Friday, October 30, 2009

Dr. Zhang Has A Good Time

"Ahh," said Dr. Zhang, powering off his mac-book. "I have completed all the myriad tasks set before me, despite the damnable interference of that meddling Nikolas. Now I can enjoy a sound night's sleep - the sleep of the innocent!"

With a pleasant smile on his face, Dr. Zhang drifted off to sleep. But he was not so happy when he awoke!

"Where am I?" he asked, looking this way and that way, groggy and startled. "What has happened? Where is my bed? Where is my room? Why is the sun so large and red in the sky?"

"Ah!" he cried. "I have slept long - far too long! Five billion years (short scale) have passed, and the sun has expanded into a red giant! All that I knew and love is vanished, dust and ashes in the wind!"

Dr. Zhang stood, and began to pace.

"I am a doctor, and a genius of unparalled scope," Dr. Zhang said to himself. "Certainly if this were any ordinary situation I would be able to solve my troubles with ease. But it is not - the only solution here seems to be the creation of a time-machine, to transport me back to before I slept. But - time travel is impossible! And can even I, Dr. Zhang, declared a Knight of the Order of the British Empire by the Queen herself - do the impossible?"

Dr. Zhang thought.

"Well, no," he said. "I can't do the impossible. No-one can. That's why it's impossible."

"But - " he added, quickly - "There may be a better way..."

Dr. Zhang made preparations. A great ship took shape - an ark, many cubits wide and long, built to carry Dr. Zhang into the distant future!

"As sleep carried me into this dismal time," Dr. Zhang said, "So will it carry me out. I will sleep until the end of all things, and die as the Universe itself does - and, when a new Universe is reborn, I will change its beginning, its seed, such that I avoid that dreadful ruse of Nikolas which is certainly responsible for my predicaiment! Then victory will be mine!"

"And," Dr. Zhang added, being somewhat hungry, "I will take this potato chip, which has survived in my clothes for five billion years... and eat it!"

"Wait, maybe that was a bad idea," Mr. Zhang added, feeling nausea churn in his stomach. "Best to enter the preservation pod."

Dr. Zhang strapped himself in. Minutes flew by - years - millenia - geologic eons! Planets fell to dust - protons decayed! The Universe came to an end!


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Reunion (1/7)

So many types of trails. Ion trails; a thin scattering of atoms and molecules, drifting slowly through a vast and impassive void. One - no, more, now - extend outward from the bombardment fleet orbiting Procyon II. Follow the ion trail - carefully, so carefully, squinting to keep sight of the almost-invisible stream - where does it lead? A barren planet in the outskirts of the system, entirely devoid of life. The trail vanishes into the atmosphere, but there is another - leading from a patrol-ship, landed on the surface, visible only as disturbances in the ages-settled dust covering the bleak and grey world. And if we follow this trail - across crevasses, through rocks, so careful to avoid losing our way! - we find yet another - a trail of footprints, carelessly defacing the earth on their way from the glider that took them this far. So many types of trails - each so thin, so fragile, that a breath would dispel them. But in doing so you would create another - for though you try, you cannot break the bonds that bind you to the past...

Philosophy, eh? Abtruse. Abstract. And, in this case, largely irrelevant. Why spend all our time talking about trails, after all, when there are battle-fleets to watch! Space marines to admire! And a panicked, fleeing fugitive, stumbling his way through the dust and the rocks, trying to make his way into the cave system his ship's sensors spotted as it came down from orbit!

Let's watch him, for the moment. Eh? The space marines will be there when we get back to them.

Alan stopped at the edge of a pit, panting for breath. (He knew it was foolish; his oxygen supply was limited. But still his breath came ragged.) He looked down. His eyes widened.

An airlock? So, not caves after all, those cavities in the ground... not caves, but a base...

I have to work my way in!

Alan jumped into the pit, wincing at the impact. He wrenched at the metal wheel atop the airlock, struggling to open it. Was this supposed to be opened by men, or machines? It's stiff beyond belief!

For a moment, Alan allowed himself to relax. He straightened, turning his gaze upwards. Scanning the sky, he saw nothing amiss, just a sea of stars, two brighter than the rest...

Then a patch of darkness passed over the stars; and another; and another. Three ships! That's a third of the fleet. Worse than I dared dream. Even if I hide in, in whatever's down here - will I be able to hide until they give up the chase - ?

No. Have to act. Have to hide. Will plan when it's safe...

Alan turned back to the wheel, gripping it firmly. He took a deep breath, irreplacable oxygen flooding into his lungs - then he heaved, finally sending the wheel into motion, sliding the airlock hatch with it. When it was half-way open, Alan stopped; a motion to wipe sweat off his brow was intercepted by the helmet that covered it. Alan sighed, and then turned, jumping into the gap he'd opened. And above him...

In the bombardment ship Memory of Earth, Captain Klaas reported.

"The fugitive's ion trail leads into atmosphere, with 99% certainty," he said. "Your orders?"

The Admiral nodded, not turning in the chair where she sat watching the stars. "I want the navigators to begin work on a search grid," she said, her voice betraying no emotion. "Cover the globe, starting at the most likely position for the fugitive to have landed his stolen ship. When they have it ready, have it transmitted to the Retribution and the Repercussion for immediate action."

"Yes, sir," Captain Klaas said, saluting. He turned to leave.

"And tell Colonel Sigin to prepare the marines for action," the Admiral added, her voice still completely calm. "They will be responsible for the capture of the fugitive."

"Sir, yes, sir!" Colonel Klaas agreed. He waited a moment more, and then departed, the door irising shut behind him.

"And when they find him," the Admiral whispered to herself, her hand forming into a fist in her lap, "and when they've extracted every last scrap of information from his useless corpse - "

"For killing my son, I will personally reunite the traitor with the hell from which he was spawned!"

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The exotic realms


1. Deſmound wæs bourne upon a ſmalle hille, which wæs atoppe þe mönt, & þe encæmpmente upon þe hille, which wæs atóp þe mönt, yn þe proximite of þe encæmpmente, which wæs nær þe Kingdome of Nikoulous, þe Ratte-Kinge.
2. Deſmound went unto þe church of yſſe-lounde, & hē pray'd to Gode, & Jeſù, & hē æſked for þynges, which were plæſurable, & ynvolved cárnal knouledge, & þat hē louſted æfter.
3. & yn þe chirchē þere wæs much çinging of religös muſyk, & hē joyned yn þe çinging, & hē encountered 2 vyrgins, & hē ſcurrie'd to þem, & hē bade þem come untó his benchē of ſælte, & þey ſat þereunto & çung a hymne.
4. & one wæs before himme, & one wæs to hós ſyde, & hē talk'd to þe one upon hós ſyde præfryentially, þö ſhē wæs þe leſſir of þe two yn térms of þe plæſéntries of þeir bödies, upón his judgements.
5. þe next day Deſmound jörney'd unto þe grét cave of þe ançynt tymes, & yea, hē wæs prépæring to acroſs þe rain-bow, houever, hē realiſd hē did not contayn all his neck-laçe, & hē ſought to retreve yt.
6. & yea, yt came to paſs þat hē realiſed þát hiſſe neck-laçe haþ borök, & þe beades þereunto wert ſcattre'd acroſs þe lande, & hē muſte cóllect all 100 of þemme, for hē to be endou'd wiþ a great pouer.
7. & hē ſerchēd þe caves þe lande, & hē killed dógges, & hē plant'd treeſe, & hē did many þyngs which were odde, or biſſare.
8. & hē gaþer'd all of beads butte one, which hē knowe'd to be proſeſs by þe Kinge of þe önderworlde, who wæs þe Ratte-Kinge, & hē croſſed þe rain-bowe, & hē ſlay'd þe Ratte-Kinge, & hē tooke þe 100 beades unto þe neck-laçe.
9. & þe beads glow'd wiþ a ſtrange pouer, & yt became very hotte, & yt ſhooke þe earþe, & yt gave Deſmound a ſtrange pouer.
10. & þen Deſmounde return'd to þe churchē þe next daye, & hē onçe againe bade þe two vyrgíns to his ſalt-petre, & þey ſát doun, & hē talk'd to þe one which wæs more plæſureable.
11. & hē took hēr up too þe béd-chambre, & hē undreſſed hērre, & hē wæs about to pénetræt hērre, but hē remember'd þat hē wæs a chriſtiæn, & hē did notte, for yt wæs a ſínne.
12. þen hē return'd houme, & drank ále, & ſpirits, & ſmoked a pype, & became quite content'd.

Friday, October 23, 2009


I had been sent to destroy a radio station.

