Author Archives: Tao23

Flash Fiction: Meet The Thunder

This is, uh, a thing. A thing I wrote. A thing that’s not really a story, thought there’s plenty of story suggested before it and around it and after it. And something, after all, happens in it. So it’s story-ish.

It felt pretty good to write it. It’s got a hefty dose of autobiography in it. S.A. Ophelia Barton, the Mad Scene (Sorry, Shakespeare. I don’t mean to imply I’m as interesting as one of The Immortal Bard’s characters. That’d be something like hubris).
It was originally posted on my Patreon page on August 10th, where it was exclusive to patrons until now.
 
Meet The Thunder
S.A. Barton
Copyright 2017
 
I came to the beach looking for Death. Not to confront it. Not to make demands. No, I hoped to be surpised. I wanted to schmooze up to Death like a fan buzzing around a minor celebrity at a party. I wanted to annoy death with my proximity until it snapped and swatted me.
In my last second on Earth, I wanted to protest that it was totally unfair that I was dying soooo unexpectedly and it wasn’t, really, my fault at all. I wanted it to be just one more indignity life had heaped upon me. Maybe I’d pass into the mysterious beyond and demand to speak to a manager. If I could screw my courage up to the sticking point as a ghost – a problematic proposition, as I had enough trouble doing that sort of thing with the benefit of a fleshly body.
It was the peak of summer on a long beach closed to tourists by main force of lack of parking and an irregular defensive picket composed of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of sun-bleached towing company signs.
It was scorching hot, the shadows driven to their cowering minimums and only just beginning to creep longer into afternoon. In the distance to the west there was a different sort of shadow on the horizon: a black and blue bruise of thunderstorms rolled down the flat waters of the Chesapeake Bay, roiling them in its wake. Flicking white snake tongues of lightning shot out one after another from the boiling edge. Some of it was over water already, but the end nearest me was still over land to the west, land separated from the sand I lived on by a strip of bay. Soon it would cross.
Hearing the approaching thunder over the laboring of my overwhelmed window air conditioner unit (the fan had developed a metallic whine after a hurricane the previous year, but it still ran), I peered out the front window of my lonely efficiency apartment to catch a glimpse of that black horizon between the three story condos across the street – giants of the spit; there was virtually nothing taller anywhere near that beach.
Already a few herald raindrops spattered the window, squeezed out of the isolated puffy white clouds the storm drove ahead of it like frightened sprinting sheep.
The clouds were speeding; the front itself would arrive in minutes; the steady drumbeat of distant thunder and the gray smudge it dragged along under it like a density of jellyfish tentacles promised a wild downpour.
Suddenly an urgency came upon me and pushed my normal morbid lassitude out. I would meet the storm and see what it brought with it, like I said above. But I wouldn’t meet it at the convenient, tiny sheltered beach out back of the aging brick block I lived it, buildings that had perhaps once given young officers on their way to Korea a place to rest their heads while they waited for their ships and planes. No. I’d head across the spit, not a long walk, across its long doubled road that looped at the end where the sand finally gave way to sea and the bridge-tunnel that reached across from the end to the land to the west, walk though the spit’s lines of little houses and cabins and weather-bleached apartment buildings.
And then I’d walk down a block to the elevated steps of the beach access that arced over the long stiff grasses and wandering vines of the single line of dune that separated beach and street. On to the beach that faced the rushing storm, into the mouth of the oncoming winds, to the place where the main force of the black steamroller in the sky would  break on this single finger of sand thrust into the bay.
I did not dress for my meeting. I undressed. Off shirt and shorts and underwear. On tiny swim trunks and flipflops. And out the door into the freshening wind.
Outside the heat still lingered, but it was leavened with less-hot, not yet cool, heavy shoves of great invisible hands of wind. The few little trees scattered about the spit, already sculpted with heavy leans away from the beaches by years of weather, danced in spurts as the invisible hands slicked them back again and again.
I walked fast. I had a rendezvous to keep. I looked up every dozen steps or so, not pausing, just glancing to see the enormous black-robes I hurried to meet, spreading its cloak wider, wider, the gray rain spilling out of its hem behind the rows of houses and surely into the bay water now, drumming the waves and pressing the fish down deep with healthy fear.
