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 I'm out of town this weekend, glad to be with family, wishing I were in DC to help my family there defend the place from its enemies. And I stayed up late worrying and wrote a story about Obed Yringl'phtagn Marsh dealing with the anniversary of the Innsmouth raid and the start of World War II.

This is messy and new and only lightly edited, and offered as a gift to everyone on the front lines today:


***

This wasn’t the reasonable place to be. In the crystalline corridors of Y’ha-nthlei, in vast chambers at the hearts of R’lyeh and Chorzh-athern and Vrai-kad’vlek, councils were convening, warriors and archpriests and scholars and bards of every battle where human blood ever added salt to the sea. Yringl’phtagn was not quite any of these things, but he should have been there offering his half-welcome advice.

Instead, he stood on a dark beach with ruins at his back, gazing at the water. The tide was just turning toward ebb. Only the ghostly edges of the waves reflected the new moon starlight. They whispered across the sandbar, heart’s rhythm of a thousand rituals.

“It’s been a while,” said Khr’jhelkh’ng. He’d joined the crew of Kraken’s Journal shortly before Yringl’phtagn went into the water, shipped on the Arkansas in 1917 as a seasoned sailor, and was listed as lost overboard in early ’18 though his fellows knew more. He’d returned from Vrai-kad’vlek’s patrol only a week ago, asking for his old place amid Yringl’phtagn’s crew.

Jhathl came back from the dunes, claws scuffing sand. She held a scrap of driftwood, weathered and gray in the starlight. A rusted nail protruded; it had been part of a food stall once, or a newspaper stand. Part of Innsmouth. “We should have known months ago,” she said. “Even if the war hasn’t touched this continent, our young would have heard, and told us.”  

For Yringl’phtagn that would have been Keziah or Josias or Tacita, if any of them were still on land, their children otherwise. Cheerful Aphra with her sky-deep eyes, studious little Caleb, the baby that Josias and his mate would have named two days after the attack. He imagined Keziah brandishing a copy of the Free Press: Europe’s broken out into war again. What are we doing about it?

“They wouldn’t have told us everything the patrol found,” said Khr’jelkh’ng. “They wouldn’t know.”

“We have only the universe made visible to us,” said Yringl’phtagn. He tried to shake it off, that sense that the other world of “if we had” and “if they’d known” lay just out of reach, over those dunes. Only the jagged board insisted on the reality of a fallen town, dead and empty.

But that was why so few came up from Y’ha-nthlei these days. It was too easy to believe, every time you broke through the waves, that you’d see the beach crowded as it once was. That they’d be waiting. Eleven years now, almost to the day, too short a time for memory to change its habits.

He forced himself to more practical matters. “Khr’jelkh’ng, the patrol’s report would feel incomplete, even if you hadn’t come racing back to the Kraken’s crew as soon as they made it. It’s not your way to leave work unfinished. Tell us: what are they hiding?”

Khr’jelkh’ng pulled himself straight, a hint of airborn soldier’s training, but bared teeth belied the mask, and webbed fingers ground tight around his trident. “They don’t think they’re hiding anything. Everything that matters, we shared.”

“You were working with one of the old bands, weren’t you?” asked Jhathl. Even now there was a trace of envy in her voice, mixed with her usual disdain for the ancient hierarchies.

“Youngest of the lot by a good five thousand years.” An ambitious wave surged over their feet, and Khr’jelkh’ng glared. “Half of what drives airborn politics these days, they’ve no concept of.”

“And the other half the things that don’t change, no matter how the species changes,” said Yringl’phtagn. “What do you think they missed?”

Khr’jelkh’ng hissed, shuffled, and at last sat in the firm wet sand. The others followed suit; Yringl’phtagn grimaced as a shell tried to wedge itself amid his scales.

 “You know we went after U-boats on the Arkansas, though we never saw one up close for sure. The air folk had almost a superstition of the subs; they’d never put it that way, but anything that can hide so long below the surface seemed unnatural to them.” Jhathl snickered, and Khr’jelkh’ng went on. “We did meet Germans in person after the Armistice, getting their fleet locked up in Scapa Flow. I was under the boat by then, but I listened enough, came up sometimes in a slicker when the weather got bad. They seemed like decent fellows for all they’d been on the wrong side of things.

