied at wher waist. Whe wooshed it once with wher wrist, once with wher elbow, and once with wher shoulder. Whe repeated the process on the left, a warm-up so practiced and effortless whe didn’t seem to notice wherself doing it.

     La’ii and Leor’s eyes grew wide together. They did not lag, and they thought of grilled meat. When they each caught a faint outline of motion in their peripheral vision just inside the nearest line of trees, they doubled their hustle and could nearly hear it sizzle.

     Brrda’s staff whistled behind them, but they didn’t pause to look.

First several chapters, first draft

posted in: Glitchy | 1



by Laurel Wilson

For Rozlyn and Rowan

First draft blog edition

This portion October 2017



Earth: The End


     For him, it was their last meeting. For her, their first. Gareth waved goodbye to little Maya, who clutched Dr. Hernandez’s neck. Panicked people rushed around him.  Moist, sticky drips fell from the sky onto his intricately woven clothes.  Dr. Hernandez and his daughter disappeared into their clandestine quarantine bunker.

     Gareth’s heart sunk. He’d held her wrinkled hand hours before; he’d watched the fire in her piercing eyes, blue as this strange sky, flicker and die. Now this glimpse of her at six, then maybe a glimpse of the ship in fourteen years, if he lived that long. His eyes unfocused, seeing the memories behind him and before her.

     The pushing rush shifted into screaming, headlong panic. He heard barked orders. Exoskeletons enameled midnight blue prodded runners, who screeched and bolted.

     “Halt for medical evaluation!” seemed to be a recording. How could they find people to put on those insectoid suits, to harass and terrify these people?

     Perhaps they were robots.

     A woman clutched Gareth, pointing behind her, panting “The Paramedics!” She tried to drag Gareth, who should have been moving faster if he wanted to live. She dropped her armload of clothing and papers, stooped to gather them, and peered up into a Paramedic’s shadow. Gareth could see no face, no hands, no skin. Shouldn’t a paramedic be a healer? The woman bunched her things together and sprinted. The Paramedic watched her go and regarded Gareth. It cocked its head and said, “This is a Voluntary Evacuation Zone.”

     Definitely a recording. Man or machine inside?

     A motion caught the Paramedic’s eye. One runner’s pace wobbled and slowed. He dropped his luggage, staring up at a wheezing old juniper beside the road. He hugged the trunk; his right foot slowly stepped up, seeking a hold.

     The Paramedic’s outstretched arm vomited flame, incinerating the man.

     Shock froze Gareth; the Paramedic’s flamethrower was built into the glinting wasp suit; its hand, if it had one, was invisible on that side. A paramedic really ought to have two warm human hands and no inferno. Gareth saw the climber’s  flesh blacken and split. A waft of grilled meat made Gareth’s mouth water and his stomach turn. He ran.

     He kept to the center of the pack, away from the trees along the road. Between trunks, he saw an enormous dome over the city center. Glittering tall buildings and greenery inside, concrete devastation and wilderness outside.

     It was an Enclave.

     The Paramedics herded runners toward an elevated ribbon of concrete, a raised road almost level with the top of the dome at its highest point. The voluntary evacuation drove them out – out of the delivery zones where sealed trucks moved goods between Enclaves, out of the service zones, out of sight, out of mind.

     Shoved in the lunging crowd, Gareth remembered Earth’s end as Gram Bee told it. She’d be weaving silks by the fire with her pack of spiders, crooning to them as they collaborated at her loom. Enclaves were domed and quarantined luxury residential areas. Residents danced the masque of the green death while most people lived hardscrabble lives at the mercy of Paramedics, disease, and thieves. Pestilence was bad enough, but break people apart and the world ends. For Gram Bee, it was a scary bedtime story with a moral: remember inherent value, prevent the same disaster.

     Gareth first heard it at her knee almost sixty years ago. Gram Bee was born on Sappho during the voyage. She heard the stories from Maya and the crew who were, at his present moment in time, children under quarantine in the hidden installation behind him.

     Gram Bee hadn’t mentioned the elbows in the ribs, forced marches, or flamethrowers. Time and astronomical distance softened the story considerably. He loped in the panting crowd, blending with them, matching their motion. Today was a bad day to test a Paramedic’s flamethrower. What motion had triggered that blast of flame?  

