I apologize for sending this to the entire listserve, but I really could use your help. Yesterday I returned from SVP in Berlin to the news that my 3-year old, African Grey parrot, named Earl, had escaped from the woman who was boarding him on November 1st (eleven days ago). She had been lying to me the entire time that he was fine, “so that it wouldn’t ruin my trip.” I am distraught, and I am desperate, because he could be anywhere on the south-side of Chicago by now (he is fully flighted). He was last seen in Evergreen Park, IL. My only hope is that he flew to somebody for help, before a hawk or the cold got him.Please, if there is anyone you know that is a bird-watcher or who lives in the vicinity of Evergreen Park, please ask them to keep an eye open for Earl. If you know anybody in any ornithological societies as well, please let them know. Any sightings of a strange grey bird, with a bright red tail, a little bit larger in size than a pigeon, is a good sighting. I can’t do this alone and it all feels so hopeless right now.My sincerest gratitude,Justin
Recently I had a conversation with a friend about her snark. I keep my snarks in a pantry, in my backyard, underneath the tree where I hang my cheapshots. She was considering getting rid of her snark, and finally we arrived upon the decision that I would send her five, fresh and crinkly snarks. Snarks, being quite snarky, depend upon chickens and thrive best in an environment that is replete with chickens. So, of course, i can’t send anyone five new snarks unless they have a chicken for me to put them in.
My usual barter for a small chicken filled with fresh, newly minted, and incredibly jagged snarks, then, is exactly one self-addressed, stamped chicken. iizeeuna, an apparent foreigner to the ways of snarks and chickens, perhaps mired down in his (or her? I really don’t know, it was twitter for frabjulous’ sake
That was a stupid sentence, so I stopped writing it. No. You didn’t misread it. It ended without a completed thought.
I suppose that therein lay the secret to catching chickens. One must be nimble of mind, quick to abandon poor choices, and loathe to take the bother to cleanup after oneself – if one wishes to do battle with chickens.
Perhaps, let us first begin with the definition: A chicken is a dreadful, dangerous beast and is defined as the only proper container in which a snark may be transported. Mind you, snarks are not CREATED in chickens, they are only merely stored inside of them (they strike the chicken on the outside, and sink in slowly over time). It is the existence of the chickens that instantiates the snarks. For it is so dense in matter and form, that the bright shapely gestaltedness of a snark can only be preserved forever deeply within it.
Further more, neither the USPS nor the FedEx will agree to transport snarks in any other container. They are far too toxic if left to float and meander about and be left to their own devices.
The etymology of the word “chicken” has its roots in ancient egyption. This was their word for the country “Turkey” and is the sourse of much confusion in children regarding the separate species.
Further to that, the word combines many words to make the one. It is a portmanteau of the word “Chickadee” and “Monster that hath twice the fury of a woman scorned of which hell hath no fury + a 17 witch coven” the latter being a very long word that is broken up by spaces in order to make it more legible and is also, coincidentally, a transliteration from ancient swahili for “Bad ass dude with a big trident”.
The source of this transliteration in the ancient texts is apparent : one must have a big, big giant, three pronged TRIDENT (lord help you if you get the 3.2 pronged kind!). You will use the trident to catch the mighty chicken, for it is a cowardly, yet formidable beast and a worthy foe of anyone in a loin cloth. In fact,it is only permitted to hunt chickens while wearing a loin cloth. Further outerwear will render your efforts ineffective. If one is female, then one must pursue the chicken topless (I apologize if this offends, I do not make these rules).
To attract a chicken. one must first have incredibly crinkly and jagged new snarks. If you don’t have any, perchance visit your neighbor, snark cup in hand, and beg to please borrow a fresh new snark. Be sure to dress in a manner of a Lord or a Lady, for the common man always has fresh snarks a plenty to lend to the aristocracy.
Now, take your fresh snark, and walk about the streets of your town. Avoid the shadowy places. Go to the light, to the crowds, where people are gathering and having fun. Twirl your snark about your fingers, and laugh wittily. All the while, cast about to the periphery with your eyes. Halt your snark mid-twirl…there! you see the chicken. It’s eyes are cast low and it may be whispering to another chicken (they invariably travel in pairs!).
Approach your quarry with your snark in hand, held high above your head and, as the chicken is distracted (nay, paralyzed!) by the awesomeness of your snark, drive your trident down and over the wretched creatures neck.