“Our patrol found one of the things sunk, just as you heard, and recently. They’re ghostly things broken, like the last of a whale fall. It had a hole blown in its side. The bodies were nearly down to skeletons, but they had records kept waterproof, enough to hunt down their living cousins.”

“And you found one,” said Yringl’phtagn impatiently. “That much we heard.”

Jhathl cuffed him lightly. “If you want to hear the story they didn’t tell, don’t keep telling us the story we already heard.”

A trace of humor crept into Khr’jelkh’ng’s expression. “If I couldn’t tell the captain a story while he was trying to get ahead of me, I’d never have given him so much as the watch change.”

Yringl’phtagn sighed. “I shall be as silent as the Sleeping God.”

“Whose dreams drive men to frenzies of art and rebellion?” Khr’jelkh’ng turned serious again. “It might be no bad thing. Indeed, we found a living U-boat, by their own expedient of stalking one of the great merchant fleets above. The subs swam together in a pack, but we drew one away simply by letting the crew catch glimpses of us. They gave chase, and we led them to the surface and pulled them from their shell.”

And suffered wounds in the process—Yringl’phtagn had seen that much in the puckered scales of some of the other band members, still healing. He’d dodged gunfire himself, both in scraps with pirates aboard Kraken’s Journal, and the ambush when they’d tried to track Innsmouth’s lost children. The band had been lucky.

“They weren’t like the fellows we met in Scotland, beyond the way men are calmed by surrender or fired by a hunt. They understood that we were—” He grimaced. “—that we were things that could talk. But that meant nothing to them. Men of the air often see us as monsters. These did too, but it seemed… a common experience for them. They compared us to every airborn enemy they hated: we were in league with Jews, with communists, with weak-minded men who thought like women and… don’t look at me like that, Jhathl, I promise someone cut his throat for you. It seemed clear to me that their world was full of monsters, with a scant tribe of true men deserving life at all. It wasn’t one of those crews shaped by a tyrant captain, either; he was no better or worse than the rest, if more in command of his tongue.”

The band’s reports had been full of the war itself; from this interrogation they’d shared only numbers and ambitions. It had seemed complete enough, to most of those listening. “The rest of the band didn’t think that unusual.”

“Not shocking, at least. Perhaps when we fought with stone knives, and scrapped over watering holes—but no, I don’t think that sort of talk was more common, then. It was something making them so dismissive. I don’t think they grasped the scale—what it means to hate that way, in a world that men can circle in a few weeks. These people can fly over Europe, and see all the cities below, and more men in each than existed when some of our patrol went into the water—and still hate them to their faces. All things must fall, but they were eager for it. As if burning most of mankind would lift them up.”

Jhathl spit, and tossed her driftwood into the retreating waters. “Show men of the air a glimpse of infinity, and they’ll retreat into destruction. It’s what happened here.”

Yringl’phtagn considered. “That’s near enough what they’re saying below: We’ve always fought in the wars of the air, until they destroyed our spawning grounds. We’ve no stake in their fights now; dive deep and let them burn.”

Khr’jelkh’ng laid his trident down on the sand. His gaze shifted between dune and wave, lingered at last on his comrades. “Maybe it’s that I’ve already fought those wars, but I still see something to choose between. I have to think there’s still something worth saving up here.”

“Even if there’s a difference between the sides,” asked Jhathl, “is it enough? You didn’t pull anyone off the British ships, to test the flavor of their fear. How do you know they don’t embrace extinction as well?”

Yringl’phtagn thought of Keziah—delusion to think she might merely be imprisoned somewhere, that some airborn soldier hadn’t painted himself in his daughter’s blood. But she would have asked, would have assumed: What are we doing about it?

“If we dive deep,” he said, “we’ll never know. If we tear open a few more shells, well, we might get the chance to learn more of the other side. If they haven’t earned our aid, at least it will be recorded in the Archives that we fought.”

