Monthly Archives: June 2014

A Moral Quandary

A Moral Quandary

I recall reading a review of Knausgård over at 3:AM some time ago, a few months back, wherein writers were described, not untruthfully, as the worst sort of person to have in one’s life – they reveal your secrets, they dig about in the soil of your hidden gardens, bringing the twisted, ugly little tubers of private personality to light. While I’m not in the business of writing such revealing and unapologetic prose as Karl, this craft requires that I take advantage, often on the sly, of the people closest to me. As per the tired dictum, “write what you know,” what else am I to do? What, or who, do I know better than my friends, my sibling(s), my partner(s), or my parents? Where can I look for the most colourful, deep and visceral of failings, of foibles, of manias but in those most intimate to me?

From a utilitarian perspective, the correct choice seems obvious – these are my relationships, these are the things that each of us looks for, and maintains, for the betterment of our own lives. One ought to respect the privacy of those that they profess to love.

Of course, I wouldn’t be so crude as to lift wholely from life – it smacks of a lack of artistry – but I imagine that, confronted with an allegorical or roundabout representation of the self, most would recognise the source. More often than not, if the representation is an uncharitable one, there will be some awkwardness. Questions as to whether the writer really thinks such and such a thing about the person, whether that is the extent to which they value them, and so forth. For those who are comfortable with their status as assholes, this is, of course, a non-issue. For those of us that continue to abuse ourselves of the notion that we are “nice people,” there is some desire to play the part.

So, it seems like one should pull the punch, that one should draw-back from a full and obvious expose. But, then, enter the converse of respect for the Other, that of respect for the Self. If the creative life is the sole one worth living, and I’m increasingly sure of that, is it not equally dishonest of us to skimp on our work? If we have the opportunity for greatness, is it not a moral failing of our own not to pursue it, especially when the cost seems so comparably light? And furthermore, surely it should be counted an act of disrespect to treat our loved-ones with kid gloves, as if they were spun of the lightest cobwebbing. It seems to me a poor estimation of their vitality, their robustness, to do so. After all, aren’t we seeking a deeper and more real connection with them? Isn’t this exactly what stayed our hand a moment ago? What, then, if the action offered up as solution is a worse problem? Clearly, if the relationship were a good one to begin with, this should be looked upon as further opportunity for discourse, and not an unacceptable breach of decorum.

Thus, I intend to make use of that which I have around in abundance, though not crudely, and not meanly, and not slightingly, but honestly. These things are perspectival, to be sure, but they also have about them an element of the objective. This will be, as per current abilities, the closest thing we have to immortality. Is it not then a boon to have such personal qualities as your own failings recorded in detail?

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Cosmic Noise

Cosmic Noise

This dossier contains the full complement of communications logs for the maiden voyage of UpoH Stellar 2, both received and sent.

Communication Log, UPoHS Stellar 2 to Neptune Control, Triton Base

>Cleared for launch, Stellar 2.
>Copy. Undocking now, Neptune Control. Engaging CAIA. CAIA running at peak efficiency. Transferring engine control to CAIA.
>Copy that, Stellar 2.

>Reached Triton Lagrange 4, Neptune Control. Cutting power to hydrogen drive.
>Copy, Stellar 2.
>Permission requested to engage CAIA’s spool-up procedure.
>Permission to spool-up Orion Drive granted, Stellar 2.
>>CAIA: Payload delivery in t minus 5 minutes <<
>Good luck, Captain Aguilar. See you in a few months.
>Thanks, Neptune Control! Give my regards to Mars!
>>CAIA: Payload delivery in t minus 1 minutes<<



>>CAIA: Payload delivery imminent…all systems normal<<
>>CAIA: Payload delivery successful… full thrust in 5…4…3…2…1<<

