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(no subject) [Jul. 5th, 2015|02:46 am]
Nessus
The ozone smell of static electricity and burnt dust after tuning on a CRT television.
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(no subject) [May. 17th, 2015|05:12 pm]
Nessus
Reading about the end of the universe.

100 trillion years from now star formation ends, beginning the Degenerate Era.

Red dwarfs will cool and become white dwarfs, and the only objects larger than a planet will be white dwarfs (90%), brown dwarfs, neutron stars, and black holes. All nuclear fusion will cease.

Then the universe will go dark. Occasional bursts of light when white dwarfs merge, triggering a supernova and illuminating the Degenerate Era for a few weeks.

In 1 quadrillion years the orbits of all planets will either decay or they will be ejected from their solar system.

100 quintillion years from now galaxies will lose 90-99% of their mass as most objects are ejected. The remaining 1-10% will fall into their central supermassive black hole.

Two slightly different paths depending on whether or not proton decay exists (so far there is no experimental evidence in support of proton decay but some Grand Unified Theories are dependant upon it).

If protons do not decay, then 10^1500 years from now all matter will decay into iron as a result of cold fusion via quantum tunneling, all remaining stars will become cold spheres of iron.

And 10^10^26-10^10^76 years from now all iron stars will, also through quantum tunneling, become neutron stars or black holes.

If proton decay does occur over a 10^37 year time scale half of all baryonic matter will have been converted into gamma ray photons and leptons.

In 10^40 years all nucleons will have decayed into photons and leptons and the Black Hole Era will begin.

Over the next 2×10^99 years as black holes evaporate and lose mass to Hawking radiation their temperature will increase until they become as hot as the Sun and temporarily provide light in an otherwise completely dark universe.

If proton decay takes longer, over a 10^65 year time scale rigid objects such as rocks will start to rearrange their atoms and molecules via quantum tunneling, behaving as a slow moving liquid.

Next comes the Photon Age, after all black holes have evaporated the universe will be an expanse of photons, neutrinos, electrons, and positrons hardly ever encountering one another, occasionally forming short lived positronium atoms. Gravitationally the universe will be governed by dark matter, electrons, and positrons.

Beyond that it's more uncertain. The universe could avoid permanent heat death through quantum fluctuations, a new Big Bang could spontaneously occur.
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(no subject) [May. 8th, 2015|12:00 am]
Nessus
My grandfather used to own a chain of arcades and my father worked for him and they wanted to have a bunch of NES consoles that customers could rent time on and play whatever game they wanted.

So before they got that set up my dad brought home a brand new NES with a cardboard flat of 20-ish games for us to "test" over the weekend. I remember playing a lot of Mario 2 and I think I recall seeing the boxart for Mega Man but I didn't end up playing it until many years later.

My mom and dad stayed up late playing Lolo (probably the first and last game they ever really got into).

Since Lolo came out in 1989 I think this all happened in '89.

Then for my birthday my grandfather got me my own NES and we were over at his house and I remember rushing into the spare bedroom, unboxing it, and setting it up and the colors in Super Mario Bros. being the most vivid thing I'd ever seen.

Nintendo later threatened to sue my grandfather because the NES was intended for home use only, so he removed all the consoles and asked Sega if it'd be okay to use Genesises instead, Sega said yes, then later changed their minds and threatened to sue. And now there's a shed in my father's back yard filled with old NES and Genesis consoles.

Eventually my grandfather sold the company to this businessman and he ended up importing a Super Famicom in 1990 and he needed my dad's help getting it to work on their North American TV so I got to try it out. They had Pilotwings and I think I must have been, along with the guy's kids, one of the first people in Canada to play that game.

There was something about that time, devouring the latest issue of Nintendo Power, the cheat codes section, the upcoming games. There was no Internet, magazines and word of mouth were it.

Years later, before we got Internet, at my cousin's friend's house who did have Internet, and us gathered around the computer impatiently waiting for the first ever published images of Mario 64 to download. Later at home watching CNN for hours for a glimpse of the game in motion, Mario jumping into a painting and it *rippled*.

I miss that sense of wonder.
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The Gate, Part Twenty-nine [Apr. 12th, 2015|06:08 pm]
Nessus
The cosmic background radiation burned like a rash.

Like the inside of a particle accelerator, it felt the impact of every photon.