Jhathl snorted. “Only if someone tells them. Are you about to dive back down to Y’ha-nthlei and say that whatever they decide, the Kraken’s crew is heading east to hunt submarines?”

Yringl’phtagn bared sharp teeth. “It depends whether they ask where we’re going.”

Khr’jelkh’ng laughed and showed his own teeth. “I do remember how this works. I’ve missed it.”

Jhathl sighed. “I’m not sure I’ll ever care for the surface after this, but yes. For the sake of having fought.” And her own fangs glinted in starlight.

They retrieved their weapons, and ran, and dove. Then Innsmouth’s beach lay empty, silent save for the ancient whisper of the waves.

***
ashnistrike: (Default)
So this is what I posted on Twitter this morning:

Plagues so far: car shopping, insurance idiocy, broken oven, dog pee, chronic illness flare-ups. Dayenus: amazing householdmates, amazing landlord, & the realization that most of what we needed the oven for can be done on the grill if necessary. 

It continued to be a very concretely illustrative day--Passover prep is normally pretty intense, and having a non-functional oven when we were supposed to be feasting 16 people at sunset did not reduce the intensity. Our amazing landlord showed up around 2 with a new oven (because he's amazing), whereupon we had neither oven nor stovetop nor access to most ingredients for an hour or so while he got the thing installed. 

But he did get it installed and we did then have a working kitchen, and people's meds had mostly kicked in and Best Kitchen Housemate came back from the Kosher grocery (an hour away) with our last missing ingredients, and we got the eggs boiled and the matzoh made and the lamb in the oven and the quinoa in the rice cooker--and for all the stress, it was so good to be embedded in a community of people pitching in and making everything happen.

All of which is background to the seder itself, and one part of it in particular. Our household follows a tradition in which, after describing the 10 plagues visited on the Egyptians in Exodus, we list out modern plagues--for each one, dipping fingers in wine and leaving drops, bloodlike, along the rims of our plates. Then we sing "Dayenu," which lists the things G-d did for the Israelites, for each adding "it would have been enough." And we then list things we're grateful for now, saying after each one, "Dayenu."

Usually the two lists are about balanced--maybe 2-3 minutes going around the table and naming the world's ills, and then the comforts of family and community. Tonight, though, no one wanted to leave the Dayenus. We must have spent ten minutes naming things we were grateful for, responding with fervent Dayenus and thoughtful silences. Family and friends and community, but also resistance and protest, memory and foresight, and horrors pulled out the darkness where they've festered in safety. And specific glories: Librarians. Music. Electricity. 

Last year, newly launched into the work of resistance, we spent much of our seder on explicit discussion of that work, girding ourselves for the months and years to come. This year, it felt like we were more confident in that work--and hungrier for reminders of the things worth saving in the world. That place of focused gratitude was not something I expected to find tonight, but I hope to carry it with me into the coming year.

Dayenu.

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 Winter Tide is out in the world and making friends. The Hugos are almost puppy-free. And my town passed the first of two votes to become a sanctuary city in a landslide. I'm having a pretty good day.
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That was definitely the movie I needed to see at the beginning of 2017.

Read more... )
ashnistrike: (lightning)
I'm at the Fort Totten train station, on the liminal boundary between DC and Maryland, colony and state, travel beneath the earth and above it. On either side, a grassy slope cuts down to the platform. It's late afternoon, and leaves drift down like snow, and the light shines through like an oil painting. Two deer stand in the light, dipping their heads to taste the green. Their tails flick lazily even as the trains rumble past.

I'm at our neighborhood rally--"Not On Our Watch"--listening to a Hawiian Sovereignty activist. She tells us how she wore dark glasses to vote. The people around her were so excited about the likely Clinton win, and she didn't want them to see her crying. Clinton's policies would do terrible harm to her people and her cause--and she mourned that this was the best option on offer.

My daughter smiles when I lift her from her crib, and babbles, new words every day. She's the only morning person in the household, so we're the first downstairs. Even the dog is asleep; this is as quiet as our house gets. Outside, a squirrel is eating the pumpkin we left out on the stump, bushy tail waving. M demands "mana" for breakfast. When I give her the banana, I ask, as I always do, "Can you say thank you?" For the first time, she responds: "Dak oo!"