It was 0515, just before the invasion was to begin. HQ had identified a radio station that OPFOR was probably using to coordinate their coastal defenses; so our squad had been airlifted in, in the wee hours of the morning, to mark its location for "fast movers". Or, that is to say, tactical bombers and their laser-guided ordinance.

I took the laser designator, per orders from the squad's lieutenant, and scrambled off the helicopter, getting clear of the LZ. We moved forward together, using night-vision goggles to pierce the murky pre-dawn gloom. And then... well, something of my inexperience showed.

For this was a video-game, you see, which I'd gotten on sale earlier that day, and I was not very good at it.

I wandered through the night, frequently getting lost, hearing radio chatter as my more-capable AI team-mates engaged and eliminated hostile forces. (ENEMY MAN 200 METERS FORWARD, their robotic voices would disjointedly announced. 3 ENGAGE TARGET. SCRATCH ONE.)

Our original mission had been to target the radio for a bombing run, but it turned out the radio was in the center a populated village. A bombing run would cause horrific civilian casualties. So instead, I agreed to take the radio out with satchel charges.

I had the satchel charges. I planted the charges. I had no idea of how to use them.

So: better idea.

Nearby, the local OPFORCE had a weapons cache; several automatic weapons, ammunition, and an RPG-7. (A rocket-propelled grenade-launcher.) That would do the trick! There were three rounds for it, too... but I couldn't carry more than two (of the three) without dropping something.

Looked at my inventory. What to drop, to make room? Perhaps... this now-useless laser-guide battery?

Now happily (and heavily) armed, I gained a safe distance from the radio. I aimed. I fired. Whoosh! Boom! The radio antenna was fine.

I blinked. I aimed higher. I fired again.

Whoosh! Boom! No more effect.

I loaded my last round and decided to get another angle on the situation...

Which promptly revealed that, rather than firing into the power generator for the radio antenna, I'd been hitting the wrong side of an adjacent truck.

Took aim at the generator. Nudged my aim up. Fired. Whoosh! BOOM!

Objective complete.

The mission continued. Civilians were rescued; enemies were eliminated (by my team-mates, of course); I got lost. Autosaves were made. Finally, I made it to the extraction point; our command congratulated us on a job well done, and suggested that, being already on the ground, we might be suitable for a job spotting enemy beach defenses for the bombers. (A massive invasion was about to begin, you see.)

I was always up for more. "Sure!" I agreed.

"All right," my squad's lieutenant said. "Where's your laser spotter?"

I blinked.

The battery was still on the ground, next to the enemy weapons cache.

"...I left it on the chopper," my character lamely excused himself.

"God damn it, Cooper," my lieutenant said wearily.


I hope you were entertained by this humorous anecdote

(Plusses: I found another weapons cache en route, so I have another three rounds for my splendid RPG-7! And inventories seem to carry over between missions... man, I anticipate good times.)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Romance of Mr. Zhang

I. Mssr. David and Ms. Mary met in organic chemistry class.

Both were instantly smitten with the other. Mr. Zhang cast his gaze obliquely Ms. Mary's way - "So beautiful!" he thought. Ms. Mary returned the favor, careful not to be seen doing so (and missing Mr. Zhang's own stares) - "So distinguished!" she thought, practically swooning.

But, by the tragic flaws of their natures, both were too shy to do any more than sit next to each-other! (And barely, that!) Their conversations, when forced, were terse and emotionless, each doing their best to avoid looking at the other. (What if they knew, after all? And what if they didn't reciprocate?)

II. Mr. Zhang and Ms. Mary sat in their respective homes, talking the matter over with friends. (Ms. Mary spoke with a room-mate; Mr. Zhang spoke with a high-school friend by IM.)

"oh god it is so awkward", Mr. Zhang wailed. "aaaagh".

"I just - I can't say anything to him!" Ms. Mary said, pacing the kitchen awkwardly. "God, he must think I'm some frigid b- - ice princess!"

"Look, you've been sulking for weeks over this guy," Ms. Mary's room-mate told her. "It's past time for action."

"okay okay I know what to do", Mr. Zhang's internet-friend sent. "I have a plan."

"But - what should I do?" Ms. Mary and Mr. Zhang asked.

Ms. Mary's room-mate described her plan. "You work in the labs after-hours, and build a solution of biocarbon crystal-solution. It'll look magical - just the thing to catch his heart! Then you watch how he responds. That'll prove it, one way or the other!"

"ok ok ok," Mr. Zhang's internet-friend sent rapidly, in a staccatto series of beeps. "You rap to her. Rock me Amadeus. Falco. In the original costume."

"But - how do I know he'll like it?" Ms. Mary asked.

"what if she hates it?" Mr. Zhang asked.

"Well, he's in your o-chem class, right?" Ms. Mary's room-mate asked. "So he must like o-chem. He'll think it's cool!"

"come on," Mr. Zhang's inter-friend replied. "everyone likes Falco."

And that settled that!

III. They met after class, two days later - Mr. Zhang in full regalia, Ms. Mary with a glass tube containing a shimmering green solution.

Ms. Mary looked at Mr. Zhang. Confusion was visible in her eyes. Why is he wearing that? she thought.

Mr. Zhang looked at Ms. Mary. His thoughts were filled with perplexity. What is she carrying?

"It's... a study aid?" Ms. Mary attemped.

"It's... for a class," Mr. Zhang tried to explain.

Mortified, both fled.

IV. "aaaaaargh"

"oh god"

"now she hate me forever"

(Mr. Zhang relates.)

"Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god," Ms. Mary cries, bursting into her apartment. "That could not have gone worse."

On prompting, they explain to their respective advisors.

"Wow!" the advisors say. "They were making stuff for you, too! They must actually love you, and just be as shy as you are! Quick, arrange another meeting!"

V. They meet.

They approach, slowly, cautiously.

Then - it's not clear who initiates it - they kiss.

It's long and passionate. They have to gasp for breath when they're done.

Later, they have unprotected casual sex!

This is probably an unwise idea, but who cares? They survive, and live



The Spirit of the Forest

Ally walked through the densely crowded forest in search of the spirit apparition that they told her would appear any minute now. Then, suddenly in a puff of smoke there appeared a most fantastic creature, who was half-man, and half-spirit, and he hovered before her. He stroked his ghostly moustache and beard. He proclaimed, "I am The Honourable GEORGE AIRY, THE AIRY FAIRY, the gouerner of the peesefull lande, upon whych thou steppest, ande what busness hast though herre, I aske." Ally said, "Sureley youe mouste bee the one who they hauth procklaimed to bee the great visionery of the forreste, who speakes the truthe, and predychts the futture, and who whisperres sage advise, unto the loust soules of the whorlde, and who tells of the pathes of the righteousse, I come herre to seke the knowlege of the ancyent ones, telle me the moste wysely advise of your greate wyssdomme." And then the Forest Spirit said, "I wille doe this thynge whych you aske of mee, butte I must teste your whorthienesse with a ryddle, which I speke unto you thusley: I seke a functione, of which the propperties are as folloues. Whan thou takest the deryvative of that functione, and then henceforthe take againe the deryvative of that resultante, then thou subtractest the function in it self, multiply'd by the variabble it taketh, in its foulde, then that answer must be nulle, and noughte, and not summe to any noumber, be it realle, or fancifulle, or imagyn'd in the myndes of Mankinde. That is the ryddle I deliever unto thoue."

Then Ally took some time to ponder this riddle, and walked around the forest for a while, and at last, she believed she arrived at a reasonable answer. She approached the forest spirit and said, "O greate spirite, I belieue that I haue solv'd the greate ryddle, which thou hast poused unto mee, and the function that you seke, cannote be written as in the mannere of ordinry noumbers, or lettres, as thouse of a manne, in the prynting presses, but in the mannere of one who can imagyne the infynite, that which stretches as a stryng, or a lengthe of corde, or rhope, or a twine, or a vyne, or a roote, or a branche, or a leafe, unto the realmes of the unknowne, and this shall be a summe of many thynges, not singulere in natuur, and the summe shall be comprysed of 2 summes, that are segregated from one another, and that are dystinct in natuur, and the first summe shall be wrytten as one, added to the third pouer of the variable, which be devided by the product of three, and two, and then this shall be added yette again, to the sixth pouer of the variable, which doth be devided by the producte of two, and three, and fyve, and sex, but notte four, and then this shalle bee added to the ninth pouer of the variable, whence devided by the prouduct of two, and three, and fyve, and sex, and aight, and nyn, but not four, norre seuen, and so on, unto the darke realmes of the mysteriousse.