At relativistic velocities blueshifted microwaves felt like gamma rays as they interacted with the baryonic matter of the ship’s hull. As each photon struck it triggered the pair production of an electron and a positron, creating matter from energy, and causing significant drag.

It also screamed its presence to anyone with a radio telescope, as the ship scattered the cosmic background radiation in its wake.

At this point the energy it poured into accelerating went mostly towards increasing the ship’s mass.

The ship did not look like a ship.

At 99.99999999% of the speed of light to an outside observer the Lorentz contraction of the ship had resulted in a flat wavefront with a thickness of a fraction of an angstrom, well into the wavelength of gamma rays.

Even at a rest frame the ship was odd-looking. A long, thin needle with a hull made out of diamond. Nearly a kilometer long and no more than five centimeters in diameter, like a javelin, it gradually tapered to a point just a few nanometers thick, a molecular bowsprit.

The uncanny miniaturization was only made possible by the warping of space using a scaffolding of exotic matter. The ship was, simply put, bigger on the inside. Like miniature gas giants, four metallic hydrogen fuel tanks fed the hungry fusion drive that burned brighter than stars.

Its artificial intelligence was etched into a substrate a few atoms thick and unlike its cousins the gates the ship was unique, a product of the Embrasures.

A weapon, deployed in the final hours of a war that had ended over ten millennia ago, or, thanks to time dilation, less than 20 years ship’s time.

It had traveled thousands of light-years since, awaiting instructions that would never come.

It was to be the ultimate kinetic kill weapon. Fiercely intelligent and undetectable until it was too late, arriving just behind its own light.

Its artificial intelligence had been designed from the ground up to be content with its fate, to derive pleasure from it even. There was no existential dread. It would perform its duties.

But atom by atom, the ship’s hull had eroded and the fuel tanks were almost dry. It would have to stop soon.

It spent subjective milliseconds searching for a suitable candidate. Just over a light-year away was a small terrestrial planet orbiting a yellow dwarf star. The ship would have to brake hard, experiencing for the better part of a year g-forces that would liquefy an organic crew (if there had been any space for a crew), pushing the fusion drive far beyond its design parameters. Even then it would be forced to aerobrake through a gas giant.

The ship pointed its fusion drive at the target world and began to decelerate, shedding its considerable inertia.

***

A new star appeared in the sky.

The Witch dismissed the popular eschatological interpretations that had plunged the Capital into turmoil these past few months.

No. It signaled a new world order. She was certain.

The star grew brighter.
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The Gate, Part Twenty-eight [Mar. 20th, 2015|04:36 am]
Nessus
The Witch could hear the elders rutting outside.

Males. The novelty still hadn't worn off.

She shuffled over to the window and slammed the shutters, plunging the cramped space into gloom. A small stove gave off some light, but the heat made the lab almost unbearable in summer. She could not afford any distractions at this critical juncture. The carnal world interested her less and less.

The Angel would be contacting her soon. It had promised insight.

Returning to her rickety escritoire cluttered with various animatronic designs, reports from the spymaster, translations of classical literature, a text on heliocentrism, a treatise on symbolic language, an unfinished manuscript on imperial expansion. She relocated her mortar and pestle, clearing a space for a ceramic bowl filled with water.

The Angel had given her so much already.

Insight into mathematics. Alchemy. Astrology. Astronomy. Optics. She was well versed in the occult and her personal library had swollen to the point where it now dwarfed the university’s own.

The Angel spoke to her from across the cosmic void as she scried her mirror, a gift from the Queen, crafted by the skilled glassmakers of a tiny island at the southern tip of the empire, employing a secret technique to obtain a near-perfect, undistorted reflection.

Nearly everything she had she owed to the Angel's intervention.

Wealth, prestige, respect. Fear.

The Court feared her. The Witch. The Molybdomancer.

Personal advisor to the Queen.

She had the Queen’s ear, and the Queen controlled an empire.

Power for power’s sake did not interest her, though. She sought knowledge. To unravel life’s mysteries. She did not believe in a world shaped and governed by the thoughtless actions of the Almighty Idiots, the Ancestors prayed to in the temples.

This made her a heretic, but she was too valuable to condemn to scaphism, so she was allowed to continue her investigations into the paranormal.

