November 2014


The assembled members of the scientific staff each had a visible Strepsipterid protruding or pulsating beneath their clothing, and their faces all wore the same beatific expression. Motile scurrying larval planidia, each the size of silver dollars, crawled over the floor and the bodies of the people in their thrall, while butterfly-sized males flitted from perch to perch about the larviform female parasites.

“They are peaceful parasites, it is true, but that does not mean they do not know a modicum of defense.” Dr. Warren said, her voice a serene monotone. “The others are dead; having refused the gift, we were forced to act in the name of the greater good.”

It was only then that Gracie noticed the soldiers in the wings, their rifles limber and deadly, their own Streptisterid parasites alive with pulsations.

“Surely you must concede, Dr. Warren,” Gracie said, trying to appeal to what might be left of her colleague’s logic, “that one can refuse the gift but not wish those who have accepted it harm. Isn’t that the kind of ‘if you’re not with us, you’re against us’ thinking that your peace seeks to defeat?”

“You are proceeding from a false assumption,” Warren replied coldly. “Could the creatures of the Precambrian who could not to adapt to an oxygen-rich atmosphere from one that was purely nitrogen persist? Of course not. The gift is oxygen; to refuse is by definition to die.”

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“I should have known you were behind all this,” growled the koala mercenary, a eucalyptus cigarette smouldering in his mouth and a tiny .22 revolver in each two-thumbed hand.

Dr. James Platypus cackled, his tail waving merrily. “THE.POISON.CLAWS.OF.MY.KIND.ARE.EVER.TRIUMPHANT.AGAINST.THE.REDUCED.BRAINS.OF.YOURS.” he crowed through the intermediary of a cell phone touch screen equipped with Gaggle Translator.

“Where’s the trigger?” screeched the koala with his inhuman voice, striking Dr. Platypus on his smug beak. “Where’s the trigger?”

Platypus laughed. “YOU.THINK.I.WOULD.TELL.YOU?” he typed into Gaggle Translator with a trembling paw. “LIKE.ALL.OF.YOUR.KIND.YOUR.BITING.AND.CLAWING.AND.SHRIEKING.IS.JUST.A.SMOKESCREEN.FOR.IGNORANCE.”

A hammer pulled back and a barrel pressed to the back of the koala mercenary’s head preempted his reply. “Kara Quoll,” he said bitterly. “How could you?”

said Ms. Quoll, with her hands, in Australian Outback Standard Sign Language.

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One Hundred – The grand old man, whose grandfatherly aloofness makes Ten seem warm and clingy. He rarely involves himself with the day-to-day concerns of his neighbors but is roundly respected by most of them for his evenhandedness. He reports to a much higher authority known as Infinity, though he has also been seen with the enigmatic figures of π and Prime (the leader of the Prime Club). One Hundred’s aloofness and inaction mean that he is often content to let events take their course through inertia, intervening only at the point where a catastrophe must be averted.

Sixty-Six – At once shunned and looked up to, Sixty-Six is the bad girl of her neighborhood, bedecked in black and riding a motorcycle to buy groceries. She completely owns and embraces her stereotyped role, and makes her neighbors even more uneasy because of it. Most often seen with Thirteen, who has a bit of a hero-worship crush on her, and has an ongoing feud with Thirty-Three.

Fifty – Staid, patrician, and generally grouchy, Fifty has a laconic wit and generally prefers to keep to himself and be left alone. When roused to action, though, he is a terrible opponent and a stalwart ally. His extensive military service and the rumor that he keeps an old military surplus pistol in his jacket are enough for most of his neighbors to give him a respectful berth and honor his desire for privacy, fine cigars, and cask-aged whiskey.

Thirty-Three – Intensely moral and ethical, Thirty-Three is often harshly judgmental of anyone who departs from behaviors that are dictated by her personal code. Always the first to start a moral panic and the last to abandon it, Thirty-Three is nevertheless very generous with her time and her money, and volunteers extensively for a variety of causes. This leads to many of her neighbors seeing her as a nosy, gossipy busybody, though many have benefited from her generosity. She has an intense and ongoing feud with Sixty-Six.

Thirteen – A mopey, sulky, and moody wannabe goth, Thirteen is often shunned by his neighbors for his relentless negativity and outward signs of depression. He is, however, a poseur who affects much of his public persona in imitation of, and with a massive unrequited crush on, Sixty-Six. In private, he is actually quite fond of bright colors, cartoons, and sing-alongs but does his best (which is not terribly good) to keep those facets of himself from the public eye. A member of the Prime Club, he is tolerated by the Primes somewhat more than the Composites.

