This Smells Terrible

Nosey Delights

From the yeasty warmth of freshly baked bread to the clean, summery haze of lavender flowers, we all have favorite smells we find particularly comforting. What’s yours?

The candle store is one of the rare, shared experiences that everyone has had. You might not realize it, and it might not have taken place in an actual candle shop, but you’ve had the experience. You wander the halls, your buddy says, “This smells terrible, smell it,” and then you take a whiff.

Why do we do that? Why are we so compelled to share in the suffering of others?

Go Away

Full Disclosure

A mad scientist friend offers you a chip that would allow you to know what the people you’re talking to are thinking. The catch: you can’t turn it off. Do you accept the chip?

Have we ever considered why that scientist is mad? Is he just having a bad day? Is his wife leaving him? Did he accidentally delete his 98% Grand Theft Auto save? The reason it matters is because before I let someone implant a chip in my brain, I kind of want to know his mental state. If my surgeon stumbles in stinking of borboun and hookers, I’m okay with that (since that’s pretty much the default state for a surgeon), but if he’s also boiling over with an immense rage because the barista at Starbucks forgot to add whip to his triple shot soy vanilla latte, I might have second thoughts.

Secondly, is the implantation of a mind-altering chip covered by ObamaCare? Or rather, I should say, is the implantation of a second mind-altering chip covered; the first is obviously mandated by the law. On one hand, I’m now interested, but on the other, I don’t want to end up with a bunch of medical bills that aren’t covered. And while we’re on the topic, are we sure that this chip won’t interfere with the first chip? Obviously, Obama’s chip will run Ubuntu, since it’s Islamic, and is that compatible with whatever operating system the mad scientist has put together? (Probably Windows Vista.)

Thirdly, will there be scarring? I mean, let’s say that the mad scientist is qualified to do surgery, and it’s going to be covered and compatible with ObamaCare. I’m not going to do this unless I end up with some badass scar. I assume it’s somewhere in my head, so if I could get some really cool jagged scar running from behind my right ear, around the back of my head, and up to above my left eyebrow, that’d seal the deal. I suppose it’s possible that the mad scientist would install it somewhere other than the head, so there are some other scar options that would be acceptable.

So, it’s covered, installed by someone remotely competent, and will leave me with an awesome scar. I’d totally do it. Sure, it’d get boring listening to everyone think, “Go away,” whenever I’m talking to them, but what the hell do I care? I’ve got a kickass scar.

Adventures

Fictional Intruder

Go down the rabbit hole with Alice; play quidditch with Harry Potter; float down the river with Huck Finn… If you could choose three fictional events or adventures to experience yourself, what would they be?

  • Huck Finn would actually be one of my choices. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is actually an incredible book: It serves as a mirror, both to your age and maturity, but to your biases and prejudices. And journeying down the river with Huck and Jim would go a long way to sating the wanderlust that has been clawing at the edges of my mind for several years right now. It would be a marvelous adventure to partake, equal parts history lesson and epic quest.
  • Flying with Rogue Squadron, either from the Star Wars movie or now non-canon books, would be a close second. Once upon a time, before life got complicated and stupid, I playing a lot of X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter. A lot. And I was good at it. XvT had an absolute brutal advancement system, requiring you to risk and win against top flight players to advance in the highest ranks. And advance I did. Not only would flying with a fictional elite starfighter group be exceptional, but it would bring back memories of a more fun time.
  • I think the last option would be experiencing events in my own book. Because that means it was a success, right?

The Kindness of Devils

This piece is considered Flash Fiction. For more information on what Flash Fiction is and how it relates to the core project, see the Project Overview.

Belladonna Markova knew that Natalie would love the gift. It was hard for her to not reach out and open the small metal box perched atop her workstation to look at the gleaming crystal pendant contained within. She hadn’t needed long to decide to buy it when she had received a performance bonus for her work as a traffic controller.