When the spirit heard this, and confirmed it as the correct solution, he laughed evilly, and he proclaimed, "Foole! Now you haue told me all I kneed to know, about the most fancifulle functions, that I shalle publishe it onder my owne name, and I shall become famovs ouer it, and counquer the whorlde of mathematicks." And then Ally said, "What a rude beaste you are, houeuer, thou hast promysed me the prophesy and the wysdom advise, that you keepe, and I shall lyke to knowe it nowe." And the spirit said, "Indeede, I shall say that to you, beinge a manne of my worde, and that the advise that I render unto you shall bee as folloues: That you shall go unto your classes at the Universyty, and you shall go to the manne, who is in the class of Physick, and who grows a bearde, which is blacke as coale, and who smelles of chese, and haue sexuelle relationes with himme, and it shall be pleasureable, and goode, in the eyes of the Lord, and all shall be ryght with the worlde." And then the spirit disappeared in a puff of smoke, to publish his findings, and the next day, Ally went to class as usual, and she did what the forest spirit told her, and everything worked out pretty well, and that was the end of that.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Undifferentiated Enlightenment

Elia woke up. She yawned. She stretched. She stood up.

Near the base of the bed, there was a lump of flesh growing in the carpet!

"Oh!" Elia said. "A person-seed!"

She left the room, returning several minutes later with an earthenware pot in one hand and a spade in the other.

"It's odd," Elia said, putting the pot down. "I changed the screens on the window a few months ago. But I suppose that's when you must have come in - just wafted in through the window like pollen!"

Carefully, Elia used the spade to dig out the chunk of carpeting surrounding the person-seed, lifting it gently into the pot. (The pot was already mostly filled with carpet.) She looked at the person-seed a little longer, and then pushed more carpet onto it, leaving only a small surface of slowly-pulsing flesh visible. "There!" she said. "Now you'll grow as quickly as a person-seed can!"

"It's funny," Elia said, looking at the person-seed. "It's only in places like this that you'll find people-seeds - places struck by fallout from the Enlightenment Bombs. When I was growing up, I never saw any at all! Now you're everywhere, collecting in the corners on the street every morning before the street-cleaners come by, like a haze of pinkish dust. It's just a funny thought - to think that you, all of you, are people!"

Elia carried the pot and spade downstairs, putting the spade back in the hidden cubby from which she'd taken it. She began to do the same with the pot; and then reconsidered. Instead, she closed the cubby and put the pot down on the kitchen table. She sat down.

"The Enlightenment Bombs," Elia sighed. "Weapons of mass transcendence. When detonated, they instantly enlighten every last person in a city, firing them physically into Nirvana. Then, the unenlightened people that launched the Bomb can move in and take their stuff!"

"The side effect," Elia added, "being a rain of not-quite-enlightened souls that fell just short of Nirvana." Elia smiled at the tiny lump of flesh in a pot. "Like you!"

Elia got up. She drank a cup of coffee. She showered. She had breakfast. Then she left for work!

Later, she sat down at the kitchen table again.

"It was advanced Buddhist theory that led to the development of the enlightenment bombs, but there are hardly any buddhists around any more," Elia said. "Most of the true believers just gathered around one of their nirvana bombs - and boom! Mass enlightenment! The ones that were never really committed to the faith were scared by the thought of actually attaining enlightenment. They thought it was only a hypothetical possibility! So they left the faith. That's why you don't really see any Buddhists around these days!

Elia stood up. She brewed a pot of coffee. She poured a cup. She sat back down.

"The only Buddhists around these days," Elia said, "are some hermit-monks in the mountains - reportedly - and a few rare, terrifying bodhisvattas. Bodhisvattas postpone their own enlightenment in the hope of assembling an enlightenment bomb - and taking a city with them!

Elia sipped at her coffee.

"That's where the old saying comes from," Elia explained. "'If you meet a buddhist in the road, kill him!' After all, either he's a bodhisvatta - or, nearly as terrifying, a scammer trying to sell overpriced yoga-course subscriptions! A threat to life and health either way."

The person-seed showed no particular reaction to Elia's humourous comments.

Elia shrugged. She stood up. She changed clothes. She went to bed.

Days passed.

Then came a sharp rapping at the door!

"Yo, dog, the police be up ins!" a voice from outside declared. "We be detectin' too much enlightenment here, so if you've got nothin' to fear, open up and let us in!"

Elia, in the process of washing dishes, looked up. "One minute!" she shouted, and rushed over to the table, picking up the person-seed pot thereupon. (The person-seed was noticably bigger than when Elia had first seen it.) Running to the stairs, Elia hid the pot in the cubby at the stairs' base; then she went to the front door and let the police inside.

There were three of them; dressed in blue and silver, each with a slowly spinning lotus on their left palm. Two of the police began opening drawers and cup-boards, searching the house; the third spoke to Elia.

"Our enlightenment detectors," the policewoman said, gesturing with her lotus-palm, "tell us that your neighborhood is way too filled with enlightenment, dogg. So we be lookin' for summa dat enlightenment stuff, as so we don't all make the big boom."

"I don't know what could be in my house that would be setting off your enlightenment detectors," Elia said innocently. "Ah - there was a person-seed that landed in my bedroom, a few weeks ago. If you move the floor lamp, you can find the chunk I took out of the carpet when I dug it up."

"Hey, dawgs!" there came a shout from upstairs. "Someone's been diggin' up carpet 'round here! I'm'a thinking it's a contamination!"

"What'd you do widdat?" the policewoman speaking to Elia asked politely.

"Well, naturally I was afraid that it would grow into a bodhisvatta and enlighten everyone," Elia told the policewoman. "Being so enlightened already, and all."

"Dat is bein' a natural concern," the policewoman agreed.

"But I wasn't sure what to do with it," Elia said. "So I told Ms. Umpleby, next-door, and she told me she'd take care of it."

The policewoman furrowed. "Dat bein' all kinds of irregular..."

"I'm sorry!" Elia wailed, tears beginning to form in her eyes. "I didn't know what to do! I don't want to be enlightened yet!"

"Shh, shh," the policewoman soothed. Her colleagues had already reappeared downstairs; the policewoman signaled them with a nod. "We be goin' over to your neighbor-woman to be sortin' it all out. You don't be guiltin' at all. Just remember next time as to give 't to the street-cleaners, yah?"

"Y-yes," Elia said, wiping her eyes with a sleeve. "I'll remember."

The front door closed.

Elia, now completely serene in appearance, walked over to the hidden cubby. She took out the person-seed pot and put it on the table. She looked at it.

"Of course," Elia said, "When the police search Ms. Umpleby's house, they'll find the defective screens she installed, and the little person-seed garden she's keeping in the basement. Ha - she thinks they're cute! I didn't give her one, of course, but when the police find what they will - why would they believe anything she says? Looks like my little voyeurism habit has paid off."

The person-seed pulsed gently.

"Don't judge me," Elia told it. "I have to maintain a few vices. Otherwise, I'll ascend into Nirvana, myself!"

Time passed. Elia brewed coffee.

She sat back down in front of the person-seed.

"I have a confession to make," she said. "I've been hoping you'd grow into a bodhisvatta. The primary component of an enlightenment bomb is a nearly-enlightened soul striving for enlightenment - the tension of their few remaining material attachments is enough to catalyze a cataclysmic enlightenment explosion! (Well, with the help of an attached Teller-Ulam nuclear device, but I've already got one of those.) I intentionally left a gap open when I was replacing my screens, so that you would float in - my neighbors would suspect me if I didn't have any screens at all, or defective ones, like silly Ms. Umpleby, so I had to be subtle. Then I was going to raise you until you unrooted from material desire - and the carpet - and use you as the core of an enlightenment bomb. I'd send you straight to the capital!"

Elia sighed.

"...but I can't do that," she admitted.

"Watching you, thinking about you - innocent, a person wiped clean and yet to re-form - "

"I came to realize I was wrong. My beliefs, my goals, all I've been striving for the last few years - misguided, at best."

"If you want to root yourself to the material realm - even so close, so very close, to enlightenment as you are! - that's your choice."

"And if they, all the people in this city, want the same - that's their choice, too."

"People have the right to make their own wrong choices."

Elia sighed.

"I'll keep the Teller-Ulam device," she said. "Just in case I change my mind, or decide there's some group of people that really needs a swift dose of enlightenment. Like terrorists, maybe, or lawyers. But if I need to set off an Enlightenment Bomb, I'll rededicate myself to the Noble Eightfold Path, and use myself as the catalyst, as I always should have planned to."

"And I'll keep you around, too," Elia told the person-seed. "Because you are the most adorable, lovable little chunk of undifferentiated person!"