Twelve – Prissy, preening, and generally full of herself, Twelve enjoys lording it over anybody she can, especially Ten. Ten generally allows this treatment to roll of his back, which makes Twelve all the more anxious to prove, and flout, her superiority. She is very skilled and intelligent, and not above manipulating others (especially Six) to get her way, and can often be found conspiring with Nine to lay Ten low and prove herself the greatest once and for all. For all her negative bluster, though, Twelve is very loyal to her friends Six and Twenty-Four.

Eleven – A raucous and noisy wannabe rocker, Eleven is cheerfully oblivious to her utter lack of talent. With her bandmates Twenty-Two and Forty-Four, she is determined to become a starlet to show up both Twelve and Ten, both of whom regard her with sometimes thinly veiled patronizing attitudes. For all her designs on superstardom, she is also very devoted to the Prime Club, serving as its secretary and with a record of perfect attendance.

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Captain Sir Donald Edmundson and a crew aboard HMS Eldridge were part of a flotilla of three ships dispatched as part of the Imperial Antarctic Mapping Expedition in 1899. Edmundson and the Eldridge, alongside HMS Muir and HMS Sutton, was tasked with mapping the Antarctic coastline south of Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa with an eye toward registering an official territorial claim. Indeed, the map data returned by Muir and Sutton was instrumental in the territorial claims Britain advanced in 1908 under J. E. B. Seely.

Edmundson, a 20-year veteran of the Royal Navy, was in nominal overall command of the expedition, but in practice each of the ships operated independently in an assigned sector of ocean. The Eldridge departed from Cape Town in March 1899 and was seen by whalers operating out of Grytviken on South Georgia amid ice floes near the Prince Edward Islands in May. Edmundson told the whalers that he was waiting for a break in the weather to attempt a thorough exploration of what is now known as Queen Maude Land, and paid the whalers for some provisions and taking a sack of outgoing mail.

While Muir returned to Perth in September and Sutton put into Christchurch on Halloween 1899, there was no sign of Eldridge. Based on the whalers’ accounts and the mail they delivered, nothing was untoward on the ship’s outgoing voyage, but Admiralty records showed that the ship’s coal and provisions would last no longer than December. A search was eventually launched, with the two remaining ships joining a motley group of vessels from the dominions in the area, but nothing was found until a clipper stumbled across the drifting hulk of the Eldridge.

The ship’s engine had been damaged beyond repair, its sails were missing, and virtually all provisions were missing. Papers found onboard indicated that the ship had become icebound in May and slowly drifted north. Low on supplies and fearful of being crushed, Edmundson had ordered the crew to take to their boats in order to reach the nearest land from their position: Highcliff Island. The captain was under the mistaken impression that Highcliff was supplied with castaway huts and a wireless station (he was in fact confusing it with Kerguelen nearly 1000 miles to the east). A final message carved into the ship’s timbers read TO HIGHCLIFF.

A search of Highcliff uncovered two of the ship’s four boats on the narrow beaches below its sheer cliffs, as well as some personal effects, but no further messages and no bodies. Unable to scale the cliffs, the searchers were forced to give up, but six subsequent attempts were made to breach the interior of the island at the instigation of Lady Lara Edmundson, who was convinced that her husband and his men had reached the island’s unknown interior. An attempt to blast an opening in the cliffs with dynamite and the ship’s guns from a reserve cruiser failed.

In the century afterwards, amateur adventurers attempted to breach the interior of Highcliff many times, fueled in part by rumors of a sizable amount of gold bullion carried by the lost crew.

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Secret whisperer from the silent forests of the soul, you have not been forgotten. Memory lives on where once was life, and legacy grows despite the harrowing of time.

The torch shall be passed.

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Chadwick Thaddeus Harris, known as Tad to his friends but often called Chad or Chaddeus in discourse after two quasi-pseudonyms he used in his early writing, wrote his first poems as an undergraduate at the University of Northern Mississippi and immediately attracted media attention and stiff criticism. After all 1,000 issues of the local student newspaper were stolen to prevent the publication of a Harris poem in 2002, his case was taken up by the national news media and became an intense focal point of discussion. So much so, in fact, that it all but completely overshadowed the poems themselves.