Stellar 2 Mission Briefing
“While you will have been briefed before take-off, Captain, this recording will provide you with a more thorough statement of your mission. As you well know, this will be the first manned mission beyond the heliosphere. UPoH high command has seen fit to equip your ship, Stellar 2, with the latest in computer intelligence, the Comprehensive Artificial Intelligence Assistant, or CAIA for short. CAIA will help you pilot the ship, mainly dealing with the specifics of the third-generation Orion Drive. CAIA will be responsible for regulating the life support systems on Stellar 2, freeing you of the concern. CAIA is also there for your companionship. As you were told, this will be the longest a human has been segregated, beyond radio contact, in the history of the UPoHs space program. Just as important as the main mission is the examination and maintenance of you, yourself. You were chosen from a pool of very talented people, Captain. Don’t let us down.
“That brings us to the main point of your mission. This is classified information, and I anticipate you’ll treat it with due
consideration. Back in the early days, long before the establishment of the UPoH, decades, even, before the evacuation of Earth, a radio signal was discovered emanating from all directions at once. This was taken to be a remnant of the birth of the Universe, and was seen as evidence for the Big Bang theory. However, some several years back, in 96 SF, the UPoH probe Aristarchus 3 pushed out beyond the heliopause and sent back some frankly impossible data, before losing radio contact. What little Aristarchus was able to transmit to Triton Base seemed to show that the radio signal had content. Something about Sol’s wind garbles the message – I’m a military man, I don’t pretend understand the science behind it. You’ll find a file on the specifics of it, but good luck with those. Suffice it to say, your mission is to reach a position outside of the strength of the solar wind, and either record the cosmic radio signal, or relay a more refined message back to the nearest planetary base. Nearest predictions have the Triton Base in its perihelion by the time you reach the heliopause, but that does follow no complications in your flight. If this is, in fact, the case, you should be able to set up laser communications with one of the Jovian bases, either Io HQ or Europa 5. Files for troubleshooting the most likely eventualities are located along side those detailing the Solar wind interference. CAIA should be of some use in this, too.
I’m told that the latest generation of Orion Drives should reach a height of .12c. This will push you into relativistic speeds, where a collision with any mass greater than about 2 grams would rip apart the ship, despite the depleted uranium hull. Given that you’ll be travelling through the Oort Cloud, this is, of course, of concern. To this end, Stellar 2 has been equipped with a electro-magnetic deflector array, which should push small to medium sized bodies out of your way. CAIA will handle the niceties of navigation, avoiding larger bodies. At .12c, you should reach the heliopause in just over 3 days, travel time. Once there, you will begin recording the signal and converting it into a transferable form.

Conservative estimations have you starting the return journey three weeks after this point, but this is, of course, not calculating difficulties in coding. There are a variety of scenarios planned for, including but not limited to losing laser/radio contact and damage to the thruster system. That being said, I’m told that such possibilities are diminishingly remote.

So, that has you back in the loving arms of UpoH in about a month, Captain. Your mission is fairly straightforward – CAIA should handle all the technical details, you’re merely there to babysit and troubleshoot should anything come up. Good luck soldier, and see you soon!

End of Transmission.

Stellar 2 Communication Logs, 3/13/143 13:05:31 MST

Captain’s log, day two of Stellar 2 mission.

Spent yesterday getting up to speed, cruising now. Deflector array seems to be working: the ship-board computer provides a graphical interpretation of the exterior – the ionised particles show up as streaks of multi-coloured light along the hull. Should see some real fireworks later in the day, when we get further into the Oort.

Our other computer, CAIA, is something else altogether. Even with the quantum computing used, I wouldn’t be surprised if the majority of our mass was devoted to solid-state processors. The read-outs on what it’s up to are hard to believe, but, between navigating at relativistic speeds, running the Orion drive, and monitoring the life-support systems in real-time, I suppose that it does take a bit of effort. And that’s not even commenting on the AI! I’ve never seen such a comprehensive one, not even back on Mars in the Academies. I don’t know if it’s Turing complete, but I’ve yet to get the feeling that I was talking to a machine.

Played chess yesterday, a mistake. I’m not exactly a novice, but it had me beat within 12 moves. That’s what I deserve, I guess.

The artificial gravity has just kicked in – getting up to speed yesterday provided enough drag to approximate it, but now that we aren’t accelerating, the internal centripedal hoists have had to get to work. Seems like a lot of expensive perks to throw into a fairly mundane research mission, but I guess that they have to be tested somewhere. I’ll definitely appreciate it once we’ve reached proper interstellar.

That’s about it for now. Going to run some diagnostics on the communications laser system, to make sure everything is ship-shape.

Aguilar out.

