talonkarrde: (winter)
I'm on stage, in front of the crowd, and performing a solo. It’s a piece by Yiruma, and though I don't quite have his energy, I know the piece by heart and I'm sailing through it. I hit the notes as he would, soar and fall and ride the music, and I think — no, I know — I'm playing just as well as I've ever been, my fingers dancing across the ivory.

And then I open my eyes for a moment, looking over audience in the concert hall and he’s there, in the front row. He's paying attention, certainly, but there's something about it that doesn't feel like it should.

I almost lag a half beat behind, but I remember everyone’s eyes and ears on me and I snap back to the music, focusing on the piece again, start the refrain—

—and then I realize, suddenly, what I’m seeing. The foot tapping, the slow rolling of his neck, the periodic glances down to his watch. We had just gotten stuck at a stuffy formal gathering last week, and his body language read just like it had.

He was bored. Of me. Of this, of the music, of my passion and pride. And then he blinked, once, twice, and finally looked at me, directly, and then I realized that the entire hall was silent, that the music had stopped.

I had stopped playing.

-

There's a quote that I remember, from one of the comic books that he loved and shared with me, involving an exchange between Shakespeare and the lord of Dreams. Shakepeare makes a comment about his son dying, and how while he was sad, a part of him was also happy at having finally experienced true grief, and being able to write it properly in his plays.

I understand that now, keenly, in a way that I never had, before. That broken, failed solo was a catalyst, and I fell into music like I never had. The notes, the phrases, the movements became more than just melodies and harmonies, but instead expressions, of fear and pain and, yes, joy and happiness.

I started interpreting the pieces, feeling them out and improvising on them where before I had always stuck to the pure notes on the page. I still did, sometimes, but depending on my mood I would add flourishes, I would shorten long pauses, or start just a bit sooner, adding a bit of excitement to what I was playing.

I stopped reading the music and started truly feeling the music.

-

There was a piano bar that the two of us used to go to, one that we liked for both the drinks and the ambience. One of the draws was that they brought in a live musician every Thursday for about an hour, and the performer could play whatever they wanted. We had spent almost every Thursday evening there, sharing drinks and memories, edging closer and closer as the night drew on.

I had sent them tapes some time ago, but they had rejected them then, without any commentary. On a whim, I sent them some of my newer tapes, and to my surprise, they asked me to come in, as they had an opening that Thursday due to a cancellation.

I stood there, saying a few words about who I was and what I did, and then caught a familiar pair of blue eyes, a sight of the wild hair that I hadn’t run my hands through in months. I don’t stare at him for more than a moment, turning away, looking at the others, running through the rest of my remarks, smiling, and heading to the bar.

I sit, smooth my dress, and say the title of the piece before I play. And then I fall into the music.

A middle E, a chord, and the melody starts flowing. And I play a piece I’ve been writing for years now, about a boy and a girl, about a musician who cared about her music more than anything else and the boy she fell in love with. I play their meeting, their courtship, their relationship and their eventual downfall, and I smile and I frown and I know that this performance is for everyone but it’s for one person, especially, a person who fell asleep on me once because I was playing the music instead of feeling the music.

I approach the coda, look at the sheet music, and then pause, for a moment, before I start.

"How does it end?" his voice calls out, into the silence — but this time, it's an expectant silence, instead of a discordant one.

I answer him by finishing the song, though not quite with what’s written on paper. Instead, I follow what I feel as the piano blurs, and I play a slow, lilting melody, a bit uncertain, a bit unsure, ever hopeful.



---

This was an intersection with the amazing and talented [livejournal.com profile] m1ss1ngcupcake, who just awesome to write with. Her entry can be read here: http://m1ss1ngcupcake.livejournal.com/3837.html.
talonkarrde: (winter)
She pivots, weightless, and then springs off of the bulkhead behind her. The red lights are flashing through the ship, and in some corner of her mind, she wonders at the rotational cycle of the twirling. She quickly ignores it, though, focusing on the more pressing matter: not dying.

A micrometeorite shower was most likely, she thought, given the numerous failures all at once, all across the small scout ship. Otherwise, the path was clear and the radar would've woken her about any larger objects that would've intersected with her. But it was all academic now, honestly. Three out of four of the maneuvering thrusters were dead, and the life support system was on emergency.

Still, as she sealed off all of the rooms, one by one, she realized that it could be worse. There was still power, even if some of the lines had been sheared, and there was still life support, as minimal as it was. She calmed her breathing, looking at the screens, and then dismissed the alarms. She would do inventory, and then—

And then the world spun, and she was slammed into the 'ceiling', and then the floor, and dully realized that a rib was broken from the sharp stabbing in her chest, as the ship spun about her and she grabbed for something, anything. The warning lights came back on, by themselves, announcing a loss of pressure, and she fell back to the deck as the ship stabilized. She understood, through the haze of pain: a meteor hit, probably, shearing the ship in half, unseen because the short range scanners must have failed. Her first thought was to assess the damages, but then she looked down and realized, dully, that the broken rib was protruding from her chest, white with specks of red.

I'm going to die, she thinks, and her training can't override the fact that she can literally trace one of the bones of her body, that she sees the insides of herself and there's no one within a hundred million light years and the pressure's failing and life support is gone and-

And then, slowly, surely, she starts crawling, hitching, shoving non-responsive mass towards the hibernation platform. It wouldn't stay up for long if the power died, but it was that or bleed to death.

Every inch, every jerk causes a lance of fire in her, causes her breath to become more and more labored, causes a wetness on her lips and on her chest and a fogginess in her brain, but she doesn't stop, even as her brain tells her that there is really nothing left, that she should just let the fogginess take her.

But she doesn't.

She doesn't.

And as the warning bells start to announce that the pressure loss was overcoming the compensation, she drags herself into the pod, curling up inside, gasping and crying and spitting out blood, and she closes the hatch, activates the cycle, as the dark takes over.

.

The broken piece of the ship spins on, lights flickering, still on some semblance of its original trajectory, towards a small marble light years away, a blue and green planet with a singular moon.
talonkarrde: (winter)
He dips his pen in the inkwell one last time, once, twice, before finally writing the words, Love, Sam. Then he blows on the paper, watching the ink settle, and finally folds it up, slipping it into an envelope which he places in his jacket.

Outside, a horn blares and Sam comes out of the tent, heading towards the gathering. A high ranking officer stands there, and the hubbub of the assembled quiets as the man starts to speak. It is a speech about war, about victory, about fighting for the right side and making sacrifices, and Sam has heard enough speeches like it to tune it out, watching the beautiful radiant dawn, instead.

Some of the men around him don't tune it out; he sees it in their eyes: the eagerness, the excitement, the hope for a chance to prove themselves. But Sam's eyes don't reflect that same hope; he's seen the red insides of a man spill out after a brutal bayoneting, seen too many empty eyes that stared sightlessly into the sky after battles about 'courage' and 'freedom'.

He says nothing and simply stands there, waiting for the actual briefing to come after the morale-boosting speech is over. Eventually it does, and he starts to realize that it's worse than he — or anyone — thought. They had been in a few fights already, a few scrapes, but this was different.

The enemy has moved to surround us from all sides during the night; they have a larger force that has cut our reinforcements off, and they will be on us soon...

Now he sees that hope in some of the mens' eyes flicker, as they slowly realize that 'victory' here means inflicting many casualties before they are almost certainly overrun and killed. He sees small shakes, small rapid blinks as they realize there will be no warm welcome, that they'll return home in caskets instead of astride war stallions.

And then he sees something else — the hope flickers, dies, but is replaced by something else — resolve, a steely clench of the fists, a gritting of the teeth.