Harris tended to use the common vernacular of unrhymed, unmetered, and often prosaic poetry common to many poets in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, but his subject matter tended toward right-wing causes. Poems against immigration, against affirmative action, and in favor of the controversial military strikes of the Clinton and Bush II eras were just some of Harris’s most-cited works. The fact that he used the poetic vernacular of his contemporaries to espouse cause that those selfsame contemporaries, by and large, found incredibly distasteful, classist, and even racist, seemed to be the source of particular vitriol.

The poems have been claimed by many to have little value as poetry when compared with their value as screed, but the perfect storm of media attention generated by his first few publications established Harris as a cause celebre often held up by right and left alike as a symbol. It’s clear in retrospect how uncomfortable this made Harris, being held up as a paragon on one hand and a boogeyman on the other. In the few interviews he granted, he is consistent in denying any larger political focus to his work, holding that he wrote solely for himself and that readers were seeing what they wanted to say.

Authorities in Hopewell continue to treat his death as a suicide, but have steadfastly refused to release any further details. Harris’s blog, the only public space in which he had any significant presence, contains a final entry that many have seen as serving as a suicide note of sorts, though it is dated more than two months prior to the discovery of his body:

“The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that I am seeing the end of a great age of peace and plenty for my country, to be followed by an age of eclipse, division, and sorrow. What would, I wonder, a Roman have done if they could have known the anarchy that would follow the death of Alexander Severus? As much as I pray I am wrong, I also pray that I will never live to see myself proven right.”

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Statement from The Church of the Anti-Machine technicult on their disruption of the Southern Michigan University Fighting Grizzlies – University of Northern Mississippi Fighting Abolitionists in the second quarter of the GesteCo Bowl football game in Westchester Repeating Arms stadium as broadcast on NBS Television:

MACHINES and INVENTION only DISTANCE humankind from the EARTH and TRUE SPIRITUALITY
It was DECREED by the FOUNDER of the Church of the Anti-Machine that the DEVIL’S DAY has already come
That day was JANUARY 1, 1800, the day our FOUNDER saw the DEVIL and his LEGIONS at work
Through the miracle of ASTRAL PROJECTION TIME TRAVEL our FOUNDER saw the EVIL of the past from 2002
How MACHINES and INVENTION have done the DEVIL’S WORK since JANUARY 1, 1800
RISE UP against the EVILS of MACHINES and INVENTION and SHUN anything created after DEVIL’S DAY
THAT IS WHY we stopped your FOOT-BALL GAME from being SEEN
TELEVISION, FOOT-BALL, and THE INTER-NET are all DEVIL’S WORK from after DEVIL’S DAY
We bore our FLINTLOCKS and TORCHES against them for your SALVATION
Take up your own and JOIN US

Signed,
Henri Nucci Chatham
Primate, The Church of the Anti-Machine

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The mamihamur of Padihamurah Tuul in Westingbrooke conducted weekly classes in the Memory Hall there, sharing his learned opinion on the interpretation of the Hamurabash with orcs and a few human and dwarf converts after the weekly Memory Service.

Sheniqua Washington leaned in the doorway, listening silently. She could understand Orcish thanks to her stepfather, and Mamihamur Rulih spoke slowly and clearly for the benefit of those who were still learning or who primarily spoke other dialects.

“I have purchased a rifle and a kevlar vest in order to protect my home and my family,” said one orc. “Does that satisfy the requirements of the Hamurahash?

“Let us consider that question carefully,” said Rulih. “The Hamurabash sayeth thus: every man and unmarried woman must be prepared to defend themselves and their community at a moment’s notice, and must therefore have their axe and shield nearby. Which is the most important part of that statement: the defense of self and community, or the bearing of axe and shield?”

“I am not sure,” said the petitioner. “My uncle says that I have betrayed the Hamurabash as rifles and kevlar were unknown in Hamur’s time.”

“Let me ask you this, then,” said the padihamurah. “If Hamur lived today, and he wished to assault an encampment of heretics, religious proselytizers peddling the concept of an afterlife to the weak and the poor, what tools would he use? Keep in mind that the heretics, knowing no Hamurabash, would bear firearms and body armor.”

“Hamur would turn the heretics’ weapons against them, as he would use them in the furtherance of order and the memory of his forebears,” said the petitioner. “I mentioned this to my uncle, though, and he claims that it would be more in keeping with the Hamurabash for Hamur to use axe and shield; he would still surely prevail without sullying himself with the weapons of the infidels, and if we were to follow his example, our memory would be purer for our choice of weapons.”

