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Monthly Archives: July 2017

Justice

Judge Robert Mengen didn’t usually like to go to bars. Public places made him nervous, not just because he was a public figure now, but because he just didn’t really like people. But he was coming up on an election year, so he figured he needed the practice. He started off low key, though. He was just here as a man, not wanting to draw attention to himself. And he would take a cab home.

Which kind of led naturally to the other reason why he was here. He kinda didn’t want to go home. Home was no longer where his heart was, but again, it was an election year and after two extremely controversial court decisions in a row, he couldn’t very well divorce her when he was about to be all over the news again. Folks had enough distractions.

When she walked in, he had already had two drinks, whcih was one more than he’d allowed himself in the last decade. Whether or not that made a difference is anyone’s guess.

She was easily the most beautiful woman in the bar, but hardly the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. There was just something about her, a lot of lady prosecutors he knew, but this girl was no lawyer.

He wasn’t going to cheat on his wife, he promised himself. Besides, it would be illegal. But it wasn’t illegal to look.

Or to offer to buy her a drink.

“Sure,” she said, much to his surprise. (He was surprised to be surprised, too.)

He ordered for her, then she turned to him to scrutinize. “Hey, don’t I know you from somewhere?”

“I don’t see why,” he gambled.

“Yes I do!” It didn’t seem to be a sudden revelation. “You’re that judge, aren’t you? Mengen. Robert Mengen.”

Was he going to say it? Yes. “Guilty.”

“You’re up for the Supreme Court this year, aren’t you? The state one, North Carolina.”

“You seem refreshingly well-informed.”

“A democratic population should be.”

“So you’re a Democrat?”

She smiled. “Guilty?” she ventured. “But that’s not what I meant.”

“No, I know.”

Now that she had made her basic skill set known, she took him when he didn’t want to go.

“Weren’t you the guy who tried the Alchemyne case? The one out in Trinity’s Field? What was it? Those parklands?”

“Lot 872,” Mengen confirmed. It was how he preferred to think of that entire part of his career.

“Wasn’t that like an important ecosystem? The plantlife, the—“

“I thought so, too,” he interrupted her. “But once I looked into it, once all the facts were laid out, it was very clear there was nothing legally preventing Alchemyne from building their facility there.”

“Didn’t you try that other case, too?”

That other case. She hardly needed to specify.

“Douglass Cobb. Black guy. Serial killer. Allegedly.”

“Well, he was convicted.”

“By you.”

“I didn’t deliver the verdict. I just passed the sentence.”

“The death sentence.”

“He was a convicted killer.” To be perfectly frank, Mengen had always been somewhat surprised he had made it to trial and not been killed at the scene, or in custody.

“Except he was innocent,” the young woman said.

This was, of course, a popular narrative on the theme. The idea of the black boy wrongly convicted of murders committed by a white boy who had faked his own death months earlier had a certain appeal to identity politics as well as to adventure, but the alternative story provided  by the defense had been ludicrous.

“There are holes in that theory,” was what Mengen told her.

“And there weren’t holes in the idea that he was guilty?”

“Not by the end of the trial.”

“Why not?”

“Because every facet of the argument provided by the defense fell apart under scrutiny.”

“Like the missing body?”

This made Mengen chuckle. “Which one? The body of Charles Navaro that was never recovered, or the body that supposedly belonged to the real Alexander Navaro?” That really was the most ridiculous part.

“But what about Cobb’s alibi?”

“You mean the fact that even his closest friends confirmed he’d shot whichever Navaro it was?”

“Which Navaro boy it was was the heart of the matter, but I’m talking almost all of which he had an alibi for.”

“Yeah, his girlfriend.”

“So she lied? Under oath?”

“The things we do for love.”

“Then why wasn’t she charged with perjury?”

This caught him off-guard. “That’s… not how it works.”

“No? You’re so sure that you sentenced Douglass Cobb to death, but you didn’t even charge her with perjury? I’m sorry, shouldn’t that make her, like, an accomplice? An accessory after the fact?”