Not a man looks afraid, and Sam realizes that the officer is better than he thought. But more than that, he realizes this: if he is to die, he would be proud to die by these men, these brothers in arms who have lived and bled next to him, these soldiers who make no complaint when their chances for survival disappear.

Sam almost says something then, though he doesn't know quite what it would be. He raises an arm into the air, and some turn to him, but an explosion cuts everything short. A shell lands in the middle of the men gathered, it becomes a messy, bloody battle quickly, with enemies on all sides and their forces unprepared.

And yet, nowhere does Sam see a man run. They fight, even with fingers, arms, legs blown off, they still fight. The enemy forces close in around them, and they still fight. There is no hope, and they still fight.

Suddenly, there's an opening in the melee — a position that the enemy isn't watching, a horse left idle and ready to run. Sam sees a way out, a way to escape the bloodbath, to slink into the woods, to save his life.

For a second, he thinks about taking it; once, before a fortnight of battles, he would've done it without second thought, and found his way back to his wife and baby boy.

But now, scarcely a few weeks later, he doesn't give it a second glance, instead simply turning to raise his gun to confront another attacker, save another one of his brothers, fight for one more second.
talonkarrde: (winter)
There are mathematical patterns in everything; even us, I say, as crazy as that sounds. And I know she's the one because she laughs when I say that, and kisses me on the cheek.

But I mean every word, every phrase, and I believe it in the same way that I believe the proofs that my work is founded on. She doesn't see it, yet, but I do.

-

We met for the first time in high school, where I was the awkward, nerdy math student that had comically large glasses and she was the shy, nerdy fantasy and science-fiction reader. We were in all the honors and IB classes together, but, owing to our adolescence and the pressure of others, we never exchanged too many words.

We both orbited the sun, but were on vastly different orbits — until one of our mutual friends prodded me to ask her to prom. It was silly, I remember thinking, because prom wasn't even something I was interested in going to. And yet, something struck me, and I gathered up my courage and asked her one day, after class.

I recall her taking her nose out of a Tamora Pierce novel to look at me, push her glasses up, and then coolly, calmly, tell me no.

-

That moment was the first point on this chart; whereas before we might have been two lines on different planes, something changed. It wasn't immediate, and it wasn't clear, but it was present. And observing it here, I can take my finger and trace the arc of our paths to where they would cross again.

-

The second point was almost at the end of college; we had gone to different schools but were both back for the summer. I went to the library one day, looking for something to read, and was pretty much on autopilot until checking out.

She told me me later that I was actually fully on autopilot, and didn't even recognize her, though she was the one checking out my books. She didn't say anything at first, waiting to see if I would recognize her, and only spoke up when it became very apparent that I didn't, and wouldn't.

We said hi to each other, of course, but didn't have that much time to catch up, as there were others behind me. But she was always more aware than I was, and added a book to my pile and slipped her phone number into it. I was so oblivious, I didn't even realize there was an extra book until I was halfway through it, and found her note.

Ted Chiang, it was, The Lifecycle of Software Objects. It's on our bookshelf now, dog-eared and worn after a thousand readings, often out loud, to each other.

-

It's strange, to think of how far we had come in that short amount of time, and how it would've failed if we had done things earlier. I think of the two of us as variables that slowly crystallized into ones that fit this particular equation, two spirals that met and met again until they merged.

-

It was gradual, really, like the end of an asymptotic slope. There were movie dates and kisses in the rain and all of the other things that people did normally. There were calls from across the continent, and sometimes across the world and too many time zones, and there were occasional fights and misunderstandings, of course.

Above it all, though, there was simply comfort. Shared joys and shared pains, and snuggles after dinner and hugs in the morning. She moved in, and there was some adjustment, and then it was like we had lived together all our lives. We were engaged, and then we were married, and it was simply right.

We learned from each other, and grew towards each other, and while we always had our separate interests, we also enjoyed what the other did. I learned to fall into the stories of far off lands and distant stars; she learned to see the beauty in Euler's identity and Einstein's equations.

She is truly the love of my life, and I hers.

-

I was never one to believe in destiny or fate; but viewing our lifetimes and movements, there is an undeniable rhythm to it, a frequency, a certain curve to our interactions. We touched once, and then again years later, and more and frequently after that. It really is two spirals meeting — and to a mathematician, the question is, what happens when the spiral comes to a point?

For a long time, I wondered, but I have my answer, now:

She came home one day, beaming with joy, and all of a sudden, I see the endpoint of the spirals, see what all of our time together has come to.

A new line comes out of our joined paths, and I can't wait to see what shape it will take, what the future holds for our child.
talonkarrde: (winter)
Our advance scout met in theirs in the space beyond the Kuiper belt.

First contact.

It was recorded for history as a crazy dance of sorts, the ships posturing and moving around each other, jockeying for position without firing a shot, waiting for the other guy to act first. We were ready to, of course, and they must have been as well – but somehow, first contact didn't end in bloodshed and warfare, despite the many stories of science fiction and many plans of our generals.

Of course, after we had settled that we weren't going to immediately kill each other, it got rougher. After some time fruitlessly trying to decipher their communications, we set up a meeting on Eros, one of our more outermost (and thus disposable) space stations. Since we had no real way of talking to them, we ended up miming what we wanted, by bringing our initial scout ship towards them and then slowly going back and forth to the station, getting closer to Eros each time.

It looked a bit like a dog trying to get his master to fetch a bone, but it worked.

Eventually, they started to maneuver their fleet towards our station. We learned a lot in the movement of their ships and the fact that they brought a shuttle from one of their larger ones to dock at the station instead of using the scout ship — convergent evolution was the phrase of the hour, as the scientists and generals agreed that they had very similar technological and social structures as us.

And then they came out of their ships, and it was really first contact.

-

My xenobiology students often ask me what it was like, being in the room when they came in.

The first thing I say is that there was no way to dodge the fact that, well, they were crabs, essentially. Giant, monstrous crabs that stood on one end, vaguely bilaterally symmetrical, with eye stalks. And, of course, the claws. Those immediately drew your attention, and drew uncomfortable parallels in being able to crush things in the same way that we use nut crackers one might find at, say, Red Lobster, on their much smaller cousins.

They had an unsettling habit of slowly clicking them together, but in a way that always made you wonder if they were imagining you in between those claws as they brought them together. Even their guards, with guns wrapped around their claws, did that too, in a way that seemed ripe for accidental discharge. It didn't happen, though, at least not in the hour that we spent together.

After everyone was arranged correctly — soldiers to the back, diplomats and linguists to the front — the 'talks' started.

And they started out cordial, but inevitably grew more and more tense as time passed. It should've been expected, in retrospect, given that it was essentially teaching a baby language, except that the baby might, at any time, snap and kill you. We would try and demonstrate an action and then put words to it, and they did the same with a repetoire of clicks, but it didn't seem like we had enough commonalities of experience to establish any breakthroughs. We didn't get any clear repetitions, and none of our reproduced clicks seemed to trigger any of them.

Greg, one of the Stanford linguists, slammed the table at something, and then threw his hands in the air in frustration.

And quick as a shot, before we could respond, one of the aliens — 'Clickers', we termed them — reached across the table with his claw and took off Greg's arm.

Greg stared down at his stump, blinked, said oh shit, and everything went to hell.

-

No one really asks about the months of war that followed. Even though it's quite well documented, it just doesn't seem like people care to explore the aftermath. We had to respond, of course, and our marines opened fire, and then theirs did. There was plenty of death that day, though most of us got away from the room, and Eros, before the fleets started exchanging blows. The weeks that followed were filled with more than enough casualties, though, as their counteroffensive swept across the Earth, costing us Bordeaux, Denver, and Venice, among others.

The students all skip over that — some because they were too young, some because they lived through it and don't care to see it from my point of view. Instead, they ask about the 'E.T. Moment', as many now call it, though it smacks of a cultural centrism that I strongly try and discourage. And yet, it's a useful lens to see through and evaluate what happened.

