Dad always told me growing up, "Never post anything online that you don't want coming back to haunt you." After two centuries of the Internet in good 'ol Eastusa, we know better than to think otherwise -- it's not really anonymous and never has been. Hide behind a jokey fake name (say, wallflower138) or even a convincing yet totally fake profile, it doesn't matter. A good enough bit of software, a clever enough person, or just someone totally determined will trace it back to you. There's just too much information out there that meshes together.
That's why every now and then, when I was writing something up to post to my own blog... I'd scrap the entry. Oh, I wouldn't erase it, I'd tuck it away. Just in case. Things that I didn't want coming back to me. Things where I'm doing something illegal, or stupid, or stirring up trouble, or just breaking promises. One day, I reasoned, I'd eventually tell-all and that'd be that. But not while I was still breathing and could get in hot water over it. I'll admit it... I'm too much of a coward for that.
As of the time I'm writing this post, we're three years into the Post-Emily period, or the Second Age, or the Years of Peace, or whatever tag you prefer to rally behind. More than two hundred years after the Pandora Event threw us into a static deadlock. Our world is finally changing again, but I won't be around to see where it goes.
You see, if you're reading this right now, then that means I'm dead.
These entries are being posted for me, at random times and in random order, by software I cobbled together which was designed to kick off a short time after my death. (I knew it was coming and planned ahead. I'll explain more about that in a later entry, don't worry.)
Now, I'm not expecting these entries to stay untraced forever. Since they represent a mystery, odds are they'll be traced and the grand enigma that is that girl with the generic handle will be fully explored, discussed, mutated into memes, considered old and tired, and put to pasture four hours after this initial post goes up.
("Put to pasture." That's a weird expression. There haven't been pastures of any notable size for two hundred years in Eastusa.)
You can post your comments if you like, but obviously, I won't be responding to them. Keep in mind what you say here MIGHT get republished elsewhere -- I'm not egotistical enough to think that the rights to my sad, sad little life story will sell for millions, but I don't know, anything is possible. Either way, I hope you can make whatever you can make of this one way communication.
Learn something. Think about it. Or just be amused or sad or scared a little bit more than you would've been before reading.
If you've read this far, thank you. I guess it was worthwhile. There'll be more to come.
A lot of people don't give Eastusa credit for evolving since Pandora.
I think the problem is that style and design have largely remained the same, out of some sick sense of nostalgia. I call it sick because nobody is alive now who was alive before Pandora, nobody who could feel genuine nostalgia for the real thing. All we have is some idealized golden age representation of how things were, and it keeps getting perpetuated across the decades. Maybe we're getting it all completely wrong; despite the efforts of media archivists to preserve as much of the past as they can, we're still seeing it through that media filter. I bet someone from that century, if they were to hop forward, would find the whole thing a sick self-parody.
But this entry isn't about the aesthetics that have stayed static. It's about the things that have progressed forward, and what happens when people don't move with the times. (I think.)
Allow me to be an armchair sociologist; I got good marks in my college sociology electives, so hopefully I know what I'm talking about here.
Eastusa is called Eastusa because the population of America ran to the populous eastern and western shores as the Faeries claimed the central domain of the continent. That means a lot of people trying to live in a very small area... "The 13 Original Colonies," so say the Federalists. (Isn't 13 an unlucky number?) That's a lot of people packed into a very small area. Add on top of that the destruction of international commerce thanks to the Kraken that take out any boats or planes trying to get overseas, and things get worse.
I read once that there was a phrase, "going green," which was a political volleyball to be bounced about. After Pandora, it wasn't a game anymore. You couldn't use it as a talking point on your campaign -- either we found ways to do more with less, to find alternative resources, or the nation would die off in a matter of years. That meant less fossil fuels, more electrics, more nuclear, whatever it took to get the most bang for your buck.
Combined with this, air pollution and oceanic waste dumping had to be cut sharply. I mean, we only have so much air to breathe here, and water to work with! The world narrowed in scope, and pissing in your own backyard became a very, very bad idea when your backyard got downsized. Most of it was handled by government regulations; the rest by companies trying to get good PR by showing how clever and society-minded they were. People who did their part not to kill us all off got more money from the fear-driven populace, desperately looking for signs of hope for the future.
So while everything kinda LOOKS the same for two hundred years... once you look under the hood, things have really moved forward. For most. For others, they never learned... or felt that after so long a time of ecological stability, the occasional slip-up could be overlooked.
Okay, there's your background. That brings me to what I really wanted to post about.