I'm watching Zootopia and crying. It seems so painfully and wonderfully optimistic. This week I have also cried at Belinda Carlisle's "Summer Rain" and the mere thought of putting on Hamilton.

My landlord is eating stir-fry in my dining room. We're listening to a pitch for solar panels--we've been talking for a couple of years about getting them on the house eventually, but we've agreed that it's time now. It turns out that the solar sales guy is from the same small Colorado town as one of our housemates; they're joking about snow. The sales guy seems relieved to be pitching to people who understand both architecture and math.

I'm in a Day Job meeting about innovation and crowdsourcing when I make the mistake of checking Twitter. This is how I discover that, over the weekend, the building where I used to work rented space to a bunch of nazis. I run into the bathroom and manage to avoid throwing up; a friend on Twitter talks me down so I can finish up the meeting.

I'm playing the old FASA Star Trek RPG with my household--my household is in fact a college role-playing group that decided to raise kids together; now we all chip in for sitters so we can game. We're trying to track a federation vessel that shot at a neutral ship, before it starts a war. We're convinced that it's a breakaway group of Andorian terrorists. Instead it turns out to be a bunch of refugees who got away from a fight through time travel, and think their own war's still going on.

"Are you okay," we ask everyone we meet. "How are you holding up?" Some people have already experienced the open bigotry, had to make new medical plans, realized the loss of possibilities that depended on particular laws. Some are still stuck on finding arguments for their own reassurance. I think about how the incipient dystopia permeates everything, and yet the moments of beauty and joy keep happening. I try to imagine how those moments will feel when the dystopia is no longer incipient. I try to fold myself around them, to store them, and to remind myself that they will keep occuring, in some form, regardless of what happens around them.
ashnistrike: (lightning)
Anger and fear are settling down into what I hope is a sustainable banked fire, something to keep me moving and acting and loving for the duration. I keep encountering new indications that this will not be normal. Yesterday it was Japanese internment suddenly being invoked as a perfectly reasonable policy precedent. Today it's the threat of FADA, which both houses of Congress have said they will pass and T**** has said he will sign. Then there are the ongoing additions to the Cabinet of Deplorables...

I've made the first Congressional Office calls of my life, something I always left to the extroverts before. Yesterday my hands were shaking for an hour afterwards; today I just felt a little queasy. We've gotten a quote on solar panels. Going to a neighborhood Not On Our Watch meeting this weekend, hoping to solidify the looking-out-for-each-other energies that we've found talking with neighbors individually.

Before this, I had let the day-to-day business of job and kids and household come before actively working to repair the world. In the abstract, I felt that making a better world was a vital part of parenting, of householding, of a full adult life--but in practice there was so much I didn't get to. I'm not hubristic enough to think that me, alone, speaking up more would have changed the election. But me and thousands of other busy people, overwhelmed by the minuata of daily life... I don't think I'm the only one who feels this way now. I'm heartened by the number of people I see being galvanized around the country. Even hopeful, some moments.

I think my writing must be part of this repair. My "yay, 1st book coming out" excitement feels like an artifact of that brighter alternate universe. I'm trying to focus now on sharing strength and empathy, and speaking truth in the best way I know how. For a week before the election I was too distracted to write, and for a few days afterward too much in mourning. Now the words are coming again, the second book going in a slightly different direction than I thought it would, truths clarified by current events. I'm trying to weave solace and hope and truth: strange bedfellows. Aphra's stories have always been about understanding across barriers, fighting for survival with allies who are themselves eldritch to you. We have always described groups of people in monstrous terms when we wanted an excuse to treat them badly; therefore any description of a whole group as monstrous must be questioned deeply and forcefully. And yet we also need to know how to recognize and fight the real monsters...

A little of everything that needs doing, every day. 
ashnistrike: (lightning)
We just lost [livejournal.com profile] tamnonlinear. To depression and MS and fucking Donald J. Trump.

She is not the first or only loss these past two days, just the first loss of someone I knew. I know there will be others. May their names be blessings, and curses against their enemies, and protective scars on the foreheads of those who still live to fight.