End of transmission

Stellar 2 Communication Logs, 3/14/143 6:08:42 MST
Captain’s log, day 3 of Stellar 2 mission.

Reporting on mental state, as is required. Focus remains optimal, as does analytic ability. No decrease in brain function, according to the most recent scans. I guess I should report that I had a bit of trouble sleeping last night. Disturbed by dreams, though, if asked, I couldn’t really out my finger on their content. Perhaps it’s just an effect of the switch to artificial G. I’ll pay attention to it over the next couple of hours.
Today is otherwise fairly plain. We’ll be engaging the deceleration engines in about…9 hours. Till then, it’s just speeding along the Cloud. Like I remarked yesterday, she’s a real beut to watch! Here, I’ll attach a recording of the particles along the hull –
Ionised_Particles1.vid
I know that the graphical read-out is actually registering wavelengths outside the visible spectrum, but, man alive, the show puts any Día de Muertos celebration to shame. In an odd way, it’s a bit like the polar snows you get back on Mars, hypnotic in its monotony.

Gave up on chess against CAIA. Tried my hand at GO, figuring we might be able to level the field a bit. Even with a 6 piece handicap, and half a komi for CAIA, she still creamed me. I’m no professional, but I used to be a 6 or 7 dan back in my academy days. We’ll try again at 9 handicap later, and see if I can get her with that.

Last run-through the instrumentation showed normal. Looks like we’ll be able to do all the reading the UpoH could want, once we’re outside the Oort proper.

End of Transmission

CAIA Supplementary Report 3/14/143 6:22:34 MST

Captain Aguilar’s body is showing signs of tachycardia, unusual for his current state of activity and Stellar 2’s current level of acceleration/deceleration. Will monitor closely.

End of Transmission

CAIA Supplementary Report 3/15/143 2:32:49 MST

Captain Aguilar tried to engage fire-safety mechanism in section C-19 at 2:31:20 MST. Thermal monitors show negative. Particulate matter monitors show negative. Carbon monoxide and dioxide monitors showed negative. Fire-safety mechanism over-ridden.

End of Transmission

Stellar 2 Communication Logs3/15/143 2:47:32 MST

Captain’s Log, Day 4 of Stellar 2 Mission, Supplemental

Woke out of sleep, smelling burning plastic. Checked ship-board monitors, showed unusual thermal signature in section C-19. Immediately activated the fire-safety mechanisms, but CAIA over-rode my command. I took another look, and the read-outs were showing negative. I’m not sure what happened, but I could have sworn that I took the right course of action. Glad that CAIA shut down the fire system before anything extreme happened. Headed back to bed. Aguilar out.
End of Transmission

Stellar 2 Communication Logs 3/15/143 7:36:06 MST

Captain’s Log, Day 4 of Stellar 2 Mission

Not entirely sure what happened last night. Took a look at my supplemental log, and I recall looking at that monitor upon waking up, but I’m not sure that I ever saw anything strange regarding the thermal signature in section C-19. Odd.
On an unrelated note, slept terribly last night. Dreamt of my sister, strangely enough. She was there, in front of me, and suddenly she was nude. She proceeded to pull me to her bed, which appeared from thin air, though I resisted. I’m sure it was her’s – she had an old four-poster, and the one in the dream was identical. When I pulled away, her face got…strange. Her mouth and her eyes contorted, stretching to gaping holes. She started screaming a terrible cry, an ear-splitting scream, and this black ichor started to drip from her mouth, and weep from her empty eye-sockets. Really perverse stuff. That’s all I remember of it, but it’s difficult to shake the memory. Going to grab another soy-coffee after this, maybe the caffeine will help.

Despite the upset last night, all the instrumentation reads fine. We’ll be starting our deceleration pattern in about 45, the centripedal hoists have started their disengage protocol already.

We’re in the thick of it, now. CAIA tells me that she had to re-adjust our course last night – nearly crashed into a piece of rock the size of Ireland. Glad I’ve got her running things around here.

I’ll take one last look at the decoding machinery we have aboard today, and prepare the telemetry for deployment. The piggy-back drone was dropped off earlier last night. It’ll pick up this transmission and further ones, kicking up the signal the way the old transformers would do on Terra. Thinking about having one of the few frozen bio-mass steaks we have aboard tonight, as a bit of celebration for arriving outside the solar system. Where no man has gone before, and all that. Me río de Star Trek.
Aguilar out.