Five months and a day after first contact, one of their ships came from Neptune, where they had set up positions, towards our airspace. Our military trained our weapons on it, of course, but it did something curious.

It started self-destructing, module at a time. First the weapons, then the engines, then the maneuvering thrusters, until it became no more than a metal-box, albeit with life-support.

Instead of firing on it, the brass decided that was curious enough to send a team to board, and I got the honor, as one of the academics that had been in the original party, to try and figure out what it was meant at. We approached the ship, now drifting in orbit around the moon, and latched on. The marines cut open our own entrance (instead of using theirs, fearing it trapped) and found a group of the clickers inside.

They were unarmed, and with what we thought was a curious mutation, at first — each one of their right arms was somewhat smaller than their left, though all were different sizes.

Some of the students get it right as I say that. I didn't, though, until they demonstrated.

You see, one of them clicked briefly and took one claw in the other. And then, slowly, crushingly, it severed its own arm. And then they lined up, slowly — the one that had just performed this act of mutilation was on the left, while the other ones beside him each had a right claw that got bigger as we looked down the line.

I'm sure you all see it now. There was no 'touch', as the media likes to make allusions to, and no one falling on their knees and crying or cursing, as the movie that came out portrays. There was just a quiet understanding of what they meant when they had acted those months ago, and a demonstration of why.

We understood, and provided them passage back to their ships as we started trying to learn their language again. It wouldn't bring back those who had died, but it meant that no one else would die.

-

The lesson that I try and teach my students is that there will be more of those events in the future: we're not alone in the universe, and if we respond to every misunderstanding as an act of war, we will be driven to extinction, sooner or later. We must defend ourselves, yes, but we must first try and understand what is an attack, and what is not.
talonkarrde: (winter)
Even now, it is a knife stabbing, pushing, twisting. A wrenching, gut-churning phantom pain, one that I suspect will never fade.

Even now, sitting here six years after our first emails to each other, three years after we broke up, a year since we last saw each other.

Even now, three thousand miles from where most of our memories were made and used and wasted, I still sit here and wonder, dream, hope.

Don't you?

-

I'm never prepared for how sudden it hits you. It's always sitting there, just out of sight, just behind your left shoulder, waiting for an opportunity.

One moment, everything's right as rain, all systems are green, nothing's wrong, and then you see something and the world turns ever so slightly and—



—and now you're sitting back, taking deep breaths, trying to steady yourself, trying to figure out why it felt like someone just punched you, why you have tears in your eyes, why you're gritting your teeth and balling your hands into fists and staring at nothing.

It's something, anything: an old stuffed animal, a doppleganger on the street, a laugh you can't identify, a story, an email that I keep starred even though I'll never respond to it. What would I say in a reply to this email, six months, one year, three years old now?

What hasn't been said already?

-

It's like falling into black hole, almost. When the memory triggers, you start to remember, and you're already past the event horizon; you're already well and truly fucked. A instinctive click or an wayward thought releases the moments that you've kept locked up so carefully behind those neatly maintained walls, but now they're flooding you, overpowering you, drowning you.

How do you stop that? How do you dodge a feeling, triggered by an errant glance, smell, sound, one that gives you no warning? How do you resist whipping your head around so fast you crack your neck, only to find... nothing. Not what you hoped, the blind hope, the hope—

—that comes from love.

You don't dodge it, I don't think. You don't get used to it. You simply sit there, and sink a bit into yourself as the memories pour forth, overwhelming your neat, orderly life that doesn't have any mention or thought or room of her until it does, at which point it takes over everything and laughs at your feeble defenses, your poor constructs.

If you're lucky, the memories fade; it happens less and less often.

Not everyone is lucky.

-

We last spoke at length in late 2011, almost two years ago now.

We said plenty but listened more, and quietly shared a few hours together, away from the world. We gave each other gifts of words, of thoughts, of memories, and then we signed off, and went back to our separate lives.

I told her I loved her then, two years after we had broken up; I still do, today.

In a Hollywood romance, we would have declared each other our true loves and ridden off into the sunset, perhaps with an 'as you wish,' uttered. We both loved The Princess Bride, of course.

But you know as well as I do that Hollywood sells dreams, not reality.

-

And yet...

And yet, what we had isn't diminished for the fact that we aren't together now. While I miss the future that could have been, I treasure even more the past that was.

Even with the pain and regret that strikes so suddenly, so sharply, even after wishing there were more lovely, fantastic stories we wrote together and sweet, quiet moments we shared together — there's something else here too, a feeling that may be less forceful but is more constant, even everpresent.

"I know I was happy to spend time with you, but I don't know what we accomplished together other than to build castles in the sky and make each other happy with our mutual love of discovering new treasures: writing, art, music, and romance."

She wrote that to me. It came after something happy, and it came before something sad, and I think it was meant to be almost doubtful, a transition, intended or not.

But to me, building castles in the sky, discovering and sharing treasures of writing and art and music and romance — there is nothing that I would rather do in this world, and nothing I would rather do with the person I love.

And to think, we had years together like that.

And so, yes, I see stories that remind me of her and they tear at me sometimes, but they also remind me that I would not have read as much without her. They remind me that I would not have known as much without her. And more than anything, they remind me that I would not have loved as I did, without her.

-

I don't know if she'll ever read these words, but I know she understands how I feel. In a way, I'm simply summarizing six years of a friendship, of a brief but wonderful relationship, and those summaries aren't needed for those who lived it, are they?

But you, dear reader, you who are reading these words — if there is someone with whom you have spent time building castles in the sky, let them know. Let them know, and no matter what happens, treasure those moments you had and those dreams you shared.

And if there isn't someone who you've found, yet, I hope that they come soon, and you share those loves and those discoveries, those giddy moments and those quiet ones, and you remember them for the rest of your life.
talonkarrde: (winter)
They sleep uneasily, tossing and turning as they have nightmares of the waking world, nightmares which pursue them even in their rest. Every so often, one of them wakes, shifting and shuddering, and I kneel beside the lad to reassure him that all is safe and the enemy is not yet at our gates.

It is a lie, but it is one that eases their sleep. It is a trade I am willing to make, daily, though my thoughts wander sometimes, and I wish there was one to do the same for me.

Six months ago, we were fighting an even war, one where our cannons and men numbered just as many as theirs and we all believed we had a good chance of winning. But six months ago was before we were handed miserable defeats left and right — Vicksburg, Chattanooga, Farragut; there was no battleground that favored us, it seemed. Almost all were total routs, with the loss of twenty or thirty thousand men in each seventy-two hour bloodbath. And then they pushed us back, and back, until we were deep within our own land, and some of the men already knew their houses were burned and towns ransacked.

The boys in blue who chase us are the wolf who has gotten his fangs on the doe's haunch. They pursue us with such a vigour that we are always but one step before his slavering jaws. Worse, we are three hundred against their thousand, and any mistake will be our last.

It's almost dawn, and I slip off to my own tent to grab the two hours of sleep that must carry me through the day. The enemy will not attack tonight, it appears, and I must be ready for when they do.

-

Four hours later, they catch us, but we are ready for them. Though one the scouts I had sent out is missing, the other saw the advance prepared and got word to us in time. We could've run, but this was a good place to make a stand.

As the blue lines advances on us from across the field, our men ready themselves. Our central line stands at the edge of the forest, ready to receive theirs, but we are also concealed on both sides and will pay back each shot with three of ours.

The battle starts, with the sharp crack of muskets and, quickly, the screams of the dying. The smoke builds, curling around the leaves, but it looks that our strategy is working; for every man we lose, we are making them pay more than triple.

It doesn't last.