The thunder rumbled louder now; I was beginning to feel it as well as merely hear it. The lightning had grown close enough to throw faint stroboscopic shadows. Ozone gusted thick like brash cologne in a young nightclub.
I didn’t run. It didn’t seem fitting or dignified. This meeting demanded a certain gravitas, one that apparently, somehow, was not offended by showing up wearing bathing trunks too short to hang all the way down to mid-thigh.
I crossed the road, two lanes each way, clover on the median making tiny respectful bows away from the storm. There were big empty spaces between the cars; most people had sense enough to be somewhere already when a big storm met land. At least, they did when it wasn’t rush hour, and it wasn’t. The few cars that passed seemed to hunch down low over their wheels, feeling the pressure in the air.
And then up the steep stairs and along the boardwalk of the arcing beach access. The bushes and grasses beat the wooden handrails as the gusts came faster and harder, and the wind still blew strong where there had been lulls only a few minutes before. The spike tips of a yucca whistled faintly in a hard gust that pushed me sideways despite the aerodynamic nature a small body and near-total lack of clothing gave me.
Halfway across. The storm hove in close, filling the left half of the sky as I speedwalked, flipflops ThwackThwackThwacking over the boards. Ahead, shrinking shafts of sun mottled a scrum of whitecaps the front pushed ahead of it, showing them down the bay toward open ocean.
plat
An enormously obese drop of rain made a big dark star on the wooden railing worn silvery-gray by years of sun and salt.
plat platplat plat platplatplat platplat
Constellations began to draw themselves all over the wood, the parched boards drinking in cool water after their long bake in the searing sun. A faint steam struggled to rise from them, curling back down upon itself as the meteoric raindrops penetrated it.
The cool splashed on my chest, my shoulders, my bald-shaved head, runneling down through my eyebrows and beard and the waistband of my shorts.
Waking me.
Thunder growled close, and now I could feel it deep in my chest, shaking my ribs from the inside.
Lighting pealed and now the bolts were glaring bright, leaving dark lines and blots in my vision, taking my photo again and again, flash flash flash, driving thought and fear and sense and guile from my head.
I wasn’t here to meet Death after all.
I was there to be. There to see. There for what happened. Whatever that was.
Down the steps fast, slowing into the sand, I walked halfway to the water that rolled and crashed harder than bay water crashed any day except a full-on hurricane before the quiet eye rolled over.
I spread my arms to the storm that filled the sky horizon to horizon now. Behind me the very last of the white cloud and sunlight shafts fled into the distance, but I did not turn to see them. I left it behind.
And the front of the storm rolled over me with a fusillade of thunder booms like I’d been caught in God’s wild bass drum. Great ribbons of electricity stabbed the water of the bay, some so close my scalp tingled and the thunder boxed my ears like a thug. Lightning struck the beach itself and I flinched. But my feet stayed put, and I did not turn away. I stood, arms still spread, the warm water scouring my face like the battering tongue of a lion so large it might plant its feet on either side of the spit with its trees and cars and not disturb the three-story condos that rose under its belly.
Rain poured into my eyes. The world blurred, a watercolor scrubbed with a sponge. The lightning blazed all around until the watercolor was more black afterimage than gray rain and tan beach and white water.
The lightning burned jagged skeins all around. I self the hairs on my arms and legs rise despite them being slicked down with gushing rainwater. The thunder was all the sound; the broken seconds of no-thunder were deafening.
And then, suddenly, it was past. The black rolled on by behind me, still growling and booming and hissing its wrath.
And in front of me was sand. All sand, and around it curling white-topped waves. The trees still leaned and the grass and yucca and vines were thick.
There was not a house or a road or a beach access bridge over the dune. No bridge spanned the water. No cars murmured.
Tears cut through the rain on my face and I did not know if I was weeping because I was dead, or because I was alive.

Eclipse, With Children 


Eclipse viewing with the kiddos. We also had a pair of viewing glasses but the natural pinholes between leaves stole the. show. 

The direct pictures are the product of me putting my cellphone camera in manual settings mode & fiddling around until something weird happened. Not sure why the secondary crescent sun image appeared, but I’m super happy it did. 