     Inside the Enclave he saw a woman, tiny as an insect in a jar, leaning out a window high above the ground. She craned her neck toward the roof.  Gareth ran in the panting crowd, flicking his eyes toward her, knowing what history said he might see, appalled, enthralled.

     She began to climb outside the building. She scrabbled over the ledge to the roof.

     On the incline, the runners around him struggled. He matched their pace.

     The roof had a spired coppery dome. She clung to the spike, shinnying up. Then her body jerked taut. Her fingers and legs locked around the spike. Her head cocked back, eyes straight at the sun. Her forehead bulged. Out mushroomed a green missile, as long as the woman’s whole body. Her leg disintegrated and blew away. Her empty trunk collapsed. The green extrusion puffed and floated in billions of microscopic particles into the Enclave’s atmosphere.

     An alarm pealed. The Paramedics halted, listening. Tiny people inside the Enclave poured out of the shining city buildings toward the emergency air locks.

     “This is a Mandatory Evacuation Zone,” the Paramedics boomed. They turned to the Enclave, flamethrowers drawn, to seal the exits.

     Uninfected Enclaves were paradises of privilege and comfort. Infected Enclaves were burial grounds.

     Sirens multiplied. Paramedics now disregarded the surging throng. Containment was first priority. The vermin would keep coming back.

     Runners began to trample each other as the weak fell.

     Where the ribbon of road again touched earth, Gareth sighted a cemented creek. A distant green slope beckoned. High chance of water, low population density, no Enclaves, no Paramedics. It was a plan. He left the road.



Maya: 300


     “Mom!” Alice’s voice rose over the clothing racks. “This shirt is only 10 gig!” She stomped. Cartoon frowning faces floated off her head, paused and jerked in space while her perfect complexion wavered and acne appeared. The faces whooshed upward and farted as they popped. Mortified, she screamed, “It’s glitchy!”

     Their mother Xochi rolled her eyes.  “Alice, sweets, you have a budget. I have a budget. I’m not blowing that budget so you can get a terabyte of new clothes.”

     “La’ii has a terabyte.”

     “La’ii took a freelance hacking job after school and paid for it herself.” Xochi’s arms folded and her brow came down. Alice was losing. La’ii walked away. Her fingers dragged against a hundred identical, extremely cheap sleeves on the rack. No use making the clothes actually warm or useful or even crafted. Projection took care of it all.

     Alice whined. “This year is Apocalypse. I can’t show up in old clothes.”

     Xochi frowned. “That Apocalypse talk is bunk. The ecosystem has survived at least one Cycle. We’ll survive the next. We just haven’t been on the planet long enough to see it. Three centuries is nothing in geologic time.”

     “Mr. Rystad says boiling seas and melted gems flowing across the landscape like water.”

     Xochi snapped. “Mr. Rystad is a religious extremist from…” She stopped herself. Could she say “The Coast” without implicitly using the pejorative “Coasties”? She faltered.

     “…from the West,” Alice offered. Coasties throwing their projectors into Maya’s purple ocean and groaning about the Apocalypse flitted through both their minds.

     Xochi smiled. “Let’s look at the budget and the apps you want and see what we can do.”

     La’ii quirked a lip as her mother and sister dove back into the clothing racks. Not quite a sneer, but far too distant for warmth.

     La’ii did have the terabyte, though she didn’t project with it much, mostly just the tapered ear tips and the continually breezy movement in her hair. A little bit of suppressing her secondary sexual characteristics. k’Mils women always had what Loonie Annie Gracious called “breeder’s hips”. Ew.

     At eighteen, La’ii k’Mil wasn’t interested. Though Annie Gracious was probably Reading at the time and La’ii wouldn’t have any choice at all. There were rituals involved, genealogies to study. La’ii wasn’t against doing her part for the Expansion, but there were her feelings to consider. She’d never met anyone she’d allow to touch her, much less… “Expand.”

     She sucked her lower lip. Most of that terabyte went into hacking nearby projections for their truth ratio. And seeing the real people beneath their projections. That was technically illegal. Courts had long since upheld the right of individuals to project a self-image to the exclusion of the physical truths of their bodies.