“The laws for that are more complicated.”

“The laws?”

“Yes.”

“But what about justice?”

“That’s what I said.”

“No. You said the Law.”

Robert Mengen did not like where this was going.

“Do you seriously not think that there’s a difference between Justice and the Law?”

“There isn’t,” he said, although what he really meant was, There shouldn’t be.

“Wow,” said the young woman. “That explains something.”

“Look,” said Mengen, “you were the one who brought up democracy. In a democracy, we agree upon what is right and we make that Law.”

“Even if we were a Democracy, though, that still wouldn’t be justice.”

“Well, then.” He felt confident and drunk enough to chide now. “What would justice be?”

“Well, it would start with examining any law that privileges companies above people.”

Oh, I see, thought Mengen. It was a brilliant switcheroo—if she wasn’t a lawyer yet, she should be. “So this is about Alchemyne.”

“No, Your Honor, this is about you.”

“Are you a reporter?”

“Like I said, I’m a concerned citizen.”

“And my decisions concern you?”

“I’m starting to think your entire value system should concern every member of the human race.

This was the moment when, if the roles had been reversed, Mengen would have hurled his drink in his accuser’s face, ice cubes and all. But men simply don’t do that. So instead, he politely paid for his drink and excused himself.

“Cobb’s execution is tomorrow,” the young woman informed him. “Do you have any kind of celebration planned?”

To be perfectly honest, he hadn’t even been following that judicial aftermath, too concerned with her own political trajectory.

He left without another word.

Her various accusations haunted him, though, all the way from the bar back up to his hotel room. Of course justice and the law were… well, they were related, of course. But had he been wrong about Cobb? Had he been racist? Oh, no, no, not that, surely. Not that. He was certain of Douglass Cobb’s guilt.

Beyond a shadow of a doubt?

They had had a hand in the legislation, of course, but that was democracy, wasn’t it? It wasn’t the part that got talked about in the media, at least not in that context, it wasn’t popular, but it made sense for the companies that produce, that manufacture the things that we need, to have a hand in policy. Think how much they had given to society! How much they knew about their own business, for that matter. These were the people who knew best. By the time he arrived back at his hotel room, he felt a bit better.

He turned on the light, let out a deep sigh, walked into the room and saw a different young woman pointing a gun at his chest. It took him a moment to place her. The girlfriend?

“I guess you probably thought you’d outlive him, didn’t you?” she said.

Judge Mengen swallowed, not sure what to respond, but confident that in the long run, given the long arm of the law, justice would be served.

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“Honestly OK”

Did I forget to talk about Rake? Or Blaven? Maybe that’s because of how cliché it was, how deploringly high school. On some level, anyway. From a certain point of view.

No, that’s a lie. There’s only one perspective that makes it cliché, and that belongs to Declan Murphy, who stood outside it, and jealousy knows no clichés, doesn’t acknowledge them, and besides, what teenage boy ever recognized his own cliché and owned it?

There is something familiar about it, though, I guess. Predictable? About the damaged former lesbian child of abuse falling for the powerful-seeming yet sensitive black kid on the drums. Kid? I guess that depends how you look at it, whether he acted more like a kid than other black men his age, or whether he was more mature. We need more words for shit like this. Or maybe fewer.

It was Declan’s own fault, really. If fault is what you want to call it. If it hadn’t been for Angst, there’s no way Blake Morrissey and Raven would’ve hooked up, or even looked at each other. I guess I can’t really say that for sure, seen as how I can only see four dimensions and not past that into the multiverse of infinite bullshit, but I mean, come on. Seriously? Blake didn’t even particularly talk to her much outside practice as it was. Was it because he was black? Might’ve been because she was white. Or because she was a girl, and he was a boy and she knew what that meant and knew that he knew.