"Now, to stop externalizing my internal monologues onto a person-seed that has yet to develop hearing organs, before I go as crazy as Ms. Umpleby," Elia said.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Il Professore Nikolas

"Quali sono tutte le radici cubiche di 1?", Il professor Nikolas chiese ai suoi studenti. "Uno", ha detto uno studente. "Bene," ha detto il professor Nikolas, ma quali sono le radici cubiche, eh? ", Ha continuato," L'uomo si ragazzi sono così stupido, me ne vado. "Poi se ne andò. Gli studenti erano in collera con questo, e avevano protestato . professor Nikolas ha detto ai suoi studenti che sarebbe tornato quando uno di loro potrebbe produrre un altro radice cubica di 1. Fortunatamente, uno degli studenti stava prendendo un altro corso di matematica, in cui ha appreso questo concetto della voce. ha detto il professor Nikolas, e lui è stato molto impressionato. chiese il ragazzo, "Come hai potuto capire questa soluzione?" Il ragazzo ha risposto, "Um, io sono solo un genio, credo». professor Nikolas è stata soddisfatta a questa risposta, e decise di tornare in classe il giorno dopo. Egli disse al ragazzo: "Tu mi ha impressionato molto con la vostra intelligenza, sicuramente devo premiare in qualche modo." Il ragazzo ha detto il professor Nikolas, "Be ', ho bisogno del vostro aiuto per qualcosa .. ".

Il ragazzo disse: "C'è questa ragazza nella mia classe di chimica organica. L'uomo, che la classe è veramente brutto! Mi piace molto la classe. Ma devo prendere, perché esso è necessario." Si fermò per un secondo, e poi disse: "Ho bisogno di fare sesso con questa ragazza, l'uomo, è come, sai, così caldo, l'uomo". Il professor Nikolas è stata presa alla sprovvista, sbalordito e divertito. Egli disse: "Non posso aiutarti in questo sforzo. Dovete guardare nel tuo cuore e trovare le soluzioni, molto simile a come avete trovato le soluzioni della matematica". "L'uomo non si tratta di una buona situazione", ha detto il ragazzo.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Desmonde and the Snowe-Wolfe of Dartmouthia

Desmonde wasse borne in Isse-Lunde, and he wasse dead.

It did come to pass that Desmonde, residing in the courte of the Isselandic-King, with the men, and the women, and the dogs, and the sheep, and the cattle, and the horses, and the goats, and the children, and the raveners, and the oil-pots, and the unusually ornate tapestries depicting Greate Military Victories over the Ratte-Kinge, defeated some seven years ago, didde hear worde of a terrible creature, being posessessed of fanges, and claws, ande fur, and teethe, ande teeth, and a pelt, ande long tearing nails, stained with the bloode of its victims, and yea, also did it exert a terrible pull upon those metal objects being brought near it, those being such divers items as swords, and shields, ande helmets, and pots, ande kettles, and cross-bow bolts; ande yea, did it frolick among the woodland meadows, and leap, ande cavort, and bring death and devastation upon the peaceful village of Dartmouthia, and also surrounding regions; and yea, didde Desmonde see this as a great injustice, and a tragedy, ande a wronge, to be Wrighted, in the manner of those lawyers and barristers of the Isselundic isles; and yea, didde Desmonde arm himself with sword and bow and spear and cross-bow and spring-launched harpoon; and yea, did he armour himself with a gambeson, ande a hauberk, ande a cuirasse, ande a helmet, ande a shield, ande a large wheele of cheese, being for defense againste the Höfðingi-monsters that roamed the plaines of Isselunde; and yea, did he acquire arms-men, and horses, ande sailors, and long-ships; and yea, did he sail to the easte, for days upon end, such that his men grew weary, and complained, "Yea, certainly we will never see land again!"; and yea, did Dessmonde skewer those that complained with his sword, and his bow, and his spear; and yea, did he hang them upon the maine-maste, up-side down; and yea, there was no more complaining until landfall; and yea, Dessmonde did hunt the Snowe-Wolfe downe, through the forests, ande the fields, ande the meadows; and yea, did it raven moste vigorously, and tore at the horses, ande sent the arms-menne to flight; and yea, did Dessmonde confront it in the manner of the duel; and yea, did it pull at him, in the manner of a lode-stone to iron, or an electromagnet hoisting a car to be scrapped; and yea, did Dessmonde cry out, "Objection!"; and yea, did Dessmonde leap from his horse, and fly unto the Snowe-Wolfe, and stab him many times, with his sword, and his spear, and his spring-launched harpoon; and yea, did deathe come swirling downe.



Friday, October 16, 2009

In the grim darkness of the far future, a man contemplates the bleakness of his own life, wailing over the thousand sorrows the assail him, weeping at the indignities he suffers. And we mock him for it; bccause, in the end, he is no more and no less than a silly Zhang.

how do you tell
if like
doesnt like you

Are they spitting on you, or in your path?
That would be a clue!
Otherwise it is a nontrivial problem and I am not sure I can help.


i will decribe
the situation
ok so
on friday i went to class
and there was a dude on my chair
so i sat next to that womon
and it was ok

(There is a woman for whom he pines,
seated near him in his al-chemistry class;
yet with her he cannot sit,
save unless he is given some excuse!)

(So tragic.)

on monday
there was no one there
i sat up there again
and i said some things
and it was ok

(A boldness!)

(A daring!)

(Certain to win the lady's heart.)

on tuesday
i did the same thing
and it was still pretty ok
not as much as monday

(All right, truthfully: that's a little odd.)

on wednesday
i did it again
and then
it was less cool
she was always looking away from me
at a really sharp angle
and like
i said some things to her
and she was like yea
uh huh
at the end of class
i went up to her
and i was like
hey do you want
to study
or something
and then she was like
i have like
some friends
or something
and then she said she might email me
but then
she didnt

(How can this be?)

(Have the lady's affections for our hero...

(How can this

so then
on friday
i went to class
and then
i decided to sit up there again
and i thought
ok i will not say anything
and see if she talk to me
and then
she didnt
so that was that

(The tale grows grim indeed, dear readers!)

and then
on the next monday
i went back to my old chair
she did not notice
so that was that

(From this point on, readers may find the tale... unbearably dark. Like a black cat in a soot-filled black paint factory! Beware, those of sensitive tastes. From this point on, there is no going back!)

(Unless you start reading backwards, I guess.)

(But that's just be odd.)

so then on tuesday
i went to class again
and i sat in my old seat
and she did not look at me
or antyhing
so i thought
ok forget it

(Almost as though her attention was on the class itself, unlike our hero! (Why is he even in this class, anyway?))

in my next class
there was this womon
that i usually talk to
and she was like
nice and whatnot
and then i was like
im not going to say anything to her
and see if she talks to me

(A brilliant ploy! This will be a foolproof test of her feelings! Because if she doesn't talk to our hero, it will mean - that she hates him!)

(Or that she's busy, or that she thinks he's snubbing her, or any number of other things.)


and then
she did not
and then class was over
and i left
nothing happened

(It is always good to note when nothing happens. Otherwise, you mightn't notice!)

so then
on wedmesday
i did the same thing
and nothing happened
and then
i thought
ok i will try to talk to that womon who has
a boy firen

(She has a boyfriend.)

and then
i sent her a email
that day
and she did not respond
that day
on thursday
i didnt have class
so then
i sent her another email
that was like
hey im free
do you want to hang out
and then
there was not answer
that day

(Little does Mr. Zhang know that his internet connection was severed weeks ago!)

on friday
i went to class again
and i did not talk to anybody
in any class
and nothing happened

(Another useful note.)

and i still did not get a email
so then i thought
i should go
and see if there are any womons
that i can hit on
in any of my classes

(A valid goal! (Maybe.))

and there was this girl
in my math class
and she was hot
i did not know her
at all
ever talk to her
or anything
so i thought
i can try to leave at the same time as her
and like
at her
or something
she left with a larger
group of men
that surrounded her

(Dear readers: I must confess. I have read ahead. Brace yourself: this is the most magnificent piece of writing in the entire post.)

Are you ready?