     Hence the rituals and genealogies when it came time for a girl to Expand. Expansion still had to happen the old fashioned way, and it took more than a terabyte of projection to convince La’ii the centaur with the cobblestone abs wasn’t really an arrogant coward hiding behind the code.

     Alice projected a taller, more busty version of herself based on a fem first person shooter, autoplayed flying emoji clusters from her biometrics, and looped last year’s free clothing animations.

     Xochi projected more muscles, less fanny, and fewer wrinkles. It was a total projection, tastefully designed as both plausibly human and unretouched. She customized an imp app to hide in her earring and whisper to her about her schedules, lists, food intake, exercise, and spiritual growth.

     La’ii’s goal to neutralize her gender was a lost cause from the start. Her hair fell below her waist in heavy waves of honey blonde. Hazel eyes glittered with piercing humor. Her carnelian mouth set as a jeweled lock against words that might encourage some buffoon with a titanic projection.

     Spider silk tunic and pants, luminous and floating, accentuated her graceful frame and slender limbs. These strange, old fashioned clothes and her mysterious smile highlighted her rare natural beauty.

     Friends and family assumed she’d hacked her way into special equipment.

     Alice and Xochi settled on a 100 gig booster pin, a connector repair kit, and a 10 gig scarf.

     La’ii followed them outside, aloof.

     Two suns blazed in a lavender sky. Which, if the Coasti… people from the Coast were right, was exactly the problem.



Earth: The End +14


     Arcing high in the blue sky overhead, Sappho’s booster assembly separated. It would fall in the Pacific as the ship passed escape velocity with Maya and all her kin aboard.

     Gareth nodded. Now he was truly alone. No history of Earth existed past this moment.




     They knew the launch would break quarantine in the bunker. With no communication to the outside and their children shot into space, they could only argue.

     Would they all contract the pestilence? Was it safe? Were there people above? Had every living creature on Earth succumbed to disease? Certainly a zoonotic fungus that could so effectively control complex behavior like climbing towards light could come up with new horrors in fourteen years. What had been the plan once the kids were gone? Could anyone stay? Could anyone leave?

     Dr. Hernandez rubbed the back of his hand in small circles, self-soothing. Fourteen years in a bunker with even the best of friends and brightest of minds got old. A breath of fresh air, even if it killed him. An unfamiliar flavor, an unfamiliar face, even if it killed him. They were already breathing traces of external air. The decision had already been made.

     Dr. Hernandez shot the bolt and opened the door.


The Apocalypse

Maya: 300


     “La’ii. Join me?”

     Xochi’s projection flickered off as she headed down the hall. La’ii dragged her lip against her teeth. Xochi never took off her projection.

     La’ii followed.

     Xochi sat at the kitchen table. Her imp bounced off her ear and disappeared through the smooth center surface. The imp gave the table Xochi’s printing instructions for dinner.

     Turning her projector off for a serious talk didn’t mean Xochi was going to eat food out of the ground, for Sappho’s sake.

     La’ii tried on the distant smile, but it slipped into something honestly warm when she saw her mother’s gray, receding hairline. That was the kind of honesty no one projected.

     “You know your brother is studying astrophysics?”

     “Yah.” Astrophysics was a relatively new study. History was voyage, crash, survival, division (historians agree things ran much more smoothly without the Loonies and Coas.. people from the Coast around), and re-tech. Plenty to accomplish in three hundred years, even with Earth’s libraries and Sappho’s surviving equipment. They’d just got around to calculating the orbits of the planets and double suns in their system.

     Xochi leaned in. La’ii’s mind wandered a lot. “La’ii. I need you to go talk to Annie Gracious.”

     La’ii’s neck rigidified. “I’m not having a mandatory Expansion, mom.” Weren’t they done with this? No babies, no babies with strangers, no babies without co-parenting agreements, no contributing to Expansion for La’ii. Her jaw already set, her eyes snapped to Xochi’s.

     Xochi reached for her hand. “I’m not talking Expansion. Of course I want you to have children with many fathers. Every girl does. Expansion is a social duty.”

     La’ii’s eyes drilled.