But keeping out of her way and giving her space even though he was always right there turned out to be a great tactic for “reeling her in”, as it were. Why? Was it because he came off as the strong, silent type? Was it because she was damaged by a particular view of masculinity? Was it because her recent bout of lesbianism had left her craving the exact fucking opposite? No. I think she was just being bombarded by subtle nudges from Declan, who wouldn’t just come out and make a move, and between that and Jasper’s overpowering everything, she just enjoyed the quiet, a chance to take the initiative, to open herself up.

It took Declan a long time to process the idea that a) he had done this to himself, b)she needed to be with Blake so she’d appreciate him when she got there, c) get over yourself she’s a person she makes her own decisions, and maybe tack on d) it doesn’t fucking matter it’s in the past anyway.

And it’s not that there was anything wrong with Blake. There was plenty of talk all through the relationship and long after (and still) about how of course it was never gonna work out, they werre from “different worlds” (bullshit) give me a fucking—they were different people!

They were incompatible. Mix the black and the white, you don’t get stripes, you get endless shades of gray, depending on proportions.

Once she was with Blake, she became like a completely different person. Not while other people were around, though. She was still herself until she was with him, alone. He was her escape from all the fucking shit, her opportunity to be the one in control so she could test out different versions of who she was, who she could be, who she wanted to be, and who she’d never want to be in public.

“Kinda bullshit is this?” Blake finally asked. That day, in a fit of pique (haven’t you always wanted to say that?) she’d seized him in the hall and tossed him (another cliché) into an oversized broom-closet, where there was a bench that was too small, too shallow, for both of them, but still she straddled him, gripping the back of his neck like a vampire in a tango. “Nuh-uh,” said Blake. This was the last straw. “The fuck off me, girl!”

“I thought you liked this.” Not confused. Not yet. She was still this other girl. This predatory Raven.

“Ashley!” he scolded, and it was the first time he’d used her real name like that.

He was holding her now. Her arms? Her face? I can’t tell because she isn’t even sure herself. “Ashley, girl, you gotta wake up.”

But she couldn’t. She knew somewhere down deep she was inside a dream within a dream but she’d forgotten there even was a real world. A real Raven.

Ashley for sure wasn’t there.

But how could Blake know that?

“You’re losing it,” he concluded. “What, is this some game to you? Is that what I am? Some toy? Why you gotta act this way?” She was crying now—that told him he was getting through to her. “You white girls—you think you can just…” He couldn’t put it into words, quite. The manipulations. The racial playground. The Old South aesthetics of a white woman’s nubian fantasy, and what it might do to him.

OK. So maybe race was a factor. But the driving force was this… misunderstanding? Except they weren’t just not getting each other. It was her.

I don’t want to point fingers. If things had been different… Things are never different, though. They just weren’t good for each other. She wasn’t ready, and he… She just wasn’t right for him. And he couldn’t handle her. He wasn’t equiped.

Declan, though…

He wasn’t there yet. There are conditions, especially for… well, for people like Raven. It’s not a matter of deserving. It’s more preparation. Fortification. Like an actor preparing for a role, building up the energy they need to live in that other world in a way that’s believable to an audience.

She needed the fortifications. Not walls against a hostile world but stores of fuel to propel her through it. And like a good audience, he needed to be primed, lulled and led into the right mood. Given girls like Stella as warm-up opening acts to reframe his mind. He needed to be her road, beaten and then paved and leading in the right direction. He wanted to be that road. Her road.

Goddammit, does that metaphor even make any sense?

For all I know, they’re not even really destined for each other. For all I know…

I mean, holy shit, they met in high school, right? What are the odds?

Maybe they’re not perfect for each other. Maybe they’re not even good for each other—they never were.

But they’re what they’ve got.


Lines Written a Few Light-Years above Tintern Abbey

(with apologies to William Wordsworth)

Five years have past, here on this ship; but back on Earth,
It’s more like fifty. Traveling so swiftly, so close to light-speed,
Time itself bends and tarries. And still I rise and still I plummet
Into the desperate Void, and again I hear the engines hum,
Their soft purr the only sound in the quiet of the sky, beyond
These breaths I take of recycling air, the only wind there is
For me to feel.

