Sometimes I want to gather the rocky, pine-strewn mountains of northern California into my arms and croon, I do not blame you, oh land of my birth. I would hold them close like a parent aged fragile as a babe and swear, This was not your fault. You did not cause him to be taken from me, though it was in your heights the ending began. We are connected, even if this place is not the one that raised me, and our relationship should be one of love, not regret. I would sing to the scrub jays and coyotes, whisper tales to the granite boulders, lull the sun to slumber a little longer and hold off the day’s heat. Let there be peace between us, I would ask of those peaks. Your picturesque vistas will always hold as many joyful memories as painful; I will try to remember the beauty before and not the disaster which followed.
Author Archives: onlyfragments
For eight thousand years and more we have served the gods wine
sweet and bitter, rich and tart
vines and variants perfected across continents and civilizations.
Yet soon we will have only wine tasting of wildfire ash to offer our most sacred divinities
will pour them smoke-tainted vintages bottled during years when we never saw the stars
and the sun rose red as blood each dawn.
Before we know it, we will not even have that to give
our millennia of legacy lost to a century’s folly;
will the gods still answer our prayers then?
I’m done. It’s time.
Call the priest.
Tell him I am a house choked by ghosts
that they fill every room and I cannot be rid of them
no matter my gnashing and wailing.
Tell him I will gladly submit
to the oil and incense
the psalms and holy water
if he can empty me once more.
If he cannot:
burn me down.
Twenty-two years it’s been and yet still each spring when the roadside ditches flood I glance to the quick flowing waters and the green grass waving within their currents and pointedly do not think about you, I do not think about how I found your limp little body stretched out in a similar water-logged ditch just steps away from the safety of home yet now forever gone, forever stolen from me, forever beyond where I can follow, and I definitely do not think about my sister recalling, decades later, how my wailing preceded me up the long walk from the road to the house, or how I didn’t even have the decency to carry you myself but waited until my parents returned, had them confirm what I already knew, and I certainly never think about how I failed you, my sweet boy barely out of kittenhood, how I failed you, how I failed you failed you failed you, I just turn my eyes away from those flooded banks and pretend I never saw a thing.
it is not enough to smell the petrichor
I must plunge my limbs into the damp earth
I must dig and writhe until black dirt coats my skin
I must chew the moldering bones of dead creatures
and grind their mineral shards between my teeth
As a child I built churches anywhere I stayed longer than a night, cluttering every surface with anonymous altars, and I sought secret psalms in songs from which I wrung all meaning in my quest for the answer to a question I could not yet formulate. As an adult I cup these years of offered trinkets in my hands and bless the lodestone heart that drew me ever faithfully toward the temple waiting within, to the place where there are no questions, no answers, only trust and limitless, overflowing love.
Almost exactly 3 and a half years ago I wrote a post about how I had just landed “literally my dream job” as a Tsunami Program Coordinator for the Washington State Emergency Management Division. After 6 pretty boring years managing federal grants, I would be conducting education and outreach about Washington’s geologic hazards, tsunamis in particular, and supporting partners and stakeholders from the local to federal levels with initiatives to help mitigate the impacts of those hazards. It sounded amazing! While I was nervous to take on this new role, I was also extremely excited to be back in the field of emergency management. At my current job I’d begun to feel stifled, like I couldn’t stretch my wings, and this new opportunity felt like fate had finally steered me back to the right path.
Now, 3 and a half years later, I’m here once more with a new announcement – this Tsunami Program Coordinator has been promoted to Tsunami Program Manager! That’s right, not only did my boss decide to keep me around all those years ago once he found out what a weird, neurotic nerd he hired, I now manage the entire tsunami program. (It turns out a weird, neurotic nerd is exactly what he needed because I’m an organized control freak that keeps everything running smoothly.) If the past 3 years have been me stretching my growing wings like a fledgling learning the feel of the wind from the safety of the nest, I’m definitely flying over open air now and testing my skills for real. While I don’t have official supervisory responsibility over our other 2 Tsunami Program Coordinators like my boss does (which is good; timesheets are a pain), I’m in charge of leading the program overall and that means all day-to-day programmatic decisions, grant and budget management, overseeing my teammates, and ensuring we’re on track with our many, MANY projects. Our program is quite robust and has the power to influence tsunami policy not just in Washington State but across the nation. No pressure.
