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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11/07/12

  12:18:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 2338 words  
Categories: The Singularity

The Singularity, Chapter Six, Road Trip

?You want to go to Astoria?? Kevin asked Claire.

?I thought we'd already discussed our professional relationship.?

?Sorry,? he said brusquely, ?it's not a date. I have to drive a patient to Astoria for some imaging. I like to ride in back, just in case, and I don't trust the patient's family not to put us in a ditch if things get hairy.? She blinked at him in disbelief. ?Normally, Sam drives me on these types of excursions, but he's out of the office for most of the morning.?

?He abandoned you in your hour of need??

?He's got a meeting of his bike club.?

?I wouldn't have pegged him for a cyclist,? Claire said, miming his beer belly.

?A motorcycle gang, by any other name, doesn't smell as sweaty. But we're on a bit of a time crunch, so I'm afraid I really do need an answer, quickly.?

?This patient's the one I'm supposed to get readings from, isn't he??

?One and the same.?

?So there's absolutely no reason for me to stick around without him?

?None whatsoever; I suppose we've got a nice view of the ocean.?

?Then I guess you've got yourself a driver. Though I should remember to text my intern; it's likely he'll wake up before we get back- not that there's anything for him to do here. Is there any reason to take my equipment??

?With any luck, we'll get our scan and be headed back here.?

?And without luck??

?We'll be taking him directly to a hospital.?

?And either way, no scans for me.?

?Sorry.?

?No. It's fine. Medical emergencies take precedence over scientific curiosities. I'm just...?

?Antsy??

?Yeah. This is the culmination of, well, not a lifetime, but a career, maybe, of searching. So I'm not a callous, inhuman monster for worrying I might miss my chance to get some readings, am I??

?Naw. Empathy isn't the lack of ambition- it's showing compassion even when it hampers ambition. But like I said, we need to go. Patient and his wife are already waiting in the car.? He handed her the keys.

?You know the way?? she asked.

?I thought you were driving,? he teased. ?I know the way. And it's in the GPS.?

Kevin got into the backseat with Chris, and then Claire put her seat back and climbed into it. He buckled in as she started the Bronco, and pulled out of the driveway.

Kevin dialed his cell phone, and the call went through. ?Walt?? he asked.

?Nope. Walt's dead. At least until noon.?

?You're still the on-call MRI tech, right??

?Dead. Til noon,? he said sleepily.

?I've got a patient with a bleed in his brain. From my scans, I think it's a slow bleed, but I need to be sure.?

?So his brain doesn't explode all over you.?

?Thanks for that.?

?But I've already had my forty this week.?

?I'll pay the overtime.?

?Really? Had you said that up front, I never would have been dead in the first place.?

?We're in the car, headed towards you.?

?I'll put on some pants and head to the office- if there's time for pants.?

?There should be time for pants. I'll see you in a bit. Bye.?

Claire tapped on the GPS to get it to show her the local speed limits. The front of the truck was far quieter, and overhearing a mumbled phone conversation only made Claire feel more left out. She peered at Morgan from the corner of her eye, to be sure she wasn't sleeping or anything. ?How'd you two meet?? Claire asked.

?Hmm?? Morgan replied, then realized she was being spoken to, and she gave her a wicked smile. ?Hoping to land yourself a big, strapping football star?? Morgan saw Chris in the rear view, and the discrepancy between the man she'd met and the one in the back seat made her shudder. ?It isn't all shoulder pads and athletic cups.?

?No, not for me. I don't... I can't handle the idea of a man that much bigger than me. I just...?

?I understand,? Morgan said. ?Believe me. Especially now. He gets these... rages. And if I were anyone else... have you ever seen a polar bear at the zoo, and they just bat around a beer keg like it's a balloon. He's so much stronger than me, that if he wanted to hurt me, for even a second, I wouldn't even be able to put up even tacit resistance. But Chris... he'd never hurt me. He'd hurt himself. And there are plenty of people he'd mangle if they looked at him funny. But he loves me. It's the... he's told me it's the one thing he always remembers. Always. Sometimes he wanders off, gets lost, but... he says he could never forget that...?

Morgan wiped a tear from her eye. ?Jesus. I'm a wreck. It doesn't take much to get me crying like you've just run over my puppy.?

?Aw, puppy,? Claire said.

?But you asked me about meeting Chris. It was at a charity golf exhibition. He was there, flanked by younger, prettier girls. I'm not usually huge into muscles- I mean, I take care of myself, so I appreciate a guy who works out, but he was huge- bigger, then, even, than he is now. I was younger then, and less haggard,? Claire wanted to interrupt, and say, ?I hope I look as good as you when I'm your age,? but she wasn't sure the woman really was older, so she stayed quiet. ?But I was in now way one of the, am I going to sound catty if I say 'bimbos'??

?I know exactly what you mean,? Claire said, though she felt bad, because for her it was mostly a combination of jealousy and self-consciousness.

?But he was constantly swarmed, and he was handsome but he probably wasn't my type so I just figured he was something pretty to occasionally look over and see while I was hanging out with some of my friends. And I noticed he had this really genuine smile; he really listened to people- even nineteen year olds without much more interesting to talk about than their Facebook friendships. I kind of found myself having a conversation with him in my head, and by about the sixteenth hole, I felt a little sad that I wasn't going to get a chance to actually talk to him.?

?And after the tournament, there was a little thing, with refreshments. And I was hovering over the punch bowl, not much thinking about the man I'd spent most of the day shamelessly ogling. Then suddenly, he was there, and until the day I die I will remember the first words he ever said to me. 'Normally, I use the whole I got you some punch thing as an icebreaker, but you haven't left the bowl since you got here. So I'm completely at a loss as to how I should work in that you're beautiful and you've been staring at me and I'd like to try and have an adult conversation.?

?I told him, 'That wasn't bad, actually- after the rocky start.' And we talked until the event was over, politely rejecting several of the nineteen year olds who'd been puppy guarding him like I'd been puppy guarding the punch bowl. Then he took me to dinner. And we talked there until the restaurant closed. So we went to a bar, and closed that out. Then we found an all-night Shari's, and stayed there long enough that the wait staff actually made us have another meal.?

?I woke up in his lap. Apparently I just passed out in the middle of a story about... it was about the time I saw him play in college. And I just slumped over... and I drooled on his crotch. And it was not a dainty, ladylike trickle; it was a puddle. It looked like he'd wet himself. But he insisted, then, that he take me home- if only so I didn't pass out and hit my head on something.

?And he was an absolute gentleman. He walked me to my front door, and said that was usually the point in a date where we'd have sex- but that he was way too tired, but that after a date that long he felt bad about not at least trying to sleep with me. I told him if he wanted to come in we could cuddle, and... actually, I was punchy enough I think I kind of goaded him into coming into my place.?

?So your epic megadate ended in cuddling?? Claire asked.

?Nope. We didn't cuddle. He passed out in his clothes, on top of all my blankets. He came to for a moment when I was taking off his pants, and said, 'You can try all you like, but I'm telling you- he's a bear, and this is the dead of winter.' And then he was out, all over again, and I resolved to cuddle against him, anyway. But the moment my head hit his chest I was unconscious. It was... it was the best day and a half of my life.?

?Wow,? Claire said. ?I'm completely jealous- of the experience, I mean.?

?He's an incredible man,? Morgan said, stealing a glance at him in the side mirror. He was looking in the car, and insecurity plucked at Morgan, and she worried he was eying Claire, but when she looked back she could tell he was looking at the doctor, so she settled back in her seat.

Kevin could feel Chris' eyes on him, so he turned to acknowledge the attention.

?How worried are you?? Chris asked under his breath, trying not to let Morgan hear.

?What? Me? Worry?? Kevin asked with a smile. ?I'm cautious, not concerned. Like I told your wife, I didn't notice any change in the bleed from the start of the scan to the end. But let me know if you start to feel anything unusual.?

?Like what?? he asked.

?No; it doesn't work that way. If I tell you a swollen nose or hearing piano music are symptoms, you'll be exhibiting those before I finish the sentence.?

?I think I can hear some Rachmananoff,? he said wistfully.

?Yeah, but that's probably your other brain damage.?

?I don't know if I like your bedside manner.?

?Do you want me to coddle you?? Kevin asked, suddenly quite serious.

Chris considered it. ?No. In fact, I want to be coddled less, if anything.?

?Good. And you do have brain damage. It doesn't make you stupid, or even necessarily damaged yourself. But your brain's taken one too many hits for the team.?

?Preaching to the choir, there,? he said.

They drove for the next several miles in silence, before Claire looked into the back seat at Kevin. ?You don't have any Cindy Lauper, do you??

?I'm not sure Cindy Lauper keeps Cindy Lauper in her car,? Kevin said. ?Why??

?Cannon Beach and now Astoria? This is one big, giant Goonies tour. So it seemed appropriate.? She shrugged. ?Oh, poop,? she said. ?I forgot to text my intern- who apparently still isn't up, since he hasn't called to find out where I am.? She fumbled getting her phone out of her pants pocket. ?Stupid jeans,? she muttered, before her phone came loose, and went flying across the cab. ?Could you track that down and?

?Make sure it didn't injure anyone?? Kevin asked.

?Well, that, and text my intern.?

Kevin unbuckled and crawled over the rear seat. ?Try not to kill me,? he said, as he crawled over the carpeted bed of the truck in search of the phone. The phone had settled in the crack where the back door met the bed. He palmed it, and handed it over to Chris, whose giant hand made it look like a child's toy.

He rolled back over the seat, and clicked his seat belt back on. ?Okay,? he said, ?you can go back to trying to kill me.?

?Provided you can do it without killing us,? Morgan said.

Chris handed Kevin the phone back, and he huddled over it typing a message. After the fourth muttered, ?Fudge,? Chris held out his hand.

?I might be able to do it faster.?

?We've got another quarter hour for you two to finish a single text message,? Claire started, ?after that, it will be easier for me to do it myself.?

After fifteen minutes, they arrived, pulling to a stop in front of the clinic. Kevin gave Claire back her phone after climbing out of the back seat.

A man was waiting outside the clinic, standing on the sidewalk with his hands in his pockets. He was a doughy, disheveled Asian man. ?I see you did manage to find pants,? Kevin said to him.

?Stole them,? He said. ?My neighbor rarely locks his door.?

?I thought they looked a little baggy. Chris, this is Walt, Walt, Chris, and Morgan, Mereta. Is everything prepped and ready??

?The only thing I need is a coconut to cook.?

?Is my head the coconut?? Chris asked.

Walt tapped his nose. Then he spun on his heels, and started down the sidewalk towards the clinic's front doors. After a few steps, he looked back. ?You coming?? he asked.

Chris and Morgan looked at Kevin. ?You're in good hands with Walt. He's... odd. But he's the best MRI tech in fifty miles.?

?Best and only,? Walt said. ?And I'm on the clock. So we should macht schnell.?

?We'll be,? Kevin looked at the Bronco, then thought better of it, and glanced across from the clinic, towards the town, ?well, we might cross the road to get something to eat. We can get you something for the way back...?

?Pasta,? Morgan said. ?With pesto, if possible.?

?Meat,? Chris said. ?The meatier, the better.?

?Your diet,? Morgan complained.

?My brain is bleeding,? Chris said. ?Which entitles me to a steak that is doing the same.?

She sighed peevishly, and shrugged, as they turned after Walt.

11/06/12

  11:59:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 3066 words  
Categories: The Singularity

The Singularity, Chapter Five, Diagnostics

?You don?t sleep, do you?? Claire asked, blinking at Kevin through the light from the rising sun as he unlocked the front gate.

?Isn?t that a little pot and kettle, all things considered?? he asked with a smile, opening the gate for her.

?Me? I?m only up because I?m sharing my hotel room with my intern- two queens, by the way- and his mother must have been a locomotive, and his father some species of bear with particularly occluded nostrils.?

?I?d watch that nature channel mating special.?

?I didn?t really sleep after he fell asleep watching Cinemax.?

?Ew.?

?Yeah. But he had the remote, and it didn?t seem worth the risk of him deciding to rent some motel porn if I rocked the boat.?

?In context, that sounds like a terrible euphemism,? Kevin said, chuckling to himself.

?It does. I may not be able to go back to my hotel room.?

?Well, if it helps, we aren?t at capacity; you could always stay at the clinic. There?s no turn down service, but our coffee is slightly better than motel coffee- though only slightly.?