Cannon fire changes everything as it rips through men and trees alike, rendering our natural cover useless. Under the sharp booms, the blue line advances and our losses climb. The tide turns.

My men are disciplined, though, and none of them run, even as trees explode around them and the hail of gunfire increases. But to stay is to die in vain, and I will not allow that.

I sound the whistle, which is repeated across the line, and we leave more of our own behind, denying them the burial they deserve. I can only hope that the enemy grants them that honor, as we would — and have — for their fallen.

Five miles away, on brisk run to put more distance between us and them, I wonder at what drives us to feed the grass with so much of our blood. Thousands have been left in makeshift mass graves, or worse, simply left for the crows, and now more my own lie among them.

-

That night, another hundred miles away, we mourn the men we lost and eat meagre rations and scraps in silence, mostly. But we do not all mourn in the same way. There is one, a plucky sergeant, who speaks with fire and courage — the fire of youth and the courage of whisky.

"If only we had two hundred more men, and a cannon or three, lieutenant. We would've completely destroyed them! We were taking down five men for every one of ours!"

I almost remind him of what it means — for every man we lost, a total of six fathers, brothers, or sons didn't make it home to their families — but one of the older sergeants jumps in before I do.

"Yes, and if only we had better guns, maybe we'd be able to shoot them from distant mountains! Maybe if we had better boots, we wouldn't be freezing! If we had better food, we wouldn't be starving! If we had wings—"

I raise a hand, and he quiets, drawing back. For a moment, I simply stare into the fire, gathering my wits and my words.

"We fight with what we can, gentlemen, and we will fight whether we have one gun or three hundred, and we do not throw our lives away. Seventy two men laid down their lives today, fighting against a superior foe. Can someone tell me why?"

"Because they knew that their sacrifice wasn't going to be in vain," someone new calls out, and I turn to face him — a private, but older, with the lines from many winters etched on his face. "They trusted that you would use their lives well, and that you will beat back the Union from our lands."

"That we will," I correct him, "As long as Providence is wth us, we will indeed win the day."

I wonder at my own words, though, even as the others nod. If Providence were with us, the Union would have left us alone when we declared our own independence. And yet, I dare not voice these thoughts, not now, when the men need encouragement, not doubt.

The reward for not voicing them, it seeems, is Providence demonstrating that He is indeed on our side: the missing scout returns, rushing to our gathering and bringing with him news of the Union overextending in their desire to catch our force, leaving some of their artillery pieces and extra calvary horses very lightly guarded.

It is an opportunity we can not pass up, though it will mean a long, hard march through the night, and worse, a bloody, bloody tomorrow. But my duty is to my men, first, before it is to all men, and I sound the call to move.

-

Battle is joined the next day at noon, on a two hills and the valley between. The sky was a beautiful sapphire in the morning, though now the storm clouds gather and turn the sky a dark grey, as if they know what is to happen and refuse to let the sun see.

Once again, the ground starts to run red with blood and the peaceful silence is punctured by the screams of the dying.

Our remaining troops have been split, and sixty men are with me as we ride forward on stolen horses and drag long cannons behind us. Some from the Yankee forces see us, but with our also-stolen uniforms, they don't suspect a thing as we set up in position.

In the heat of battle, when bullets are flying back and forth and the collective smoke from the rifles starts to obscure your vision, it is often hard to know exactly where the shots are coming from. There is a chaos that must be fought off as much as any enemy force, a chaos that grows exponentially when unexpected events occur.

We set up the five cannons close — close enough to fire through their lines, instead of simply at them, even though it means we will be open to the counterattack. The men look to me, and after a long moment, I nod.

The cannons roar and the first volley takes down no less than fifty men, ripping through the neat lines of their left flank. Our calvary force charges towards the right, and the enemy breaks and scatters as we hit them from behind. They run forward, only to be mowed down by our forces on the hill, who turn their attention to the other side as they see the calvary. They charge down towards the remnants of the enemy's left side, now one third of what it was before, with most disoriented or wounded, the rest dead.

What was their attempt at an easy victory turns into a massacre as we break both of their flanks and surround their center force on all sides, with our cannons continuing to fire into the mass of bodies. We've killed more than four hundred, and every passing moment another enemy falls. We have lost men too, but we have every advantage.

And yet, they fight on.

After ten minutes, they finally understand where the largest threat is coming from and start to charge the cannons, but by then, it's too late, and our force is in position all around them, breaking the charge before it gets twenty feet and killing a score of men, some struck multiple times before they have a chance to fall.

For ten more minutes, the steady boom of fire and crack of rifles continues as we shoot at every movement we see, and it truly is a massacre.

There is still no white flag, and they still keep shooting, even surrounded, even in a hopeless position. Give up, I plead silently, surrender and walk away with your lives.

They do not hear it, though, and they continue to look out, shoot, and inevitably die. There are fewer and fewer shots from them as time passes, and eventually, none and no movement.

The rain starts, slowly washing away our sins, and I call for a cease-fire. We approach the ridge from all sides, stepping over some bodies torn in two and others where it seems like they are only sleeping, and we search for survivors.

There are a few, though they are wounded, and I kneel besides the most lucid I find, and resist the urge to shake him as I ask the question that bothers me the most.

"Why? Why didn't you surrender?"

He coughs, a wet cough, and a red trail appears at the corner of his mouth.

"We were fighting for our homes, greyback. You burned them, months ago, when you came over the border, and you kept burning them as you went. Only after Chattanooga did you retreat, and by then, many of the men didn't have any homes left to go to, so we pursued you, and would pursue you to hell and beyond."

He tries to spit, though it simply trickles down his lips, and then is silent.

I turn, silent as well, and walk away.

-

We have orders to return to defend the capital immediately, but I will disobey those orders and accept the consequences; I have something more important to do, first. I, and anyone that wishes to join me, will spend the next few days burying the fallen, all of them, side by side, as brothers who fought to defend their homes from an invader.

We will erect a monument, a cairn, so that world will know of the men that have consecrated this land and never forget what they did here. And then, only then, will we move on.
talonkarrde: (winter)
Let me paint you a picture, dear reader, of the world as it exists today.

You're sitting there in your comfortable office chair, or maybe curled up wtih your laptop in bed, or maybe reading this from a phone while waiting for a bus. You opened up a browser and browsed around before getting to ljidol, you looked at the poll, you started clicking through to the posts, and here you are.

Someone out there — yes, maybe the NSA — knows everything you just did.

Welcome to the world of tomorrow, ladies and gentlemen, the world of a big-data surveillance state.

What happened, exactly?

Well, most recently, you clicked on this link and it wasn't encrypted. All the information is sent in the clear and available for anyone to access, including someone sitting on your wifi, some hacker with a keylogger, or some government agent who doesn't even need to have probable cause anymore. And it's not just because some NSA closet exists somewhere and is reading all traffic, though that's possible — this is just how data is stored today.

Here are the links in the chain:

Your ISP is the first step, for they are the ones that assign you your IP address are the first ones to be subpoenaed. They identify you at your home address, all the sites you've ever gone to, and how long you spent at those websites.

Going mobile? No problem; we've seen how eager Verizon, AT&T, and the others are willing to give over subscriber information. You're not any safer using your cell phone or tethering than you are with good old cable internet.

And after all that information on your browsing is revealed, the site itself can be served with a subpoena, search warrant, order, (or national security letter or FISA order) revealing what data you store there, what your emails are, what private messages you've sent, which files you store, what's in thsoe.

Oh, and for the sake of completeness, there are also third-party cookies and trackers, and entire companies and industries dedicated around the use of them to figure out which sites you like and loiter at and which you 'bounce' off of.

It would've been unthinkable ten years ago, wouldn't it — an entire industry that works around the idea of figuring out where you shop and what you buy? Can you imagine the outrage if snail mail coupons had small beacons which told some mysterious company (that you never had any contact with) when you opened up an envelope and read a letter?

