07:55:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 819 words  
Categories: Announcements, Old Ventures: Refuge

ANNOUNCEMENT: NaNoWriMo 2018, Old Venture: Refuge

I'm sorry. I know, no man is an island, but I've had trouble even being one drop of rain in a river. It's difficult, these days, not to feel like the very foundations of sanity are shaking loose. And I have struggled under my burdens, as I know many of you do. I only yesterday finished last year's NaNo (which I'll be uploading soon to the blog) and I'm going to try and publish one chapter a day this NaNo. It's going to be a rough election cycle this year, and I'm hoping we can get through it together. But if you retain none of the words before or after this, remember these: you are not alone. Amidst all the chaos, and pain, and dehumanizing horror, you are known, you are cared about, you are loved. And so long as we continue to have each other, and to hold one another in our hearts, we have hope. Below is an excerpt, a preview of a chapter I realized was important enough to write and publish out of order, where it might still have some impact. As always, check back daily for updates, on this as well as on older projects that I got behind in posting publicly. And in the meantime, may you and yours stay safe and close in these trying times.

* * *

Jack stepped out onto the stage, and for a moment was blinded by the house lights, and then the chorus of flashbulbs from the media. "I'm happier than I can say to welcome a true American hero onto this stage," the man said, flashing a wide smile.

Jack shook his hand stiffly, then waited for him to clear the stage before speaking. "I'm not comfortable being here," Jack said, "and I'm sure that shows."

The audience chuckled nervously. "That's okay. You're laughing with me," he paused, "I think."

"But I've never been comfortable using my... celebrity, I guess, like this. I've marched, with John Lewis, Martin Luther King, for many varied human rights on many different occasions. You could say I've never been apolitical... but I've always attempted to keep who I am as a man separate from who I was as a symbol. I never wanted to trade on the good I've done, and even today, that's not my goal.

"But I can no longer abide my prior silence. This is not the usual push and pull of politics. This is the rise of something far more sinister, an enemy we fought a world war against, an enemy I hoped we vanquished for good. Maybe that was naïve of me. Maybe my generation failed to keep the flames of vigilance lit.

"I didn't decide to speak until last week. I waited, hoping that sanity would return, that someone, anyone, would be able to show the Republican candidate that he's not just trying to be the leader of conservative America, or scared America, that he'll need to lead all of us. He'll need to represent the will of all of us. He'll need to represent the hopes, as well as the fears, of all of us. And their convention convinced me that realization will forever evade him. At his core, he is a divisive and spiteful man. He doesn't like the idea of an America united, unless he can force us to unite behind him, not as a good and changed man, but as he is, angry, scared and lashing out.

"And with each passing day, the parallels with the fascist rise- a rise that cost our world millions of lives- become stronger, and harder to ignore. Every day, more language about how everyone but America is the problem is used, while more narrowly defining what counts as America. I have seen this ugliness before, I have seen what it does to good men and women caught up in its throes, and I have seen what they in turn do to those they deem unworthy of sharing soil with. I wish I could be here for any other reason, truly. But we do not get to choose our burdens, only how we rise to meet them.

"So please, vote. Not just for Democrats, but for democracy itself, for a return to normalcy, to respecting our differences, and the rights of others. For returning this country to an ideal for the rest of the world to envy. For a world where our most vulnerable are cared for, protected, and safe. For America as we want her to be, and need her to be, not what she was. Because viewing who she was through rose-tinted glasses can't erase those who were left behind or excluded in that past, and we know better, now, and we have to do better. The only hope I have to leave you with is this: we can do better. I've seen it. And I pray I'll live to see it again. Thank you."

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  08:58:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 1888 words  
Categories: The Singularity

The Singularity, Chapter Seventeen, Mendfolk

Knowles kept an eye on Chris the rest of the day. He might have stayed at the clinic overnight, had Trevor not tapped on his arm. ?You need a break nearly as bad as the lady,? he said. 

?You sure? And you?re okay, yourself, right??

Trevor chuckled. ?They put the lime back in my coconut,? he tapped on his temple, ?and everything seems to be working just fine. And even in the chair, I bet I can surveille a good bit more subtly than you. Not that I have to.?

?Hmm?? Knowles asked.

?Chris has been taking midnight strolls. Well, not at midnight, but he wakes up in the middle of the night, and walks. I do the same, but roll. I?ll be with him, anyway; makes sense to just let me be the one babysitting. But promise, I won?t let anything happen to him; us cripples have to stick together.? 

?Okay,? Knowles said. ?but if anything does, Morgan will defenestrate both of us.?

?She?s sexy enough I?d let her try,? he said with a grin. ?Now scoot.?

Knowles walked back into the lobby. Claire was snoring loudly on one of the couches, there. He nudged her with his foot.

?What the hell?? she asked groggily, wiping crusted drool off her chin.

?You fell asleep on the couch. And now I?m waking you up, to take you back to our room.?

?It?s dark? How long did I sleep??

?Until dark. I have no idea when you fell asleep. But you must have been tired.?

?Long day,? she said.

?Kind of a long week,? he replied. ?But I?ll drive. Feel free to pass out in the passenger seat.?

?I may just take you up on that,? she said sleepily. As soon as the front door shut, Trevor wheeled through the French doors and out into the courtyard.

Chris didn?t acknowledge his approach; of course, Trevor was the only person in the clinic in a chair, so it made it pretty easy to know who was rolling up on him.

?Melon still ripening?? Trevor asked.


?Eventually, people are going to wise up to the fact that you?re not as retarded as you were when you got here.? Chris looked down at him with a raised eyebrow. ?What? Weren?t you literally retarded??

?Retarding means the same as impeding; if you have a learning disorder you?re retarded. If you have a damaged brain?

?You?re just dumb??

?Only if you?re just lazy.?

?Lazy? You ever tried wheeling yourself around in one of these things? Or walked with a cane??

?Yeah. After knee surgery. And it sucked. You feel the burn in muscles even I never knew to work out.?

?But now that you?re regaining use of the most important muscle in your body??

?Why do I get the feeling we both have different most important muscles??

?Because I wasn?t talking about your penis.?

?It?s hard,? Chris chortled, ?but I mean my libido suffered along with my brain. But all of a sudden I?m regaining functionality I haven?t had in years- and along with that my libido is back with a vengeance.?

?Yeah,? Trevor said, ?I?ve seen Morgan; I don?t know how it ever left.?

?Careful, I?m pretty sure I could heft you and the chair over that wall.?

?I?m not bird-dogging; I?m not even sure how well my dog will hunt. And your bird, like yourself, are kind of out of my age range. I just meant- take the compliment; your girlfriend is attractive.?

?You are way too easy to mess with.?

?In all fairness, I?m pretty sure you could huck me off that cliff. That kind of a power disparity gives a fella pause. But you?re stalling. Morgan?s got a right to know that you can pronounce sarsaparilla again. ?

?Maybe,? Chris said. ?But she?s suffered so much. And the last thing I want to do is tell her I?m better- magically, mysteriously- only for it all to go away. She?s already been through Flowers for Algernon once- I don?t want to make her do it again.?

?Sometimes the best books get better on second reading- but I get what you mean. I also wonder if she wouldn?t trade whatever tragedy may come for a chance to talk to the old you.? Chris hung his head. But Trevor wasn?t looking to win; he just wanted Chris to think things over. ?At a minimum, I?d say, you should tell the doc. Maybe you have gotten better. Maybe this is the calm at the center of storm that?s you getting worse. But it can?t hurt having your medical champion possessed of all the facts.?

?Yeah,? he said, continuing to watch the waves crash in.

"You know, I hated you, when you first showed up. We both got broken parts. But mine you can mostly see- unless any of my brain stuff relapses. You, though, look at you. You've got fifteen years on me, and I just got out of the Army, in the best shape of my life, and I still don't even look like the action figure version of you. But your first few days here, I watched you. My body was broken. Your head was. We made for a complementary pair. Course, your head's on the mend, and my leg still stubbornly refuses to grow back- so I'm starting to hate you again, a little, but I think I get you better, this time around."

?I always hated you, too,? Chris deadpanned.

?Heh.? Trevor chuckled. ?I've always been short. They used to call me Private Pipsqueak, through basic. When I made Specialist, they started calling me Specialist Squeak. The modern military seems to like their alliteration.?

?I went through training as a military police. Then Abu Ghraib happened, and not even the Stalin would want us running his prisons. First the Iraqis and then Afghans demanded control of prisons from us. So I got repurposed as EOD; I ain?t complaining- at least they took the time to get me the proper training.

"You ever played a high speed, high aggression chess-game? IEDs are like that. They use radio, we block it. They use cellular, we block it. They start using laser, we block it as many different ways as we can. But it's the same as the vehicle armor. We keep reinforcing it, higher and higher up the Stalker, and they keep angling their IEDs up further and further. And you can be faster, and cleverer than the next guy, and nine times out of ten you make him out to be a chump. But that tenth time- boom."

?I was wearing the suit that day- that tenth time- the big Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man suit. You can get a false sense of security in those things- feels like you?re wearing a tank. But my training officer told me that modern explosives will rip those apart like it?s a tissue paper mummy costume. If you get hit, and it?s indirect, or angled wrong, the suit can save your life. But if you?re squatting over an IED and the countermeasures fail- kiss your bye bye.?

"That day, I was fiddling with this goddamn explosive in the middle of what?s usually a bazaar in Sarpuzen- that?s a suburb of Qandahar. And for some reason, drowning in my own ball sweat in that suit, I think about the thing going off, and it makes me think of Chestnuts Roasing on an Open Fire, and I smile to myself thinking of Bing Crosby singing over me silently combusting. That was when I saw the kid, playing. I'd give my other leg, my dick, and both hands not to have fucked up, but I didn't see him. My team, in the Stalker, they didn't see him- or didn't tell me in time. But he plainly didn?t know there?s a bomb there. I don?t speak the language- not a warning or an expletive.?

?And I don?t claim to know the future; I?ve had that spider creeping down the back of my shirt feeling before when I?m rendering safe an explosive, when I convince myself it?s going to go off and that?s going to be it. But that moment I feel that again, and I look at the kid, and I think he knows it, too, less than half a second before the explosive goes off in my face. I was unconscious a couple of days. All I remember of the kid was that like frozen, still image. And that's what haunts me. I know I didn't save the kid. But I can't remember if I even tried."

?I?ll explain. I remember September 11. I called up my dad, woke him up and told him the sand niggers hit us. I don't think he could have been prouder of me- until I joined up with the Army to take the fighting to Osama.?

"Fighting, I've killed my fair share of Muslims. But they weren't people- they were combatants. There's no harm in shooting someone who wants to murder you. But I also met plenty of Muslim people, too, fathers and mothers, sons, daughters, just trying to make their way through life, could have been living in Columbus- except in Columbus you don't have to worry about IEDs.?

"What I mean is I got my head right, over there. I stopped hearing my dad's voice when I saw people who weren't as white and redneck as me. But it was an instant, a millisecond or two at the most. You're a sports guy, you know those moments, when you have maybe time to react, and change everything. And sometimes you do and it works, and everybody cheers- and sometimes? you don?t.. But I'm left with that wonder. Did I hesitate? Pause, even for that millisecond? If it had been some white kid in Columbus, would I have saved him? And I'm a better man than the one who signed up as dumb fucking kid. But I'm not a good enough man to say that thought didn't cross my mind- couldn't have- in those seconds. I can't know for sure my inbred daddy's bigotry didn't help me murder that kid. And I will hate myself every fucking day because I can't be innocent- not beyond my own doubts."

"What if..." Chris hesitated. "What if you didn't have to carry that anymore?"

"Barring a lobotomy, I think it's going to stick with me," he raised his prosthetic, "after all, I got me a souvenir."

"But what if you could change?"

"I told you, I already changed, just... maybe not enough, soon enough."

"I mean what if you saved that boy?"

"What if I could have Pamela Anderson and Zombie Anna Nicole Smith to help me forget about it?"

?That physicist? She believes in time travel. She chased me here, because I?ve got some kind of? anomaly manifesting around me.

?I?d kiss you on the orifice of your choosing if I believed it were true. But I want it bad enough, I know it never could be. Because that ain?t the world we live in. But I appreciate the sentiment, you sharing it, and everything. I know it comes from a? kind, place. And because of that, I?ll tell you kindly about your little problem:  you need to tell the doc that your head?s getting clearer, while the seizures are getting worse. Or I will.?

  11:03:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 819 words  
Categories: The Singularity

The Singularity, Chapter Sixteen, Will Out

Claire was glad that Sam drove them back to the clinic. By the time their food arrived, she had killed her first margarita, and ordered another with the meal. She was also glad, setting foot inside the clinic, that she wasn?t that kind of doctor, because she was still a little tipsy.

?You made me feel like a dick this morning,? Knowles said to her. ?And I don?t think that was fair.? She squinted at him, trying to catch up. ?I didn?t put it together, until I was talking to Morgan,? Knowles said.

?Put what together??

?You read my entrance exam,? he said.

?So?? she asked, still puzzled.

?So, I wrote about my suicide attempt, about the experience, the white light- everything. And you recognized that what I'd seen- what I experienced- I was touched by the singularity. And you knew it. You recognized it. That is why you wanted me for your intern. And up to that point, fine, whatever, I was a diamond in the rough, and I don?t blame you for recognizing that. But that's why you were so persistent, trying to convince me to work with you, why were so... different when you were trying to convince me.?

Claire swallowed. ?See. Right there. It wasn't just that you recognized that I might be integral to your research. It wasn't just that you wanted me for your research. You lied to me. Worse, you toyed with me. Preyed on my complete and utter lack of social clues to get me to think you maybe even wanted to sleep with me. And if I thought, for even a fraction of a second, that you'd ever even entertained the idea- like you said this morning, there are plenty of perfectly legitimate reasons for you not to want to sleep with me. But you didn't articulate any of those.?

?I did what I thought I had to do. I needed you here.?

?Believing you have a destiny isn't an excuse for lying to me, manipulating me.?

?What if it was necessary??

?And what if it wasn't? Counterfactuals are a bit of a bitch, for that reason.?

?What if I saved your life lying to you??

?It's possible. But what if without your bull, I might have jumped on board this whole crazy train of yours sooner, rather than later, and what if that extra time meant I?ve been suffering needlessly, and maybe other people have, too.?

Claire?s jaw tensed. She took in a deep breath, and was prepared to unleash it in a furious storm of angry words. She exhaled. ?You?re right. I had no right to do that to you. It was selfish, and cowardly. And I?m sorry. If you want to go home, I?ll pay for a bus ticket or a plane or a rental- you can take the car, I guess. I?ll make sure you get credit for the entire internship.?

?I?m not leaving,? Knowles said. ?I?m not happy with how you got me here. I?m even less happy that seeing you naked is now definitively off the table. But while I do not condone your behavior, I think I get it. And more importantly, I?m invested. Maybe I had a spiritual revelation. Or maybe the singularity did save my life. Either way, I?m sticking around to figure it out. But in light of our whole trying a friendship thing, I feel like I can honestly tell you you were a bitch to me. But if that?s the last time you lie to me, I think we?ll be okay.? He opened his arms up wide. ?Hug it out??

She embraced him. ?Just try not to enjoy the boob squish too much??

?Nngh,? he moaned, and whispered, ?no promises.?

?You?re going to ruin every single semi-sweet moment of this friendship, aren?t you?? she asked.

?If I can swing it,? he said. Down the hall, he heard a door squeal as it opened slowly, and Chris sneak out. ?Curious?? he said. He spotted Knowles, withdrawing from the hug, and started towards him. ?Morgan?? he asked.

?Fell asleep,? Chris said. ?But I heard some of the things you said to her. Not everything; I was in and out. But I wanted to say, ?Thanks.? I?m usually not enough in my own head to take care of her, but I sure as hell appreciate the people who are.? He put out his hand and Knowles shook it.

As soon as he?d taken his hand back, Knowles leaned towards Claire. ?I was kidding when I pretended to come in my pants when I hugged you, but this time I think I really did.?

?Weird,? Chris said.? People usually wait until I?ve left the room to say things like that.?

?Not me,? Knowles said, beaming.

?Like I said, weird. But I meant it. She?s the love of my life, and I couldn?t thank you enough for being there for her.? Knowles nodded. 