The dawn has come, according to the chronometer,
And it is day at Tintern Abbey. For one fleeting moment,
She is turned to me, and with telescopic imagination, may see—
But I am past the sun and she will not see me today,
Nor will her children’s children, that might have been mine,
Had I stayed.

And I again repose, inside my Hermit’s cave,
My backward-facing terrace, to watch my home recede,
My only comfort now these bulk-heads, hardly bulkheads anymore,
But the very skin protecting my organs and my mind
From the harsh, cold nothing Outside.
And now, with blinks
Of half-dreaming consciousness, with a somewhat lonely understanding
And relief that in this moment, there is life and food for future years,
I dare to hope, as long as the compilers don’t give out.

But there are few promises to be got, and untold dangers.
The computer chirps, a sound not harsh or grating,
But of ample power to chasten and subdue, and in her voice I catch
The language of the heart I might once have had. On the screen,
She shows me how time has passed and all my aching joys are now
No more, and all her dizzy raptures. Once again do I behold the man
I once was, before I was laid to rest here and this ship
Became a living Soul, how then I was more like a man
Flying from somewhere that he dreads, than one seeking out
Such empty realms as no human soul has seen before.

I cannot paint what then I was and yet I see it still, traces
Like shards of former selves in this AI’s programming.
For I can so inform the mind that is within her
As to approximate a feeling and a love that have no need
Of a remoter charm, by thought supplied with deep impressions
Of pleasures not remembered but felt in the blood and felt along the heart,
And by these means I can say that I am still
A lover of fields and of streams, of forests and towns,
And cars and sports and TV shows and iPod Touches
And intimacy, and of all of you who still behold them on that green Earth.

Therefore let the distant sun shine on you all in your solitary plight
And let the currents of space and time be free to blow against me.
When my lonely pod shall be an Ark for all lovely forms,
Then memory be as a resting place for all sweet sounds and harmonies
Oh! now, if solititude and fear and pain and grief are to be my portion,
Here at least I can look up all my tender joy as healing thoughts
To remember thee through all the years of this my life.

So must we see life into merest things, even out in these barrens,
To lead our fragile, precious minds from joy to joy, yet
While I behold in thee what I once was, my dear, dear Sister,
My daughter, my trusted steed, still I must hold out hope
That out there, somewhere, Nature still abides, the vacuum
Teems with life and though I may well have left behind
All that has ever been known and called “Life”,
That nature and statistics will allow this arrow shot past the sun
To yet somehow find some mark, that some wayward benefactor
Might yet see this flare shot into the night, might catch it, and,
Like the shooting star it so desperately tries to mimic, put me in her pocket.

If this be but a vain belief and the Universe devoid of any
Alien Life, if we are truly as alone in the dark as I, here,
Deprived of the many shapes of joyous daylight,
How oft, in the spirit of longing, may I turn to thee and ask thee
Why?
Thou Dreamer in the Void, thou infinite realm of possibilities,
How often must my Spirit turn to thee!
If I must stay here, where I no more can hear men’s voices,
No more look into women’s eyes, if I must abandon
All the trappings and all the pastimes of the home I once had,
If I should die here on this ship, my home fall into disrepair
And fall into a distant sun a billion miles from Tintern Abbey,
Then at least for now in this precious event in space-time,
I have you, my dearest Friend, my dear, dear Friend,
To help me stare out into space and bring context and meaning
To the Universe.


Destiny and the Fates

You want to do what you want to do.
You want to be who you want to be.
Fate might know better.

You choose your own Destiny.
You make a life, forge a path for yourself,
Unless Fate knows better.

Fate knows better because Fate knows what–
What should happen, what has happened
In the future.

Time has happened already. For her. For them.
They have seen what must be in their past,
What should be in our future.

Their Fate is more important than your destiny.
So choose what you can, but if you fail, remember
Fate just might know better.


The Empress of Lost Souls

I am in love with a ghost.