Fear was a tool. It was perhaps the most mercurial form of influence, it could turn on one in a heartbeat. But she was skilled at navigating the twists and turns of political life.

Her joints ached as she lifted the molten tin from the stove and carefully poured it into the bowl of water, and watched as it formed shapes that disclosed the future.

She massaged the knuckles of her long, slender fingers. At twenty-three she was already experiencing her twilight years. Soon the Dimming would claim her, and she would rut and she would die. But she was not afraid.

The Angel held the secrets of the universe.

And it had promised to share them with her.

And that, that was more valuable than her life.
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The Gate, Part Twenty-seven [Mar. 2nd, 2015|05:55 am]
Nessus
The gate was unlike anything she had ever seen.

A titanic ring of copper over twenty feet tall in the image of a serpent consuming its own tail. Its surface polished to a mirror finish in it she could see her own weary expression.

Her ash-blonde hair like straw, whipped into tangles by the cold cruel wind, Erin brushed it out of her watery green eyes. Her face was a constellation of faded scars: cheek, bridge, vertical labret, and snake bite piercings had all left their mark, artifacts of a short-lived stigmatophilic phase.

Her mouth was slightly crooked and hadn’t smiled in quite some time.

Kennedy had returned shortly after the nurse, Janice had managed to stabilize Jacob.

In its hands it held a copper circlet, like a miniature version of the gate, an ouroboros. Kennedy studied the object, turning it over slowly. Then, with a practiced motion it clipped the artifact to its belt.

Erin had watched, transfixed, as Kennedy removed the debris and chipped away at the ice so that the gate slid gently into an upright position, like raising an obelisk. The gate now rested against a newly excavated wall of ice at one end of a deep furrow carved out of the glacier.

How exactly Kennedy had accomplished this feat was unclear. The mysterious figure who could teleport at will could also seemingly cause large chunks of ice to simply vanish.

In its disconcerting neuter voice Kennedy advised them to gather supplies, anything that might be useful, that might help them to survive. It assured them that there was at least one firearm buried somewhere in the cargo hold, as well as a small hatchet that might also come in handy.

Kennedy then disappeared.

Erin was grateful for the chance to change into some warmer clothing, gladly tossing aside the flimsy hospital gown for a grey sweater, black jeans, a winter coat, and some hiking boots.

While Janice carefully transferred the injured and unconscious Jacob from the plane into a folding wheel chair the rest of the survivors filled backpacks and luggage with supplies. Bandages, hand sanitizer, antibiotics, medicine from the hospital. Oxygen masks from the plane. Pretzels, cookies, other packaged foods and drinks from the airline service trolley. And so on.

They worked in silence.

It was ghoulish, scavenging through the possessions of the dead, but they had little choice as the temperature outside dropped rapidly.

The girl with the broken arm, Sunita, called out when she found a smashed vending machine underneath some rubble.

The vending machine had Erin’s favorite brand of spearmint gum. Shoving a stick in her mouth, salivary glands aching to life, she stuffed rest into her purse which she’d somehow managed to hold on to in all the commotion. It was oddly comforting having her bag with her, one familiar item in the midst of all this surreality. Continuity. Her iPod, her notebook, her lip gloss. Even the useless receipts.

The man who had occupied the hospital bed next to her, Trevor, discovered a pair of O2 canisters out on the ice. Kennedy, who had reappeared moments earlier smelling faintly of ozone, thought they might prove useful. Kennedy also suggested they hold on to a few of the passengers’ cell phones but did not elaborate.

The gun, found by Trevor’s sister Jane in a hard case under a mangled dog kennel, was a .22 caliber bolt action rifle with a worn wooden stock and a scope, along with some ammunition.

They loaded up a hospital bed with supplies and steadied it down a treacherous ramp Kennedy had carved from ice.

Kennedy, having gotten what it came for, was growing impatient. “Are you almost done? I need to get out of here. I’ll explain everything once we’re clear. I don’t want to waste another minute on this frozen shit hole.” It looked at the assembled group, green flames reflected in the lenses of its mask. “You ready? Good. Move.” Kennedy did something to the gate and then something miraculous occurred.

Erin gasped.

Where once was a wall of ice there was now a window into another place.

The blood red skies of the frozen wasteland were replaced by a field of odd yellow plant life beneath an azure blue sky populated with puffy white clouds. She felt the warmth of the yellow dwarf star on her face as a pleasant summer breeze teased her hair.