  10:40:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 870 words  
Categories: Whores

Whores .34: Interrogation

?Why?d you shoot Detective Harmon?? I choked on the words. After what we had, it was probably  inappropriate, conducting this interview myself. But after what had happened with Wilkerson, I wasn't sure anyone else would see it through.

The other woman smiled, licking her lips. ?You were fucking him,? she said.

?You shot a police detective, while he was on duty, and working a case. Why??

?He was helping them. The execution, with Mary, it's the propaganda victory of a lifetime. It's to the pro-choice movement what Reagan smashing the air traffic controller strike was to unions. And he was trying to undo it, before my eyes.?

?Even if Harmon was going against his oath, going against his badge, you shot a man in cold blood, in the back.? 

Jeanine sighed, like she was about to explain things to a petulant child. ?I was an old-school feminist. I didn't just vote for a right to choose, I canvassed, and volunteered. I even briefly worked as a clerk for NARAL. My daughter was in college, then, Poli Sci major. She wanted to follow in my footsteps.?

?She got knocked up at a frat party- not because condoms were hard to come by, back then, but because she was young and stupid and fucking around. Of course, that was largely how she came into this world, so it was sort of symmetrical.?

?She had a life, and a career, that she was building towards. I'd raised her to be stridently pro-choice. My feminist leanings had grown exponentially out of a moderate youth, I think as a reaction to my branding. I drove her to the clinic, and bought her lunch afterward. She hardly picked at it, though I assumed at the time having that kind of procedure took a lot of you.?

?But in the days that followed, it only got worse. Postpartum depression is a normal part of pregnancy; I had it with her after she was born. It's the body's natural reaction to the wind-down of estrogen and progesterone. But compounded by her guilt over ending a life, she...?

?She didn't kill herself quickly. It happened over two weeks. She stopped going to classes, stopped showing up at the places we volunteered together. On the weekend, she missed our customary breakfast, our trip to the farmer's market. I got a call from the school, that she was missing classes. She wasn't returning phone calls, either.?

?But I found her in her dorm room. She wasn't picking up after herself, or cleaning herself. I tried to be... comforting, and motherly. But that sparked another reaction; she said to me 'This is what a mother's supposed to be. Loving and, caring, and... all I could be was selfish.' She was inconsolable after that.?

?I stayed overnight in the dorm with her. In the morning, before I was awake, she went for a walk, and... stepped in front of a bus. Campus security tracked me down in her dorm and told me she was in critical condition at the hospital.?

?By the time I arrived she was stable. But she was brain-damaged, and if she ever came out of her coma, she would have been a quadriplegic. But her doctors didn't think there was any chance of that ever happening. The only things keeping her alive was the shoestring student health plan and a room full of machines. She hadn't had the stomach to end it cleanly... so I had to end it for her. But having to kill my daughter... I knew exactly how she felt- and how wrong I'd been.?

?I don't understand,? I said, ?how a branded woman can flip like that. You can't possibly think men should make those kinds of decisions for women- not when men made the decision to burn a letter into your face.?

?My husband was a caveman, and never should have been given control of anything more complicated than a baked potato. But it's foolish to believe women are much further evolved than that. We want freedom... but some freedoms are destructive. Like the atom bomb; having it keeps us free, but using it... ruins who we are. I don?t think any woman should have the right to destroy herself like my daughter did.?

?None of that explains why you shot Alex.?

?Men like him made it possible for my daughter to kill herself.?

?Men like him, and women like you.?

?I made mistakes. But I'm trying to make up for them. He was trying to undo everything we've accomplished.?

?You're a lunatic.?

?And you're out of order, detective.? The voice was deeper, and came from behind me. 

?Captain?? I said, recognizing the voice before I saw the man.

?This woman's a patriot. And you're letting her go.?

?She shot Alex.?

?I think ballistics will prove otherwise. Hers aren't the only set of prints on that gun.? He set his jaw. ?Let me be clear, Candi, we're releasing this woman. But I already have to fill one opening on the gender crimes desk; it's not that much more difficult trying to fill two. Am I understood??

?Yes, sir.?

?Then give me the keys to your cuffs, and get the fuck out of my sight.?


  11:48:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 1492 words  
Categories: The Singularity

The Singularity, Chapter Fifteen, Odd Couple

Knowles wasn't angry, though he felt like he wanted to be. He felt foolish, for the way he'd acted, and self-conscious about it.

He wanted to feel self-conscious about monitoring Claire's MaD, too; if anything started making noise he was fairly certain he didn't know enough about it to fix it. It made him feel like a consolation prize, too, which played to his insecurities- though Morgan didn't seem to notice, or care.

She was too busy watching Chris. She stared at him with alternating admiration and dread. She seemed reluctant to take her eyes off him, even for a second.

Knowles didn't even think about it before he said, ?I can watch over him, for you.?

?Hmm?? she asked innocently.

?You're... you're a lot like a mother,? Knowles said, ?preoccupied with making sure he can't hurt himself. Only you can't just child-proof your house, make sure you don't let child molesters babysit and get him regular dental visits. He?s an adult, so his world?s more open. It's got to be exhausting, trying to prevent any and everything he could to hurt himself.  And I'm here all day, anyway. You should take some time for yourself. Take a nap. Take a walk. Go through town and do touristy things, have cocktails, whatever.?

She smiled at the thought, but then she sighed, and stopped smiling. ?I couldn't,? she said grimly. ?I couldn't live with myself, leaving him alone like that. Because.... no matter how bad it gets for me, it's worse for him, because his brain's dying on him.?

?Or maybe that makes it easier on him,? Knowles said.


?He's got brain damage. But what that usually means is he's loopy at best, completely out of it on his worse days. So on some level, maybe he's aware that he isn't at the top of his game. But you, you are, and you're forced to watch the slide, forced to clean up after him and care for him and make sure he's not trying to floss with an exposed electrical wire.?

She chortled. ?It's nice to see you smile. And I get that you've dedicated yourself to him. That's admirable, noble, and sweet. But sometimes you have to take time for yourself, allow yourself to let go. Even if you don't want to go do something now, you've got to find times and places and ways for you to live your life, even if it's only in little chunks and rare.?

?I know you mean well,? she said. ?But I nearly had a coronary this morning because he walked fifty feet and got me some eggs. It's like the worst combination of having a kid and having an aging, demented parent. I feel responsible for him, and at the same time, I know that I can't actually keep him safe.?

She stroked his cheek before she continued. ?If he spends too long in the bathroom, whether he's using the toilet or bathing, I start to freak out because I assume he most have slipped and fallen, or decided to hurt himself. It's beyond frustrating. It's no way to live. It's not living. It's waiting for him to die- and recognizing that my life is him, that I don't have family, at this point, or hobbies. I have him. That's it. When he dies, I might as well be the one dying myself. And sometimes... I wonder why I'm waiting for it. If my life is just waiting to finally and thoroughly lose the one remaining thing I care about, waiting for my existence to become even more lonesome and pathetic, why am I doing it? I find myself asking if Chris would even really notice that I was gone.?

?I'm sure he would.?

?I'm not,? she said, flashing anger at him. ?I'm sure it would be like when you're forgetting something, something you were supposed to do, or pick up at the store, something just on the tip of your tongue that you know you're forgetting... but he wouldn't miss me- he'd just recognize that there was something that wasn't there.?

?I know how you feel,? Knowles said.

?I doubt that very much.?

?I tried once,? Knowles said quietly.

?Tried?? she asked, feigning ignorance.

?To kill myself,? he reiterated. ?You're beautiful.?

?Thank you,? she said, though she was confused by the sentiment.

?No, I mean, you've been beautiful, most of your life, I'd imagine.?

?People have told me I was pretty since I grew into my teeth,? she said, smiling to show that they were slightly large. ?But I haven't always felt pretty.?

?Oh, I know. Being pretty doesn't eliminate self-esteem issues. But it does mean you don't have other people constantly undermining you. I wasn't always fat. I wasn't thin, but in elementary school, I was athletic enough that I wasn't always the last kid picked in PE. But I was never anything but funny looking.?


?Don't,? he said. ?I'm not fishing. I just... I hated myself all through high school. I was fat, ugly, and I'm a nerd, but I was a C minus student- I didn't even get to be the smart kind of nerd. I hated myself, and hated everybody else for not being nicer to me than I was- which made me a dick to everyone. But high school, there were at least people I knew, you know, I didn't have to eat lunch alone, and wonder if I was going to go a whole day without a single person talking to me. They weren't friends, but they were at least... fellow outcasts.?

?But when I got to college I lost even that pretend social safety net. I tried to play like it didn't matter. I even made a point of trying to go a whole week without anyone acknowledging me- but it wore me out, wore me down. If that was life, I was done trying to suffer through it.?

?I had a roommate, kind of; he was still finishing off his AA, but he wanted to make sure he had a room reserved, since he was transferring in in the middle of the school year, so he was paying rent, and would come up some weekends. He had a few odds and ends, there, but not even a bed, yet. But he had a bottle of pills- to this day I?m still not sure what they were. But I took em, every last one, and laid myself down naked in my bathtub. I didn't write a note, because I couldn't think of anyone who'd care to read it.?

?I remember losing consciousness; there was a bright light- like the one I saw after your husband kicked me; for a second, there, after it happened, I actually thought, great, a retired football player killed me by kicking me- and he wasn?t even a kicker. But I saw that same light, and then I remember hearing my own voice, or at least, words in my own voice. And I thought it was strange; like maybe God spoke to me in my own voice to not freak me out. But the entire time I was out I remember hearing, repeated over and over again, 'It's going to be okay. Just... trust me.' And I don't trust easily, but, for some reason, and maybe it was just because my brain was fried, but I did. And the more I thought on those words, the more I dreaded the fact that I'd killed myself, and that things would have been okay, if only I hadn't...?

?I shat myself. That was how I woke up, crap pushing its way between my thighs. It was the single most disgusting thing that's ever happened to me. I cried. I cried tears of the absolute purest joy shitting myself. Because it was going to be okay. And it's strange to describe it to you, now, how completely happy I was crapping myself, but it was the first time in my entire life that I can remember being hopeful. And I still didn't understand, or know why, but I believed it was going to be okay.?

?And it hasn't always been okay. My life still kind of sucks. But I believe it's going to be okay. I know it will. And I've never forgotten how it felt, thinking I was dying, believe that I wasn't going to get a chance to see things be okay. It changed my life.?

?And I?m not claiming that I know what it?s like to be you, or that I have been where you are, because that wouldn?t be honest. But I know how it feels to be trapped, and to believe there isn't any chance for things to get better. But there is always a chance. And even if it's remote, it's there. You seem like a really nice lady.? He took hold of her hand. ?And you should know: it's going to be okay. Just... trust me.?

  10:40:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 1044 words  
Categories: Lunacy

Lunacy: Desynch

Paul had written the letter a dozen times. Recorded thirteen messages, or at least parts of them.

?Dear Laura, um, sorry I banged my ex-wife. No idea what I was thinking, or doing. But I really didn?t do it to hurt you- I don?t even think I still actually like her, so, you know, I?d consider it a favor if you didn?t go out there and revenge-bang an entire frat house. Fuck.?

?It was a one-time thing. It shouldn?t have even been that. My head?s been a mess. Feels like I?m going crazy sometimes. Back on Earth everything seemed so clean and simple. I was going to Mars, and you were going to wait for me, and I was barely even going to see my ex. But we've only been up here a couple of weeks, and already I can't focus on my duties.?

Paul reached for the off button on the recorder. He needed to take a walk. Not that there were all that many places to go on the Perseus. But at least this time of night, only Rica and Alisa would be awake, and they'd probably be in the systems monitoring bay- which everyone had started calling their lesbian love cocoon.?

So he was surprised to find Levy in the commons room, working at the commons room computer. He had deep, thick bags beneath his eyes, and his skin was taking on a gauntness that reminded Paul of his long-dead grandmother. ?You look like me, at 22.?

?That's actually probably a nice?

?On Halloween; I was dressed as a zombie.?

?Okay, so less nice.?

?You need to sleep,? Paul told him.

?I can't.?

?Not working in here with the lights on, you can't.?

?Yeah. That took some work. I had to reroute-?

?The lights are programmed to dim on a regular, 24 hour daily schedule. Because the human body needs routine. What you're experiencing now is called circadian desynch. Your body's natural rhythms have been disrupted.?

?Huh?? Levy asked.

?It means you still have to sleep even if there?s no night, numb-nuts. There?s a reason we have a schedule, and why Martin tries to keep all of us on it. Insomnia is bad for you, physically and psychologically.?

?So as tempting as it is to stay up for forty hours marathonning every city Debbie ever did, or working on whatever theoretical hyperreality math problem you're working on, you need to take a break. I'm telling you this, because protocol says if you don't, I have to tranq you. And that isn't particularly healthy, either. You don't sleep well on tranqs, because they don't let the body do what it wants to.?

?I don't suppose it helps that I spent twenty hours on Debbie and then the last twenty hours on my math thing, does it??

?Not in the slightest. Though in future, I think if you flipped those, you might find it easier to get to sleep after a few hours with Debbie than with a math problem. Just from my personal experience.?

?Damnit. 'Personal experience' made me picture you beating it. I now have you masturbating associated in my mind with both high-level mathematics and pornography. I'll never be able to enjoy either again. You've ruined my life.?

?Or I've expanded your horizons.? Paul smiled.

?But why are you up?? Levy asked him.

?Girl trouble.?

?It was girl trouble that made me an astronaut- namely that girls didn't want to touch me. I suppose it was also girl trouble that first got me into pornography.? 

?I have the other girl problem.?


?Too many of them.?

?I feel your pain,? Levy said sarcastically.

?I have a girlfriend, back on Earth. I told her she didn't need to wait for me, but she insisted.?


?And judging from your 'oh,' you know what happened on the moon.?

?Kind of.?

?I want to be honest with her- with both of them, really. But I'm terrified, too, that I've screwed up the two best relationships I've ever had.?

?Have you considered bigamy?? Levy asked. ?I'm kidding. But the way I see it, you were confused. You still sound confused, honestly. Your wife was smoking?


?So I can only imagine how hot your girlfriend was, but it's complicated. So I'd say you get a one-time pass on that. I mean, what happens in space, stays in space, right.?

?But is that right??

?Like, morally? Because I don't know that I'm the one to come to for that. I think technically, morally, cheating on your girlfriend with your ex-wife is wrong. But, I think telling your girlfriend to unburden your soul isn't necessarily right, either. Say, for example, that she is going to wait for you, and that's what would actually make her happy. But you telling her you banged your ex- and the emotional unfaithfulness that probably went along with that- probably makes her go out and screw every sailor on the USS Longdick, and even if she manages not to catch something permanent she ends up not waiting for her astronaut doctor lover and instead settles for, well, someone like me- only without the doctorate or witty personality. If your confession is more about you not feeling guilty than about telling her the truth because you think that will help her make better decisions or live a better life, then I'd say it's a morally gray area.?

?I must be sleep-deprived, too,? Paul said. ?Because you're actually making sense.?

?I usually make sense. Most of you just don't understand the math it takes to make sense of my sense.?

?And you're losing me again. Go to bed. I'll do the same.?

?Sure thing, Doc, just as soon as I?

?I will medical override that console and lock it down. You might even lose data.?

?That's one suggestion. But I have another. We could put on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. We don't even have to cuddle- though if we do spoon, I kinda need to be big spoon. Not that I'm against catching... I'm just bigger than you. It makes it harder to be a comfortable little spoon.?

?We'll watch Butch and Sundance, no spooning, but I'm tweaking the thermostat so we'll get sleepy.?

?Deal. But fair warning: I might sleep spoon you.?


  08:43:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 3944 words  
Categories: The Singularity

The Singularity, Chapter Fourteen, Strance Fellows

Claire pulled up in front of the clinic. Knowles got out of the driver's side, and stomped towards the front door. They had a new understanding, but the conversation itself had been painful enough there was going to be some hurt feelings afterward.

Claire checked on the MaD, to make sure it was functioning. But she could tell Knowles was in a mood, and she still wasn't entirely done feeling frustrated with him. ?Can you run things from here?? she asked him.