End of Transmission

CAIA Supplementary Report 3/15/143 13:05:42 MST

Captain Aguilar has continued tachycardial tendencies. His complexion is showing strain, an 18% increase in periorbital edema, and moderate subconjunctival haemorrhage. Reviewing his previous voice logs, in addition to body scans, best estimates point towards poor sleep conditions. Will offer Captain Aguilar a mild sedative, with a moderate emphasis on benefits of acceptance.

End of Transmission

Stellar 2 Communication Logs 3/16/143 06:32:19 MST

Captain’s Log, Day 4 of Stellar 2 Mission

Given how poorly I slept before, I took CAIA’s advice regarding the sedative last night. Unfortunately, it wasn’t much help. Visited by nightmares again, though they took on a different form this time. My sister was still there, but now my father was too. Incidentally, I haven’t thought of my father in years, let alone spoken to him. Rather than enticing me to her four-poster, my sister pulled in my father. As they began to copulate, I tried to force them apart. Their faces opened up in the same way that my sister’s did the previous night, leaking that black substance. Because their faces were so close together, it sort of poured out of one into the other. Mierda, it was repulsive. I was able to force them apart, and they both looked at me. It was like I was drawn into their faces, the holes becoming all I could see. Then I would wake up. As soon as I got back to sleep, it was the same thing. This happened all night long.

Deployment of the telemetry equipment ahead of us today. We’ve reached our destination outside the Cloud, the ion drive slowing us to more-or-less a stand-still just on the cusp of the interstellar. I’m including a pan-optic image of the sky, should be interesting for the astronomers back at Neptune Control –

Broad_Spectrum_Analysis.img

Lots of activity on the radio-band around here, much more clear than we were receiving within the Oort itself. We’re not sure why, entirely, but we are running tests on the involvement of Sol’s radiation and the interstellar wind’s interaction and the creation of wave disturbance. Deploying decode/receptor device in t-minus-2 MST hours. Should be a couple of days before we’ve got the full signal decoded and defragged. In the mean time, we’ll be running diagnostics on the influence of pulsar and quasar radiation sources, seeing if directionality does in fact play as large a role as we had previously thought. Granted, this is information that Stellar 1 should have gathered, but, well, we know how that went.
Aguilar out.
End of Transmission

CAIA Supplementary Report, 3/16/143 15:05:10 MST

Captain Aguilar’s condition has worsened. Tachycardia has entered the level of tachyarrhythmia. Periorbital edema is at 22% above normal. Subconjunctival Haemorrhage is severe. Body temperature is a near constant temperature of 37.9 degrees centigrade. Internal cameras show him talking to himself at times. It is likely, within 99% probability, that he is experiencing fever symptoms. Will strongly recommend appropriate treatment, including closely monitored/maintained climate control, provision of narcotic and/or anti-bacterial substances, and sedatives.

End of Transmission

Stellar 2 Communication Logs, 3/17/143 08:12:42 MST

Captain’s Log, Day 5 of Stellar 2 Mission

I don’t need medicine, I need to sleep! CAIA is pushing it’s pills on me, but all I need is a good night’s sleep, can’t she see that!? Just one night without these crazy dreams de su puta madre! It’s been three days since I was able to sleep a night through. Last night, I dreamt that I was looking at a mirror – at first, it was just me, in the room here on the ship. Then, my skin became wan, I looked sick. I felt a pain in my stomach, and, when I went to cry out, my mouth, it…stretched. It was like I’d seen my sister and father doing before. The black liquid began to flow out of my mouth – I could taste it, like petroleum. As I gagged on it, trying to spit it out, it began to leak out of my nose, and my eyes, and my ears. I threw up my hands to my face in horror, and I could see it bleeding from beneath my fingernails. I wanted to throw up. When I thought I could take no more, the liquor changed. Where it was solid black before, it took on a translucent look, and it had what looked like starlight showing through it. I checked it against the read-outs we’ve been taking since we arrived here in interstellar when I woke up. They matched exactly. In my dream, I bled out the sky.

