Crystal Math

[Estimated reading time: 28 minutes]

[Editor's note: this story has been in the works for way too long, since at least 2014, and I've finally decided to publish it, mostly as-is. The tenses change a few times and there are some other issues with it, but I also need to be free of it. So here it is.]

10 years ago, your average Joe Six Pack didn't have a damn clue what L4 meant. This is still true for poor Joe, though now his kids probably do. Do you? No, it doesn't have a thing to do with the lumbar vertebrae, or the Bren Gun, or whatever else . It's a damn point in space.

Ask a kid in elementary school about the L4 and he'll wax poetic on the subject, much like the previous generation could be relied on to blabber about dinosaurs or sharks or Pokemon. Nowadays, every damn kid knows that L4 stands for "4th Lagrange point". Which, in turn, means that if you've got two large bodies, like the earth and the moon, there are 5 "stationary" points. 5 points where you can put something, like a rock or a book, and it won't move. L1, 2, 3… those are about as stable as the tip of a needle. Yeah, put something there, it won't move. Look at it the wrong way and off it goes, sailing into the night sky.

4 and 5, that's where the money's at. So to speak. You put something there, it sticks around. Maybe not in the same place - it wobbles a bit, in an orbit, you see - but it's not flying nowhere.

"Come on dad, let's get some ice cream! We can talk space later!"

10 years ago, I had a thankless job at the University of Chicago. Which is to say, I was that PhD student who worked the night shift, stuck in the lab while the rest of my high-school graduating class was attending dinner parties and art-house openings with their families. Or the DINK weekend warriors, climbing Mt Rainier, unwinding from some mind-numbingly boring IT gig they scored along the way. Ha, those suckers. They'd never know the true pleasure of staring at electron microscope scans, processing data, setting up simulations in a dire attempt to replicate the… Where was I going with this?

10 years ago, I'd have given anything to be where I am now.

10 years ago, I was a damn fool. A silly PhD student.

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[Estimated reading time: 19 minutes]

Sometimes when I'm on the bus, it's been an uneventful ride and I'm absorbed by the scenery, I blink and the landscape changes. It's not the same Pacific Northwest scenery that I've grown accustomed to. The mossy pines get replaced by cacti or centuries-old oaks, the rolling hills morph into dusty plains or icy tundra. I watch and try to figure out where "here" is.

Highway signs are a dead giveaway, as are the billboards or the ads on the sides of buses, so I try to ignore those. I look for the birds, the foreign deer, lions, carts full of wares being pulled by bored-looking camels. These make the whole ordeal somewhat sporting.

But it's gotten too easy. Which is another way of saying that I've seen every single country on the planet. The ones that have buses, which is most, save for the Vatican or Monaco.

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[Estimated reading time: 14 minutes]

The Choice Box, CB for short, sat on the table in front of me. A beer stood between us, half finished. I looked at the pint and wondered. "Who drank that beer?"

I looked around the hotel room. I was sitting on a chair in front of a table, a beer sitting on top of that. An old-fashioned analog clock hung on the wall, its hands hovered around 4, but the background was a digital image that said it was 7:22pm.

"Half the beer is gone. Who drank it?"

I wondered about this for a bit, zoned out for a few minutes, traveled along the pathway that my thoughts were carving through my mind.

It was like riding a train through the countryside for a while. You stare out the window and get lost in the terrain. Follow a river and imagine what it's like to navigate it. Watch birds chase the train for a while and admire the creatures that hang there, within arm's reach, as they soar. You watch the world, but can't reach out and touch it.

The terrain and the inhabitants were my own memories and thoughts and desires. I sat back and thought through the events that lead to this moment, rode the mental train that went from "Last Sync Me" non-stop to "Current Me". I rode the train and watched.

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Last Call, part 2

[Estimated reading time: 2 minutes]

I drove to Issaquah with the top down, my favorite brown jacket wrapped me in an orgasmic layer of comfort. "Pink Floyd" played through the speakers, of course. (It plays now, though a different album.) I sped through the twisty roads and trusted the GPS to get us there safely. Of course it did.

At the bar I ordered the barleywine I'd come for, and a cheap order of buffalo chicken sliders. My mind didn't process in that moment that combining spicy food with a barleywine may not have been the best idea.

I read a different book now, Top 10 Volume 2. The book had one issue left, and that's the time it took me to drink my beer, have the spicy sliders, and notice a man and woman sit down at the bar.