?Yeah,? Knowles said. ?When you left me at the hotel, I had plenty of time to catch up on your literature.? She wanted to snap at him, because he was supposed to have read all of that before their trip, but she caught Morgan, glaring at her.She nodded in Chris' direction; he'd fallen asleep,

?Let me know if you have any questions, or need anything...? she said. She let herself out of the room and shut the door quietly behind herself.

She stared down the hall, and knew she didn't have anywhere to go. She started walking, and thought maybe she'd get some coffee and drink it out in the courtyard. She stopped at the machine and started to pour herself a mug.

She heard footsteps coming down the stairs, and got excited. She tried to temper her enthusiasm. After all, it could just be Sam, or Molly. But when she turned it was Kevin. ?Oh, thank God,? she said. ?I've had the lousiest morning.?

?What happened??

?The inevitable, really. Sexual-harassing chickens roosting. But it's over, and done with. After the awkward fog rolls out, thing's'll be okay. Just in the interrim, I can't be around my assistant, which is kind of a pain.?

?Well, I'm glad it's taken care of,? Kevin said; she could tell he was distracted.

?You okay?? she asked.


?I could use a distraction.?

?The beach is nice this time of morning. For a walk, though- I wouldn't recommend a swim. Or if you're feeling touristy, I could suggest something.?

?I kind of wanted some company.?

Kevin considered. ?That I can't help you with; I've got patients.?

She frowned. ?I know. I mean, I kind of hoped you'd call it a half-day and play hooky, but,? she smiled at him, ?I think responsibility is sexy. But even responsible working men have to eat at some point. Want to do something for lunch??

?I'm sorry,? he said, his expression flat. ?Rain check??

?You think I could maybe cash that in for dinner, instead??

?I'm fairly busy, with Chris,? he said.

?Final offer: five minutes making out in one of your supply closets. Ten? Fifteen- no, I'm not that easy. Twelve. That's as high as a lady will go.?

?Next time,? Kevin said, and pushed past her.

Claire's shoulders slumped, and she spun around to go back to her coffee.

?That was rough.? She recognized Sam's voice from her first night at the clinic. ?Sorry,? he said, walking down the stairs. ?I didn't mean to listen in; I kind of got stuck on the stairs.?

Claire finished pouring coffee into her cup. ?That's okay,? she said, pouting a little.

?Don't take it too hard. He had a... bad morning.?

?Oh?? she asked.

?He didn't tell me the details. But he stumbled inside the door sopping wet, without shoes. I think he went for a swim, fully clothed. Which is not normal.?

?Oh,? she heard Knowles growl from behind her, ?it's you. I guess I don't need coffee.? He turned his attention to Sam. ?You don't have a vending machine, do you??

?There's a little nook behind the bathroom. I don't know if the Cokes in It have been changed out in the time I've worked here...?

Knowles clomped off down the hallway. Sam's eyes flicked from Claire to him. ?You two aren't, um...?

?No. In fact, quite the opposite. The awkwardness pretty much all stems from me having that talk with him this morning.?


?Why good??

?One, you can do better. Much better. Two, Kevin's interested in you and... well, I'm sure he's told you about his wife. He's still pretty fragile over it.?

?I've noticed.?

?Good. He doesn't deserve the, the personal hell he's forced himself into. But obnoxiously, he's completely incapable of getting himself out of it on his own. And he's worth the extra crap.?

?What's with him today??

?I assumed you two...?

?What? Banged??

?Yeah, kind of. I heard you come over last night. I put in some earplugs to give you two some privacy. And with the awkwardness, I just sort of assumed...?

?I didn't even get to second base,? she said.

?Um... my apologies??

?I think we mostly agreed to take things slowly.?

?Ah,? Sam said. ?Then he's feeling guilty.?

?That seems... contradictory.?

?By virtue of having the 'we should take things slowly conversation,' you two have made a lot of progress. And he's still... not hung up, exactly,but he still has trouble. Dead wives always complicate things. But he blames himself...? Sam suddenly became self-critical. ?You should ignore me. I'm just talking.?

?No,? she said, ?it's fine. Being single at our ages basically gaurantees baggage, and I'm not that easily scared off. Plus 'handsome doctor' makes up for a lot of emotional crippling. Plus he gets points for the whole wounded, mysterious, tragic thing.?

?Good,? Sam said. ?He needs someone who can see the less dire side of things.?

?That's eerily like you just granted me his hand in getting to know him better.?

?I worry about him.?

?Me, too. How would you feel about worrying together??

?Am I going to have to have the sexual harassment talk with you??

?Strictly friendly; I asked Kevin. But I seem to be having an exceptionally prolific morning of alienating the men in my life- though to repeat, I'm in no way even six degrees of involved in a romantic relationship with my intern- nor am I hitting on you.?

?You could just use the company.?


Sam looked up the steps as Claire heard light thundering. ?Well, I have to take Molly to school,?

?Oh,? Claire siad.

?But if you want to come with, we can see about brunch. You hungry??

?I had a bagel,? said Moll.?

?I meant-?

?I know, but you should be paying attention to me, not to dad's girlfriend.?

?I don't know if we're,? Claire stammered.

?Yeah, that's exactly how my friend Sarah tried to claim she wasn't dating Bobby Ferguson. And I wasn't convinced then, either.?

Molly continued out through the front door.

?Freakishly intuitive, isn't she?? Sam asked, following. He paused in the front doorway. ?You coming??

?Sure,? Claire said.

She followed Sam out to the Bronco. He let her into the back seat. before climibing into the driver's seat.

They rode in silence, and when Molly got out at the school, Claire waited until she was inside before climbing up front. ?Forgive me if I'm being paranoid, but did Kevin's little girl just spend an entire car ride giving me a cold shoulder??

?Moll's... complicated. So was her mother. Bright, bright women, tough, kind, and a little mean because they couldn't be those other things if they couldn't take care of themselves. But she's got a good heart, even if she likes to keep it a little hard, so she can beat people over the head with it.?

?I lost track of how many metaphors you mixed there.?

?Bottom line, what she needs more than anything is for her dad to be happy.. If you make her dad happy, she will love you more fiercely than you could imagine. And if for a second she believes you're going to hurt him, you will believe a girl her age can make a grown girl cry.?


?Seen it happen first-hand. I set him up with a friend of Kerry's. I've seen disembowlings on Animal Planet that were more humane. But... she was probably right to do it. She needs her dad. And he can barely handle his own shit- if you'll pardon my vocabulary.?

Claire sat in quiet contemplation for the better part of a minute. She'd dated men with kids before, and it was certainly different, but from the sounds of it Molly was going to be something else entirely. And she decided she couldn handle that. ?So where are you taking me?? Claire asked.

?Castaway's Tini Tiki.?

?It isn't a strip club, is it?? she asked with a smile. He didn't respond. ?Okay,? she said, putting on her best rolling with it face, ?can I at least enquire if it's male or female dancers- because it's too early in the morning for wang.?

Sam laughed, and she was impressed with how it reverberated in his barrel chest. ?No, no wangs, or other unclothed things. Just a restaurant.? She let out a little sigh of relief. ?But you get bonus points for humoring the idea.? Sam pulled into a small parking lot and put the truck into park. ?We're here.?

Claire jumped out of the truck, and squinted at the building Sam was walking towards. ?When you said, 'restaurant,' I assumed at least one chair on which we could take turns resting.?

?It's small,? Sam said, ?maybe even intimate. But the food's good enough I wouldn't care if all the servers were nude male dancers. I might even still eat here if the platters were all nude male dancers.?

?Why are all my meals lately revolving around sausage?? Claire asked.

?Must just be you,? Sam said, holding the door open for her.

They were seated immediately by a friendly young woman who left them with menus. Another server walked by with a tall dessert, coconut ice cream on top of a brownie, drizzled with chocolate syrup and garnished with strawberries. Upon seeing the dish, Claire started to salivate. ?Can I have one of those?? she asked.

?It's your brunch,? Sam said.

?Right. You're not a doctor. You're not going to give me the stink eye if my brunch consists of three desserts.?

?You're kidding, right? He usually orders dessert instead of an appetizer. But I guess he's still in the phase of your relationship where he's pretending not to be a gluttonous eight year old boy.?

?Relationship?? she asked first, followed quickly with, ?Man, I hope we get to that part soon.?

?I'm sure all it would take is you showing him half the interest in desserts you've just shown me.?

?Not soon enough. What if we just bring him one of those things to go- to split with me, obviously.?

?I doubt they travel well,? Sam said. ?But I'm sure we can figure something out.?

She slumped into her seat, and started looking through the menu. ?Presuming we're here long enough for me to have dessert and an entre, do you have any suggestions??

?The haystack chicken's good. The coconut shrimp tasty. The prawns are excellent. And basically everything is spicy- though you get to decide exactly how spicy. The only rule I have is you have to try the jalapeno pineapple margarita. If you absolutely hate it, I'll kill yours and mine, and you can drive us home.?

?That sounds crazy. And delicious.?

?Then you won't be disappointed.?

?Are you two ready to order?? their server asked.

?Um...? Sam asked, eyeing Claire.

?Haystack Rock's that big mother sticking out of the beach by the clinic, right?? Claire asked him.


?Then I'll try the Haystack Chicken. And I'll need the ice cream thing, with the brownie, and strawberries, and I'll need it before food, before drinks, before the end of this sentence if possible.?

The server laughed. ?I'll get that for you as soon possible. And for you??

?The lady mentioned drinks; we're each going to need jalapeno pineapple margarita. And I'm going to go with the coconut shrimp.?

?Will that be everything?? she asked, jotting notes down on a pad.

?I think so,? he said, and she scurried off.

Claire spent a few moments looking at the décor, but she didn't want to have one of those meals where both people made small talk and mostly ignored the fact there was a nother person eating with them. So she asked a question. ?Did Kevin tell you what I do??

?Physics of time travel.?

?Kinda-sorta. I mean, that's definitely the nutshell of it.?

?He tell you what I do??

?He's mentioned quite a few things, really. Driving, security, maintenance, helping him raise his daughter. Biker ganging.?

?It' a club,? he said.

?So you have like a clubhouse?? she asked.

?We meet at a bar, most of the time, or one of the member's houses.?

?So you protest the 'gang' label??

?Kinda-sorta,? Sam said with a smile as their server set down their margaritas. He sipped his, and licked his lips.

She lifted her glass to her nose and sniffed at it. She tilted it, poured just enough into her mouth to taste and swished it around on her tongue. She swallowed. ?I think I'm an alcoholic,? she said.

?Then maybe I shouldn't have insisted you have a margarita.?

?No, I mean, that is so effing good that I think I've just now this second developed an all-consuming and unhealthy love of alcohol. I might have to ask you to turn around so I can have sex with this margarita.?

?You don't want to do that. Margaritas are pretty cold.?

?Worth it.? She took another sip. ?Oh my God. I wasn't even sure I would have said I was in a relationship with your cousin, but now I'm certain that I am definitely cheating on him with this cocktail. Do you know of any state in the union that allows a woman to marry an alcoholic beverage.?

?Maybe Connecticut. But it would only be valid in Connecticut.?

?And then I'd have to live in Connecticut, wouldn't I? And then I wouldn't be able to get more of these.?

?So you're cheating on my cousin with that drink, and you're already planning to cheat on it, too. I'm beginning to sense that you have issues with fidelity.?

?For this drink? You betcha.? She took another sip. ?But we were talking, and not about this delicious beverage. Motorcycle thuggery. Kevin's about as white bread as you get, and you two are really close, so I don't get how you got into it.?

Sam sighed, and took a drink. ?I bought a bike on a whim. Hindisght being what it is, I think maybe it was more significant than I realized. But a bike is a vehicle that won't accommodate kids, or all but the skinniest of wives. And it's also not the kind of thing a responsible sole bread-winner chooses to ride.?

He took another drink. ?It's a vehicle somewhat deservedly associated with a freewheeling lifestyle. Cars are expensive to own, and operate. Bikes... I could go cross-country on what it would cost me to go cross-state in a car. And being on a bike is just different. It's... unfiltered. In a car, there's this safety barrier of steel and glass wrapped around you. On a bike, you're a split-second's reflexes from wrapping around that tree over there or that road sign just up ahead.?

?And it's different enough,? he continued, ?that people on bikes tend to want to ride with other people on bikes. It's an experience, and you want to share it with people. My stepdad rides- but only on the sunniest, driest days of the year- and living in the northwest that means basically that he rides in July- and even then only when he doesn't have a shift scheduled. So I found other people to ride with.?

?Your gang.?

?Yeah. It's not as shady as I'm sure Kevin's made it sound. We don't tear through neighborhoods swinging chains, or beef for the sake of beefing. Where it can sometimes get dangerous is clubs get... cliquish. Territorial. We're pretty cool-headed. But if people fuck with us...?

?But I think I started riding because I wasn't happy at home. I felt trapped. And a motorcycle was the exact opposite of that, of having to live my life for people I loved, but wasn't sure I liked being around. It's a terrible cliché, really. But so's staying together for the kids, and being guilted into keeping the family together. I'm not one of those people who buys into the mythos of the motorcycle; individuality for the sake of individualism is masturbation. Not that I'm knocking masturbation- but I also don't think masturbation is a grand expression of human freedom and dignity.?

?And we're back to dongs,? Claire said. ?And I have not been the one to bring them up, not once.?

?Kerry didn't like me riding, and it grew from a simple protest into a familiar and unending chorus. Maybe she just recognized that I was pulling away, that the club was a threat; maybe she was trying to deal with that threat to her family. But by forcing me to choose, she was only making me feel more trapped, reinforcing what had made me seek out bikes in the first place. I hated making the decision to leave; I was raised traditionally enough that I still bear a lot of guilt over abandoning my family. But? I made a choice to be happy. And let me clarify, I?m still paying for as much as I possibly can; Kerry had to get a job, but the only reason I survive is Kevin covers room and board on top of what he overpays me. And ultimately, I know that I made the right choice. I couldn?t have been happy there. Kerry wasn?t happy. And I know the kids knew it, too. And it might hurt them not to have me around as much, but not as much as having them grow up believing they don?t deserve to be happy, too.?

Claire didn?t know what to say to any of that. She barely knew Sam, but there was a nagging question at the back of her head, that she knew she couldn?t ask. ?You?re wondering if I?m rationalizing; that?s everybody?s first reaction- including my own. And the short, simple answer, is I don?t know. The less satisfying answer, of course, is that I can?t know, yet; it?s all still too recent, and trial and error is still the way most of us human beings learn things. But as soon as I know, I can go forward from there from a place of knowledge.?

?But that?s not really fair, is it?? Claire asked.

?To Ker?? he asked. ?No, it?s not. But neither is staying because I?ve been culturally guilted into it. The only fair thing would be to unmarry her- make it like we never were, never had kids. I don?t know if that would be fair to our kids- but they?d probably exist, just with some other daddy?s DNA.?

?What if you could do that, though??

?I don?t know,? he said. ?I love my kids. Unmarrying my wife- there?s been ups and downs, and we?ve hurt each other as well as loved. But my kids? I?d die for them. I would. I never would have stayed as long as I did, were it not for them.?

?I?m sorry,? Claire said. ?I don?t think I was being clear; I?m not asking a hypothetical question, here. The singularity I tracked here, I believe it?s a? a gateway, of sorts, to various points in the past. And I think it?s possible for us to pass information back through that gate. So what if you could fix things with your wife- whatever ?fix? means in this complicated case??

?That sounds crazy.?

?So would radio waves to somebody in the 1800s.?

?That was a kind way to call me a Luddite.?

?No; at worst I was saying you?re not an experimental quantum physicist looking into temporal anomalies. Most of the most brilliant minds in my field don?t even pay attention to this stuff. But I think- and I?m not promising or anything, but- I think we have a chance here to change the world. Not in huge, sweeping, shoot Hitler sorts of ways. But just in small, personal, meaningful ones.?

?And presuming it worked, and you?re not as nutty as you kind of sound right now, what would happen to the old life, my kids??

?There?s really two schools of thought. One, in a persistent reality, there?s only one Earth, and anything changed in the past changes everything, so your kids never exist- they?re unborn. In the other, perhaps more internally-consistent model, we make this change in our world, but our reality persists. By changing our past, a new, divergent reality splinters off, where the changes we made play out.?