An array of red indicator lights glowed on her workstation, casting both Markova’s face and the metal box in a hellish glow. A swipe of her hand on the workstation’s screen brought the display to life. A glowing green arrow creeped along a yellow line toward a green circle. The green arrow represented the latest contact assigned to Markova. For some strange reason, a tiny fluttering bird of doubt made its way through her mind.

Markova pulled out the small keyboard that was tucked under the desk. With a few keystrokes, a small box appeared next to the green arrow, listing some information pulled directly from the spaceship’s transponder. Or rather, it was supposed to be pulled directly from the spaceship’s transponder. Something in the data, however, made that fluttering bird chirp loudly, but Markova couldn’t understand the words.

The small black box caught Markova’s eye as she began rapidly typing on the keyboard. How could she present it to Natalie? Because of the long hours Markov spent in traffic control, Natalie typically went to work after her and returned before. Could she simply walk in, present the box, and watch her partner’s eyes glitter like that crystal would? It was simple, but sometimes simple was good.

The chirping of the bird led Markova to a long ship manifest. Vessels of nearly countless specifications filled the list, with each name highlighted according to the diplomatic relationships with the capsuleer alliance that operated this station. Some of those relationships had been forged in the crucible of battle, some in the boardrooms of commerce, and others out of mere convenience. A station needed food and supplies to feed the countless individuals who worked aboard it.

Something in Markova’s mind realized what was wrong: that yellow line didn’t make any sense. The green triangle was a few jumps out from the system containing the station, but if it really was a Viator-class transport belonging to the capsuleer alliance that paid Markova’s salary and maintained the station, why was it coming from that direction? Viators were used for high-value freight, and high-value freight shouldn’t be coming from that direction.

She knew what Natalie’s response would be, regardless of how she presented the gift. At first, her eyes would get wide taking in the beauty of the faceted crystal and its understated silver setting. Then she’d close the box, not daring to touch the seemingly-fragile piece of beauty. Finally, she’d insist that Markova return it. They couldn’t afford it. Everything they had needed to be earned and paid for; she wouldn’t allow either of them to be a debtor.

Natalie had grown up poor; neither her mother, father, or three brothers had been able to so much as read, living in the godforsaken slum of some station in Minmatar space, living on menial labor and crime to survive. When Natalie and her sister slipped through forgotten maintenance corridors and ventilation shafts to reach the upper levels of the station ad catch a glimpse of the stars, they had both been absolutely terrified by the infinite darkness broken only by a few pinpricks of light and a distant moon. Their parents had been terrified as well, not by the missing girls, but by the notion that the darkness would consume their souls.

The tracking screen flashed, and the green triangle grew closer to the green circle, shortening the yellow line as it approached. Markova grimaced. She pulled up the manifest. Ostensibly, the ship was chock-full of medical supplies: Pharmaceuticals, anti-fungal filters, and durable medical goods. It was appropriate for transport in an expensive ship such as a Viator. Markova began to wonder if there had been a new depot set up in that direction, or if the Viator had simply gotten lost. The bird was screeching now.

To the best of their knowledge, Natalie and her sister Natasha had not lost their souls to the infinite dark. The two girls used that first, terrifying vision as motivation: Both of them wanted to see those glittering stars again, and the only way they figured to get there was through hard work. Against the wishes and fears of their parents, they’d learned to read and write and cook. Of those three, cooking was what took them away from the squalor they’d grown up in.

Somewhere along the line, the women learned a great deal of business sense, and now found themselves the owners and operators of fourteen restaurants on this station, far away from where they’d been born. Natalie and Markova had met at one of Natalie’s restaurants, and their relationship had blossomed from friendship to love to commitment in a matter of months. Never before having a last name, one of Natalie’s most prized possessions was taking Markova’s as her own.

