Writer’s Log: 2490

“The final thing you need to realize is that Cylinder is not hollow.”

The bored expression on Petr Dolanoff’s face deepened. He’d studied all the vids, all the specs, in fact, he believed his knowledge surpassed even that of the AI-pilot who had just triggered the deceleration procedure that would bring the shuttle into Cylinder’s docking hub.

“…wobble,” completed the voice in their helmets. The seven other astro-tourists, all but for Petr, eagerly consumed the space-tech-babble the AI-pilot recited with silky-smooth intonation.

“Say again?” Petr stiffened in his seat. “What wobble?”

“Pete, pay-the-fuck attention.” Alsatia, Petr’s sister and tag-a-long for this trip, reached over and rapped his visor with a gloved fist.

“We heard that, young lady.” The Dolanoff family had booked a month’s long stay at Cylinder, the L1 positioned space habitat built like a city-sized tennis ball can. Reina Dolanoff leaned near her daughter, touched helmet to helmet and spoke softly, “We discussed this. Our reputation on this station remains…”

“Tenuous? In jeopardy?”

“Or worse. So, manners and forbearance, remember?” Reina leaned back and adjusted the stiff collar that hosted her helmet. They’d traveled most of the distance from the LEOtel without the suits, but docking mandated full preparation. She gave a wave to her son. “Petr, try again.”

The boy, seventeen and brimming with hormones that sloshed between brain and balls—giving neither the time to stabilize—licked dry lips, he’d sucked his water-pack dry, and asked again. “Can you repeat the part about the ‘wobble’?”

The AI sounded all too happy to comply. Cylinder’s rotation required precise management of mass and its position around the nested shells, the can within a can within a can concept. If mass shifted in unexpected ways, wobble incurred. The constant monitoring and active redistribution system, using the easiest material possible—water—ensured that wobble never happened.

“But, if it does happen?” The strain in Petr’s voice indicated either its parched condition or something else.

The AI laughed, “Impossible. There are two artilects, artificial intellects like me, but much, much smarter, dedicated to maintaining the perfect health and well-being of Cylinder.”

“But…”

“That’s enough, Petr.” Alexi Dolanoff generally encouraged such attention to detail, especially when it came to risk and safety. He’d been, after all, a founding investor. “After we dock you can begin an in depth conversation with the artilects that run the station. Until then… Ah, will you look at that.”

The eight tourist crew had spent most of their time watching the screens that encased this end of the shuttle. The few true portals provided limited viewing. Now that they approached the station, the immensity of Cylinder, its actual appearance seen through those portals, consumed them. Even Petr.

“Wow. That thing is gargantuan.”

The AI-pilot agreed. “Cylinder is nearly a kilometer wide and, currently, over five kilometers long.”

Alsatia scanned the monitor which depicted the space station’s dimensions. “Currently?”

“Plans are to extend Cylinder to fifteen kilometers.”

Mr. Dolanoff offered context. “One klick at a time. Right now, we’re negotiating the purchase of three additional asteroids.” He tried to clear his throat. He’d sucked his water-pack dry as well. “That’s one of the reasons we’re here.”

Petr swallowed hard. “I sure hope they’ve got more water onboard. I’m drained dry.”