Take great care not to kill it!! Killing chickens is intolerable behavior. After all, they have caused no harm to you, nor can they! They are far, far scarier to behold than to actually fight. Once you have your chicken captured, gently and carefully cram,shove, pound your fresh snark into its mouth. Watch as the snark migrates from the chickens mouth into its brain. Once the snark reaches the fowl creatures brain, you may suddenly be amazed (stunned speechless!) that the chicken actually begins to shrink. Do not react to this! if you react in surprise, the snark will burst free from the creatures maw, utterly wasted, and the chicken will expand to be TWICE its previous size and more frightening than ever!
Assuming you haven’t fucked this part up, place the proper amount of postage on the chicken, address it to yourself, place it in an envelope addressed to me, and when i receive it I shall insert FIVE – YES FIVE! – shiny new snarks into various cavities of the chicken and then drop it back in the box for you.
Now that an understanding of the beast has been fully cultivated, you may begin your pursuit.
At the end of it all, once you have received your chicken from me, you may notice that the chicken has MORE than FIVE snarks. It may have become “snarkified” and begin producing snarks for you, all on its own!
This process is called transnarkification, a process that is both likely and probable. Watch with amazement as the chicken shall emerge from the shadows and abandon its wily, sneaky, terrrorific ways. It shall embrace you, and your snarks shall pass through it with ease, for it will no longer be a chicken! It will be a man! Or a woman! Whatever. Could be a puppy too.
(WARNING: not all chickens transnarkify with just five snarks. Anything less than the use of the highest quality snarks may result in a disappointing outcome. Use of a virtual trident spear is highly recommended as most states frown upon the actual pinning down of chickens with actual, large, multipronged weapons.)
This is a post I wrote a long time ago when I first read “Espresso Coffee, The Science of Quality.” I am finally getting around to posting it here because I just now noticed I never posted it here, it was just a thing I passed around on the Internet.
Lately, I have found myself curious about what quality means, and how I can better control it in what I do. As I researched quality, there grew in me an even greater confusion about quality, and what it means, how it is interpreted and understood, and the implementation of it. That is, whether or not I can always hold to the same standard of promised quality as the highest uncommon factor.
This pertains to working with clients, with other departments, with myself, and the expectations people have had regarding the deliverable, and the effective quality of the interaction they have with my output.
Value is in the eye of the beholder, quality is perceived. There is an interesting story I once read about an appraiser who was asked to appraise two antique secretaries which appeared to be identical. He was told that one of them was a forgery. He appraised them both at the same value, stating that he could not detect the forgery. When the maker revealed which one was the fake, the appraiser inquired as to how he had made it so perfectly. The cabinet maker said that he found several 200 year old pieces that were damaged and used the wood from them. He used adhesives which he made himself from raw materials accurate to the period and heated them to accelerate the aging. He built his own circular saw to cut the planks to size using an antique saw blade, and he discovered a process whereby he could age the cuts perfectly (he wrapped in layers of burlap and buried them in a swamp for 20 years). It took him 30 years to build the secretary, and was his life’s work. Upon hearing this, the appraiser certified the piece as an original. He said that, for all intents and purposes, the piece was in fact 200 years old.
Software has three perceptible areas of quality…(three that I am going to talk about)
- The quality of the product.
- The quality of our responses to our clients which includes traits that are perceptive, substantive and literal.
- The quality of service the product delivers.
A software company, as a whole, can be said to be in the business of producing quality. For a software firm involved in the litigation industry, for example, total quality delivered is the offering of products and services. This cascades outward and downward from their internal total quality approach in their service vertical, through to their customers, out to the industries they serve (their corporate and private clients), to the courts, and ultimately to the consumers who buy the products and services offered by the litigants. Essentially, a software firm in the legal industry provides a core utility that services the national infrastructure.
As such, the requirement for quality is not only essential, it is fundamental to national interests. When we neglect even one small part of the quality of our processes, it is not only detrimental to our business, but it has a much wider, and deeper impact than perhaps many realize (or care to think about).
From the point of view of a customer, then, it becomes necessary that we really think about what quality means, and how it can be measured. We need to think about the different states of quality, and how to develop them progressively. Customer satisfaction, after all, is a dividend of perceived quality and expected quality. If the expected quality is high, and the perceived quality is low, the satisfaction of the customer suffers. If the perception of quality is high, and the expected quality is low, then we have exceeded expectations. Exceeding expectations is not a quality. If, in the end, the expectation is that quality will be very high, then it can’t be very well higher than itself. In the end, “quality” is the measurement of the product against the expectation of our clients, ourselves, and each other. It measures how well we meet the expectation. Such is the expectation that we have, that it is one that cannot be exceeded.