?Yeah, I honestly figured I?d just get coffee and a bagel or something, but sleepy, small coastal town, nothing?s open, yet.?

?You probably just missed Cannon Beach Bakery. Make an excellent Danish Kringle. Raspberry?s my favorite, though the Marionberry?s pretty good. Our day nurse, Betty, picks up our standing order on her way in.?

?Nurse Betty? Like the Zelwegger movie??

?I have no idea. As a rule, I take some ketamine after hearing anything about Renée Zelwegger, to keep myself in the dark about her and her movies.?

?Is that legal??

?I?m a doctor. I can prescribe what I please. Can?t I??

?I don?t think so.?

?I need a better lawyer- or at least one with a law degree.?

?Crap,? she said.

?Your lawyer isn?t credentialed either??

?No. Well, I?m a professor, so I don?t have one, slash couldn?t afford one if I ever did get sued. But I forgot the reason I have an intern-?

?Other than to share a hotel room with him??

?It?s completely innocent,? she said, flustered, ?but he?s supposed to carry my expensive, fragile, and excruciatingly heavy equipment from the car.?

?I could help with that. I tend not to get enough exercise, and I relish the opportunity to impress women by lifting heavy things.?

?Maybe we could find someplace quiet later and you could open jars and kill spiders for me,? she said, smiling coyly and turning back towards where she was parked, on the opposite side of the gate.

Kevin followed. ?Slow down, cowgirl; I don?t open jars for just anybody. Maybe start small, lunch, conversation, and, you know, if it happens organically- say you need some banana peppers for your sandwich...?

?I love banana peppers,? she said. ?But even that might be too forward. How about some of that not as bad as motel coffee you were bragging about earlier, and I?ll let you pop the top off the creamer for me.?

?After I lift your heavy, sensitive equipment?? he turned red and scrunched up his face, ?Could you imagine that I?d phrased that so it didn?t sound like a quote from a porn movie.?

?Sure- though you?ll almost certainly have to extend me the same courtesy at some point in the next few days.?

?That?s fair. In fact, I?m declaring blanket immunity for accidental pornisms.?

?Deal. But we shouldn?t tell my intern; he?d abuse the privilege.? She reached into the driver?s side of her rental, and popped the trunk. Kevin sauntered around to the back of the car, but stopped when he saw the machine.

?It looks like a fax machine from the 1980s had sex with my water bed, also from the 1980s.?

?I call it a Manifestation Detector- but only because I like being able to tell people I'm a MaD scientist. But weren?t you going to impress me??

?How do I lift it??

?From the bottom,? she said.

?You?re not interested in being helpful, are you?? he asked, bear-hugging the device. He grunted as he pulled it out of the trunk, and started waddling towards the gate. She slammed the trunk shut, and jogged around him to open up the gate to let him through, then let the gate slam behind her, and took up the corner of the machine opposite him. He shifted his hands so they were sharing the weight.

?Helpful enough for you??

?I think you were just worried I?d drop your precious equipment.?

?Nah. It?s pretty solid. And your foot would have broken its fall.?

He led her through the courtyard, and they nearly dropped the machine when she tried to direct them towards his office. ?This way,? he said, ?bigger doors, fewer obstacles.?

She followed him around the corner, to a painted metal door with no windows. He balanced his end on his knee while he fiddled with his keys. He had to jiggle the door to get the lock to unlatch. ?It was colder when they installed it; the difference a few degrees makes.? He reached in through the door and flicked on the light switch, hefted his end again and pulled her inside. The lights stuttered to life as Kevin pulled at a wheeled cart to where they could set her equipment on top of it.

The room had concrete floors and bare walls, and was colder than Claire might have assumed. But she was distracted by the other piece of machinery in the room, dominating a large corner. ?Wow,? she said, ?I thought my equipment was big, but yours is so much bigger.? She turned red. ?Thank God for porn immunity. But yours is basically a giant sex-metaphor, since the patient, laying horizontal on a bed, is passed through the big ring.?

?Oh, this?? Kevin asked, presenting his CT Scanner with his best Vanna White hand gesture. ?It isn?t medical equipment. It?s just the centerpiece of my seduction room; you know, turn it on in the background to do its thing, and pretty soon, all a woman can think of is doing her thing.? He guided her device gently down onto the cart. ?Seriously, though, is a CT scan going to screw with your equipment??

?I don?t know,? she said, ?I?ve never shot x-rays at it before. It shouldn?t effect it. But I said the same thing when I tried microwaving a Ding Dong still in the foil in the faculty break room; needless to say, I?m not welcome in that establishment again.?

?It?s up to you,? Kevin said. ?You can set up here, or in the patient?s room, if you?d prefer. And now,? he pushed the cart towards her, ?you can do it without my impressive lifting skills.?

?Is Chris awake?? she asked, looking at the clock on her phone, which said it was still a few minutes before seven.

?Off and on.?

?Because I was promised coffee, and creamer.?

?I never promised creamer.?

?Creamer was implied.?

?Right through that door, there, down the hall.?

?You?re not coming with?? she asked, pouting.

?I?ll be there in a sec. Machinery this big and impressive needs to be warmed up first. Christ.?

?I know, straight out of a porno. It?s uncanny. I haven?t even been trying to make any of this dirty.?

?Me either.?

?Maybe science and medicine are just filthy.?

?That would explain Grey?s Anatomy,? he said, as she pushed through the door. Warmth enveloped her as she stepped onto the carpet in a hall she recognized as part of the clinic, and immediately she smelled brewing coffee.

She pushed her cart down the hall, and found a little reception area that she?d managed to bypass by being escorted in the first time by security. The coffee was still warm from the initial brewing. She found a pyramid of black ceramic mugs, and poured herself a cup. She blew on it, and took a sip. ?Needs creamer,? she thought, which made her think of Kevin, and their repartee. She felt she needed to address it with him right away, and to start reminding herself he was Dr. Guinne, a colleague and professional. She was so wrapped up in her thoughts that she didn?t realize he?d joined her, so when she turned she spun right into him, flinging her coffee across his chest.

?That was premature,? he said, ?uh, I don?t mean- women usually make it through the complimentary bread before flinging their drink at me.?

She sighed. ?I flirt when I get nervous,? she said. ?And sometimes I fling coffee.?

?Well, at least it wasn?t at my crotch. And I live on the upper floors, so a change of shirt is only a staircase away.?

She found herself wondering if that had been a come on, and redoubled her efforts. ?I mean to say... I think I?ve been inappropriate. That it?s kind of possible I stepped over charming banter into misleadingly inviting territory. And you?re the patron of this establishment which has so kindly opened its doors to my research. And in my experience, researchers who go down that road, pretty soon you get a reputation as the scientist who will do anything just to get down and dirty with a little physics, and it gets so you can?t even reorder test tubes without a strip tease being involved- and I just don't have the coordination for pole tricks.?

?That?s... unfortunate,? he said, ?since I was working towards asking you to lunch.?

?Well, I guess I can take comfort in that we?ve both contributed to the inappropriateness of the situation.?

?Withdrawn, then,? Kevin said. ?No quid pro quo, no strings. But if you ever would like to share a meal, friendly or no, you know where my office is.?

?Um,? Claire said, awkwardly.

?Down the hall,? he told her, pointing to the office at the end of the hall, past a bathroom, stairs and the front door.

?No, um. We?re both going to Chris? room to run diagnostics.?

?Right. Awkward.?

?Only if you handle rejection poorly.?

?So you?re still going to tease me, it?s just going to be mean from now on??

?Pretty much.?

?Then follow me. No reason my humiliation can?t have a live, studio audience.?

Chris? room was at the opposite end of the hall from Kevin's office, and culminated in a hexagonal tower, where his bed was. It had views of the coast and the wild, wooded cliffs beyond the clinic grounds. There was a light misting on the windows. He was talking quietly with Morgan.

?How long do you think your equipment will take to set up?? Kevin asked Claire.

?Half hour, maybe an hour. That really depends on how strong your coffee is.?

?Call it forty-five, then,? he said. ?Which should be just long enough for me to get my imaging done.? Kevin strode across the room. ?Good morning,? he said jubilantly, ?how?s my patient??

?It looks like it?s going to be one of his good days,? Morgan said happily from a chair beside his bed, stroking his hand.

?Yeah,? Chris said, with less enthusiasm, continuing to stare out at the surf.

?Feel like going for a walk, Chris?? he asked.

Chris turned to him. ?Sure. Mind if we walk out there?? he nodded towards the beach.

?We can take the scenic route,? Kevin said, ?out on the courtyard. That might be enough for you, when that mist isn?t being stopped by a pane of glass.?

Chris lifted himself off the bed and kicked surprisingly muscular legs under him. ?I grew up in Seattle. This is a day at the beach.?

?I told you,? Morgan beamed, nodding to herself, and peeled her jacket off the back of her chair, ?one of this good days.?

Kevin marched them down the hall and to the front door. He stopped at the bottom of the stairs. ?Thunder?? Chris asked, listening.

?Worse,? Kevin said, ?daughter,? as Molly stomped her way down.

?Love you too, dad,? she said sarcastically, spearing him across the stomach with a hug that knocked the wind out of him.

?Sorry,? Sam said, running down the stairs after her. ?It?s time to take her to school.?

?Already?? Kevin asked, but he knew his daughter never got dressed before it was time to go- if then. ?Have fun, Moll,? he said, and hugged her back just before she ran to the front door and through it. Sam nodded apologetically, and followed her out.

Kevin realized he still had an entourage, waiting for him to move. ?My daughter,? he said, to explain himself, then continued out the front door. They walked around the perimeter of the building, and Chris held his hand out over the stone wall, letting mist from the waves coat his fingers.

But when Morgan and Kevin rounded the corner out of the courtyard, Chris lingered. He hated to admit it, but Morgan was right: it was one of his better days, and the cold and the wet from the ocean cut through to a part of his mind he usually could only dream about.

Morgan leaned around the corner. She was happy to see him smiling, but still, her face was twisted by her constant concern. ?You coming?? she asked.

?Yeah,? he said. ?Sure.?

He followed her through the double doors, and into the room with the MRI.

?Chris, I'm going to need you to lie down on this slab,? Kevin started. ?It'll pass you through that ring, and take x-rays of your head from a bunch of different directions. Then all of this equipment will process the information, and combine it to make a 3 dimensional image of your head. It's called computed tomography. We do this just in case- but more than once it's saved somebody's life when a chronic condition proved to be an acute one.?

?Didn't I have a tomography key chain that pouted when I forgot to feed it?? Chris asked.

?That was a tamagotchi,? Morgan said, and shared a smile with him, ?and I'm pretty sure you know that.?

?Do I need to put on a paper gown?? Chris asked Kevin.

Kevin smiled. ?Only if you want to; we're only imaging your head- and given the nature of our work and our relatively low patronage, we aren't terribly concerned about paper gowns. Mrs. Mereta, if you want to join me over here.?

?Is it safe?? she asked, sitting down in a chair beside Kevin.

?We are bombarding your husband with x-rays,? he said, ?but the technology's come a long way from what it was. And compared to playing football, this is much safer for your husband's head- and since his head is already injured, it's much safer than doing nothing, too.?

Kevin struck a series of keys, and the scanner began to hum. He tried to focus on the slices the machine took, because he knew Morgan was watching him for any sign of Chris' condition. He saw something, and unintentionally said, ?Hmm.?

?Hmm?? Morgan asked. ?What's 'hmm'??

?It's nothing,? Kevin said.

?'Hmm' doesn't sound like 'nothing.'?

?'Hmm' means I saw something interesting- but not something conclusive enough to ethically tell you about.?

?And it's ethical to make me wait like this??

?I don't want you to be alarmed, but your husband is bleeding into his brain.?

?How could I not be alarmed by that?? she asked.

?Well, by listening to me. A bleed in the brain is serious. But the seriousness varies. And the way we respond to the injury depends a lot on what it's doing. A fast bleed has to be dealt with quickly- so does a deep bleed. You good, Chris??

He put up his hand with his thumb raised.

?There are varieties of brain bleed that don't require surgery, that are dealt with through medication.? He turned off the machine, and stood up and walked around the radiation barrier.

?I can get up?? Chris said.

?Yep,? Kevin said.

?So how serious is it?? Morgan asked.