Markova snapped open one of the local channels, normally reserved for capsuleer chatter. Such channels were normally reserved for those immortal gods that piloted capsule-compatible ships, but a few years ago, another traffic controller had taught Markova how to catch a glimpse of them. She couldn’t use them to talk, and she could only see them for a minute or two before CONCORD’s protocols kicked her out, but a few minutes was all she needed. The channel was used for capsuleer intelligence, and no one reported the incoming Viator as hostile.

The man’s soft footsteps announced his arrival. It wasn’t her supervisor; his heavy and shuffling gait was immediately recognizable. Without looking back, Markova could sense the man move over her right shoulder, peering at the contact display. The green triangle was now yellow, matching the line, indicating that docking control had requested inbound information on the vessel in order to make a berthing decision. Time was running out. Markova needed to either ignore or silence that bird.

Depending on its configuration and equipment, a Viator could have several dozen to over a hundred crew members. But this station contained many times that number, not to mention the number of people in local space that depended upon this station and its services. No matter what her job title, the station’s safety was paramount. She had to protect it.

Her hand reached back to the keyboard, to enter the sequence noting the Viator as a potential threat. While she had no direct control over defense assets, her recommendation would go a long way toward the reception it would meet. Flagging it as hostile would ensure careful scanning and treatment.

A hand fell on her shoulder, heavy and oppressive. For the first time, she glanced back at the figure over her shoulder. The light in the control center was dim to reduce the controllers’ eye strain, but he seemed to be wearing a sharply-tailored black suit. She didn’t recognize him, but he’d clearly gotten access to the control center somehow. This was not somewhere most residents of the station could simply enter.

The spark of horrible coincidence ignited in her mind. Could the bonus she’d received for “exceptional service,” allowing her to purchase Natalie’s pendant, the Viator and its strange approach direction, and this strange man all be connected?

She took no changes, moving her hand to key in the alert sequence. The Viator had entered the system, and was mere moments away from entering warp to the station. As she did, the man’s hand, still incredibly heavy, tightened on her shoulder. She turned in her chair, catching his cold stare directly for the first time.

His eyes were unblinking, dark, and cold. With a deliberate nod of his head and no expression on his dark-skinned face, the man gestured toward the metal box. Only then did his lips spread into a thin smile. His grip loosened.

She thought of Natasha, and her struggle to get educated, to enter a world that was alien and hostile to her. She’d suffered and sacrificed to puller herself into something better than the hardscrabble existence her parents and brothers knew. She’d worked hard for everything she had earned, and took pride in being able to account for and afford everything in her life.

She thought of Natalie, and how much she’d love that pendant.

She thought of Natalie, and how much she’d hate what had made that pendant affordable.

Her hands moved toward the keyboard as the man’s soft footsteps receded from the room.

A Long, Good Weekend

I owe you a post today, but things aren’t conducive to it.

  1. I had a great weekend. I got to catch up with friends. It was fantastic.
  2. I had a busy day at work. That’s not a bad thing.
  3. I’m way to distracted to finish up what I need to do to get you that Flash Fiction post I owe you.

Deal with it.

A Lazy Conquerer

Fearless Fantasies

How would your life be different if you were incapable of feeling fear? Would your life be better or worse than it is now?

Worse.

That’s a fact. Fear is one of the biggest protectors of actions. Fear is the reason we decide to not replace the smoke detector on our cathedral ceiling at 2:00 a.m. Fear is the reason we decide to maybe not drive 120 mph down a country road in the middle of a moonless night. Fear defines our limitations, and fear helps scratch out indistinct but present boundaries to what we’ll do in our lives. Without fear, I’d be dead.

But there’s ways to conquer fear, and it is those ways that I wish I could master.

I’ve lived in fear for years, paralyzed by the notion that, “things can still get worse.” There’s a built-in mantra of, “be happy with what you have.” We’re reminded by the fact that the grass isn’t always, in fact, greener on the other side of the fence. So we stick with the familiar instead of branching out, happy in our routines.

