Whenever the ground was nice and soft from recent rains or high humidity, that’s when Deborah’s metal detector came out.

She’d generally run the thing–a 13-year-old MinenPlatzen 3200 that had been top of the line once upon a time–over the side yard before heading off to the park. She’d always dress well, in the same sort of clothes she’d wear to church on Wednesday–not Sunday, she wasn’t crazy enough to dig in the dirt in that!–just to reassure folks that she wasn’t some weird bum. Not like those hoboes she saw in Florida at her half-sister’s place on the beach, heavens no. Still got some odd looks, but it was worth it for the thrill of the hunt.

Alcorn Park was frequented by college students, and they frequently lost things there. Rings, earrings, bits of jewelry, and plenty of coins. Bottlecaps too, from late nights drinking under cover of darkness. Deborah had done the same in her student days, after all. She turned in anything that was personalized or seemed sentimental, like the class ring from that young man who’d written her the nice thank-you note, disposed of the trash, and turned the remainder in across town at a cash-for-gold shop run by an old sorority sister.

The money was nothing to write home about, a few dollars a week on average that went into the snack fund. But detecting was fun, even when she found nothing. And, more importantly, it got Deborah out of the house–away from the infernal whine of Kenneth’s TV programs. Ever since he retired, that’s all he’d done, and as much as Deborah couldn’t stand him when she only had to do so nights and weekends, being in the house for any length of time when he was there 24/7 was enough to give digging through wormy dirt for bottlecaps a certain allure.

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STUDENT: Uh…umm…qwee digest-ee dee mee mad-dre?

OWLINGUO: ¡Tu español es tan malo como tu inglés! La mona aunque se vista de seda, mona se queda. ¡Escupo a tu madre!

NARRATOR: Owlingo. Because the best way to learn another language is being insulted in that language by an owl.

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Feral Hog (16 December-14 January)
You’re not some fat domesticated pig: you’re feral, dangerous, wild. Your smarts plus your savagery make you a dangerous combination, and if anyone thinks you’re soft, you’ll show them just how wrong they are.

Housefly (15 January-14 February)
There’s a lot of buzz around you, and even though you can be a bit fragile, it takes a lot to put you down. You can nimbly avoid most of life’s challenges, but when something does hit you, it hits you hard.

Cane Toad (15 February–14 March)
Invasive and toxic, you poison anything that tries to hurt you and go right bak to your business. But this also means you have an even keel, never let things upset you, and go with the flow.

House Sparrow (15 March–14 April)
You’re outgoing, you like being social and having a lot of friends, and you’re not above begging for what you want. But at the end of the day, you’ll be laughing from a high perch with hundreds of family and friends while those who try to keep you down slink away.

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Cockroach (16 August-15 September)
When the radioactive clouds dissipate, you will inherit the earth. A natural survivor, it’s not always pretty but you always get the job done. You prefer darkness to light, being a bit of a night owl, and flight to fighting, but it is also nigh-impossible to keep you out.

Coyote (16 September-15 October)
You’re loyal to your pack and fierce in protecting what’s yours, but you’re also not above a little play. You can be dangerous, but you can be fun as well. Anyone who doubts your ability to fight hard is in for a rude awakening.

Pigeon (16 October-16 November)
You’re equally at home alone or in groups, and your innocuous demeanor puts people at ease. But make no mistake: you are a survivor and you will persevere. Your nest may only be a handful of sticks, but you’ll make it with pride and lay eggs until you can’t lay anymore.

Rat (17 November-15 December)
If it can be eaten you’ll eat it, if it can be drunk you’ll drink it, and if it can be squirmed into, you’ll squirm into it. But for all that you’re loyal, intelligent, community-focused, and probably too much trouble to kill.

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Raccoon (15 April–15 May)
You dive gleefully into trashy subjects with no self-awareness, but also work well in groups and stay active. Compulsive washing behavior means you stay neat and clean. You’re a problem solver not averse to cutting a Gordian knot or two.

Opossum (16 May-15 June)
Your marsupial pouch means you can bury trauma deep, and others who are smaller, weaker, will cling to you for safety and shelter. You’re not afraid to play dead when it suits you, but will also get up and walk away from things that might actually kill anyone else.