?The slices I took of your husband's head-? Morgan made a face, and he realized he needed to explain it better. ?A CT scan works by combining multiple 'slices'- images taken from different angles- to get a 3 dimensional picture. But my image seems to indicate the bleed is growing at a slow rate- if at all. It's well below the 3 cm threshold; it?s not an aneurism, and it's relatively shallow- all things that would demand immediate action.?

?A bleeding brain doesn't demand immediate action on its own?? she asked, incredulous.

?It requires action, sure,? Kevin said. ?But it has to be the right action. Depending on the bleed and its cause, blood thinners might be the right course to take. Of course, blood thinners could make it much worse, and make him more likely to throw a clot and have a stroke, if we misdiagnose him. But in the meantime, we can keep an eye on his vitals, to make sure he's stable. And I have some questions. Your husband hasn?t hit his head, or suffered any other kinds of trauma recently, has he? Particularly over the last few days- but even weeks and months, because these bleeds can lie dormant??

She started to shake her head. ?Chris?? she asked.

He squinted, trying hard to remember through his returning fog. ?Nuh uh,? he said, shaking his head to assure himself. ?I stubbed my toe working out. But haven't hit my head in a long time.?

?And he's not on any kinds of medications? I know you didn't list any, but sometimes people forget; as an example, even aspirin can act as a blood thinner.?

?I know. He's been taking naproxen for his headaches, but those are intermittent.?

?Good. That's good. We really didn't want this to be a complication from medication. But what I'd like to do, then, is to take your husband to Astoria. I have an agreement with a clinic there for use of their MRI machine- and their tech.?

?And he's safe to travel?? Morgan asked.

?He's as safe as he is, here,? Kevin said. ?And my Bronco is outfitted like an ambulance- with the caveat that it's carrying more equipment specific to your husband's condition than a regular ambulance would. And it's much safer for him to get more imaging than it is for us to just wait to see if he develops any problematic symptoms.?

?I'm going with you,? Morgan said.

?I wouldn't ask you to stay.?

11/05/12

  11:59:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 835 words  
Categories: The Singularity

The Singularity, Chapter Four, Moll

Author's Note: Laptop lost power, destroying most of a day's update. Sorry for the delay.

?It's good,? Kevin said, running a bite of chow mein over his taste buds. ?Good enough I can almost forget I'm not eating real food.? He meant it to be playful, but he'd already had enough wine that his words slurred, and the humor wasn't present in his voice.

Sam sighed. ?Tofu is food. Meat is unethical- as well as unsustainable.?

?But it is delectable.? Kevin smacked his lips; but really, the tofu was nearly indistinguishable from chicken, he just liked to tease his cousin about it, because at their last family reunion, the two men attempted to eat an entire pig themselves.

His daughter, Molly, was staring down at her plate, scraping her fork against it, and it made a noise that stopped everyone from moving. The older men looked at her, which only made her shrink more in her chair.

Kevin swallowed. ?How was your day, Moll?? he asked.

She stared into the chow mein, but her elders stubbornly refused to forget her, so she said, ?It decided to be rather than not.?

?Okay,? Kevin said. ?But how was school??

?It happened,? she said.

?Oh,? he replied.

?Is everything okay?? Sam asked.

She dropped her fork. ?I think I'd like to go to bed.? She slid her chair away from the table. Kevin watched her disappear up the stairs and into her room, then he started poking his chow mein with his fork, trying to read the strands of food.

?Is everything okay?? Sam repeated. Kevin didn't notice at first, as if the words were just an echo through his wine fog, but he could feel his cousin's eyes on him. ?I'm being serious,? Sam said. ?At work, you put on this, this persona-?

?It's called a bedside manner,? Kevin said.

?But at home you're a completely different man. You're in a funk, and I understand it. But you've got a little girl- you don't have the luxury of wallowing in self-pity forever. You've got to get out of your rut.?

?Maybe you should get out of my home,? Kevin deadpanned.

?I can't afford my own place. Of course, you know that. You were just being a dick about it. But you?re family. That gets you out of the occasional bout of dickery. And yeah, I haven?t always been the best dad to my kids- but I made my choices because I wanted to be happy. But you, you can?t be happy without your little girl. She needs you.?

?You're one to talk about being a responsible parent.?

?My kids still have their mother.? Kevin's mouth dropped open at the same time as Sam's. ?Jesus, I didn't mean-?

?You did. And it's okay. You're right. You know it. I know it. Even Molly knows it.?

?No, I don?t. You don?t. Accidents happen, and there?s no guarantee things wouldn?t have gone down the same had you been sober as a judge and alert as a speed freak. You were way below the legal limit.?

Kevin raised his hand for emphasis. ?Doctor, remember; I know any liquor impairs your reaction times- and I know mine were impaired.? Kevin raised the bottle and poured himself another glass.

?If you made a mistake- if­- it was crawling into a bottle, so I don?t see how crawling into another?s going to fix things.? Kevin winced. But he also knew Sam was right.

?You want the rest of this?? he asked, tipping the bottle towards Sam. Sam licked his lips, but he knew that he couldn?t accept the temptation without weakening what he?d just told his cousin. ?Naw, man, that?s all right.? Kevin poured out the bottle, and dropped his glass into the sink so nosily Sam wondered if it might have chipped.

Kevin walked up the stairs, slowing his steps as he reached the top so he didn't disturb his daughter. Molly's door was ajar, and he looked through the crack. He'd hoped she be asleep; when she slept, she didn't look sad- she looked the way she had when her mother was alive.

The lamp on her nightstand was on, and heard pages turning inside. He felt self-conscious, intruding, and turned towards his own bedroom, but his shoulder brushed the door, which creaked uncooperatively.

?Dad?? Molly asked.

He poked his head into the larger opening. ?Hey,? he said sheepishly.

?You want to come in?? she asked.

He hadn't wanted to, but he recognized the vulnerability in her voice.

She tried to set the book she'd been reading face down into her nightstand drawer, but Kevin recognized it as his wife's dog-eared copy of The Hobbit. She had it under her arm when they met; and she read it to their daughter nearly every night before bed. His eyes welled up with tears.

He sat on her bed and put his arm around her, and she curled against his chest. He couldn't find words for his daughter. ?I miss mom, too,? she said.

11/04/12

  07:27:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 2478 words  
Categories: The Singularity

The Singularity, Chapter Three, The Football Player

?Are you a fan of football?? Kevin asked Claire, making her jump. She looked at her phone, and realized she?d lost track of time watching waves lap against the sand. Knowles was standing sheepishly behind him.

?I'm a fan of tight ends in tight pants,? she managed.

?I'll assume you aren't being cute about the tight end position.?

?That's a position in football?? she asked. ?Maybe it is a sport for the ladies. But I remember watching Mereta play the U of O, when he was attending UW, during the very brief period where I mistook my love of beer for a love of sports. And he had a tight enough end I did not mind him spanking my team. I think I would have let him spank me.?

?Uh...?

?Sorry, wildly inappropriate. But I'm sure you were a college perv, once. And my intern still is.?

?Hey,? Knowles complained.

Claire cleared her throat. ?Suffice to say I am not a professional football fan.?

?That's probably for the best. Chris Mereta isn't the same man who played for the Seahawks. He isn't even the same man he was when he retired a few years ago. I consulted with his regular doctor, then; we convinced him that he needed to stop playing, because of the severity of the traumatic brain injuries he'd already suffered. And unfortunately his decline since then proves we were too late.?

It was evident to Claire that Kevin felt responsibility for failing to help Chris early enough. If she hadn?t already been inappropriate once in the last 90 seconds, she would have touched his arm, so instead she smiled awkwardly at him until he continued.

?My overarching point was that you shouldn't approach him, or his wife, with any preconceptions. He isn't as physically imposing, he isn't nearly as animated or aware. He's a different sort of person from who he used to be, probably a different sort of person than you'd recognize, unless you've spent time around people suffering from dementia.?

?My granddad, some,? she said. ?But he died when I was still really young, so, really all I remember is that he confused me a lot when I was a girl- more a general feeling of confusion than anything specific.?

Kevin nodded. ?But more than anything, you should be wary of rage. In a normal, elderly patient with dementia, their rages can be pretty violent, and someone that agitated can be deceptively strong for how broken down their body is. But someone like Chris... he's still in phenomenal shape- he's six-five and two-fifty, easy. Morgan- his wife- she says exercising's about the only thing he does for himself that she doesn't have to supervise. A lot of it's muscle memory- that much repetition trains more than just the brain. But if there's ever any indication he's upset, don't force it- whatever it is. Our security's outstanding, but I really don't want to test whether or not they could subdue a human freight train like Chris. So?? Kevin asked, rubbing his hands together.

?So?? Claire asked back.

?You ready to meet him??

?You describe him in Incredible Hulkian terms, and then want to know if I'm ready to meet him??

?Yeah. No better time than when you're at your most afraid and alert.?

?You're a sadist, aren't you??

?I dabble. All doctors inflict pain. You either learn to enjoy it, or being a doctor becomes very masochistic.?

Chris and Morgan were sitting at one of the glass top tables. Two tall glasses sat in front of each of them. Morgan's was half gone, while his was mostly full.

?Enjoying the smoothies?? Kevin asked.

?They're delicious,? Morgan said graciously.

?Tastes like used seaweed TP,? Chris muttered sullenly.

?They can take some getting used to.? Kevin soothed. ?We can make them with more fruit and less vegetable, so long as it doesn't disrupt your diet.? Chris' eyebrows went up, and Morgan's grew duller. She wanted to glare at Kevin, and at Chris; she was so used to fighting him every step of the way, cooking multiple meals before he'd agree to take a bite or opening three sodas before deciding he'd finish one, that she didn't like seeing him get his way so cleanly.

?We want to get you healthy, and a part of that is trying to make you happy,? Kevin said. ?Within reason.? Kevin pulled himself out a chair and sat down. ?But Mrs. Mereta, we met last night when you and your husband checked in. It?s actually, um, I examined your husband while he was still with the Seahawks.?

?I remember. You answered a prayer of mine.? She was kind enough not to mention that the answer hadn't been what she hoped for- or at least that it had come too late. But time had not been kind to her. She was still attractive, but the vibrant woman who had helped argue his case with her then boyfriend was tired, and he knew the look well enough to know it wasn't only from lack of sleep- though that was undoubtedly a factor, as well.

?I've read over Chris' file, and I already know his transfer comes from Dr. Hollerman, which is already one of the best names you could have in your corner. But before I start talking at all about your husband and his myriad problems, this is a colleague of mine. Sort of. If she was just a consulting doctor, then the paperwork you've already filled out would cover any run of the mill specialists I might call in. But she's different, in that she?s a physicist that wants to look into an entirely disparate issue.?

?Physicist?? Morgan asked. ?And you didn't just misspeak, when you meant to say, ?physical therapist??

?No. She's a physicist, monitoring exotic, um,? he gave her a helpless look. ?Doctor Banks, I'm going to let you explain it.?

?Uh, yeah. I'm studying extradimensional particles. Quantum physics basically says that every single possible quantum state exists superpositioned on top of every other, like a stack of transparencies. In quantum decoherence, as the waveform collapses- as those possible quantum states are trimmed away, leaving only the single, reality we observe- that because of the quantum nature of all of those superpositioned states, all of that information from the unobserved possibilities is disbursed- and some of it leaks into the observed reality. You can view it as pollution, if you want, or like energy lost as heat- only in this instance, it's more like it's gained, since it's coming from basically nowhere.?

?Most of the time we're totally unaware of these small bits of data, but I believe your husband represents a porous point where this information is collecting and leaking out from other worlds- or maybe, and probably more likely, really, just different times and places in our same, contiguous spacetime.?

Claire could tell that she was losing Morgan, so she tried to switch from the theoretical to the practical. ?This data points to the existence of wormholes, which could have any number of practical considerations, from cheaper, faster transport to interstellar and possibly intertemporal travel.?

Morgan furrowed her brow. ?That sounds great, and everything, but what does it have to do with my husband, or his care??

The question puzzled Claire, and she had no idea how to approach it. ?Fundamentally,? Kevin said, ?it doesn't. I'll be taking charge of your husband's case for the foreseeable future, and whether or not doctor Banks stays with us, I'll be responsible for his medical care.?

?I sense an unspoken but in there.?