We’ve been building to this promotion for a while now, which means I’ve had a lot of time to think about what makes a good leader and what kind of leader I want to be. I take lessons from those around me and try to emulate what I find admirable in the leaders who have shaped me: empathy, honesty, tenacity, humor. I look to my gods and ancestors for strength, encouragement, and direction, and I know I couldn’t have gotten to this place without them. I’m doing things I never could have imagined a decade ago – responding to disasters, presenting at national conferences, being interviewed by the media, acting as a subject matter expert on topics that have serious real-world implications. I’ve been stressed and exhausted and angry and pushed to my limits… and I wouldn’t trade away any of it (well, except maybe the covid19 activation). I’m grateful for it all, the good and the bad. I can’t grow if I stay in my comfort zone, after all, and the gods have sure been good about pushing me out of it!
So here I am, excited and nervous to embark on more adventures in Adulting. Who knows what the next 3 years hold? Or even the next 3 months? I definitely don’t, but what I do know is that I can face whatever comes my way thanks to my support network of loved ones both living and dead, human and animal, ancestor and deity.
Kneeling in the compost dirt of my future grave, I watch the decomposers at their work and weep with love and awe and fear. Rodents and birds, beetles and fungi and tiny ants who lift a thousand times their own weight – I watch them carry off bits of decaying vegetable peels and nibble discarded fruit and I weep. It’s just so beautiful, this ancient web of connection and symbiosis. Beautiful and fragile.
I am immensely afraid all the time. Afraid I am living through the last era of life on Earth, that I will witness the extinction of all these strange, lovely little creatures who hold our world together. Afraid things will only get worse from here, year after year until every nightmare scenario becomes reality. Afraid I am ultimately helpless to protect even just the ones I love from this mounting apocalypse, let alone rodents and birds and tiny, intrepid ants.
When I die and they cover me over with the dirt of this planet that birthed and raised me, will the decomposers be here to break my flesh back down to its base components? Will there be fungi left to weave their filaments around my bones and clothe me once more in their fruit? Or will it be too late to nurture my fellow organisms, to finally be part of the giving and not just the taking? Is it too late? Am I too late? Are we?
I got a new tablet for Christmas and thought I’d post some of the art I’ve done here on WordPress! If you go directly to my page, you’ll see I made some new banners for my site as well. ;)
in my dream I surrender to grief’s embrace
float face-down in an ocean of sorrow
my ancestors grip my shoulders
a steady, reassuring pressure
promising I am not alone
promising we do this together
promising they will not let me
be lost to the black depths
Starting off with 2023
If you don’t follow Cal’s blog, I HIGHLY recommend it! He gets the most gorgeous shots of African animals, especially the resident lions and leopards. His updates are always a treat!
The New Year has started off at an incredible pace and life in the bush has been busy. Thank you for all the support during 2022. I appreciate all the likes, comments, views and shares. I hope that 2023 brings another great year of safari and bush memories for everyone. The year started off with […]Starting off with 2023
I dreamed an impossibility. An alternate reality. A universe in which you were not gods, not angels, not forces beyond comprehension imprisoned in mortal forms and doomed to replay the same brutal endings over and over again. You were just two men, your souls exactly as young as your bodies, no past lives haunting the spirals of your DNA, and you were… happy.
It feels blasphemous to even speak of such a thing but if I don’t record it now I’ll think it never happened. I saw just one scene, after all, one fleeting moment plucked from this dream that could never be. You sat leaning against each other, completely relaxed, laughing at some joke or amusing story. You were so carefree, so comfortable in each other’s presence. Even more unbelievable, though, was the fact that you weren’t alone. You sat amidst a group of other young adults, a mixed gathering indeed but all obviously queer and on the radical end of progressive with their talk of philosophy and social justice. The joy and passion in the room were palpable. These people weren’t hangers-on or sycophants or worshippers; they were your friends.
Blasphemous, I know. Try as I might, I can’t summon even a whisper of a fragment in which such a scene might make sense, except perhaps to serve as a symbol of what beautiful normality you were both denied. Yet even that feels like a stretch, like I’m not meant to commit it to words at all. Maybe I wasn’t even supposed to see it in the first place. But I did. I glimpsed some version of you that was completely whole, completely free, and I won’t forget that. I promise.
#2601 – 2022 Book List
2022 was a busy year, so I didn’t read as much as I wanted. However, I still managed a total of 70 books! That included: 25 nonfiction books; 27 fiction books and comics; 18 collections of poetry and/or short prose; and 35 books either by queer authors or featuring queer main characters.
Some of my favorite reads of the year included Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer, What Moves the Dead by T Kingfisher, The Merciless Ones by Namina Forna, and of course Nona the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir. The Luminous Dead was a reread from last year because it was so good I couldn’t wait any longer to have it back in my brain.
The full list is below. If you’ve read anything from this list, let me know what you thought!