It’s not a superficial thing, I promise. If it was, I would’ve fallen in love with the picture of her that hung in my high school’s German classroom where I sometimes took exams. I almost did fall in love with her, then, there was something so haunting about the way her endless hair cascaded down the sheer dress, and her whistful look. I thought she was beautiful, but beautiful too look at wasn’t enough to incite me to intrude so much as to ask for her name.

It was in Vienna that I finally fell in love with her, and it happened almost instantly. I found a biography of her in the bookshop of one of the musea; I wish now that I could remember which one—it wasn’t Schönnbrunn, not yet. I saw the front cover with another of the dazzling pictures of her that I’d seen all over town the last couple of days. But what caught my eye about it this time was the title: L’impératrice anarchiste. Which means exactly what it sounds like: The Anarchist Empress.

I was smitten. I bought the book immediately and read it on the public transportation, at dinner, at the hotel. What is it about that juxtaposition, the conflict, that draws us?

She had been in love with the Emperor, it seemed, at the time, as a fifteen-year-old, she just didn’t want to marry him because she didn’t want to be the Empress. And nobody else wanted her to be Empress, either. She was too rough, too country.

She did try to please. For a while. She gave him three children pretty close together—took three tries to get the boy, but by the time she did, the firstborn was taken off by a fever. She wasn’t allowed to raise the other two after that, but several years later she had another one just for herself.

One thing occurred to me as I was reading it, though, that gave me pause, and I only became more convinced of it as I read other sources that seemed to confirm it: despite her romantic nature, I think it’s quite possible that my love, my dear, sweet Empress, had no sexual desires at all.

I mean, obviously she had had sex, there was no other way for her to have had children at the time. But the primary sources claim it took three nights after the wedding for the bedsheets to be stained, and while there are other less flattering theories for why that might have been the case, it makes a compelling case against her enthusiasm in the bedchamber.

Later on, she became somewhat more outspoken in her disdain for men and in what we must call her twilight years, she even hooked her husband up with the actress who would continue to be his mistress for the rest of his life. That doesn’t seem like the kind of thing she would encourage if she had been wanting to engage in the kinds of activities she was rumored to have engaged in, which would have been so much less acceptable for her.

It seems absurd particularly considering how revolutionary she was. Not anarchist, per se. Not explicitly. But certainly a Democrat in the last pure monarchy. A Catholic who stuck up for the Jews around the time and in the country where Hitler was born. An Austrian who liked the Hungarians so much she averted war by becoming their Queen. She was also sympathetic to the Italians, which is why it’s so tragically ironic that she should have been the one noble to fall victim to the madness of a fellow anarchist, who drove a nailfile into her aorta just because she was obviously of noble birth.

She might not have been the best role model, she had her faults. But her spirit lingers, waifish, wafer-thin, a hunger in her eyes not to be touched, but deeper, to have her story told, as she lingers at my bedside and hovers over my desk.


“Howl”

And yes, this is the fan fiction entry, in the slash category—although, does it count as fanfiction if it really happened? Better question, maybe: does it count as actually having happened if it’s never talked about, to the point that neither party is even really sure a week later if it actually did?

I don’t think either of them are actually gay. I mean, I know them both—one of them I’ve known for a very long time, and I am so sure that isn’t gay, and I’m not just saying that. One time doesn’t make you gay. Does it? One time is an experiment. It’s a fluke. It’s not something to get all worked up about.

But they’re boys. Boys get worked up about stuff. I guess girls do, too, but like, I don’t know. It’s different, I guess. I sure as hell wouldn’t get all worked up if the same thing happened with me and a girl. Actually that’s not true, probably. It would maybe depend on the girl? I don’t know.

It’s not like there wasn’t a girl involved. Her name was Stella (I’m not even joking) and she was such a groupie—one of their first. Imagine seeing your first set of real-life boobs in a room with like ten other people and knowing you were the one who made the girl take her top off.

Again, it’s a little bit different for girls. Even (and perhaps especially) when it’s a girl doing it.