The expectation is this – that we will do everything within our means to achieve as near to real time excellence as is humanly possible without risking life, limb, personal society, damaging our health, or creating permanent insanity. What this means is that we care for our families, we care for our health, and we care for our clients with every available ounce of our being. Our measurement of our ability to do this then becomes not a measurement of gradient expectation, but rather one of quality, which in our work means time to resolution. Our mean time to resolution, across the board, must be faster than everyone else’s. To be the leader, and to stay out in front (or to get there), you must deliver this level of speed on a continuous basis. The word “quality,” then, is not an aspect in and of itself. It is a unit of measurement, not unlike an inch on a ruler stick. To say something is “quality” is not unlike saying something is “inches” when asked “how long is that stick?”
How we use quality as a tool of measurement, then, both internally and externally, become a necessary area of focus.
Firstly, we look at the different states of quality. For this exercise, I’ve picked six different qualitative attributes.
1. Promised quality. Briefly stated, this is the expectation that a person has of a particular product delivered by a particular entity. Externally, customers have this about the kCura product, and internally this manifests as an internal/external unified attribute, with cause and effect vectors that must be appreciated.
Externally, the promise of quality is high, both in the product and in the service. Since the two are so closely intertwined, that is, the service delivered is part and parcel of the software, I am referring to both collectively as “the service.” There are some areas of the product where the quality of it is dissonant with the promise, but these are likely caused more by technological and human limitations than by willful oversight.
At times, this causes customers to pigeonhole the product as one that delivers a few, very strong, core competencies, but falls short on other offerings. This requires kCura clients to do things like hire DBA’s, outsource certain aspects of IT, and purchase other software bundles which they then integrate with the Product.
Internally, at many organizations, there are few promises of quality (but the expectation and implied promise is there, it just isn’t well defined, cross departmentally). When you don’t promise anything, you don’t have to worry about not being able to execute on it. Where the promise of quality does exist, it does not always mesh well with other, external facing promises.
At times, this causes a disconnect when those who face the customers must interact with those who typically don’t. It may even cause a blatant contradiction that results in conflict.
2. Industry (expected) quality.
These are the standards that govern the very minimum expectation that must be met. Consumers that use discovery products are accustomed to certain features working in a certain way, and a certain guarantee of accuracy. Companies that create food products, likewise, must ensure certain standards are met. Across the board, in areas of comparability, a quality focused company typically meets or exceeds expectations, with a corrective “roadmap” in place to address shortcomings. Ultimately, there are many, many standards in the industry. Some of them are driven by legal (forensic) requirements, others are aesthetic or purely usability driven.
3. Effective Quality
These are the actual objective and subjective metrics of an organization. What are the promises made by the product, and how does it hold up against them? The items that comprise your “effective quality” are real, tangible metrics that can be measured, discussed and improved. Examples of these things include usability, scalability, processing speed, error handling, recovery, precision and accuracy, traceability, and most importantly, reliability.
4. Relative experiential quality
This quality refers to the differential experience created by the actual implementation of the product by the purchaser. A more experienced team that delivers the product, on better equipment, will deliver a user experience that can have substantially varying degrees of experiential quality.
relative experiential quality = expected quality / experienced quality
5. Perceived quality
Satisfaction = (perceived quality / expected quality) * relative quality
6. Potential quality
The degree to which a product or service can be measurably improved. This is measured and communicated by an organization’s roadmap, and should be readily available to it’s consumers.
All six of these are qualities that are assessed by consumers of a product one by one. To be considered a quality, that is, a quantifiable entity that can be measured, each quality must map to a tangible, perceivable action that can be consumed, viewed, experienced, or understood to have intensity, duration, and frequency. To whatever extent possible, then, quality is something that is measured against the whole.
Without the whole, without an accounting of the sum of all parts of a thing, it follows then that a measurement of quality is purely a subjective, out of context measurement that is rendered meaningless against the overall impact and perception of the qualities of a product. Those that actually interface with the product or service in its entirety are the best at explaining its level of quality. To measure quality requires, then, a broad range of measurements that must be painstakingly derived and executed against the subject as a whole. This is no small task, to be certain, but one that will reward the quality analyst with a rich array of tools that can be used to improve the product and services offered.
There is no such thing as public schooling, private schooling, institutionalized schooling, or home-schooling. These are all just artificial realities that we wrap around our children, and serve only as vehicles for blame when we fail to teach our children what the true meaning of school is. There is only self-schooling. Everything I’ve learned that I use in life now I learned because I wanted to learn it. At the core of all my knowledge, at its center, lay just one person: Me.