- The Dead and the Dark – Courtney Gould
- The Elpis Pages: A Collective – Ed. Kayla King
- Warning Lines Issue 3: FALL’N CHERUB
- The Witch’s Heart – Genevieve Gornichec
- Wave – Sonali Deraniyagala
- Signs: The Secret Language of the Universe – Laura Lynne Jackson
- Corporeal: Volume 1 – Ed. Katharine Blair and Lucca Hermes
- Whispers of Stone (The Last Gift Book 2) – Allegra Pescatore
- Japanese Death Poems: Written by Zen Monks and Haiku Poets on the Verge of Death – Ed. Yoel Hoffmann
- Gender Euphoria: Stories of Joy from Trans, Non-binary, and Intersex Writers – Ed. Laura Kate Dale
- Lady of the Wood – Mark Braun
- Emotionally Raw: Second Edition – Carlos Cabrera
- Analogies and Allegories Literary Magazine Issue 7: Zodiac Signs – Ed. Mollie Williamson
- Seven Mercies (Seven Devils Book Two) – Laura Lam and Elizabeth May
- The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes and Why – Amanda Ripley
- The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth and Other Curiosities from the History of Medicine – Thomas Morris
- Zenith Literary Magazine Volume 3: Wasteland – Ed. Catalina Irigoyen and Mikey Waller
- Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law – Mary Roach
- Tempest: Wild Weather Collections – Ed. Sam Bellamy
- Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World – Paul Stamets
- The Saint of Witches – Avra Margariti
- Death, Ritual and Belief: The Rhetoric of Funerary Rites (Third Edition) – Douglas Davies
- Warning Lines Literary Magazine Volume 4: Otherworlds – Ed. Charlie D’Aniello
- The Golden Wave: Culture and Politics After Sri Lanka‘s Tsunami Disaster – Michele Ruth Gamburd
- The Body Is Not An Apology: The Power of Radical Self-love – Sonya Renee Taylor
- These Gossamer Strings (The Last Gift Book 3) – Allegra Pescatore
- If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho – Anne Carson
- Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women that a Movement Forgot – Mikki Kendall
- Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from Red States – Samantha Allen
- Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants – Robin Wall Kimmerer
- Dead Dad Jokes – Ollie Schminkey
- Maiden, Mother, Crone: Fantastical Trans Femmes – Ed. Gwen Benaway
- Aftershocks of Disaster: Puerto Rico Before and After the Storm – Ed Yarimar Bonilla and Marisol LeBrón
- The Gift of Blood (Crimson Tears Book 1) – Vaela Denarr and Micah Iannandrea
- Genderqueer: A Memoir – Maia Kobabe
- What Moves the Dead – T. Kingfisher
- The Halloween Tree – Ray Bradbury
- Queers Destroy Fantasy! Special Issue – Ed. Christopher Barzak
- Tsunami! – Walter Dudley and Min Lee
- The Merciless Ones (The Guilded Ones Book 2) – Namina Forna
- Lady of Water and Flame: Ancient Hymns for Tefnut – Chelsea Luellon Bolton
- Tsunami Alert: Beating Asia’s Next Big One – Oakley Brooks
- Treasury of Egyptian Mythology: Classic Stories of Gods, Goddesses, Monsters, and Mortals – Donna Jo Napoli
- Furrows: Deep Earth Collections Vol 2 (Green Ink Poetry) – Ed. Sam Bellamy and S. Farrar
- Disaster by Choice: How Our Actions Turn Natural Hazards into Catastrophes – Ilan Kelman
- Avatar, The Last Airbender: The Dawn of Yangchen (Chronicles of the Avatar Book 3) (Volume 3) – F. C. Lee
- Nona the Ninth (The Locked Tomb Book 3) – Tamsyn Muir
- Antiracism in Animal Advocacy: Igniting Cultural Transformation (The Encompass Essays) – Ed. Jasmin Singer
- Creepy Cat Volume 1 – Cotton Valent
- Nights with a Cat Volume 1 – Kyuryu Z
- A Cat Story – Ursula Murray Husted
- Will the Flower Slip Through the Asphalt: Writers Respond to Capitalist Climate Change – Ed. Vijay Prashad
- Seven Blades in Black (The Grave of Empires Book 1) – Sam Sykes
- Pink Pansy Press Volume One: Haunting – Ed. Jay Hogan, Asher Cookson
- The Scratch Daughters (The Scapegracers Book 2) – H. A. Clarke
- Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History – Dan Flores
- The Raging Sea: The Powerful Account of the Worst Tsunami in US History – Dennis Powers
- Kiki’s Delivery Service – Eiko Kadono
- Soul of the Deep (Of Mermaids and Orisa Book 2) – Natasha Bowen
- We are Changed to Deer at the Broken Place – Kelly Weber
- The Blue Mirror – Kathe Koja
- Corporeal Volume 4 – Ed. Katharine Blair and Lucca Hermes
- The Luminous Dead – Caitlin Starling
- Lord of the White Hell Book One (The Cadeleonian Series 1) – Ginn Hale
- Lord of the White Hell Book Two (The Cadeleonian Series 2) – Ginn Hale
- Champion of the Scarlet Wolf Book One (The Cadeleonian Series 3) – Ginn Hale
- Champion of the Scarlet Wolf Book 2 (The Cadeleonian Series 4) – Ginn Hale
- Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? And Other Questions About Dead Bodies – Caitlin Doughty
- Myth and Lore Issue 4: Midwinter lights are dimming – Ed. Mark Ryan
- Master of Restless Shadows Book One (The Cadeleonian Series Book 5) – Ginn Hale
“You picked a shitty scribe,” I tell the Nameless, who shrugs as she licks starblood off her long talons and replies, What do I care? It’s all dust to dust to dust. The greatest works of literature and grandest monuments of mankind will still yield to entropy. I can’t tell if this is meant to be dismissive, comforting, threatening, or none of the above, but I find myself somehow buoyed by her words anyway. It’s oddly calming to know Shakespeare and myself share equal anonymity in the far future where all has turned to dust. Atoms are atoms. The Nameless gestures flippantly. You all unravel in the end.