He grinned at her. ?But- and maybe I was just reluctant to openly shill for scientific research- but articles that get press get attention, and attention, drives research dollars and can get talented doctors to focus on your husband's issues instead of somebody else's. This would definitely be a boon to others suffering from cognitive disorders, and may even yield some definitive help for him in the future.?

?So you think I should do it?? Morgan asked. Kevin felt bad for her, because it was just one in a long line of questions, which had steadily wearied her. She had put on weight since he'd seen her last, stress weight, and her hair was now streaked with newly gray hairs.

?Yes. If I weren't convinced there was a potential to help people like your husband, and even potentially, though perhaps less likely, your husband himself, then I would not have let Ms. Banks speak with you.?

Morgan pursed her lips, and furrowed her brow. She didn't want to expose Chris to any new difficulty, but she knew that whatever trouble there was, she'd bear the brunt of it. And she was desperate for even the slimmest hope of helping him. ?Okay,? she said.

?Good,? Kevin said. ?After this, we can get you a release in my office. But you two should pull up a seat,? he said, gesturing to the free chairs to his left. ?Having taken care of that business, I think I'd like to forge ahead, and do the admitting interview. If you want, I can toss Ms. Banks out for this part, but if you want him to have the best chance of benefitting from whatever she might find, I'd say you're better off letting her stay, too.?

?That's fine,? Morgan said.

?Mrs. Mereta, when I saw your husband last I offered my services full time to monitor or rehabilitate him as necessary, and at the time you declined. What's changed??

She wanted to take the question as hostile, to assume he was criticizing her for delaying, maybe even blame her for how much worse he was. But she knew that wasn't his intent; she closed her eyes, and swallowed, to put away her frustration, and as much of her guilt as she could. ?I've put it off every day since then. I was happy to get Chris out of the NFL, but I... I wanted you to be wrong about his prognosis. I wanted,? a tear, hot with her anger, slid down her cheek.

?He didn't want to come,? she said, sliding her fingers into his cavernous palm. He didn't seem to notice. ?But that's not an excuse. He doesn't want to go anywhere anymore; I have to make him go everywhere except the gym in our home. And it shouldn't have mattered; I should have made him come earlier.?

?This isn't your fault, Mrs. Mereta,? Kevin said. ?Your husband's injuries, we did a full work-up last time I examined him. Getting him into treatment, it was a... a precaution. But there's nothing in his condition nor was there then, that makes it seem like admitting him into our program would have staved off his decline.?

Chris' pupils dilated, and his eyes fixed Kevin and glared. Claire watched as the anger in them melted away to sadness, and his eyes started to moisten.

?I know all that,? Morgan said. ?But it's so hard not to, find ways to take the blame. But the last few months, he's been in real pain. We burnt through a few prescriptions for some heavy duty painkillers- the stuff he was on right after his knee surgery- and they didn't even take the edge off.?

?Can you describe the pain?? Kevin asked Chris, but he continued to stare ahead.

?He told me it was like somebody jammed a screwdriver into his skull and was trying to pry bits of brain out with it.?

She hesitated. ?But if you want the one incident that made me come here, it was the day before I called. I don't leave him alone, because he... he hurts himself if I'm not there. But I can't always sleep when he sleeps, so that means sometimes I'm too tired to wake up when he gets out of bed. And I woke up, and couldn't find him, and freaked because I thought maybe he'd wandered off again- gone to the store for milk and forgot halfway there how to get to the store or back home, and just started wandering. I tore through our bedroom pulling on clothes, and I was about to run downstairs to get my car keys when I noticed him in our bathroom. He'd taken a shower- I could tell that from the steamed up mirror and the towel wrapped around his waist. His face was mostly covered in shaving cream, save for a single strip that he'd already brushed away, and when he saw me he smiled from underneath all that foam and I felt happier- lighter- because it was going to be one of his good days. Then I noticed that his safety razor was still in its case on the counter, but his toothbrush holder was empty.?

Knowles laughed out loud, and Claire elbowed him in the stomach. ?No,? Morgan said, ?it's okay. I laughed, too, at first, especially because, with that grin still plastered on his face he raised his toothbrush up again and stroked it down his jaw.? Chris angrily pulled his hand away from hers, and her fingernails clacked violently against the glass table. ?Honey,? she said, her voice immediately deeper and more soothing, ?I wasn't making fun of you.?

His brow knit, then his jaw loosened, and he leaned his head against her cheek. ?I laughed, because in that moment it was funny, and terrifying. and he got mad at me.? She stroked her fingernails alone his scalp at the temples. ?And I laughed some more, because we?d had a rough patch, before that, and I needed to laugh, and so did he. But for some reason, when he started to laugh with me, that was the moment it really came home to me, how he could have reversed it- tried to brush his teeth with his razor, instead. And that was when I couldn?t ignore it anymore; he was hurting, and we needed help.?

?Well I'm glad the both of you are here,? Kevin said. ?First thing on the agenda's going to be some diagnostic tests. There's a chance some of his issues could be down to another, simpler condition. Do you know if he's had an MRI or a CT scan recently??

?I?m here, damnit,? Chris interrupted. ?Don?t talk about me like I?m not.?

?Sometimes it?s hard to tell when you are,? Morgan said wearily, and stroked the hair on the back of his head. He jerked his head away, but she pursued, and scraped her fingernails into his scalp. The muscles on his neck relaxed. ?It's been a while since we've been to the doctor. So the only recent tests are the ones Hollerman did.?

?That's fine,? Kevin said. ?We've got facilities here to cover most needs- and we can beg a scan we don't have if we need to. In a community this size doctors have to share to get along.?

11/03/12

  08:06:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 2054 words  
Categories: The Singularity

The Singularity, Chapter Two, The Doctor

?This is awkward,? the doctor said, and smiled nervously from behind his desk. It was covered in papers, none of them neatly stacked. Instead, it looked like at some point in the now distant past, several chest-high stacks of papers had been organized, and time and occupation had seen them fall and mix and intermingle into a maelstrom of documents that encompassed the desk, like a freeze frame of a hurricane destroying a Kinkos.

?As you can see, I need a secretary, and a housekeeper, and probably a professional assistant for each of them. But like I said, it's awkward. Because I don't remember anything about you coming here.? Claire sunk down in her seat. ?So tell me what you do.?

Claire looked to Knowles, who she assumed would have this kind of speech down patter than she did, but he was hardly paying any attention to either of them, and was instead watching seagulls circling outside the doctor's window. ?Um,? she started, ?I'm a quantum physicist at the University of Oregon, and actually, my desk looks about this bad- and my car, worse. My particular area of expertise is temporal anomalies, specifically, I try to use virtual particles to track them, or rather, the manifestations of virtual particles, since they themselves can't be seen- only their effects on other particles can.?

?So you're studying the wind by watching the movement of the leaves on the trees??

She was surprised; no one had ever explained her research that concisely before. ?Yes. Exactly. And I may steal that description for my paper.?

?That's... really cool. But I'm not sure I understand how that brings you to my little coastal clinic.?

?Well, it shouldn't have. I tracked a manifestation to OHSU. But I missed it by something like five and a half hours.?

?Missed it?? the doctor asked, leaning in and uncrossing his legs.

?My research is cutting edge, like Galileo figuring out it's a heliocentric system after all, Charlie Brown. Even the science undergirding my monitoring equipment is still fairly experimental. So it's kind of like trying to track malaria through mosquito farts- only a million times more subtle.?

?But apparently less impossible than it sounds.?

?I don't think so. I've... had my moments of doubt, of course. I've gone as long as 18 months without so much as a blip on my equipment. But this instance, the one we tracked here, it's... it's a hundred times stronger than any other readings I've ever gotten. Strong enough that it was worth our time to track the patient we think is responsible for it from OHSU to your clinic.?

?So the manifestation is inside one of my patients.? He stroked his chin, and Claire recognized a day?s worth of beard growth catching on his fingers. ?And what are you proposing for this patient?? he asked.

?The monitor's noninvasive. It's monitoring all kinds of phenomena, from vibrations to temperature to electromagnetic radiation- and I don't just mean the visible spectrum. The clearest signal, though, is light.?

?Light??

?I don't know what it is, but it's light, technically in the visible spectrum, but because of the way the manifestations work, it's distorted, and usually gone so fast that it's imperceptible to the human eye. But the light was the first manifestation we ever recorded, and to this day I still think it's the strongest.?

He smiled and asked, ?So you think my patient is emitting light??

?I think your patient is emitting manifestations of all kinds of phenomena- radiation, particle waves, you name the bit of physical minutiae and I think he's shooting it out. But it's in small, so tiny it's beyond-our-ability-to-measure-them amounts. All we can measure is the things they interact with.?

?You're in charge, right? Forgive me if I'm being ageist and competence-ist,? Kevin smiled, and they both turned to Knowles, to gauge if there was any offence taken.

He realized they were both looking at him, and replayed in his head the last thing said. ?Hey,? Knowles complained.

?Completely fair,? Claire said.

?But he isn't secretly your research partner?? Kevin asked.

?Nope,? she said. ?That book you can file in the large print children editions based solely on its cover.? Knowles crossed his arms and relaxed back into his seat to pout, but was immediately engrossed in watching seagulls again.

?I ask,? Kevin said, lowering his voice so as not to bother the younger man, ?because I'd like to take a walk with you, and I?d hate to offend him if that?s the case. It?s Kevin, by the way,? he reached across his desk to shake her hand, but a cascade of papers shook loose in his wake and assaulted her before she could put out her hand to shake it. ?Sorry.?

?That?s okay. And it?s Claire. And my intern can cool his jets in your office, if that's all right. So long as it isn't moving he can amuse himself with his phone.? Kevin turned his head to the side, trying to figure out what she meant. ?Uh, he gets carsick, was what I meant; I'm kind of surprised you can't still smell it on me.?

?I did. It just didn't seem polite to ask,? he said with a smile, which made her unsure if he was kidding or not. ?But if you'll follow me.?

They went through a side door that took them right into the courtyard that overlooked the beach. It was spottled with glass-top tables and metal chairs, some with umbrellas above them. He led her over to a waist-high stone wall that was all that held them back from the steep drop towards the sand. She wondered if this was where he took every researcher who displeased him, so he could shove them over the ledge. She shook the thought out of her head; she always got unnaturally paranoid after rewatching Hitchcock movies.

?This place has a history,: Kevin said, putting his right foot onto the ledge and leaning out to look at the sea. ?I didn't know about the cannon. I chose this place, because... it was where I proposed to my wife.? He touched his wedding band, and smiled wistfully. ?It was the most frustrating weekend we were together. And I remember having the ring and thinking that I should wait for our next vacation, or the next big whatever, because we spent the whole thing fighting, or having the car break down, or having our reservations messed up. And we were on the verge of calling the whole weekend off and driving home when we got a flat. And I yelled at her, because just everything was going wrong, and I hated myself for it, and for the fact that I knew it would be hours before I could man up enough to apologize for snapping at her.?

?I got out, and in my best pants, the ones I planned to drop to one knee on, I kneeled in the rocks and the mud by the side of the road, swearing at the tire iron and at the spare and at my hub cap. And she got out and stood with me in the rain, handing me things, helping however she could. And there was just a moment, after I had the spare on but before I started tightening bolts, where I looked up at her, and realized, horrible as that weekend was, brutal as the ice cold Pacific Northwest rain falling in pea-sized droplets down my collar was- and absolutely ruining this beautiful blue dress she had on- she wanted to be there with me, and I wanted to be there, in that freezing Oregon hell, so long as it was with her. And I had the ring in my pocket, so I gave it to her. On this spot. Well, technically, out by the road. And when she died, I used the money from the settlement to buy this land- not knowing that it was going to have an ocean view when we cleared the trees away to build. It was just, it was serenity, for me, and I wanted it to be that for my patients.?

He turned to her, then, his face hidden by the brilliance of the sun at his back, and asked, ?So what do you want with my patient??

The question caught her off guard, especially juxtaposed with such a personal story. ?Honestly, I don't want anything with your patient. If this were manifesting in a frog on the beach, or in the spare tire in my rental car- I'd be where the instance was, taking readings, and trying to understand the phenomenon.?

Her pursed his lips, thinking. ?Is it dangerous?? he asked.