All right. Go ahead. Do not forget to
savor the moment.

a ionic compound
that was solvated
in watter
a metal
that was coordinated
at 6 ligands

Mmm. Delightful!

and then
i tried to follow her
but i was going to be late
for my next class
so i didnt

He was planning to murder the men with a knife!

so then
on the weekend
i thought
ok i can party with those guys again
like last time
but then
they were all like
hey we all got into fraternities
unlike you
you know
we are going to do stuff there
and be cool
i didnt do anything
over the week end


on monday
i went to classa
and i saw that womon
in my math class
and this time
she left by herself
and i took that chance
so i went into the hall
with her
and i said hi
and she was like
looked at me
with a funny look
and walked past
and then i thought
that is that

reference link

i went to my next class
the next one

The meticulous chronology is one of the many things that sets the inestimable Mr. Zhang's chronology apart from that of his many rivals.

then i went to lab
and i thought
i can talk to that stoner guy
who is next to me
he was stoned


and hung over
he was saying
rude things
to me
so i thought
thats that

This is Mr. Zhang's catchphrase.

and then
i finished the lab
and it was night time
and i went home
and then
i thought
i can hang out
with my room mates
but then
they were not there
and later that night
they came back
and he said
o we went to this cool thing
without you

oh noooooooo

so i didnt do anything
that night
on tuesday
i went to class
and then
i got my tutouring assignment

(Mr. Zhang is becoming a tutor! Even in real life! It is crazytimes.)

and i thought
hey this is cool
and it was a womon
and i thought whoa cool
and then
i went to the meeting place
to work
with her
and she was like
not there
but then
she came
and i was like
and she was like
and then
she got her cellular
and she called some people

This is slightly odd.

and like
i was like
do you have
any questions
and she was like
and she like
gave me
her homowork
and she was like
can you do this for me

She is an excellent student!

and then
she got on the phone agagin
her boy friend
and she was talking to him
and then
i was working
on the homowork

This is basically the root of all of Mr. Zhang's fictional problems. Maybe even some of the real ones. Hard to be sure.

and then
the time was up
and she took ait
and left
and she did not say anything
so then
i went home
and i thought
thats that

The catchphrase is used - but this time, it is more ominous than ever!

and then
on wednesday
i did not come
to class
but nobody noticed


and then
on friday
i was not in class
and nobody noticed

Wait, hm. This seems inconsistent. What about that stoner guy? Wouldn't he notice.

...I guess he could've been stoned.

(For days on end.)

Carry on.

and then the midterm came
the techer noticed that i did not take it
and he said what is going on
they could not contact me

Oh no! Did Mr. Zhang forget to leave his cell phone on?

and then
they went to look for me in my room
and i was there
with a gun in my hand
the end

Oh gosssssssssssssssh

(This is of course entirely unrealistic because it is hard to get a firearm, especially if you are living in the middle of nowhere. Is there even a gun shop in Dartmouth-Towne? It seems unlikely.)

(Also because Mr. Zhang is both talented and well-liked, and would never be driven to such dark extremes in "real life".)

(Unless he felt driven to it by his paranoid imagination...)

(What's the number for Dartmouth emergency psychiatric services, now?)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Religious Views on Gender: A Historical Perspective

Mera, being a girl raised in a devout household, had always dreamed of serving the gods. To percieve and channel the will of Those that raised the sun into the sky, sent the moon to light the night, and brought forth rain to nourish the earth; oh! What a glorious thing it would be!

Her parents, though faithful worshippers of the gods, disagreed with Mera's optimistic assesstments of the life of the priesthood. Mera was unable to sway them to her point of view, though she argued it for weeks upon end. So, entirely naturally, midway through the twelfth summer of her life, Mera ran away.

Mera chose for her destination the great city of Ur, where she had heard the worship of the gods was a great occupation. It was not far from Mera's home to the great city of Ur; fortunate, this, for it was a troubled age, and the roads were not safe for a lone traveller. Still Mera made the three-day trip safely, subsiding on a loaf of bread stolen from the house before her departure. It was farther than she, or any of her family, had traveled before.

So Mera gawked as Ur appeared upon the horizon, draped lazily over a small hill, leaking smoke from a myriad of fireplaces to make a mark of its presence even upon the sky. She marvelled as she entered the streets of the city, staring at the clamouring crowds, the shouting street merchants, the closely-packed buildings - some of them two stories tall! (Supported by the hill, of course, but still.) Guards armoured and armed with glittering copper patrolled the streets, on the watch for thieves and false idolaters; Mera spoke to one, managed to pry from him directions to the Great Temple of Ur, though both she and he had to strive to understand each-other's thick accent.

As Mera walked, she thought of a story her father had told her, passed from his father (now dead); that Ur held within its confines, not hundreds, but thousands of people, all living and working and fighting within the same city. At the time, Mera and the rest of her family had not believed the tale; even her father had told it with the air of a fable. But now - !

The Great Temple sat near the top of the city, the Palace visible above it. Mera was panting for breath in the moments before she caught sight of it, passage through the narrow, winding, uphill roads of Ur having taxed her in the summer heat; upon seeing the temple, she stopped dead. Everywhere on its walls were colors: blue, green, yellow, illustrating the gods and their many escapades and powers. Pilgrim and city worshippers filled the front courtyard, giving offerings the statues of the gods and speaking to the brightly painted women that preached the words of the gods. (Or so Mera presumed; the noise of the city was that she could hardly hear anything said more than five feet away from her.) Looking on the spectacle, Mera was entranced. "Ah!" she thought. "Certainly this is the life I would lead!"

With some difficulty, Mera succeeded in gaining the attention of a temple acolyte; he directed her into the temple, through several narrow corridors lined with orange-glowing braziers, and into a small room, where another acolyte directed her to wait. She waited, squatting on the floor, noticing as she did so that certain of the murals on the walls were... to put it politely... unusually risque. Mera had many times seen animals in the field, and heard her parents in the night, but - the unusual nature of many of the acts portrayed... she was glad of the poor light that the braziers cast, when the priests finally beckoned her inwards, so that they could not see the blush that coloured her face.

Three old men sat at a table, dressed in temple robes. There was a stool across from them; Mera sat on it, feeling awkward. The old men looked her up and down, appraising her. Mera flinched slightly.

"I've come to join the temple," she said, stammering slightly. The confidence that had filled her during her departure from the farm seemed to have entirely deserted her.

"Hmmm," one of the old men said, still examining her. "So we were told. You seem a bit young for it. Has your night blood come yet?"

Now Mera blushed bright red. "Of course!" she said. "I'm not a child."

"Yes, yes," another of the old men said dismissively. "You certainly look it, though. I doubt more than a fraction of the men would fancy you. Of course, it might be a fraction that wouldn't be interested in any of the more mature women, anyway..."

"What?" Mera asked. "What does my desirability to men have to do with anything?"

This took the old men aback. "You said you were here for the position!" one said.

"I am!" Mera replied. "Like I said, I want to serve the gods and become a priestess!"

"Impossible!" the first old man told her. "Only those born to the priesthood can serve in it! Women from outside can only serve as sacred prostitutes!"

"Sacred prostitutes?" Mera asked, incredulous. "If that's all you'll allow, then, then - I refuse! I reject it! I'll form my own priesthood!" She fled the room.

"We wouldn't have given you the job anyway!" she heard one of the old men shout in departure.

Safely outside the temple, Mera found a corner to sit down in. She sat. She sobbed. Then she thought.

"I said I'd start my own religion," Mera thought to herself. "And that's wrong. The gods are the gods; An, Ki, Ninil, Enki, all of them. I would never start a cult to oppose them."

A fire burned through Mera; a fire of resentment, and frustrated optimism, and of faith. In its path she was consumed, and reborn.

"But the priests are fat and old and cruel," Mera's thoughts continued. "They do not represent the gods. So if I will not start a new religion, what I can do, what I should do, is to start a new priesthood; name myself the Prophetess, and turn the priests out of the house they have forfeited through their acts."

The fire within Mera burnt itself out fully; in its wake Mera, now the Prophetess, stood, tear-tracks still drying on her cheeks. She stared toward the temple. "O Gods, when I return, I will raise a feast and a jubilation in your honor; I will offer all that I have to your service and your glory," she promised. "Now I have nothing; I must leave you with only this promise. I am pure and steadfast in my faith; it must suffice."

The Prophetess left the city of Ur.

She travelled; not back to her home, but elsewhere, through farm and field. She came unto a wilderness, and a cave that would shelter her; there she lay her burdens down. "Here I will live and pray," she said, "living the ascetic life, until the gods show me the path I must take."

She considered the sum total of her burdens: a small knife, a thin blanket, and half a loaf of stale bread.

"I will also," the Prophetess noted as an aside, "have to learn to hunt."

This was difficult!

When the bandits accosted her, the Prophetess had grown somewhat better at hunting, and rather noticably thinner. She sat at her fire, roasting a skeletal rabbit over the flames, as she considered.

"There are three of them," the Prophetess thought to herself. "They are armed; I am not. Certainly I cannot fight, and there is nowhere to run. Therefore I will trust to the gods to guard me."

"Hello there, little lady," the first of the bandits leered down at the Prophetess. "They call me Syram; my brother, here, is Jude, and his brother is Bilon. What's your name?"

"Some called me Mera, once," the Prophetess told them.

"Ain't that nice?" Syram asked. "Now, little girl, we all of us are tired and hungry and been too long without company of the friendliest sort. So my thought is that, now that we've gotten to know each-other proper-like, you'll give us all your food and valuables, and maybe give us a little hospitality on the side, eh? No need for anyone to get hurt or anything."

