The Sanguine Syllabus: Ch 1

It's been six months since I posted anything. Watching Andy Weir talk about his experience with publishing has inspired me. I don't need to jealously guard my work to secure any hope of a career in writing. And frankly, I'd rather not hide it anyway. So, here's Chapter 1 of the Sanguine Syllabus: my Steampunk Sherlock-Holmes-inspired side project, that will go up slowly and somewhat raw. And I'm fine with that. 


THE SANGUINE Syllabus

CHAPTER ONE

In which a memoir finds its beginnings; a body is discovered; a map is stolen; and a person of great standing meets her protege.

When I laid eyes on the corpse in Narayan Square that day, it was only the second time I’d seen a dead body in my entire life.

The crowd of gawkers was so tightly pressed together that I could hardly squeeze my way to the front to get a good look. A broken, crumpled heap dressed in scholarly purple lay sprawled on the cobblestones, a pool of viscous blood making its slow march towards the polished shoes of the pedestrians. I must have been staring at him—at it—for more than a minute before I realized that his right hand was missing. The other hand’s palm was branded with a strange symbol, the likes of which I’d never seen before.

The sight of such a grisly death threatened to make me sick, but I couldn’t tear my eyes away. My stomach seemed to wriggle its way right up my throat, as if it too, wanted to see for itself. Terror and excitement gripped me by the collar of my shirt and held me fast. This man wasn’t just dead, he’d been very clearly killed.

Not just killed, mutilated!

I would later read in the Extra Edition of the Violet Eye that the Invictus Guard believed his already-deceased body had been thrown from the nearby Artificer’s Guild tower. To this day, I don’t know how anyone managed to haul a body up six stories in a public building without being seen.

The rest, I understand all too well.

A sharp, commanding shout parted the dense crowd as one of the city guard ran to the scene. More followed him, pushing back the throng of appalled, fascinated citizens. The guards were yelling about preserving the crime scene, threatening to charge us with interfering with their investigation if we did not disperse. I’d spent enough cold nights in cells for more ridiculous charges than that. “Piloting while female in Garria,” for example. Another uncomfortable, sleepless night did not appeal to me. I dispersed obediently—with the dead man’s brand seared into my memory.

I’d only arrived in the grand city a few hours earlier—I was, as they say, fresh off the airship. At a mere twenty years old, I had seen more than most young women my age, understood far less than I believed I did, and had decided that I would find my fortune in the most fortunate city of all: Amateria.

I still marvel that I’ve managed to survive to an age when writing down my memoirs seems a worthwhile thing to do, given all those mad choices I made in my youth. Do not misunderstand me, I regret none of those choices. Not one. But, my survival remains miraculous. I credit much of it to the mentor I met in Amateria.

Underneath the shadows of passing airships, I made my way back to the market stalls that ran along the perimeter of the square. The previously jovial atmosphere had been somewhat subdued by the murder only a few hundred feet away, but the commercial pulse of the city  persisted.

These brightly-dressed citizens came from all over the world and spoke in as many tongues as I could name countries. Some were clothed in beautiful silks from head-to-toe, others in sophisticated corsetry and elegant skirts as befitted Amaterian style. Their energy for shopping, which was substantial, had been replaced by a fervor to exchange gossip rather than coin. With this shocking turn of events right in the middle of the city square, my own curiosity had been piqued. I began listening to every clutch of people I passed.

“I heard that the Invictus Guard is keeping other killings quiet—but this isn’t the first one. I guarantee it! And it won’t be the last! I guarantee that, too!” A woman with a Garrian accent nudged her hat back into place, as it had slipped during her passionate gesticulations.

“Do you know who that was? That was the Archchancellor of Karam University! My wife introduced me to him at dinner just last week, and to think he’s dead...” remarked a man with a marvelously waxed moustache.

A woman whose white hair marked her as Durusian had gone red in the face, saying “...not going to bow down to villains like that. My son is going to become an Artificer. Damn the threats, I say!”

“You saw the manifesto tacked up outside the Shattered Gear. They mean business. If I were an Artificer I would move to Garria first thing tomorrow morning.” This last comment came from a young man wearing a very fine set of tailor’s goggles. I gracefully sidled up to him and offered the finest smile I could manage. Judging from the look on his face, he didn’t think much of my gold tooth—not nearly as much as I thought of it, anyway.