     Xochi’s hands warded. “Do as you please. Don’t Expand. Expand. Raise them, don’t raise them. Give them many families, give them none. Pick a small group. Pick a big group. Group with women. If you think you could be happy, pick one man and stick with him your whole life.” …’As unnatural as that sounds’ stayed behind her teeth, but La’ii heard it anyway.

     “If this conversation isn’t about Expansion, change the subject?”

     “You’re right.” Xochi shook her head at herself. It was so easy to open her mouth and hear thoughtless drivel come out.  “I need you to talk to Annie Gracious about the Apocalypse.”

     Picture of La’ii, completely dumbstruck.

     “Greth has been calculating Maya’s orbital path relative to the suns.”

     “So? Colonial planet, binary stars. What does Annie Gracious have to do with it?”

     “Those suns are coming into conjunction. Global temperatures will rise dramatically, the visible light spectrum will shift, and we will die. Coa… people from the Coast expect to die. Loonies, however, seem to have a plan.”

     “You said the Apocalypse was bunk! You said the ecosystem survived so we would! What does Greth’s math class have to do with it?”

     “He proved it’s real, La’ii. He proved the Apocalypse is here.” Her voice throbbed. Her eyes brightened with tears, real ones. Her projection was off.

     “If Loonie Annie Gracious has a plan, I want it. Dr. Hernandez didn’t shoot Maya into space so we could lose it all to a solar conjunction.” A tear rolled, and La’ii noticed how the edge of the drop interacted with the fine hair on Xochi’s face and minute, drawn threads of surrounding reflections. That’s exactly the kind of detail projections missed.



The End +14


     Dr. Hernandez squinted. He hadn’t seen a blue sky in years. He expected to hear motors, to smell asphalt. Instead, he heard birdsong  and clean, unfiltered, unprocessed air rushed his senses. He felt warmth on his skin and leaned his head back, marveling at the touch of sunshine.

     A low, calm voice called, “Dr. Hernandez?”

     “A survivor?” he stammered.

     Gareth’s strong, rough hand reached down and grasped the man’s arm. Dr. Hernandez almost popped out of the bunker onto soft grass. The old tarmac had crumbled to nearly nothing. Nature and the persistence of life never ceased to amaze him.

     “Dr. Hernandez?” Gareth repeated. He needn’t ask. The laughter dancing in the corners of his eyes was exactly like Maya’s. And at this particular point in time, Gareth was a generation older than his father-in-law; Maya was 20, accelerating into space, and hadn’t met him yet. Gareth pumped his hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir.”

     Hernandez stammered again. “A survivor?”

     Gareth equivocated. “I have an unusual immune system. A few more of us survived.  I risked returning to the city to collect you after the launch.”

     “How did you know about that?”

     Gareth smiled. “Long story, which I will be happy to tell later. First we have to get back to the safety of the wild.”

     Hernandez balked. “I’m not moving. None of my people are moving. We will plunk right back down into that bunker and close the door. How did you know?”

     Gareth shrugged. “I’m from the future. I’m your son-in-law. Also your great-great grandson.”

     Hernandez’s eyes blazed. Gareth could see Hernandez not only accept the truth instantly, but like Maya, his eyes tracked up and right while his mind worked. The improbable truth thrilled him, his intellect leapt at the possible paths through time that Gareth had taken.

     Gareth grinned. “I’ve read your work. It’s an honor to meet you, sir.” His green eyes danced. This man was father to Maya, but also to Sappho and all three colonies back home.

     Hernandez’s eyes turned sad. The expression was identical to Maya’s. Gareth’s heart split open.

     “I’m never going to see her again, am I?” Hernandez asked.

     “I don’t think I am either,“ sighed Gareth. “It’s hard to see her expressions on your face.” His openness and vulnerability, his helpless hapless love for Maya etched in his every lineament instantly won Hernandez.

     Hernandez punched the older, greyer man’s shoulder. “Well, son,” Hernandez laughed, “come and meet the family.”


The Twins

Maya: 300


     La’ii was really the best choice to go see Loonie Annie Gracious. Loonies didn’t spook her, she didn’t mind walking, she was calm around wild animals, and she had clothes that would shelter her off the grid. She was sensible enough to survive the trip and open enough to Loonies to bring back a reasonable understanding of their plans for surviving the Apocalypse.

     Xochi just wished La’ii didn’t have to go alone.