It isn’t clear to me when this Stella character decided that she was going to seduce them. i get the feeling like maybe she couldn’t make up her mind? Like she knew she was horny and she knew she liked both of them, like they were both hot, and she figured why not, right? So she came up to both of them while they were talking together and just started gushing and probably figured one or the other would bow out eventually, but neither of them ever did. I’m sure there’s an urban dictionary entry comparing this kind of thing to a game of chicken. So she just went with it.

The real question I have is, why did they? What was going through the heads of these two straight white males at the time? Were they both just so focused on her they forgot they were competing? Or did either of them even think of it that way? Maybe one of them thought it was a competition and wanted to win and the other didn’t realize anyone’s style was getting cramped. That seems likely, but either way, once they got to the makeshift greenroom, the pants came off, the comparison became obvious and even if she didn’t care so much, any fraction of an inch difference would’ve mattered to them. That’s how boys are, right?

I’m pretty sure one of them was a virgin. Far as I know, at least. I don’t know. I don’t like to think of myself as keeping tabs. But I guess I am. I think he was. And if so, I’m sure he lost it to the girl. They took turns on her first—she picked, eenie meanie my knee moan. The other watched, entranced by the nearness of rubbing flesh and the look of his very dear friend.

How far they went, well… Let’s just say it was farther than either of them was comfortable with, at least to talk about, but it still left one of them with unwanted daydream thoughts he’d catch himself having about the girl he liked who was dating another guy. What if tehy were playing this all wrong? What if it didn’t need to be a rivalry?

But it’s not like he could ever propose something like that. Even later, even after they broke up, even once he was with her after all, it wasn’t something he could just admit to wanting, or even to having wanted. It was his deepest, darkest fantasy, not even to be with another guy, as such, but just to be… together. And maybe that’s not the kind of fantasy that should be taboo. It’s not like it’s poison—why should that fruit be forbidden?

Maybe it’s just different for boys.


Hacking the Tree

I had a job once working on a database. I probably shouldn’t say too much about it because it was a third-party, confidential thing for a big company and involved a lot of proprietary information, but it was stuff that I didn’t really understand anyway. I just moved it around.

We called it the product tree. The stem was “these are our products”, and then it branched off into this kind of product and that kind of product and what did they do and what were they made for etc. etc.

But the owners of the information had changed their minds about what they wanted. I can’t remember what it was, something about whether they wanted to group products by what they were, what they did, or how they were marketing it and who it was for. My job was to move the information from the one tree, the one where all the products had been, to the next one, which was already set up when I got there, it was just a matter of moving things from one tree to the other.

Now, I don’t know much about computers as far as software or anything. I learned a lot on the job about ways of thinking about moving things around within a database, but without knowing how to program the databases themselves, I learned just enough to be terribly frustrated any time I use any database where I can’t, for example, copy documents in such a way that changes are made to them in every place that they’re copied to. Now, maybe there is a way to program any database to do that, but I’ve never been able to figure it out.

I don’t know why—maybe just because of the way that my brain works—but I always had a tendency to try to turn everything into Fantasy. In this case, what I came up with was what if there was a central database of every object in existence. It’s essentially Plato’s Cave, but using a Tree instead, a universal product tree that has the specs for creating any kind of object, and then branches down into infinite fractals that get more and more specific, down to the information on every individual copy of specific genetic information.

What if you could go onto that product tree and make changes? I had probably been able to make changes to products. Granted, when I did it, I was doing it under orders and purely for marketing purposes—I didn’t know what I was doing. But what if someone who did know what they were doing was able to access the Universal Product Tree—The Tree of Life, if you will—and make changes that could actually affect the objects themselves?

What if that was how magic worked?

These are the things that I thought about as I wielded my keyboard and (to be honest) my mouse as twin axes, chopping down that old product tree in the client company’s back yard: that a whole world was being broken down into its constituent rules and processes, piece by piece, perhaps not even realizing that changes were being made, that there was less matter in their little universe, or at least fewer things that could be done with it, until each individual possibility sucked through the binding Void reawoke in a brave new world that wasn’t different, quite, but just maybe presented in a different way, to different people.