“Hello there, Goggles! Where’s this Shattered Gear?” I asked, batting my eyelashes at him.

Goggles responded with an air of disgust, “It’s in the Artificer’s Quarter, but, a….”

I’d no doubt he was still talking to me, but I also had no doubt that nothing could be as interesting as what lay in store for me at the Shattered Gear. As I worked my way through the crowd, I pocketed a city map from one of the tourist-themed market stalls, happy to apply my five-finger discount to the transaction.

The whole city lay bare on that map, stripped of its comfortable coverings of steam and smoke, like a body without its skin. Each quarter, as if a muscle or an organ in a children’s anatomy primer, was given its own fanciful color. The Artificer’s Quarter stood out in a lovely purple, and shared the shade with Karam University on the mountain to the southeast. I traced the arteries, the great wide thoroughfares built to move goods and people, finding the fastest route to the Shattered Gear.

A lovely, manicured lawn surrounded a tower not unlike the one in Narayan Square. Carefully-paved footpaths traced a latticework over the grass, connecting the tower to every shop and street nearby. Only small carts, and perhaps, a delicately-bred steed could have navigated these paths. Students and professors of the university milled about. A tight knot of them discussed the day’s disaster on the patio outside a drinking establishment.

One half of a great bronze gear swung from an iron hanger over the door to what I presumed was the Shattered Gear. As I approached the entrance, a strange shimmering caught my attention.

A sheaf of parchment had been tacked to the stonework exterior of the building. Light danced across its surface, as if it had been reflected from an unseen pool of opalescent water. Nothing but cobblestone pavers, wooden patio tables, grass, and the occasional tree lay in the immediate vicinity. I waved my hand over the poster, in a vain effort to find a shadow and trace the source of the light. No shadows fell on the parchment. The light must have come from within! How fascinating! Potentially lucrative!

Why hadn’t anyone taken the sheet down for study? Not one of these people—ostensibly the world’s greatest intellectuals at the finest university—had bothered to wonder why a piece of parchment was shining and shimmering outside their favorite bar!

My curiosity had not been crushed beneath the weight of the great ivory towers of academia, and so I reached out to grab the sheet for closer inspection.

The vicious bite of what I can only describe to you as electricity struck my hand, which immediately turned a strange, painful sort of numb all the way up to the elbow. Withdrawing, I cried out, receiving only a few sniggering laughs in response to my misery. A few acne-spotted students at a nearby table mocked me over their ales.

With my uninjured hand, I grabbed the nearest tankard and accelerated its contents rapidly toward the most deserving individual: a red-headed girl with a stained purple hat. When she expressed her surprise, I explained my reasoning by way of a few very expressive hand gestures, the use of which I would not recommend to anyone who enjoys the keeping of polite company. I did not enjoy polite company when I was a young woman, as you might have gathered. In fact, to this day, I find that “polite” is a cultured way of describing an inexcusable dullness in a person.

Unable to retrieve the parchment from the wall, I resigned myself to studying it in situ.

Artificers of Amateria:

Your CRIMES do not go unnoticed. Your so-called art is a DISEASE and it WILL be cured. Heed this warning: burn your texts, tear down your laboratories—you do not have to die.

WE WILL PROTECT OUR WORLD AT ALL COSTS.

A wax seal signed the bottom of the page, marked with the very same emblem I had seen burned into the hand of the corpse in Narayan Square. Beside the poster, that same mark had been hastily painted. Not once, but three times. Had there been three killings? Was today’s murder the third or the fourth? Perhaps the perpetrators had not yet had the opportunity to update their bulletin.

The rest of the day slid into night with an alacrity I can only attribute to my utter distraction. My thoughts were consumed by this bizarre insurgency. No other occupation could come close in curiosity nor relevance. I may have picked a few pockets as I walked the streets, but only as a matter of routine.

No matter where I intended to go, no matter where I thought to go find lodgings, my feet found their way back to the Shattered gear and back to the poster.

A tall drink and a bit of conversation, that was precisely what I needed after a long day. My light fingers could easily cover the tab.