?I don't think so. But the manifestations I'm studying, they're not at all understood. We don't know what the reaction would be if this were happening inside an inanimate piece of rock, but it's manifesting inside a person. And I couldn't even begin to guess what that might do on a subatomic, maybe sub-particle level. But I'd like to help, lend my expertise to help you figure out if it is dangerous.?

?Okay,? he said.

?Okay??

?Chris Mereta?s the only new patient we have, so I assume you mean him; I mean I'll let you talk to the patient, see if you can get consent.?

?Like that?? she asked in disbelief.

?You could have scared me, told me he was bleeding radiation, or that there were any number of made-up medical complications that would require me, ethically, to comply. Instead, you told me you want to find out if my patient is safe, and as a side benefit to advance scientific understanding, if possible. Those are both goals I agree with. Not that it guarantees anything. The patient, or his family, might object, and then doctor-patient confidentiality kicks in and I'm ethically bound to stonewall you. But I'll let you present your case, just like you did to me.?

Kevin noticed Sam, standing on the other end of the courtyard, bouncing his weight from one knee to the other like he had to pee. ?Could you excuse me for a moment?? he asked, and she nodded, taking advantage of the opportunity to stare out at the water.

Kevin motioned for Sam to come over. Sam nodded to his wrist watch, and Kevin pulled back his sleeve to look at the time. ?Moll,? he mouthed, as Sam said the name out loud. ?It's time for me to pick her up from school.? Sam stared at Claire, but she was hardly paying him any attention, because she was captivated by the ocean view.

Sam nodded to an area further removed from her. ?Are you sure you can handle things here?? Sam asked.

Kevin looked from his burly cousin to the slight woman staring at the waves, and found himself lost in the way her skin caught auburn off the sun's light. ?Yeah,? he said, ?I'll be fine.?

?You sure? Because I think the only reason I'm not escorting her and Pizza the Hutt off the premises is because she has good skin, a nice smile and jeans that make her legs and butt look like a stack of summer sausages.?

?You know better than anyone we've had several researchers from OHSU make extended stays. Most of them weren't pretty to look at, and several of them were men.?

?And none of them were physicists. And even fewer of them were crackpot physicists.? Kevin raised an eyebrow. ?Several of her colleagues have savaged her online; academic snark can get surprisingly petty.?

?Okay, she's pretty. And she seems sweet. And maybe those things influenced my decision. But she might also have interesting or useful things to add to medical and scientific understanding.?

?Or frilly black underthings.?

?Now you're just projecting.?

?I hope not. It'd be good for you to be interested in a woman's underthings again. I just don't want you to make stupid decisions in the pursuit of frilly black underthings.?

?I'll be fine. She's not going to roofie me. And I won't do anything insane like ask her to dinner.?

?That'd be fine,? Sam said. ?Just don't propose until after the third date. No matter how pretty the sunlight looks reflected off her skin.?

?Deal,? said Kevin. ?And tell my daughter I love her.?

?Can't you??

?Never often enough.?

  10:36:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 868 words  
Categories: Whores

Whores .32: Rubicon

I was late. Lost. I was supposed to meet up with a couple of uniforms.

That digging I'd done on the truck had led to a break in the case. It had seemed mostly innocuous, at the time, but together with information gleaned from interrogating a female suspect ?in custody? we had an in.

Campbell used that to flip two in the cell, who claimed to be willing to testify against the rest. That?s where I was headed, to take them into custody. It was a win, but nothing related to gender crimes really felt like a win.

I could have easily pulled up a GPS map on my phone to get me to the officers' location, at least presuming they'd finally gotten to the area, but when I said I was lost I meant as much spiritually as geographically.

I'd seen pictures, both of the man we were taking in, and the woman he was bringing along with him. From the picture he had of her, it seemed they were intimate. But stranger, unless I was off my nut, the man was the same man I'd punched a few days ago, and in the light of day I was certain he was the same man whose culpability in a murder I'd helped erase a few weeks before that. It seemed I'd risked life and limb for absolutely nothing.

That's when I saw her, the girl I was going to meet. She looked as lost as I felt. And then I realized she wasn't lost- she'd been drugged. ?Excuse me, miss?? I said politely. She seemed happy to have found someone and eagerly came over to me. I gently took hold of her hand, and placed my thumb at the base of hers, in case I needed to use a pressure hold to restrain her. ?I don't want you to freak out, but please listen to me. I'm with the police, and I'm on my way to take you into custody.? She tried to struggle, but whatever she'd been given was strong enough that she couldn't break her hands free from mine without the hold.

That same impulse crept up in my head, the one that had led me to delete the footage at the hospital. Though I'm not sure that's true; if I'd been following procedure, I would have applied a pressure hold first, then cuffed her. But it wasn't just procedure I was disobeying; I couldn't help but feel like I had been on the wrong side of this from the beginning.

?What if neither of us went?? I asked.

?Huh??

?Where I'm supposed to arrest you. What if we don't go?? She was confused. ?Say we don't go to this 'Evergreen Terrace' and we go someplace else. Like where your friends are hiding. And warn them.?

?It's too late,? she said sullenly, though I could tell from her eyes that that had been her plan all along.

I smiled at her naïveté. ?Despite what people on the force might say, gender crime is still a small potato thing. I know for a fact there was an armed robbery that basically stole the gender crime arrest's thunder. All of the officers we had allocated got pulled into that response. There's a good chance your friends are still okay.?

Her eyes lit up, and she reached for her phone. I stopped her from dialing. ?Tech will have cut most of the phones remotely; the ones they left open will be monitored. And if the techs suspect the raid's been blown, they'll send in SWAT. And trust me, you don't want to see those bastards in action.?

?I have;? she said. ?I lived in the Old Maid.?

?Christ. I didn't think there were any survivors.?

?There was at least the one,? Lisa said. ?But why are you helping us??

?Because I'm a man?? I asked. ?This isn?t a gender issue. It?s about how you?re supposed to treat people. It?s about what?s right.?

?That?s what a lot of men say,? she said, bitterly.

?But they mean something else entirely. I?m not saying there aren?t moral implications; I don?t like abortion, but I can?t imagine anybody who does. And I like the concept of forcing women to do what I say with their bodies and their lives a whole lot less. But you?re right. This isn?t my fight. Not really. I?m a tourist, here, in something that affects each and every one of you, daily. I've put my career, and, and maybe my life, on the line, but we aren't in the same boat, no matter how long I might try to doggy paddle beside it. Because the truth is I can blend back into the crowd of men, just by walking away. It?s not like you can leave your uterus hanging on the coat rack before you step outside.?

?But I want to help. Right now. There might still be time to help your friends. And if there isn't... I can play it off as me just bringing you by to see if we could help. You don't even have to tell me where they are- I'm not even really asking you to trust me, yet.?

?Okay,? she said.

11/02/12

  01:57:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 2643 words  
Categories: The Singularity

The Singularity, Chapter One, The Physicist

Knowles adjusted the rearview mirror to look down Claire's shirt. ?I've seen Goonies,? she said, adjusting it back, ?and if you can't behave yourself, you'll be riding the rest of the way in the back seat.?

?I get carsick in the backseat. And I was just affording you an opportunity to reference that beloved movie, television show or novel from your childhood.? He smiled, taking the next turn a little too wide. Claire dug her fingernails into the armrest molded into the passenger door, but the forest roads were almost entirely empty, and there wasn't a semi waiting around the bend to greet them, so she relaxed.

?Nice try,? she told him. He had the acne of a much younger man, and the paunch of a man much older, and Claire might have found the combination endearing, if she didn't find his overtures so overbearing.

She set her fingers back down in the home position on her laptop, even though she had no idea how to begin describing her research in scientific and non crazy person terms.

That was why, invasive though his voice was, she was thankful when he continued to distract her. ?You know, you could always drive. It's really pretty.?

?You're driving because you get carsick,? she said, looking out her window.

?Only when I try to read. Or look at my phone.?

?Which you wouldn't stop doing.? She took in the speckled sea of greens and browns of trees and underbrush barely contained on the side of the road, and she found herself imagining it was a wave, and she could practically feel the dewy coolness the next moment when it crashed down on her.

?We could tape my eyes shut,? Knowles suggested, bringing her back into the overly warm car.

?Wouldn't be the first part of you I'd tape shut...,? she muttered, and lowered the heat blasting out of the vents, ?and that would probably only make you carsick again.? She brushed a strand of strawberry hair from her forehead, and tucked it behind her ear.

?Yeah,? he admitted. ?Probably.?

Something about his immediate lack of forethought gave her reason for concern over their plans. ?You made sure you cleared our little trek with the head of the clinic, right??

?Uh...?

She nearly dumped the laptop off her knees. ?What's 'uh' mean??

?It means as your unpaid intern, sometimes I, uh... don't remember to do everything I was supposed to.?

She sighed in frustration, trying to shove her head through her headrest, and finally resigned herself to not getting any more work done, and closed up her laptop. ?If this trip is a bust, you're paying for the gas home.?

?I'm not sure how you think you'd accomplish that. You can't dock my pay- since I'm not paid, and as a college student I actually make negative money every month.?

She ignored him. ?So we're going to show up just to get shot down. Terrific. Maybe we should turn around, now; we might be able to make it back home in time for me to catch a Daily Show rerun.?

?We're like ten minutes outside town. And you're a pretty girl- for a physicist. I bet, you show up, bat your eyes, and there's no way they could say no. Who says 'no' to a pretty girl??

?First off, it's doctor semi-respected physicist pretty girl, and second, that never actually happens to me- being positively discriminated against for being a pretty girl.?

?Huh.? They returned to uncomfortable silence, and Claire was on the verge of being lulled to sleep by the thrum of the engine and the hypnotic blur of colors by the road when they passed a sign indicating that Cannon Beach was only six miles away. It reminded Knowles of a way to get back on her good side. ?Cannon Beach has a pretty cool history. The area was originally named Ecoli or something by Lewis and Clark. The city changed the name to Cannon Beach when a cannon was discovered here, they think from a shipwreck on the bar near the mouth of the Columbia River- which is called the Graveyard of the Pacific.?

?So this is what you were doing instead of making arrangements with the clinic staff so we didn't get bounced the moment we showed up??

?Hey. If you remember, you asked me to do some research on the local area so we wouldn't sound like uninterested out of towners, and to call ahead. And I did both. I just never follow-up called ahead to make sure they were cool with it.?

?Make sure they were... God, you left a message? You didn't even talk to a living human being??

?I thought I was, at first. The message just droned on, and on. I think I talked to it for three minutes before I figured out that he wasn't just constantly interrupting me. But I left a detailed message, and your number. I kind of figured, when you told me we were on for the research trip, that they'd called you back.?

She wanted to be upset with him. But it all seemed like an innocent enough series of misunderstandings. And the only other possibility was that he'd nefariously planned the entire screw up, just to share a hotel room with her in a secluded Oregon beach town- and that thought skeeved her too much to contemplate.

?The spot where the clinic is was nicknamed the 'cannonade,' because when they were first clearing the area they found another cannon from that same wreckage, in the hills overlooking the beach. They think it must have been deposited there by the Good Friday earthquake in '64- or by the accompanying tsuname, at any rate. The cannon's in a museum in town, but it's... well, it's just one of the cooler places you could build a rehab clinic.?

Claire turned her head with one eyebrow raised, and had to hold it longer than she wanted since his eyes were focused on the road. ?Not that kind of rehab,? he said when he finally noticed. ?Like a physical rehabilitation clinic. It's kind of pricy. Most of the patients are old athletes, with a bias towards football players, and since it specializes in traumatic brain injuries.?

?Like Chris Mereta,? Claire said, squinting at the horizon. ?And we're sure this is where he's headed??

?One of my dorm mates had a girl doing her residency at OHSU on the hook, and, you know, presuming she hasn't realized that she's just his favorite drunk dial and is circuitously trying to screw with him by screwing with us, um, yeah, she said he transferred here from there.?

?I still can't believe I missed him. I've been tracking these kinds of manifestations-?

?It's hot when you start to talk like we're in Ghostbusters.?

?I will douse you with cold water.? She realized he wasn't just being difficult; he probably hadn't finished reading all of the documentation she gave him. ?We're tracking virtual particles, which don't actually exist, but which manifest interactions with our real, physical world. These manifestations are tell-tales of what I think are worm-holes- but not just the garden variety wormholes that dot 4 dimensional existence- they're part of a network of wormholes that connect various points in time and space together in a single, semi-traversable moment. It opens up the potential for limited time travel, at least to pass information between times.?