The self has to take the responsibility to “school” its intellect. Once one accepts this responsibility, there is no obstacle to great, and no atmosphere to restrictive. A child who sits through all his years of institutionalized education, who challenges every thought, every notion, every aspect of it all, this is the child who can learn anywhere. Teach a child to question, and demand and search for answers, and to scientifically test those answers, and you teach a child to learn.
If a child won’t learn this, or refuses to learn it, then all you can do is read to him and wait for him to catch on, and hopefully become a productive member of society. As a parent, teaching my children to question is my responsibility.
Scott’s Theory of Relationship and Social Imminence
1. Never call more often than you see in person
This is a no brainer and it is also a great way to filter out the crap people from the good people. Desperate people call a lot.
2. If your text message goes unanswered, you may only send one additional text per year that you have “known” someone. By “known”, I mean in the carnal sense.
In other words, if you have been “knowing” someone for 10 years, firing off ten unanswered texts in a row is perfectly acceptable. Annoying as hell, but acceptable.
3. If he gave you his phone number, delete it after the first call. You can get it again if he calls back. There is no excuse to call twice with no face-to-face in-between.
4. NEVER DATE A MAN WHO THINKS HE IS PRETTIER THAN YOU ARE!
If he looks in the mirror more than he looks at you…Does this really need an explanation? Clearly a dude that commandeers his rearview mirror while he drives needs to be thrown out of the car (stopping first is optional). As for men that use product and pluck their eyebrows? Or use eyeliner? What the fuck!? I suppose he will want cuddle time, too, right before he runs off with your gay hair dresser.
5. You know everything that he needs to know about being in a relationship with you. Don’t let him tell you differently. If he ever pulls the “We need to talk…” line, walk away. Don’t hesitate. Just turn, and walk away.
6. When men do it, they call it “stalking.” When women do it, they call it “marriage.”
The best stalkers stalk their prey silently, from afar, and give up if it is too elusive. Their prey never even know they were stalked. Ever.
7. There is no problem that a blowjob can’t fix—except a bad blowjob.
8. If something breaks, he’d better get out the tool box. He doesn’t have one? Run. Away. He’d better know how to fix broken things and move heavy objects or he will become the butt of your every joke and you will fuck the pool boy. At least he knows how to handle his pole! After all, if he can’t work a screwdriver, he probably can’t work his built in tools either. This is especially true for men who are fabulously “successful” and have great, white collar jobs. They might be over-compensating.
9. Women fake orgasms, men fake feelings.
Like it or not, deny it, try to defy it, resist it, argue against it, don’t accept it, but when the time comes, you will come to the light and know the truth. Generally, men just don’t have it in them to care about anything for longer than it takes them to kill it and eat it or to try and stick their dicks in it, which is about 15 minutes. Male emotions are pre-programmed battle responses. They are a form of weaponry. Ask a man what he is feeling and immediately he begins to look for the door. Love is not a “feeling”– it is a verb (a wise woman told me this). Love is totally different and is real.
10. At the first sign of trouble, get out.
11. Never make plans further ahead than you’ve known each other.
That is the simple rule for traditional dates, such as going to a movie, going to a party (mutual friends), a concert, etc. When family is involved, it gets complex. Suffice it to say, making plans to meet family members should be weighted by time in relationship and the closeness of the family member (only meet the parents as a last resort!).
Appendix – social media
1. facebook is for friends only, and permanent relationships. End of story. If you decide to begin dating someone that you know through facebook, the best thing you can do for him and you is unfriend him. It would be like friending parents of students. It’s just a bad idea.
NOTE: This guide is based entirely on the experiences of the author and anecdotal evidence. No formal studies have taken place. Nor will they. Now go out there, and “have fun”. Studies have shown that people that fun more are happier and that an increase in fun activity by people who are fun would actually lead to a decrease in the incidences of fun transmitted diseases (always fun responsibly, use a fundom!).
*no actual science of any sort has been cited, quoted, or even ever read by the author of this article, who also happens to believe that oral sex is the solution to all relationship problems in the world today.
I have a hedgehog. I have had her for about 3 months. She is an albino. This means that her body simply does not produce pigment, as opposed to leucism, which is like albinism, only it produces pigment, but lacks the receptors to retain it. Sodium, much like the element, is very nearly white.
I spent this afternoon reviewing some of the problem that people are having with the 1DX. These problems mostly centered around auto-focus. I through on my most challenging auto-focus lens, the EF 400mm diffraction optics (DO) image stabilization (IS) lens. I have admittedly had some trouble getting focus lock, but only in situations where I would expect even more difficulty with a less advanced camera. Ultimately, there are three factors that you need to weigh before purchasing this camera.
