Cultural Differences

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.

The generated words were: Bag, Gate, Direction, Cushion, Plague


Alarnoche Criellyllync grimaced as the smell of spices and frying meat wafted into his nose from the direction of a nearby restaurant. It was good fortune that he could smell once again; the illness that had stuffed up his sinuses and prevented him from smelling anything had finally broken last night. It was bad fortune that it happened just before he had to sit here, in Plaza Anton, suffering under the odor of Matari food. What they were doing to that meat should have been criminal.

Criellyllync considered the Matari a plague upon the Gallente Federation, an ally of convenience instead of value. When the Amarr Empire’s former slave race had risen up in revolt and carved out their own empire, the bleeding hearts that ruled the Federation had rushed to their aid and protection. Countless trillions of credits, men, and materiel were sent to prevent the great Amarr military machine from rolling over those who had once been slaves. Money flowed to the Matari, and refugees flowed back.

It was preposterous. How many of the Federation’s own citizens could have benefited from that huge expenditure? Would their homeworld still be ravaged by years of war and occupation by the Caldari State had some of those resources been directed at defending what was the Federation’s, as opposed to defending someone else’s freedom? Why should the Federation help others before helping itself? If a single Federation citizen was starving, who cared about feeding the Matari their spicy, overcooked food?

This was not a popular opinion, but Criellyllync was adept at plying the waters of politics. He kept his opinions discreet and short. Spreading that opinion to a wide audience would undoubtedly corrupt his original concerns—the security of his beloved Federation—into something twisted and evil. The media would crucify him, and the backlash would undoubtedly impact his employer, the Federation Senate. That just would not do. Criellyllync would happily lose his job. But if the Senate were weakened due to the comments of a high-ranking, non-political employee, that would be disastrous to his Federation.

Criellyllync saw his contact enter the courtyard. The dark-skinned Matari wore a white shirt and what might have passed for a pale blue business suit, had it not been so ill-fitting and rumpled. The double-breasted coat hung lifelessly over the man’s shoulders, and the pants showed no visible crease. A well-worn bag of some dark leather, lacking any ornamentation, was clutched in the man’s right hand.

“Mr. Alarnoche?” said Matari, sitting down on a cushion opposite Criellyllync. Criellyllync grimaced slightly, but was not surprised. Despite having their own ward here on the station, centered around Plaza Anton, many of the Matari refused to pick up on the nuance and language of their hosts. Spicy, overcooked food and the pidgin that passed for the Matari language suffused the air.

“Mr. Criellyllync,” he corrected. The Matari nodded, not seeming to understand the difference, and repeated Criellyllync’s surname back to him. It wasn’t even close to the correct pronunciation, but Criellyllync wasn’t here to give language lessons. In fact, the sooner he concluded his business and walked out of the gate to Plaza Anton and back to his own offices, the better.

Fresh Ground

Handmade Tales

Automation has made it possible to produce so many objects — from bread to shoes — without the intervention of human hands (assuming that pressing a button doesn’t count). What things do you still prefer in their traditional, handmade version?

Coffee

Coffee

This is kind of hipster trap question, isn’t it? I mean, isn’t one of the whole drivers of that hipster mindset the creation of artisan everything? Artisan bread, artisan beer, artisan hornrim glasses, artisan paint, artisan bullets, everything has to be artisan. And have an “established” date on the logo. Here’s a tip, hipsters: If every place you frequent says “established 2013,” they’re not actually all that great. Legacy is important; fake legacy is just as important.

I do think, however, that the one “handmade” item I enjoy is coffee. Sure, it’s easier to buy grounds or K-cups, but there’s a certain appeal to grinding your own beans in the morning, brewing your own pot of coffee, and enjoying it before you waste another day in that dead-end job that you should just quit. The sheen of oil on the beans, the smell of the fresh grounds, and the output are all important.

Coffee is one of those unique things that doesn’t require a lot of skill to make. You can probably teach a reasonably smart monkey to make a good pot of coffee. Unlike many recipes, volume doesn’t really affect the output, so it can easily be made for single servings or large groups. That makes it ideal breakfast food for forever alones, since we can not only enjoy it, but don’t have to deal with eating leftover enchiladas for 4 days afterward because that’s the smallest batch possible from the recipe.

Now, if there was only a way for me to create an artisan logo for my coffee. Then I could drink a cup, hop on my bicycle, take some pictures with shitty Instagram filters, and post it all to MehBook.

Pessimism and Negativity Is Easy

190 Days Later

Back on January 21st, we asked you to predict what day #211 would be like. Well, July 30th is that day — how have your predictions held up so far? If you didn’t reply to the prompt at the time, is this year turning out to be as you’d expected?