?The singularity. I know.? She blinked at him. ?I read the executive summary of your thesis. And skimmed the table of contents.?

?I hate that you were my best candidate for this internship.?

?I was your only candidate,? he said smugly.

?That's true. But I was the only teacher who would give you an extra credit to be able to keep your financial aid.?

?Also true. And depressing. I vote we skip this whole science thing, and get a gallon of ice cream and sadness binge in our hotel room while working on our social skills.?

?My problem isn't social skills,? Claire said, taking as much offense as she could at being lumped in with Knowles- even though she knew by virtue of them both being in that car together they deserved to be, ?my problem is that I just told you I believe in time travel. Not as a theoretical possibility. But in its reality. And I've been hounding manifestations around the country like a... like a psychotic tornado chaser.?

?Hey, Twister was- actually, for a movie about tornados, and the crazy people who chase tornados, it was actually pretty meh- which makes it kind of disappointing.?

?But my point, which I'm pretty sure entirely eluded you, was that I'm an intellectual joke to my colleagues. An ice cream pity party isn't going to fix that, though maybe getting myself some useful and maybe even verifiable data would have.?

?Sorry,? Knowles said, and for a moment she felt something like affection for him. The moment didn't last long before he combatively blurted out, ?But will it be verifiable? This singularity we're chasing, it's actually inside Mereta. And from what you've said in the past, they tend to be, uh,?

?Transient. So that instance of the singularity isn't likely to be verifiable. But if we can collect data about this instance, we can craft a strong enough hypothesis that it can be tested and retested by people who find other instances. Or, at least, so goes the theory. Even if I'm right about everything else, it's possible that the way these instances manifest, no two may be anything alike. I mean, the physics don't change drastically, so the manifestations should be similar, but we're talking the absolute margins, here, they're barely causing ripples in our world, so even the slightest changes could completely alter measurable effects.?

His phone beeped to life from the dashboard, and displayed two red dots over a map of the city as Knowles drove past a sign that said, ?Now Entering Cannon Beach.? He reached for his phone, but Claire slapped his hand away. ?It's a rental, and I'm not going to help you clean vomit out of it a second time this trip.?

?Okay. But that alert, it means we're in town, and have to make a choice. Should we go straight to the clinic, or stop at our hotel??

She pondered, and said, ?Clinic. Definitely. Cause when they shoot us down, we might be able to get a partial refund on our hotel room if we haven't checked in yet- if I pretend to cry on the phone.? He reached for the phone, and she slapped his hand again.

?Well, unless you know the way there by heart, one of us is going to have to pick up my phone.?

?Then I'll navigate,? she leaned forward, and gave a little grunt as the gymnastics necessary to not drop her computer and to reach the phone made it hard to breathe. ?You just focus on not plowing over any pedestrians and not exploding oddly seafood-smelling hork onto the driver's side floor mats. Possibly not in that order.?

She swiped her fingers over the screen, and stared intently. ?So?? He asked. ?The suspense is killing me. Where to??

?Just follow this road. Eventually we'll be taking a right once we get to the other side of the city, and then it looks like more winding, hilly roads.?

The road through Cannon Beach rolled over hills, wending past bakeries and saltwater taffy shops. The main stretch was largely a tourist trap, speckled with mom and pop restaurants and shops.

At the edge of town, Knowles turned up the hill, and immediately their rental car slowed to a crawl, and the engine complained loudly about the strain. He popped it down into a lower gear, and the engine quieted. ?This reminds me of every rollercoaster ever,? he said, ?where there's the long, click-clacking hill you're dragged up to get enough momentum for the actually rolling part of the coaster. I hope there's a loop de loop.?

?You get carsick, but ride rollercoasters?? she asked, astonished.

?I've never gotten carsick on a rollercoaster. Of course, I've never tried to text on a coaster- I'm afraid my phone would go flying.?

She wanted to take that for a suggestion, and throw his phone out the window, but it was the only thing keeping them from being completely lost- not that his map app was helping much on that account. ?Where the hell is it?? she asked impatiently.

?Do I look like Google maps to you?? he shot back.

?You kind of resemble one of their vans, maybe.?

He didn't have time to complain, because the forest cut suddenly out, and Knowles pulled their car into a gravel driveway. He stopped in front of a heavy metal gate. Claire got out of the car first, drawn by the way the lawn seemed to glow with reflected sunlight, and the way that the clear, blue sky framed the eccentric architecture of the building, combining an art deco facade with a baroque tower.

The manicured property stretched several acres, and was rimmed on three sides with a wrought iron and rounded stone fence that culminated in the gate in front of them. The fourth side was dominated by a steep, rocky cliff punctuated with bursts of green trees pushing fragile tendrils out from the rocks, overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Claire pressed her face into the metal gate, and checked the corner of her mouth to be certain she wasn't drooling. ?I would let Bruce Wayne do me in the uncomfortably warm batsuit to live in that Manor.?

?It's not that impressive,? Knowles stared, ?you know, unless you're into palatial chateaus with a gorgeously high overlook of a beautiful beach on the ocean, with that big, cool, weird rock jutting up out of the sand... okay, yeah, the Batman thing you said, for me, too. Hell, I'd let him make me his Robin- tights and all.?

?That image is never getting out of my head, is it??

?Or mine,? the deep, resonating bass of a barrel-chested man said from behind them. Claire spun around, defensively curling her fingers around the bars on the gate as the man neither of them had seen stepped closer to them. ?This is private property, which I'm going to have to escort the both of you off of.? The man was taller than Knowles by six inches, and heavier by fifty pounds. But he carried most of the extra weight in his belly, and in combination with the beige shirt and pants he wore, it made him look like a cartoon sheriff.

?Wait, wait,? Knowles said, squirming out from between from the larger man and the gate. ?We're researchers. We called in advance.?

?Researchers?? the man asked suspiciously. Claire bobbed her head enthusiastically. ?Give me a second.? He crammed his hand into a breast pocket and it came out with a phone. He dialed it, and it rang for a second, before it was picked up. ?Kevin?? he asked. ?Caught a couple of weirdoes peeping through the front gate.?

?Press? Or the passing-by curious?? Claire heard from where she stood.

The man, whose engraved brass name tag said, ?Sam? on it, seemed to recognize that she'd heard the other man on the line, turned away and covered the phone in his large hand. ?They claim to be researchers. A pretty lady and a fat kid.?

?I remember a voice mail, from, uh, a physicist?? Kevin said. ?Crap, did I ever respond to it?? Sam could hear papers shuffling around in the background. ?Um. You know what? You can bring them up to my office. I'm sure they're harmless. And if they're not, I'll let you rough up the fat one on the way out.?

?Deal,? Sam said, smiling at Knowles. The intern shifted uncomfortably under his gaze.

  01:46:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 160 words  
Categories: The Singularity, Announcements

NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month (November to non-authors) is upon us once again. Just like last year, I'll be doing it all over again. And also just like last year, I'll be publishing daily updates to this blog as I go.

And I feel like I have to admit something: I cheated. I started The Singularity early, by about 10,000 words. I wanted to be able to present a slightly more polished version of the story; last year I proved to myself I could more than keep up that pace. This year, I want to keep up that pace, while presenting a more polished experience.

Updates should appear within a day of midnight the day they're written- potentially sooner. I'm going to just publish chapters, so some updates may be shorter than others. But I'm looking forward to entertaining myself, and hopefully some of you, too.

(Can I count these words towards my 1667 daily quota? I won't tell NaNoWriMo if you don't).

  10:35:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 595 words  
Categories: Lunacy

Lunacy: Movie Night

?Just to be clear, who are we supposed to blame for this idea, when this goes tits up?? Clod asked, hunkering down in her seat on the couch.

?Mmmmm, tits,? Rica said, ?we remembered to pick something with tits, didn't we?? She buried herself against Alisa?s shoulder. 

?The Movie Night was Paul and my idea, and well,? Levy said, ?we had narrowed it down to 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Showgirls... but Paul cast the deciding vote for Kubrick.?

?Well, if it's Kubrick there's got to be nipples in it,? Rica said. ?Right??

?This isn't Eyes Wide Shut dirty old man Kubrick, or even cheeky Clockwork Orange Kubrick.?

?So, no boobies??

?No,? Levy said, ?no boobies.?

 ?There'll be plenty of time for Showgirls,? Martin told her. ?Underrated Verhoeven.?

?Then why didn't you vote for it?? Levy asked.

?Because 2001 just felt more... appropriate.?

?And I just figured we've got two more years together to be completely awkward around one another,? Paul said, shifting uncomfortably from the couch, ?like, just to take this as a for instance, sporting an erection while flanked by female crewmates.?

?Yeah, how did you get a seat on the couch??

?Clod saved it for me.?

?Of course,? Levy said.

?And I won't judge your dude-erection, so long as you don't begrudge me my girly-boner,? Rica said.

?That's sweet,? Paul said.

?So we can watch Showgirls?? she asked with a bouncy quality to her voice.

?Next time. I promise, you have my vote.?

?Wait,? Levy said. ?None of us have anywhere we have to be for another year, right?? Paul wanted to tell him bed, since they wanted to stay on a schedule, but he bit his tongue. ?Why not marathon it? A 2001/Showgirls double-feature.? 

?Wait,? Clod said. ?So we're starting with a movie that opens on what is basically a big black penis metaphor, and then we're following that with a boobtacular titstravaganza.?

?That sounds pretty equal opportunity to me,? Martin said, crunching on some burnt corn.

They watched the Kubrick movie first. After the credits started to roll, Levy muted the sound. ?What the fuck did I just watch?? Levy asked.

?I thought you'd seen 2001 before,? Paul said.

?Never stone-cold sober. And... I think it made more sense when I was stoned. Wait... I think I remember reading the book, too.?

?Was the ending to that any clearer? Paul asked.

?I don't know. I can't remember.?

?How could you read Arthur Clark high?? Alisa asked.

?I was twenty-one,? Levy said, ?I could do anything high.? 

?Aren't you only twenty-six?? Alisa asked.

?Five years is practically a lifetime to a twenty-something.? 

?So,? Rica said, ?Showgirls??

?I don't know if I can do it,? Levy said. ?Watching 2001, it was like the ending was about creating babies. I'm not sure I can enjoy the making part of that process now.?

?Look,? Paul said, cuing up the next video, ?if you haven't changed your mind by the end of Elizabeth Berkley's first stage dance, you can go to bed, okay??

?This isn't some kind of trick, is it??

?I'm not a headshrinker,? Paul said. ?You want to go to bed, go for it. You want to have a minor mental breakdown because Kubrick was an inscrutable director- it's your dime.?

?Waitaminute... Berkley doesn't get onstage for a full half hour. You did trick me. Bastard.?

?Only you, and maybe Speed, would know that off the top of your head.?

?You?re just jealous of my encyclopedic knowledge of nude trivia- trivial though it may be.?

?You got me. You staying??

?No guarantees. But I?ll wait for Berkley.?

10/27/12

  10:34:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 930 words  
Categories: Whores

Whores .31: Here to Paternity

Lisa was excited to be working with Clint again. And for the first time she was in his apartment. They'd been seeing each other for half a month, but he'd never taken her out of the Shelter. She'd fantasized about being alone with him in a place where her dozen roommates weren't likely to walk in on them, where she could scream his name as loud as she wanted. ?What does Anna have us doing?? she asked, unable to keep the exuberance out of her voice.

?In a minute,? he said, ?I made you some anise tea,? he said. The light caught his eye, swollen and purple.

?I didn?t want to ask in front of the others, but what happened to your eye?? she asked.

?Ran my mouth off to the wrong guy in a bar,? he said.

He led her into his small kitchen, and poured from a kettle into her mug. She took it from him and smelled its vapors. It was fruity, and reminded her of her mother. She sipped at it, ignoring how hot it was because she wanted to taste it.

Clint was focused on business. ?After congress repealed the PPACA, it became legal to gender-rate health insurance again. Basically it's the same as everything: women get charged more for cars, mortgages, and insurance; everybody basically charges more for women because they can. In that mold, Rothschild insurance decided to put the balance of all of its cost increases on its female customers- despite the fact that they only account for roughly half of the increases- probably less, since they don?t cover ?women?s services? but still pay for the little blue pill. But they do it simply because they can. Senior management even put it into a memo. I have a leaked, digital copy, but it's not an official version, just the text dumped into an email.?

