The deepest mine gives purest stones,
of sapphire eyes and diamond tears.
The darkest nook hides murder bones,
that yearn to scream their story dear.
Scrape the skin of earthen mounds,
revealing gems so fair, so fine.
Midnight walks, deserted towns,
embrace foul shadows dressed to dine.
On rubies dipped in molten gold,
lay draped and searing milk-white throats.
While foolish flailing miners bold,
thrust sterile hips to Pan’s wry notes.
Her jaded jade mind, green with envy,
his turquoise marbles, blue with lust,
bear no substance, shatter freely,
return to Mother, return as dust.
Daniel cracked the geode with his hammer and an iridescent blue dust drifted up from within the hollow rock. It swirled like candle smoke rising from a snuffed ceremonial alter. He reared back. Too late. Sinuous tendrils of microscopic specs peeled off and wormed their way into his nostrils. He pinched his nose, his mouth closed. He looked about the place, nothing seemed familiar. The two halves of the chalky white nodule fell from his hands, his world fuzzed at the edges and turned black. As the encrusted pieces hit the shop’s floor, a pair of blue mushroom clouds burst and spread.
Next to Daniel, Ricardo, cutting a geode at the wet saw, took one sniff and slumped to the floor. He just missed slicing the fingers from his right hand.
Five others in the lapidary shop: owner, employee, Daniel’s son and two fellow rock hounds, startled at the noise. They too fell victim to the blue dust. Each collapsed to the dirty floor, unconscious.
As the afternoon wore on, the unmanned equipment continued to whine, cellphones in pockets buzzed and chimed. No one else happened into the shop to browse the crystals of quartz, aquamarine and agate, the cabochons of turquoise and jade. Hours of Saturday afternoon sand slipped through the glass. Eventually, seven comatose hobby geologists began to rouse.
Daniel’s robust nature, a big man with gentle hands, allowed him to revive first. “Markie… Markie?” He looked around for his son who’d driven up from University to join the geode reveal. Unable to shake the fog from his mind, Daniel crawled to the first dark shape on the floor. “Ricardo, get up man. Where’s Markie?”
Ricardo, a wiry construction contractor Daniel had met collecting fossils in Montana, mumbled and moaned.
Daniel managed to rise to his knees and move to the next body. Markie had been sorting the bucket of round geodes—those to crack, those to cut—when he’d inhaled the blue dust. He fell back from his stool and cut the back of his head. Daniel’s hand came away sticky when he tried to lift him.
“Markie. Son. Wake up.”
Where are we? Mark said.
Daniel heard his son’s words without registering their source. “We’re in Larry’s shop. Something… Something happened.” Jeeze, I hope this cut isn’t deep.
What cut? “Am I injured, Dad?”
Let me get you up. “It’s nothing bad. Scalp wound.” You know how they bleed and bleed, like that time…
“Building the shed, I remember. You’d thought you’d killed me.” I laughed at how scared you were. Until I saw all the blood.
Your mother gave me shit for days…
The pair of them managed to rise and lean back against shelves of cardboard boxes full of rocks of varying provenance. A voice came from behind the counter.
“Hey. Anyone?” Why the hell am I on the floor. Was I robbed? Larry pulled himself to the counter and lay there breathing hard. “Ben? Where the sam-hell are you?” Hiring Megan’s kid was a mistake from the start.
“Here. I’m here. And I’m trying as hard as I can. There’s a lady…” Ben said from the far end of the shop. He’d been fetching new blades for the saws when he watched a customer, an older woman wearing a peach-colored scarf, slump to the floor. He awoke, his nose just inches from her desert boots, the diamond-edged discs splayed around him. Why are you so goddamn mean?
“I’m not half as mean as you think I am.” Damn kid doesn’t know nothin’ about my real mean-time in the ‘Stan.
Daniel’s voice rose. “Everyone, shut-the-hell-up for a minute. Not everyone can talk at once.”
Easy there, Dad.
Shit Daniel, you don’t have to yell so loud.