I never really settled on a major before dropping out of college; my vocational schooling happened in the cities, in the bars, in the clubs. I've done waitressing and bartending and even some event planning. I'm the one who's so busy making sure everybody else is having a good time at the party that she doesn't get to have a good time herself. (Oh no, the mystery of my blog handle revealed!)
In this case, I was working bar at a dive I won't name, near the industrial sector in Baltimore. We got a weird mix of customers there... dockworkers, street workers, and middle tier corporate executives who aren't rich enough or important enough to drink at the classier joints. Company offices are often located near their industrial facilities, since, hey, not much elbow room in the good 'ol Eastusa, right?
The guy had been drinking heavily. He came in initially all smiles, exchanging high fives with his companions -- he'd just made put some amazing cost-cutting procedure into play, and was rewarded for his efforts by a promotion up one rung of the corporate ladder. The first order of business was to head out with his buddies and celebrate, buying round after round, singing at the karaoke station, living it up.
But long past the point where his buddies called it a night, he stayed, and kept going. The mood had shifted. I know the difference between a cheerful party animal and someone drinking to forget, and this guy clearly had shifted between those gears.
As the place was shutting down for the night, he tried to hit on me. Of course. Nothing new there; smile, politely beg off, move to the next customer. He eventually folded and left his business card, "in case I changed my mind." I stuffed it in the cash register along with the cards of other guys who'd pulled that act on me, and paid him no further attention until he wandered off into the back room.
There were two exits from the facility; the front doors, of course, and the back alley where deliveries are made. There's a glowing emergency EXIT sign there in case of fire, but obviously we don't want the customers wandering home through the alley. When the corporate drunk set off to go explorin', I set the drink I was mixing aside and followed, protesting all the way, sir, the door's that way, sir, you can't go back there.
(This was really stupid of me, following him into the back alley. Baltimore is NOT a safe town by any stretch of the imagination, particularly this part of it. But I already knew when I was going to die, so I'd become a bit sloppy... taking risks without even realizing it. Guess this was just one of those times.)
He was busy urinating in the alley when I arrived. And he wasn't alone.
I'd seen the other one lurking in the back of the bar. He'd ordered water. I didn't pay him much attention after that, and I don't know when he slipped out, or how long he'd been waiting. Maybe he was standing at the mouth of the alley for hours, lurking there in his overcoat and hat, purposefully positioned in the deepest shadow he could find.
The drunk noticed him at the same time I did. And he started yelling. I can't remember exactly what he was screaming... something about how he did what he had to, and he didn't care what they thought anymore, and so on. They had a history, apparently.
And then the man in the coat raised his arm, a little 'thunk' sound echoed like a dart pegging a bullseye, and the drunk began screaming.
He was screaming, and screaming. More than you'd normally hear in Baltimore. More than I was ready to hear when I woke up that day, but the sound wasn't the worst part. He was expanding. His face, at first, puffy growths that bulged and covered his eyes, cheeks blowing up like a jazz trumpet player. Then his hands, becoming like two balloons. Then his clothes began to tear. Then his skin began to turn bright pink...
I didn't watch, after that. I couldn't, anyway; the man in the coat had me pinned to the wall, lifted several inches off my feet. His scaly forearm could be seen, in the narrow space between sleeve and glove...
That was the last thing I saw, before a blast of some kind of ink blinded me. I don't know if there was a knockout drug in there or if I just passed out from fright. End result was the same.
I woke up in the hospital. Nothing out of the ordinary, they explained, just a bad allergic reaction, by the way, had I eaten any fish lately that disagreed with me?
I'd asked about the drunk, but they said that when the ambulance arrived I was the only one there. No man in a coat, no signs of a struggle. There wasn't even any ink on my face; it had either dissolved, or my attacker cleaned that up when he cleared out.
Two weeks later, when I was cleaning out the register, I remembered the business card.
Walter Scott O'Day had been missing for weeks, with criminal motive suspected. This prompted an investigation into his company, which incidentally turned up reports that he'd recently started offshore dumping of hazardous waste from his company's manufacturing plants in Baltimore. In violation of EPA law, the entire board of directors was arrested. Walter was never found.
Eastusa evolved because it had to. It was the only way to survive. I say that not just because we'd run out of gasoline and snack cakes eventually, but because I think something else is out there, something perfectly willing to step in the moment we step out of line.
Nobody likes to think about the Kraken, the strange sea and air creatures that patrol our blue borders. Nobody likes to think that there may be more in the deep than just giant sea monsters. You might not like to think about it, either. But if you're going to learn anything from these posthumous posts, maybe you should learn to think more about it.
Before Emily, we were at war with the Faeries for two centuries. Except we weren't.