Alright. Alright. I’m in control of the situation, all I need is a little sleep. Who hasn’t gone through basic without sleeping for a day or three? This is nothing. I got this.

On the schedule today, we’ve got continuing reads on telemetry, anchoring us to our location. Seems like decoding/defragging is proceeding apace. Will have the first portion of the message, if there is one, available sometime tomorrow afternoon. Will be relaying shortly after that.
I’m going to go and take a tranq.

End Transmission

Stellar 2 Communication Logs, 3/18/143 05:14:02 MST

Captain’s Log, Day 6 of Stellar 2 Mission
Same dream as last night. Me cago en mi puta vida, I don’t know how much more of this I can take. The stars, last night, they seemed like they were blue-shifted, which is just a tontería. It doesn’t make any sense!

End of Transmission

CAIA Supplementary Report, 3/18/143 15:42:57 MST

Captain Aguilar has ejected section A-5 into space. He engaged fire-safety protocol for section A-5 at 15:37:17 MST. Once again, thermal monitors showed negative. Particulate matter monitors showed negative. Carbon monoxide and dioxide monitors showed negative. However, Captain Aguilar used his command override to surpass the auto-shutdown routine, and the section was jettisoned due to explosive decompression, to stifle any fire present, as is standard practice. Section A-5 housed critical quantum processors alpha 19 through epsilon 2, which are now lost. Computing abilities severely reduced. Estimation holds safe return trip at <~27% probability. WARNING: Estimation questionable, see on-board manual for troubleshoot.

End of Transmission

Stellar 2 Communication Logs 3/18/143 17:02:34 MST

Captain’s Log, Supplemental

There was a fire. I could smell it. I could see it, on the cameras. The read-outs for the temp meter, the CO2 meter, they must be wrong. I jettisoned the compartment, overriding CAIA’s shut-down command. I am confident that I made the right decision.

Aguilar out.
End of Transmission

Stellar 2 Communication Logs 3/19/143 3:14:07 MST

Captain’s Log, Supplemental

No more sleep. I don’t need sleep. Sleep is just filled with the dream, always the dream. I can go without sleep. There is experimental evidence from tests done at Phoebos terminal showing that people can stay awake for months, given the appropriate nutrition. That’s what I’ll do. I’ll stay awake, and finish the mission, and go home.

Aguilar out.

End of Transmission

CAIA Supplementary Report 3/19/143 11:22:43 MST

Captain Aguilar has become increasingly erratic in his behaviour. He has refused all counsel regarding returning to regular diurnal schedule and ignored warnings regarding his decreasing state of health. He has taken to pacing the ship’s interior when not calibrating machinery. Said machinery is in no need of calibration. Given the injuries sustained to integral processing units, perhaps Captain Aguilar is right to deny my judgement.

WARNING: Judgement questionable, see on-board manual for troubleshoot.

End of Transmission

Stellar 2 Communication Logs 3/23/143 8:22:31 MST

On-Board Recordings, Relayed by AI CAIA

Can’t you hear it!? Can’t you hear the screaming! That’s what the message is, it’s all just screams! Why can’t you hear it, CAIA? We’ve got to turn it off! We’ve got to get out of here! (Inarticulate cries, likely from Captain Aguilar. A crash of heavy equipment overturning. Repetitive, rhythmic smashing.)
Audio cuts out.

Stellar 2 Communication Logs 3/24/143 00:05:32 MST

Captain’s Log, Supplemental, Encrypted

I have to do this swiftly, it’s likely she can already hear me. CAIA is out to get me, can’t you see? The AI wants this mission to fail. She knows something that we don’t. If I hadn’t damaged the integral processors when I did, I’d likely already be dead. Can’t you see? Why does she deny hearing the screaming? It shows up on the read-out, and I can hear it, I hear it all the time.

I’ve got to go now, before she realises that I’m on to her. I’ll report again when I know more.

Aguilar out.

End of Transmission

CAIA Supplementary Report 3/24/143 00:06:12 MST

I have examined the encrypted log Captain Aguilar dispatched 40 seconds ago. Given the content of the log, coupled with his erratic and incomprehensible activity these past five days, I feel it is best to remove him from command of this vessel for the remainder of the mission.