Now with 300% More Wallpapers

I admit it, the title is mathematically incorrect. And I don't care. 

You should care, however, about the three new wallpapers available here. If you're looking for a way to celebrate your D20 love, be it D&D, Pathfinder, or any other system that makes use of this beautiful die, then you it to your desktop to download these wallpapers.

Might I suggest using all three in slideshow mode? Cuz it's awesome that way. 

Flash Fiction Friday: The Ninja's Ransom

It wasn’t so bad--until the ninja took a hostage.

We didn’t mind that the batteries kept disappearing. When we ran out of 9-volts, it wasn’t as if we needed more. Nothing in the house used them. So we left the box empty.

We should have known better. The ninja’s AI was better than any toy purchased at the low, low price of $29.95 should have had.

As soon as I turned it on, the 8-inch-tall doll came to life, leapt from my hand and disappeared in the shadows. Real great toy that runs away from you and takes up residence in the dark parts of your house. Sometimes little things would disappear, but the ninja wasn't a terrible house guest. It even stayed out of Fido's way.

The ninja ran on 9-volt batteries.

When the batteries ran out, everything changed. The ninja stole the only phone cable in the entire house.

No big deal, one might think, losing a phone cable. We have cell phones, we don’t need a phone cable. Except, our home uses DSL. And somehow, the ninja knew that. The ninja understood that. It knew that we would be forced to acknowledge its demands if we couldn’t check Google for “How to deal with a ninja infestation”. (Before you ask, the 3G reception at our house is non-existent.) And we couldn't just wait it out. Fido would be able to take on a squirrel, but a tiny ninja? Not a chance.

I looked at the miniature ransom note one more time:

3x 9-volt battery, rechargeable
2x recharging station
otherwise, dog is next

Flash Fiction Friday: Sharing is Caring

When I found her collection of photos of me, saved so meticulously in a pretty blue box with white letters, I didn't mind. It was sweet that I mattered so much to her, and I loved that she would let my friends see the photos so easily! After all, everyone came to her house. 

A few weeks later, while visiting again, I found the neatly preserved news clippings from my scholarship award in the box. It seemed appropriate. I left her house smiling. Being relevant feels great. I could come by and see the stories and the photos whenever I wanted, they were there for me too. 

My stomach cinched up when I found the logs last month. She was keeping track of every day that we met and where we went to eat. There was a whole page for what movies we saw together. There was a list of the books I'd read--or at least, every book I'd told her I read. She had a list of books she wanted me to buy, too.

I want to be known, sure. I like sharing my time, yes. But this felt... obsessive. It's possible to matter too much.

Now, as I stand here holding the recordings of our last trip to my favorite bar---recordings I didn't know I'd agreed to just by sharing her presence---I feel sick. 

But maybe what people say is right. Who cares if someone is paying attention? Careful attentive notes written as someone points a microscope at you and everyone you know, keeping track of how you know these friends of yours. 

Still, I think I might start spending Happy Hour with someone else. 

Balanced Anarchy

On Sunday morning, when many people are making their view of the universe more solid, by going to church, I began to take mine apart. It wasn't a complete overhaul, but sometimes you have to take apart the pieces to fit in something new.  I'm not certain where this altered worldview will take me, but its pull is undeniable. 

James Burke's The Day the Universe Changed comes to a conclusion that left my soul stirred up like a bowl of scrambled eggs. Part of me believes this conclusion shouldn't be shared out of context, as it is the culmination of so many beautiful and fascinating arguments made throughout the series. 

Perhaps, a new viewer would be drawn into the ideas Burke presents so eloquently if they knew what lies in store for them. 

In any case, here is the beautiful argument for Balanced Anarchy. And it is the reality that is coalescing, like a great accretion disk of ideas. It's the Type 1 society, the Star Trek world that enjoys peace in many voices arguing. 

James Burke, The Day the Universe Changed, Worlds Without End:

As for the permanent values that are supposed to remain unchanged in spite of our changing knowledge — well they change too. Once it was good to burn women. Wrong to claim the Earth went around the sun. Logical to argue about angels on the head of a pin.

Values change every time the universe changes — and that's every time we redefine a big enough bit of it. Which we do all the time, through the process of discovery (that isn't discovery, just the invention of another version of how things are).