Even now, it's a difficult subject to talk about, much less hold controversial views on. The official stance has been that America was at war with the Faeries, always, without ceasing, without stopping -- until Emily declared she wanted peace. Even then, some hardliners claim "the Fae surrendered, we won" rather than "all of us were sick of this mess and decided to formalize what we already knew was true, that there was no war and hadn't been a war in a long, long time."
They'd bring up isolated (and admittedly atrocious) incidents, like when the Winter Queen for some reason really wanted to get her hands on Austin, or the short-lived invasion of Chicago. There have always been Fringe skirmishes, where one community rubs the other community the wrong way and they fight over land or water rights. But on the whole? No war. No soldiers marching off to the frontlines. No plan to overtake and destroy the enemy, to run them into the ground. The real war was over long before any of us were born.
But that doesn't stop some from deciding to live up to the legend, to really go out there and stir up some serious war. Maybe they're doing it out of fear, that things are TOO quiet, that the Fae were up to something -- spotting Fae in your backyard in the Fringe could be enough to set off an incident and make good men take up arms needlessly. Maybe they just want a thrill, to experience what it's like to be in one of the few modern movies that remain popular post-copyright... war films. This post is about the latter.
Before college, I had a boyfriend who absolutely hated the Fae. Of course, the suburbs of Baltimore could hardly be considered the Fringe, but it was outside a Freedom Wall and thus COULD be attacked if anybody actually wanted to attack. Nobody did. Which meant he'd never actually seen a single Fae in his entire life, despite hating them and making cruel jokes about them and so on.
I think that's what drove him to do what he did. We were gonna go spelunking, a normal weekend activity... trying to find ruins of some town that humanity hadn't bothered reclaiming, mostly so we could be alone while drinking beer and partying. But this time, along with the beer and the MP3 players, I happened to notice a pile of rifles sticking out from under a blanket. My boyfriend covered it up right away, saying it was "just in case." I was young and stupid, so I believed him.
Me, him, and a dozen of our friends from school set out that day. But instead of rolling into the wreckage of the suburban community we'd planned on visiting, they went offroad, into the deep forests. Towards the Fringe. That's when the guns were distributed and it was clear they had other plans.
I couldn't exactly jump out of a moving vehicle in the middle of nowhere. A bunch of drunken guys with guns were scary, but not scarier than being in the middle of nowhere, all alone. I went along with it. I convinced myself I wanted to go along with it, that this was cool, nothing illegal was gonna happen since it was a war out there, I wasn't really involved anyway, I was just along for the ride, etc, etc. Anything to ease the worries I was feeling about what was gonna happen.
I'll never know who they killed that day. The vanguard of the caravan had opened fire on... someone, or something. The screams sounded human enough. Screams are screams, after all. But it didn't take long after that for the screams to be genuinely human.
I don't remember much beyond that. Funny enough, nobody actually died. I mean, none of my friends did. One of the offroad vehicles was destroyed -- smashed into bits by a fist the size of its engine block. Another, that one was never found at all, not a single scrap of it. A few guns were lost.
When we got back, the doctors said I had a concussion, but I don't recall what hit me. The rest of the days that followed are a bit blurry... the mayor of our town declaring this an "unprovoked attack on our citizens" and that "the Fae would pay." They'd buy a bunch of mercs to go in there and exact some retribution. Funnily enough, none of the gung-ho guys I went in with wanted to go back. None of them wanted to talk much about it at all.
The mercenaries showed up, and what's left of them came back sometime later -- the survivors carrying some trophies, including pointy ears on strings, a classic kill counter. More mercs were hired. The locals rounded up a militia of those willing to fight. Some Fae community declared open war, blood for blood spilled. The situation was ready to explode when my dad pulled the plug.
We packed up all our belongings in a truck and headed off to Baltimore. Sure, the city wasn't exactly safe, but it had Freedom Walls, and it was far enough from ground zero that whatever was going to happen wouldn't splash back on us. We would be okay.
I don't think I'm okay.
Eventually the Frontliners showed up and things settled down. Maybe they negotiated, maybe the Fae surrendered, maybe everybody just got tired of killing each other and quietly stopped. It doesn't matter. Cooler heads prevailed in the long run.
Now Emily's declared peace, we've got a new president, and having a cool head on both thrones lets us all breathe easier. I don't doubt we'll have more idiot boys with guns off to stir something up, but in the end, MOST of us honestly don't want a war anymore. We're tired of it. And that's how it should be.
According to digital preservists, The Pirate Bay was one of the earliest post-copyright concept sites on the Internet. At the time, everything it did was patently illegal; this was before the CPA (Cultural Preservation Act) which nullified copyright on all pre-Pandora media. Still, it held to the same concepts that modern media hounds adore... that our culture is a shared platform, something we all deserve equal access to in order to ensure mankind's cultural memory never fades.