?But that doesn?t solve anything.?

?I know,? Claire said. ?Well, it doesn?t solve anything here. But karmically, it creates a different, and hopefully better, world.?

?A bit like reincarnation, the- which is something I can wrap my head around.? She gave him a confused look. ?I'm a Buddhist,? he said, ?and I don't just mean in the belly region,? rubbing his gut.


?I was raised- Kevin and I both were- in a fairly standard Christian mode. But past a certain age... it just felt like a naïve way of dealing with the world.?

?And Buddhism isn?t?? she asked.

He smiled. ?People have this image of Buddha as this jolly, smiling fat man who wouldn?t let harm come to Hitler, not even to stop the Holocaust- but that?s Santa Clause- not that I?m saying just because Saint Nick was German he was a Nazi.?

?Saint Nicholas was Greek,? Claire corrected.? Santa Clause is kind of what happens when you take the Germanic Odin and throw him in a blender with Nicholas- you know, aside from a mess.?

He hand-waived her assertion away. ?My point, though, is Buddhism isn?t as weak-kneed as the back of the box makes it sound. The monks in Burma are a prime example, standing up against their repressive government. Buddhism cares about justice nearly as much as it seeks out peace- largely because it?s difficult to maintain the one without the other. Perhaps the better example is that Buddha taught that if someone strikes you, you should empathize with them, but that you should intervene when someone strikes another.?

?But nonviolently.?

?Well?? Sam bit his lip, ?that?s a part I still struggle with. But ideally, yes, the idea is to resist passively, increasing the amount of violence necessary to oppress until it becomes unpalatable. Usually that?s the point I just slap the shit out of somebody- but I suppose that would have made me a lousy Christian, too.?

?But why do I get the feeling that sentiment is part of why your wife didn?t like you biking?? Claire asked.

?I?m a Buddhist because I want peace, and tranquility, but it's not a natural state for me. I fight my natural state, but it's an uphill struggle, and sometimes it gets the better of me. It's kind of like that old Saint Augustine prayer, make me chaste- just not yet. I have rage issues. I know it. For most anger, meditation does the trick. But sometimes.,, sometimes it's meditative to knock a few heads.?

?And these heads you knock- are they deserving- or do they at least belong to combatants??

?Of course,? Sam said. ?That?s a huge part of the appeal for me. I?ve got anger, and I?ve yet to find a way around that isn?t through it. But this way I have an outlet, one that lets me vent that fury on those who brought their own.?

She furrowed her brow. ?That?s? complicated.?

?So?s time travel,? he told her.


  11:55:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 1312 words  
Categories: The Singularity

The Singularity, Chapter Thirteen, Restless

Kevin slept fitfully. He felt two heartbeats, one growing weaker. At first he thought he had taken Claire to bed, that she was falling asleep before him. But when he opened his eyes he saw his wife, and realized the life was draining from her.

He opened his eyes. He was in his bed, and coated in sweat. It was the third time that night. ?Guess I'm not sleeping,? he said, and walked to the shower, stripping off his shorts along the way.

He stepped into the stream of water before it was warm. ?Ah,? he said, trying to yell out quietly. He shivered, and closed his eyes, and saw his wife's eyes, as the life went out of them. He twisted the shower knob hard to the left. The temperature gradually rose to warm, then hot, scalding. He kept his eyes closed, but no matter how it hurt, his wife was there, staring through him.

He punched the knob and the water shut off. ?Goddamnit,? he said to himself. He dressed and went downstairs, hoping to find an insomniac patient wandering the clinic. But everything was still, and everyone asleep. He changed into a pair of shorts, and tennis shoes.

He hated the stairs winding down from the clinic to the beach; his contractor said that refining them would cost more than a million dollars, funds which he decided were better put away for a down payment on an MRI machine. The stairs were wooden slats screwed into a sharp, rocky decline, with a rope chain a foot tall all that stood between him and a nearly sheer drop. It was dangerous enough that he kept the stairs closed off to his patients.

The sand was moist even at the base of the cliff from the mist that accompanied very wave. The spray made him feel more alert, but only made his misery more acute. He started to jogging, but a warm-up wasn't going to even cut into his masochism, so he started to run towards Haystack Rock, jutting out of the beach like the fin and tail of a giant shark.

As Kevin neared the rocky outcropping, the sound of waves crashing loudly against it brought him out of his fugue. His lungs burned and his muscles ached, but his anger was still tight in his chest. He glanced out at the water, and wondered if a swim might calm him.

Without pausing to remove his shoes or even slow, he turned into the water and ran until he fell, and started pumping his arms. He swam out past the tail of Haystack Rock, stopped. The cold of the icy waters enveloped him, and he closed his eyes as he sunk beneath the water. His wife was there, staring at him with eyes that were dead but still seemed to accuse him, but the freeze made him numb; he didn't mind her stare, his guilt, his anger.

At the back of his mind he noted that his lungs were burning, then noted the touch of sand on his feet, and the gentle gravity of the water as the undertow pulled at him. He felt peaceful, and it was all he could do not to take in a breath of water. But panic crept back into his mind, and in that moment he was in the middle of a wet street at night, holding his dying wife. But it wasn't her he was concerned for; she was dying, and he knew it. This time, he remembered what he'd forgotten that night, the little girl in the back seat of his car who still needed him.

He kicked off the sandy bottom. It was sludge, and his feet nearly stuck; one of his shoes stayed behind as he kicked for the surface. He struggled towards the air, feeling the full press of the ocean's water on his ears and lungs, and recognizing the forceful tug of the water pulling him out to sea.

Hr broke the surface, and allowed himself a moment to enjoy the triumph. Then he reached down and knocked off his other shoe, and peeled off his socks.

Then he looked to the horizon, and his heart sank. He couldn't even see the shore, or Haystack Rock. He didn't even know which direction to swim. He was going to die.

He forced his eyes shut, forced himself to stare into his wife's dead eyes as he forced enough calm into himself to think. He knew he had a single chance, remote as it felt in that moment. He opened his eyes, and turned in the water, kicking to try to see out past the chopping waves.

All he could see was ocean. He balled his fists and punched at the water, but it gave too easily to even offer him that comfort. He exhaled, letting the breath leave him, and recognized that he was going to fill his lungs next with water. But he bobbed on an especially large wave, and saw something black. ?No,? he said, not wanting to let his last moments be filled with false hope. But he swam for it, anyway.

At least this way, if he was going to drown, he was going to drown fighting. It was slow going, because the ocean didn't want to give him up, and he struggled for every inch he gained. He didn't see the black speck again for several minutes, but he continued swimming, past the point when the muscles in his arms no longer wanted to move.

Then he saw it again, and knew it was the tip of Haystack Rock, poking above the crests of waves. If he could make it to the rock, he was saved.

For his unbridled optimism, he received a mouthful of seawater, smashed into his open mouth so forcefully it nearly filled his lungs. He started coughing, and wretched up saltwater and acid, and continued to cough, barely able to kick his legs enough to bob above the waterline.

But he'd seen salvation. He wasn't about to let a little thing like drowning stop him. He started stroking through the water. He felt younger, and more vigorous than he had in years; it was adrenaline, he thought, or perhaps just elation that he wasn't going to die.

His fingers smacked painfully against the tail of the Haystack shark, but he didn't care. He latched on, and pulled himself up out of the water. It was covered in barnacles, starfish, anemones and a dozen more oceanic species he wouldn't eat boiled, but he kissed the rock, anyway. ?I just Frenched your bathroom, didn't I?? he asked a purple starfish. He kissed it again, breathing heavily.

When he'd caught his breath, he swam the rest of the way to shore. He collapsed on the beach just past where the waves stopped; the water lapping at his toes was the only thing that kept him conscious.

After a few minutes, he pushed himself to his feet. ?N-never thought I'd be so happy to have sand in my mouth.? He spit, and started towards the stairs back up to the clinic.

He stripped down to his shorts in the courtyard. Normally, he'd be mortified to bump into his patients in a pair of sopping running shorts, but he was past the point of humiliation. Sam was upstairs, making coffee in the kitchen. ?You went for a swim?? Sam asked. ?It's nearly freezing out there.?

?E-e-e-azy, f-f-for you to say,? he said through shivers.

Sam set down the coffee mug he'd been rinsing out, and put his arm around his cousin. ?Come on. We'll draw you a bath. You're sponging yourself, though.?

The warmth from the bath cut into his brain; it made him think of Claire. But the moment he closed his eyes, he could see his wife again, and that made feel terrible.


  09:13:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 1444 words  
Categories: The Singularity

The Singularity, Chapter Twelve, Awakening

Morgan overslept.

The stress of having to be awake whenever Chris was, of trying to be aware of every noise and movement he made, wore her down. She fought it as long as she could, but when the exhaustion overwhelmed her, to the point where even her concern for Chris and as much caffeiene as she could keep down couldn't fight her fatigue, she overslept.

She recognized the feeling immediately; it was like being hung over. And she was sore, from sleeping in the recliner beside Chris' hospital bed. Chris' doctor had offered her an empty room, or a cot, but she had refused, though having slept in that recliner more than once she couldn't remember why anymore.

Her vision was hazy, but blinking through the light bleeding in between the open blinds, she could make out Chris' tell-tale nest of blankets. She rolled onto her side, reaching for the hand she'd fallen asleep holding, but came up with only empty air.

She groped for the hand, assuming he'd simply shifted. Her eyes opened wide, and she realized the nest of blankets was empty. Her heart started beating faster.

She pushed out of the chair, and stumbled into Chris' bed. She told herself that he had to be in the bathroom, that he hadn't wandered off. She listened for the sounds of running water, or a razor against stubble, and every second the silence remained unbroken her heart beat faster. She was nearly at a jog when she reached the door into the bathroom.

?Chris?? she called out. She whacked the door several times, and the third she pushed inside. Her eyes darted to the toilet, then the sink, but Chris wasn't there. The shower curtain was closed, and she could tell the shower wasn't on. But it wouldn't be the first time Chris had taken a shower, turned off the water, and then forgotten to dry off- just stood there uncomfortable, shivering. She pulled the curtain back. He wasn't there.

She ran out of the bathroom, and the ocean view, the one Chris had been obsessed with since they arrived, seized her atteniton. That panicked her even more; getting lost on the way to the store meant he might end up wandering around in the dark, but getting lost in the ocean... she couldn't even stand to think it.

She pushed her way into the hall, praying for anyone who might be able to help her look for Chris. But the hall was empty. She ran at full speed to the French doors that opened out onto the courtyard, and pushed so hard the glass shuttered.

The sun coming up over the horizon blinded her. She put her hand up for shadow, and she could make out several people standing around a buffet laid out on one of the tables. Finally, help.

She squinted, but she couldn't quite make out the obstacle course of chairs and tables. She traced her fingers along the edges of the furniture as she crossed towards the gathered patients. She didn't see Trevor's chair until her foot glanced across his break.

?Morning,? he said, ignoring the collision.

She pushed forward, and the blinding the sun was suddenly eclipsed. But it took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the newfound shade, and she couldn't believe what she thought she saw.

Standing in front of her was Chris, smiling widely, laughing with an older patient.

?My husband isn't around right now,? the older woman said, winking at him.

?Yes, but his wife is,? Trevor said from behind Morgan.

?I didn't see you there,? Chris said, turning around. He held out a plate for her, eggs covered in cheese and finely chopped vegetables. ?I made you an omelett. Addie helped.?

Addie was wearing a shirt low cut enough Morgan wouldn't have worn it. ?I want you to know that he was a thorough gentleman. Even when I tried to put my hand in his pants.?

?I told you it wasn't an accident,? Trevor said.

?She's harmless,? Chris said, then reconsidered. ?Mostly harmless.?

?Are you eating with me?? Morgan asked.

?Yep. I was just making your omelett first, then I was going to make my plate. I hoped I could bring you breakfast in bed- or in chair, anyway.?

?I'll get us a seat with a good view of the ocean,? she said, and turned away from the others. Her heart was still racing. She was angry, and relieved, and the combination was too much; it was all she could do to keep from crumpling over and sobbing. But Chris was all right. She tried to take solace in that.

Across town, Knowles hovered over a metal pan of eggs, and couldn't help but wonder if the breakfast was called continental because it was cooked on the opposite end of the continent and then carried on horseback to the west coast. ?These are sub-McDonalds eggs,? Knowles said. ?I'm pretty sure it would be unethical to feed this food to food.?

Claire wasn't paying him much attention. She smothered her eggs, bacon and a waffle in syrup, and walked to a table.

Knowles sat down beside her, letting his plate slam on the table. ?I'm kind of surprised you're not having breakfast with the doctor,? he said, pouting.

?And I'm tired of giving you the benefit of the doubt. I don't for a second believe you were just talking about me eating breakfast at the clinic- you're being pissy about me sleeping with the doctor who runs the clinic.?

?So you are??

?One, none of your business. And two, how would that matter to you??


?This is partially my fault. But you need to understand that a woman being friendly, and maybe a teense flirtatious is not a lifetime permit to sexually harass her. I know you're at that age where you want your life to start, to have your life screwed up by women and all the messiness that comes from them, and it's frustrating having to wait. But things will be okay. Just... trust me.?

Her earnestness melted away, and was replaced with a set jaw and intense eyes. ?But this has to stop. It's not even a little appropriate- or even the fun kind of naughty, like if you were working on your doctorate and I was helping you grind that out. Ahem. You know what I mean. You're barely legal- in the creepiest sense of the term. And frankly, if I wasn't ninety percent certain you're a virgin, I would have filed a formal harassment complaint before this trip. But I'm done equivocating. Kickable sexual puppy dog is not one of my turn-ons. But, there's a silver lining.?

?You have a younger sister??

?If I did, I'd have you neutered prophylactically. No. The silver lining is I don't think you're a total shithead. By that I mean there's hope for you. You've apparently learned what you know of women from some devastating combination of pornography, sitcoms and Meg Ryan movies. That would screw anybody up. But I'm telling you, ethically if for no other reason, I will never be sexually available to you. Which means I'm a girl you can be friends with, without...?

?Harry Met Sallying forth??

?Just proving my point. But we're friends, now. It means when you are pathetic I will be sympathetic. And it means you don't get to hit on me anymore.? He hesitated. ?Because otherwise, I formally kick you to the curb when we get back to school, and you become the student even I won?t work with. You?ll become an even more impressive kind of educational leper.?

?I think the preferred term is ?Hansen?s disease.??

?Educational sufferer of Hansen?s disease is a little clunky- pariah, then.?

?Well that's just specieist against parrots. Specious??

?Wait. Didn't you get pizza with Steph??

?She's nice...? he hemmed.

?Don't tell me she's a girl and you're interested in a woman.?

?It sounded less cliché in my head.?

?She seemed sweet, and she's pretty, and she's way more age and hierarchically appropriate.?

?So you think I should call her??

?Derp. In fact, I will smack you on her behalf if you don't. Plus, she's going to be at the clinic when we go in this morning. You kind of can't not talk to her.?

?So what do you think my chances of getting you two into a-?

?You say 'threesome' and I'm taking out your tongue. I'm almost dating a doctor, now; I'm pretty sure I could at least borrow a scalpel.?

Knowles covered his mouth. ?That's fair,? he said, though it was muffled enough that Claire couldn't be sure he didn't say, ?Threesome.?


  11:59:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 3492 words  
Categories: The Singularity

The Singularity, Chapter Eleven, Just Friends

?I feel like an ass,? Kevin said.

Claire smiled. ?That woman did put you in your place at like a Speedy Gonzalez pace.?

?Well, that,? Kevin said with a smile, ?and I kind of knee-jerked. It?s been an emotional day. And when push came to shove, I shoved back a little hard.?

?You can stop groveling, apology accepted.?

?I may need to apologize a little more,? he said, ?like with dinner. I feel like I?ve got a lot of apologizing to do, and frankly it would be cruel of me to deprive of food just so I could unburden myself of this guilt.?

?I?m bushed.? Knowles said, pushing past them.

?You?ve been working maybe four hours,? Claire said, rolling her eyes. Then she reached into her pocket and handed him the keys to the rental car. ?And I?ve been asked to an apology dinner, so you?ll have to drive yourself to the hotel.?