1: do you really need 12 fps, and the ability to retain focus throughout continuous shooting? On the 1D X, with a fast enough CF card (1000X), you can get almost 35 frames – continuous – in RAW mode before the buffer to disk ratio collapses your frame rate. With its second Digic dedicated to metering and AF, you can shoot and maintain focus continuously. In JPG, you can get a lot, lot more (I don’t know how many before it slows down or even if it does ever slow down). I am reluctant to push this to its upper limit – if you need to shoot more than 100 low quality jpgs in a row, then you should be shooting in video.
2: Do you need the better weather seal? If you have to shoot the bride and groom running through the rain to the limo, and your 5D gets soaked and you can’t shoot the reception with your best tool … uh oh, sux to be you, right? Or maybe you just stay out of the weather, and you miss what could have been some great, fun shots, you’ll wish you had the 1D X.
3: The 1D is sturdy,and handles great, but does require some strength to sling with precision. I handhold with the 2X and 400 DO, and have been sore the next day after a 6 hour shoot.
If these three requirements are not important to you, then don’t buy this camera. It’s not for you.
The other day a friend of mine read some passages from a book to me and the prose, being all prosy and stuff, reminded me of a story I wrote a long time ago that had a lot of very visual elements to it. I believe that was my goal – the story was an exercise in visualization and verbalization of emotion and drive. Mostly, what was read to me reminded me of this:
A young, very attractive and elegant woman sits, watches me. I know I was killed, but here I sit, playing the Last and I’m fine. A woman, virtually untenable in her beauty, listens to me play. Mind this: she is not beautiful in that symmetrical, coldly compelling way that drives many men to great insanity. No, she is her strength and she is her innocence and nothing is layered over this. I can see it in the way her chin tilts just so, the way her eyes gaze knowingly and in the softness of the set of her lips. I watch her lips when she speaks, I watch them in her quietude, I watch I watch I watch. Her movement is music; there: in the graceful poise of her hips; there: in the hands moving to rest placidly in her lap. Mark the time! I’m enslaved by her motion and I begin to play again, enjoying the silky smooth roughness of these ancient, ivory keys.
I’ve probably written dozens, maybe even hundreds, of short stories, primarily for my own amusement, but also because when the churn in my head starts, well, words are what comes out. I wrote this story in 1997; I believe that it is one of my better works. It has romance, suspense, intrigue, drama, and murder. It’s actually a rather heinous little tale. I hope that you enjoy it, and since the title of this is “How to Write a Short Story,” well, I suppose I should actually tell you how to do it. Here is the secret of how to do it: Write.
Wait, what? Yep. That’s it: Write. Don’t sit around thinking up ideas for stories, you won’t have them or, if you do, they will have a certain emptiness to them. Stories don’t come from your head, they come from…somewhere else (I will explain this, someday). So, to get the story to come out, you just need to sit down and go to that place you went to when you were a kid, when you played pretend, and you just need to check in. See what is going on. Say hello to some old friends and ask if they mind if you start-up a new game of Battle Commanders. Or Cowboys and Indians. Or legos. It doesn’t matter. You see, the stories never stopped. While you were off being a grown-up, all this stuff kept on happening in your head, completely without you. Now, you just have to tap it.
And, here is the best tip I ever heard – begin at the end. Don’t start a story with “On Tuesday, John was walking down the street, coming home from work…” and then proceed to bore me to death with every mundane detail in John’s life leading up to and chronologically detailing him making a ruin of his life, and ending the tail with, “then John spent the rest of his miserable days in prison.” Rather, begin with something like….
©1997 Scott R. Ellis
The Last Piano Player
by Scott R. Ellis
I remember the blood soaked, black sands of the beach-head encapsulated within the prison star-world; the way the water teemed with stinging mantas and how the seascape seemed to curve upward to where the brackish blue of the sky traced out the disjointed curve of the horizon.
As I stood sifting through the sand, the crashing ocean waves exploded behind me into frenzied sprays against the silver steel pinnacles and ramparts of the fortress-prison. Its ugly spikes slid motionlessly out of the ocean to curl fortified arms around the island. Many men were imprisoned here, but only some of us knew that this was no island bastille—those of us who had not forgotten—to us it was a self-contained nightmare, floating in outer space. It was no Devil’s Island, I was no Papillon. No, I would escape this space-flung prison only through death.
I am Benedict, and this is how it felt when death’s talon grip snared me: a penetrating thrust cleaving through my body to rest cold in my soul, twisting it—torturing me. And then my consciousness slowly abated; a need for reminiscence emerged from the coldness which encroached on the periphery of my vision, a need for some thread to coalesce, to gather . . . my thoughts drift like particles, drifting about in a sunbeam, searching for a place to settle. But my acuity fails to pierce through to the past. There is a veil….
