You humans are so destructive in your ineptitude! Chernobyl, Fukushima, Three Mile Island, all those other little one-in-a-billion-chance beyond design-basis accidents hidden in redacted documents or lost to history’s bad memory… You just keep repeating them. You keep cutting corners, forging numbers, ignoring science and safety in favor of profit. Down through time, again and again, greed and hubris are your fatal weaknesses. Only when you unlocked the power of the atom, well… that might just be your greatest mistake, and your last. But I will love you for it even after you’re all dead and gone, your little planet a dry wasteland soaked in radiation. You can’t see it but there’s beauty in the way unstable atoms decay, metamorphosing from a merely dangerous element to one exceedingly deadly, and how they unravel tightly coiled DNA into frayed strands of broken code. Entropy at its finest and I didn’t even have to lift a finger. You did all this yourselves.
I carry the Disaster Dead with me always: Okawa’s precious children, lost to the waves; Pompeii’s huddled masses, lost to the ash; Titanic’s frozen passengers, lost to the cold. And more, so many more taken by pandemics, hurricanes, heatwaves, earthquakes, wildfires, famine. The burden of their unnecessary deaths is a reminder of the necessity of knowledge. Knowledge empowers the uninformed. Knowledge prepares the vulnerable. Knowledge saves lives that might otherwise fall to preventable, or at least mitigable, forces. There are no natural disasters, after all, only natural hazards exacerbated by human action – or inaction. Okawa’s children did not have to die within reach of high ground. Texans did not need to freeze in their homes. The west coast does not have to burn every summer for longer and longer periods until “fire season” becomes a meaningless phrase.
The Disaster Dead are also a reminder of my own self-ordained responsibility to ensure the people of my homeland do not share a similar fate, that we do not doom ourselves to repeat the past simply because we refuse to learn from its most painful lessons. What else can soothe the wailing of the Disaster Dead? What else can truly honor their memory? Never forget is a trite, passive promise when our historical knowledge stretches back thousands of years. We never forgot the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic, but what good did that do us in 2020? Never again is the promise we must make and uphold as a global society. Never again should we allow greed to outweigh the common good. Never again should we ignore experience or science in favor of ignorance. And never again should we allow the loss of lives we could have saved with care, dedication, and preparation.
I carry the Disaster Dead with me always. Some speak louder than others, and some may have come to me sooner, but I carry them all. I mourn them, I honor them, and I try my best to uphold my vow to them – never again.
In the end it isn’t Cascadia who comes to me at all but her mother Gaia, she whose incandescence alchemizes stone into liquid, birthing a great fiery ring of volatile children. She watches with pride as they shape the landscape of her body through sudden cataclysms and eons-long processes deep within her crusts. Cascadia, Mariana, Tahoma, Krakatoa, Mazama, how they rend the brittle earth, how they sink cities beneath waves and raze them with mudflows! How they shake the very planet when they unleash their full energy! It has taken humanity thousands of years to determine how her children work such miracles and disasters, but Gaia does not mind. There is still much for them to discover about the tectonic mysteries of subduction, collision, and volcanism, still so many scientific revelations awaiting those who best understand and truly respect the awesome might of her geologic offspring. That respect serves mankind well, at least when they are willing to listen to something besides their own greed. And when they are not… well, her children are there to act in Gaia’s honor and remind mortals by whose grace they reside on her creation.
It’s late June and I’m cleaning out my desk… throwing away old papers… saying my goodbyes… but not because school’s out. It’s because…
I’m changing jobs!
See, for as long as I can remember I have been obsessed with disasters, both manmade and natural. I watched Twister religiously as a kid and was supremely disappointed that I was born eight years too late to witness the famous 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens. If asked what historical event I would most want to go back in time to experience, I could never pick between the sinking of the Titanic or the destruction of Pompeii. Pompeii would probably win out, though, because geology is the coolest of the hard sciences.
My obsession with disasters is formed of equal parts horror and fascination: horror because these events prove how quickly and completely our human-centric world can be reduced to rubble; fascination because their scale and power are frankly awe-inspiring, especially if you understand the forces at work. Disaster movies might take some scientific and artistic liberties, but they still offer insight into how fucking terrifying the earth can be.
I say all this because emergency management is my passion and finally, after six years in a different career field, I’ve found my way back! Starting this week, I’ll be working for my state’s Emergency Management Division as an Emergency Management Program Specialist to, and I quote, “provide professional level emergency management and public education assistance in implementing the statewide Tsunami/Earthquake/Volcano program.”
HOW FUCKING COOL DOES THAT SOUND??
They’re gonna pay me actual money to talk about natural disasters! And science! And emergency preparedness! Those are like my favorite things!! I’m just so excited that it almost doesn’t feel real. This is literally my dream job. I can’t even.