I knew you three would bring trouble, carting nodes up from Mexico.
Oh wow, it’s like, dark outside.
Why am I on the floor?
Don’t tell me to shut up. Where’s Leslie?
“I said, shut the hell up!” Daniel got to his feet, his face stern.
“We didn’t say anything, Dad.” Mark tenderly probed the cut on his head. “At least, I didn’t hear anyone I don’t think. Not with my ears, anyway.”
Holy shit. Am I going insane? Or can I—
—Hear other peoples’ thoughts?
Holy shit, is right.
In my endeavor to learn to write well, I’ve fixated on Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000 hours to expert” theme.
Thus far I calculate I’ve spent 2500 hours on the task. How many words might that be? Four hundred thousand could get me close.
Regardless, the journey has presented numerous obstacles, time, or the lack thereof, being the most egregious. Had I the time, I’d have applied myself tenfold.
Creative energy certainly offers a close second. A writer writes, they say. Well, a slave slaves. A programmer programs, a father fathers, a husband husbands and so it goes. What is left for writing after such a list?
No little distraction includes my infected life’s philosophy. As a self-professed existential Nihilist, what is the point in learning to write well? A rhetorical question. From this perspective there is no valid answer. To forge through is not an option. Around is the only path.
And so around we went. And here we are, 2500 hours complete. Was there nothing learned, gained, accomplished. A few things come to mind:
- Do more with less. Err with too few.
- Passive kills the energy.
- A square block of text is a visual turnoff. It need not be read, its presence on the page cripples the reader.
- Conflict, always. A constant struggle for me.
- Any critique is worth understanding.
Accomplishments? Aside from two early, sophomoric novels, not much more than fragments. But in those fragments, some polish could be detected, some self-satisfaction. Write for yourself and you’ll never disappoint. What starving baker wouldn’t eat their own failed cake?
Future? At this rate the next 2500 hours will take years and years. 10,000? Yeah, right.
…continued from prior post…
“Welcome to Cylinder. You must be the Dolanoff Family.”
As they followed Rick, helmets in hand, a voice filled the elevator they’d entered. A broad black arrow pointed the direction of down. Raina and Alexi bumbled around while the children became instantly acclimated to the fractional Gs found this close to the axis. Rick waved them into standing positions next to him. “Oh hey, Janette. Yeah, this is the famous Alexi Dolanoff and his beautiful family.” He nodded his head as he pressed the number five on the panel. “I hope you don’t mind me using your first name, sir. We’ve all been anxious to have you onboard.”
The elevator began to descend. Starting at zero, the designated shells of the station were spaced every one-hundred meters, gravity would be greatest at level 5.
“Are you one of those artifactual things the shuttle told us about?” Alsatia occupied herself by jumping up and down as their weight increased with the distance from the axis.
“Hello there, Alsatia. Did I say that right? I’m such a stickler for names.” Janette pretended to clear her throat. “Yes indeed, I am one of those artilects, but we, Jimmy and I, are so much more than just artificial intellects.”
Petr could feel the pressure in his boots grow; the feeling of his suit hanging off his shoulders and hips. After days of weightlessness, the reorganization of his organs in his gut, the heaviness of his head and limbs returned in a comforting but distracting way. He dropped his helmet. “Oops, sorry.”
“You feeling alright there, Petr?” Janette asked.
“Uh, yeah. I didn’t expect, I don’t know, the sagging feeling. And the vertigo, I guess.”
Alsatia quit her bouncing. “Wow, I feel like a ton of bricks.”
“Please continue, Janette,” said Raina, leaning back against the wall for support against the growing weight and the Coriolis effect, like that of a strange carnival ride.
“Ah, yes. Spin-life can be so disorienting. Though I try to understand, I can only imagine.” They’d reached half-G on their way to the three-quarters gravity level 5 would provide. “Jimmy and I are rather like your captains on an ocean cruise. Basically, Jimmy manages the station, the ship, and I work with the people. But I’m just stating what Mr. Dolanoff already knows.”