Skunk (16 June-15 July)
While you may take some getting used to, people will generally find you agreeable so long as they don’t piss you off. You are terrifying to anger, demonstrating a stunk-earth approach to battle, but also prefer to flee rather than fight. You accept the stigma knowing it means people leave you alone.

Seagull (16 July-15 August)
You thrive in groups, and take innovative approaches to problem solving, from popping chip bags to dropping oysters. While you may be chatty and flighty, few can stand up to you and your friend group combined. You do tend to be messy and like the beach bum lifestyle.

Cockroach (16 August-15 September)
When the radioactive clouds dissipate, you will inherit the earth. A natural survivor, it’s not always pretty but you always get the job done. You prefer darkness to light, being a bit of a night owl, and flight to fighting, but it is also nigh-impossible to keep you out.

Coyote (16 September-15 October)
You’re loyal to your pack and fierce in protecting what’s yours, but you’re also not above a little play. You can be dangerous, but you can be fun as well. Anyone who doubts your ability to fight hard is in for a rude awakening.

Pigeon (16 October-16 November)
You’re equally at home alone or in groups, and your innocuous demeanor puts people at ease. But make no mistake: you are a survivor and you will persevere. Your nest may only be a handful of sticks, but you’ll make it with pride and lay eggs until you can’t lay anymore.

Rat (17 November-15 December)
If it can be eaten you’ll eat it, if it can be drunk you’ll drink it, and if it can be squirmed into, you’ll squirm into it. But for all that you’re loyal, intelligent, community-focused, and probably too much trouble to kill.

Feral Hog (16 December-14 January)
You’re not some fat domesticated pig: you’re feral, dangerous, wild. Your smarts plus your savagery make you a dangerous combination, and if anyone thinks you’re soft, you’ll show them just how wrong they are.

Housefly (15 January-14 February)
There’s a lot of buzz around you, and even though you can be a bit fragile, it takes a lot to put you down. You can nimbly avoid most of life’s challenges, but when something does hit you, it hits you hard.

Cane Toad (15 February–14 March)
Invasive and toxic, you poison anything that tries to hurt you and go right bak to your business. But this also means you have an even keel, never let things upset you, and go with the flow.

House Sparrow (15 March–14 April)
You’re outgoing, you like being social and having a lot of friends, and you’re not above begging for what you want. But at the end of the day, you’ll be laughing from a high perch with hundreds of family and friends while those who try to keep you down slink away.

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In days long past, Sky courted Earth. Sky showed Earth the sun and moon, the stars and clouds, all as an expression of its love. Earth, for its part, saw Sky’s tokens of affection and offered up its own: trees and insects, worms and moss. But they had a problem, both of them: Sky’s gifts could not be taken to Earth, nor could Earth’s gifts be taken to Sky.

Together, they collaborated to remedy this. Together, they created Robin, a being equally at home with Earth and with Sky. Robin bears the gifts of Earth skyward in its person, and by building its nests; robin bears the gifts of Sky earthward in the young it raises and its spreading of seeds.

Robin is their wedding band, their bond, their child. And in every action Robin takes, the age-old bind between Sky and Earth is renewed.

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The Third German Antarctic Expedition of 1914 was intended to make up for the utter failure of the Second German Antarctic Expedition, which had failed to make landfall and been riven by interpersonal strife. The result was a scientific expedition organized along naval lines, using the obsolete protected cruiser SMS Eldgrat. Putting to sea as it did in the fall of 1913, the expedition’d departure was not publicized due to the prevailing climate of international tension.

Reaching Antarctica, specifically the part later known as Marie Byrd Land, in January 1914, the expedition had the contingent completely to themselves–the next explorers, the doomed Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition and their support party, would not arrive for nearly a year. Surviving records are somewhat unclear, but it seems that at the outbreak of World War I, the Eldgrat was ordered north to support the East Asia Squadron, with a skeleton crew left behind to erect a wireless transmitting station and make scientific observations as conditions and supplies permitted.

Other than a short message declaring the station to be operational in November, no further messages were received in 1914 and after Eldgrat was sunk with all hands at the Battle of the Falkland Islands in December, the Imperial German admiralty seems to have lost interest in the expedition, preoccupied with the war effort.

The wireless station began transmitting again in mid-1916, with the signal being picked up in both Berlin and Sydney, surprising both the British and the Germans with its strength. By that point in the war there was no way for the Germans to ascertain the fate of the roughly two dozen men that had been left behind, although there was talk of sending the zeppelin L60 on a combined rescue-resupply mission to drop supplies for the East Africa campaign and rescue any survivors from Antarctica.