At the edges the image became severely distorted, warped, almost like a soap bubble. Somewhat counter-intuitively the wormhole wasn’t a flat membrane, but spherical. It could be entered from any side.

“Come on.”
Frightened and exhausted the survivors reluctantly followed the leather-clad stranger through the gate.

***

Very gradually the particulates which had turned the sky crimson settled and one by one the green flames were snuffed out.

Over the next millennium the glacier’s scars healed. The wreckage of flight 773 and its mummified passengers were carried hundreds of kilometers on a river of ice three kilometers deep, almost to the equator where they were deposited, along with the gate and accumulated till, in scoured glacial valleys populated by strange sessile creatures that ate sunlight.

Flanked by erratics the size of skyscrapers the forgotten gate waited patiently while the ice receded.

It never encountered another human being.
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(no subject) [Feb. 5th, 2015|05:59 am]
Nessus
Been playing X-Wing: Alliance lately, a space combat sim set in the Star Wars universe.

I played it before, years ago. Never beat it.

Before that I played through an even older game, TIE Fighter, and actually finished that one for the first time. Not quite sure why that struck me. Like a chapter had finally closed, perhaps.

As I get older I find I place more value on nostalgia.

Nostalgia is like a familiar old room, with motes of dust dancing in shafts of sunlight.

It's a private little world that no one can take away from you, no matter what's going on in the present.

I think that's perfectly valid, finding comfort in things like that, in memories, in stories, in daydreams, in things that no longer or never existed.

We will all die some day. It could be tomororw, it could be 60 years from now.

I think a lot about actors, because they're so visible. Actors I knew growing up, and now they're that much older, but they're still around, still kicking, like Michael Keaton in Birdman. And I figure they've achieved quite a bit, and they're not done yet. Human life expectancy has risen, and 60 can be a productive age.

So I should be able to get a fair bit more done, barring illness or accident. Write more stories, compose more music, make new friends, more laughs, more kisses, learn new things, enjoy new entertainment.

And even if I were to die tomorrow, I guess I feel I've done a fairly decent job maximizing my enjoyment of the time I had on this planet whizzing around the Sun.

Sure there's things I still would like to see, I want to see pictures of the surface of Pluto, I want to see how Game Of Thrones ends, and so on, but you can't always get what you want.

In the end Emperors still died. Dictators died cowering in ditches, hang from lampposts. Seemingly kind people like Robin Williams, people who were struggling with demons, and all the countless nameless people in history whose names we'll never know, and whom we'll join when we pass, nameless.

Life is about enjoying the time you have. Allowing it to enrich you and the people around you.
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The Gate, Part Twenty-six [Jan. 19th, 2015|01:59 am]
Nessus
24th century BC

There were things even priest-kings feared.

Things encountered only in the dead of night, during arcane rituals, glimpsed in flickering torchlight through the merciful haze of the poppy.

Demigods. The Igigi. Servants of the Anunnaki.

Misshapen hooded figures that always traveled in pairs, constantly chittering, twitching, laughing like hyenas, that rarely spoke, and did so in sonorous voices with no discernible source.

They’d come for him.

Dismissing the trembling messenger the énsi dressed quickly and made his way through the vast palace complex. Past murals depicting the creation of man, and colossal statues of winged lamassus. Past courtyards lined with date palms, the scent of jasmine on the cool night air. Past the burial chambers of priestesses, past workshops and storehouses.

Rivulets of nervous sweat streamed down his brow and into his eyes. A servant wiped his forehead as he prepared to receive the celestial emissaries.

They stood silhouetted in the doorway, flanked by frightened guards whose bronze swords would be useless against such creatures.

They were shorter than men.

Oil lamps lit their queer pale flesh as they gestured for him to follow, their faces hidden behind their hoods. Snakes seemed to writhe beneath their clean black robes. “Come. Now.” There was a paradoxical urgency in the monotone voice.

Hunchbacked and with lurching motions they led him up a staircase to the roof of the palace. Desert wind swept across the flat expanse. Spread before him the lights of the city below, the cold cruel desert beyond a hard black line on the horizon.

The Igigi smelled of dust and static electricity and made rasping sounds when they breathed. Their crisp new robes flapped in the breeze, sand swirling at their pale bare feet.