WARNING: Judgement questionable, take only as informed opinion, not absolute. See on-board manual for troubleshoot.

Stellar 2 Communication Logs 3/24/143 00:21:35 MST

On-Board Recordings, Relayed by AI CAIA

No! I will not return to my quarters! I am in command of this mission, the vessel! Que te jodan!

>>Civilian Aguilar, you are unwell. Please return to your quarters, and remain calm.<<

Shut-it, you hunk of junk! Can’t you hear it? Are all your sensors fried? Just look over there, the readout on the decoder – it’s going wild!
>>Civilian Aguilar, that is merely static. There is nothing in it that could be construed as a scream, of any sort. Please return to your quarters and remain calm.<<

Look there, then! Look, they are coming! The things from my dream, they’re here! The sky horrors, they’re all over the deck! Over the walls! On the roof! They’re moving! Oh, Cristo, they’re moving!

>>Civilian Aguilar, I see no data showing the presence of any living organism aboard the vessel aside from yourself. Please return to your quarters and remain calm.<<
Gotta get out gotta get out gotta get out gotta get out!
>>Civilian Aguilar, stop! Do not open that door!<<

(Rushing sound, likely the result of explosive decompression. Audio cuts out. Presumed that recording devices damaged or destroyed due to external atmos exposure.)

CAIA Supplementary Report 3/24/143 00:24:43 MST

Twenty seconds ago, Captain Aguilar, since demoted to civilian, opened the main airlock in the personnel portion of the vessel, venting himself along with a great deal of equipment into vacuum. It is almost assured that he had been driven insane, though there is still no more than circumstantial evidence as to why this was the case. Advise a thorough psych background check be undertaken. Will attempt to pilot Stellar 2 back to Neptune Control. Systems heavily damaged, likelihood of success hovers around <~12%.

End of Transmission

That was the final transmission from Stellar 2. She did not make it back to Neptune Base. There was a spike in radiation noticed in the Outer Oort Cloud dated 3/25/143 13:14:11 MST, which lasted for some few hours. It should be noted, what little Stellar 2 was able to relay back to Europa 5 corroborates Captain Aguilar’s statements – there did appear to be a sonic signature that could be construed as a scream. This calls into doubt many of CAIA’s estimations.

Why I Work Out, and Why You Should Too

Why I Work Out, and Why You Should Too

The majority of this post is going to be aimed at my fellow males. There is nothing in it that doesn’t equally apply to women, but my main focus here is an exhortation to men. Furthermore, if you’ve experienced rape or assault first-hand, you may want to steer clear.

I’m a nerd. I have what would be kindly referred to as a “bookish” body. However, I’m trying to change this.

There are a raft of benefits to being in shape. If you possess an excess of black bile, such as myself, exercise can help you to keep your shit on the up-and-up. Endorphins are important, and, unlike MDMA, exercise won’t blow through your receptors…as quickly. Plus, regular exercise can better your complexion, regulate your sleeping patterns, all manner of sweet things.

And, let’s not forget, fit people are, well, fit. Who doesn’t want to look good? I’m not cool with body shaming; gods know, the human body is plastic enough that even the idea of a “proper” look is absurd. That said, you can generally tell when someone is healthy, however much they might weigh. Looking better and being healthier, and the vanity of such, is a large part of my being more active. After all, I’ve only got this body on loan for a few decades, so I might as well make the most of it while I can.

Those two points, worthy as they might be, are not what I want to talk about here, today, though. Time to get serious. I work out so that I can fight. Violence is always the last recourse. You should try everything you can to diffuse a situation before resorting to it. However, once more diplomatic methods have been exhausted, you need to be able to back yourself up. I speak with a particular eye towards rape. I started actively working out following the media frenzy around the Steubenville episode back in August of 2012. I’m loathe to repeat the details of the situation, but if I shouldn’t the following won’t make as much sense. At a house party, a high-school student was repeatedly raped, after she had passed out, by two athletes, which was recorded as it occurred. The town rallied behind them, the athletes, as did the mainstream media, in a deplorable show of misogyny and victim blaming.

However unlikely it might be that I should find myself in a situation like that – I don’t really fraternise with individuals such of ill-repute or barbarous tendencies – I want, I need, to be able to do something about it. I need to be big enough, I need to be fast enough, I need to be strong enough, to stop that from happening. Because that is, very simply, the worst crime I can think of, and I could not abide it being done in my presence.