?I feel very offended. Don?t I get an apology dinner??

Kevin rolled his eyes and fished a twenty out of his wallet. ?Here. Get yourself an apology pizza.?

Steph walked by at that moment, wrapping herself in her sweater because she was off shift. ?Where?s a good place in this town to get an apology pizza?? Knowles asked her, trying to match her walking speed as he chased her down the hall.

So about this apology dinner,? Kevin started. ?Do you like fish??


?Because in a coastal town like this, there?s a preponderance of sea food. We don't have to get seafood. But besides seafood your choices mostly whittle down to burgers and steaks.?

?We'll drive around until we find something that sounds good.?

?That's fine, if you don't mind driving.?

?You like letting a woman be in charge, don't you??

?Well... I don't have a license.?

?That's weird.?

?Admittedly. When my wife died... I admitted to partial negligence. My lawyer said I was insane, but... I felt guilt, whether or not I was at fault for the accident. To get back my license, I would have had to take a driver's safety course, and pass the test all over again, and... I didn't think I needed it. And really, with my cousin around, I haven't, really. Up until right now, actually.?

?That's sweet. Stupid, but sweet. And I will drive.?

Less than an hour later, Kevin thought to call Sam. ?It's fine,? he said. ?I made Molly dinner, and we'll just watch Get Shorty or maybe Beetlejuice. You have fun. And try not to embarrass yourself too terribly- because you'll have to see her again in the morning.?

Sam hung up. Then he heard yelling downstairs. ?You okay, Moll?? he asked.

?Fine. But I've got homework. So I'll probably be in my room until bed.?

?Okay. Let me know if you that changes,? he said.

Sam ran down the stairs. He'd had to talk Mrs. Dietz down when she was convinced that the night nurse, Terry, was there to murder her. And he knew what it sounded like when Trevor get drunk, snuck a pistol into the clinic and yelled at the ocean between pot shots. But these voices were new, and since there were two of them, he knew they had to be coming from the new arrivals.

He jogged down the hall. Common sense said he should find Terry, and make sure he had a sedative ready just in case, because Chris was a big boy. But coming at him confrontationally was just as likely to make things even worse, so he went straight to the Mereta's room and knocked on the door. He didn't wait to be welcomed inside.

?I don't even know why you're angry with me,? Chris said quietly.

Morgan was crying, but her expression didn't betray any emotion.

?How about I take your wife for a walk?? Sam asked, touching Morgan's arm. She spun around, ready to take a swing at him, but seeing someone else in the room with them made her ashamed of the noise they were making, so she didn't resist when he pushed her towards the door. ?You can try to calm down, collect yourself,? he said to Chris.

Sam kept pushing, down the hall, until they reached the door that opened up on the courtyard. He opened that and more gently guided her through it. She shivered immediately as the cold sea air struck her.

?It's cold,? Sam said, ?but it helps with the rage.?

?Thanks,? she said.

?If you want, I can take him to another corner, over there; you wouldn't bother each other, but he'd get the benefit of the cold, too.?

?He's out. Not even the worst screaming match we ever had could keep him awake for more than a minute or two past when we stopped yelling. It used to piss me off, like how could he just be so calm and okay with everything when I was so upset. But he's just different from me.?

?And he's got his brain issues,? Sam added.

?But even before then. He's always... he forgets so easy. Forgives. And I never forget anything. Never let anything go...?

?Somebody always remembers,? Sam said. ?When my wife and I would fight, and it wasn't always her, but one of us remembered every stupid thing we'd done, every horrible thing that even tangentially... but that doesn't work for long. A relationship has to be based on putting more emphasis on what works than what hasn't. Because the moment anybody focuses too much on keeping score...?

?They focus on evening up the pain,? Morgan said. ?I know. But I have to remember. Because he can't. I don't want to be bitter; he's a person, and even before his mind started slipping, he had flaws, and did things that pissed me off. But I keep track of everything now. Because anything I don't write down, he forgets, and I'm so frayed anymore that even I don't trust my recollections.?

?I feel like such a bitch. He had a good day, today, and... he was almost exactly the man I fell in love with. But tomorrow won?t be like that. The days after his good days are usually his worst ones, because all that extra energy and activity takes a lot out of him. So he?s in more pain, and he?s moodier. And we had a great day. But I really don?t want to be here for tomorrow. I?m already punishing him for who he?s going to be when he wakes up, and it isn?t right for me, to stomp all over his hope just because I?ve lost mine.?

?It's just so hard, because I know it's going to be like this for the rest of my life or...? she winced, ?the rest of his, anyway. I read this biography, written by a soldier in Iraq, and the way he described life in that warzone, never knowing when the next draining, harrowing, worrying or frightening thing is going to happen, but never really being able to prepare for it, and never really being able to relax between. It's war, a constant, endless, emotional war. And it's breaking me down, one day at a time.?

?And in the end, all that does is make me feel more guilty, so I get depressive. And when I?m depressive, I want to do stupid things just to take that pain away.?

Sam touched her shoulder; he didn't like the way she was looking over the ledge, how easy it would have been for her to climb over it and jump.

She dropped her shoulder, and rolled, and his grip wasn't strong enough to hold her. He felt a sharp pain in his chest, as he imagined her falling, imagined having to tell her husband that he'd failed to stop her.

She kissed him. ?Oh,? he said. ?I didn't think you meant...?

He felt the press of her breasts against his chest, and could see them swell over her top. ?We have an arrangement- not that he'd probably remember it- and not that I've ever taken him up on it before. But... he recognized that he wasn't always going to be able to fulfill my... needs. He told me I should do what would make me happy.?

A tear fell from her eye, and she put up her hand to catch. ?I can't,? she said. ?Because what would make me happy... I can't abandon him- and I don't think that would really make me happy, either. Relieved, maybe, for about a week. And then I'd hate myself for abandoning- him for the rest of my life.?

?A marriage is a tough thing to walk away from,? Sam said.

?But we're not. Married, I mean. That didn't bother me when I met him. I wasn't even sure I wanted to get married. By the time that changed... Chris wasn't in a place where I could have that discussion with him anymore. I've tried, but... he's got a hair trigger at the best of times. It's tough enough getting him to understand anything new... but especially something new that contradicts something he remembers...?

?I feel foolish admitting this, but I actually thought we were married, for a few months. We hit the seven year mark, and I started telling people we were husband and wife. And it wasn?t until I mentioned it to his agent that I found out that Washington State, like most states now, actually, doesn?t do common law marriage- it?s traditional or nothing. By then I'd told most of the people we knew, and telling them made me happy, just a little... and I deserve to be happy, don't I??

?I think all of us deserve to be happy, but not all of us get to.?

She pursed her lips, and started to lean towards Sam, and God help him, he knew he was going to kiss her back, that he wasn't a good enough man not to take her up to his room on the upper floor.

Sam heard the door out tot he courtyard squeak behind him, and he thanked God he'd lazily put off lubing it with WD-40 like his cousin had asked. He pushed Morgan to a respectable distance.

?Babe, I'm sorry,? he heard Chris' quavering behind him, and they both turned to face him. ?I don't even know why we were arguing.?

Morgan looked at Sam, sighed and walked to Chris. ?It doesn't matter,? she said. She tucked herself under his arm and turned him back towards the door.

Sam looked out at the water, and ran his fingers through his hair.

Across town, Kevin was feeling nearly the same. ?I am sorry.?

?Don?t be,? Claire said. ?It?s freaky. For me, the singularity is about passion and purpose. But there?s nothing really very frightening about getting to guidance counsel my younger self. You have so much... so much you could improve. Your wife?s death, your relationship with your daughter- I just callously blurted out that you might get a do over in life, without thinking about how huge that thought is for you. I?ve been... thinking about this, about the possibility, for most of my life. I never dared tell anyone, because it seemed insane, and I didn?t think I was insane- I mean, I?m a scientist, for Christ?s sake, I don?t believe anything that can?t be verified- but I wanted to believe so badly in it.?

?You said... you thought your dad had seen something like that flash of light.

?He certainly wouldn't cop to believing in interdimensional travel. But my dad used to tell me that he believed in angels, because, one day he was hiking up Beacon Rock, and he was struck by lightning, like the biggest, craziest ball of lightning. He remembered seeing a bright light in the moment just before, and he swore that in that moment he knew what was about to happen to him, but that he?d be all right, and that he was going to have a son. He said he even knew my name in that moment- even though he'd never before thought about having kids, let alone what to name them.?

?Struck by lightning? That's wild.?

?Most people accuse me of making it up, or at least of him making it up and me buying it, because it's so statistically unlikely.?

?But people do get struck by lightning. It's statistically unlikely a randomly selected person will know someone struck by lightning- but those few who have been know people, so some people actually know people struck by lightning. Besides, I told you I believe we're all people who can communicate messages to ourselves in the past. That's way less statistically likely.?

?True,? he said, smiling. ?I just realized. This is our second date.?

?Well, as lousy first dates go, the last one wasn?t so bad.?

?Not that either of them was a 'date,'? Kevin clarified.

?Maybe not an official, capital 'D' way, but let's not be naïve,? she said. ?Token attempts at professionalism aside, I can't honestly say that this is unequivocally and could in no way be sort of a date.?

?So you're officially sending me mixed signals.?

?You should receive notarized documentation to that effect by fax no later than close of business Friday,? she said. ?You're a fun guy. And unlike my assistant, you've learned to flirt in a way that isn't super creepy and aggressive. And when I expressed a desire to keep things on the up and up, you complied.?

?Okay,? Kevin said. ?Though I'm not sure I'm ready to make this unofficially a thing. I haven't been even unserious with someone since my wife- and that's obviously still something hanging over my head.?

?I'm kind of used to professors who hit on me, drop hints that sleeping with them will be good for my career, but then don't even want to take me to dinner places they might be seen in public with me. It means I don't go on a lot of first dates, let alone second. And I get it, for the most part. If you're Einstein or Stephen Hawking, you can get away with pontificating on the nature and potential for time travel. If you're an adjunct physics professor at a school where people routinely say, 'Oh, yeah, I forgot that athletics program had a school...' well, you get the idea. I nearly bumped myself off the tenure track before I even got on it. Even then, it took me 50% longer to get tenure than other science professors. And I'm still intellecta non grata amongst the faculty- locally and further afield. Do you know how lonely it is being a college professor who's shunned by the intelligentsia??

?So it's you and John Yoo sitting at the outcast table at lunch.?

The waiter stopped near their table, but waited for a lull in the conversation. ?Pretty much- only I've never condoned torture, so I might talk to the guy, but I still think he's a creep.?

The waiter stepped closer to the table, tired of being polite. ?Can I get either of you anything else? Anything more to drink? Dessert??

?I think we're good,? Claire said before Kevin had an opportunity to add an opinion. He took that to mean the evening was ending, and couldn't help but show his disappointment.

Claire considered letting him swing in the wind, and smiled to herself. But practical concerns overrode her. ?I'd invite you back to my place for a night cap,? she said, ?but I'm sharing the room with a sweaty tribble of an intern, and he kind of seems like the kind of roommate that if we woke him up, he would watch. Not that I'm saying you would have gotten any, but, you know, if you had gotten so much as some light petting in, that'd be enough for him to perv over.?

?We could always go back to my place. I have Hitchcock.?

?Presents, or movies??

?Movies, but none of the famous ones. It's a boxed set of his b-sides.?

?Ooh. My legs are aquiver.?

Kevin stifled a laugh.

?Thanks for not going to the obvious arrow joke.?

Kevin exhaled, ?Oh, thank God you acknowledged it. I think I was about to explode.?

?I know, it was too much temptation for any man.?

The waiter dropped the check on the table, and Kevin glanced at it long enough to confirm what he thought the amount would be, and dropped several bills on the table.

Kevin pulled her out of her chair, nearly spilling it over. The exhilaration of movement stayed with her, pronouncing itself loudly in the beating in her chest. She was a girl again, swept off her feet for the first time for a ride a boy's car; it didn't change anything that she was the one driving the boy's car this time.

She still felt young, and light, when she dropped down on the couch in Kevin's living room. ?We aren't going to wake anybody, are we?? she asked quietly.

He put the last disk of Hitchcock into his changer. ?Shouldn't. Walls are pretty thick; a necessity, really, with dementia patients. Sometimes they like to yell.?

He set himself down next to her, close enough she could feel the warmth radiating off him, but far enough away that their knees weren't touching.

She scooted closer to him, and touched his shoulder. ?You know the last time a handsome, intelligent man appreciated my company? I was at college- as a student. He was my professor, so it was completely skeevy, but I appreciated the sentiment- even if I thought it was inappropriate.?

?And are you sure this is appropriate? I?m the resident at the clinic you?re crashing- and I?m the one you?re dependent on for access.?

?It?s completely inappropriate. But my mom told me she only had appropriate sex like a dozen times, and the only good thing that ever came out of that was me. She also used to tell me I was the best STD she ever caught.?

Kevin laughed. ?I think I?d like her.?

?You would?ve.?

?Oh. I?m sorry.?

She sighed, as much because it spoiled the mood as she knew that what she felt compelled to say would finish it off. ?Yeah. I had a great mom, for a long time. I?m just really glad for that. Crap. I just spoiled the mood by talking about my dead mom, didn?t I??

?A little,? he smiled. ?But I?m not going anywhere. So, you know, there?s no hurry. Unless your anomaly?

?Singularity,? she corrected.

?starts to move.?

?They tend not to do that. They get anchored to a specific point in space- somewhat in time. It?s like a rubber band. In either direction, it stretches and stretches and stretches; eventually the opening collapses.?

?Oh God,? Molly said from down the hall. ?Not something I needed to hear.? She peeked around the corner. ?I was looking for a glass of water.?

?This is my daughter, Moll. And this is Claire. She?s a physicist, doing some research at the clinic.?

?I thought it was pronounced, ?psychiatrist.??

?Nope. Einstein kind of research. It?s... complicated.?

?Ugh. You two aren?t going to bang, are you? Because, gross.?

?As a doctor, I can say, yeah, it is.? Claire elbowed him. ?Perfectly natural, and healthy. But slimy fluids, and sweats and smells. Gross. Eventually, when you?re old enough to, engage in adult behaviors, it can be fun, but there is definitely grossness you just kind of learn to overlook.?

?And now this conversation is even grosser than sex could possibly be.?

?I should go... mad science to do in the morning,? Claire said.

?Yeah. See you in the morning.?

Claire was halfway down the stairs before she realized that she didn't have her car- she only had Kevin's keys. She listened to sounds floating down the steps. She didn't want to be caught by Kevin's daughter sneaking back inside- lest the girl assume she was stalking for sex. But she didn't really want to steal his car, either.

She heard the thunder of heavy feet behind her. ?I can take you home, Kevin said- just a ride- I'm not that easy.? She squinted at him in the dark stairwell. ?We've had a whole evening full of risky behavior-?

?Ew, dad,? Molly said from upstairs.

?Go to bed, Moll- but I can't see the harm in a little driving without a license.?

?You're bad. In a way only mild-mannered, sweater-vest-wearing, minivan-driving, bubble-pipe-smoking suburban dads can be.?

?I've never understood the sweater-vest; my extremities get cold, not my torso.?

?See, I think you might have sealed the deal tonight if you'd only had a sweater-vest on.?

?Really? I'm sure we can find a late-night sweater-vest vendor.?

?Nah, it's too late. But maybe next time.?

?Just, to be fair, I think you might have sealed the deal if you'd been wearing a poodle skirt.?

?Noted,? Claire said with a smile, gently closing the front door behind her.


  12:03:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 1926 words  
Categories: The Singularity

The Singularity, Chapter Ten, Singularity

The light was gone the next instant. ?Dr. Guinne?? Steph asked on the other end of his phone.

?Mereta?s having a seizure. I need you to draw blood for a work-up, and bring a wheelchair so we can get him to the CT scanner.?

?I?ll be right there.?

Kevin hung up, and was suddenly aware of the tension in the room. ?What did you do to him?? Morgan asked, looming over Claire. For the first time, the physicist was aware of how much taller and more physically imposing the other woman was, and she was sure that if Knowles wasn?t standing beside her, she would have gotten hit.