And yet, that's the world of today, and no one blinks an eye.

-

...Well, I guess that's not strictly true.

No one blinks an eye until someone comes forward and tells the world what the United States government has the capaibilty of doing, even as damage control immediately starts.

No one blinks an eye until a whistleblower stands up and says, this is wrong, and releases a powerpoint slide showing just how deep government access goes, just how closely you are being watched.

No one blinks an eye until someone, at great personal risk to themselves, points out how much the world has changed from ten years ago, and what the rules are now.

I know something of surveillance, and technology, and the fourth amendment. It's a large part of what I do at work, on a day to day basis, and all I want to say is this:

Liberty and security are not incompatible, and anyone who says otherwise has a vested interest in depriving you of one or the other. It is difficult, yes, but there has been a balance through history that has only been upset recently, in the last decade.

So I raise a glass tonight to Edward Snowden, the man who has spoken out against the incredible lengths that our government goes to today to watch us. And I remind you that if a surveillance state is not one you want to live in, we all must fight it, whether it's supporting the EFF, writing our lawmakers, or simply staying aware and spreading awareness to those around us.

Good night, and good luck.
talonkarrde: (winter)

In our dreams, we fight these battles again and again, and make the invaders pay for every drop of blood that they've spilled.

In our dreams, we take back the lands that are ours and then we strike a peace, one that is not broken for generations.

In our dreams... even in our dreams, our victories are fleeting. In the waking world they linger for only moments before we remember who we are and where we are. We know what foolishness it would be to act on these dreams, and so we do nothing.

The wild stallion must be trained before it can be ridden; the invaders speak of it as 'breaking' the spirit of the horse.

In our dreams, we gallop across the plains as we once did.

-


There are those who say that this is the a trickster god punishing us, or that this is an evil omen but we will rise again if we listen to the signs, or that their God is more mighty and we should worship Him.

But I do not believe any of those things. I've seen that they can be beaten, just as we can; they bleed the same blood we do and die just as easily to knives and guns. There are simply more of them, and they will not share their land, and so there can only be conflict.

And there was, for decades.

Years ago, every man and woman took up bow and horse, and then musket and cannon against the invaders. We learned from them and our allies and we fought for our lands, for our lives. But for every victory, we were handed ten defeats; every warrior we lost was one father that would not be there to teach his child, while our enemy were as numerous as the trees in the forest, as the stars in the sky. Even when we agreed on a peace, it did not last — it never lasted more than a few years before they were at our doors again, with guns or worse, false gifts.

Eventually, we realized what it meant. We stopped fighting the all-consuming wildfire and simply retreated from it as it burned the lands that our ancestors were raised on, the lands that were our children's right. We ran, we melded into the forest, we were determined that they would never find us. It worked, for the longest time, for we knew the forest better than they, and knew how to remain hidden even in plain sight.

But to run forever requires land to run on, forever, and eventually we came to the ocean, the vast, unyielding ocean, and we can not run across the water.

-


They will find us here, too, and that will be the end; they will triumph, and we will fall, and perhaps no one will ever know that we existed.

talonkarrde: (winter)
They say that with hindsight, you should be able to see the stress lines, the miniature fractures, the spiderweb of cracks...

...but I don't. Not after a hundred times of replaying us in my mind, from beginning to end, all six months. I run through the moments we shared, those glittering memories with razor blade edges, and no matter how hard I try, I can't come up with an explanation.

It was perfect.

And then it was over.

A week before, we had gone out to dinner and danced the night away.

I remember her fingers toying with my hair, her arms on my shoulders, and leaning in, cheek to cheek, whispering how happy I was and how I had made the right choice to move.

It had been across the country, Seattle to New York, leaving everything I had ever known behind.

I remember every word, every touch, every kiss. I told her just how much she meant to me and how it was worth it, completely, absolutely.

I remember her nails down my back, her mouth on my neck, her fingers on my lips.

-

It was a candlelit dinner, topped off with a bottle from Bordeaux, something fancy for us to enjoy. It started as a quiet celebration, a moment together, a reaffirmation of everything we were.

It ended with a jagged, serrated string of words that gutted me from neck to belly, leaving me bleeding while she watched, dispassionate. Clinical.

"...because you just aren't it, that's why," she says to me, calmly, inspecting her nails as my world ends.

I say something, I think, and something else, words and phrases and protestations and graspings at a collapsing mirage.

She reaches up to me, one finger dark with wine, and I caught her instinctively, before she reaches my lips but then what? I am frozen, unable to move, to think, to do anything but breathe.

Numbly, blindly, I find her palm and I press my lips to it, one second, two, pressing my life, my love into her skin.

I left it there.

And then I'm gone, gone from the pieces of my life and future scattered over that table, that couch, that bed.

Gone from that world.



---

The other side of this intersection is [livejournal.com profile] fourzoas' Chillin' Like a Villain, which you should absolutely read.
talonkarrde: (Default)
What do I do? I make my living as an Elvis-impersonator.

In a way, it feels like you’re profiting off people that don’t quite have all their marbles, yanno? You put on some makeup, some glitz, you go out there to the dance halls and the weddings and sing some off-key lines that they’ve heard a million times, and they pay you good money for it. And you don’t even have to be perfect: the second you start looking like what they imagine the King to be, they ignore all the imperfections, the extra ten pounds here, the stubble he didn’t have there, the bad hairdo and the cheap clothes you bought from a Halloween place

It’s sort of a weird feeling, let me tell you, when people pay money just to see you be someone else. When they call you by a name that isn’t your own, when they scream for you and claim they’re your biggest fans and that you never died. Those ones are creepy, when they think you (and every other impersonator out there) is the real deal.

But it’s their nostalgia, and it makes them happy, so who am I to judge what they want? It’s a free market society and all that, and if there’s demand, then there should be supply to meet it. I’m just givin’ the people what they want, and I’m not harming anyone. I’m just playing my - well, his - music, and singing my heart out, and giving chicks snappy lines.

And I have to say, there are times when I’m beltin’ out those lyrics, right, and I really do feel like the King, like his spirit is moving through me, and it’s just magical. Sometimes, it stays after, and I just stay in my costume - they feel so natural on me those times - and walk down the streets, doing what he’d do. Because it’s what I’d do, you know? I’m him, in a way, carrying on like he would, and I really think that his spirit touches me. Like we’re linked, and all that.

I mean, if you think about it, what’s to say that he didn’t pass onto the next world and then come back, living in people like me? Sometimes, I ask chicks to call out Elvis when they’re in bed with me, because, man, it gives me such a rush, and--

Wait, wait. You’re not recording this, right?
talonkarrde: (Default)
She hates her job sometimes, and now is legitimately one of those times.

-

"...engage immediately with the Egyptian people in implementing needed economic, political, and social reforms"

-

Her gaze passes over the wall of pictures, where she has the victory shots from the key times of her career. There are pictures of her shaking hands with President Mubarak of Egypt, presenting a trade agreement to Sultan Qabus ibn Sa'id of Oman, and even enjoying golf with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. As the ambassador-at-large for the middle east, she's met and negotiated with all of royalty and rulers, and the figures hanging on the hall illustrate not onlythe key players in the region, but also the warm relationship they share.

She looks at the pictures often, thinking about all the incredible diplomatic victories they've pulled off — and, with some regret, the near misses — but they give her less pleasure now than they used to, especially now.

She flips on the TV — MSNBC, at first, and then switches to Fox, and then CNN — and starts listening to the media drone on and on about topics that the 'experts' know little to nothing about; she watches as they casually, carelessly, make the State department's jobs so much harder. She finally sets it to BBC, and wonders for a brief moment when it was that America stopped producing news and started importing it — like everything else, her cynical self adds.