In contrast, the British organized an expedition aboard HMAS Perth to destroy the transmitter and neutralize the German party. The signal was strong enough to easily triangulate, and the Perth reached the German camp in January 1917. They found it abandoned, with no sign of the 24 men that had been left behind. There were ample supplies of food, but the final log entries were from December 1914, with nothing amiss noted. Three of the seventeen dogs had survived, with the British seamen estimating that they had survived by hunting penguins.

The wireless transmitter, though, had developed a severe list of 16º off true, repeating the same signal that had drawn the attention of both Sydney and Berlin. The signal, at a frequency of 1420.3556 MHz, continued until the transmitter was destroyed, though no meaningful content was ever derived from it by either the Germans or the British. The dogs were taken to Australia and adopted, the only known survivors of the expedition. As a footnote, all three lived peculiarly long lives afterwards–16, 17, and 19 years respectively.

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Dear Warmaiden Madison R’Svask:
I was reading an article about the use of a turbo death ray in a mass disintegration on Vatna Prime and wondered why the government there does not impose some kind of death ray restrictions. 11001001 Prime only allows death rays aboard star dreadnoughts, for instance.
-01000001 01001010, Sector 001, 11001001 Prime

Dear 01000001,
This is a great question! It’s something I ask myself a lot, since most of the Vatna Code of Blood Honor was written during the age of stabbing, before projectile weapons of any sort were invented. But you have to remember that the Code of Blood Honor was formalized in the era after the Vatna Empire was overthrown and the Vatna Republic was born. After roasting and eating the entire imperial family down to the seventh generation in a giant picnic, the Vatna were very interested in making sure they could have another such picnic if the Republic failed to live up to its promises.

So that’s why the Right to Preemptive Attack is in the Code of Blood Honor, and why the 997th Vatna Republic refuses to change it. Me, I’m in favor of some simple common-sense changes: some background checks for people purchasing reactor-driven star-dreadnought class death rays, a five-day waiting period on turbo laser purchases, and limiting the capacity of military-grade battery packs to 1000 shots or less. I also think that preemptive attacks should me limited to bladed weapons, bringing back the duel of honor to supplant the mass disintegration in Vatna culture. Maybe we’ll get to the level of the 11001001 in a few millennia, who knows?

It’s worth noting, though, that my human family is on record as saying that the Vatna Code of Blood Honor is very restrictive and an example of government overreach! Sol III does, after all, not limit mass disintegration to matters of honor! But they also have a much better selection of essential oils and bath salts, so it all evens out.

-Warmaiden Madison R’Svask

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An ornithologist for the state extension service, Piper had earned her degree and gotten her job out of a love of birds, but was more commonly presented with their mangled remains to identify. She also confiscated illegally collected native birds, mostly hawks, and was consulted about shooting, poisoning, or clubbing unwanted flocks. The state natural history museum had long since stopped taking her calls or accepting her packages–they simply were not interested in taxidermy specimens no matter how pristine. She couldn’t help it, though–such magnificent specimens deserved a better fate than the trash. This led Piper down what some might consider a dark path, amateur taxidermy. There were buyers out there for illegally prepared and mounted birds, and they were willing to pay cash and not ask questions. The way Piper saw it, she was reducing the market for poached birds, since all her specimens had died of natural causes. Her position also meant that she could fill her workspace with the stuff and no one would ask any questions. The birds got their respect, deaths were not in vain, and Piper supplemented her meager salary–it seemed like everybody won in that arrangement.

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From the rich cultural tradition that brought you Princess Cakes (prinsesstårta), it’s Prime Minister Cakes (statsministertårta)! While Princess Cakes have garish and expensive colors, Prime Minister Cakes are a cheap and neutral beige color, passing the savings onto the taxpayer. The delicious cream filling of a Princess Cake is decadent but also alienates major voting blocs, such as the lactose-intolerant and people who hate cakes. Prime Minster cakes are therefore filled with rich, healthy cauliflower-and-coconut whip. Best of all, Prime Minister Cakes are democratic–if you don’t like any aspect of them, you can initiate a vote of no confidence by simply getting a majority of shareholders to join you! Prime Minister Cakes: taste the representation!

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