That's not me, that's just the echo of your own voice.

Solitary (12 Apr 1994)

The crime was not particularly severe, and it had been rather media-grabbing in its performance, so they did not execute him, despite the trendy popularity of terminal punishment in the Empire. Instead, he was sentenced to solitary, which was supposed to be the next big thing. They dropped him on a custom asteroid-- small enough that the horizon was only four hundred yards away, with a lump of neutronium at its core to provide almost three-quarters gravity, spinning once every 5.5 Terran days. All by himself, except for his Joe. Joes were simply a new name for an old idea, a smart computer system that held an infinite repository of data.

He was allowed visitors and unlimited communication-- after all, only barbarians would deny a man any access to human contact and knowledge. Solitary was merely meant to remove him from society. It was not unpleasant. He began a novel. His wife and two children visited every other dawn, using a rented skipjack. Sometimes he would have other visitors-- journalists, media agents, would-be criminals who wanted to know what he had done right and wrong for their own information. His life was far better than it had been before the crime, and it quickly became apparent to his captors that he was not being punished at all.

So they denied him visitors. He could still use his Joe to communicate via the faster-than-light dataweb, of course-- only barbarians would have denied a sentient being access to the dataweb-- but it made him sad that he could only see his wife aetherially and that he would have to raise his children by remote. He began to jog. He requested some survival gear and made treks around his asteroid. Such forays would take almost five Terran days. It amused him to think that he could walk as fast as the sun. His novel took a slightly dark turn in direction, but that turned out to be just the push he needed and it began to grow at a phenomenal rate. His media contract was doing well and all sorts of luxuries were being shipped to him. He could even afford minimal terraforming for his prison world.

His captors began to stew.

It was only a matter of time, really, before they took away his Joe. They did not consider themselves barbarians; they did not admit to themselves that they were doing it to make him suffer. They cited budget problems. When he pointed out that he could pay for it all himself, they had his money seized. His contracts were cancelled. His agent was jailed on trumped-up fraud charges. A remote skipjack teleported in every evening to drop off six days of food. He was denied contact with other sentients entirely.

He lasted almost two full asteroid-days. Then he began to run. The camping gear was gone, of course; taken back along with everything else. He would take a couple of days of food and start to run with the sun. The food would run out on the far side of the world and he would get hungrier and hungrier on the return trip. He would reach the camp and sleep for hour and hours, waking to the sound of the rocket. Then he would take the food and feast and begin to run.

It was what he had left. It was exactly what his captors had hoped for.

Holes and Facts (1 Mar 1994)

It is a fact. You can build a strong house and fill it with nice things. It can shelter you from the rain and wind, and you can raise a family in it and live in it and enjoy it for many years. But no matter how much you pay for the house, it can still be broken. It can burn, drown, and shatter. Today, it is fine. Tomorrow, it is full of holes. But these are holes are easily filled.

It is a fact. You can take precautions. You can keep your eyes open. You walk only with friends. You get home early. There are six deadbolts on your door. You can get along just fine for many years. But no matter how careful you are, you can still end up in the wrong place at the wrong time and someone will shoot you just because. Today, fine. Tomorrow, full of holes. We're getting better at filling these holes, really.

It is a fact. You can laugh together. You can climb trees. You can walk in the park and eat sushi and bake muffins. You can wrap yourselves in a rug and drink warm mead in front of a fireplace. You can love each other for many years. But even if it's the best thing that has ever happened to you, it can fall apart. Today, it is fine. Tomorrow, there is a hole. Not so easily filled, this one.

The Girl Next Year (18 Apr 1995)

She is your neighbor, but in time, not space. She lives right on the other side of the New Years Eve Party. Sometimes you think about going over there and introducing yourself-- it's just next year, it's right there, just a few months-- but you're shy. You trim the school season with the rusty old clippers and you think, they have a pool next year. Maybe she swims. They just moved in, see, so you don't really know much about them. But she's cute. Maybe she swims. Maybe you'll see her swimming as you trim the school season or pull weeds out of Christmas vacation.

Maybe she'll come over here. Maybe she'll come over and introduce herself. It's just next year, right? She has to know you live over here, she must have seen you.

You try to guess her name. You try to catch glimpses of her through their windows. You try to arrange it so that you both leave for school at the same time. Tricky. But she eludes you. She's always a year away.

Maybe next door, you think.