?I didn?t do- this equipment doesn?t broadcast. It?s got a lower EM signature than a light bulb- it has to, otherwise it wouldn?t be able to ?see? anything past its own EM field. I didn?t cause this. I couldn?t have.?

?Could your manifestations cause a seizure?? Kevin asked. His tone, calm and steady, brought a little perspective back to the confrontation, and Morgan stood at ease.

?No,? Claire said. ?Manifestations are just... ripples in a pond.?

?Unless those ripples went through the electrons already in his brain.?

?Then, yeah, maybe,? she said.

?That works fine, as a theory. But medically, I can?t rule out other potential causes just because we have a theory.?

Chris moaned loudly behind them, and started coughing. Kevin walked back to his bedside. ?Oh, God,? he heaved. ?That was so... that was new,? Christ said.

?Open your eyes for me,? Kevin said, and pulled out a pen light from his breast pocket. ?Follow my light with your eyes. Good. Can you remember your name, first and last, day of the week, and who the women standing behind me are??

?Chris Mereta. It?s... Wednesday? And the pretty lady behind you is Dr. Claire- I don?t know if I ever knew her last name.? Morgan glared at him.

?Banks,? Kevin said.

?But the really pretty lady is Morgan.?

Morgan sighed, but it came out almost as a laugh. ?That was mean,? she said, brushing past Kevin to take hold of his hand.

?Good,? Kevin said. ?Seems like you?re out of the woods. But I?d still like to do another CT scan,? Kevin said.

?What about the radiation?? Morgan asked.

?Your husband?s brain has been unpredictable lately, and if he has a partial occlusion in his brain, we need to find out, so we can remove it before it becomes a full stroke. Because if it?s choking off blood from parts of his brain, he could still be suffering new brain damage.?

At that moment Steph came into the room, pushing an extra wide wheelchair. Chris kicked off his bed, to sit in it. ?Hold on,? she said, and moved the blood draw kit from the seat. ?There you go.?

?Thanks,? he said, and lowered himself into the chair, ?although it looks like you?re planning on stabbing me and stealing my blood, so maybe thanks was premature.?

?No,? Steph said, pushing him towards the door, ?you should thank me for not using the butterfly needles.?

Claire?s device started to shriek.

?What the hell?? Knowles asked.

?Hold up, Steph,? Kevin said, and the nurse paused in the doorway.

Claire hit several buttons and it stopped making noise.

?Turn that piece of shit off,? Morgan demanded. ? You?re going to give him another seizure.?

?It didn?t cause-? she paused, ? Jesus. There?s another one coming.? Morgan knelt beside Claire, and pulled the plug out of the wall. ?Okay, not a bad time to test my hypothesis that my device isn?t causing his seizures, but you should be more careful with sensitive scientific equipment.? Morgan continued to glare at her. ?You know, a polite ?could you turn off this machine,?? her voice got quiet, ??I?m vaccine-hyperventilator-scared is killing my husband.??Claire knit her brow a moment, before continuing again at full volume, ?Just, you get more flies with honey.?

?If your theory?s right, and it wasn?t your equipment causing the seizure, but predicting it, what?s going to happen?? Morgan asked.

?It?s not a theory; a hypothesis becomes a theory once it?s proven- but if what I saw before you pulled the plug on my machine is right- this is going to be the big one.?

?We?re putting him back in bed,? Kevin said. Steph stared at him. ?Come on. Hurry.? She reversed the chair back into the room. She stopped the chair next to the bed, and Chris? back arched.

?Jesus,? Steph said. ?How did you??

?No time, now,? Kevin said. ?Grab his feet. He?s going to be heavy. Real heavy.?

Knowles knelt down beside Steph, and together they lifted his lower body out of the wheelchair while Kevin lifted him from the shoulders. They got him over his bed before he started to kick, smashing his right heel into Knowles? jowl. They dropped him onto the bed as Knowles fell to the floor.

?Steph, diazepam, .4 milligrams per kilogram.? She nodded, and crossed the room to a series of cabinets. She swiped the card around her wrist at the lock, and it beeped as the cabinets unlocked. She opened a syringe, and a bottle of diazepam, and filled it, then squeezed out enough to rid the needle of bubbles, and to leave the correct dosage.

She crossed the room, and handed the needle to Kevin. ?Hold his arm,? Kevin told her.

?The suggested route is intravenous.?

?He?ll tear an IV out, flailing like he is- and then we?ll have another injury to contend with. I?m going intramuscular. Now hold him down with everything you?ve got.?

She grabbed Chris? forearm with both hands and shoved it down against the bed with all of her weight. Kevin squeezed Chris? bicep, trying to steady the shaking of the hand holding the syringe.

Kevin was sweating, and it dripped into his eyes. He closed them to squeeze the burning fluid out, and when he opened them again he saw light, nothing but a bright, blindingly white light. He closed his eyes again, and shook his head, and opened them again.

Kevin could see the room clearly, though nothing more clearly than the fact that Chris had stopped convulsing.

Kevin released his arm, and aimed the syringe away from him, waiting for an indication as to whether or not the seizure really was over. When he was convinced, he held the syringe out to Steph. ?Sharps,? he said, and she took the needle to dispose of it.

?Chris?? Kevin asked, leaning over the larger man.

?You got coffee breath,? Chris said softly.

Steph dropped down to her knee to where Knowles was sitting, leaned against the foot of Chris? bed. ?My hero,? she said, touching along his jaw with a gloved hand.

?I find chivalry usually gets me kicked in the face.?

?Does it hurt?? she asked.

?Not too bad.?

?Swollen, but not broken,? she said, pushing her fingers into his cheek.

?Can I have pudding for dinner??

?I?m sure we have some around.?

?Worth it.?

Steph helped Knowles to his feet. A candy bar wrapper tumbled off his belly. ?Did somebody drop a Snickers wrapper on me? Not cool. I?m schlubby, not a trash can.?

Morgan was already back at Chris? side, holding his hand. ?You scared me,? she whispered to him.

Claire was staring, dumbfounded. ?Was I the only one who saw the flash of light?? she asked?

The rest of the room turned and stared at her. ?No,? Kevin said finally. ?I saw it both times.?

?Both times?? Claire asked.

?Yeah. During the first seizure. I thought it was- could have been anything. Seeing white is a common enough phenomenon, and during a stressful situation??

?But that wasn?t a common phenomenon,? Claire said. ?And what?s more, I?ve seen it before. I always kind of... hoped that I knew what I was doing, without ever knowing. When I was just a little girl, I went to work one day with my mom, at CERN. And I was watching one of the accelerators, not the LHC- I?m not that young- but the Intersecting Storage Rings. Suddenly there was this bright flash of pure, white light. I wasn?t old enough to really get what I thought was happening, but I remember enough Soviet era propaganda that I thought my mom had set off an atomic reaction. I thought silly and stupid things in that moment, about how I was never going to kiss Prince Charming, and I was sore I was never going to get boobs like Barbie had. And then, something came over me, a calm, that I have never completely understood. But I knew right then, after not dying, that I wanted to be a physicist like my mom. And I think I always knew that it was more than just a flash of light- more than insight. It was a message- and I think I sent it to myself- that I?m going to. Through the singularity.?

The room was silent. Claire knew that silence well. She had seconds before the awe wore off and their minds shut to the possibility she was so excited about. ?Wormholes are connections between two points that don?t exist next to each other in time and space. But the singularity, it?s like a nexus of wormholes, like a wormhole superhighway system, connecting hundreds or thousands or maybe even millions of points in space and time. In our moment, connection to the singularity is a football player with a slow brain bleed that?s forming a key to unlock the universe. But in other places, it?s other things. In my childhood, it was a particle accelerator.?

?I?m not asking any of you to take the leap of going along with this- it sounds just as crazy coming out of my mouth as I?m sure it sounds to all of you. But tell me honestly, that flash of light- that moment of understanding- have any of you ever experienced that before??

?Once,? Chris said. ?A long time ago.?

?Yeah,? Knowles said.

?No,? Kevin told her, but she could tell he was holding something back.

?Me either,? Morgan said.

?But,? Kevin hesitated, ?I think my dad might have.?

Claire?s eyes lit up. ?This whole trip, I felt like I?ve been here before... like I?m supposed to be here. Like it was necessary. And I think this moment is why, because I think I?m the one who was supposed to be here to put the pieces together, figure out what?s going on- because without understanding it, we couldn?t make the important decisions we?re faced with now. Because this is a chance to fix things, give ourselves direction, or purpose, or right some wrong,? unconsciously she looked to Kevin, who avoided her gaze; he didn?t want to allow himself that hope, and he hated her a little bit for trying to give it to him.

?I think,? he said quietly, ?that it might have been a mistake to let you come here. I think, perhaps you should collect your equipment. And leave.?

?Bullshit,? Morgan said. ?She may very well be a crazy person. But she knows about what?s happening to my husband. And she might even be able to help us predict when it happens. She stays- or we leave and she goes with us.?

Kevin swallowed. ?Okay. If that?s what you want. But it?s not a decision you?re tied to, either. She?s here only for as long as you think it?s in your husband?s best interest. But for now, Chris, if you want to hop into that wheel chair, I?ll get you that CT scan.?


  05:12:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 1503 words  
Categories: The Singularity

The Singularity, Chapter Nine, Seizure

?How?s my favorite patient?? Kevin asked, opening the door into Adeline Dietz?s room.

?You are such a charmer, doctor,? she said, and lowered her voice. ?You should come back when my husband isn?t around.? Kevin?s brow furrowed, and he looked around the room. To the side, near the door, his cousin was sitting across a table with a game of checkers playing out on it.

?Sam...? Kevin said testily, leaning over the table and lowering his voice. ?We talked about this.?

?It?s harmless. And believe me, I?ve tried to dissuade her from the notion. But somewhere in her head a neuron has crossed me with her husband. I?ve got all the estranged wives I need- I promise. But she kind of reminds me of mom.?

?It?s still not healthy, Sam- for her or you.? Kevin turned back towards Addie. ?This is my cousin, Mrs. Dietz. He works here, security, maintenance, miscellaneous. Your husband is looks twenty years older and is thirty years older, and is retired and lives in Maine.?

She squinted at him. ?You?re right,? she said. ?I hate that son of a bitch, and as soon as he leaves the room, I want you to ravish me like a schoolgirl.?

?You should be flattered,? Sam said. ?She thinks I?m her husband, and she never even gives me a peck on the cheek.?

?Sam, a moment?? Kevin opened the door into the hallway, and his cousin stood up and followed.

?What?? he asked innocently.

?It?s inappropriate,? Kevin said.

?So?s leaving her in her room weeping all day. I wish we could just put some Spongebob on her TV, or make sure she has fresh cut flowers. But what she likes is to play checkers, and while she obviously has unresolved issues with her husband, having tea and a game with me makes her feel better.?

Kevin sighed. ?Is she doing any better??

?Not that I?ve noticed- but I don?t know if I?d know what I?m looking for even if I noticed it.?

?She slipped in the tub, and hit her head. Her daughter found her, and got her to the hospital, and as near as they could figure she was unconscious for more than a day, and since then has been exhibiting symptoms of a cognitive problem. Traumatic brain injuries, especially those followed by long periods of unconsciousness are linked to degenerative cognitive disorder, and she tested positive for APOE, which puts her at an increased risk for Alzheimers. Her PIB-PET scan was inconclusive, but all that really means is we could be catching it early. And to complicate matters further, she?s been a strange and estranged woman for several years, so no one?s sure how many of her symptoms are new or not. So that?s what we?re trying to figure out.?

?So how much is new crazy and how much is old crazy??

?Confusion is probably more accurate.?

?Confusion sounds about right. I stopped her when she wanted to talk about her honeymoon.?

?Not ?our??? Kevin asked with a grin.

?I don?t see the harm in not constantly fighting for her to recognize I?m not her husband. But that?s not the same as me encouraging it- or getting confused myself.?

?Good. Because ethically I?d have a problem with you trying to bang one of my dementia patients. And personally, I think I?d be a little weirded out over it, too- if only for the Oedipal overtones.?

?Yeah, she?s not so much my type as... I miss mom. ?

?I miss your mom, too. She was a fun lady... when she wasn?t overbearingly judgmental.?

?Oh you have no idea, man; it?s an entirely different game of checkers when you live with her.?

?We are talking about your mom and not your new wife, right??

?Addie?s sweet and harmless. I mean, if she either tries to strychnine my tea or make a move, I will shut it down unequivocally-?

?But it does put you into a good position to keep her close, and monitor for potential Münchausen?s.?


?She?s getting a lot more attention here than she?s used to, and she may like it; so it?s possible she could start to exhibit symptoms she thinks will keep us interested.?

?And you couldn?t just say ?hypochondria???

?What?s the point in getting a medical degree if I can?t occasionally show off with it??

?You should be showing off in front of the physicist, though, not a straight male blood relative.?

?Yeah, but she?s a quantum physicist; her degree is way more complicated than mine. At a certain point in medicine, things get small enough you get to just declare, ?not my problem.? Physicists aren?t so lucky.?

?Then go butter her up with intellectual praise, Jesus. Or do you seriously need a wingman??

?I don?t think her assistant swings that way.?

?Good, because when I said I?d take a chubby for you, that?s not what I meant.?

?Just, be gentle with my patient.?

?Because women of her advanced years need extra foreplay??

?I don?t want to have to ban you from her room.?

?Strictly platonic; just like her relationship with her real husband since just after their second daughter was born.?

Kevin turned back down the hall. He wanted to see how Claire?s readings were coming along. He stopped, when overheard Claire and Knowles arguing by the coffee maker, trying to keep their voices down. ?You left a note on your pillow that said, ?Don?t masturbate in my bed,?? Knowles complained. ?I would have thought that went without saying.?

?I wasn?t sure it did. You didn?t, did you??

?I won?t lie- I tried. But with the note, I felt like you knew, and were watching. And surprisingly, not a turn-on.? He made a sad slide whistle noise. ?Like overcooked spaghetti.?

?That was also not a turn-on.?

?How?s the science going?? Kevin asked, stepping around the corner and into the front room.

Claire glanced back at him, and started to stir creamer into her coffee. ?Good, so far,? she said. ?We?re already getting some strong readings; so, at least, we?ve confirmed that it was Chris we were chasing down.

?So you have manifestations?? he asked, intrigued.

?As strong as what we registered at OHSU,? she said, but he could hear sadness in her voice, and he thought he understood why.

?No stronger??

?No. Which is odd. Because they usually have an ebb and a flow to them. Weaker, or stronger, sure, but flat? I?m probably just being neurotic, but it doesn?t feel right. But I was going crazy, staring at the data stream and waited for a change. So I stepped out to get some coffee-?

?And to talk about his overshowering problem?? Kevin asked with a smile. ?I?m growing concerned you may have OCD.?

?I?m doing science,? Knowles said defiantly. ?Single-handedly proving that no matter how much you ?shower? you won?t go blind. Well, sometimes I do it two-handedly.?

Claire slurped loudly. ?You two can keep talking about showering, if you want,? she said, ?but I?m going to go check on my readings, and hoping we never revisit this conversation ever again.?

Kevin and Knowles followed her down the hall. ?I can?t make those kinds of promises,? Knowles said, as she opened the door.

They were greeted by a loud shrieking coming from Claire?s equipment. She ran over to it, and started hitting buttons on the display.

?What?d you do?? Knowles asked, suddenly very excitable.

?We didn?t touch your stupid machine,? Morgan said, glaring at Knowles. His face flushed.

?We were sitting here,? Chris added.

Suddenly the noise cut out. ?You got it,? Kevin said, relieved.

?I didn?t do anything,? she said. ?I was just looking at the readings. They?re stronger than anything we?ve ever seen, by an order of magnitude. And then they stopped.?

?They stopped?? Kevin asked.

?Dropped off a cliff and nose-dived back to what they were. I don?t understand it.?

Morgan stroked Chris? forehead, then kissed his cheek. He didn?t respond. ?You okay?? she asked, but he just continued to stare straight ahead.

?Has he complained of anything, pain, weird taste, anything?? Kevin asked, crossing the room to Morgan in a few steps.

?He said he saw flashing lights. I thought it was just the blaring from that stupid machine- plus his migraines, and-?

?I need everybody to stand back. He?s having a seizure.?