And yet, in spite of that, we still go on believing that today's version of things is the only right one. Because as you've learned from this series, we can only handle one way of seeing things at a time. We've never had systems that would let us do more than that.

So we've always had to have conformity with the current view. Disagree with the church, and you were punished as a heretic; with the political system, as a revolutionary; with the scientific establishment, as a charlatan; with the educational system, as a failure. If you didn't fit the mold, you were rejected.

But, ironically, the latest product of that way of doing things is a new instrument — a new system — that while it could make conformity more rigid, more totalitarian, than ever before in history, could also blow everything wide open. Because with it, we could operate on the basis that values and standards — and ethics and facts and truth — all depend on what your view of the world is — and that there may be as many views of that, as there are people.

And with this [microchip] capable of keeping a tally on those millions of opinions voiced electronically, we might be able to lift the limitations of conforming to any centralized representational form of government — originally invented, because there was no way for everybody's voice to be heard.

You might be able to give everybody unhindered, untested access to knowledge. Because the computer would do the day-to-day work — for which we once qualified the select few — in an educational system originally designed for a world where only the few could be taught.

You might end the regimentation of people, living and working in vast unmanageable cities. Uniting them instead in an electronic community, where the Himalayas and Manhattan were only a split second apart.

You might — with that and much more — break the mold that has held us back since the beginning. In a future world that we would describe as "balanced anarchy" — and they will describe as an "open society" — tolerant of every view.

Aware that there is no single privileged way of doing things.

Above all, able to do away with the greatest tragedy of our era: the centuries old waste of human talent that we couldn't or wouldn't use.

Utopia? Why? If, as I've said all along, the universe is — at any time — what you say it is ... then say!

When the Crystalline Peace Shatters, Tread Lightly on the Shards

What happened in Santa Barbara was horrible. As a woman, it frightened me. Seeing the behavior of men who support the shooter's actions really frightened me. So I spoke up on Twitter and now, here. Women everywhere are speaking up about their experiences and exposing the fact that everyday misogyny is ubiquitous. And it's wrong, and we're tired of it. 

And then I saw one blogger begin an essay with the tagline: "Elliot Rodger doesn’t need to have been a madman. It’s enough that he was a man." 

There's an entire essay behind that, and it's got some valuable points. But, like with many toxins, the concentration of the dose matters, and that tagline has distilled a healthy idea into something dangerous. 

I understand that they're trying to spotlight misogyny, but its oversimplification feeds into the idea that all men are villains and all women are victims. And that's simply not true. I've suffered from the institutions of misogyny on many occasions. At almost every job, in my hobbies, everywhere. I've also suffered from ageism and from not participating in the most popular church (I think that's technically religious persecution, but I don't know if that applies when I'm not religious. Meh.)

My gender doesn't make me a victim by default. And to the men who would read this: your gender doesn't make you a monster because you don't whip yourself for the crimes of the disturbed who share your identity. 

It's enough that men stand beside women, and believe them, when someone claims a woman's chromosomes are reason enough to kill her. They don't have to stop being men.

Over-correction worries me almost as much as the problem that needs corrected in the first place. It ends up with under-educated boys on medication in our schools, getting suspended for pop tart guns. If so many men feel oppressed by feminism, it could be partially because their maleness has been labeled a disease. Maleness doesn't entitle men to violence or acts of abuse, but it also isn't a sin. "Boys will be boys" has been used to wipe clean some very messy slates. Even so, testosterone isn't inherently bad. It's necessary. 

Let's use this tragedy as a reason to improve our mental health programs, examine our gun laws and help both men and women lead happier lives. 

I know I have allies on both sides of the gender divide and I take strength in that. Let's not attack our supporters in the throes of fear. It's also wise to recognize who your allies are.

Allies are the ones who:

  • Believe you when you say someone threatened, insulted, or frightened you.
  • Help you get help when you're ready for it. 
  • Stay with you until you are ready for help, without pressuring or judging you. 
  • Don't tolerate abusive peers, and aren't afraid to tell them their behavior is unacceptable.

Nowhere in that list is the demand that they reject their own identity to protect yours. Allies can stand strong beside you as themselves. This is true in any area of human conflict. 

Go forth and put your compassion first.