Wish I could be in two places at once (29 May 1998)

Lutegirl <********> wrote:
>I wish I had one me to deliver on the promises I make.
>I wish I had another me that had all the fun.

One me to press the gun into the king's belly and pull the trigger, the other to take the LIFE magazine picture.

One me to throw the ball, the other to catch.

One me to die hallucinating, the other to transcribe my dying words.

One me to dance, the other to bowl.

One me to write my life, the other to live it.

One me to rule them all, one me to find them, one me to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

Coming through the rye of all human history (28 Jul 1999)

The stone is located at an altitude of approximately 22,500 feet, near the summit of a Himalaya of relatively little interest and without any sort of real name except among the immortals. Really, it is only of interest to the immortals, because this is where they have recorded their names through the ages. This is how they know who has come before-- and who might still be out there. The climb is difficult, to be sure, but it's the traps that conspire to prevent anyone but the old kind from reaching the wall. The fire, the snakes, the fall, the underwater tunnel, the lightning coil, the bridge of blades, the weight of ages, the guardian, the riddle, the three signs of hand and eye and tongue-- it is a certain thing that no mundane shell of ephemeral flesh has ever reached the top to see the names.

It is less imposing than perhaps one would think. The Vietnam memorial is much more breathtaking in appearance and volume, for example; mortals were thrown fairly liberally onto the bonfire of Southeast Asia, but the number of unaged ones who have ever come into being would not fill a bus-- forty-seven names in eleven alphabets, two of which I don't even recognize. Six names would be immediately recognizable to you, were I to mention them. One other is known to most of China. A few others are probably of historical significance, too, but I know nothing of them. Unlike most of my kind, I do not actively seek to know much about what has gone before. I know the changes are coming, that soon all of this will be irrelevant. They seek to freeze the world in nostalgic stasis; I will open the floodgates and let the future wash us all away.

Perhaps some of the names are a joke. Some may be traps. I find at least one of the recognizable names very hard to believe. Yes, perhaps some of my peers are sick fucking bastards with well-honed senses of gallows humor. I will lie to those who come after me, then: I scrawl "Dick Clark" into the stone with the diamond stylus that has been left here for this purpose. A joke that perhaps no one will ever understand-- who knows how long it will be before the next of my kind makes the trek to the wall?

Then, my skin burnt and torn, my veins heavy with the remaining traces of the poison, blood on my fingertips, crystals of ice clinging to my face, I turn from the wall and begin the slow descent back to the world of dirty grubs.

Almost (2 Aug 1999)

I almost said "hi" today.

At the market, that corner one. Why do you shop there instead of at the larger chains? I know you dislike the sometimes-limited selection-- I've heard you say so. It's not that much more convenient to get to... maybe you're just doing your part to help support the small-town businesses, to resist the inexorable draw of mass commercialism. Yes, I think you'd do something like that.

You had your basket: a mango, shampoo, that french bread the kids like so much, and all the makings for your tuna casserole. I'd like to try that tuna casseroles sometime; it sure looks and smells good. You should make it more often, even though your husband doesn't much like it. Yes, he tells you he does, but when you're looking away he makes a face and scrapes most of it off for Skipper.

I try to like Skipper. I always thought you were a cat person; no wonder we'll never have any future together. Or maybe you really are a cat person but you let Alan have his dog. He's definitely a dog person. It seems like doctors usually are. Maybe it's because doctors are usually into people, and people are more like dogs than cats.

I didn't mean to hurt Skipper that first time. He was starting to growl and bark and I thought he'd wake everyone up. I don't hurt him anymore. I've been giving him that same brand of doggie treat you use to reward him when he's good. But I put a little sedative in mine. He eats them right up. Good boy. Very good boy.

You should do a better job of locking your doors and windows, you know. It makes me nervous, thinking about how someone with ill intent could sneak in and take it all away from you. They could hurt you. I don't want anyone else to hurt you. I watch to make sure. Sometimes I go around and lock all the windows for you, and then I go back out the back door and lock it with the spare key. You should probably do a better job of keeping your spare keys out of sight, too.

I try to stay out of the bedrooms. I really do. It's only been a few times. You look so beautiful together. I know you think your hair gets all messed up while you sleep but I think it's beautiful. Alan shouldn't smother you with his arm like that, though. I can tell you don't like it. He's so inconsiderate. I don't think you're all that happy being married to him anymore. But it's important that you stay together for the kids. I know. I understand.