“Think of it this way,” laughed Rulih. “We honor Hamur through the act of defending and committing memorable deeds. It is preferable to use axe and shield, surely, but sometimes this is not possible. I would therefore keep your rifle and kevlar next to your axe and shield, bearing one to obey the spirit of the Hamurabash and the other its letter. For even if the enemy are armed with rifles, if they close to axe range, you will be at an advantage for having followed the Hamurabash.”

The assembled people in the Memory Hall murmured in approval of Rulih’s logic, and the petitioner seemed satisfied.

He didn’t seem like a dangerous radical to Sheniqua, that was for sure.

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Wey Lee could speak perfect Mandarin and perfect English; he had Anglicized the spelling of his name but refused to take on a appellation more palatable to flabby Western tongues, as had many of the Josephs and Sallys and such that Zhang Min had met on the campus. Compared to the twinkies that seemed to overrun the campus, the young man was a fresh breath of sharp fall air.

She had made turning pages and scanning them for Dr. Li such an automatic process that when Wey dropped by (as he often did, seemingly living in the library) she was able to engage him in bright and bubbly Mandarin even as she digitized books written by Americans on Tiananmen Square. Most of all, Zhang Min appreciated Wey’s sense of decorum: he was careful to meet her in a crowded place and in such a way (when she had her turn at the scanning terminal) that no one would suspect them of an illicit liaison.

They spoke of many things, of their shared memories of hot South China summers, of the terrible slop that passed for Chinese food in Hopewell, of how full of themselves the local Cantonese speakers seemed to be in comparison to the down-to-earth Mandarin speakers like themselves, and a shared passion for the admittedly cheesy soap operas and patriotic dance displays on mainland television. It made the tedium of scanning more bearable, and the ominous glares of that suspicious librarian less heart-pounding.

But Dr. Lin’s words could not be misinterpreted: “Do not think for a moment that you are here on a pleasure trip. Do not allow yourself to be distracted, as distraction leads to poor quality scans and lack of useful patriotic effort. Remember: if you cannot do as you are asked, there are ten girls in line to replace you.”

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Weber, carried only by the wind, alighted on the steeple of the Königkirche, still the highest point in the Free and Hanseatic City of Elbemund.

Dusk was coming, but it was still possible to see clearly what was going on in the streets below. The Red Spartakists had erected barricades out of trolley-cars and whatever else they could find for blocks surrounding the Königkirche and were firing from positions behind them and in many of the old row-houses along the Kaiserstraße. Men of the Freikorps apposed them, many still wearing their old uniforms from the front, though Weber saw veterans and sailors in uniform among the Spartakists as well, fighting with red armbands and the weapons they’d borne into four years of slaughter. The cracks of rifles and pistols were broken up by the staccato coughs of Spandaus or the new machine-pistols.

Men of the Reichswehr could be made out by their stahlhelms painted with bright republican colors. They wore gas masks and manned heavy artillery batteries which they fired in support of the Freikorps, and assault brigades moved with precision to ourflank the Spartakists. But in places the Freikorps were attacking the Reichswehr; Weber saw at least one artillery battery cleared out by a man with a machine pistol and turned back on its previous owners. Künstler had been right; the Freikorps were only siding with the Republic out of convenience, and they clearly saw the heavy weaponry as a great prize that could be used once the Red Spartakists were cast down. They probably had starry-eyed notions of driving onto Berlin and shelling President Ebert out of his office and installing His Majesty Wilhelm in the smoking crater that resulted.

Air raid sirens rang over it all, a pall of noise to go with the smoke, and in the distance the neon and thumping jazz of Rotlicht could still be perceived. Weber, slumped against a gargoyle, wept bitterly at the sights, the sounds, and the scents from below. He had to get out of Elbemund, to go further than he had before, to hide and remove himself from the violent conflagration working its way across the city.

He had only begun to toy with the idea when a far-off buzzing attracted his attention. Noisy specks were incoming on the horizon; after a moment, Weber saw that it was a formation of Fokker D.VII fighter planes. They bore the bright-colored cockades of the Entente, but from newsreels and posters Weber recognized that the pilots wore German gear. The formation broke apart as he watched; a group made a strafing run on Spartakist positions and several went down in flames, riddled with heavy machine gun bullets from the Reds or the Freikorps.

The remainder zeroed in on the Königkirche. Weber had been spotted, and he barely had time to move before the gargoyle on which he’d been leaning was shattered by incendiary bullets.

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