I remember I died, but here I am again. Only, it is no longer a prison, and she, this amazing “she,” with me, explains the prison is this: a place that people danced and listened to music, where troops gathered and formed to go to battle. A place where I fell in love again. Oh, and where they kept the Last piano. She asks me, “How could you have forgotten this?” She explains, “It has been a century or more since your imprisonment, and since the once star-bound prison vessel crash landed, and cracked open its chrysalis to the free skies of Sanctucity.” It feels rehearsed and so does my response. “I don’t remember much about what happened before my return here. It seems so long ago—it’s a sanctuary now? Really?”
“Yes, my Bened, yes.”
But, before I died, it was just a prison, a shell of a world—small, but somehow, through the use of science, warped to seem large. They, some of the interred, say the engineers added a fifth dimension. Time was the fourth. And some said that when they built the Stellar prisons they didn’t add a dimension; rather, love was removed.
I am, returned from the grave, a very old man now. Gaunt, my skin stretches over my cheeks like paper and my eyes—eyes so stark that even a hawk’s stare would divert from them. The old piano is still in the rectory of the prison— I don’t know what else they call it now. Prison is as good a word as any. My God, that piano is old. It’s small, and upright. The keyboard is perched high on the harp, like a spinet but this piano you have to climb up a small ladder to play. I’d really never heard anything play that way, play so beautifully that time loses you. Hit any rhythmic combination of notes and they play through the air with the bitter-sweet resonance and delicate timber only an age-old instrument can deliver. Beauty for its own sake. No one really even knows how it got there; perhaps its placement was a clerical error.
Strangely, I remember the first time I ever played that piano and, as I remember that first time, I also remember the first death: bullets piercing my flesh, piercing my head, killing me, and the hot searing feel of it punching its coldness into, and through the base of my skull. They brought me before a small man, and first his assistant shot me in the leg. I fell—more because I knew I should than from any true feelings of pain. Then he handed the weapon—a projectile type—to the small man and he shot me in the head. They may have shot more than twice. I don’t know; I never felt a thing, except terrified.
Some time passed, I think, and I drifted, trying to cling to life. I grasped for the scattering, filament-thin attenuations of consciousness and felt them slip through my clutch. Then: awareness returned to me, drifting lazily on outstretched wings, languorously soaring before taking purchase; and I was here, at the piano, playing. A glimpse of memory of the darkly burnt cerulean blue sky, cracking open, etches a vivid image in my mind’s eye, a splash of multi-colored paints across a fresh canvas. Suddenly I awake and gasp for breath with unrestricted lungs. I look about; I am sitting at the piano. I look down; the keys are all where they are supposed to be so I know this is not just some post traumatic hallucination. I know, with an alacrity born of a hundred years of experience, that this is life, that this is real, and that, only a moment ago, I died.
A young, very attractive and elegant woman sits, watches me. I know I was killed, but here I sit and I’m fine and a woman, virtually untenable in her beauty, listens to me play. Mind this: she is not beautiful in that symmetrical, coldly compelling way that drives many men to great insanity. No, she is her strength and she is her innocence and nothing is layered over this. I can see it in the way her chin tilts just so, the way her eyes gaze knowingly and in the softness of the set of her lips. I watch her lips when she speaks, I watch them in her quietude, I watch I watch I watch. Her movement is music; there: in the graceful poise of her hips; there: in the hands moving to rest placidly in her lap. Mark the time! I’m enslaved to her motion and I begin to play again, enjoying the silky smooth roughness of these ancient, ivory keys.
I stop, and I turn to her. She is radiant, smiling at me. I think I must have somehow become her hero. “How long have you been here?” I ask. To ask her how long I had been playing may have seemed senile. My voice is dry and I cough. I touch my face. It feels slightly different, but familiar. She is youthful, attentive, and dressed in a black costume gown with white trim and an ankle length skirt. I look down at myself to discover that I, too, wear strange, costume apparel, complete with ruffles at the sleeves and a close fitting tunic which drapes beneath my knees.
“Bened! You Silly. I came here with you on the shuttle.” She pulls out a small fan and fans herself. My hand moves. A chord strikes in the piano and in my mind. A harsh, dissonant chord, dark and foreboding. I wonder how I have so strangely escaped the prison, escaped death. How I have seemingly left my body and then returned again. Perhaps I am crazy, completely insane, and it is all a hallucination. No. I think, were that the case, I would have thought to hallucinate something a little less extemporaneous.