And then she goes back to staring at the picture of President Mubarak, and wondering how the hell they got into this situation. Oh, right. Diplomats never predict change. Given the situation in Egypt for the past thirty years, change was unlikely, so every day, the cables said the same thing. 'The police torture, the people are unemployed, and life will be as it was yesterday'.

-

"...the imperative for reform and greater openness and participation to provide a better future for all."

-

Until, of course, Tunisia happened, and the protests stated, and life was not like it was yesterday.

And now she gets to write the statement, the one that the SecState would probably read, the one that has to be the strongest response couched in the most diplomatic language — and essentially, gave Mubarak a free pass on, well, everything. Because if it's too harsh and Mubarak retains power, the United States loses. If it supports him too much and the protestors win, the United States loses.

She wonders for a moment, when her job changed to making statements that meant nothing, full of lofty ideals that would never get followed. And then she writes, because someone still has to do it, because those phrases may still mean something to someone, somewhere.

-

"They need to view civil society as their partner, not as a threat."
talonkarrde: (Default)
I slammed him up against the wall, smiling grimly as I saw him grimace in pain.

“What the hell did you think you were doing, Jason?” I snarled. “You’re just like your goddamn namesake; making friends with the locals like that is going to get us killed. They just lie to you and get into your base and then blow you to kingdom come. You’re gonna get the platoon killed, and then what?”

He twisted, trying to get some leverage. I let him almost wiggle free, and then grabbed his shirt with both hands, jerked him forward, and slammed him into the wall again. This time, he stayed.

“So how about you give me a really, really good reason I don’t get you discharged, right now, or better yet, send you into them with nothing but your shirt and pants?” I asked.

He coughed, spitting out some blood, but I didn’t step back. He had almost cost us three of the squad, and I was about to start spilling his entrails across the ground.

“We need to...push limits,” he finally spat out. “We need to engage, and be willing to blink first, and—”

And I cut him off. “When you push limits, you dumb shit, you die. You get others killed. You get taken advantage of by the enemy that wants you to roll over and show your belly. You like that myth bullshit, remember the guy that decided he was hot stuff and got burnt to a crisp by the sun? That’s you, ‘cept you’re taking others with you.”

He coughed again, but somehow, kept going.

“No — what you’re doing is giving people a chance. You're giving them a chance to show that they want peace, and you're giving our guys a chance to showcase that they're not invaders trying to steal the black gold. What you're doing—" another cough "is taking a chance, because sometimes chances have to be taken. Otherwise, people just keep killing each other. You don't want to take chances, fine; I do. If no one ever decided to go for things they think were unattainable, we'd still be living in goddamn huts peeing in a corner."

He shoved at me, suddenly, and I was unprepared, and fell back.

"The United States of America was built on reaching for the stars, damnit, and we did so well we struck down the best military in the world at the time. Don't you dare tell me not to fly for the sun. Yes, it might fail, we might get burned. But that's no reason not to stop trying. It's never a reason not to stop trying."
talonkarrde: (Default)
We were the only ones there after everyone else had pulled out.

Five hundred of us, all different specialties, left to fend for ourselves in the twenty-first century’s most hostile of environments — the Middle East. Force Operations Specific Engagement, Senator Marshall called it, a paradigm which hypothetically meant no more throwing thousands of soldiers at every enemy force. A mother was recorded crying and asking the defense industry why they wanted her son to die and when it hit CNN, the lobbyists quietly backed down; the New Military Engagement Standards Act passed with bipartisan support and was signed into law as fast as the President could get a pen on it.

So instead of having fifty-thousand troops in Iraq, there were five hundred of us. And here’s the thing — when you’re forced to live with the locals, when you interact with them on a day to day basis and can’t just stick with everyone that has fatigues and boots and a rifle, you learn to mesh pretty quickly. And the more you make yourself personable and stop questioning everyone that has a turban one, the less likely they are to hate you. In the five months since FOSE had been implemented, there was a sharp increase in the number of tips we received — IEDs on this and this road, shopkeepers would whisper — and we made it through three months without a single causality.

But it wasn’t all rainbows and puppies, which is why we were still there. We had engagements every day, sometimes multiple times a day; it was just that they were just more targeted. Even though every mission had to be cross-checked to make sure that it was necessary and that there were no errors in the intel, there were still more than enough bad guys that would never let peace happen.

So we did what we had to do.

I received the message at ten a.m. sharp, a sharp double-ping on my phone indicating that it was not a regular text. I checked it and gave Terry and Ryan a thumbs up — it wasn’t until eleven that we needed to be at staging, so at least I could finish breakfast with them. Neither of them looked surprised that they hadn’t gotten a message; in our three months together, only twice had Terry and I been paired together on a squad, and Ryan hadn’t joined us yet, though he had certainly seen his fair share of engagements elsewhere.

“Where?” Terry asked, after a sip of his full-pulp Tropicana — imported orange juice from the States was one of his traditions. If he didn’t get orange juice in the morning, he was a cranky bastard.

“The Canal Hotel,” I said, checking the message again. “Right on Muthana Al-Shabani Street. Tömas will be commanding, it looks like, and they’re calling in four others. Don’t think I’ve worked with any of them.”

Ryan nodded, taking a slice of toast. “Tömas is good — he brought in Al-Umari last year, somewhere in Kandahār, with a team of twelve. Didn’t know he had been reassigned, but you’re in good hands.”

I whistled quietly; the capture of one of the Most Wanted alive was a pretty big sign that the commander was competent and that this was an important mission. “I’ll see you guys after, then?” I asked, and they waved me off. Another tradition - the guy that has an engagement never pays.

My gear was stashed in the armory, the only real centralized structure that still existed, and I collected everything I needed and headed off to the staging ground, a small house two streets away from the Canal Hotel. My gear was carefully hidden in a large rucksack and I took care to blend in with all the other pedestrian traffic, watching the streets as I went.

When I got there, Tömas opened the door and pointed out the other members of the team. Clarence and Borgan, would be on assault, nodded, and Johnson, would be joining me as a long-rifle, came over and shook my hand. Markos stood back; he was on loan from another agency, and had provided the intel.

“We’re here to engage a terrorist target and rescue two hostages that he has taken,” Tömas said. “The target is a subcommander in Hamas; the hostages are two important civilians that for this engagement will remain nameless. Clarence and Borgan be proceeding from the stairs as a western businessman and his partner; Johnson and Rivers, you’ll take the building across the river, Markos, you’ll be stationed in the lobby running interference.”

And that was that - briefing done, we took our places. The detractors to FOSE always said that we could never trust soldiers that weren’t in our unit, but the months following its implementation disproved that — familiarity was good, of course, but absolute competence was better. With only five hundred people that remained, each person was the top of his speciality, and discipline was tighter than ever.

This mission was no difference; the insertion was smooth and the extraction was doubly so. Intel had been spot on about the enemy force composition, and after a few double-taps and two almost simultaneous silenced-rifle shots, the hostages were free and the enemies were down.

“Nice shot,” Johnson said, and I grinned as we packed up our long rifles and rejoined the others.

Mission done, we shook hands and dispersed. We would see each other again, or we wouldn’t, but the important part was that we had come together and gotten the job done cleanly and effectively. It would be on tomorrow’s news or it wouldn’t, but it didn’t matter, because the hostages were free and the enemies were down.

This, I told Terry and Ryan during breakfast the next day, was the future of counterinsurgency: a small force of experts coming together to accomplish a goal, and then going back to living among the people they were there to help.
talonkarrde: (Default)
We waited for too long.