If you are ideating, know that you are loved and needed, and that when you aren't feeling strong enough to march by our sides we'll carry you. We'll all be carrying each other, sometimes, these next few years.

Words

Nov. 9th, 2016 10:32 pm
ashnistrike: (lightning)
I am feeling very shaky on words right now. Maybe I'll have better ones tomorrow, when I've slept more than I did last night.

It is okay to mourn, to cry, to feel numb and stare blindly into space, to be angry, to throw yourself immediately into organization. Now is not the time to apologize or feel ashamed of your reactions; now is not the time to expect others to react as you do. Only remember that we dare not despair for long.

I always knew that the good times don't last and hatred waxes again, that we build and lose and build a little higher next time, that the good times are worth making but the loss comes eventually to some generation. And yet somehow, until about 1AM last night, I held onto the hope, even the expectation, that the burden would not fall on my generation. And I'm ready to fight even harder for a civilization that values everybody--where it's one of the good times for everyone. Something we hadn't yet made, but were working towards, were getting closer... maybe I'll live to see the rights and protections regained that we still have in this moment. Maybe my daughters will live to see us do better.

When I write stories, I write about people working together across differences, overcoming fear, facing darkness with courage--because that's the humanity I know and understand. That feels important tonight, and maybe tomorrow when I've slept I'll find the strength to write that truth again.

I wrote Seven Commentaries on an Imperfect Land, in part, to say that true homelands, civilizations, countries, are carried in the hearts and actions of those who count themselves as citizens. Not in Aslan, but in Puddleglum's realization that it's better to act like a citizen of Narnia even if Narnia only exists in your imagination. That feels important too.

And still my tongue is dry with fear, and my stomach too twisted to eat more than a few bites. Maybe tomorrow, trying to find words won't hurt so much.

Yesterday

Jun. 27th, 2015 09:59 am
ashnistrike: (lightning)
...was a very strange, very good day. We're legal. Oh my god, we're legal.

We can visit relatives in Michigan, friends in Louisiana, and not worry about what happens if one of us gets sick. We can confidently drive our daughter through any state in the union. And people are getting married who've been waiting for decades in Texas, in Georgia, in Arkansas... and that 82-year-old couple in Atlanta can finish growing old together and know that they'll be able to take care of each other with the state's help rather than obstruction.

What's weirder is that ten years ago we were a boogyman that the bad guys could reliably use to scare out their voters, and the 'good guys' didn't dare speak well of aloud. And yesterday people were literally dancing in the streets around the country, lighting up the Empire State Building--the president gave a speech about how awesome our marriage is--newspapers around the country printed updated maps of where same-sex marriage is now legal and the New York Times covered the page above the fold with same-sex couples kissing.

There's still so much left to do.  There's always more work to do--but it's so rare to win a battle that we should celebrate when we have the chance. And it's not unpleasant, but extremely startling, to have most of the country celebrating with us.
ashnistrike: (lightning)
"The Deepest Rift," my science fiction story about exploring alien worlds, translation error, and the perils of academia, went up this afternoon at Tor.com.

This story comes with a story, and a giveaway. Way back in 2010, it was Saturday and I was at Wiscon. If you go to the Journeyman Writer's meeting, you miss the lunch break, and I hadn't yet learned the "send your spouse for sandwiches" trick. So I snuck in late to "The Story in the Object, The Object in the Story," and hid out in the back of the room trying not to make my crumbs obvious while [livejournal.com profile] elisem, Catherine Crowe, and Kat Byer talked about similarities between art forms, the way we use art to create relationships as well as make (or fail to make) a living, and the importance of sometimes giving things away. Elise passed around an amazing tektite, and Catherine showed off beautiful copper bowls.

Towards the end, Elise was talking to Ellen Klages (in the audience) and told her that she knew what to do with that project they'd been working on. She asked for six volunteers. I'm not an idiot: I raised my hand. She then told us that a couple of years previously, they'd done a collaboration: Ellen found stones, Elise made pendants of them, and Ellen named them.  We'd each get a random pendant, to be picked up later in the con, and make something else with it or based on it--and then pass it on again.