I don't know if that's really why The Pirate Bay existed. Common history claims they were noble, but if they were anything like the hounds nowadays, they probably just want as much as they can get without having to pay for it. Media hounds are one part detective, one part dragon -- they seek out uncommon and rare examples of pre-Pandora media, then they hoard it, leveraging their stash with other hounds in an effort to round out their collections. That's the noblest explanation I can give... the more honest truth is that they're gluttons. They want what they want, and money will never enter the equation.
The hounds are the reason why eventually the creative media outlets gave up on trying to get people to pay directly for copies of media. A hound is just a cute word for a pirate, after all, and while they can't admit it publically, they'll happily dig their jaws into post-Pandora media just as much. Doesn't matter if you're only charging a dollar, a hound is not going to pay for it when they can gank a free copy from someone, somewhere, somehow.
As the war settled down, as Eastusa settled down, as people stopped being too busy field stripping assault rifles to think about luxuries like copyrighted entertainment, new models were used by the big media companies. Subscriptions. Bundled packages. All-day theatre passes. Nothing worked; FREE was the new gold standard. Although some industries cling to the idea of selling their products today (comic books, notably, also some indie movie and game efforts trying to prove a point) the vast majority have switched to indirect funding. Ad spots, selling demographic data, making the people involved INTO the product itself...
This is a really long winded way of introducing my story, I know. I just tend to go on a run when I start on sociology and history.
I was trying to make some contacts in the Baltimore area, to work my way out of tincan alley bartending and into high end event planning. A friend of mine was managing catering for a big movie premiere, and after a complicated network of favor-cashing that'd make a Faerie do a double take, I was in as one of the ground control officers for crowd control and staff relations.
The movie had already been released for free earlier that morning, in digital video format with embedded ads. (Which were stripped out minutes later. It's still an ongoing war, no matter how much big media claims to be playing nice with the hounds.) But some things are simply tradition -- and a big gala premiere event is one of them. The film had been struck to actual 24 FPS celluloid, an unthinkable concept considering even pre-Pandora theatres were going digital before everything went to crap. The novelty of that, along with the parade of stars and celebs, along with live video stream coverage, along with heavy corporate sponsorship of the event to get their brand out... it was enough to make this a pretty big deal. And it was my ticket out of the slums.
I'd rented a really nice dress, memorized the planned event layout, researched every guest. I wanted to be ready to make smalltalk at the drop of a hat with people five steps removed from my pay scale. In the end, the one thing I failed to research sufficiently was the movie itself.
This was in the first year Post-Emily. Glorifying the Fae war was no longer considered tasteful; they had reached out in peace, and would eventually become full allies with Eastusa with the election of Petersen the next year. But this movie had been in development for years before peace broke out, a lot of money was spent on the special effects, and damned if it was no longer in good taste. It WOULD be released.
And it was absolutely taste free, in every sense of the word. It portrayed the Fae assault which silenced the city of Austin, Texas. Now, nobody REALLY knew what happened there... the population dwindled in a matter of days, people simply vanishing off the streets, until it was clear there was a full-on Faerie invasion force within the Freedom Walls. Someone had taken every rumor and every tall tale about Austin and crafted a horror movie out of it, about a lone band of survivors led by an aging war veteran, desperately fighting to survive the attack from "Shadowhounds," whatever those were. Gore was the order of the day, and it was reflected tackily in the fake-blood-sauce soaked catering table, with plenty of red meat and sandwiches to go around.
Despite the nervousness about the politically hot subject matter, the event went off quite well, honestly. You'd think this story would end with "and they all died horribly," considering how my other blog entries have ended up... but it was a peaceful event. With one exception.
I'd memorized the attendance list, but even with every single 8x10 headshot I could get my hands on, I couldn't recognize all the guests on sight. It wasn't my job to do that, of course, there was technically security in place to handle gatecrashers. And somehow, as I moved around the crowd trying to take stock of which tables needed fresh loads of roast beef... I spotted someone who didn't belong.
Maybe it was an echo of the creature in the overcoat, what felt like so long ago, in an alley behind a Baltimore bar. Maybe it was some primal sense of self preservation despite knowing exactly where and when I was going to die. But he did NOT belong. And the worst of it was that I didn't even get a good look at him; he'd spotted me spotting him and was already on the move before I could get a lock. Seconds later, he disappeared into the thick of the crowd, towards the more poorly lit corners of the room.