They pointed at the sky, long, slender fingers bending... somehow not quite right; the knuckles did not add up to twelve. A copper ring gleamed on the index finger of the nearest. He followed their gaze. A blue pinprick of light slowly traveled across the heavens, through the constellation Bašmu.

“Bad omen.” He could not tell which had spoken, neither had moved; the sound seemed to issue from all around and all the while the hyena laughing and wheezing never ceased. The Igigi seemed to struggle with the next word. “Udug... foreign god. Dangerous. Powerful.” They paused and he heard crickets chirping over the sound of nightly prayers in the main courtyard below. Finally they turned and faced him. “The excavation must be completed. There must be no delay. Threats are unnecessary. You will perform your duties.”

Silently slinking into the shadows they left him standing there on the roof alone, watching the progression of the dim light.

A thought occurred to him: they were scared. He shuddered.

What did Igigi fear?
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The Gate, Part Twenty-five [Jan. 6th, 2015|04:20 am]
Nessus
The bus shook, dislodging him once again from an elusive parody of sleep that somehow still allowed him to sense every twist and turn of the Greyhound as it stopped in every little Podunk town along the way.

Backlight blinding, his watch said 2:15AM.

He tried to go back to sleep.
...

The air brakes whined like an anxious dog. Squinting against fluorescent fixtures flickering to life he watched Cute Girl With Pink Hair exit the bus and emerge out into the orange street lights of what passed for Main Street in yet another nameless small town. He’d bummed a couple smokes off of her while they both shivered in silence outside a closed bus station during a 15 minute layover a few towns back. He caught one final glimpse of her walking away, this person he’d never see again, snowboard tucked under her arm, as the bus laboriously turned around and got back onto the interstate.

There was a rhythm to it. The bus would gradually empty out as the journey progressed, eventually leaving him with an entire row of seats to himself. By folding up the arm rests he could fashion a makeshift bed of sorts, slouching awkwardly against the cold window, using his winter coat as a pillow, legs dangling over the edge into the aisle.

...

Shuffling feet. The sound of the baggage hold doors. Tuberculosis Boy talking with the driver for what seemed like eternity. The bus began to move again.

...

A recurring dream he’d been having for years. He’d neglected to feed the pet gerbils he’d had as a kid, retuning after months to discover them somehow still clinging to life. The overwhelming guilt as he hasitly filled their ceramic food dish, promising to never again.



The sound of drivers switching off, tromping over to the nearby motel.

...

Gradually he became aware of murmured conversation in hushed tones all around him. He checked his ancient cell phone again - no service. He closed his eyes.

...

The tires screeched and he was violently thrown against the back of the seat in front of him. Someone cursed loudly and the lights came on. There was an interval where nothing seemed to happen. Then the door hissed open and he heard the driver’s footsteps as the man exited the bus. Someone mumbled something about a deer.

Rubbing sleep from his eyes he sat up. He checked to make sure his headphones weren’t broken and stood up, stretching and yawning. His mouth tasted foul. He finished off the last of the warm orange juice and stuffed the empty bottle into the netting on the back of the seat in front of him. Apparently some other passengers were using the opportunity for a quick smoke break and he decided to join them.

The crisp night air was sobering. Fishing a lighter out of his pocket he turned to face the others.

What he saw didn’t make sense.

***

The sphere watched the strange vehicle’s approach with disdain.

Powered by explosions, lubricated with dead animals, lit with torches. Caked with dirt and grease, the smell was offensive. It half-expected the occupants to disembark wielding clubs. Thoroughly unimpressive.

It had to remind itself that these very same creatures had actually managed to surprise it.

The sphere rested in the middle of a crater approximately eight meters in diameter bisecting the interstate. A perfect hemisphere, cleanly cut drainage pipe bleeding stagnant water into the depression, strata of road exposed, formed when the sphere had to abruptly curb its descent.

It was an inelegant solution, but under the circumstances..

Such strange circumstances.

It thought it had seen everything.

The battle had unfolded like so many others. And right when the crew of the warship that housed the sphere were about to strike the killing blow they were vaporized along with their ship, leaving the disoriented sphere to fall to earth.

But in that brief window it had seen something that surprised and amused it.

The inhabitants of this world had apparently cobbled together a missile silo of sorts, using a linked pair of gates, one situated at the top and the other at the bottom of an evacuated cylinder ribbed with electromagnets.