     It wasn’t illegal to visit the Loonies. Certainly people went on pilgrimages when there was an Expansion question that needed a Reading. Certainly there were whispers of miracle cures and spiders trained like printers and stoned priestesses telling the future and underground houses and wild beasts that ate children and magical farmland that grew what you asked for and, well, all manner of completely looney ideas.

     La’ii would be fine.

     Xochi watched her daughter sway away, and knew as only Loonies should know that her child would never be the same, would never return as a child, would never live under her roof again.

     Because she was not Looney, poor Xochi worked herself around to not believing it, even to expecting La’ii’s return exactly as she was. Xochi visualized them braiding and brushing as they did when La’ii was small. She thought it through thoroughly, even aging La’ii a little older than she was now so the idea felt like future. There was the stink of wish in the vision, not of truth. Because she wasn’t Looney, Xochi ignored it.




     La’ii strolled through the city, crossing roads and open spaces in a direct line toward the Loonies. She enjoyed slicing through the unwritten rules of sidewalks and roads oriented toward the larger, more pervasive pattern of Maya’s surface. The Loonies lived where Sappho crashed landed. All roads began there. Tracing them back was simply a matter of perceiving them. That would be easier the farther she got from the city.

     The streets were crowded. With the push for Expansion, you’d think people would spread out. But they clustered in crowded groups, movement defined by the grid’s reach. No one took off their projections in public.

     A slick young man in a spider silk shirt talked business on a park bench with a floating mermaid. Airmaid? Moved like a person with a fish tail in the water, but floating in the air. Rich projection, that. Making the inconvenient parts of the body disappear was hard code to flow. A good job. High-end custom or genius homemade. Who was she kidding? Home made was almost a criticism. Too Looney.

     The man shot his French cuffs and an archaic business card appeared in his hand. He offered it to the airmaid. A fish swam around from behind her back, and took the card in its mouth.

     In terms of code, he was giving contact, health, and genetic information. The projected old-school card was a stand-in for the data exchange. The fish was Airmaid’s way of examining the card while keeping his code away from hers until she had time to examine it. The fish nibbled at it, spit bits of it out in blooming puffs (good animation there – completely plausible), sucked them back in, and chomped some more. Airmaid seemed pleased. A little seahorse scooted over to Slick and anchored its tail in his hair. He made a pretty good show of petting and cooing at it while checking her code.

     Airmaid’s pleasure showed in a slow, turning roll during which her breasts floated and flashed. La’ii noticed a gesture of dappled light upon them, as if Airmaid were lit by sunlight under water. Definitely a 5 terabyte projection, even with grid support. Impressive.

     Impressive flirt, anyway. The guy was delighted and nearly floated behind her himself.

     La’ii asked herself where the relationship might go. Airmaid held his hand, almost towing him like a floating corpse. The truth under their projections was Airmaid was heavy, pale, and awkward. Her eyes were calculating and hungry without warmth. Slick was unkempt and short. He followed her, shifting his shirt to a seaweed drape and tucking in the seahorse.

     La’ii kept walking.

     A stern female centaur swished her tail as La’ii passed, and La’ii stopped to give her a scratch between the ear and the mane. The woman nickered and cavorted on her way. A family of foxes minced along the sidewalk together. The biggest adult had nine tails, and the smallest cub had one.  They snarled and shied when a wookie passed. They licked their chops when they spied an old couple perched on the rail as pigeons, cooing.

     Unimaginative, grid-dependent projections, every one.

     La’ii felt the stir of her spider silk blouse against her skin. Her skirts swirled near her ankles, her hair fell over her shoulders. She could feel them. They were real; her sensations were real. Projections had to have some tactile output, of course. You had to be able to interact with the environment. But the code an the processing needed to have full body full time tactile both inside and outside the projection was seriously prohibitive.

     As her mind wandered, she began to twiddle the ends of her hair. She loved how it was brush-soft from an angle and almost prickly end-on.

     Her focused shifted outward.

     A seven foot tall meerkat locked eyes with her. His ears had pointy tips. She smiled. He smiled; his tiny feral meerkat teeth squared up into human teeth. His face shifted, the fur receeded; he relaxed into an almost entirely true projection. His hair, exactly her color, zigged down his back in springy ringlets. His body was confident and strong, but not rugged. His ears stayed pointed.