Twenty years ago, in 2006, a professor named William Kliener published an dissertation on the sustainability of population in the early twenty-first century, with very negative findings. When the population hit the ten billion mark, it projected, there simply wouldn’t be enough food produced to sustain the population. Given the rate countries were trading arable land for urban development, the dissertation predicted that there would be chaos and massive shortages in fifty years, barring major advances in the technology of food production and distribution.

CNN and the other media outlets ran it, of course, with statements like ‘Food Shortages Imminent!’ and ‘World Hunger in Fifty Years’, but there were plenty of experts who came on to reject it, claiming that land renewal efforts were going on better than ever and technology would undoubtedly advance to provide for more efficient farming. Some concerned citizens planted fruit trees in their backyards and others made vegetable gardens, but most who cared didn’t even have room to grow a decorative plant, much less have a garden.

In 2017, there was a study commissioned by the government on ‘the sustainability of urban population centers with current agricultural standards’. After six months, the panel was dissolved shortly before their recommendations were to be made; their findings were never released to the public. Around then, the first signs of the troubles happened — luxuries like caviar and alaskan king crab had always been expensive, but everything else suddenly started climbing as well — bread and milk gained twenty cents in two months. There was outrage, of course, and ‘deficiencies in planning’ was the explanation given, with assurances that it would be fixed.

Food prices stabilized for six months before climbing.

In 2020, America quietly started trading food, ton for ton, to anyone that would ship to us. For six years it worked, first with rubber and steel, then manufactured goods, then high end electronics being sent out in a direct trade for food which people had realized was vitally necessary because there simply wasn’t enough produced to support six hundred million people.

In 2028, we found out that Kliener was off by thirty years.

The riots started when the the cargo ships no longer streamed into our bays, bringing the food we desperately needed. Until then, we had clung on to the impossible hope that it was just a temporary problem, that with some tightening of our belts and foreign assistance, we would weather the shortages. Sure, we would have to be more sparing, but we were in America, the land of the plenty; the worst case scenario, according to the government, would simply require us to ration our supplies.

But when the president appeared on the screen and told us that the foreign governments were suffering from famines themselves and couldn’t send anything else, when he said, at the end, ‘we can do nothing to produce more food’, that’s when we knew that we weren’t going to make it. Everyone already had their own garden, no matter where they lived — even in the city, people sacrificed their patio to create some of the food themselves; it had become too cost prohibitive otherwise. But there was only so much that could be done, and it was never enough.

There was violence, more than any country had seen in decades.

The riots weren’t everywhere, though; some towns had managed to stockpile supplies and now simply closed themselves off to the world. Other people formed up camps with those they could trust and struck out in the wilderness — what little of it left — and tried to subsist in small groups. But in the cities where the billions of people lived, there was only chaos. It was fifty-fifty, people said, on whether a random apartment was looted or its owners dead.

In six months, New York went being a city of fifty million to a city of three million. This was the price that we paid for not thinking ahead, for living, collectively, beyond our means.

It will be okay, eventually. The population has stablized, and we won't make the mistake again, of doing such a thing. Eventually, technology will outpace our expansion, and we won't have to worry about how many people there are and how many tonnes of grain we are producing.

Someday, though it isn't today, no one will have to say to their twelve year old, "I'm sorry, but there isn't any food today."
talonkarrde: (Default)
It was a mistake, just a mistake, you have to believe me.

It was nine o'clock and we had both had too much to drink, and we were starting to get on each others' nerves. Insulting, insulted, we couldn't tell who was the first to make a remark, who the first was that insulted the other man's wife, who the first to throw a punch.

All we could tell was that it was a fight, and it was getting more dangerous as it went on, as we had separated when the bartender told us he'd call the cops, but now, now well, we were under the streetlight and away from everyone else, and he just had to open his goddamn mouth.

"Your wife would do better with me any—"

I didn't even let him finish, I hit him so hard, and then we were on each other again, punching, missing, kicking, biting.

He threw me into the light, I shoved him into the ground, and then I wasn't going to take it anymore, just couldn't, I had enough of his bullshit, I wasn't his friend anymore, and I said so. 

I think I said so. I said something, at least, you have to believe me, and then he came at me.

And I had the broken bottle in my hand, and I didn't mean to, but I had to, he was coming at me and there was nothing else I could do.

We were friends, you know, and he just, he just...

Why didn't he stop? Why didn't he stop until the bottle glittered with wetness? It was just an argument, your honor, just a mistake, just a...
talonkarrde: (Default)
His eyes are beautiful, intense.

You lose yourself in them, drown yourself in the brilliant, golden eyes that will never arise in your own race, not with ten thousand more DNA mutations. And then you’re pulled out, gasping, slammed back to reality by his words, by the sound of cold steel, tempered with a touch of moonlight.

“Tell me,” he says, each word staccato, piercing.

“T-t-tell you w-w-what?” you ask, your voice shivering, breaking against the sheer force of his personality. You’ve never thought yourself a weak person — well, generally speaking, at least — but all he needs to do is stand there and his aura almost forces you to your knees.

“Tell me,” he says, and it’s harsher in its repetition. “About what it means to be here. Tell me what your life is worth.”

And confronted with that, what can you say? What excuse do you conjure up for your failings, what answers do you offer that will console this god?

What proof, when confronted with the infinite, with a god, perhaps the God, do you use to justify yourself?
talonkarrde: (Default)
It’s youth and foolishness and him being my first love and the only thing I can think of sometimes.

It’s him standing up for me when the others are being vicious behind my back - and in front of it - and it’s all I can do not to sob; it’s all I can do not to sniffle in class and only silently let the tears run down my face. He tells them to knock it off, and since it’s him, they comply, even as I know they’ll only hate me more for him defending me.

It’s catching him after school kissing her and having my heart break and not saying anything about it to him, because what good would that do? It would drive away my defender and my friend and the only person who has ever seen me for anything, and even though he was kissing her and - oh how I wish it were me.

It’s an invite to a party that he’s going to, as his friend. Not his date, no, I’m not far enough up the totem pole for that, but it’s better than nothing. It’s better than sitting there in my room, waiting for someone to talk to me, waiting for people that I’ve never seen to tell me that my life will be better.

It's his kindness. It may only be an afterthought, but it's the only thing I have.
talonkarrde: (Default)
Listen, son, we need to have a talk — since you’re about to go into the city for the first time, I need to tell you the story of them, so that you won’t gawk and look like a idiot.

I know the teacher just says that they were benign visitors here on a ‘observation mission’, but it’s a bit more than that, you know; they’ve been here for years now, longer than the books say. The scientists remember when they first came, but I doubt anyone on the street could give you an exact date; it’s been that long. I can tell you, though, I was seventeen when I first encountered them, just a year older than you are now. If you’re really curious, I’m sure you could find newspaper articles that detail the exact second they first appeared over the cities. Just Google ‘First Meeting’ or something like that, it’ll be the first billion hits or so.

I’m sure you’ve seen the videos, and I’m guessing your first question is how everyone can just go about their business with that thing floating above them. Well, we have an incredible capacity to adapt, son. We adapted from living in trees on the savanna to ice fishing the arctic, and we adapted from knowing no more than a tribe of people to being connected to millions. We learned how to drive cars and make money and some of us can even use computers, and so, you know, we keep adapting to a changing world.

Here — you know how you complain about the noise of the fan in our living room, or the noise of the computer under your desk? Well, I notice that you only whine about it when it first gets turned on; after you sit in the room for a while, you slowly adapt to block out the sound and you only notice it when it gets turned off and the noise goes away. What you see on the streets of New York, the people going about their business, it’s the same sort of thing. When you look up in the sky every day and see the same thing, it becomes routine after awhile, even if it’s the craziest shit in the entire world. Even if it’s an alien craft that no one has ever seen the inside of.