?We'll need to break into their offices. They don't keep anything on the cloud- only on their intranet. So their memos, including the damning ones, are only stored locally. So we need to physically take their hard drives out of their servers.?

She finished the last of the tea in her cup and set the mug down on the stove. She felt dizzy, and faint. ?When are we going?? He didn't even try to respond. ?And if we're going some other place, why are we here??

He sighed. ?I don't want to lie to you anymore. Please don't hate me.?

?In my experience, only people who've done something deserving of hate ask not to be hated.?

?That's fair,? he said. ?Remember how we took my truck to the crisis center? It was caught on a traffic cam- I was. And apparently it wasn't the first time. A detective from gender crimes came here. She was... she was almost nice, in an utterly terrifying kind of way. But she told me that we had a mole in the Shelter. The traffic cam footage was just corroboration. See, the courts aren't very friendly to undercover spies- especially ones who don't work for the cops and are testifying in part for immunity.?

?But I presented an opportunity. Because there was evidence linking me to several incidents, I make for a more reliable witness.?

?You didn't.?

?I didn't have a choice. They know where I live. But more to the point, they could get to my daughter, and my ex-wife. I wish I were braver, or nobler. But... I asked for the best I thought I could get. You.?

?Excuse me?? Lisa asked.

?As part of my plea agreement, I wanted immunity for you, too.?

?We have to warn the others.?

?It's too late. The cops are on their way there, already. And they're on their way here, too. I wanted us taken separately. You know Anna, and Mae... they'll put up a fight, and the fucking cops, they're as likely as not to just shoot everyone not in a uniform in reply.?

Lisa was finding it harder to concentrate. ?What?d you do to me??

?You?ve been drugged. I didn?t want the cops to hurt you. And I knew you?d resist, if you could.?

Lisa was desperate, but she still felt bad for mumbling, ?I'm pregnant.?

?You can't... we've only been sleeping together a few of weeks.? But she could tell already how desperately he wanted it to be true. Which was why she didn't have to convince him; he convinced himself. ?I can protect you.?

?I couldn?t love you,? she told him. ?Not after this. And our child was conceived on the basis of a lie.?

?It wasn't. I didn't know how close they were to me. If I had, I never would have gotten close to you.?

But Lisa kept hammering him. ?What kind of life could she have? What kind of world would we be handing to her??

His eyes spilled over with tears at the thought of another daughter he wouldn't be able to know. ?You should go. Before they get here. I'll- just go.?

Lisa turned to leave. She wanted to say goodbye; she had trouble truly blaming him- but she couldn't separate her anger at being betrayed, either.

?Are you really?? he asked. Then his expression changed. ?No. Don?t tell me. I want it to be true. So I?ll believe it. Go.?

?But the police??

?I?ll hold them off.?

?What does that mean??

He opened his desk drawer, and pulled out a blued 1911. ?It means they're expecting me to come unarmed. In the confusion it'll be hours before they realize you're in the wind. Now leave.?

10/26/12

  10:33:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 593 words  
Categories: Lunacy

Lunacy: Blood Fued

Both men stared at each other, and when the needle pierced his flesh, Martin tried not to give Paul the satisfaction of wincing. ?Ground asked me to talk to the two of you,? Martin said, looking stern.

?The two of us?? Clod asked innocently.

?And Levy.?

?Fuuuuck,? she said, as Paul pushed a small square bandage over the puncture in his arm, removing the vial of blood.

?Exactly. They want you to tone down the swears- and stop flipping off the cameras. We know we don't broadcast live, but still, it gives the editors conniptions when they have to edit around things like that.?

?We'll try, boss,? Clod said, saluting him with her middle finger.

As soon as she'd put the finger away, Paul began speaking into the camera above the bed. ?Human blood is 80% water, and water is weakly magnetic. If you've ever overfilled a cup, or spilled water, you'll notice it doesn't completely flatten out. That's because water molecules organize themselves into sheets, forming a barrier that prevents further spread. Blood does this, too, and because it isn't competing with the same amount of gravity, a wound is easier to close in space.? Paul removed the bandage, and moved his hands away, so one of the cameras mounted on the wall could see that the bleeding had already stopped. ?Thanks, Martin.?   

Paul walked across the room, where the petri dishes, an incubator and a microscope occupied a bench. ?A lot of the experiments we're doing involve humans in microgravity. They're performing similar tests on the Moon, but the gravity is different. It's possible 1/6 gravity isn't enough, but what we have is just right.?

?Or it's possible there's no difference whatsoever, and anything this far away from a full g is bad for us,? Clod added.

?Exactly. So we're keeping an eye out on all of our bodily functions. This will be the longest mission in human history. Valeri Polyakov spent 438 days, roughly half the length of our mission, on Mir, in a mostly 0 gravity environment without major medical issues. Unless Polyakov is an outlier, we can expect good health at least until we reach Mars.?  

?But aside from wanting to know how the human body reacts in this different environment, we also want to know how other animals react. Specifically, we have a series of representative microorganisms we're growing. We have viruses, bacteria, single-celled fungi, plankton, planaria, protists, and I'm missing one,? Paul said, snapping his finger.

?Archaea,? Clod helped him.

?Thank you. We monitor their resource usage and growth rates, and periodically check their genetic material. We want to see if less gravity leads to more rapid genetic mutation.?

?Ahem,? Clod said.

?Right. We received some letters of concern, and to clarify, we don't use harmful strains of the microorganisms we're testing because while we're extremely cautious about our containment protocols, we have limited medical equipment and supplies on the ship- so we wouldn't want to blow through our antibiotics dealing with an infection we caused.?

?This is only a handful of the science that's being explored on the Perseus. I hope you've enjoyed your time on the ship with us.?

?You done?? Clod asked after a few moments of silence.

?Think so, why??

?Because I have a reverse wedgie, but I didn't want to excavate it out and ruin another precious shot- especially when you were on such a roll.?

?I'm done,? Paul said, turning towards the microscopes with the vial of Martin's blood, ?by all means, fish it out.?

Clod adjusted her pants. ?God, that's heaven,? she said.

10/20/12

  10:32:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 1416 words  
Categories: Whores

Whores .30: Punch Drunk

I showed at work for the last few hours. I hadn?t slept right. But at shift change, Candi came in, all smiles. She told me something big was happening in the morning, that she was going to finish setting it up, but all of us were going to be involved. It made me worry she knew about the hospital, what I?d done, that she?d worked it out despite my interference, so she was going to have her arrest and a complicit cop to boot.

What made that worse, what made me so much more certain she was preparing to crucify me, was she made no attempt to acknowledge the last time I?d seen her. Not a sly smile, or a sparkle in her eye. She was already trying to divorce herself from me. I could feel it.

Not that I wanted to rehash what happened. It made sick and excited at the same time. I hated myself nearly as much as I thought I hated her- only the one was starting to feel realer than the other.

I had a lousy night, after that. I came damn close to turning the footage from the hospital over several times. Really, the only reason I didn't, is I realized that too much time had passed for even the most convoluted of explanations: ?somehow I dumped the most important couple seconds of footage to my phone without realizing it before reporting that the footage was ruined.?

But I'd come to grips with it. And with a little perspective, I thought I'd done the right thing- even if I freaked out a little afterwards and considered undoing it. Well, okay, I hadn't entirely come to grips with it, because I realized if anybody from the police tech unit looked at those recorders, they'd probably be able to tell what I'd done.

So I was still more than a little freaked out. And that's why, against what would probably qualify as my better judgment, I was sitting in a bar, soaking my troubles.

I'd just killed my first scotch, and was still chest-high in my own bullshit, when I felt a man's hand on my shoulder.

?What're you drinking?? he asked.

?Scotch, on the rocks.?

?Two,? the man said to the bartender, sitting down on the seat next to me. ?I figure a drink either buys me sympathy, or works as a down-payment for the seat I'm about to chase you out of.? He was already half in the bag, and I wondered if he?d been chased out of the last bar he?d been in. But there was something familiar about him, I felt I knew him, or maybe I just knew that look in his eyes.

?If I knew you were buying sympathy, I'd have specified top shelf.? He grinned, but I was having trouble pulling myself away from the haze of liquor and my own troubles enough to really listen.

?I figure I'm sympathetic enough, once I get into it. But what are you drinking for?? he asked.

?Excuse me??

?You're alone. But you're paying twice here what it would cost you to drink that scotch at home. So why aren't you home??

?Job stress,? I told him, but maybe it was that I didn?t want to be alone, either. ?And I work enough out of the home that it doesn't feel like escaping it, drinking there.?

?That's fair,? he said, and sipped from his scotch. ?But sympathy's a two-way street. You want a sympathetic ear, I have a couple- and I'm deep enough into scotches myself that I likely won't recall anything sensitive come the morning.?

?I'm good,? I told him.   

?Well, the invitation's open, if you change your mind.? He drained his scotch and motioned for the bartender to bring two more. ?Have you got kids??

?Nope,? I told him, and took a drink.

?I don't know if it's the kind of world worth bringing more into,? he admitted to me. ?But I have one.? He showed me a picture on his phone. ?That's the picture I show people.? He pushed a button, and the picture changed. ?And this is the last time I saw her.? It was the same girl, shrieking, her face contorted in grief, being held back by a bailiff in a courtroom. ?Her whore of a mother got full custody. I don't care- I don't- that she got custody. The life I live, now, I don't want to put my daughter in any kind of jeopardy. But she forbids visitation. I haven't even seen my daughter in two years. She's walking, by now. Talking. Christ, she might have said 'dada' by now; or she might have asked, ?where's dada?'? He wiped at his face with his forearm, pretending it was for sweat, but between how long he kept it there and the way he sniffled, it was clearly all show.

He emerged a bit more composed. ?I miss my daughter. But the reason I?m so fucked up over this is we had a son, too. Just a few months old,? he looked down and touched his belly. ?She killed him. Not for any other reason than to spite me. He died because she wasn?t comfortable with the world I wanted to live in. I?m fighting, to this damn day, to live in a world where she can have the right to make that choice, but I never, for the life of me thought she?d make that choice without me.?

?What kind of a bitch does that? I should have told her sooner, sure, what I do, where I'd go. But... there was another girl. Earlier in my life. She was the reason I started doing this, and I knew my wife... she would have felt like what I was doing, doing it because of another woman, was me being unfaithful. But I was doing it for her, too. Not that she was ever anything but an ungrateful fucking whore!?

He was a loud-mouthed son of a bitch. Some of the things he was upset about made sense; but I'd had a lousy few days, and I was getting tired of this kind of shit. That, and there was at least one other cop in the bar with me, and if he kept running his mouth he was going to attract his attention. So I belted him across the face.

He was drunk enough he didn't even register taking the punch, just sat on the floorboards, dazed, blinking. Having been there before, I imagined his thought processes were slowly working through whether or not he'd fallen off the stool, and whether or not he should try and play it off as a joke to save face. I knew it could be whole minutes before he put together the hurt in his cheek with his fall.   

I killed the last of my scotch on the rocks, not paying any attention to the way the ice violently smacked me in the face. Then I scooped the ice into my hand and left.

The man I?d recognized as a cop followed me out of the bar, and I fumbled for my badge, figuring that'd go a ways to explaining myself. ?Harmon?? he asked, and I realized I didn't need it. ?Hell of a punch you threw. But I can't help but wonder why you didn?t do the civilized thing, like flash your badge or pull your gun. Laying a guy out like that, it isn't civilized.?

?I'm not sure he was, either.? He was going to say something else, probably about getting a cab home, but one pulled up to the corner in front of me, so he turned around and went back inside.

But the real reason I hadn't used my authority to shut that drunk up, was I had never been comfortable with the coercion inherent in that kind of conflict resolution. You put a badge or a gun in somebody's face, and you're threatening their whole damn world, because an arrest can screw them- especially now that even a job slinging burgers comes with a morality contract.

But punching a guy for being an ass, that still feels democratic to me; maybe like a fractured knuckle, too, from the way it throbbed.

It wasn't until I was sitting in the back of that cab, rubbing scotch-soaked ice on my knuckles, that I wondered if that drunk might have been the man from the tape. Couldn't have been, I thought. The world wasn't that strange.