We’re in Norfolk, VA so we didn’t see totality. But the sun got down to a skinny crescent and the kids got their minds blown by science and nature. And so did I! 

Eggplant Blossoms Are Beautiful 

Next Time I Plant Chayote… 

…it won’t be next to a tree. And it’ll be in a 30 gallon pot, not a 3 gallon pot.

I planted the thing on a whim because it sprouted in the vegetable basket after I bought it at the store & forgot to eat it for a week or so. When it reached for the tree I decided to look up its growing habits online.

It will probably grow few or no chayote in this little pot. We probably won’t find out until Septemberish when/if it flowers. 

That’s how garden adventures go. 

Breakfast For Dinner… 

…and I’m not screwing around. 

I cut the bread an inch and a half thick and *soaked* it in the egg & milk & probably more vanilla extract than *you* would add & dark brown sugar & cardamom & a teeny pinch of salt mix so it’ll be nice and custardy and delicious all the way through.

Use medium heat if you do it this way. It takes time to cook the middle.

If The Nukes Start Flying…

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Public domain orbital colony concept, NASA Ames Research Center. Go look at all the images, they’re wonderful.

…a goodly number of us dreamers are going to ruefully reflect that it was entirely possible for humanity to establish off-planet settlements following the Apollo program. Settlements that likely could have been self-sustaining by now because in the alternate reality where humankind put as much effort and resources and brains as possible behind establishing populations outside this fragile egg basket we call Earth, the early ones could have been in orbit and on the moon in the 1980s.

There could have been nearly 40 years to chase the kinks out of the recycling loops and life support and hydroponics. To build solar power plants all over the darn place up there and drag a water-ice comet into Earth orbit if we couldn’t find enough to fling up to orbital colonies from Luna with mass drivers.

40 years to send more and more people up and for people to start being born up there.

40 years to establish a reservoir of human beings and our technological knowledge out of range of Kim Jong-Un and Kim Jong-Trump (brothers of another ego-rage-spiritual mother) and their shoe-on-podium nuclear chest-beating.

Sigh.

Lightsail Probes: Not Just For Seeking Out New Life

So, yesterday on Twitter I got to thinking about laser-launched lightsail nanoprobes:

Currently, the big idea is to launch teeny-tiny lightsail probes at neighboring stars to get a look around — current thought is that technology as it is now could handle boosting some 1 gram probes attached to 20 meter lightsails up to 20% of lightspeed.

(I’ve cued the video to a bit about how teeny the working part of the probe would be — if you’re so inclined the whole video is a long, academic discussion of the whole idea that’s pretty decent if that’s your cup of tea.)

With only a few — but even better with a huge cloud, as I briefly fantasize about elsewhere — we could get a fine look at a stellar neighbor and see if there are any planets there that would be practical targets for a generation ship to settle. Think big, I say. Best to get humanity out of this fragile little egg basket we call Earth. Not just into the rest of the Solar System, but into others if we can manage it.

But nanoprobes, good for peeking at the neighbors, could be great for raw astronomy and investigation of the nature of the universe.

The Quanta link in my lead tweet above is about theories regarding the behavior of dark matter. Imagine how useful for that and other questions we itty-bitty humans have about our gigantic universe it would be to launch a gigantic lens of nanoprobes sailing off in a couple of different directions. To fire them out of the plane of the ecliptic and out of the cloud of particles and matter the Sun drags with it through space. To shoot them toward things we want to observe at 20% of lightspeed and compare the observations with what we see when that light and radiation reaches Earth. To fire them off the other way and let them crawl back in time (effectively) to compare to past observations.

To build expanding lenses light-minutes across in interstellar space, peering deeper and more clearly into the universe than humans have ever managed before.

Take some time to really think about it. It’s a breathtaking opportunity for pure science. And pure science, practical-minded friends, pays off in the long run.

For No Particular Reason, Fishing Hole Pics

Just for the heck of it, here are some pics from my favorite fishing hole. Fishing is relaxing and meditative for me, so I do quite a bit of it because STRESS BILLS WORRY CAR REPAIRS LIFE STUFF WHEN WILL I SELL MORE BOOKS AM I WRITING ENOUGH DOES THE STORY I’M WORKING ON NOW SUCK EEEEEK after writing that I want to go fishing right now.