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He Lives

[Estimated reading time: 15 minutes]

Under a late-March sky, under hues of gold and blue and white, our world changed.

I was reclining on a patio chair in the shade of a large umbrella, a glass of sherry on the table by my side, a book in my hands. I had rented this cottage for the month and on this, the second day of my stay, went through the bookshelf in the living room and settled on this book to read.

Nothing too fancy about it, just your average pile of pages bound in a red leather cover, black letters etched into its surface, lines crisscrossing in some random abstract pattern on the front. I opened the book, took in the smell of paper, pondered at how curious it was that this scent still continued to mine the depths of my emotions, and began reading.

The book started out as a mystery, a plain and by the numbers murder with half a dozen characters and three separate storylines that I knew would careen around until they collided. But with each chapter came the more and more frequent digressions.

The characters were talking about the murder less, had started going off on tangents that I was sure would somehow matter in the end. Seemingly unimportant details from childhoods were brought up, stories of long-forgotten friends or lovers began to insert themselves into otherwise-ordinary courtroom scenes and graduation speeches.

The background characters took it all in stride, never piping up to interrupt the strange and unexpected soliloquies.

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[Estimated reading time: 3 minutes]

I roll out of bed and pull on a pair of flannel pants, matching shirt, red and blue patterns on both. I walk out of the bedroom, down the hallway to the bathroom.

I place a bucket under the sink and open the tap, then release my own stream into the toilet. Water going into two different receptacles.

With a practiced and steady hand I reach up above the sink into a plastic bin, pull out a measured spoon of blue powder, and dump this into the bucket.

Once I'm done I wash my hands, transfer the contents of the bucket into a plastic watering can in the shape of an elephant, and walk around my small apartment, watering the dozen or so plants I have scattered on every windowsill and some counters.

The plants are simple creatures, they want little. Some blue medicine mixed into a bit of water and that's all the plants need.

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[Estimated reading time: 2 minutes]My name is Mina and I am all alone in this world.

I was born in 2451, on January 30th. That was twenty and four years ago.

"The government" is no longer a concept where I am from, but if there was a modern counterpart to it, then it was the Council of the Third. The Council funded research into FTL travel and eventually was able to come up with a prototype, a vehicle designed to break free of our measly physical laws and travel through a sort of hyperspace. Or was it a wormhole? Or spice?

Wasn't really paying attention when they taught me all that stuff, covered it in the classes leading up to the launch. I wasn't interested in it, beyond the bare essentials. We'll get to them, later.

So there I was, in orbit.

The prototype ship was nicknamed Nostromo for its strange shape. I was floating outside it, going over every inch of her surface, checking her for holes, ruptures. It was tradition, that's why.

She was a beauty, the gray outline of her side, in the glow of the sun and the African continent below us. I slowed myself a bit and enjoyed view and the serenity of the fly-by.

I entered the ship through the free airlock. The other airlock connected the lab to ship, so no way was I getting through it. Doctor Roland was already in the ship when I got in. She updated me on my vitals while I went over the pre-flight checklist.

She didn't have much to report. The mission was still a go.

Twenty minutes later, I detonated the explosive charge that destroyed the lab, while a larger charge vaporized the Council headquarters. That was my actual mission. The Council of the Third, Airborn Division Three was a mask that I used to find my way onto the Nostromo. Once aboard the ship, I made short work of the scientists who designed it, then flew into the void.

They'll never catch up. That's what I remembered from the lectures.

FTL has an upper speed-limit, and I was at it. I was alone forever. The world I was born into did not matter anymore, it was beyond reach.

The ship was not built to navigate between the stars, this was a prototype we were hoping would fly us to Mars. When I slow down, I will be flying on manual. Finding a star with a habitable planet around it will be a miracle. Setting down on a planet is astronomically unlikely, I realize that.

Finding my way back to Earth was an impossibility.

Wherever I am, and wherever I find myself on this trip, it will be a new, different world.


[Estimated reading time: < 1 minute][Editor's note: this was an unfinished entry from... I can't remember when.]


Tuesday, October 4th

I wake up early.

It's my place, my room. I look over myself, feel for damage, anything out of wack. Nothing wrong.

Get a jog in around the lake. Come in and make myself a breakfast, quick shower while the eggs are cooking. My bathrobe is, like always, that perfectly cuddle-able amount of soft. I have breakfast, drink two cups of coffee, listen to a record on the turnstyle.