Conceptually it was similar to a railgun, except that instead of the small projectile being accelerated by magnetic fields, gravity would provide the impetus “for free” (in reality the energies required to create and maintain a wormhole far exceeded any apparent gains, a perpetual motion machine it was not). The gates were dialed to each other, so the projectile would fall into the bottom gate and emerge from the top in an endless loop, constantly accelerating, the vacuum chamber providing no air resistance, no terminal velocity. The electromagnets were there only to keep the projectile centered.

The planet on which they’d chosen to construct the silo was considerably more massive, nearly twice the surface gravity of their homeworld, which would have allowed them to bring the projectile up to around 90% of the speed of light in less than half a year.

As it picked over the data the sphere detected telltale evidence of at least one failed attempt.

What a sight that must have been, as one of the projectiles scraped the side of the silo while traveling at a significant fraction of the speed of light. Aside from the gates, which would have protected themselves, everything in the immediate vicinity would have been converted into plasma. But these creatures hadn’t given up. They’d rebuilt.

And so when the invdaers’ warship had approached their small vessel they had waited until the very last moment to switch the connection so that the bottom gate in the silo was instead targeted at the gate on the nose of their tiny craft in orbit. The timing had to be precise.

So they deserved partial credit for that.

One of the creatures was now approaching, had slid down the smooth edge of the crater. The others stood at the lip, observing. He tottered right up to the sphere. If there sphere were polished he could have seen his reflection in it. He reached out tentatively with his modified forepaw but did not touch it. The stink of burning leaves clung to him, had stained the digits on his paw. He proceeded to make guttural sounds with his moist, teeth-filled mouth, in the language of the dominant nation state. The sphere scoured their planetary network for information and soon knew every language. The creature wasn’t saying anything of importance, dull expressions of astonishment. Now the approaching flying machines, those were far more interesting.

They sputtered and chopped, slicing the air roughly, riding a wave of tumult, a delightful hue and cry of wingtip vortices and air currents, the aerodynamics of it fascinating. It had heard of other civilizations constructing, but had never seen such machines up close (up close being several kilometers away still; the resolution of its senses remained excellent even through the heavy fog and haze of a soiled biosphere). They were noisy and unstable, falling sideways across the sky, like the precarious controlled toppling bipedal locomotion of the creatures themselves. But there was also precision there, a curious balance.

The creature had finally noticed their approach, heard them with the convoluted folds of rubbery cartilage projecting from sides of his head. He began to panic. More meaningless phrases, talking to himself, pleading with some manner of deity, a stream of curse words related to various bodily functions. He didn’t want to go back, apparently. The sphere might have yawned.

Its focus returned to the strange flying machines. It examined their complicated (by these creatures’ standards) inner workings, ran a few (thousand) simulations, came up with several (hundred) better, more efficient, safer designs, considered posting the plans online anonymously.

It barely noticed when the creature rushed over to the edge of the crater but kept slipping down the smooth curve, futilely attempting to climb out. Next he tried the drainage pipe but it was far too small to admit him.

When the flying machines were almost upon him he ducked behind the sphere, hiding from their searchlights. Dripping with fetid water, he touched the sphere with his rough, calloused forepaws, bracing himself. And then he said something that caught the sphere’s attention:

“I gotta get out of here!”

Something came over it. An uncharacteristic recklessness. In tens of thousands of years it had never done anything like this. It decided upon a liberal interpretation of the creature’s expressed desire.

It tore a hole through space, and the sphere, along with the creature, fell through the planet.
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The Gate, Part Twenty-four [Dec. 25th, 2014|04:03 am]
Nessus
A party she’d attended when she was 20.

On the collapsing front porch rested a rotting burgundy velour couch with woven wicker thatching. A life size Captain Kirk cardboard cutout leaned against a wooden art deco ash tray stand plastered with band stickers. Seated two stoners coughing, debating the merits of Michael Jackson’s “Bad”, a reproduction red and black flag from the Spanish Civil War hung in the window behind them.

The dilapidated building, a turn of the century house, stood in an otherwise empty lot sprinkled with needles and wrappers and used condoms and boards barbed with tetanus-tempting nails.

The old house slouched.

There was an almost apocalyptic feel to the proceedings; the house was slated for demolition to make way for a high rise.