?He?s not flopping around,? Knowles said.

?Not all seizures involve flailing limbs,? Kevin said. ?But his jaw is clenched, and his eyes are moving around. Chris? I don?t want you to be scared. But we?re going to have to move you. I want to get another scan, and make sure that bleed hasn?t become a stroke. And we?ll have to take some blood, too, make sure it isn?t meningitis or something else. You?re going to be okay. We?re here for you.?

Kevin reached into his pocket for his phone, and dialed his nurse. He put the phone up to his hear, and looked back up at Chris, but he couldn?t see his patient. All he could see was light.

  10:38:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 882 words  
Categories: Whores

Whores .33: Blood of Patriots

Lisa tried to remain deathly still. She'd heard stories of horses that appeared psychic because they could read the expectations off of people, subtle clues. But Harmon stopped right in front of the Shelter. They did know where it was, just like Clint had said.

She tried to remain coy, even after he opened her door. ?Come on, we're here.? She didn't even look towards the building as they walked up the sidewalk. Harmon knocked.

Anna unlocked it when she saw Lisa. She was only mildly surprised when Harmon followed in after her. He laced his fingers behind his head. ?I'm armed, snub-nosed revolver in my right coat pocket. You should pat me down, while you're removing it- not that I have any other weapons, but I want you to feel safe.?

?On your knees,? Anna said, loudly enough that everyone in the house heard it. There was a thunder of footsteps as they gathered in the hall and on the stairs overlooking it.

Harmon knelt down. ?No sudden movements,? she said. She got his pistol first, then checked his upper body. ?Stand up, slow, hands against the wall, and spread your legs.? He did it, and she patted down his lower body. ?Okay,? she said, stepping back, holding his gun.

?You've been arrested before,? Harmon said, ?because that was textbook.?

?You're a cop,? Anna said, pointing his pistol at him.

He put up his hands. ?I'm here to help.?

?He is,? Lisa said. ?Clint turned us in. The cops are on their way, now.? 

?If you're on the level-? Anna started.

?We don't have time for loyalty oaths.?

?Tell me something I don't know- something that would be useful to us, that your superiors wouldn't want you giving up.?

?Okay. I can tell you where they're holding your friend, Mary. They've got her at what they call the 'Black Prison.' It's a bad joke, because it's not officially a prison; the people there aren't even technically in custody. When a normal police interrogation won't do, when they have to use 'enhanced' techniques, that's where they go. It's in an old stone municipal building downtown, that looks almost like a castle.?

?Son of a bitch, I know it,? Lisa said.

?It's fortified, but with what I know about the interior, and their security, you might be able to- mount a rescue. But your friend was on the level. The police will be here, in minutes. You need to evacuate your? No one had seen her draw, but Jeanine shot Harmon through the back. He collapsed.

Lisa turned in horror. Jeanine was standing in the corner at the bottom of the stairs, holding Mae's .454 Casull revolver, smoking. ?None of you bitches moves a fucking muscle. Anna, drop the cop's piece.?

?We can take her,? Anna said.

?Not fucking likely,? Jeanine replied. ?You see this gun? I could line all of you up down this hall and shoot through your skulls, and the bullet would still punch through the front door and into the neighbor's place. I'd shoot you, first, Che, then Lisa. You think after that anyone else amongst the shattered refuse you've been sheltering will take a step towards me after that? But I could care less, if you want to die, cunt. Go ahead, try and beat me despite the fact that I have the drop on you, and you're facing the entirely wrong direction.?

Anna dropped the gun. ?Beautiful,? Jeanine said. They didn't have long to wait. The cops broke the front door in and two men in heavy riot gear pushed their way inside. ?Cavity searches all around,? Jeanine said, ?can't trust anything these whores might have put in their bodies.? 

Campbell was wearing a ballistic vest and was right behind the first two men, holding up a nickle-plated revolver. It wasn't until she glared at Jeanine that the older woman lowered her weapon. Then Campbell saw Harmon's body on the floor. ?What the fuck happened?? she asked Jeanine.

?He came here to help them,? Jeanine smirked.

?So you shot him? In the back?? The old woman glared. ?Arrest her,? Campbell said to the nearest officer. ?Killing a cop.? The policeman hesitated, and she looked down at his nameplate. ?Officer Wilkerson, this is my bust. I'm placing her under arrest. You want to put my name on all the paperwork, you can. But unless you want her arrested anyway and you on suspension, you will put some fucking handcuffs on her.?

The officer approached her, and Jeanine raised the weapon, ?You don't want to make it two,? Campbell said from behind her own gun.

?I was just handing it to him,? she said, and turned the weapon over. He slid a pair of cuffs on the older woman.

?She suggested we cavity search everyone,? the officer told Campbell.

?Not a bad idea,? Campbell agreed. ?They could be concealing any number of things on their bodies. And it enforces the helplessness of their situation. We'll get better cooperation. We should be able to set up in here,? she pointed to the kitchen.

?Shouldn't we wait for a female officer?? he asked.

?That's a luxury,? Campbell said. ?These are the bad guys. And they just murdered one of our own. I'm not going out of my way to make them comfortable.?


  08:01:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 2728 words  
Categories: The Singularity

The Singularity, Chapter Eight, Patience

?Sausage,? Chris moaned around a mouthful of meat from the back seat.

?Thanks for the Alfredo,? Morgan said. ?It?s good.?

?Glad you?re enjoying it,? Kevin said from the front. But he was distracted, going through Walt?s scans on his laptop.

?So ib my bain nonna pob lige aboeribe bid?? Kevin, worried his patient was stroking out, jerked his head towards the backseat. ?Sorry,? he said, swallowing, ?sausage mouth.?

?So your mother never taught you not to talk with a mouth full of wiener?? Kevin asked.

?You couldn?t help yourself, could you?? Claire asked from the driver?s seat.

?Blanket immunity,? he said with a shrug. ?But no, I don?t think your brain?s going to pop like an overripe zit.?

?Hooway!? Chris said around another mouthful of sausage, thrusting his arms into the air.

?So what?s the next step?? Morgan asked quietly.

?We?re going to put your husband on some corticosteroids. So far, he hasn?t shown any signs that his intracranial pressure has increased, but it should prevent swelling. And in the interrim, we can perform regular eye exams to check for pressure on the optic nerve, which is usually a tell-tale sign.?

The cab was quiet for a moment, until Chris bellowed, ?Hooway, stewoids!? through another bite.

Claire reached over and turned on the radio to one of the presets, an easy listening station. Chris and Morgan went back to eating. None of them said anything more until Claire?s phone started to ring and vibrate in her pocket.

?Crap,? she said. She looked at Kevin. ?Could you?? she asked, thrusting her hips into the air. Her phone was sticking out of her pocket like a freshly sprouted bean planet, and he slipped it out of her pocket and put it on speaker.

?Where the crap are you?? Knowles asked, annoyed.

?Didn?t you get my text?? Claire asked.

?Yeah. But I didn?t think that meant you were going to be gone all day.?

?It?s 2. You just woke up, didn?t you?? She waited for a denial, but he was silent on the other end. ?We?re midway through the afternoon, at this point. I?m not sure how you can be pissed at me for you sleeping through most of the day.?

?I expected you to wake me up when it was time to leave.?

?I considered it. But you were clutching what I was fairly certain was morning wood- and there was no way I was getting close enough to wake you up.?

?That?s... fair. Wait, am I on speakerphone??


?Guh. Just come get me.?

?We can probably do that,? Kevin said. ?I think I can fit in the back.?

?You?re so helpful,? Claire said.

?Cool. But, uh, knock when you get here. In case I?m in the shower.?

Claire checked the GPS. ?We?re at least twenty minutes out. Try to be done ?showering? by the time we get there.?

?I can?t guarantee anything; you better just knock.?

?Fine. Goodbye.?

When they arrived at the hotel, Kevin climbed into the back. ?Don?t forget to knock,? he told her with a grin.

?I couldn?t take a blow to the head hard enough to make me forget.? She winced, and glanced back at Chris. ?Sorry.?

?No worries,? he said, as Morgan scooted closer into him to make room for Kevin. ?I?ve taken a lot of blows to the head- professionally.?

Claire got out of the Bronco and walked to the door. She pounded on it three times, and waited. After fifteen seconds, she knocked again. She waited thirty more seconds, and took out her phone and dialed Knowles. She waited for it to ring through, and muttered, ?I will leave your pudgy ass behind if you don?t? when the door opened.

Knowles?s face and hair were moist. ?Damn. Thought I had time for another shower.?

?Gross,? she said. ?Wash your hands, then we?re going.?

?Have I ever told you how hot it is when you boss me around??

?No, and if you ever do, I?ll castrate you.?

He pondered his options. ?I?m going to go wash my hands.?

?Hurry,? she said. She walked back to the truck, moving slowly, since she didn?t want to have to answer any questions about Knowles? delay- lest she have to think about it anymore. He ran up behind her just as she reached the Bronco, and she knew he hadn?t taken long enough inside. ?Did you use soap?? she asked.

?Was I supposed to?? he asked back.

?Just get in,? she said, ?and don?t touch me, or anything else, for that matter.?

As soon as he was inside, Knowles ran his fingers over the length of his seatbelt, buckled it, and proceeded to massage the dash in front of him. ?I?m going to have to get this truck disinfected, aren?t I?? Kevin asked.

?Oh yeah,? Knowles said.

?I do have cleaning supplies at the clinic,? he said.

?Oh, I like that idea,? Claire said.

?Aw, crap,? Knowles mumbled.

?You?re getting off easy,? she said.

?It wasn?t that easy at all- I mean, I should have had time to take an actual shower after my ?shower.? I think the sea air is making my skin less sensitive.?

?Okay, no more, or you?re walking.?

Claire drove back to the clinic without needing to use the GPS; she was starting to get a feel for the roads along the coast.. She parked the Bronco inside the gate, and they emptied. ?I guess this is our cue to start taking our readings,? she said to Kevin.

?I?ll walk you all back to Chris? room,? Kevin replied.

?You?re not going to stick around??

?Oh, I?ll be back. But I?ve got some other business, too. Chris might have been my most critical patient today, but that doesn?t mean he's my only one.? He led them through the front door and then down the main hall, into the last room at the end. ?You have my number if you need anything, or start to feel different in any way- except gastric distress, which will happen after eating that much sausage.?

?He what now?? Knowles asked. ?Nevermind; I choose to see me missing out on the homoerotic road trip as a blessing.?

Kevin closed the door behind himself. He stopped at the coffee machine and poured himself a mug, and three in three sugars, because it had already been a long day, and it wasn?t quite over yet. He heard the door down the hall open, and he wasn?t surprised to see Morgan closing it behind her. ?Can I talk to you for a second?? she asked.

?Sure,? Kevin said.

Her fists were clenched; she was upset, but at the same time she didn?t want to look him in the eye. ?Um, don?t take this the wrong way, but... are you sure this is what?s best for him? Shouldn?t he be in a hospital, or at least nearer to an MRI machine?? That explained it for him; she was concerned he might be focused on his bottom line, and not Chris? health- but she felt guilty leveling that kind of an accusation.

?Even at a hospital, there?s only so much access you can get to an MRI machine if it isn?t an emergency. In an ideal world, the best course might be for Chris to live inside one until we have his bleed sorted out. But the machines cost millions, and operating them thousands- which necessarily limits the number of them, and means they have to be shared by large patient populations, so it just isn?t feasible. But monitoring his condition is. And that we can do as well as any hospital- better, really, since we have specially trained staff with a smaller patient load. Here he won?t have rotating nursing- half of whom are barely briefed on his condition; I?ll be there at shift change to personally go over his status with the night nurse, and if anything happens, I'm right up those stairs.? He pointed behind her, to the steps leading up to his living space.

She shifted her feet; she didn't want to say what was on her mind, but her concern won out. ?Money is no object. Chris was lucky; he made a lot playing football; not everybody does- but he did. And I would happily continue to pay your fee and for his hospitalization. I just want him to have the best care- no matter the cost.?

?I understand. And I truly believe that he?s best off staying here, for the time being. But this place isn?t a charity; I?m not offended you?re concerned about conflicts of interest. That just shows how much you care about Chris. But I want you to know I care, too. And professionally, it would hurt my business to endanger your husband just to pad my numbers. And personally, I want to do what?s best for him. Right now, the bleed in his brain isn?t increasing his intracranial pressure; and I don?t have any indication it?s in any way related to the symptoms that brought him here. So he has multiple brain-involved conditions, and this facility is specifically designed to monitor them. But if you?d like, I can open up a remote consult with a specialist at OHSU.?

?That?s,? she hesitated, but relief showed on her face?sure.?

?And I will let you know the second their recommendation differs from mine, to give you the benefit of multiple perspectives.?

She was on the verge of crying. ?I...? she closed her eyes to keep tears from falling from them, ?I appreciate that. And thanks, for not taking it...?

?You care about him. And we do, too. And figuring out what?s best for Chris is what?s important. But if you?ll excuse me, I?ll make that phone call, and have Steph, the day nurse who you may have already met, send over our records to Dr. Hollerman.?

Clinics like his were expensive to own and operate, bu there were doctors like Hollerman who understood that sometimes giving certain patients enough of the right kind of care could stave off more expensive intervenions later. Hollerman was perhaps the best general brain surgeon in the state, and something like half of Kevin's patients had come throuhg Hollerman in one way or another. He particularly liked to send Kevin patients for post-surgery rehab. Hollerman was gracious about the consult.

Just as Kevin was about to hang up, Hollerman said, ?You know, we could take her up on that offer, though. Your clinic's margins barely keep you in clean underpants, and the only thing keeping OHSU tuition from requiring a human soul, a lung and a kidney are the foolish medical decisions of helicopter spouses like her.?

?Don't worry,? Kevin said. ?I have a back-up plan. We smuggle Mexican coke up the coast and into Canada.?

?Canada?? Hollerman asked.

?With the weakness of the American economy, I bet you get better dollar up there.?

?Hardly; you get those pink Canadian dollars,? Hollerman said. ?But you might get more of them.?

?Sounds like an exciting career opportunity; or is it just your colorful way of telling me we aren't going to fleece the wife??

Kevin rolled his eyes. ?I'll keep you in the loop on Chris. And you let me know if your recommendations change.?

?I will; but right now, it's well within spec to be treated with medication.? Kevin knew that, but for some reason it made him feel better hearing it from another doctor he respected.


?Don't mention it.?

It was close to four in the afternoon by the time Kevin and Steph started rounds. Kevin stopped outside their first patient?s door. ?How?s he doing, today??

?About the same as every other day,? she said. Her lips pursed, and her cheeks puffed out. She was trying to wall herself off from her patient's melancholy. It was an expression Kevin saw on her too often.

?So no improvement?? he asked.

?I?m not sure he wants to improve,? she said grimly. ?He?s still punishing himself.?

?Yeah,? Kevin said.

?You want me to come inside?? she asked.

?I think he does better one on one,? he replied, and pushed the door open.

Trevor was sitting in a wheelchair, staring out his window, at the ocean. ?I was beginning to think you forgot about me,? he said, without turning around.

?Never. But you know how it goes, new patient shows up and you have to deal with his bleeding brain.?

Trevor wheeled his chair around. ?He okay??

?Fine, for now. But I?m not here to talk about my other patients- and not just because the AMA frowns on that sort of thing.?

?I?m fine.? Trevor insisted.

?You lie. Like a very patriotic rug.?

?Obnoxiously patriotic, like a QVC flag door mat made out of used humvee tires??

?Not to mention that wiping your feet on the flag seems disrespectful.?

?I appreciate that you didn?t say, ?don?t tread on me.??

?It seemed trite,? Kevin said with a smile. ?But you?re not fine.?

?No,? Trevor chuckled. ?But that doesn?t mean I need help.?

?I think you being here means you need help.?

?But that doesn?t mean you can help.?

?Maybe,? Kevin said. ?Maybe not. But I?m here in case I can- and to help you help yourself.?

?I like you, doc,? Trevor said. ?For a guy who runs such a sad clinic, you stay pretty upbeat.?

?With these types of injuries, half our battles are with ourselves.?

?And what if the half of me fighting isn?t so sure he should win??

Kevin sighed. ?I wish you?d let me bring in Dr. Otterman. She really does fantastic work.?