Petr, who’d been watching the gravity numbers climb on the readout above the selection panel, looked up to his father, perplexed.
“I didn’t want to diminish the wonderment, son.” He removed his gloves, formed a fist and lightly bumped Petr’s shoulder. “I think you might know a bit more than I, Janette. Maybe you could point out how we might get around while we’re here?”
“My pleasure, sir.” On the wall next to the sliding doors a map of Cylinder appeared. “Let’s see. I’ll start simple, just to be sure. The down direction means you’re moving away or out from zero-G. Up is moving towards zero-G. If your walk in-spin, that is, with the direction of rotation, you’ll feel yourself getting heavier. In that direction, east is to your right, west to your left. With me so far?”
“It’s like a big hamster wheel in space, right?”
“Good analogy, Alsatia. And everyone but me and Jimmy are the hamsters.”
Petr followed along as Janette highlighted portions of the diagram. “Is it true that you get lighter if you run, I guess, out-spin?”
“You’ve arrived at level five. If you could give a demonstration…”
The doors opened to an atrium the size of an opera house. The Dolanoff’s cautiously stepped out and stood gawking. Overhead, more than thirty meter up, the superstructure was painted a mat white but was currently bathed in a vivid sky blue light. Before them, rows of planters sported trees, shrubs and gardens overflowing with greenery. To either side, the curve of the outer shell rose enough to give them the sense that they stood at the bottom of a valley.
“I’m sure you won’t have trouble getting about,” Rick started, “but let’s practice. First I’ll answer Petr’s question.”
Rick walked ahead, east between two low planters filled knee-high grass. He brushed the tops as he went. “We’ve even got livestock onboard.” Once he reached an intersection he stopped and turned right, out-spin, backed up several paces, sprinted forward and, in what Petr could only describe as the leap of a gazelle, launched himself easily clearing five meters in distance. “You’re right, Petr. While moving against the spin, gravity drops.”
He returned and hooked a finger over his shoulder. “This way to Carousel.”
“That was amazing.” Raina said.
“Thank you.” He turned and managed to keep walking backwards. “One more thing about moving about.” He spun back around and pointed left. “In-spin,” he announced. He pointed right. “Out-spin.” He then pointed forward as they worked their way between stands of aspen trees. “This way is side-spin. Now.” He stopped and pointed to his feet. “When I take a step straight along the axis, what happens is that Cylinder rotates beneath my foot, just a little.”
“This is important.” Janette’s voice came from somewhere, everywhere. “Oh, yes, I’m always available, Alsatia. But I’m no eavesdropper. Anytime you want me to be quiet and ignore your conversations, just say my name three times. The same technique works in reverse, too. Now, Rick was getting to an important part.”
“Thanks, Janette. Moving side-spin can be dangerous. The faster you move the more you have to compensate. If I did that jump moving along the length of Cylinder? I’d have ended up landing in a patch of petunias. That’s the Coriolis effect. This ain’t Kansas, as they say.”
The group eventually entered a section of the station that felt more like a hotel. Above the entry way, an airtight set of doors, A garish marquee announced ‘Carousel’.
“These are your rooms. Your belongings will be along soon.” Rick had stopped before suite 2-21. “One last thing before I leave you. You are very safe here. We have never had a critical accident. But, to be sure you can always know where you are and can reach out, on your beds you’ll find replacements for your phones that you left behind on Earth. These are special, Cylinder phones.” He peeled back a zipped flap on the left forearm. He held up a familiar rectangular screen that had been strapped on. “You two will like these.” He nodded to Petr and Alsatia.
“Alright, you guys.” Janette was back. “There are closets for your suits and helmets. Keep them safe. This is space after…”
An unsettling shudder rumbled up through their boots. Petr expected some dismissal of the anomaly. But the look on Rick’s face spoke otherwise.
“Janette…” He began.
“I’ll take care of them, Rick.”
That was the last time they would see Rick and his graceful self as he dashed down the hall running out-spin.
“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.”
“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.”