I tried to shake off the creeping willies, but knew better by that point in my life than to ignore my instincts. But telling security didn't help much. "What did he look like?" "I don't know, I didn't get a good look." "And you know he didn't belong here because...?" "Just... because." If I kept along those lines, I'd ruin the reputation I was trying to build tonight, I'd sour the contacts I was making. I gave up quickly, and hoped whatever I'd gazed upon would quietly go away.
It was during the actual presentation of the film that I spotted him again. I'd been invited up to the projection booth by a theatre buff who had been hired to run the show -- a replica of an old 35mm film projector. He thought I was fascinated by the ancient technology that was powering this event, when really, I just wanted a bird's eye view over the crowd. Not that I had any idea what I'd do if I saw the intruder again, but... I had to know. I have a bad habit of wanting to know. I know.
He was sitting in the back of the theatre. I could only see him from above, just the top of a head. I could still tell he didn't belong.
One second later he definitely didn't belong in a seat five rows forward. He shouldn't have been able to move that fast, skipping from shadow to shadow.
I tried to get the attention of the projectionist, who was busy rambling on about how they weren't REALLY called cigarette burns and that was all the fault of some movie about fighting, when I noticed we weren't alone in the room.
"Where is he?" the man in the dark suit asked. He wasn't looking at me; he was looking down through the window, same as I was. Hunting.
"He... he's... fifteenth row, middle section," I said.
The young man was gone before the projectionist had even turned around.
If I have a bad habit of wanting to know, I have a worse habit of wanting to chase down that knowledge and corner it. It should get me killed, if not for, well. Which is why I did it, and quite frequently, in fact.
It was only the chance sight of an EXIT signed door swinging shut that I was able to track down what was going on. This time, I didn't just burst out into an alley and end up assaulted; I knew where that door led. I knew a quick way to get out there, one which would keep me out of sight, behind some dumpsters. The more you know...
They were fighting. The young man in the suit, and the ragged looking fellow whose features I was having trouble identifying. He kept trying to squirm away from the man's grasp... sinking into the darkness one second, hauled out after. The young man exhibted strength beyond human capability, pulling his captive away from any manner of escape. This went on, snarling and grunting and struggling, until finally... the one who did not belong put up his hands, pushing away and standing very still. Surrendering.
I don't know if I remember everything I heard properly, but I'll do my best.
"The human insults us, my liege," a raspy, bitter voice spoke. "We are owed considerable debt for that insult. He portrays our Winterhound kin as cheap puppets and beasts!"
"We were cheap puppets and beasts," the young man spoke -- a calm voice, quiet, soft spoken. (He should've been completely winded from the fight. What kind of stamina did he have, to do that?) "You know what your Queen wants from you, what she wants you to become. Stalking this movie director is not part of your future. Or do you want to go the way of the Dylan and his Icepack?"
The growling other didn't like these words, but made no further hostile moves. "If not for my own honor, then for YOURS. You are the Scout! You were the survivor. We could not break you, only kill you. Even our Queen could not break you! And yet, this mortal depicts you as a cowardly little lackey of the great Saul!"
"It's only a story. A meaningless story, unimportant," the man spoke, with a light roll of the shoulders. "It flows past me as it should you. We are done here, Winterhound. Return to the wastes and let us speak no more of this."
After only a moment's hesitation, the hunter stepped backwards into a shadow, and was gone.
I don't know where the man went, because at that moment, someone distracted me.
She wore a surprisingly old-world, Fringe style dress. She had a large sun bonnet on, which was doubly strange considering it was approaching midnight. I don't think that was the hat she was wearing. She was wearing some other hat, but I don't know what hat. It's hard to explain.
"Hey, where do I get my parking validated?" she asked me. "I don't want some jackass impounding my broom."
I was too shaken to do anything except babble some basic information memorized from my prep work about tickets and getting rubber stamps.
"Thanks," she said... putting a hand on my shoulder. "And for what it's worth... I think you're making the right decision about your future. Not the easy one. Just the right one."
They were gone soon after.
The event must've gone well enough, despite this unseen confrontation. I had a number of callbacks the next day, asking me to come out and assist with other gigs around town. I was able to quit my bartending job soon after.
Time was running out, but the young woman was right. I was making the right decision. In the meanwhile, I'd make sure everybody in the room had a good time, even if I wasn't able to. Give of yourself, and you shall be free, my mother always said. I was going to live up to that.
After learning when I was going to die, I kinda fell out of the dating scene. I took up jobs that helped other people score, but I'd voluntarily bowed out of the league. But there was one exception to this.