     La’ii tossed her hair over her shoulder without projection.

     He paled, never taking his eyes off her.

     Neither had any awareness of crossing the street or approaching each other.

     In La’ii’s mind, she was merely going about her business only a slightly curved path toward an interesting phenomenon. As she passed, they glitched. La’ii’s hair turned curly, his body become slighter and curvier, which was either inexplicable or an outrageous coincidence of code sheilding strategies. La’ii glanced down at herself and saw a flatter, squarer body than she’d had. Their clothes matched.

     La’ii read truth in code and saw that he was wearing real clothes like hers, but the projections shifted a little here, a little there so they were identical.

     “Wow!” he said. “Twins! Nice code. I didn’t think my projection was so glitchy.”

     La’ii’s face took an imperious angle. “My code doesn’t glitch.”

     He smiled gently. “Except today, yes?”

     Their eyes flicked toward a shop window. They fell into step. At the window, they looked at each other, side by side. They turned toward each other, which was the same as the mirror. They turned back to the window. He reached for her hand, touched her fingertips. Staring into a double reflection of her mysteriously changed self, the touch reassured her.

     In fact, she liked it.

     They turned toward each other again, still holding hands. Ungaurded, staring, amazed they gazed.

     He gaped and drew back his hand. “Sorry. I didn’t ask to touch you. It was just so odd seeing myself double-”

     “-That you needed the contact,” she finished. “Me too.”

     He took a step back and bowed. “Leor.” He stuck out his hand to shake.

     “La’ii,” she replied, and took his hand.

     “Which way are you going?”

     Chagrin twisted up her face. She’d forgotten she was on a mission. Not for long, but a glitch like that was a distraction!

     He saw the play of emotions on her face, yet lost himself in the maze.

     That imperial carriage came upon her features again, this time with fire. “I’m going to talk to Looney Annie Gracious about the Apocalypse.”

     His projection flickered, all his colors lost saturation and he looked like stone. She dropped his hand. “What?”

     He brightened back up, and the eerie mirror of herself returned. “Me too.”

     La’ii paused. She checked in with her heart. She checked in with her spirit. While she was trying to think a bit, her body volunteered. She reached for his hand again, interlocked fingers, and drifted a bit on the comfort and warmth, the kind strength flowing toward her.

     Embarassed, she turned to speak, but his mind had unhinged, too. His slack, dreamy look was a reflection of herself.

     She gave his hand a squeeze.

     Theysmiled. “Shall we?” they asked, and strolled right out of town.

A little sleep does wonders.

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Tuesday night AZ time I slept.

Wednesday night AZ time I dozed an hour or so before I got up and began the voyage.

The voyage began 4 AM Thursday AZ time and continued until 8 PM Friday Japan time. Night didn’t fall on me during those 22 hours, and I didn’t sleep.

Then I got lost finding the hotel. Location accuracy on my devices was low and Japanese addresses are a little vague if one doesn’t know the neighborhood. That was an hour or two of walking.

After I found it, I dropped my stuff and took off for my dinner date with an old friend. I managed the subway trains easily (no mean feat), but my phone died while I was on the train and I lost the directions and photos regarding the meeting place. I knew I was on the right street and remembered bits of the images and directions. So I wandered around climbing stairs and searching for clues. That was at least another hour of walking, thankfully without hauling luggage.

(I am VERY glad I decided to pack super light. I’m switching locations every other day and I have to carry everything around almost all the time.)

Shiina-san waited and waited and waited for me, the dear woman. I finally found her, had an incredibly well-crafted cheeseburger, and made my way back to the hotel eventually.

Re-organize all my bags, take a shower, have a soak, nostalgically enjoy a little earthquake, and pass out.

This morning I had to ask people for help along the way, but I also managed to get to the station directly the first time, find the correct platform, and be ahead of time. Sleep does wonders.

A little group of us are riding the train to Hiroshima for a few days of seminars with Yokoyama-san.

I have a friend in Arizona who feels certain she lived her previous life in Japan and passed away in the bombing of Hiroshima. I brought a little offering from her that I will leave there and I’ll find a pretty little rock to bring back for her.