"Now, though, I am named the Prophetess," the Prophetess told the bandits, proceeding as though she had heard not a word they had said. A light burned within her eyes. "I am the voice of the gods, gifted by Heaven to right the wrongs wrought by man. Should any man take any possession of mine without right, their hands shall blacken and rot off; should any man harm me in any way, the creeping death shall come upon them, killing them and all around them. If any many should strike me down, then he, and his children, and his children's children, down to the seventh generation, shall be cursed with sorrow and bloodshed; yea, and there should be no redemption for they, not even beyond the gates of Death itself. So sayeth Sin, so sayeth Nann, so sayeth the en-zu."

The bandits backed away, cowed.

"...maybe we oughtn't rob her, brother," Bilon suggested in a hushed whisper.

"Y'don't say!" Syram snapped back.

Cautiously Jude approached the Prophetess; he sank to bended knee before her. "O Prophetess," he said, "we are sorry to have offended you. We are poor, and hungry, and barely manage to feed ourselves from day to day; we are ever on the brink of starvation. We ask only this from you; that you give us your blessing, and whatever scraps you can spare, if you so desire. Then we will leave you in peace."

The Prophetess hesitated at this request; but an impulse moved within her. "You may have my blessing," she told the bandits, "On this condition: that you swear to me to hold ever to the path of the Gods, and rob only those less needy than yourself, and harm others only in self-defence. This you must swear!"

"I do, O Prophetess," Jude said.

"I do," Bilon and Syram agreed, mumbling.

"Then you may have this blessing," the Prophetess said. "That so long as you hold to your oath; fortune will favour you. That adversity will bend its knee to you, and hunger stay its wrath; that, so long as your wits remain with you, there will ever be a way to turn the situation to your advantage. Carry this with you!"

"And also," she said in a burst of pity, "this rabbit, here; it is not much, but it will tide you by for a time."

The bandits bowed, awed; Syram reached forward, taking the rabbit off the fire, and bundled it into his search. Then he, with the others, departed.

The Prophetess, watching them, sighed.

She looked at the heel of long-stale bread placed on the center of her blanket.

"I hope I was wise in giving them that gift," she said to herself, "because I am very hungry, and it was very hard to catch that rabbit."

Time passed.

A farmer stumbled into the Prophetess's cave; there was a look of desperation in his eyes. "Are you the hermit-prophet said to live here?" he asked.

"I am," the Prophetess replied. "Why?"

"My family has been stricken by a terrible sickness," the farmer told the Prophetess. "They lie on the ground, rolling and moaning, their skin warmed by a fever that burns like fire. The other villagers have barred the door and left them to die; they shun me, too. Ask the gods to aid me!"

The Prophetess considered.

"The illness has already come too far," she told the farmer. "Some of your family will and must die. But your wife will survive, and a child; with this you must content yourself. This is how it is and must be."

The farmer stared at her, wordless; then he turned and left.

Days passed; the farmer returned. With him were other villagers. They spoke to the Prophetess, telling her that their priest had left, off to Ur; there had been a great battle, and confusion reigned. All had heard of the Prophetess's words of the farmer's family, which had come true; they invited her to live in the village, taking the priest's place. The Prophetess considered, and accepted.

It was there that she was when three great lords came, some time later, escorted by a retinue of copper-armed guards. The Prophetess emerged from her hut to greet them; her gaze was grim.

"If you come to kill me, claiming false idolatry, know that you are wrong, and will be punished for it," the Prophetess began. "I am the Prophetess; by the gods' will, any that harm me will suffer plague, and any that - "

"Ah!" one of the three lords cried; all were startled. "O Prophetess, fear not that we seek your death! Do you not recognize us!"

For they were the three bandits, who had, finding advantage in every situation, rose in the chaos of war to become lords of Ur. And they had come - "to raise you up to the throne of the Great Temple," Syram told the Prophetess, "and let all lesser priests prostrate themselves before you."

"Let that be so," the Prophetess said, a cold delight showing through at the thought of her victory. "And as for the oldest among them, who select candidates for the sacred prostitutes - "

"Yes?" Jude asked.

"Let them serve as they had others!" the Prophetess declared.

"...seriously?" Syram asked.

The Prophetess thought. Images passed through her mind.

"...perhaps being placed within my service would be punishment enough," she conceded. "Let it be so!"

And it was so.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Of Pleas Unto God

The little bird knew there was something wrong.

It thought for a while.

"Am I in the wrong place?" it asked. "It's awfully dark down here. Also, there seem to be loads of strange, bubbling liquids, and things that look like I should be able to fly right through them, but will totally block me if I try! Force-fields. I don't think birds should be in places filled with bubbling liquids and force-fields!"

"Those chemicals are necessary for my work, bird," the room's other occupant, a tall grey-haired woman, grumbled. "And you'd best be grateful for the glass; it's all that's protecting you from those chemicals. Now, shut up while I finish what I'm doing."

The little bird shut its beak compliantly: snap! It thought for a while longer.

"Oh! Oh! Is there something with my plumage?" the little bird asked chirpily. It preened. "Nope! Just as amazing as ever! Man, just check out these greens, and that yellow. Wow!"

"Shut up, little bird!" the woman grumbled. "I care not a whit for the colours of your feathers! In fact, I would much rather you were brown and mud-coloured; but I must work with the tools I am given."

"What? What?" the little bird asked, incredulous. "Me, all brown and muddy and nasty? Why would you want that? I mean, just look at this tail-feather, here - "

"Shut up, little bird!" the woman said.

The little bird's beak snapped shut.

It thought some more. This time, its thoughts were more focused, more intent than ever. It knew it had to get things right this time - there was something wrong, and it was going to get to the bottom of the matter - no matter how long it took!

Roughly three seconds later, the little bird opened its beak again. "I totally got it this time!" it said. "It's me, right? I'm dead! You killed me! That's what's wrong!"

"Yes!" the woman said, looking up from her workbench. "I killed you! Then I revived you with the powers I hold over life and death, turning you into an undead mockery of your former self! That is the only reason you can talk to me, and I have come to believe that the gift of human speech accompanying your revival is a very specific curse - from God - to me - because even with all the immense arcane power I command, you will! Not! Shut! UP!"

"Oh yeah?" the little bird asked, posing defiantly. It puffed up its breast, for added intimidation. "If you're gonna be so mean to me, why don't I just fly away! I'll fly away as fast and as far as I can, and you'll never see me again!"

"Yes!" the woman said, standing. There was something in her hand. "Fly away, little bird, as fast and as far as you can. Just - hold still, please," she interrupted herself as she stooped to tie a small paper to the little bird's right leg, "- ah, where was I? Right! Fly away, with your undead stamina, lack of hunger or thirst, and immunity to predatory birds, until you reach the Kingdom of Heaven itself, there to deliver my ultimatum unto God!"

"Maybe I will!" the little bird said, and shot into the air, shattering the underground laboratory's skylight in a shower of glass and feathers. "Hah!" the little bird congratulated itself. "That will show her!"

Several miles later, the little bird considered the exact situation of its departure.

"Er," the little bird realized, "I'm basically doing exactly what she told me to. Maybe this was not the most effective act of defiance ever?"

The little bird thought some more.

"Oh!" it exclaimed to itself. "I know what'll show her! I'll just land, and not go anywhere at all! Maybe she'll even see me again, and go, 'Drat, that bird totally didn't convey my message to God! Now I'll have to kill another one!'"

"...I cannot be held responsible for the hypothetical actions of others," the little bird added sheepishly.

"Here!" the bird thought, looking downward to a verdant forest. "I'll land here! Time to sample all the pleasures of life, just like before that woman killed me!"

"Mmm, seeds!" the little bird said, taking an anticipatory sniff before popping the seed in question into its mouth.

Then it recoiled!

"Dang!" it said. "That smelled and tasted just like ash!"

The little bird looked around; found a wild raspberry growing neary the ground. It plucked the berry; took a bite.

"Everything tastes just like dust and ash!" the little bird said. "This totally sucks! Well - I'll try drinking some water from this nearby, pure, refreshing-looking mountain stream. Nothing can go wrong there, surely?"

The little bird took a sip.

It made choking noises; sprayed water onto the ground.

"Aaaugh!" it wailed. "It's like drowning, but without me ever actually dying or whatever! Drowning forever!"

The little bird took a moment to compose itself.

"All right, all right," it said. "Eating sucks now, drinking even moreso. Whatever. I never even liked those anyway. But, look. I've still got my beautiful plumage, right?"

The little bird admired its plumage.

"Yeah, totally!" the little bird congratulated itself. "The ladies have always loved this stuff! Now that I won't always be pestering them for a taste of their walnuts or whatever, they'll love me even more!"