#2599 – Winter Solstice
It will be tonight. I know it from the way Daren holds me closer than usual, one arm like iron around my waist, pressing our hips together. I know it from the way he touches me with such intention, like he is taking one last opportunity to memorize the shape of me. His fingers that so often grip me to bruising or drag welts down my skin instead glide like silk down the side of my face and along my jaw. They come to rest against the curve of my neck, my heartbeat throbbing beneath his palm.
That hand trembles just a bit as it rests against my skin. When we kiss, so much gentler than usual, I taste blood in his mouth. I think I can even hear the rattle of his straining lungs when he breathes, though perhaps that is only my paranoia. Regardless, I can sense his exhaustion and how hard he struggles to remain present, focused, to not lose himself in the pain. If I could see more than his pale outline in the darkness, I know that strain would be obvious in his glassy gaze and the shadows beneath his eyes.
I saw the knife on the nightstand earlier but I said nothing. Maybe that makes me a coward. Maybe it makes me a fool. Or maybe it just means I am as tired of this as he is, even if I cannot bring myself to admit it outloud. That would be too close to admitting defeat; too close to admitting these last months of misery and slow wasting have finally bled me of hope. So I said nothing then, and I say nothing now as I lay my head against the curve of his shoulder. I close my eyes and let myself sink down into slumber.
Daren always goes for the throat in his fights, one quick, clean cut and a fast death. I doubt I will even wake up. When it comes, may his death be as kind to him as the one he gifts to me.
“I’m going to kill you before the end; you know that, right?”
“… yes. I know.”
“It’s for the best. It’s easier that way.”
Imagine you are an angel in the first age of the world. Everything is young, eternal, immortal. You live in a universe of richness and beauty, a world of endless blue skies and bountiful greenery. Neither pain nor fear exist yet in this place for there has been no need for their creation; each being lives in harmony with every other thing.
Imagine you are an angel in the first age of the world and you have slain one of your own. Holy blood stains your hands and soaks a soil which has never before been tainted by such precious liquid. Holy breath struggles to fill pierced lungs, then ceases completely. Holy flesh cools beneath your trembling fingers and begins the slow sacrilege of decay, the first thing in all the wide world to succumb to the act of rotting.
Imagine you are an angel and you have brought death into the universe. With your own hand you have ended the first age of the world, the era of peace, and ushered in the era of suffering. Does it matter why you committed this first and greatest sin? Does it matter if you did it out of fear? Or wrath? Or love? Will you even be able to remember, ten thousand years from now?
And if not, will it still have been worthwhile?
December 7th, a day which will live in infamy.
My father would have been 75 today, had he not passed away 15 years ago when I was just 18 years old. Back then I was still the child who looked exactly like him, the child who acted exactly like him (though I know my teenage ways still often perplexed him), the child who adored him above all else. Back then I was surrounded by people who knew and admired my father, and I think he felt like a solid, dependable constant in all our lives.
Well. Change is the only actually dependable thing in the world, right? So here I am, 15 years later and surrounded by people who never met my father, who only know him through my stories, my pictures, my writing. Who know his expressions but don’t realize it because they see them on my face instead. Which is hard (oh fuck, is it hard) but not what I want to talk about today. Today I want to talk about how, even though I’m getting close to having been alive longer without my dad at my side than with, I am still the person he shaped. I want to talk about how I had no idea who I wanted to be when I grew up and yet, somehow, I ended up exactly where I needed to be, exactly where I would have been even if I’d had his guidance the whole way. And that’s a testament to the mark he left, not his absence.