Coming here always feels like coming home to me too. Three places on the planet that feel like home is a true blessing.mistymountainsJapanlulu


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OMG so the time always flies when I’m writing.


But I didn’t expect to be able to get anything done on the plane, yet I worked probably four hours and hacked out another chapter.  My wifi device is working, so I should have connectivity on the long train ride. Hopefully I’ll be able to reorganize this page a little and start posting Glitchy chapters in the next couple days.


So – is tons of aikido and writing all it’s cracked up to be?


So far, hell yes.

In the air between San Francisco and Narita

posted in: Not Glitchy | 2

In the air between San Francisco and Narita
2017 10 05 or 06, depending on where the date line is. The map says it’s 12:30 PM below us in Honolulu. We are still in the 5th.

Trying a short bit of writing to see if I can concentrate and stay away from “travel sickness” while looking at text. So far do good.

There’s a cute couple next to me. About my age, obviously been together a long time. They did crosswords together for an hour or so. He read the clues, asked her what she thought, answered his own questions, and wrote it down. She seemed perfectly happy and added ideas when she had them. Somewhere in there, he got uncomfortable and she rubbed his back. They did an eyebrow waggle that meant it was time to dislodge from the seats and try for a bathroom break. I saw it and went too. I have a window seat.

They have totally inappropriate senses of humor and their irreverent banter felt a lot like family. It was she, and not I, who first dropped the f-bomb in casual conversation. This was also a jolly switch.

I can’t say jealous. I don’t want to disrupt what they have or take anything. But the ease and comfort of a persistent companion is appealing. Of course anybody who can’t be bothered with dogs, a cyclical artistic personality, watching a partner disappear to write a book – or paint – or go to Japan – or stomp through the woods – or have a burst of cleaning of cleaning and reorganizing – or sleep late… …probably can’t be bothered with me.

Point is, I’m alone because I want to be alone. I have interesting stuff to do, and as much as I would like to share my life and feel good about human company, I really don’t want to give up my autonomy, my free time, my undivided attention on art, my crazy ideas, or my unmitigated decision making power over my own life.

I’ve made a ton of progress working independently that I never made while mitigating my plans for a partner’s advice or assistance.

But this sweet happy pair next to me flying off to Japan together feels like a bus I watched pass my stop a bit sadly, even though I know my route is a different number.

Flying between Tucson and San Francisco

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2017 10 05

In the air between Tucson and San Francisco


This part of travel has become routine: lines, shoes, extra inspection (many small chocolate bars for omiage must look like C4 in my bag), wait, charge up the devices, check for wi-fi availability on the flight (not on this leg), prep my documents for offline use, board, roll around the tarmac, make lift+thrust greater than load+drag, snack (stale stroopwaffle and canned orange juice), watch most people playing on their personal screens, and my usual so-glad-I-remembered-my-tummy-meds digestion.


Slightly different on this trip: overhead bins are dinky and way too small for many bags that fit in the sizing frame in the lobby. Luckily, people are managing. The lady next to me is being very gentle about one of my bags encroaching on her footspace a little.


We’re both ignoring the toilet right behind us. The traffic is constant, and the noises, hopefully, are mostly the result of altitude and waterpressure. The flight attendant is miraculously fast and accurate with an orange-based odor neutralizer, which she manages to squirt surreptitiously every few visitors.


I’m on the aisle and have to peek through the windows across the way. Since everybody wants high relative brightness on their screens, most are closed. This is much different than only a few years ago.


Heck, I remember flights when I was a kid where everyone was allowed to smoke and the only in-flight entertainment was a window.


Japan is likely to be rainy this trip. Hopefully extra toe socks will do the trick. If not, I may add to my collection of slightly used Japanese rain boots.


I decided not to bring weapons. Baggage claim is always difficult, Japanese customs sometimes is suspicious of letting my super cool staff back out of the country, the risk of breakage is high, and the risk of damage to my worn out old weapons case is about 100%.