For those of you who don't know Elise's work, she's a professional muse. Go click through onto her LJ--her sticky post shows everything she's currently got available. Every item has a title. Many have stories hidden in them, or poems, or major life changes.

When I went down to the dealer's room later, she asked me for a number between eggplant and lettuce. I told her "zucchini," and she gave me this:



I could see right away the sides of the unimaginably deep canyon, the forests down in the dark, the wind that swept up over it carrying strangeness from the mist below. But it was not only story, but also oracle: at the time I was just starting to feel my way towards leaving academia, and routes and detours and the question of whether it was even possible to get to Point Q from where I stood were very much on my mind.

I started writing almost immediately, but stalled out for a couple of years when I solved my real-life dilemma before finishing the story that I was using to map it.  (This was a good problem to have.) Last year I finally figured out what was missing, sent the story out to Carl at Tor.com, and here we are. And so now I'm finally done with the pendant, and I will miss it but it needs to find a new home where it can keep doing its job.

If you feel you could make use of a map with detours, please leave the following in the comments before 6 PM EST on Monday, June 29th:

- A brief, true explanation of what you'll make with it. The explanation doesn't need to be complete--"My story needs plot bunnies" or "trying to make a path through a crisis" are as good as "I'm on a quest to find the holy grail, the latest clues lead me to believe it's in the grand canyon, and this looks like something that will help me find my way."

- A promise that you'll pass it on when you're done with it, to someone who will keep the same terms. This doesn't need to be quick; I've had it for five years, after all.

- A way to contact you if you aren't posting with an LJ handle.

On Monday, I'll pick a name via random number generator, because I am not myself an oracle, and will contact the winner for mailing information.

Disclaimers: Mailing times dependent on the vagaries of baby and DC snail mail system. Not responsible for lost, misdirected, or temporally displaced merchandise. Device may not operate as intended. Effects may not be synchronous.
ashnistrike: (lightning)
We aren't following our usual Black Friday tradition of going hiking, because there's a foot of snow on the ground and S is 8 months pregnant.  Instead we're following our new Black Friday tradition of hanging around the house and writing and yakking and maybe playing chess if we feel really ambitious.  But not acting smug about it, because this article kind of schooled me on the similarities between Black Friday and the Hunger Games.

Both B's and C's schools had 'traditional' Thanksgiving pageants this year and both came home with construction paper "Indian headdresses."  Alas, neither is old enough to emulate Wednesday Adams on the matter.  I was disappointed, because I'd somehow gotten it into my head that, in the decades since I was in elementary school, most places had picked up a clue and stopped doing that.  Apparently not.  Now pondering the best suggestions for alternatives, as every good behaviorist knows that you're more likely to get someone to stop doing something if you can suggest something better in its place.

Option 1: Follow a slightly older tradition.  Go back a hundred years and make Thanksgiving more like Halloween or Carnival.  Dress up and parade through the streets, and put on a wider variety of costumed pageants.  Minus the "dressing as caricatures of other countries and classes" bit.

Option 2: Go back to the holiday's real origins, and put on a pageant about Abraham Lincoln trying to figure out how to heal the country post-Civil-War.  Still problematic, given the general failure to do so in the years since, but more historically accurate and includes the opportunity for everyone to dress up representing their own cultures and talk about how they've contributed to the country.

Option 3: Teach about real cooperation between Europeans and American Indian nations and have kids put on plays about the syncretic communities that sprang up shortly after contact--the ones where plague survivors took in runaway slaves and Europeans who found Puritan life too constrictive, and where "kidnapped" women for some obscure reason refused to go back when their families tried to rescue them.

All historically accurate, and all still fun and positive.  I know there are good reasons to focus on non-positive things on Thanksgiving, but given how most kids' families celebrate they are not going to go for that.  And for families where the holiday really is a rare opportunity for feasting and togetherness, or for people who aren't descended from colonists and aren't benefiting from the current system, pretty seriously not cool anyway.  Guilt-focused curricula that assume everyone is rich and/or white are starting to piss me off almost as much as curricula that just ignore the problematic bits.  Erasing your audience isn't better than erasing history.

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