It was but a moment's work for the little bird to find a nearby cluster of lady-birds. "Heyo!" it said, puffing out its chest as it approached. "How's it going!"

"Eeeuurgh!" the lady-birds said, recoiling en-masse! All but one took to the air, leaving the dumbfounded little-bird stunned.

"You might want to have yourself checked out, guy," the last lady-bird suggested helpfully. "You smell like rotting flesh! Maybe take a nice bath?" Then it turned away, flying quickly in pursuit of the others.

"What?" the little bird asked, disbelieving. "I don't smell like rotting flesh." It took a quick sniff under its wing to confirm this. "Yeah! All I smell like is... ash?"

"Aw, man!" the little bird said, realization dawning. "Everything smells like ash to me! I totally lost my sense of smell! That was my favourite one, too; including but not limited to my sense of proprietry!"

"Well, whatever," the little bird said. "Being dead totally sucks. I'll just fly to the Kingdom of Heaven, like that woman wanted me to. Things might be better there, maybe."

The little bird considered.

"Oh, hey, they're totally going to be better!" it exclaimed. "It's Heaven! Everything's awesome there! Rad! Well, off I go, then." And with the words, the little bird was in the air once more.

"Wait, which way's Heaven, again?" it asked itself after a moment.

It thought.

"Oh, right!" it realized. "Duh! Up!"

Its wings beating hard, the little bird began to spiral into the air.

Time passed. The sun set and rose again.

"Whoa, if I were a normal bird, I'd totally be tired by now," the little bird realized. "But I feel like I could do this basically forever!"

"It's true," a nearby hawk observed. "Usually I have to dive quite a distance to strike my prey; and then climb a long ways back again, after my meal is done. So obliging of you to come all this way; I won't waste your time with delay."

"Huh, wha?" the little bird observed articulately.

"Waaaaaaaaargh!" it wailed, moments later, as the hawk rent at it. "Hawk totally eating me! The heck the heck the heeeeeeeeeck!"

"Oh, don't worry about it, little bird," the hawk said, drawing back. "I'm quite done; I see this was a terrible mistake on my part. Rotten flesh isn't quite my thing. Unless you've anything more to say, I'm back to scanning for something to wash this taste out of my mouth..." And with this the hawk withdrew, its eyes cast once more in the direction of the distant earth.

"Right!" the little bird remembered. "Totally undead! I remember that woman said I'd be immune to predators. Guess this is why! Best perk I've gotten so far. Sucks to be you, large predatory birds!" It flipped a wing in the general direction of predatory birds.

Shortly thereafter, after recovering from the uncontrolled-spin this ill-considered gesture caused, the little bird continued its upwards ascent.

Until it got caught in a web of invisible, sticky fibers, that is!

"What the heck!" the little bird said. "This doesn't even make any sense! I guess I'm in some sort of web, but what would it even be anchored to?"

"Clouds, naturally," a sky-spider said, approaching at a sedate pace. "Don't injure your little brain worrying about it too much, though. Soon, I'll have injected you with my paralytic venoms, and then you won't have to worry about anything at all. Later, I'll liquefy and ingest you!"

"You totally don't want to, though!" the little bird said. "I'm totally undead! You'd be totally unhappy if you ate me! All, "whoa, that was disgusting, I never want to eat again!" For days! Plus you might catch some weird zombie illness. Not worth the risk, if you ask me!"

The sky-spider tilted its multiorbed head quizically. "Undead? That's most unusual. How can I be sure you're not just lying to avoid being digested?"

"How else'd I get this high?" the little bird asked.

"Reasonable enough," the sky-spider agreed. "Best not to risk it. I'll just cut you free, now..."

"Aw, thanks!" the little bird said, flexing its wings. "You're the politest sky-spider I've ever met. Later!"

"If you want to avoid further such encounters, steer wide of the gaps between clouds," the sky-spider shouted upwards to the departing little bird. "That's where we spin our webs!"

"Whoa!" the little bird said in surprise. "Politest sky-spider ever!"

Its journey upward continued. The sky darkened, turning deep blue. At first the little-bird thought that it was night. Then it realized that the sun was still up. It had just gotten that high!

"Huh!" the little bird said. "I must be nearly to Heaven by now! Hope I can make it the rest of the way - my wings aren't working as well as they were back near the ground, for some weird reason."

"That's very strange indeed," said the leviathan sky-squid. (That's not a very good description of it. It looked kinda like an elephant, but with no legs, and also tentacles? Also it was purple, ish. And had lots of bumps on its skin. And - perhaps best to leave it here.) "You must have come a very long way to get here; I imagine you would be terribly sad if your quest for Heaven was to be ended in failure at so late a date."

"Aw, man," the little bird griped. "Why do I even bother having inner monologues? Every time I do, some predator shows up! Whatever." It turned its beak upwards. "Whatever, sky-squid-thing!" it shouted. "I'm totally undead! Don't bother eating me! Also maybe give me some directions, I'm kinda worried that I overshot Heaven at some point like maybe three miles ago, that'd suck."

"Oh, little bird, little undead bird," the sky-squid-thing sighed. "I am not your friend. I am the Guardian of Heaven, and I am here to eat creatures like you."

"Wha?" the little bird asked. "Seriously? Man, that totally sucks. That sucks, and you suck. And your face sucks. And you smell. And I want you to know - "

Then the sky-squid seized the frantically-flapping little bird in one of its thousand tentacles, stuffed it into its many-fanged maw, and chewed!

"Om nom nom nom," the sky-squid observed.


The little bird knew there was something wrong.

It thought for a while.

"Didn't that sky-squid eat me?" it asked.

A great and benevolent radiance enveloped the little bird. The 'sky-squid' is the Guardian of Heaven, it seemed to wordlessly convey. Through its ommings and nommings, it conveyed you here.

"Oh!" the little bird said. "Huh! I totally didn't expect that."

Are you prepared to experience the glory of Heaven? the great and benevolent radiance asked.

"Um, er," the little bird said. "Yeah. Uh. Actually, I was thinking... could I maybe just be restored to life? I was having a pretty good time, living. It was fun. I liked it."

Heaven's pretty great, the immense and incomprehensible radiance intimated. Don't knock it before you try it.

"Yeah, but... life, eh?" the little bird said. "Also, sex. Not sure you have that around here."

Why don't you try Heaven first, and then if you really want to return to life, we can work something out? the immeasurable numinance implied.

"That works," the little bird said.

"Oh," it added, as a swirl of light wrapped around it. "I had this note, from this lady. She tied it to my leg. I guess I'm supposed to deliver it to God. You should maybe probably take it?"

Certainly, the light agreed.

And then the bird was gone; only the slip of paper remaining.

The divine luminance unwrapped it. Slowly, it read.

It stopped. The paper rotated; then back again. The impression of a disbelieving squint resonated through space.

Get those damn kids to stop throwing stones at my vile sanctum of unlife? the divinity asked disbelievingly.

"Seriously!" the woman said, looking up from her laboratory bench. "They damaged my trim!"

Monday, October 12, 2009

tales of woe and despair

like the sinking

upon the wave fronts of
the travelling oceanic currents
that drag along with them
the lycht at the ende of the tunnel
from that comes
the black
of deadly sins
and our
like a journey to the centre of the earth
that dives ever further down
and never comes up for
a breath
of air
and that festers
in the bowels
of hell
and takes upon
its broken back
the signs
of the moon and the sun
and that makes the tides in the ocean
that drag along with them
the lycht at the ende of the tunnel

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Appropriate Applications of Basic Arithmetic

"Now, everyone in the Weir knows that mathematics is the most important skill you can learn," Mr. Willems said. "But can anyone tell me why?"

Several hands went up. "Me! Me!" Andrea demanded.

"All right, all right, settle down," Mr. Willems said, chuckling. "Andrea, why don't you explain?"

"It's 'cuz math makes bad things go away!" Andrea said triumphantly.

"That's right!" Mr. Willems congratulated. "A good enough mathematician can solve any problem, no matter how thorny. Why don't I give a demonstration?"

"Show us! Show us!" the class clamoured. "We want to see you do math!"

Mr. Willems laughed. "Watch closely, now," he said, and stepped to the back of the classroom. A box-shaped object, covered in black cloth, sat on a table; every child in the room had their eyes fixed on it as Mr. Willems reached down, got a solid grip, and yanked the cloth away. And what they saw beneath -

"Aaaaa!" Sallya screamed.

"It's a monster!" Jervin yelped, his voice filled with terror. "Kill it, kill it, make it go away!"