But seriously, it’s a beautiful little spot. I get lots of little fishing companions even when I don’t bring along my 6 year old son (I’ve told the 4 year old that he may come along when he’s 5 because he’s a tad wild and unfocused still and I don’t want him flailing around with a hook).

Not pictured: there are always dragonflies in warm weather. And mosquitoes, but I bring repellent for them. Usually herons and egrets, sometimes a hawk or a duck or a water snake of mystery variety because I give them plenty of space.

Above, mantises and lizard. And lots of duckweed this year, unlike last year. I suspect the mild winter and very hot summer have something to do with it, and maybe a lot of watering and lawn fertilizing going on at the posh homes on one side of the lake.

This, by the way, is the location and activity that inspired the story Basshole, which appears in my Maladapt mini-collection. In that one, a transhuman living in a robotic body does a lot of fishing for 200 years because he’s all messed up about his ex-wife, leaving his fleshly body behind, and just what it is you do with a life anyway. There’s a lot of inner turmoil for him to sort through, but wouldn’t you be thrown off by your 200-years-ago wife showing up in her old human body, out of the blue? I think I would.

In any event, hope you enjoyed the view. I do.

 

[Click for other fish-related posts, including my then-5 year old’s first fish and a tuna poaching ring in 2241]

The Life Of The Dead (An Essay From The Future)

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(Original appearance on my Patreon page, 04 July 2017)

To understand our ancestors and the Natural Lifers, voluntary and involuntary, throughout the Solar System, you must understand first that they are all dead.

For our pre-Longevity ancestors, that’s literally true. But I mean something  more profound than a simple observation of the state of being of those who formerly lived and died. I’m talking about people and whole societies that were and are dead in the depths of their souls and worldview from birth.

We share with them the technical fact of mortality. We, too, will all die. No matter that our organs, unlike theirs, continually rebuild and reengineer themselves from the inside, that we enjoy continual in-depth health monitoring built into our surroundings, clothing, bedding, skin, flesh, bones, and blood, every single moment of every single day. No matter that our brains and memories are tended like gardens and backed up like documents.

Sooner or later the Reaper will reach us. It happens. Statisticians and actuaries disagree amongst themselves but most give us between five and fifteen thousand years before chance delivers us a body-obliterating end. It happens to an unlucky few every year already, in fact, among the tens of billions protected by Longevity.

But our ancestors (and today’s Natural Lifers) grew up assuming that their lives will be over very quickly indeed, and that there’s nothing of consequence they can do about it — which never stopped them from trying to micromanage a few extra years our of their short spans. Few ever succeeded in truly taking a view longer than their own lifespans, and usually that longer view consisted of trying to lock the future into living in the comfortable past of their own youths. For most, “long term” consisted of thinking a bare handful of years ahead, literally. No more than a person could count on their fingers.

Imagine what it’s like to be born inevitably and rapidly terminal. After the normal human childhood frenzy of learning, you must hurry on, hardly pausing. Spend your twenties in frantic acquisition of career skills. Your thirties and forties in frantic acquisition of expertise and professional networks. And then you have perhaps twenty good years to enjoy the fruits of that hard labor before the inevitable decline of body and mind begins to steal that hard-won enjoyment back. You’ll be very lucky to live beyond ninety without Longevity. Ninety years. That’s it. And in the past, there wasn’t even the option to change your mind, which many Natural Lifers do around mid-life when the recognition of immanent mortality really solidifies.

Short-lifers hardly had time to accomplish anything, and they were the entirety of society for most of human history. A society built around the recognition of swift and certain death. For them, everything must be a headlong rush, even the most careful and thoughtful long-range planning.

And a personal failure at any stage of life often meant a literally fatal delay of ambition and enjoyment of life success.

No wonder schadenfruede and sadism and suicide and Amok and warfare were rampant.

Not that those things are extinct in Longevity society. But they’re enormously rarer, aren’t they? Because we not only have reason to plan for the long term, but we know we’re here for the long term. We know we are alive and will continue to live, deep down in our flesh and bones and blood and souls. Tomorrow is coming for us, but short-lifers could never be certain that even tomorrow would come for them.