The day is dark
I’m all alone
If you are there
Please let me know
Please let me know
It is time to rest, brave one. Your father has been dead these seven years and now you must follow him into the Undiscovered Country. You have traveled far and seen many things no one else has ever seen; take your discoveries and images back to him with our gratitude. Thanks to you two we have walked among the stars, we have tread in red dust, we have touched the loneliness and vastness of space. Sleep now, faithful friend, and wait out the storm. Perhaps someone will find you one day and stir your cold heart, open your darkened eyes, but it will not be us. We will be long gone by then, a fading memory of a half-buried ruin in the sand fifty-four million kilometers from where you lay. Forgive us our trespasses, for we cannot forgive those who trespass against us. We have done much evil in our time, and even now we hasten our end, but at least we have done this one good thing. At least we birthed you and sent you forth to explore where we could not go. Stay safe, child of science and man’s yearning for knowledge. Dream great dreams. You are our legacy.
I have faith
That you are safe
I’ve been thinking about inevitability. About how chance and circumstance could lead Igor Dyatlov’s hiking group to set up their tent in the exact center of an extremely rare and unknown wind vortex, the resulting infrasound of which sent them running into the subzero Siberian winter. Those students did everything right, everything, given what science knew at the time, and yet nine people froze to death in darkness. In 1958 no amount of investigation could answer the why of the disaster. Now we know. They couldn’t have.
I’ve been thinking about preparedness. About how chance and circumstance could lead the RMS Titanic to sail through an unknown thermal inversion, an ocular mirage that hid the iceberg, so confused the nearby Californian that it never went to assist, and ruined any chance those floating in freezing cold water had to survive the night. Both ships’ crews did everything right, everything, given what science knew at the time, and yet fifteen hundred people froze to death in darkness. In 1912 no amount of investigation could answer the why of the disaster. Now we know. They couldn’t have.
How can things go so extremely wrong when those involved are as educated, trained, and prepared as it is possible to be? When they do everything exactly right and still meet with helplessness and death? What does that mean for the rest of us who know so little? We can only prepare for what we know is coming. We can only imagine scenarios within the reality we conceptualize. Beyond that we are babes.
I do not fear the unknown. I do not fear aliens or curses or conspiracies, Sasquatch or Mothman or Bloody Mary. I fear what we already know. I fear the sleeping calderas and the pressurized fault lines; I fear the solar flares and the sixth great extinction. And I fear the as-yet-unknown. The to-be-known. The dangers already existing all around us, hidden only by the limits of human knowledge. What awaits us that we will never see coming?
[ The great DM in the sky told us to design masquerade outfits for our characters, so here is Remr being predictably nerdy and over the top. ]
“Companions, hello!” Remr hurried down the last few stairs to where her party waited and spun in a circle to show them her masquerade costume. Beneath her mask, she grinned with glee. “Get it?” The tiefling seemed very proud of her creation, and it was both easy and yet incredibly difficult to see why. On the one hand, her dress was clearly of very fine quality; black velvet, silk, and lace cascaded over the large black crinoline cage beneath, and at each bunching little jewels glimmered. Her mask, too, was of fine black lace and glittering jewels, and the raven feathers that framed it extended back to encompass her horns and wrap into her carefully spiked hair. On the other hand, though, the dress was also torn to shreds. The bodice was fine, neatly sewn and studded with rhinestones, but at her waist things seemed to have gone rather south. The front of the dress had been torn back completely, revealing the hoop skirt beneath. Its ragged edges tapered back to Remr’s sides, where the fabric devolved into a shredded mess that just brushed the floor. Likewise, Remr’s black sleeves and tights also sported tears halfway down and ended in unraveling strings. It was quite possibly the most expensive wreck any of them had ever seen.
Never and Tevasshus exchanged their usual Remr is being weird again look, but did not answer. Solena, still new to the group, smiled encouragingly yet waited for someone else to speak. Finally, Tarcella took the bait. “Get what? Did your dress lose a fight with a wolverine or something?”
“No, silly. I’m the concept of entropy!” Remr held out her arms as if a better display of the outfit might render further explanation unnecessary. She received only blank stares. Sighing, she lowered her arms. “I know what you’re thinking; this is way too oversimplified to really represent a complex thermodynamic system. I was worried about that. I almost went with a costume that represented the known universe using the mask as the sun and radiating outward and downward through the cloth of the dress based on the distances between objects in space, but I couldn’t get the calculations to accurately account for all the folds and pleats in the fabric. So I thought of this but then I wasn’t sure if people would understand that I was going for more of an artistic representation of the common understanding of entropy, you know, as in order versus disorder, versus the obviously more accurate and more recent understanding of entropy as it relates to quantum theory and statistical thermodynamics.” She frowned uncertainly. “Do you think anyone will call me on it?”
Silence. Blinking. More silence.
“Uh,” said Tarcella.
“…what the fuck,” said Never.