10/19/12

  10:31:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 494 words  
Categories: Lunacy

Lunacy: Birds and Bees

?I?m a little surprised,? Paul said, gesturing to Rica and Alisa?s doors.

?About what??

?Well, if Ken?s rabid anti-coupling dogma sunk in at all, I?m surprised you didn?t spray the ladies down with a firehose the moment we left the Station.?

?Ken?s not up here. Ken?s never been up here. I ever tell you I did a stint on the ISS??

?No.?

?I was married. There was a problem with the Soyuz that was supposed to carry our replacements- bureaucratic, not mechanical. By the end of week 3 we were staring down the barrel of one of the longest stays in the ISS?s history. Suffice to say, I wasn?t as married on that station as I should have been.?

?But in space, the isolation? people cleave. They want familiarity, and comfort. So they cleave. It?s in our nature- it?s even in mine. But I don?t have to tell you. Your ex, it?s pretty plain what happened there. It?s even plain that you haven?t figured out how to feel about it. You achieved the connection you craved, but it gnawed a hole in you, and you?re not sure anymore what- or likely who- belongs there. And I understand that- better than most.?

?But this thing between Alisa and Rica, it was a fling. I made a note of it on the Lunar Station, and if it had continued onto the Perseus, I was going to sit them both down to have the talk.?

?Birds and the bees??

?Schtupping coworkers in a closed environment. But I?ve kept tabs on their comm positions. Alisa?s in her room, and Rica?s in hers.

Paul knocked on the door. ?Rica?? There was no response. ?Medical override, Wesley, Oscar Bravo Tango,? he said, and the door beeped and slid open. The room was empty.

?How?? Martin asked.

?Well, there?s two options, really,? Paul said with a smile. ?The first, involves the engineer responsible for keeping the ship?s sensors functioning altering the way they function.? Paul picked up Rica?s clothing from her bed, ?The other option?s sexier.?

?Streaking? So she?s just running down the hall naked? God, if Levy ever found out?? 

?Him you might need the full birds and bees talk for. As the ship?s doctor, I wish you luck with that.?

Paul turned to walk away. ?Come along,? Martin said, ?moral support.? Martin stood in front of Alisa?s door. ?Open comm. I officially do not care what the two of you do. But you will keep your clothes on in the common areas. Close comm.? Martin turned back towards Paul. ?Set in the gym??

?Only if we can-?

?I?m not going to let you lay on top of me while I bench press; you?re nearly as bad as Clod.?

?Come on. If we team-repped I bet we could max out the RED.?

?Just no. But normal exercise??

?Eh, why not? I?ve got another hour before I have to start doctoring.?

?And I?ve got another hour or so before I get sleepy.?

10/13/12

  10:30:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 1141 words  
Categories: Whores

Whores .29: Pill to Swallow

Lisa's arms were heavy from the big grocery bags. Her heart was still racing from the confrontation at the grocery store, so she was distracted when she walked into the kitchen. Had she heard the muted arguing from the hall she probably would have just turned around and went to the TV room.

But Clint was also there, caught in the hypnotically awkward cloud of angry murmurs. She saw an opportunity, and whispered to him, ?I spent the day with Mae.?

It took a moment for her meaning to register. "Oh no," he said.

"Oh yes."

"I should have told you."

"Probably. But this was funnier- on a day when I think we both needed the laugh."

?Rough day?? he asked, taking one of the grocery bags from her.

?Mary?s already been pushed through the court system,? Jezebel said to Anna, her voice rising to the point that they couldn't pretend not to hear it anymore.  

?And getting rougher,? Lisa said. Mae walked into the room triumphantly carrying Anna's gallon of ice cream. Lisa tried to warn her away with her eyes, but Mae was preoccupied, trying to put away what had happened earlier, so the others didn't have to see how much it upset her. 

?That gender crimes bitch pulled some strings,? Jezebel said, and Mae perked up, recognizing the tone, and the fact that it usually meant she was going to have to shoot somebody. Mae set the ice cream and several bags down on the counter. ?She got Mary's case before a sympathetic judge. He put a gag order on it, which is why we hadn't heard anything- not even through her lawyer. They threw everything at her, and I mean everything; from attempted infanticide for admitting during interrogation that she'd thought about terminating her pregnancy, to child endangerment for having her baby along when that Simmons thing happened. And enough stuck that,? she had trouble making herself say it, ?they're going to execute her.?

?But she's pregnant,? Anna said.

?And they've already figured out a way around that. They're going to cut the baby out of her, then execute her. Which is shitty... but it's not like she's the first pregnant woman on death row. Usually, between appeals and scheduling it's a non-issue, and when it has been, they've just rescheduled the execution after the child's born. No, where it gets really disgusting is how they're going to do it. It's not terribly uncommon for a judge to allow an execution to be televised. But they're going to let the cameras film both. They're going to cut the baby out of her, then sew her up, and hang her, on television.?

?Mother of God,? Anna said. ?It's almost elegant; it's the perfect expression of the idea that women only have value as birth canals. It's telling everyone in the country that if a woman isn't carrying a baby she should be dead.?

?Maybe worse,? Lisa said, ?it's making death the penalty for failing to be a 'good' mother.?

?I?d like to have Detective Campbell shot,? Jezebel said. ?Gottfried?s the best kind of a gender cop; he?s either ideologically with us or de facto eliminating someone who might be more vigorous in the position. Harmon?s smart, but benign. He?s a 9 to 5 cop, but he doesn?t take his work home with him and he doesn?t seethe with rage whenever he sees a woman not sitting in the back of the bus. But Campbell?s another matter. She set up that crisis center. She set up the surveillance that caught Mary, and then made sure she got the harshest sentence possible. She?s dangerous- more so because by being a woman she gives those bastards cover to treat us how they like, because it can?t be sexist if another woman does it.?

?You know that?s bullshit-?

?We all do. But it passes muster for some. It muddies water that ought to be clear as day.?

?Speaking hypothetically,? Mae said, ?it wouldn?t be a thing. I wouldn?t even need the .50 cal. Smaller arms, something we haven?t used previously, to keep it from tracing back to us in any way. Hell, if we have a few days I could probably buy something off some bangers or some crackheads to make sure there?s plenty of wild geese for them to chase.?

?No,? Anna said quietly. But she was angry, and it was bubbling up towards the surface. ?We?re not fucking savages looking to impose our will through violence. That?s the difference between our side and theirs. We?re fighting for our freedom; they?re fighting for our enslavement. But we can?t win that fight by denying another woman her freedom- even if she?s using that freedom to be a giant fucking bitch.?

?The laws are shitty, but she didn?t make them. We can?t just gun her down because it would make our lives easier. It was that kind of thinking that brought our country to this point. Sometimes life is tough. And sometimes it should be.?

Little Matthew started crying, and that was the first indication any of them had that Ofelia had walked into the room. ?And most importantly of all, killing that woman wouldn?t do anything,? Ofelia said. ?Mary would still be in custody. And that crisis center still would have existed. The only thing we?d accomplish would be putting Mae in danger- and possibly Jez.?

?What have you found out about the execution?? Anna asked, trying to redirect them away from murder.

?Only that security's tight. They'll have nearly every cop in the city working it- some men's righters and some not. They're also going to bring in contract security- though I'm pretty sure they don't mean the pepper spray and flashlight kind- I think that means mercenaries.  And all of that is specifically to keep us from interfering- or to catch us if we do. I think they're kind of hoping it's a provocation we can't ignore.?

Anna sighed. ?And they might be right about that. We're going to need more information.  And you're going to need to get it to Mae ASAP, because she's going to need time to get together plans and supplies.? There was a moment of calm, where it seemed like the panic in the room had died down, and Lisa found herself imagining the day they brought Mary home and reunited her with her son. And Anna saw it, and knew she couldn't let them keep their hope, because it was too tenuous, too likely to fail them when they needed it most. ?We should try and prepare ourselves for the possibility that we can't save her. But that doesn't mean there's nothing we can do.?

?What do you mean?? Ofelia asked, defensively clutching Mary's child against her shoulder.

?It means we may be faced with a choice, of letting Mary be their martyr,? Anna said, ?or ours.?

10/12/12

  10:26:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 796 words  
Categories: Lunacy

Lunacy: Gravity

?It's odd, feeling gravity again,? Paul said. Martin raised an eyebrow over his morning coffee. ?I know there was gravity on the moon, but it was something like .16 g- and we're more than four times that. It's almost like we're back on earth.?

?I'm just glad I don't have to chase my coffee with a straw,? Martin said.

?It was a minor glitch in the kick motor-? Alisa said, entering the commons while wiping sweat off her brow, ?but the centrifuge is working fine, now. So you're welcome, and enjoy your gravity,? she said, and left.

??What's her problem?? Paul asked.

?She's not a morning person.? Martin said, taking another sip of his coffee and grinning. ?That, and it looked, early this morning, like the kick motor wasn't going to work. At all.?

?And no kick motor, no centrifuge, no centrifuge, no simulated gravity, and without that, we all become prematurely geriatric.? Martin raised his eyebrow yet again. ?Loss of bone mass, muscle strength and endurance, postural instability and a reduction in aerobic capacity.?

?Ah. So, old people, but with younger skin.?

?Basically.?

?But really, it would have meant a return to the moon. And, if we could not get a replacement motor in time to hit our window for trajectory to Mars...?

?God,? Paul said. ?We'd be looking at another eighteen months before we could launch. And there's a pretty good chance they wouldn't want to let us go, after being stuck up here for eighteen months. So they'd recall us and leave the Persues in orbit, and send up the next crew a year and a half later.?

?So we dodged a bullet,? Martin said.

?Yeah,? Paul said, wondering if maybe he'd have been happier, with either an 18 month layaway, or a trip home. ?You make any extra coffee??

?Single dispenser,? Martin said.

?Ah,? Paul shrugged. ?That's fine. I'm probably better off enjoying the water while it's still water, and not filtered urine. You feel like exercising?? Martin shrugged. ?All this talk of incapacity has me wanting to feel...?

?Capable?? Martin offered.

?Sure. But that's the other thing we have to watch out for. Our bodies will atrophy if we let them- but so will our social skills. So I'm trying to make a conscious effort to be outgoing, and interact.?

?Was that why you organized the mini golf tourney??

?Pretty much. And it was nice that Lisa and Rica managed to come out for part of it.?

?Interesting choice of words,? he smiled. ?But we'll exercise, if you promise you're not going to talk the whole time. Exercising in close proximity to a man is homoerotic enough as it is, without caring and sharing our way through squat-thrusts.?

?I think the most homoerotic part of that idea was the term, 'squat-thrusts.?

?Touché.?

?But we should see if anyone else is game before we head over to the gym.? Paul said, and led Martin out of the commons, and into the rotating crew compartments.

?Is there even room for 'everyone'??

?Probably not. But I'd kind of be surprised if we caught more than one more volunteer.? Paul knocked on the thin plastic door between the hall and Levy's room. ?Are you in there,? he thought a moment, ?and not masturbating?? 

Levy's door popped open. ?My balls are sagging again,? he said with a grin.

?Dare I ask??

?We had zero g last night. So I had zero g testicles. Bobbing around like ice cubes in a Long Island Ice Tea.?

?God-damn you,? Paul said, ?now I want a Long Island Ice Tea.?

?And in context,? Martin smiled, ?that is now the most homoerotic thought of the morning so far.?

?Plus that's a sissy drink,? Clod added, entering from behind them. She was already slick with sweat. 

?I don't care,? Paul said. ?I'd drink a sissy drink over more water.? He noticed the towel around her neck. ?You already exercised, didn't you? Because we were on our way, there, and were going to invite you along.?

?A doctor, an aging Frenchman, and a mathematician. The day I can't run circles around you three, even after my workout, is the day I stop making snarky comments about Levy's half-beard.? 

?Good,? Levy said, and closed his door behind himself. He silently eenie-meenie-minie-moed the doors to Alisa and Rica's rooms. ?Should we even bother?? he asked.

?It's a bonding experience,? Martin said, ?and sometimes just asking is enough to preserve the bond.? He led them down the hall, and cocked his ear for a second. Then he knocked on Rica's door.

?Some of us are going to exercise,? Paul said.

?That's what we're already doing,? Rica said, then giggled through the door.

?Fair enough,? Paul shrugged, and they turned back towards the commons, and the gym beyond it.

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