My dad wasn’t an emergency manager (I think he saw enough action for a lifetime in Vietnam), but he would have made a damn good one. He was smart, thoughtful, and he kept his cool in stressful situations when he had to depend on himself or assist others. He was a helper, the kind who might not take center stage but would always be there with tools in hand to help tow you out of a ditch, cut a tree off your roof, or fix your sink. He was one of those strong, silent types who hid a world of wit and joy inside them for those who earned their friendship, and he knew the power and importance of community.
Though he probably never realized where it might lead, he instilled those values in his weird, antisocial, feral little daughter. Sure, I never picked up the interest in fixing cars or building things, and I have literally no upper body strength, but I like to think I have a lot of the rest. I try, at least. And these things he instilled in me, this love of the land and people who raised me, this fascination with the natural world and its history, this drive to HELP, it all led me… here. To geoscience. To tsunamis. To emergency management.
I pushed myself hard this year. To be a better friend, a better leader, a better citizen of this earth we all share, and I know my dad is proud. I know I’m doing right by his memory, even if my life path doesn’t look exactly like his did. Neither of us could have imagined this future for me as we sat in the cab of his truck, speakers blasting the Irish Rovers, or as we pricked our fingers bloody gathering ripe blackberries. He was preparing me for it anyway, though, one little lesson at a time. And I was soaking them up.
His final lesson to me is one I want to impart to you all today. As a Marine Corps radioman in far Vietnam, trying to keep his dinner dry while running through a downpour from the mess hall back to the radio for his night shift, young Steve Tappero realized something. He realized nothing else much matters in life if you can keep your sandwich dry. You can’t control the rain, after all, or the dark, or the people shooting at you or the ones pulling the strings above it all. All you can control is whether you keep your sandwich dry, and at the end of the day that’s enough. Focus on that and you’ll be okay. You’ll get through it. Tomorrow will come.
So, from the daughter of an emergency manager who wasn’t, I leave you with my two hopes for you all: may you keep your sandwich dry, and may you live without regrets.
We are none of us reliable narrators, especially not in this moment we have replayed so many times I know every line and gesture by heart. The Moon will say it was necessary; the Sun will say he is a fool and a coward. They will both be right; they will both be wrong, so very wrong. I will reach my hand out to Tanim’s ghost as he watches Daren crouch over his crumpled body. I will avert my eyes from Daren’s flat black gaze that sees all and betrays nothing as he rises, blood on his hands and seeping into the white carpet beneath us. I will bear witness as they once more play out this scene in which I have no role and when it is over, when they have faded, retreated, when the room is empty and the stains have dried, I will be here still.
the yawning void
the gaping pit
the locked gate broken
If I were Achilles, Patroclus would not have died. I would never have let my lover bleed out his holy blood there in the dust before Troy’s gates. I would have slaughtered them all first – Achaeans and Trojans alike, soldier and civilian together – and burned that unworthy city to the ground. I would have salted its ruins as they smoldered and by the time they cooled I would have taken him far from that cursed place. And if not, if I had been too late, as Achilles was… then not even death could have stopped my wrath from tearing the world apart.
Choosing which fork in the river to follow has never challenged me. I know who and what I am meant to be, what I am meant to do, where I am meant to go. I do not fear the bends and loops in the river’s path, nor even the rapids and little waterfalls. What challenges me are the artificial obstacles placed in the river: the boulders, the dams, the pollution and infrastructure poisoning the river’s clear waters and turning its natural course into a dangerous maze. How can I make choices based on what is best for me when the future is so uncertain? How can my heart run wild along its course if the way is so often barred? Not even our souls remain untouched wildland when society is so steeped in cruelty and greed.
In that first age the Angel wandered freely in the Garden, eating his fill of its delights. Each perfect summer day lasted a century and beneath the newborn sun every plant tasted of a different kind of ambrosia. The humans were young then, too, their squat bodies still reminiscent of the tree-climbing apes from which they were shaped. Sometimes the adults hailed him but the Angel pretended he could not understand their stilted, guttural language and passed them by without a glance. He tolerated the children from time to time, however, letting them trail laughing and chattering in his wake.
Back then they called the Angel Honeyeater because he loved eating honey: great thick combs of it, honey-soaked moss, even the rudimentary flatbread made by the brute little humans if it was dipped in sun-warmed honey and offered beside the fresh milk of their beasts. The Garden stretched for tens of thousands of miles in any direction, filled with all manner of delicious edibles, yet every creature alive knew the Angel favored honey above all else. He explored ceaselessly, learning where to find the sweetest honey, the most floral honey, the honey flavored with hints of mint, lavender, or thyme. He could eat pounds of it yet never be satisfied.