“Plenty of H2O on Cylinder. It is a by-product of mining.” The AI-pilot’s timber dipped. “Docking procedures begun. Brace yourselves.”

~~~

Writer’s Log: 2485

He stumbled over the rough stones at the gate. My heart lurched to watch, but he caught himself, looked around and took a slow breath. I sat on a bench amongst a covey of stones, nearly all of them marking graves of border collies. Their dates ranged from decades to a few year ago. Some stones were raised, most just flat. Around me, monuments to pets of every kind instilled a sense of deep connection, bonds that humans have made with creatures who, I can attest, seem to reciprocate our emotional ties. At least, I’ve always hoped they did.

“Ah, you’re sitting there. Mind movin’?”

The warm summer day couldn’t have been more beautiful. Maple and beech trees dotting the cemetery provided shade for meandering paths and granite tombstones. The place felt imbued with a spiritual heft that cooled not just the air, but the mood of the place. A brief shiver ran across my shoulders.

The man, surely in his eighties, stood at the end of the bench, a cane held in both hands as if about to dance. I’d watched him make his way toward me, expecting him to turn down some other path. There were thousands of graves here.

“There’s room.” I patted the lichen covered wood next to me.

“Hmm, maybe. But, that’s my spot.” He swung the cane and pointed. “And, you’re in it.”

I shifted over. Who was I to deny an elder? If the fellow had a spot, and was bold enough to claim it… “There you go.” I rearranged myself and settled back in. I was unwilling to surrender the solemnity just yet. “This is quite the place for a spot.”

“Hmm? Do we know each other?” He groaned as he lowered himself. He set his cane between us, gave me a glance and moved it to hang off the bench-arm. His unshaven face stirred for a moment. “Spot. Yes. My spot. ‘Course, it comes at a price.” He nodded down at the stones.

“Your collies, I take it?”

“Champions. Every one o’ them.”

“All ten?” They had been arrayed such that counting them came easily.

A grimace passed like a cloud. “You dim ‘r something? Fifteen. Fifteen champions I bred and trained and, and…”

I’d missed an entire row. Five were offset and outfitted with raised marble headstones. “A legacy unmatched I presume.” My mistake had triggered some inner conflict. My compliment had soothed the anger that had flashed in his eyes. “Fifteen show champions,” I continued, “I imagine such a record might exist only in Europe or Asia, perhaps.”

His dark mood returned. Swollen knuckles lifted the cane, its end tapped on the nearest gravestone. “Sheep dog. Sheep. Dog. Show dogs ‘r for pompous pricks ‘n sissies. My dogs worked for a living.”

Clearly this battle was lost. I gathered my uneaten lunch and the paperback I’d brought. But, before I could stand, the end of his cane had come to rest on my knee.

“I…” His mouth worked at chewing hard words, “I apologize for my, my irritability.” The cane returned to his side. “I’ve disturbed your day, pushed you out and, and chased you away.”

Stalemate, perhaps. I sat back and tilted my face into a beam of sunlight striking through a gap in the leaves. My eyes lowered and drifted to his. “I’ve long admired the ability of sheep dogs. The whistles and hand signals you must have taught them.”

A piercing shriek burst from his lips. It warbled and pulsed. “Gather them tight and hold them.” He wiped a drop of spittle. “Pony, she could hold those stubborn Marinos the best. The finest wool but the confounded worst behavior.”

“You named a dog Pony?”

An accord had been struck. The man went on to tell of the great Sheep Fever that had come to New England in the 1830’s—all due to this breed called the Marino. More whistling followed and more strangely named sheep dogs. At one point he rose, hobbled to the furthest stone, knelt and passed a kiss to Teena’s name etched in marble. Teena had saved his life one stormy winter. He waved me off when I tried to help him up.

“Not ready for the grave just yet.”

The sun had traced its arc and his spot now bathed in the heat of its fire. It was time to go.

I shook his hand and we finally introduced ourselves. I knew I’d never be back here. This leisure time was a gift of a scheduling conflict. I realized this as I looked around. The slate and granite glowed hot and forbidding, but the stories buried beneath each stone…

“Thank you for listening, son.” He let me help him up this time, and he held my arm to the gate. “I wish you well and hope you find room in your life for another dog.”

I smiled at the thought and waved farewell. I paused at his final words.

“Give a collie a try next time. They’ll break your heart. But, what’s a heart for, anyway?”

 

 

Writer’s Log: 2481

In the oceanic depths of frozen Enceladus, a series of clicks echo off the walls of an abysmal valley. Chussie is on the hunt. Sharp pings return to her tympanic organs; six of them, one located on each side of of her head, allow her to navigate the pitch-darkness. She’s seeking rounded tones, softened reverberations. She’s seeking food. Flesh.

Chussie is one of many who thrive in this underwater world. But this canyon, a crack in the moon’s crust ten kilometers beneath the belly of the ice, belongs to her. Over the aeons, others have tried to encroach upon her domain, so far she’s held them off.

She pulses her jets and shoots forward. Nascent photo-sensors, primitive compared to her auditory senses, detect a shimmer up against the cliff. The creature she hunts reacts to her sonic probing with a burst of phosphorescence. The light barely registers. Chussie uses dual pings to narrow in on her target, her exquisite sonar can pick out the tiniest of bubbles, the smallest of bodies tucked into a crevice.

Using her hook-covered tentacle she tenderly feels forward. Blue light flutters up and down the body of the leathery skin of a jellic. It’s trapped and knows it.

“There, there, little friend,” Chussie soothes, her softest treble notes ringing from her pressure drum. “Succumb and I will release your fears, let them join our frozen spirits above.”

She stiffens the muscles around her drum, focuses her flexible lens and lets loose a tremendous acoustic punch. The jellic never stood a chance. As it convulses, Chussie’s legs enwrap its body, hooks tear into its hide and she draws it from the rocky pocket where it had been hiding, protecting its young.

“Mmm, snacks.”

Chussie plucks the four soft-ball sized offspring, flashing pink in their distress, from the nook and pops each one into her beaked maw. The parent jellic, still stunned, is tucked up under one weaponized tentacle. Chussie, the great Cephus gives a squeeze and drifts out into the expanse. A kilometer below, her nest hosts her own hungry brood. She sends them a trill of comfort, “All is well, all is well.” She pauses, waiting for their myriad response.

She trills again, louder.

A microdose of worry trickles into her bloodstream. She’d reminded them to remain silent while she hunted. The jellic embraced, she streamlines her limbs and dives. Made for quick bursts, she fights the cramps in her jets as she pulses down and down again. Her trills become frantic. A hundred meters from the nest she ceases her calls and prepares another acoustic strike. Few predators can withstand her might.

A familiar echo bounces up to her receptors. Members of the Cephic Council float before her den.

“Silence, Chussera s’dar. Your children are safe.” The other Cephus, his name she cannot recall, is half her size, but flanked by an escort of hexapods. “You, however, must stand for questioning. Your activity at the boundary must be accounted for.”

 

 

Writer’s Log: 2480

She lifted her skirt and began to dance. At first, Adella only swished and stepped. But soon her rhythmic hips whispered to her wrists and they to her shoulders and they, in turn, to her voice. The words to the song came easily. Memorized through years of communal singing, the lyrics burst out with vibrant trills and shouts. All eyes followed her. Adella’s crimson blouse, its ruffles wavering, gave fleeting peeks. Her bleach-white skirt billowed and flashed her tan legs. She cast back her head and laughed. “Frederico, Marcello, join me. Margarete, Chicas, please don’t let me dance alone.”

Who could deny her? Glasses drained and chairs squeaked and soon the family and all their friends were dancing. Dancing with abandon, without a thought as to who pranced well and who only shuffled, who matched the beat and who fumbled to keep up.

Dance releases something within our hearts, a connection to our primordial spirits. Joy bubbles up and tingles our senses, lifts our step, loosens our restraints. To dance is to open oneself to the world.

Adella dropped the hem of her dress and clutched her breast. A great squeezing had seized her lungs. At sixty, she imagined living until her hair turned white as Mama’s. Her daughter, Consuela, caught sight of her stricken face and rushed to catch her as she slumped to the dance floor.

The polls are in.

For nearly all of you, you read the above without prejudice of content or doubt as to quality. The editor in you remained quiescent, perhaps only bumping your conscious at that authorial interjection I let slip.

I’m afraid I do not join you in this trend.

I do applaud you though. I hope you never lose such an ability.

Thanks for stopping by.

Writer’s Log: 2479

An experiment…