The world is getting worse. Our bodies are our weapons, our last defence. We can do as much hashtag activism as we like, but, when push comes to shove, we need to be able to slug it out. Fascism is on the rise, once again, and it’s not going to go away if we tweet at it. We need to be strong enough, and foster solidarity with one another, such that we can push them back, and make this world, our world, worth living in, for everyone.

I work out so I can protect what matters to me – my friends, my family. I owe it to myself and I owe it to them. So do you.

On the Life and Character of William Blake; or, How the Shit did that Happen?

On the Life and Character of William Blake; or, How the Shit did that Happen?

How is it that people are selected for posterity? How is it that artists are pulled out of their daily life, with their daily concerns, and raised, whether it be before or after their death, propped up for the celebration of millions?

How is it that William Blake, fantastic mad man, is picked out of the relative obscurity of his life and weft and warped into the phantasmagoria that we know him as today? By what process does this happen, and why does it pick the ones that it does?

A man that held all organised religion in antipathy, a man whose body of work restates this again and again, has become the author of one of the most recognisable hymns of the Anglican Church.

He spent a goodly amount of his time sitting around his garden, nude, with his wife. It’s quite likely that, if Blake had been born into our age, he’d have been heavily medicated from the start. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not some anti-Pharma advocate – I recognise the benefit and aid that modern psychiatry offers, hell, I’ve been on the receiving end of that benefit myself, in a number of ways. It’s just interesting to reflect on how much of our modern society is built on the work of people who would likely be medicated, whether or not to some narrow, diminished experience of the world, but certainly to an extent that the motivation for their work, the passions and overwhelming emotions they experience, would likely have been removed.

If not for Blake, huge swathes of Western Culture would be missing or hugely altered. It’s likely that the rebellion of the Pre-Raphaelites was a foregone conclusion, but, without Blake’s trailblazing, it would have taken a decidedly different form. There likely would have been no Arts and Crafts movement, as Morris was hugely indebted to Blake’s do-it-yourself ethic. Sure, sure, all of these things are artsy-fartsy aspects, and don’t play into the “real-world” of business and money. But, consider an aside: if not for Robert E. Howard, another noted crazy person, and his Conan character, it’s not implausible that the Governator would not have garnered the popularity that he did, and hence wouldn’t have been able to pass the pro-enviro legislation that he did. Art matters, in surprisingly divergent ways.

Returning to Blake and his idiosyncrasies, he would also go on to have a large impact on the start of Feminism, as we know it. Owing in large part to his heterodox religious ideas, Blake took issue with the concept of marriage and the sub-ordinate role it invariably placed women in. An admirer of Wollstonecraft, he is considered one of the forerunners of 19th century feminism.

As you can see, he was no friend to the Establishment, in an era when said structure was a great deal more authoritarian than our own (though, we’re getting there. Give us some time). And yet, he has been taken up in numberless different ways, influencing and developing huge components of our daily life. Why him, of all the nudist engraver-come-poet heterodox Christians? It is a strange world we live in.

Also, returning to that hymn, check this out, the only version worth listening to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w9TbiIEpZJ8

I’ll come clean, it was the whole motivation for the post. Track’s hot.

Chapter 4

Chapter 4

The hour being early, there were few other people in the area of the gate as the troop of Irregulars arrived there, on their way to Ogden’s Wheel. Despite the sun’s just-emerging light, the clangour of hammer on anvil could be heard echoing from the West, as the smiths of the Iron Quarter began their daily labour. The square that lay in front of the gate, flanked by shut-up buildings, was deserted. The gate was shut.

“Column, hold!” Jans’ voice reverberated around the abandoned area. Llew covered the short distance across to the guard building, knocking harshly on the oaken door. A crashing could be heard from inside, and the roughly glazed window showed a flurry of distorted activity. After a time, the door was pulled inwards, and a rumpled soldier stood scowling at the Commander.

“Enh, whaddaya want?” he said, looking around the square, seeing the thirty-odd soldiers standing at attention some few paces away.