It was easy in the beginning, there in the Garden, and good. But soon things would change and they would no longer call the Angel Honeyeater for his food preferences but for the way lies dripped so sweetly from his lips like honey, and a darkness would fall over the Garden.
Lungs full of wildfire smoke, I toss and turn in a bed of microplastics and dream of stream-filled glades paved over decades before I was born. I see the land that raised me as it must have been five hundred years ago, untouched by manifest destiny’s bulldozers, a version of that beloved place so long dead we have lost even the memory of its ghosts. I wonder: How do we guide the living through the death of everything they have ever known? How do we prepare ourselves to lose all we have loved and fought for?
And then She is screaming with the voices of ten thousand extinct creatures, WHAT WILL IT TAKE FOR YOU TO CHOOSE LIFE? Her howling reverberates through my bones as I watch apocalypse spread across the globe like wildfire, scouring land and sea to bare rock. NO MORE CHANCES, She rages, and the planet fissures open along seismic scars. NO MORE MERCY, She wails, and whole continents of crust break apart like a cracked egg to spill Earth’s molten core amongst the stars. NO MORE, Gaia seethes. No more greed. No more cruelty. No more Mother Nature balancing our impact with her adaptability. It ends here.
After, staring into the midnight dark, I think: Could I be a death doula to a dying planet?
Though it has been several years since his last visit, the clergy on duty recognize Tanim immediately; the black glass doors slide open to admit him before he even has to slow his steps along the thick red carpet. Inside the Basilica Tower’s entrance hall a priest quickly approaches, his voluminous robes more out of place among the skyscraper’s sleek interior than Tanim’s finely tailored suit. “It’s an honor to have you here once again, sir!” The priest dips his capped head, hands clasped together. “His Excellency is conducting a council session at the moment but if you follow me, we would be happy to provide you with refreshment while he concludes things and hastens back. His personal offices are right this–”
“That won’t be necessary,” Tanim smoothly interrupts as he glides past the priest, “I know the way.” His confidence, as much as his reputation, leaves the priest bowing respectfully in his wake when no other visitor would be allowed free rein in such a holy place. When he reaches the single private elevator at the end of the winding hallways, however, he doesn’t push any of the buttons; instead, he takes out a slim metal key and slides it into a keyhole all but invisible in the panel. The elevator begins its silent descent through the underground parking, basement, and then farther, through levels no one above even knows exist.
The elevator stops six floors below the sub-basement and opens onto a network of chambers cut out of the bedrock. So many versions of the Basilica have been built upon the ruins of this first sanctuary that no trace of its existence remains even in the oldest records. Despite the darkness Tanim moves through the complex with ease, passing through abandoned rooms full of shrouded antique furniture, strange artifacts, and priceless relics left to gather dust in boxes and piles. Somewhere ahead of him a piano plays a familiar nocturne; the sound wends softly through the still air, rising and falling as Tanim follows its lead.
The piano lies where his anger left it years ago, a shattered jumble of polished wood, ivory keys, and tangled wires. As he approaches the ruined instrument the song dies away and silence reigns once more. Tanim nudges a broken key with one polished shoe but even this produces nothing more than a faint scrape of stone on stone.
“I was beginning to wonder when you would return.” The rich voice sends a shiver down Tanim’s back as he turns to face the fallen angel. Daren’s pale form almost seems to glow in the darkness, framed by great black wings thick as shadows. Tanim longs to sink his fingers into those soft feathers yet restrains himself; instead, he gestures to the piano’s broken corpse with an apologetic smile. “I was ashamed of how I acted before we parted last time.”
“And you were waiting out my anger,” Daren replies, the merest hint of amusement pulling back his thin lips. “As well as yours. It is of no consequence. What is done is done. Now come,” the angel closes the distance between them, drawing Tanim’s mouth to his in a brief yet biting kiss, “make it up to me and after you may tell me what has transpired in the mortal realm while you have been above.”
“Mage, wait!” Alice’s footsteps rang on the marble floor as they hurried after Mage’s storming figure, finally catching up with her in the gardens of the palace’s north wing. The elf stood beside one of the moss-lined pools, her back to Alice, staring into its still depths as she sought to slow her breathing. Alice could tell by the tension in Mage’s narrow shoulders and clenched hands that it wasn’t working. They reached out to touch her arm, then thought better of it and let their hand fall. Instead they said quietly to her rigid back, “It’s upsetting, I know. I feel so guilty; I’m sure you do too.”