Pessimism and negativity is easy. You know that. If you know me, you know that it consumes my existence. It gnaws at me, and I go in cycles from “things are okay” to “world as black as hate.”

I’m going to try and break the cycle. I’m going to try to be positive.

Wait, come back. Stop. Please. It’s not the end of the world. I promise you that at least 4 of the other 6 seals are still intact, so you’ve got a bit of buffer left.

This year hasn’t been all bad, but it’s easy enough to focus on the bad. But I’m going to try and not do that.

I think that’s been one of the reasons I never really recovered from my last breakup, my disastrous job change, and took the beginning of my current crisis so hard. It’s hard to find someone who will love you when you decide the only way to walk around the world is while wearing sackcloth and ashes. Crosses bend your back quite a bit, and it’s hard to smile and buy someone a drink when you’re busy being crushed by the weight on your back. Likewise, when a job change took me from fields that weren’t so green into fields that were equally not-green, it was hard to absorb with all the other blame I put on myself. And while my current crisis is one of my own making, the only way out is to stand up tall, not lay on the ground crying and waiting for life to crush me.

So while 2014 has been another year of crushed dreams, unmet expectations, and aborted plans, here’s a few good things:

  • I have a job I love. I work way too much, I put way too much stock into my job, allowing it to define my identity, but I truly love my job unlike any job I’ve had since the halcyon days of you-know-where. It’s awesome, and I need to show my enthusiasm for it more.
  • I did something awesome for my mother’s birthday, flying down and surprising her. That was truly a special weekend for everyone involved, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
  • I have some very good friends I’ve shared a number of baseball games and roleplaying games and board games and talks with. You’re not all the same people, but for those I spend time with, online or otherwise, I appreciate the ear and am happy to reciprocate.
  • I had a great vacation last week. It’s hard to put into words how great the week was, even with a few tense moments throughout.
  • I woke up this morning. A meteor hadn’t obliterated my condo. The world might end tomorrow, but at least I got today.

Resurrection by Chords

Back to Life

After an especially long and exhausting drive or flight, a grueling week at work, or a mind-numbing exam period — what’s the one thing you do to feel human again?

Once upon a time, I would have said, “Sleep.” Or, “Videogames.” Or, “Drinking.” It’s kind of strange that the answer is no longer any of those things.

About 8 months ago, I started—again—to learn how to play the guitar. I say “again” because it’s certainly not the first time I’ve tried this. Countless hours were spent futilly trying to figure out chords and frets and strums and picks and strings and all of the other stuff that goes along with learning how to play the guitar. But what was different about this time was that it “took.”

I’m not really all that sure why it took this time. All of the other opportunities I had to learn the guitar sort of flamed out after a few weeks, but this did not. I’ve been playing and practicing, ostensibly getting better, for 8 months now. I spent the past week of vacation occassionally strumming chords around a campfire while singing songs I knew, or strumming chords while my parents sang songs I’d never heard of and will never hear of again. I’m pretty sure they were just making shit up as they went.

But that’s really what I do to relax. After long, hard days, I’ll collapse not into my couch for a nap or into my recliner for a few hours of alien-killing. Instead, I’ll collapse into the small chair in the corner of my office, pick up one of my guitars, and play a few songs. Maybe I’ll work on something new. Maybe I won’t. But it’ll relax me, ease the tensions of the day, and make me happy.

Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going

Sorry, it’s been a bit of a while since I’ve posted. There’s good reason.

I was on vacation.

I initially had this idea to blog while on vacation: Quick little excerpts while there. That’s the hip, cool thing to do, right? Instagram-filtered photos of meals posted to Tumblr? Quick descriptions of where I’m going posted to Twitter? Pictures of vacation posted to The Facebook?

I did none of that.

I instead, enjoyed my vacation.

I didn’t carve out time to write up what I did. I spent that time, instead, doing more stuff.

Our daily lives are filled with routine. I got up this morning, showered, went to work. I’ll spend 8–10 hours here doing whatever the hell I do and then I’ll go home. I’ll throw together a quick dinner, watch some baseball, and go to bed. The last thing a vacation needs is a routine. The last thing a vacation needs is an alarm going off, letting you know that it’s time to spend 30 minutes putting together a recap of my day.

If that makes me a bad blogger, a bad writer, or a bad person, so be it.

The biggest risk, post-vacation, is the feeling of dread that creeps in. After an emotional high that lasted nearly a week, despite good days and bad, now I’m back to my boring, dull, everyday life. There’s a risk of an emotional crash there. I’m not sure how to deal with it, so I’ll stick to my routine, hoping that the momentum, or lack thereof, of daily life staves off the worst of the incidents. Again, if that makes me a bad person, so be it.

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.