I almost didn't write up this entry. I want to respect his privacy, considering his tenuous situation. But mostly I'm not looking forward to reopening old wounds, because in hindsight, I loved him more than I'd ever loved anyone before. All the boy toys and hangout guys from my high school days, the ones who got me in trouble or just spent time being bored together with me, they were time wasters. With Kev, the time was never wasted. God. I wish he was back here. I wish I could see him again before I die, I wish
I should stick to telling the story.
I'd gone south a bit, to Atlanta. It was a happening scene in the age of Fae peace, since it was right in the fringe, right on the border, but still a very urbane example of Eastusa. (The holdouts of Texas were farther southwest, yeah, but they weren't as fun as Atlanta. Texans can be scary-intense about their territory, especially since the Austin disaster.) I'd used my contacts in the food service industry to nail a job working in a tiny independent coffee bar... a great place, a mom and pop run by a very hip mom and pop, who'd turned their cobbled together little pile of sofas and tables and cappucino machines into THE spot for independent music and beat poetry in Atlanta. I had some good times there. And I had Kev.
Kev was new in town, just like me. He didn't know anyone. He had a hard time getting along with people. Oh, he was friendly as heck, and never dropped his smile, but... talking with him was like talking with a stereotypical foreign tourist from an old movie. He didn't get the little turns of phrase English revelled in, he didn't know the slang, he wasn't current on anything.
For media hounds who are so soaked in 20th century flicks that they've lost touch with reality, they'd be all like "Oh, well, he just wasn't from around these parts." But it's not like there are any other actual parts to be from. If he had pointy ears, okay, sure, reasonable that he wouldn't get how things work. But the only physical oddity about him was his snow white hair... otherwise, totally human. And presumably from Eastusa, just like everybody else.
After his fifth failure at trying to make conversation (he was going on at length about how aesthetically pleasing the chrome napkin holders were) his smile was starting to dip. I think that's why I took a quick break from behind the bar to go talk to him. He had such a bright smile... despite being considered a geek and an oddball, he never lost his smile. I didn't want him to start today.
I was patient with him. I didn't ask why he'd stumble over the occasional turn of phrase, I didn't ask why he used such intricately technical words to describe every little thing. I didn't care that he was out of tune with everything else because, well, I was out of tune with life ever since my prophetic mishap. Kindred spirits. The ones who didn't belong.
He didn't want to talk about his past. Didn't really want to talk about himself. I didn't push him. We talked about the city, about the things he'd seen wandering through it. He was fascinated by everything... the mundane held wonder for him. The brick of the buildings, the way it formed a symmetric pattern from afar, with tiny and beautiful imperfections when you got in close. The way the sound of traffic formed an orchestra, engines revving up and down, the ebb and flow of commuters forming waves of sound that echoed across the city. He even went on about the beauty of the cockroaches in his crappy little one room apartment. Apparently, wherever he was from, they didn't have vermin. He FED his vermin, and gave it little pet names. They got along fine.
After awhile... I started being an Optimist, too.
That's what he called himself, an "Optimist." It was like a religious cult, maybe, or just some school of philosophy. It found beauty in all things, believed in the greater spirit of mankind and its ability to band together against what challenged it... and above all, Optimism held eternal hope for the future.
I had trouble with that, at first. I knew my future, I knew I didn't have one. And yet... my time spent with Kev, lying on the roof of my apartment building looking at the stars, enjoying a quiet cup in the corner of the bar, even just sitting on the couch and watching videos... I looked forward to those times. My future was brightened. True, it was just my immediate future, and the sour part of me inside kept pointing out that it couldn't last, but... I loved it all the same. I wanted it to last.
Still, it wasn't fair to Kev, what I was doing. I'd be dead soon. He'd be alone again. I wouldn't have wanted that to happen to me, so, I had to come clean. If he thought I was insane and left me, well, that'd just go to show. But maybe Optimism would win out in the end...
So, one day, when he noticed I kept packing up the same backpack every single morning, I explained why I was doing that. I told him about the ice, and about the darkness, and about what I had to do.
It was the first time I saw sorrow on Kev's face. And yet, his smile never faded. Because he understood what I was going through, and what I had to do. He was... proud of me. He was so very proud of me for what I was going to do. And swore he'd support me, for as long as he could.
The secrets started coming out, after that. My troubled past. My mistakes in life. And, eventually... the truth of his own past.
He told me about the Orbitals. How they were stranded on this world, trying to find some way to survive long enough to make something of their time here. Rolling blackouts had begun in their home city, as they fumbled about and sought solutions for their power problem. ("I love my people, but a dozen Optimists without a single Pragmatist around to keep them organized would be a fine basis for one of your amusing light bulb anecdotes.") As a musician by trade, he felt useless back home, simply another drain on already limited resources. For the good of his people, he struck out on his own.