From the doorway, drug and alcohol-fueled philosophical discussions in a living room strung with Christmas lights and wallpapered with gig posters. Conversations about music and politics, jokes and the uninhibited laughter of youth. A punk band played in the basement, drum kit set up where the coal chute once ran, bass vibrations traveling through the hard packed dirt floor and weeping tile, rattling the windows, but only at certain resonant frequencies. A bottle of cheap wine thrust into her hand.

Combat boots and Converse trod the liquor sticky surface of recently excavated hardwood flooring that had been concealed beneath ugly lime green carpet.

It felt like home, she thought.

Friends she’d met at shows, formative relationships. Familiar songs sung at the top of their lungs. She wandered through the house grinning.

A game of spin the bottle beneath a dangling, swaying filament light in the crawlspace.

Against her better judgement she joined in. She’d never played.

When her turn finally came the green Rolling Rock bottle came to a stop pointing at a boy with a mohawk. Sans Elmers, perfect bed head, dark roots showing through bleached blonde, the barest hint of faded green dye. Cross-legged he sat across from her smiling warmly, big brown eyes framed by day-old black eyeliner, he wore a loose, two sizes too big frayed charcoal grey sweater. Chipped black nail polish, fingers poking out of long sleeves, his hand lightly caressed her cheek as he leaned in.

Later, on the back deck, overlooking an underpass, the orange glow, the aura of the city at night. Inside someone had appointed themselves DJ, drawing from the vast vinyl collection in the living room, and The Clash and Hüsker Dü provided the soundtrack to fireworks launched from the roof by joking teenagers.

Lips loosed by Lucky, she confessed how difficult it was sometimes, moving to DC, making friends, trying to fit in in the local scene, her frustrations, the discrimination and microaggressions she still experienced from supposedly liberal individuals. The comments, the ignorant, insulting questions, when they would ask if they could touch her hair.

He listened, and nodded, and agreed with her. He asked the right questions, expertly stoking the conversation.

Then he told her about the time he and a couple of friends hopped a freight train in Nebraska.

A train that refused to stop for days. They’d huddled for warmth in a rickety boxcar completely lacking in food or water. Freezing and dehydrated in the December chill they’d finally decided to jump from the still-moving train, spraining his ankle in the process. For miles they walked, fatigued, in pain, along a country road, barbed wire fences, ditches filled with snow, eventually stumbling upon a small house.

The woman who lived there welcomed them in, encouraged them to bathe and clean up while she washed their clothes and made them hot soup. She let them use her phone to call their parents long distance, and let them spend the night in the spare bedroom. She drove them to the Greyhound station the next day and wished them good luck, asking for nothing in return.

Some time later he looked her up online, to thank her, and was informed she died of cancer shortly thereafter. She’d had no family.

He started at the underpass in silence as shiny cars sped past.

She asked him if he was going to the protest the next day, of the invasion of Iraq.

He said yes.

***

A ghastly placard depicting an aborted fetus, bright crimson against the sterile white of a city lightly dusted with snow that would soon melt. Gathered there a hateful crowd screaming at her, calling her a slut, a whore, promising damnation. She felt his arm tense as he walked her to the main entrance of the clinic. Part of him wanted to punch them she knew, part of her wanted him to, wanted to join him.

But he stayed with her.

Then it was done.

He drove her places when she couldn’t see through the tears.

It wasn’t easy, but she did not regret her decision. And he had made it abundantly clear he would support her no matter what.

***

Like walking through a dream, past columns of ghostly green flame, reluctantly she followed the others as they entered the wreckage of the plane, hugging tightly to her chest the medical supplies she’d scavenged from the ice.

Inside it was dark, the red sky bled through from the window seats. Row upon row of twisted forms, crumpled, crushed. Rag dolls. The air was thick with the scent of burning plastic and the familiar metallic tang of the scent of blood. Brushing aside dangling oxygen masks, she made her way over to where the others stood.

In front of her caught in the beams of keychain flashlights was a man, bleeding profusely from a deep gash in his forehead, pulsing with every heartbeat, unconscious but still breathing.

She and the woman in front of her exclaimed in unison, “Jacob?!”

The other woman, the Indian woman with the broken arm turned to her, “You know him?”

“I should hope so.” she said as she reluctantly began threading the curved suture needle, hands shaking. “He’s my husband.”
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