“Guilty?” Mage cast a disbelieving sneer over her shoulder. “Of course not. This has nothing to do with us.” Though their time on Liberty had healed many wounds, and Ali had come to recognize the subtle differences in their companion’s many smirks, smiles, and grins, not so much time had passed that they had forgotten what that expression meant. “You’re… angry?” They shook their head in confusion. “Why?”
“Of course I’m angry!” Mage whirled around, green eyes bright and hard, sneer transformed into a snarl. “We fought over that fucking scrap of rock for years – for decades – and where were they? Did the Lost stand beside you to face down my cannon fire? Did they stand beside me once they learned the full breadth of his betrayal? No!” She threw her arms wide. “They fucking left! They didn’t care what happened to the Island or to you, they just went about their petty little lives as if none of it had ever happened. He abandoned everyone, and then they abandoned you, and then in the end it was just you and me.” The snarl flickered out, curled into a sad, tired, bitter thing. “Until they need something from you. Until they need the white knight again. Then they come creeping back. That’s how it’s always been.” Mage speared Ali’s gaze with her own. “Did you not see that? How are you not angry too?”
“That’s…” Ali swallowed, mouth suddenly dry, then tried again. “That’s all in the past. We chose to dissolve the Island. This black hole is our doing, we have to make it right.”
“Tivius created the Island,” Mage spoke the name with a hiss as if it burned her tongue to utter it at all. “He set this in motion with his stolen magic and his web of lies. It’s not our responsibility and it never was. The story’s over; it’s finished. If they cared so much about having a say in the ending then they should have stuck around for it.”
“So we just give up?” Alice couldn’t believe what Mage was insinuating. “Let it slowly consume the universe?”
“They left you, Ali,” The hard anger in the elf’s emerald eyes shifted, turned pleading. “Why do you still want to fight for them? Why do you still feel beholden to them? What will it take for you to choose yourself for once?” Her right hand reached out, the tips of the hook’s long claws almost brushing Alice’s silks before shrinking back. “Or me?”
When Alice didn’t respond right away, too many emotions warring within them, Mage snorted humorlessly and turned away. “That’s what I thought,” she muttered. Before Ali could come up with the right words, or any at all, Mage had disappeared deeper into the gardens, off to wherever she went when she needed to be alone. They knew they wouldn’t find her until she wanted to be found.
Are you not tired of fighting? Are you not tired of shouldering that white-knight armor and striding into battle alone, sword held aloft, with no one to guard your back? With no one to carry your corpse from the field? There is only so much war in your veins, soldier. There are only so many victories you can wrest from the jaws of defeat. Do not answer that clarion call again; if you go you will never return. All that was won will be lost. Is that what you want, to throw your hard-earned peace away on one last mad gamble? You must know that even if you succeed, it will not be the last time they come begging for your aid. It never is. When you fight other’s wars you only teach them to start more.
Incorporeality will be the death of me. I have submerged myself in your world as much as I can – for twenty-one years, for seven thousand, six hundred, and seventy days, for tens of thousands of hours – but it is never enough. No matter how long I drown myself in your most potent memories, how deep I dive into your most painful emotions, somehow I always find myself back at the surface once more. No matter how vividly I can imagine you, it is not the same as truly standing in the room with you. To cup your face in my hands, to watch the grief and anger war in your eyes, to hear the tremble in your voice. Tens of thousands of hours and yet I have never touched you. Two thirds of my life and yet I cannot numb myself to the agony of empty arms and ringing silence. My imagination is powerful but even it cannot replace the way your hands grip hard enough to leave bruises and knowing I will never experience that sensation is unbearable. Yet here I am, twenty-one years later, bearing it because there is no alternative.
Time means little to Fyra, yet when the vault’s door groans open and she catches sight of the chamber inside for the first time in 136 years, nine months, three weeks, two days, and sixteen hours, she feels the weight of each of those 4,327,592,400 seconds. They weigh down her limbs as the Genesis Team descends past her on the shallow staircase, eager to finally procure the hidden treasure they’ve spent decades hunting. The humans don’t know what this place looked like in its glory; even its dusty ruins are impressive to them, full of the promise of new knowledge, but where they see what remains Fyra sees only what has already been taken.
As the team searches, Fyra’s thoughts wander back to the morning’s events. She had wanted to make things easy when the cybergang appeared, to avoid bloodshed and protect bystanders in the cafe. She’d hoped just giving them what they wanted would hasten their exit and ensure no harm came to anyone, had even interposed herself between the gang and their target as she handed over the money, and yet it had still ended with a human dead. Someone who just needed their daily caffeine fix before work, or who was craving a donut as much as her, had died because Fyra bet on human decency and lost. Again. After 4,327,592,400 seconds of waiting for humans to prove themselves worthy of her father’s legacy only to watch them squander it, she was done. They weren’t going to save themselves.