And now I’m trapped in that routine, and I hate it. There’s a growing wanderlust in my mind. I would like nothing more to pack a big suitcase full of clothes and cash and drive to… somewhere. And then drive somewhere else. To live a life that exists only in literature. Because the reality of it is constrained by that ever present suburban sloth in a garden of fear. What about my job? What about my mortgage? What about my life? In the process of fearing what might go wrong, I avoid living my life.

I would not like to live without fear, however. I’d like to live with a regular reminder that, sometimes, conquering those fears and going outside of your comfort zone pays off. I need to stop worrying so much about hitting a tree or falling, and start remembering the triumphant joy felt at conquering a difficult ski slope. I need to stop worrying about being judged and shunned, and start remembering the warm welcome and friends made by daring to join a public D&D game. That would be capital.

In the meantime, I’ll be over here, quietly and safely living my life, even as it crumbles. Because that’s less scary.

Steal My Soul

Can’t Stand Me

What do you find more unbearable: watching a video of yourself, or listening to a recording of your voice? Why?

Glassy Spider Lake

Glassy Spider Lake

I once had a pretty substantial photo album, hosted on this very domain. Had is a misnomer, in fact. Have is more correct. If you want to see the photos, I’m sure you can figure out a way to find them at .senorpez.com. They’re still there.

But you’ll notice something quite peculiar: One day, I just stopped taking photos, both of other things and of myself.

It wasn’t that my camera was broken. In fact, I still have the camera that took most of those photos. It’s still a pretty great point-and-shoot camera.

I think it was a combination of hating myself, and hating my life. In retrospect, my pictures highlight the missing pieces in my life. There are a lot of pictures of buildings and landscapes and locations, and fewer pictures of people. My photos were always about experiencing a place, thing, or event; they were never about experiencing a place, thing, or event with other people. They lack a connectable humanity to them, being little more than terrible still-lifes.

And then there’s me. It’s easy to start pointing fat, sausage-like fingers at other things, but the fact of the matter is that I lost control of my own body image, transforming into something I wasn’t really all that happy about. Being immortalized in photos in that state was not something I wanted.

So a twofold effort began to take shape. I took less photos. No one cared about my photos from a baseball game that I attended by myself because I didn’t have anyone else that wanted to go, so it wasn’t like I was disappointing anyone, right? With fewer and fewer photos taken there were fewer and fewer photos posted, and eventually, a complete lack of posting altogether. I’m not even sure if the software that drives the gallery is updated anymore; it’s probably a massive security hole, now that I think about it.

Secondly, I became a gypsy, deftly avoiding appearing in my scant few photos or the photos taken by other people, all in the name to preserve my precious soul. It’s pretty impressive, in fact, to page through Facebook galleries and events and find me in so few pictures. Pictures will be taken at an event this weekend, but I’ll do my best to be as invisible as a morbidly-obese white man can be.

Abstract Thought

Frame of Mind

If you could paint your current mood onto a canvas, what would that painting look like? What would it depict?

Bill Clinton the Lady Killer

Nothing is more awesome than this picture.

Seriously. Look at that fucking picture. Nothing is ever going to be more awesome.

Yeah, a first glance, you’re like, “Sweet, Bill Clinton is blasting something with a MAC-10.” Then you notice his Monica and his action-ready pants. That he’s wearing a saxamaphone like a weapon of war. The nuclear-armed crocogator. Ronald McDonald blasting an alien with a shotgun.

This has nothing to do with my mood; I just wanted to talk about that picture.


My current canvas would look more like something out of the Museum of Shitty Modern Art. Does such a thing exist? Should such a thing exist? Is there some measurable aestheic difference that separates paint-splattered canvases into “art” and “hangs in your doctor’s lobby?” It’d be all swirls of color and doubt, of hope and anxiety, of the constant inability to focus on anything for more than an hour or so.