?I just want to keep the swelling in my brain down; I don?t need my whole head shrunk.?

?That?s up to you, Trevor. But it makes my job harder, not being able to separate out the TBI from the PTSD.?

?I?m still sad we ruled out STIs; the alphabet soup made me feel like I was back in the Army.?

?Well, I?m sorry you didn?t have neurosyphillis,? Kevin said with a laugh. ?If only you could have somehow had more unprotected sex in Afghanistan.?

?Over there, it?s difficult having any sex- at least any that doesn?t result in carpal tunnel,? he rotated his wrist for emphasis. ?But I feel fine, physically. No headaches, blurred vision, no nausea.?

?Weakness of the extremities?? Kevin asked.

?Only in the one that?s half-gone,? he said lifting up his left leg from the wheelchair footrest. His pant leg gathered around the metal rod attached to his thigh.

?Do you feel like you?re adjusting any better to the prosthetic??

?Adjusting?? Trevor laughed bitterly. ?I?m missing half a leg; I have constant pain where it?s supposed to be.?

?And you?re bitter about that.?

Trevor leapt to his feet, with his fists balled. ?You?re goddamn right I am,? he said angrily.

?But you can stand on it all right?? Kevin asked, looking at the way he put weight on it.

?Yeah. It?s weird, because, I can forget that it isn?t just asleep and numb, until I try to walk on it. Then I walk like a pirate with a peg leg. I?m almost literally half a man; I still don?t know how I?m going to have sex. If.?

?Well for that I?m pretty sure you have to find a willing partner- or cope with the carpal tunnel.?

?Oh, I know,? Trevor said with a grin. ?Jeannie?s apparently not interested- not even when I told her I only wanted to be therapeutically physical with her. I was surprised that wasn?t in her wheelhouse.?

?I know. But have you tried pricing out prostitutes that are also board certified physical therapists??

?I might just have to make my peace with the carpal tunnel.? Trevor laughed to himself.

Kevin was less amused. ?Trevor, you can use the chair as long as you want. But it?s important that you recognize it?s not your injuries preventing you from functioning.?

?So we?ve progressed on to guilt therapy?? Trevor asked, dropping back into the wheel chair.

?I?m a doctor, and I?ll continue to try to heal your injuries. But some of your wounds I need your help with. And I?ll be here, whenever you?re ready to help me. But some days, I?m going to be just as frustrated as you that we aren?t making progress.?

?I?m trying, doc,? he said, turning his chair back towards the corner.

?I know,? Kevin said. ?And we?ll get you there.?

  10:37:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 952 words  
Categories: Lunacy

Lunacy: Zen Gardening

Clod stared at one of the ripening tomatoes. It was all she could do to keep from ripping it off the vine.

?Go ahead,? Rica told her. ?We need to harvest. You didn't think food just appeared in the kitchen, did you?? Clod picked it, and took a bite; it spurted seeds and juice onto hir shirt.

?Kind of,? she admitted; she hadn't ever really thought about it at all.

?Yeah, the fridge in the kitchen is designed with two doors, front and back. The back opens up into here. I put the refrigeratables right inside. The supply cabinets are the same, too.?

?I had no idea you were picking all of our, crops, I guess.?

?I haven't. Paul's been in here a handful of times. And Alisa practically lives in here, with me. But if you want, I can show you everything, how's it's grown, how it's picked, and of course, what we grow.?

?We have rice, soy, peanuts, potatoes, cowpeas, tomatoes, lettuce, some others,? Rica told her, strolling through the rows of plants. ?But I'm particularly proud of the herb garden. Presuming any of us start cooking anything less basic, these will help make it test better.?

?What's in the vats?? she asked, pointing to some troughs at the back of the room.

?Cyanobacteria, brewer's yeast, and algae. It provides a back-up in case the atmospheric systems fail in here, and the cyano helps 'digest' unused plant matter. The algae is mostly just there for back-up. If all of our plants died, we could convert the entire garden into an algae  and yeast farm, and they reproduce quickly enough we could subsist. It would suck out loud, but we could subsist.?

?I like spending my time here. I love my job, but it's not just the work. The rest of the ship, the station, even Johnson and Kennedy, were so sterile. But this room is alive. It's a phenomenon that's been studied in Antarctic research stations for years. Scientists start to miss green things- but they can spend time in their growth chambers with their food plants to get their leafy fix.?

?I assume you didn't really invite me out here so you could show me your garden,? Clod said.

?It doesn't hurt to have someone else know what I do. Aneurisms happen, after all. But I'd kind of like a girl I can talk to who I'm not screwing. And not to talk about my relationship- well, maybe that, too- but just to have a girl friend who isn't my girlfriend.?

?Isn't that a little sexist??

?Meh. Levy's stopped being overly pervy about the fact that when we're not in the room with him we're probably off being naked together. But he's still giggly about the whole lesbian thing. And Martin... he's cool, but he's almost oddly paternalistic- to all of us, but I get the feeling to me in particular.?

?You are an adorable, mousy little girl; I can see that. But Paul??

?He's great. Nice. Doesn't spend an inordinate time thinking about how I probably look naked. But still a guy, very much so. I'm not looking for someone to decoupage with, or to trade Mary Claire article clippings. I'd just like a girl friend.?

Clod was staring off into one of the plumpest tomatoes, as if it were a crystal ball. Rica could tell she had something on her mind, but also that she was having trouble bringing it up. ?What's wrong?? she asked.

Clod hesitated, then she said, ?I'm assuming complete and total girl friend confidentiality, here. I've never been overtly girly. I like wearing a little bit of makeup, but I would emphasize little, as in occasionally a little lipstick or concealer. But since we got up here... I don't feel pretty. And you are half that equation.?

?Aw. Paul won't go for you, and I went straight for the only other female, without giving you so much as a second glance. You're not feeling the love.? Rica smiled. ?See, that's why I want a girl friend. Martin might be gay- or just asexual, Paul's celibate and pining, and Levy would stick it in both his male coworkers to get a chance at any of us girls- though he does seem to have a special place in his spank bank for you. I never even considered you, that's true- but that?s because clearly, you're into Paul. And just as clearly, Alisa was giving me eye-nilingus. That woman has got the craziest eye-rection I've ever seen. I've heard the phrase before, but I have never been good and eye-fucked as hard as I was by that woman. I mean, I'm a little wet thinking of it, now.?

?I'm happy for you. Jealous, but happy.?


?But what were the odds, right? Out of three women, two would be lesbians? I mean, that's...?

?We're not. Or at least, I'm not. Alisa says she's over her men phase, but I'm still bi. And even then, nobody's gay in space. You just do who you gotta do to get by.?


?It doesn?t preclude romance. I'd have banged Alisa on Earth in a heartbeat. But before her, when I was in training, I had a boyfriend. We were basically celibate the last three months before we broke up- training beat the shit out of me. And he could understand that- but he couldn't understand it.?

?I understand- but only because I've been there. Our training... some days it's all you can do not to punch the shit out of your neighbor when you get home. And other days it's all you can do just to get home. But we're here. In outer fucking space. Totally worth it.?



  10:07:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 1858 words  
Categories: The Singularity

The Singularity, Chapter Seven, Astoria

?So, lunch?? Claire asked.

Kevin shrugged. ?Yeah, I panicked.?

?Still, sounds good. Lead the way.?

?There's a good pub down the street.?

?Aren't you doctoring??

?And you're driving. But they also have nonalcoholic foods.?

?Man, I want some alcoholic foods, now,? she said, climbing back into the truck. Kevin walked around to the passenger side.

?Just do down this road,? Kevin said. He drummed on the dashboard.

?Good enough?? Claire asked with a smile.

?Cindy Lauper's like a communicable brain virus. I'm going to have to download that album when we get back to my office. But it's right there. The fort.?

?No way. The wooden one??

?No,? Kevin said with a smile. ?That's Fort Astoria. What we want is the pub. But if I'd known you wanted to eat at a theme restaurant, there's this fish and chips place that operates out of a tug boat.?

?Maybe I'll drive back through here on my way out of town,? Claire said, putting the Bronco in park. Kevin led them inside the boxy building. ?Two,? Claire said to the greeter standing behind a podium.

?Right this way,? she said.

They were seated at a table with a view from one of the chairs of the ocean. ?You take this one,? Kevin said.

?It better not be because it's under a mirror and you're going to try and look down my shirt, because my intern already tried that Goonies homage, and I'm a practiced hand at ice water flinging.?

?Trust me,? Kevin said.

?Ooh, water,? she said; ?of the salty, not the flingable, variety.?

Kevin opened his menu. ?If you're looking for a suggestion from a local, the sausage sampler is great.?

?I'm not sure I'm up for an entire meal with you watching me put phallic shaped food in my mouth.?

?It's what I'm ordering, if that helps.?

?I'm actually not huge on meat...? her eyes lit up. ?Wasabi ginger ale? I have to try it. Otherwise, I think I'll just have a salad.?

Because it was hours before their rush, the waitress circled back quickly. Kevin folded his menu. ?I'm going to go with the sausage sampler,? he said. ?And can I get another with the check. And an order of alfredo- also with the check.? He noticed the waitress looking at him from the corner of his eye. ?Our friends are at the doctor's, and we're going to bring them food.?

?He's lying,? Claire said. ?He has an eating disorder. Unless your pipes are rock solid at flushing vomit, I'd bar him from your restroom.? The waitress didn't respond. As she reached for his menu, Kevin noticed that his fingers were partly obscuring the word wine. He relinquished the menu.

?Eating disorders are serious,? he said.

?Everything is serious to somebody,? Claire said. ?Humor only works if we agree to unbunch our collective panties- at least a little bit, and for brief intervals. Wait, you're not really bullimic, are you??

Kevin didn't respond.

They waited in silence for their food, and the solitude continued until she was through a third of her salad.

?You?re a little hot and cold, you know that?? Claire asked.

?I thought you wanted me cold.?

?Can?t I have just right?? she asked.

?Sorry,? he said. ?I?m not punishing you for having professional boundaries. Um, I?m grappling with some of my personal ones.? He hesitated. He wasn?t sure what was bothering him was a colleague kind of conversation topic.

?Go on,? she said.

?My wife died a few years ago. It?s... I don?t think it?s the kind of thing you get over. But... I have a daughter from my wife. She?s really bright, and really sweet. And she?s to an age where I think she?s figuring out that I can?t be the kind of father she needs. I think having Sam around helps, since he picks up a lot of my slack. But the killer, she took her mom?s death just as bad as I did. No- that?s not true. She took it as hard as you?d expect a girl her age to take it. But I... ? he stopped, and took a hard pull from his water glass, and regretted that it wasn?t scotch.

?I?d been drinking, a little wine with dinner at my wife?s favorite restaurant. She?d just got a promotion, so we were out celebrating, as a family. And on the way home I was driving, and this light was yellow, but I thought I had enough time to make it- and maybe I did. A car going perpendicular ran his red and hit us.?

?He was a lawyer, on something, and speeding . Died instantly, pancaked his internal organs. He hit her side of the car. She had a lot of internal bleeding, but her most serious injury was to the head. I ran over to her. She couldn?t talk, her movements were very slow, very labored; she could blink. I called an ambulance. I specialize in neurological traumatology, so I recognized the symptoms of a brain bleed, increasing her intracranial pressure. All I could do was hold her, and pray that the paramedics saved her in time.?

?What about your daughter.?

?Indeed,? he sighed. ?She was on my side, so she was spared the brunt of it. She hit her head, had some whiplash, but... I didn?t even check on her until the paramedics got there. I?m a doctor, for Christ?s sake, and I forgot the basics of triage. My daughter could have bled out just because I was caught up with Helen- knowing full fucking well there was nothing I could do to help her. Molly might have been out of it because of the accident, but wasn?t unconscious; she knows how... hugely I failed her- failed them both. But we?ve never talked about it.?

?That?s...? she paused, ?a lot to deal with.?

?That?s just... patient history,? he said. ?No, the acute problem was last night. We were both upset. But it was my daughter,? he sighed, ?my daughter who comforted me.?

She waited for the other shoe to drop, and when it became evident that he was otherwise shoeless, askeed, ?So??

?I'm her father. I'm supposed to be strong and supportive and togethe.?

?But you aren't. And if she's to a point where she can be there for you... well, you can't be that crappy of a father.?

?Maybe,? he said. The waitress came back with the check and two to go containers. ?Can I get another doggy bag?? he asked, sliding his credit card onto the tray with the bill without looking at it. ?Thanks.?

?How were your sausages??

?Great. My appetite has nothing to do with the quality of the food. But you should try them.?

?I couldn't.?



?They're good, and fairly mild. Except this one. Don't try this one,? he pointed at the one on the end with his fork.

?Now you know that's the one I have to try first.? He cut a bite off the end of the sausage and ran it through with his fork. She took it from him. ?Could you turn around.?


?Just please? I can't enjoy it if I'm preoccupied with you watching me.?

?Okay,? he said, kicking out of his seat, and walking around her to look at the ocean, ?whenever you're ready.?

?I'm done,? she said,

?Really?? he asked. ?Did you even remember to chew??

?I just swallowed it- and I mean that in a purely nutritious and not at all accidentally pornographic way.?

?Blanket immunity,? he said.

?That's right- I knew that would come in handy.? She coughed into her hand. ?Okay, now the burning caught up with me.? She took a deep pull from her glass. ?Ack,? she said. ?You can't wash hot sausage down with wasabi ginger ale. Not effectively, anyway.?

?Try some of my water,? Kevin said. ?I don't have anything communicable.?

He walked back over to his chair and sat down while she polished off his glass. He noticed she was still eyeing his plate. ?You want another bite?? he asked.

?Yes, please.?

?Any particular one??

?Surprise me.? He sliced off a wedge from another sausage, speared it, and handed her the fork. ?Turn around,? she said, miming him spinning in his chair with the fork.

?It's not even phallic; at worst it's the sausage foreskin.?

?You're not helping,? she said, and pulled the sausage off the fork with her teeth and handed it back to him.

This time he stabbed it through an entire sausage and handed it back to her. Her eyebrow shot up as she swallowed the previous bite.

?You're building this up to be so much more than it is. They're sausages. And we're adults. We've probably cumulatively eaten thousands of phallic shaped foods.?

She sighed. ?Okay.? She bit into the sausage, and stared at him.

?God that's hot,? he said; ?I didn't mean to sound so much like Paris Hilton just then.?

?You're a jerk.?

?I have my moments. But you're eating sausage uninhibited.?

The waitress came back with the third container and set it down next to Kevin. ?That might not actually be necessary; were you going to finish off the sausages?? he asked Claire.

?Just one more bite,? she said, and reached across the table and grabbed the last sausage and took a bite from it.

?I'm so proud of you right now,? Kevin said, finishing his signature on the receipt. The waitress, puzzled, took it and left.

Kevin rolled the rest of the sausage remains into the container. ?I should wash my hands of the sausage leavings,? she said.

?I'll meet you out by the car.? She emerged from the restaurant a couple of minutes later, rubbing her hands dry on her jeans.

?That's the one thing about being at the coast I don't like,? she said. ?My hands never feel completely dry.?

?You get used to it,? Kevin said.

?I don't think I want to,? she replied.

She drove back to the clinic without needing any direction from Kevin. Chris and Walt were standing outside, talking. Morgan was leaning against the building, somewhat shrouded by shadow.

Kevin was out of the Bronco first. ?What's the damage??he asked.

?Brain, mostly,? Walt said. ?Unless you mean my exorbitant fee, which I'll invoice you for. And I get paid for lunch.?

?It's fine. Send me the bill. And tell me what you found.?

He handed over a blu ray disk. ?I burnt the pertinent data, but I scanned him a few times, just to be sure, and there was no noticeable growth in the bleed. I even overlaid the scans your nurse sent over- and there's been no change. So he only has a light bit of brain incontinence, not a neurological old faithful. Which is great, because our mop guy only comes out once a week- and he was already here Tuesday morning.?

?Excellent. And if I need to use the machine again in a couple days to check in??

?I'm still in OT until Sunday at midnight, so don't hesitate to call- unless it's after Sunday at midnight.?

?At which point you'll be dead.?

?Like a doornail pounded into a stone.?

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