It was all on the table, now. My doom. His hopes. And, unfortunately... his talent. Which I encouraged, after hearing how he'd been hiding it away all this time.
His musical instrument was not of this world. It was a "soundshape," a silvery cube... or sphere... or cone, depending on how he manipulated it with his fingers. As his touches played across its surface, it would sing in a voice that had no voice, an orchestra without any identifiable instruments. It simply... CAUSED music. And it was one of the most wonderful things I had ever heard. Obviously, Kev had to share this with the world; if it could bring someone like me to tears, someone who already was mourning herself, imagine how others would react!
For two glorious weeks, Kev and his mystery instrument was the talk of the local indie music scene. I used my contacts to get him bookings in clubs around town; I printed the flyers, I made sure asses were in seats. For a time, it was perfect. Every evening, Kev would enthrall the crowd, and then we'd retire to his little apartment to enjoy the rest of the night. Wake up late, have a good lunch, get back to work prepping for the next gig... it was the perfect union of feeling like I had a working purpose and love to come home to, every day.
News of Kev and his soundshape travelled fast.
All the way down to New Orleans.
They came one Thursday morning for him. Two of them, both with the same white hair Kev had. But they didn't have his smile.
He was making too many waves. They'd all agreed that it was too early for the Orbitals to enter the general population; until their power situation was sorted out, their miracles had to be held in secret, lest their limited resources be overtaxed to the breaking point, etc., etc... the arguement went on for hours. It was the first time I'd ever heard Kev raise his voice in anger.
In the end... he agreed to leave. He didn't want to leave, he didn't want to leave me, but he felt too much obligation to his people to walk away from them.
I couldn't go with him, and he knew it. Maybe that February wasn't the final one... but next February could be. Or the one after that. If I wasn't in a city in the winter, then I wouldn't be where I needed to be, and I wouldn't die. I certainly wasn't going to die in some super-future city made out of shiny silver. So... I had to stay behind.
Even if I wanted to hate him for abandoning me, I just couldn't. I still can't. I miss him so much, I miss how alive I felt with him, but I can't hate him for leaving this gaping hole in my life. It's not his fault; I wasn't meant for that. I was meant to die, and to die with purpose. That purpose was not Kev.
I have to stop. This is hurting too much. Sorry.
I hate February.
I never liked it, even back when I didn't know I was going to die in a February. It's a lousy month. Winter's still in full force, freak ice storms wreck everything, and of course there's the small matter of Valentine's Day. Everybody has a good day then except me. (And usually I'm catering to those having that good day.)
Every day, every February, I have a routine. Wake up, yawn, pee, wash up, get dressed. And pack the backpack.
The backpack contains a very specific set of items. It's got food and clean drinking water, tightly bottled in unbreakable thermoses. There's a flashlight and batteries. First aid kit. A powerful satellite phone with built in GPS. Finally, insulin. I had to research to figure out exactly what I needed there... how much, what kind, what dose would match up to what I knew I'd need. Along the same lines I had to buy the same kinds of prepackaged snacks every year, making sure to refresh them around the 15th, in case they were going bad.
With my morning routine done, I'd head out into the city. I wasn't sure WHAT city I needed to be in, just... a city. Presumably whenever it happened, it'd be happening in the city I happened to be in. I'd go to work, I'd do my thing, I'd come home. The timing would have to work itself out. It WOULD work itself out.
Maybe I should finally explain what I've been hinting at during all these blog entries. I've run out of things to write, so, this'll make a suitable last entry.
In college, I was a bit wild. Partying, drinking, staying out all night. (It's what educated me on how to ensure other people enjoyed partying, drinking, and staying out all night.)
My personal favorite thing to do was invent new mixed drinks. Twist of this, pinch of that, equal measures this and the other. My boyfriend at the time was my experimental lab subject; he'd take first crack at anything I made and let me know if it was fit for human consumption.
One year, for my birthday, he decided to get me something special. Something unique, which nobody else had, which nobody else COULD have. He had some friends down in Florida, which was shorthand for "elven friends." (This was back before the peace, when Fae contraband was strictly controlled... although the Florida border was particularly lose.) He traded some blue jeans and music files for my birthday gift.
It was two ice cubes. Looked harmless and ordinary enough, which meant he could smuggle them back into Eastusa without suspicion, but they carried an ominous name... "Tears of Winter." Supposedly, if you mixed them in a beverage of your choice, you could see the future.
And hey, who wouldn't want to give THAT a shot? Seeing the future is always awesome and never terrible. Unless you know your classical Greek literature or have seen, I don't know, ANY science fiction movie ever...