There’s a lot of good talk about life’s “inflection points.” For the liberal arts majors who have joined us in our rambling today (here’s a hint, there aren’t any, not because liberal arts majors don’t read this blog, but because no one reads this blog), an inflection point is where the slope of a curve changes. An inflection point can mean a change from bad to good: maybe you get that big promotion at work and can finally afford to marry that hooker with a heart of gold. Or the other way around.

I’m definitely at an inflection point. It’s a quality of my brain that I’m neccessarily pessimistic. For better or worse, I’ve learned that expecting the worse causes the pain to hurt less. But there are still a few threads in my brain that rampage back and forth like a hyperactive rabbit, telling me that, maybe, this time, everything will work out. (It won’t.) This causes a lot of disparete, jumbled thoughts, because the direction of my life is changing. For the better? For worse? I don’t know yet. (Also, for math nerds who are about to point out that an inflection neccessarily means it’ll change direction from up to down or down to up, I say, “Shut up.” Also, you don’t exist, since again, no one reads this blog.)

Take the fact that I’m writing here again. I meant to do this last year. I never got around to it. But now I feel both the need and desire to just create content. It doesn’t matter that the content might suck; it’s creation not for the no one that reads this blog, but for the sake of creating. There are numerous parables out there about the risks of creating for a purpose instead of the creation itself. You can find them yourself and read them. But when you create for selfish, closeted reasons, you end up creating art that feels selfish and closeted. When you create for the passion of creating, you create things worth saving.

Ask a Dumb Question

Reviving Bricks

You just inherited a dilapidated, crumbling-down grand mansion in the countryside. Assuming money is no issue, what do you do with it?

Wait, so I have a dilapidated, crumbling-down grand mansion and a limitless supply of money? If that’s the case, I completely ignore the mansion and use my limitless supply of money to travel the world, see the wonders of man and nature, and enjoy the rest of my life in leisure. That was easy.

If you argue that I have to use my limitless supply of money to work on the mansion, I’ll immediately start to use the mansion to launder that money to fund my life of leisure. Yes, I’ll pay you $10k a week to mow the lawn, but you have to promise to give me a $8k kickback and you can ignore the mowing part. Rinse and repeat.

Questions like this are dumb; they’re a dumb attempt to show the world how much better your interior decorating sense is. I’m sure there’s a subset of the world that cares; I’m not even remotely close to it. A far more interesting question is inheriting the manor and not having the time or money to restore it: What do you do then? But that doesn’t allow self-righteous idiots to flex their cutesy fantasy ideas of a friendly home for lost cats.

What use would I have for a grand mansion in the countryside? I’m not saying it wouldn’t be nice. It could serve as a writing retreat, where my unpublished and unpublishable novels could pile around me like so much floatsam. It could serve as a hunting grounds, where I could stalk pheasants and deer and the world’s most dangerous game. It could serve as a base for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing when winter comes and covers the world in sticky white substances.

But I have no use for a grand mansion in the countryside. What would it become other than another mausoleum bathed in shadows, dust, and echoes?

What Remains Behind

This piece is considered Flash Fiction. For more information on what Flash Fiction is and how it relates to the core project, see the Project Overview.

“What are we supposed to do, just wait until god comes back?” I asked, making sure the lower-case “g” on “god” was clear.

“Amarrians would have yer tongue for sayin’ that,” Drayton responded. His lips curled up in what passed as a smile for Drayton, gaps in his red-stained teeth glowing black. “I suppose you is Amarrian, course,” he added.

Technically, Drayton was correct. I was—or rather, am—Amarrian. But the Amarrian race and the Amarrian religion are two different things. I am of the former. I am not the latter. Not even close. God abandoned me long ago.

“Anyhoo, dats zactly what yer supposed to done,” Drayton added. “Yer a crewer, ain’t cha?”