“I want to leave here. I don’t know why I wanted to come here to begin with.” I want to tell her that I have been a prisoner here, that being here torments me, that I had, in fact, been bludgeoned then shot to death—to death! not fifteen minutes ago in a steel room deep in the bowels of this monstrosity. I feel my face again. The corners of my eyes, are there more wrinkles now? I can’t feel to tell.
“People are coming, you know, to hear your Improvisations. The troops will be forming up soon. We can go to the refresher area if you like, and you can have a drink maybe.
“You are playing very well, though I don’t know why you started and stopped like that.” She shakes her head slightly, her hair shakes at me but I only see my recollection of it, like a distant memory. She holds out her arm to assist me down from the piano pedestal. I gracefully accept her help. I no longer need to feel my face to determine my age. Simply moving tells me, and the sudden, needful way in which she moved to help me. I am old. Very old. Much older than when they killed me. Senility will certainly be excused in a man my age.
“Are you my lover?” I ask her. She giggles. I sigh
“Love, of course I am.” She blushes and kisses me on the cheek.
“Where is everyone—all the prisoners?”
“Oh, Benedict. That was so long ago. Don’t you remember? ”
“No . . . my love, I don’t. You are so pretty.”
“Darling, I’m almost as old as you and twice as wrinkled.”
“No,” I protest adamantly, “—you are young, sensuous, opulent.” She begins to blush. I see only this young, beautiful woman before me, and I am confused. I turn away from her and look up at the piano. It is almost all solid wood. They don’t make them from wood anymore. Actually, they don’t make them at all anymore, and haven’t since . . . since forever. They were never made in these colonies. It’s a mystery how this one found its respite looming over prison congregations thousands of light-years away from a woodworker’s rasp. I turn back to the woman and I speak to her, looking so deep into her eyes that I lose my sense of balance, of place. I am spiraling into her. ” I- I’m just an old man who doesn’t know what has happened since he has died.” She seems so familiar to me, as if I’ve known her all my life and have been with her for years. But I can’t shake the feeling I arrived only moments ago.
I turned to her as we walked up the aisle toward the entrance at the back of the chapel, the prison sanctuary. The beginnings of noise were shaping outside in the mezzanine area. I could hear talking, and glasses chinking. “You are so kind,” I tell her. She strokes my chin and turns. We start to walk again and it is a slow process.
“You were telling me–where are the prisoners?”
“Oh, Benedict. That was so long ago. Don’t you remember? You escaped the prison a dead man. You were shot sixteen times, but somehow, you survived. The prison had docked here for repairs. . .”
It came to me as she spoke, I remembered. Well, I still only remembered the two shots. Sixteen was perhaps an exaggeration in the retelling. I was a young man then. Time was nothing to me, I had plenty of it.
When I was told one day that I had killed a man in cold blood, I thought it a joke. When they told me they were putting me under the highest security available, I laughed in their faces and bet the judge my freedom that I would escape. You see, he knew of my past exploits—he knew I was a war hero who had been captured during the Wars and had led an escape from their dungeons. I had squirmed through half a mile of air shaft and battled insanity to gain my freedom.
“You are a fool, Benedict. I’m putting you in Stellar H where, even if you escape, you won’t have escaped.” And then he laughed, a sinister sound to hear in the docket. Those were the final words of the judge. He disregarded my bet and stood, dark and foreboding, laughing as he left the court. Black hooded guards led me from the chaos, bound and levitated.
I imagine, now, that it was an ordinary chuckle, a good belly-laugh over an insolent convicted felon, but at the time I imagined it to be the most ominous bone-marrow freezing laugh that he ever chortled. It echoed in the halls with the hooded guards, followed me, and continued to linger just on the edge of audibility for the rest of my imprisonment.
I began pondered and planned escapes. One minute I believed that I would have to lead a full scale riot and take over the piloting of the vessel/prison and dock her in some neutral territory in order to escape one day and believed I could rematerialize in another world with the power of my mind the next. I planned. And I planned.
No matter how ludicrous or impossible, I considered it. I met other prisoners who were sympathetic, but most just wanted to go on with their lives. Most led lives of acceptance, of quiet, suffering desolation. I was, as you know, innocent. I had killed men in the wars, yes, but as a civilian I had entered into a career as a systems navigator. I was well paid, had a nice home and family, and was actually off planet on business, a hundred light years away from the murder scene. But computers and DNA and photon residual emission tests did not lie. I actually watched myself committing the murder in a computer generated, courtroom reconstruction of photon residual emissions and DNA extrapolation. I was getting convicted by a jury of my peers of premeditated murder. “Besides,” explained the judge, “everyone knows travel records can be forged by anyone with a moderate amount of travel computer codes. This court finds the defendant, Benedict Arnold, guilty of murder in the highest degree. We sentence you to Stellar H for life, up to and including Second Death.” He pounded his gavel on the bench. He almost seemed to be shaking his head as he did this. His white powdered wig shook its curls at me. They too condemned me.