My boy and I mixed them in with rum and coke. Poured two glasses. Because we liked to stand on ceremony, and he was actually a considerate guy, he decided to try his first to make sure it wouldn't make my head explode. Downed the whole glass in one go.
His head did not explode. But he did... stare a bit, off into space. I waved my hand in front of his eyes once or twice and he snapped out of it... and came up smiling. Laughing, even. I tried to ask what was so funny, but he mumbled something like "Wait right here" and ran out of the dorm room, out of the building, got in his truck and hauled ass outta there.
I wasn't about to drink my doom beverage without knowing what the heck just happened, so... for lack of a better option, I waited. I didn't have to wait long.
He burst back into the room, still full of energy, and immediately fired up my television. Tuned it to a network stream, where they were reading off lotto numbers.
He'd just won two million dollars.
"I saw myself in the corner store market near my old house, buying this exact ticket, with these exact numbers," he explained. "I knew what I was seeing; I was seeing myself picking the winner. The future is AWESOME."
It didn't make any sense, of course. It's not like he'd have spontaneously zoomed out to a very specific store and bought a very specific lottery ticket if the ice cubes hadn't told him to... and it's not like they showed him the results being read on TV, no, he saw THAT store, and himself buying THAT ticket. The future happened because he saw it happening and he was only too happy to make sure it happened the way he saw it happening.
What would've happened if he chose not to obey the future? COULD he have avoided it? Well, given he was now a millionare, he clearly didn't want to, so. Moot point.
Of course, with that shining example of how terrific prophecy can be, I immediately took my glass and downed it.
Should be obvious by now that I didn't get good news.
Enough mystery. Let me tell you what I saw.
It was dark. It was cold. And I was dying. The building had collapsed around me, crushing me. I could feel steel rebar puncturing my stomach, the worst pain I'd ever felt in my entire life. I was only moments away from my death, and that's what the Tears of Winter chose to show me.
I had no idea where I was... what building, what city. It was all rubble, closed in, buried. I couldn't even tell exactly when it was going to happen, since my wristwatch was broken. All I could see was F-E-B. February. I'd die in a February of some year.
You'd think I'd be overjoyed at this vision. After all, I knew how to avoid it... February was months away from my birthday. I could move out to the sticks, take up farming, avoid any buildings that could possibly fall on me. The Tears had shown me how to escape my certain fate.
But there was the backpack.
There were other people trapped with me. They'd survived, with only minor injuries... but wouldn't stay alive, trapped down here, without help. I'd brought help, in the form of a backpack which had food, water, light, power, communications, and insulin for the young boy who was already starting to go into shock.
The last thing I saw was his mother, stupefied at the spilled out contents of the backpack, at the medicine I'd packed without having any way of knowing it would be needed.
How did you know...? she was saying, before I blacked out.
And then I was back in my dorm room, with my idiot grinning millionare boyfriend.
Do you see now? Do you get it?
I couldn't avoid the future. I was going to die. And if I didn't die, if I ducked out of my doom, other people were going to die. The boy. The mother. The others, huddled in the corner, my vision blurry and bloody. If I didn't do the impossible, if I didn't have exactly what they'd need to survive the disaster, they wouldn't survive the disaster. Work crews would be hauling out half a dozen bodies.
The future was going to happen because I saw it happen and I had to make sure it happened the way I saw it happening.
I resisted, at first. The weeks after that fateful beverage were hell for me, as I tried to remember details, tried to figure out where the disaster had happened. If I could predict it, I could call the cops, I could tell somebody and they could stop it. Or at the very least, I could figure out who I was trapped with, and warn them not to go into town that day. Whatever that town was.
In the end, it was impossible to tell. All I knew is what the Tears of Winter showed me... February. Doom. And salvation, for a handful that would die if I was to live.
Eventually I got used to the idea. It felt heroic, brave, to do what needed to be done. That wore off after the first nerve-wracking February slid by without a single incident worth note. Each year, I came to dread it more and more, feeling dead inside in the months approaching, and unable to find relief in the months that followed.
I found some light, mind you. I loved my work. I met Kev. I made people happy, people other than me, made sure they had a good time. Me, the wallflower, here and gone without anybody noticing.
I don't know what year is going to be my last one. Every February, I'll prepare the backpack, exactly as I remember it. I'll go about my business. Eventually the Tears of Winter will catch up to me, and that'll be it. But they'll live. They'll live, and I'll die, but I'll be okay with it. Not happy with it. Just okay.
Closing time, now. Last call. You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here. Goodbye.
copyright 2010 stefan gagne