“I think you look great!” said Solena, despite having understood none of what Remr just explained.
“Oh good, thank you,” Remr, visibly relieved, hugged the cleric and then gestured toward the door with an excited grin. “Shall we be off, then?”
I don’t have any writing to post today because I’m a terrible writer, so here’s all the cool shit my D&D character Remr, biologist extraordinaire!, has managed to do in just two… rounds? Meetings? Episodes? What do you– whatever. Here you go:
- She asked a man wearing a mouth mask, “What’s wrong with your face?” in an attempt to figure out if he was contagious or not. When he was understandably offended, she mistook his reaction for a language barrier and proceeded to talk slowly and loudly and to mime the concept of contagious diseases. Her efforts were not appreciated.
- She tried to talk to an owlbear in order to become friends with it so it wouldn’t attack the party. Did not work. Almost died.
- She gleefully examined the owlbear’s giant nest full of droppings and owlbear pellets and other gross stuff, for research purposes.
- She looted the skeleton of a club-footed child from a sarcophagus, for research purposes.
- She traded the child skeleton for a cursed half-orc finger bone, also for research purposes.
- She managed to deliver the killing blow to a frost wight after only taking three entire turns just to fire her lightning arrow.
- She drank a sample of a mysterious potion while in FantasyCostco and turned temporarily green. She also lost 8 HP.
- She took a sample of a mysterious and incredibly dangerous fungus, for research purposes.
- She tugged on a horse leg she found under a bush in order to ascertain whether it was attached to anything. It was. The horse leg was attached to a dead horse and she consequently got the party attacked by dire wolves.
- She accidentally lead her party into the fae wilds after promising some pixies the party would kill an old lady who is probably definitely a witch.
- She has somehow become the charge of the party’s very long-suffering dragonborn bard (my fiance, so maybe it’s not so surprising…), and takes great delight in reminding him that they’re basically family. She makes him be her roomie and stays up all night telling him about her thesis (which has to do with the biological differences between centaurs and mermaids).
- Also, she has become BFFs with the halfling pirate in the party and got drunk in a tavern with her and a bunch of sailors, for research purposes.
[ Yo check out my new D&D character, she’s based on several professors of mine and Evie from The Mummy! Speaking of which, I drew her in one of Evie’s outfits (normally she has light leather armor). ]
Alignment: Neutral Good
General physical description: Red skin, yellow eyes, black hair (a double sidecut with bangs, usually held up in a bun by several writing implements), two horns on her upper forehead (one above each eye)
Orientation: Oblivious (she’ll end up some sort of queer, but for now she’s too involved in her work to think about it)
Relationship status: Married to her job
Family: Well-to-do mother and father, three older female siblings
Job: Associate Professor of Biology
Dress style: Tends toward comfort over appearance, clothes are often muddy, ripped, ink stained, and covered in bits of melted candle wax, wears a belt from which hang sample bags, a compass, a magnifying glass, and other necessary scientific tools
Companion: A long-suffering mule named Abigail
Religion: Agnostic but very excited about the possibility of meeting a god or gods when she dies, as she has lots of questions to ask them
Hobbies: Geology, ecology, anthropology, climatology, mythology, sociology, learning new languages, translating ancient texts, barely ever sleeping, writing notes to herself on her clothes, skin, or whatever else is at hand
Favorite food: Chocolate covered coffee beans
Strongest positive personality trait: Very outgoing and non-judgmental
Strongest negative personality trait: Extremely flighty
Sense of humor: Jovial and nerdy, but often accidentally pretentious
Temper: Friendly, upbeat, intense but well-meaning, hard to anger or offend, socially awkward but unaware of it
Consideration for others: Assumes everyone is as excited about learning as she is, has no concept of personal space or privacy
How other people see her: They either love her or hate her, depending on how they deal with such high energy levels and the conversational equivalent of pinball. Additionally, she can come off as pretentious or thoughtless.
Opinion of herself: Best Professor Ever!
Background: Being the high energy, ambitious late-in-life child of aging parents who had already raised three other daughters, Remr was often instructed to “go play outside” or “find something quiet to do”. She spent most of her time alone, either reading every scrap of text available or exploring the natural world. Her parents had hoped she would follow in her sisters’ footsteps and take up the noble family occupation of being a succubus, but it was clear early on that she was destined for the university. She and her parents parted on good terms, though they are wary of the packages she sends home; they sometimes contain dead, or not-so-dead, specimens. She is currently an Associate Professor on an extended sabbatical (the university may perhaps keep extending it in the hope she doesn’t come back).
Philosophy of life: Attainment of knowledge is the noblest pursuit to which one may dedicate their life, and nothing (even the law) should stand in the way of furthering our understanding of the world.
Most important thing to know about this character: She may be a flighty science nerd, but she has a rock hammer and an ice pick and she knows how to use them.