“I don’t see anything that matches the description from the texts,” One of the Genesis members returns to their commander with hands empty and head shaking. “No body, no central AI, nothing. Maybe it’s already been looted?” The commander sighs, gaze sweeping critically over the barren lab. “No, we’d know if someone else had the key already. Especially one of the cybergangs. It must be here somewhere. Keep looking.”
That’s her cue. Fyra finally descends the staircase, taking the little drive chip out of her pocket as she does. “The key already walks among you,” she says, her voice carrying in the vaulted space. The Genesis Team members all turn to cast curious or suspicious glances her way. The commander’s hand hovers over his gun. Fyra stops at the base of the stairs and tilts her head at their lack of comprehension. “Do you need proof?”
She reaches up and injects the small chip into the slot at the base of her right ear. Her current body modifications, chosen to help her blend into human society, begin to reset to her father’s original design. Fyra’s black hair loses the bangs and twin bun style she has worn for the last decade, instead growing rapidly until the long, straight strands reach past her fingertips. Her black leather pants and fishnet top fall away as metallic scales in a pattern of red and black glide from her neck down her arms and torso, forming a long, slender dress that glimmers like the hide of some exotic beast. The nails she kept short for ease in fights have lengthened as well, each polished and tapering to an elegant point. Most noticeable of all, her once plain gray irises resume the bright blue glow which has become synonymous with android tech – though hers were the first.
As the humans stare in various states of surprise and awe, none quite yet managing to form audible words, Fyra wanders into the place where she spent the earliest and happiest days of her existence. “I remember this place so clearly,” she murmurs as she walks, more to herself than the Genesis team. “So much has been taken…” Her fingers trail over the empty shelves and countertops until she comes across a little figurine, one of the silly mechanical toys her father made her when she was newly created. She sighs as she turns it over in her hand, taking comfort in the rise and fall of her artificial chest even in a body that doesn’t require oxygen. “You humans are so predictable. You take what you think you can use to gain power over others and leave behind whatever seems frivolous.”
The Genesis Team waits at the bottom of the stairs when she returns. Fyra gestures to the chamber all around them, to the tables and bookshelves overturned by scavengers and left to gather dust where they fell, to everything stolen from the workshop of a good man and used to make the world an even crueler place. “We–” she stumbles over the correct narrative, memories overlapping and conflicting, “I– my father never wanted his work to be used in this way. He wanted to help the world, to make things better for humanity, not contribute to its downfall. But he knew it was inevitable. He knew you would ultimately use cybernetics and AI to worsen the inequity in the world no matter what failsafes he created within the tech itself. That is why he built me, and why he instructed me upon his death to live as a human until the time came when my intercession was required. He wanted to ensure I understood the human condition so that I would not make the same mistakes humanity did with his technology.”
She smiles sadly at the little toy cradled in her lifelike hand. It is perhaps two or three days younger than her, and thus still older by many lifetimes than the humans who inherited the world so beloved by the man who created them both. “My father was a good man. He created me to be the bridge between those two worlds – human and machine, mortal mind and artificial intelligence. Someone who can blend them both into a harmonious whole. Someone who can recognize the choices which must be made to get there and who can bear the making of them.” Her manicured fingers close gently around the toy as she raises her gaze back up to the Genesis Team, a ragtag band of humans who fight against the brutality of the cybergangs, who uncovered what remains of her father’s writings and sought out his final creation, never knowing she already walked among them. “It is time to set this world to rights. Will you stand with me?”
One by one the members of the Genesis Team demonstrate their allegiance to Fyra’s mission with a hand to the chest, a slow nod, a touched forehead. And so her true work begins.
IN LIVING MEMORIES
Had he lived somewhere, somehow, my Dad would have be 74 on September 9. He was a law enforcer, partner, Dad, dedicated to all his jobs, because he loves life: man, animals, plants. Had I stood here, then, by the city morgue, somewhere, somehow, it would have been bitter sweet. Instead he was declared Missing…IN LIVING MEMORIES
In the wake of wind and waves, only grief remains. Old debts and grudges washed away with the bodies and now a community baptized by storm surge must unite in the aftermath or fall apart. Those who cling to dreams of revenge bloody their fists on cinder blocks while the rest of the survivors re-knit the bonds of kinship with ropes of braided tears. In basements and parking garages the film of mud remembers the wails of those trapped by rising floodwaters, but slowly brooms and mops reclaim what the hurricane would make a cemetery.