It helped that they encouraged that sort of ignoring-them anyway — when they first appeared, just like that, around the world, people were naturally curious and scared and interested and all sorts of things. And of course the government wanted to find out what it was and contain it and do all sorts of experiments, and it’s not like the movies, son. None of it ever came to anything, and if anyone tells you anything else, it’s an outright lie. I remember good ol’ Uncle Sam shooting missiles at the one that’s off the coast of Manhattan, and all the ship did was absorb it, and then destroy the ship that fired them. Saved all the guys inside, you wouldn’t believe it, just vaporized the metal that they were sitting in, leaving about three hundred sailors floating in the ocean.

It took us awhile to take the hint — that idiot Secretary of Defense Matthews was hell bent on shooting a nuke at it and seeing if it could eat that — but after we realized we couldn’t do anything, the President decided to give up. What else was there to do? And instead of the UFOs being on nightly news for three hours every day, it was given a bit less time each night, and then a bit less, and by the time six months had passed by, well, it maybe would make cable news once a week, when it got real slow during Thursday afternoons.

And like I said, son, we just got accustomed to it, until it was no longer something unique and incredible, but just part of our normal, boring, daily lives. The sun rises in the east, snow falls during the winter, and the ships just hover where they have been for twenty years now. We still don’t know quite why they’re here, and I think even the scientists have given up, because every time they try and approach it, their equipment and ride disappears.

So you, when you go into the city for your interview tomorrow, make sure you don’t do that thing where you look up all the time; they’ll know you’re from out of town and rob you blind, you hear? Just tell yourself that it’s like the sound of the fan, that you’ll get used to it, that it’s always been there, and you’ll be okay, I promise.

And if you’re like me, and selected to be taken into the ship and examined, well, son, that’s why I packed you a clean set of underwear.
talonkarrde: (Default)
I was seventeen years of age when I went to seek my destiny and explore the world, and forty-four when I came upon the cave of dragons.

In my first seven years of wandering, I had killed three giants and vanquished five serpents, the biggest one a snake which could swallow a mule whole. I had dueled fel-orc warlords and pounded the bones of undying skeletons back to unmoving dust; I had fought in desperate skirmishes, against terrible odds, and mourned the loss of brothers and sisters bound to me by our spilled blood. I had proven myself on the field of battle, again and again.

On the eighth year, I met a beauty from the North, a raven-haired lass with a sharp sword and a sharper tongue, a woman I courted for a year and a day until she knew I was even more faithful than I was strong. I married her upon the throne of the world with the stars as our witness, and we settled in the frigid lands where the cold was as merciless as the spiders and goblins, and we battled the frozen spirits and angry beasts back until she was with child and it became time to leave the fighting to the youth.

I fathered three children — two girls and a boy — with my wife, and we raised them to work hard and fight well, to be strong of body and spirit, and I think we did well. And in a heartbeat’s passing, twenty years had gone by, and even the youngest girl had gone to seek her own destiny, as was the way.

I missed all of my children, but my youngest most of all, for she was, perhaps, the most like me. Quiet and reserved, but sharper than either her mother or myself, she had taken the easiest to the hunt; she could slice an apple in two from a hundred yards — or, more practically, send a shaft between a giant spider’s mandible while it was skittering at her. I remembered teaching her to hunt and comforting her when she was hurt, and the days were emptier when she left to prove herself.

It was then, when my only burdens were to smoke meat and drink mead and wait for news from my children, that I learned of the great wyrms.

A king's messenger — a young boy, with smooth hands and an innocent face — brought the plea to our village for those who were stouthearted and fearless to deal with the rampaging threat of the terrible wyrms that had risen in the South. There were whispers that there had already been thirty or forty champions who had gone to the dread valley and never returned, rumors that the messenger refused to confirm. He merely told us that the dread wyrms were less active now, their numbers reduced by three brave champions — all from the North, he added — and only one more brave hero was needed to finish the job.

And then, when no one stepped forward, he added that two of the champions were in fact girls, and that there was a prize from the king to be won, and that someone had to step forward or he’d be punished for not finding a single person.  And then I saw little Michaela, who was not yet seventeen, open her mouth, about to volunteer, and I remembered that our Calvin was sweet on her before he left.

"I'll go," I said then, stepping forward as the crowd parted before me, watching as Michaela stopped and dipped her head to me thankfully.

I left on my forty-forth birthday and promised I would be back before a year’s passing. It was five months later before I stood at the mouth of the dragon's cave, armed with sword, shield, and courage — and the knowledge that Michaela’s parents would not need to mourn her passing, and that Calvin would see her pretty face again. And then I stepped in, a torch in one hand and a my shield raised in the other, and I walked into the tunnel until there was no light but the flickering, wavering flame in my hand.

It was a long walk in a dark tunnel, and I knew the beast was in there, and I did not worry — until she spoke, a quiet voice filled with bitterness.

“Northman,” she said, a tone that hinted at madness, at anger, at grief, “Why are you here?”

“I have come to fight the wyrms who have killed our people and rampaged across our lands.” I responded, walking on, watching as the dark walls slowly grew farther, as I entered the mouth of the true cavern. The lair.

“Northman,” she said again, drawing out the word so that I shifted uncomfortably in my armor, in a way that could almost be felt as a single finger across my shoulders. “There is only one wyrm now, for there are three that are dead. Do you know why, Northman?”

“Because of the champions that have come before, who had taken up arms against the menace.” I said, striding forward, hearing my voice echo upon the far wall. I found myself in the center of the cave, and I waited, watching, trying to catch the shadows.

“Because of a girl named Caleigh, who had come seeking to prove herself. She had been raised from childhood with a sword in her hand, and came into this tunnel, and met my eldest, Ryujin, right where you stand, Northman. She startled him and he attacked, and when her sword no longer flashed in the light of her torch, they were both greviously wounded and died here, together, but not before I asked her where she had come from.”

I started, raising my torch higher, looking down for the signs of blood, and heard her breathe in slowly.

“After her, Northman, there was a clever young man who had explored the entire mountain and come in through a side tunnel that we do not use, who waited until my daughter was sleeping before falling upon her, who tried to poison her with wyrmbane. He almost succeeded, but didn’t know that we had slowly been building up a tolerance to the old methods, and as she was falling, she cornered him and struck, and they, too, died together.”

My knees grew weak, but I could show no weakness, so I locked them and waited, and wondered.

“It was...curious, Northman, because they came with the same design upon their armor, a horned helmet on crossed swords, over an icy field.”

And I touched my shield, then, and I knew.

“And do you know the name of the last killer of my children, a girl no more than seventeen, who fought my youngest son with bow and arrow, with spear and fire, who, when my son asked before he went to his death, was the sister to the two others who had come in?”

“Cherise,” I said, sick in my heart of hearts. “Cherise,” I repeated into the darkness, as if it would change what had happened. My darling Cherise, who I had taught to use that bow and arrow, to think before she fought, to be more than just an expert at battle — the child who I would never admit that I loved first among equals.

The dragon raised her head, a movement out of the corner of my eye, and I whirled to face her, ready to drop the torch and draw my sword. And then she breathed fire, not at me but at the brazier that hung in the middle of the cave, and dispersed the darkness.

I cast my torch aside and we stood there, her and I, parents to slain children, and we observed each other warily. Her scales shimmered in the firelight, her tail whisking slowly behind her, her eyes sharp and bright, even as you could see that she was, like me, no longer in her prime. And me, in the armor that was my old friend, with the horned helmet upon two crossed swords above a snowy field, an emblem she had seen three times already.


"Your king encroached on my land, and I defended them; your people sent champions, and I defeated them; your children slew my children, and were slain by them; and now we are here, you and I, parents who must mourn their children." She said, watching, waiting. “What will happen now?”

And I hesitated for a moment, reflecting in what we had both lost, and then I did what I had to do, so that there would be no more parents that had to bury their children.

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