Think about it—I did. I even believed, for a short time, that I had done it, that I had killed.
Then, I had an epiphany. In a universe of billions of humans, the possibility that my exact DNA structure could exist twice. . . in our society, a man with altered DNA could behave with impunity. . . my defense, I realize, had been tragically inadequate.
There is no appealing from Stellar H. Even the Warden is a prisoner.
The Warden of Stellar H was a small man. He had us digging through the sand sifting for gold twelve to fourteen hours a day. We never found any. We just got stung by the sting rays which infested the waters and every now and then they managed to kill and devour a man. They never bothered me though. I discovered by accident one time that I could wade in the water and they would avoid me. It was the time the sky cracked open. Funny, the expression on the faces of the men around me when it happened. As if they had forgotten what the real sky was like. As if they had forgotten how truly bright a real sky was. They cowered and covered their eyes with their arms as the dome above us split. Sting rays writhed and roiled, frothing the water up to my knees. I raised my arms in supplication as I stood naked and bathed in the natural warmth of the light. My legs had grown thick and powerful with the labor. For a moment, I beleived that I could fly and I leapt toward the sky. The ground fell away beneath me. The noise of the machinery operating the dome whined and screeched in protest, but I didn’t even hear it.
And then they grabbed me and dragged me fighting and kicking down into the depths of Stellar. Their fists hammered me down again and again as I fought them. Blood poured from us and then I broke free from them and began to run toward what I believed was my escape. More uniformed guards came, captured me and they beat me till finally I submitted. I would fight another day, I vowed. I would return. They brought me through a doorway and into a room where a man sat on the floor. He was a small man and he sat there on a carpet and ate some spherical object that he seemed to be peeling. It looked like fruit. He looks at me.
“Kill him.” He resumes eating. At this point I assume they think I had opened the dome somehow. I begin to protest, to tell them I had nothing to do with it and that the true escapists are using me as a dupe. No words come out of my mouth. The bullet is already on course and I am already falling. I gasp, but I don’t feel any pain. “Wait!” says the small man. He stands then, and holds out his hand to the guard who just shot me in the leg. The guard hands him the gun. I turn away, I can’t watch it come.
The second bullet pierced the back of my head and I felt the world, consciousness, whisked away, drawn away from me, attenuating to an imperceptible thinness. I drifted completely detached in a warm, soft haze as the skeins of death’s pirouettes danced around me in tattering shapes of white, black, and grey. I could hear nothing, feel nothing, taste nothing, smell nothing, and see only the grayish-white haze, like a thin veil all around me. And then it slowly dissolved as I began to hear music, and feel the pleasure beat of the keys under my fingers, the slow pulse pulse of the music’s rhythm cascades my senses. I ride the gestalt to awareness and then see that I’m in the prison ecclesia, playing the old piano with its archaic script across the front panel, spelling out in Gothic lettering “Last.”
Now I’m led down the aisle by this sublime young woman who claims she’s my lover but, God (are You listening?!) it—it only seems like twenty minutes ago that I died and now a whole lifetime has passed and I’m back where it all started.
I don’t even remember if I’ve done anything worth anything—I escaped the most secure prison in the universe and she tells me I did it by dying.
I look to her. Seeing the love in her eyes discomfits me; I want to tell her, show her, somehow prove through some thing I do that I am worth it. Instead, I feel a binding in my chest, incredible pain shoots down my arms and my breath comes in short gasps. I realize I’m on the floor; she cradles me in her arms. I smile at her, and she smiles back. She is fragile when she smiles. I tell her, “There was never enough time to . . . the things I want to show you . . .do for you . . .” and I watch as tears flow from her eyes. I see the piano, this “propylaeum”, rising over me. Too near to me are the arched sanctuary doors. From a distance— I am far away now—I hear her whisper to me as she cradles my stilled body, she weeps, and says, “I don’t love you for the things you’ve done; I love you because you’re the one who did them.” I finally understand:
There is nobody left now to play the Last piano; the push pull of the hammers tapping on the strings are stilled, and the sting rays glide through oceans without bound. This is the Second Death.
Big oil. Exactly how much gas does a “Big Oil” oil company have to produce before a “Big Oil” oil company can be called “Big Oil”?