"Now, now, children, don't be afraid," Mr. Willems said soothingly. "The big bad monster is in a cage. It can't get out. See?" He poked a finger into the cage, to demonstrate. The monster snapped at it; Mr. Willems yanked back quickly. He turned, holding his index finger before the class. "See? Harmless!"

"Are you gonna beat it with maths?" Elpin asked.

"No," Mr. Willems said.

Faces fell all across the classroom. "Then what are you gonna do?" Jervin asked.

"I'm going to have one of you beat it for me!" Mr. Willems said.

"Whoa!" Benn exclaimed. "Awesome!"

"How are we supposed to do that?" Kelliagh asked.

"It's simple," Mr. Willems said. "See there, above its head?"

"Yeah!" Jervin shouted. "They're numbers! We learned 'em last year. There's a two and a six, and a pembleteen in between!"

"Don' be stupid," Sallya reprimanded him. "There's no such thing as a 'pembleteen'!"

"Be polite now, children," Mr. Willems said. "But Sallya's right - the symbol in between isn't a number at all. Can anyone tell me what it is?"

"I remember! I remember!" Andrea said, practically leaping from her chair. "It's a 'plus'! That's "two plus six!" It's a 'quation!"

"Oh, yeah!" Benn realized belatedly. "We learned those last year. I'd forgot!"

"Very good!" Mr. Willems said. "This one is the equation you need to solve to beat the monster. that's why it's hovering above its head! Can anyone tell me what the answer is?"

"Four?" Jervin suggested hastily.

"Not quite," Mr. Willems said. "Does anyone else want to try?"

Andrea sat with an expression of ferocious thought. "It's eight," she said. "Eight! Eight, stupid monster!"

The monster reeled. It fell backwards. Then it hit its head against the bars! Down went the monster!

"Exactly right!" Mr. Willems congratulated. "That's how you beat a monster. Basic arithmetic will only get you so far, though; this one will be back in a few hours, once it feels better. If we wanted to stop it for good, we'd have to try a little harder. Now, everyone saw the numbers right above its head; "2 + 6". If you look very hard, though, and maybe even squint, you should be able to see something else. Why not try now?"

The children squinted.

"There're... more numbers?" Sallya said hesitantly. "I think it's a two and a nine. No, a seven and a nine. But there's something in between... a 'x'?"

"Can everyone else see the equation?" Mr. Willems asked. "Don't worry if it was hard, or you couldn't make it out well; this is the sort of thing you have to practice for. That was the equation you would have to solve to kill the monster. "7 times 9"."

"What's times?" Ephriem asked.

"That's what we're going to be learning this year," Mr. Willems said. "And we'll start on it first thing tomorrow. But now - field trip!"

"Hooray!" the class shouted in unison. "Field trip!"

"We're going to the courthouse!" Mr. Willems told the class.

"...yaaay?" the class said. "...courthouse?"

"And we're going to see them do math!" Mr. Williams said.

"Yaaaaaaaay!" the class shouted.

Then they went to the courthouse.

"I call this proceeding to order," the Judge said sternly. "Jury, do you have a decision?"

"Yes, Your Honor," the jury foreman said. "We solved the equations together, and are now ready to pronounce this bandit - guilty of all charges."

"No!" the accused shouted. "No! It was only some bread! I needed to feed my children! I needed to feed my children!"

"Bailiffs, restrain him," the Judge said calmly. "I will now enact the sentence. For three counts of attempted murder, one count of trespassing, and one count of exacerbated banditry, I hereby sentence you to death. Sixteen by eighty-four. Thirteen-fourty-four."

"Noooo!" the bandit wailed. Then the impact of the maths struck him, and he faded into oblivion.

"That's the power of mathematics, children," Mr. Willems said. "It can be dangerous, so you must always remember to use it wisely."

"Wowww," Benn said.

"Now, I'll take you back to the classroom, and you can find your way home from there - " Mr. Willems began -

Before being rudely interrupted. A woman slammed the doors of the courtroom open, panting heavily. "Brigands!" she said. "An army, at the gate! All able-minded adults to the walls!"

"You'll have to take the children with you, teacher," the Judge said, stepping down. "The children won't be safe at home alone, and you heard the messenger - every able mind is needed."

Mr. Willems hesitated. "Very well," he said. "Come on, everyone, with me. You can play together near the wall, where we can keep an eye on you."

The class followed Mr. Willems, muttering. "Do you think it's bad?" Sallya asked. "I hope mummy and daddy are safe," Corrin mumbled.

As Mr. Willems left the courtroom, a black bird swooped overhead, something clutched in its claws. It landed on the lintel of the door, and took a long, slow, look around. Then it tore at the shape it carried, dropping something onto the ground, and rose again, flying quickly out of sight. Besides the door was the thing the bird had dropped - a rodent's head, trailing severed viscera behind it.

"Ewww!" the children cried en masse, leaning back. Almost immediately thereafter, some of the boys began eyeing the head with curiosity.

"A bad omen," the Judge said, pushing through the children.

"It's nothing," Mr. Willems said. He squinted. "d/dx (6x + 5)... 6." The aspect of the head which foretold an ill future vanished.

"Wow!" Jervin said. "Was that multiplication?"

"No, no," Mr. Willems said, seeming distracted. "Come along, now. We need to hurry."

The scene at the wall was pure chaos. Arrows arced through the air, deflected from harm by swift-adding auxiliaries: "One! Ten! Three! Seven!" one chanted, sending arrows careening away from the defenders. Others struck at the bandits more directly, peering down with spyglasses to see the equations. "Seven plus five-fifteen is five-twenty-two," one announced. "Ninety-six plus thirty-four is - ah - 140. No. No. 130! Yes." A few had set themselves to the task of dismantling the siege engines and ladders the bandits brought against the walls.

But among the arrows were those not deflected, but instead finding their marks; among the bandits were those that avoided the arithmetic of the defenders and made their way to the ladders. And with each passing moment there were more of the latter; and men and women went tumbling from the wall, blood stains spreading from their wounds.

"There are more every year," the Judge said, walking towards the wall.

"Every year," Mr. Willems agreed, seeming sunken within depression. "Impossible to stop them for more than a few months, a year."

"Why not just use math?" Andrea asked.

Mr. Willems started, remembering the presence of the children with him. "We are," Mr. Willems explained to Andrea, gesturing to the efforts on the wall before them. "But there's a lot of math to do, and sometimes we can't solve all the equations fast enough."

"No, no," Andrea said, exasperated at the stupidity of adults. "Don't fight them. Solve them. Beat the thing that makes bandits."

"But - it's not that simple," Mr. Willems said. "There's a complex system of socioeconomic causes creating the bandits - it's a practically insoluble problem!"

"You said that a good enough mathematician 'can solve any problem, no matter how thorny'," Benn quoted. Belief shone in his eyes.

"Well - all right. I'll look," Mr. Willems said, peering into the air over the battle. He had little hope of success - but, to his own surprise, he saw - something. Barely visible, a glimmer in the air - a one-point font in blue-on-slightly-darker-blue...

"lim (x -> 0) 6x / -sin (x) ?" Mr. Willems read slowly, somewhat unbelieving.

"Yeah!" the children cheered. "Solve it, Mr. Willems, solve it!"

"But - I can't!" Mr. Willems protested. "It's an indeterminate form! Insoluble!"

"We know you can do it, Mr. Willems!" Andrea told him, her voice filled with unshakable faith.

Mr. Willems paused. "Wait - I think I remember something..."

He did the math.

He double-checked.

"...negative six?" he suggested.

There was a pause.

The world changed.


EDIT: Fixed final equation.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Cooking Dinner

It was 8:35 when I considered dinner.

By this time, every dining hall on campus was closed. There was one that normally stayed open until 11, but today, for some reason, not so. The options, then: starve, or buy food from one of the general stores on campus. (They stayed open until 1!)

I chose option 2.

Entering the store, I considered the available options. There were snacks - certainly, snacks aplenty. There were microwaveable meals - I looked on them with skepticism. But one, the mysterious "Bagel Bites", sparked an idea...

Minutes later, I exited the store, a small bag of cheese and a set of bagels cradled under my arm. I had a Plan.

I opened the packages!

I separated a bagel into halves!

I put cheese on one of the halves!

I put the bagel in the microwave!

Three minutes later, I returned to see how the bagel-cooking had progressed.

Smoke had filled the kitchen, and the bagel was in ruination. And worst of all -

The plate on which I had put the bagel - purchased only days ago - had split unevenly in two.

(The bagel, though it smelled appetizingly of the cheese melted into it, was completely dehydrated. Tragically inedible.)

My second attempt, far humbler, was more successful.

But - let us say only that my room-mate has told me, with great kindness, that if I ever want to cook something again, I should just ask him to fix it for me. You know. To avoid further property damage.