I frowned. For someone born and raised in the depths of starships, whose reading comprehension extended very little beyond the symbols for “do not open: heat” and “do not open: radiation” and “do not open: vacuum,” Drayton often showed a remarkable depth of wisdom. He broke problems down into binary outcomes: Fixed or not fixed. Right or not right. For someone who claimed to not be Amarrian—and with his Matari blood, he was certainly not—Drayton most certainly could think like an Amarrian.

I just didn’t agree with him.

To my left, the cavernous zero-gravity hangar swallowed the light of the hundreds of balconies that overlooked it, casting everything contained in a clinging darkness. Nearest to the balcony where Drayton and I shared a drink, the beak of a massive golden hawk was barely visible.

It wasn’t actually a hawk, of course, but the prow of a vessel that had once been—and still was—the pride of the Amarrian navy: An Apocalypse-class battleship. With the rise of the capsuleer, the Amarrians had sold the plans of their instrument of holy justice to the highest bidder. But even with capsuleer technology, big ships still needed crew.

That’s where Drayton and I came in. Despite Drayton’s limited education, he more than made up for it with experience. He’d served on a variety of ships before the capsuleer Apocalypse, in each case keeping the ship’s power plants operating at peak efficiency. He was also a handy friend to have in a fight, which was important for every crewer. I worked in the weapons department. It was my job to ensure the massive machinery that handled crystals through which energy was focused into destructive lasers swapped in and out of position flawlessly.

I’d never been one for the regular navy. The Golden Fleet wouldn’t have taken me; my faith in God wasn’t strong enough. Regardless of mental or physical ability, regardless of social status or upbringing, the Golden Fleet could always find a place for those with a deep and sincere faith in God. Of course, that meant the Amarrian God. Other gods need not apply to the Golden Fleet, unless you were the one at which the lasers were pointed.

On a capsuleer ship, all bets are off. Walk around a crewing station for twenty minutes and you would hear stories of capsuleers who kept their crewers well-fed and well-housed, cared for almost as regular navy crew would have been, with reporting structures and policies to protect everyone in the capsuleer’s employ. You also hear stories of capsuleers whose ships were the survival of the fittest, with crewers scrounging for food and heat and the safest and easiest jobs went to those not most qualified, but those who would fight for them.

My last experience had been a solid middle ground. Crewers were hired by talent and experience, but the immortal god commanding the Apocalypse-class battleship never deigned to let us know his or her name. We never even knew the name of the vessel—we just called it the Apoc—on which we served. Or rather, serve.

If there’s one constant to life on a capsuleer ship as a non-capsuleer, its that life is cheap. When you sign up for this life, you sign up for wages that are far above what a navy will pay, in exchange for the knowledge that you will die. Maybe from the ship being destroyed, maybe from onboard accidents, maybe from your fellow crewers. But you will die. The capsuleers’ immortality and near limitless wealth push them to rush in where others should fear to tread, mortal flesh be damned.

They wake up in their new, body, immortal and preserved. You freeze to death in space.

But every once in a while, the god grows bored. The Apoc had spent a few months fighting Blood Raiders in the heart of Amarrian space; a holy crusade, indeed. Crewers died, but I survived, as did the Apoc. And then, one morning, after docking, the capsuleer never returned. I don’t know if my immortal god died, boarded another ship, or faded away due to the lethargy that seems to consume so many gods.

I still collect my salary chits every week. Like most crewers, I don’t have many expenses. Food and lodging is free on the Apoc. So half the pile goes into an account earmarked for my son and his half-brother when he turns twenty. The amount there should be enough to put both of them through something resembling an education, so they don’t end up like Drayton. The other half goes into the alcohol Drayton and I drink, sitting on a balcony, looking at a hangar from which the Apoc hasn’t left in over a year.

A capsuleer Eagle-class heavy assault cruiser is crewing up this afternoon. I know enough about weapons to figure out railgun ammunition. And despite the dark whispers I hear about that capsuleer’s treatment of his crewers, I’m tempted to abandon the Apoc, just as its god abandoned me.