Through the open window I can see the city, a random metallic box interrupting the view as it plummets or rockets, carrying its unterrified passengers on recklessly suicidal speeds.

If the AI were to die.

Happy thoughts!

I went down to the market and spent a while picking out the ingredients. Rice, chicken,


[Editor's note: the post just ends like that. Can't remember what I was thinking or planning. Need to release the post just as it is.]


[Estimated reading time: 2 minutes]Who's gonna be in NYC in July? It's been all over the news, thanks to our tireless marketing department, but if you've been living under a rock or off-planet, I'll be announcing a prototype non-weaponizable reactor, nicknamed Safe Arc (no numbers yet, but it'll definitely have improvements) on July 1st. There's gonna be a big fancy gala, so remember to suit up.

And of course there's the UN Assembly happening on July 3rd, and all member nations are expected to debate on… you know, I can't recall what they're meeting about, but I don't think that'll be relevant, it's just too good of a target not to get hit.

Lots of fun things happening in the city around Independence Day.

There's even this big children's choir thing in the city, something like five hundred thousand school children from a culturally diverse set of backgrounds, and they're all going to sing the national anthem on the 4th. Another soft target there, plenty of potential casualties and a real opportunity for the city's homeless population to step up and save a handful of children from precarious ledges and such. Whoo!

Seems like perfect time to get together, knowwhatimean? Someone's definitely gonna drop in on these perfectly-scheduled festivities, so let's do what we do best?

Pillow fight!

Did everyone see the video of Thor getting pummeled by Banner on that gladiator planet? I sent it out last week. And yesterday. And here it is again, for your viewing pleasure. Now there's a dude who can take a pillow to the face!

[Editor's note: video removed by Fox. But it had the Hulk jumping up into the air on that gladiator planet and then punching Thor in the face as he landed. And then Thor wakes up in the hospital bed, like he just took a nap and not a nuke to the face.]

So anyway, I'm thinking we can organize more of that, push each other around a bit, topple some empty buildings - no worries, I've bought up every major under-construction building in Manhattan, lots of space to play! - and overall just have a good ol fashioned annual pillow fight.

Thor brought this up earlier, and I know some of you have been hinting at this, so: we're sending Dr Strange to pick up the shawarma. Two birds, one wizard: he gets the shwarma from 19th century Turkey (very authentic!), and no spoilsport around. Anyone get in a pillow fight with that guy? He cheats, teleports you into a pillow factory or some such, really cuts the fighting time down with that “I'll fix things in four seconds” nonsense. We're here to have fun, not save the day in the quickest, most boring way possible!

See you all soon, Avengers FTW and all that.

PS: I've developed a new suit that's like eighty times stronger than the Hulkbuster, can't wait to try it out. Obviously it's just as non-lethal, like a mattress-sized pillow, but… you know, it punches things better. And this new paint job is sick!


[Estimated reading time: 6 minutes]I read a story about this lady who had about a hundred or so cup-and-saucer pairs. Guess she was a collector or something, can’t recall. So she had this long narrow shelf that snaked around her kitchen, and every single inch of this shelf was covered in the cup-and-saucer pairs, each one a different color and character, different theme for each of them. A friend had asked her how she managed to keep her entire collection so spotless clean. The woman replied that she had a systematic approach to cleaning the cup-and-saucer sets, and that was to take one down every day and use it. She’d put on the kettle, pick a theme for the day, pull down that cup-and-saucer, wash them, and use them for tea. After she was done with the team, the dynamic duo would go back up that shelf. She had about three cups of tea throughout the day, which meant that she cleaned her entire collection about once a month.

I thought about that for a while. The woman in the story developed an approach to making sure that every single cup was used and washed. It’s not clear if she chose the cups in order - certainly the easier approach - or had a complex order where she used every third one and through careful calculation she knew that this would eventually hit on every cup-and-saucer.

This was a curious thing for me. And then Marc Healtie entered my world and I found someone who also thought about these concepts. He had a particular pattern that he would go through, just like the lady in the cup-and-saucer story. In Marc’s bathroom there were four candles, shotglasses with wax in them essentially, and each had a letter on its side, so that together the candles spelled out LOVE. He had these candles in his bathroom as long as I’ve known him, but he was also single the entire time, so I’m not sure who got these for him or when.

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