~~~

His fingers stroked the scars on her belly and his eyes moved from those marks to her face. A question formed on his brow. “Does…”

She snatched his hand and held it up. “I recall only the memory of the pain, not the pain itself.” She strengthened her grip. “There was agony, tearing and pressure so great I feared it would explode my mind.” She felt his discomfort and released him. “But, most of all, I remember the terror thinking that the pain would never end.”

“And… And then it did?”

Her rictus, induced by the memory, eased and the tautness in her voice returned to the purr she typically used with him. “Indeed, it did.” She pulled the rough shirt back over her stretch marks.

“Was it worth it?”

“Time will tell.”

He gave a puff to blow the red dust from the surface of her jacket and nestled his head in the crook of her arm. “Will I ever feel such pain?”

With a chuckle she ruffled his curly brown hair. “You should be so lucky.”

~~~

And now the poll: In what state of mind did you read this bit?

♥ As a reader with an open mind as to what the text would offer?

♣ As an editor with a critical eye to the words, the sentences, the structure?

♠ As a skeptic, editor first and reader second?

How do you find your mind when you enter into reading works on the Web? Or works in general? Open to the author’s words or doubtful of the author’s abilities? Has this mental state been consistent over time? Or have you changed your perspective regarding the consumption of media? And over what time period or experiential events did you change?

-AM