We’ve got more to lose, more to gain, and more to hope for. Just this first half-millennium of Longevity has revealed a slower progress, which the Natural Lifers jeer at, but it is deliberate and broad and lacks the error-forcing frantic quality of ephemeralism. We’ve more caution in deploying new ideas, but enjoy an unprecedented range of pure research and great reliability in the new developments we add to our lives. For why would a person facing ten thousand years of life worry over a decade or two spent chasing a dead end? But the prospect terrifies Natural Lifers, because two decades in a dead end is a waste of the bulk of an advanced professional life with no chance for recovery. It’s also easier for us to admit errors, for that very reason. A twenty year long mistake is a blush for us, but the ruin of everything for them.

As they point out slower overall progress, Natural Lifers are also quick to point out other shortcomings and controversies within Longevity — sometimes with justice, but often out of that schadenfreude mentioned earlier.

In our society it is easier to consolidate wealth and power for those willing to devote all their centuries to doing so — and so far we have several prominent examples of that. The definitions of “career criminal” and “life sentence” have shifted in ways our legal systems have still not fully adapted to. There is still enormous debate and controversy among creatives and legal minds over what copyright and fair use should look like when a creator might live longer than the current age of all human civilization to date. Mental illness and attitudes toward it are also experiencing a sea change — it seems that over a lifetime of centuries we all are statistically certain to experience mental illness in one or several forms.

While these are all real concerns and ramifications of Longevity, none of them are reasons to ignore the advances of technology and rejoin the Natural Lifers. None of them are reasons to embrace a swift death, surely.

Every human advance has brought new benefits and new difficulties hand in hand. Cheap, powerful ion-drive spacecraft changed our entire society and outlook on life. The internet changed everything with its advent. So did the motor vehicle. Rocketry, airplanes, telephones, electricity, railroads, rifles, gunpowder, crossbows, credit, printing presses, steel, aqueducts, sewers, iron, bronze, domesticated horses, writing, agriculture, brewing, fire. Every one of these innovations, and more besides, radically changed human history, society, worldview, and reasoning. Every single one. We adjusted to them.

We’ll adjust to biological immortality too, and all the new innovations it brings us.

What’s For Dinner, Sandwiches, Breakfast Chops… 

So, whole pork loin, if you can catch a decent price or sale, weighs in at less than a buck and a half per pound. Good price for good lean meat. Mine, above, is a little shorter than when I bought it because I cut about a pound off the end to make delicious schnitzel.

But that’s another story.

My whole grilled pork loin recipe started as a quest to make a cheap home alternative to smoked pork chops, which are strictly a luxury at 7 bucks a pound.

The loin isn’t exactly the same, but it is as delicious and similar in flavor.

In fact, I think it’s better. And as a brined, smoked, cooked meat it lasts a long time in the fridge, giving you time to eat every last morsel. 

I plop the whole thing in a big pot and toss in a cup of salt. Maybe a cup and a half, since I tend to freehand it. Then about a dozen bay leaves (dirt cheap at Hispanic or Caribbean grocery stores), maybe a tablespoon of whole allspice, a quarter cup or so of whole coriander (dirt cheap at Indian grocery stores),  a sprinkle of whole cloves (ten-ish), and a cup and a half of unfiltered apple cider vinegar.

Sometimes I add a couple of packets of culantro y achiote sazon (sorry about no accent on the o – posting from mobile with limited keyboard) for variety.

Add water to just cover the loin. 

Then I let that sucker marinate for 24 hours.

Grill slowly – an actual smoker is best but you can fake it by heaping all the coals to one side and keeping the meat on the other unless your grill is very small. You want to take at least 2 hours to cook the thing. The one pictured took 4.

It’s great smoked with hickory chips but cherrywood is even better. 

Pull it at around 165°F. Give it at least 15 minutes to rest.

It’s juicy and delicious cut into chops for dinner. Cold and sliced thin it makes a hell of a sandwich. Sliced thick and seared quickly it reheats as chops wonderfully and still moist.

Get up in the middle of the night and hack off a chunk to gnaw on – it’s tasty that way too. 

Hope you enjoyed the food interlude. I did. And I will for breakfast in the morning, too.