Once I was already packing that light, I decided to try and pack only carry on baggage for the whole two weeks. I mashed what I know I need, minus the forgotten rain boots. Two ghis, plenty of clean underthings for after training, hakama, and clothes that will stretch the whole trip if I do a little rinsing at the sink and rotating things to hang up and dry for a day. Laundry in the middle of the trip would be ideal, but I don’t know if I’ll have the leisure. Several generous people want to take good care of me, and my schedule is both full and substantially out of my hands. I’ll feel like a seasoned world traveller if I get through 10 days comfortably with what I brought. I will probably also formulate lasting, strong opinions about never checking baggage again.


Funny. The nice lady next to me just asked if the window was ok open in a little bit unsure Spanglish. I got to feel smart chatting in Spanish, agreeing that windows are better open, and observing that I had just been writing about those days when people looked out windows instead.


So now I can peek out my own window, familiar landscape rolls out below us as we approach San Francisco, and I’m back musing on personal growth.


…for instance, the enormous rainbow tree-of-life almost spherical spiritual body that popped up yesterday. I’ve been seeing my psychic anntenna as a huge ultraviolet oak tree that furls and unfurls on the top of my head for about a year now. Yesterday, as I was struggling with wanting to crawl back into my coccoon and safely hide from my challenges while smashing my brain, I asked my teachers to help me pull off the coccoon. About six of them flew in, plucked off hunks of sticky carapace that represented my self-defeating habits that used to help me cope and now just help me avoid my noisy brain, and split. Then I stretched and discovered the rainbow tree-of-life around me. My body is just a bit of the trunk. So this trip, when I’m fussy or scared or overwhelmed or feeling unprepared I’m going to consider my tree, my roots, my interconnectedness in all things on both sides of the veil.


Hopefully that’ll feel better than insecurity, fear, and incremental self-destruction.


I’m here to grow for real, not just perform and gain approval.


Started driving at 4 AM. 9AM now. Nearing San Francisco, where I will change a bucket of cash to yen. Last trip, I only had my atm card, it didn’t talk to most card readers politely, and it was too late at night for the cash machines to be open. Couldn’t pay two different cab drivers or the hotel. My friends had to call in the middle of the night and talk the hotel manager into trusting me until morning. This trip, I’ll have enough handy to get through the first few days and figure out which machines take my card.


Whew. There’s a line at the head, right by my seat. The poor lady is literally doing the potty dance, though she’s making it look a little like leg exercises to avoid deep vein thrombosis in flight; it’s time for that surreptitious squirt of orange again.





PS “Landed” in Spanish is “aterrizado”. New word for me, but a- = recipient of action, terra = earth, and -*zado = verbed. To earth verbed. Grounded. Landed. I may remember.


Bags are packed

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I’m off to Japan tomorrow with a plan to train like mad, have a ball, stay in one functional physical piece, practice my spiritual stuff when I get fussy, blog, work on my novel “Glitchy”, and post the rough draft chapters as I go. Oh, yeah. Prepare for my 4th degree black belt test later this month in Houston. Travel and train with the new sensei, translate for him when we’re in the states again later in October, and try not to giggle too much – we were friends decades before anyone took either of us seriously at all.

Keep the demons at bay – those negative coping strategies I needed for all those years I had the psychic, the writer, and the martial artist bound and gagged in the back of my mind while I took care of other business. Grew out of needing crappy relationships and quit my 26 year teaching career to live like this instead. I don’t need the negative coping strategies any more, but I have the habits. Ex-classroom teacher and empty-nester… I don’t think I’ve ever had so much time to think for myself in my life before. It’s lovely, but I find getting up to help myself tougher than getting up to help others. This is also clearly part of my test.

And because I’m a shameless show pony with novels to sell and a strange lifetime of stories to tell in the middle of a major life change with personal demons on top, I’ve decided to crack it open and spill it here.

Character Arc

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Kato-Sensei told me to train, teach, travel, make friends, and create world peace.


That’s my life’s work, now that my daughter is grown.


I want to do art; volunteer at school; and earn non-seat-time $ with paintings, novels, singing, photographs, aikido workshops, and psychic services. I want enough time and money to manage my small property and basic needs, create a nice dojo here in Mammoth, host international guests in Wild West Weapons Weekends, travel to train internationally and visit kin 4-8 weeks per year.


Re-design of website and pages on sites like LinkedIn and Facebook will follow.

Road Trip!

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Just had a great visit to see family in California. Our pack got together and met the family pack. Six people chatting; six dogs playing.