The kids are beautiful. You should be proud of them. I am. Alan should spend more time with them. He should play with them at the playground. I watch over them while they're in the park, and at school. To make sure nobody hurts them. There are some sick people out there. And other kids can be very inconsiderate. Some other kids pushed Sarah down and threw dirt on her the other day. But they won't be doing that anymore.

I don't ever go in their bedrooms. Except that one time, but that was just to see. Not to touch. I never touch them. NEVER. That would be WRONG. I just looked that one time. I just wanted to see-- when they're sleeping, I can tell that they have Alan's cheeks and chin, and your nose and lips. I'm glad they have your lips. They're worth protecting.

Did you know that Alan bought a gun? Even though you told him you never wanted to be around firearms, he bought one and it was hidden under his nightstand. It wasn't loaded but I took it anyway. He should respect you when you say you don't want those things in your house. I took it and bought some ammo for it. I'll hold onto it for him a little while. I'm sure he won't say anything to you because he knows you would be angry about it. He probably thinks you found it and got rid of it and won't mention it.

Lack of communication. See? That's the problem. That's what kills relationships today. We could communicate. I understand you. I know you better than anyone. I read your diary. I found your old yearbooks. I listen to you talking with your friends over lunch. I watch you practice the times tables with Sarah and Scott. I shop at the same places you do. I buy the same things. That's where I saw you today, at the market. You got into line, and I was by the candy rack. You looked at me briefly, just a second or two, and smiled. It was a smile you don't give to just anybody. You never smile at Alan like that. You smiled at me. It was my smile. Mine. I know what it meant, don't worry. I almost walked over right then, to introduce myself, to tell you everything. I'm sure you'd understand. You'd have to. How could you not? But then it was your turn at the register and you looked away and the moment was over.

I almost said "hi" today.

But there's always tomorrow.

Music of the Spheres (3 Aug 1999)

He has a hard time seeing love any other way. Blame it on his overeducated, JPL-trained, astro-physiqued brain. He reflects-- not for the first time, and likely not for the last-- that "attraction" really is the right word. He avoids any thought of "heavenly body" jokes and focuses on the crux of the issue: that the degree of attraction is determined by the mass of the attracting stuff (be it base matter or sublime beauty) and by proximity.

One of his peers, he would qualify as Venus. Bright and radiant; looked upon from afar, she makes one speculate. But she's cloaked in poison; she has enshrouded herself in deep deep damage and it's that reflective, protective covering that makes her seem so bright. She hides the tortured, smouldering ruin of her core under cheery albedo. A quick probe was all it took to learn that there was probably little or nothing but trouble under those rolling clouds. He left it to the Russians to attempt a landing.

Then there's one of the researchers that he carpools with. Pluto, she is. Cold and small and always so far far away, and there's just nothing there to attract. She has a dog that's almost as large as she is. He leaves them out there, together, in their distant isolation. She wanders a strange retrograde path and nobody understands it. And nobody cares to investigate.

They recently got a new intern, though. Jupiter. My god, she is so attractive. Everyone knows that she's just a spark away from becoming a sun. Nobody can resist the pull; anyone who comes anywhere near her is drawn inexorably in, until they are tidally locked. Jovian. She has so many moons, too, drawn in from all around the system-- pulled in and then left hanging there all around her. Not taken all the way into the center, but unable to escape.

He is determined not to fall into that trap. He almost did, but he looked about at all the other debris orbiting her, and decided to slingshot around instead. That's the positive side effect of such attraction-- the faster you are pulled in, the faster you can sling right back out again. He is free and clear, now.

He wants an Earth, obviously. Warm. With atmosphere. Green and fertile. Or at least a Mars... he's willing to terraform a bit, if he has to. There must be something vaguely terrestrial in this system he wanders. It can't all be cold lifeless rocks and monstrous gasballs. Somewhere there has to be someplace he can call home. If he doesn't find it here soon, perhaps it's time to move on to another system.

Stepping outside, he looks up into the dark sky. There's Saturn, just below the moon. Saturn, with her ring. He wonders-- not for the first time, and likely not for the last-- what wanderers there might be up there, being pulled and tugged and thrown about by cosmic desire. And even as he hopes that someday he will find a lovely lovely Earth of his own, he hopes that whatever lonely mass might be out there in the deep will never have such luck.