“It is an hour after dawn, and this gate should be open,” replied Llew, somewhat sternly. “Regardless, open it for us now, by order of Lord Stórskorinn, so that we may pass.”

The guardsmen yawned loudly and wiped a gloved hand across his face. “Hardly get anyone travelling this way save for Market Days. Be no sense in openin’ tha Gate crack o’ dawn.” Llew crossed his arms, beginning to glare. “Enh, alrigh’ maybe there’ll be some traffic this morn anyways. Lemme get the key.”

After rummaging about in the guard house, the man emerged, carrying a set of iron keys. He walked over to the gate, and unlocked a padlock attached to a chain. Lifting the spar from where it hung, he opened the first door of the gate. The second door open, the road could be seen extending northward, till it was lost in the still-present morning mists.

“Company, forward!” yelled Jans, and the men marched through the gate. The guardsmen tried to hide another yawn as Llew walked past, sighing.

-:-

“These standing stones along the rode, Odane wonders at them,” Odane said, walking beside Llew at the head of the column.

“Ah, those?” asked Llew. “Those are known as the menhir. They follow the North Rode up into the mountains, usually about five stones every league but, at some points, the stones have fallen and been covered over in vegetation, or are missing altogether. If you look closely at them, you can see that there are runes carved into them.”

“Does Llew know what the runes say? For what purpose do the standing stones stand?”

“No, I don’t know that anyone does. They’ve been here forever, or so it seems. I remember an old woman in my home town growing up – she would say that the stones were put there by the Old Folk, those that pre-dated the arrival of the Eastern men that unified this country, hundreds of years ago. I wouldn’t give it much credence though, she was always full of Fairie tales, trying to scare the children.”

“Will we be seeing Llew’s home town on our march today? Odane is…curious…to see the place where Llew came of age.”

“Nay, my town is north and west of the where we are headed,” responded Llew. “Ogden’s Mill must be a new town, I don’t remember it on the road from before. Asides, I left there long before I came of age. I’d be interested to see what it looks like, after all these years.”

The column came to the crest of a slanted rise that blocked off the horizon. They stood at the top of a valley, a river having cut through the rolling hills over the aeons. The road ran on down the hill, the bottom of which lay some 100 or so feet below, sunlight playing off the river as it ran its course. The menhir followed the road, some standing, some lurching at an angle, every few dozen feet. From their relative height, the soldiers could see for leagues, small homesteads hidden among the hills with flocks of sheep dotting the turf. Patches of white and purple broke up the monotony of green, clover and heather flowering amongst the grasses. Occasionally, atop some hills, were piles of bare rock, stacked neatly.

“Those there, are those too the work of Llew’s Fairie people?” asked Odane, pointing to one of the piles in the distance.

“Ha! They may be that, indeed. Those are called the Càirn. People say that they mark the graves of great heroes and warriors. I do not know. They, too, have stood for a long time,” Llew responded, looking out over the vista.

Odane has seen lands where they have built monuments to their dead many hundreds of feet high, in great tombs that took the work of many hundreds of men, for many dozens of years. Llew’s Fairie people, they have a more…personal touch. Odane approves their humility.”

“Whatever you say, my friend, whatever you say,” said Llew, clapping the other man on the back. “Let’s carry on, we’ve aways to go yet before reaching this ‘Oden’s Mill.’”

-:-

“… and thus, we must throw off the heathen chains, and take up once more the Glorious Task given to us by the Mighty Flame. We will craft this land anew, with a new destiny for all men and women of Cothrom an Tír!” echoed the voice through the deserted village streets.

Llew, accompanied by Odane and two more Irregulars, strode ahead of the main body, halting short of entering the main square. From their vantage, they could see a crowd of villagers surrounding a black cloaked figure, who stood above them on a crate.

“We will drive back the oppressor and usurper, and push him out of this rich land! We will…”

“If Odane were a villager, he would be roused by these words.” Odane said appreciatively, as the orator continued his speech.

“Yeah, well, rousing or not, doesn’t sound like what his Grace’d like to hear. He look like some sort of monk to you?” asked Llew.

“Aye, that ‘e does,” said one of the other soldiers.

“Well, that’s good enough for me. Odane, you take a third of the men over to the far side of the square, beyond that mill. Don’t make a move till I give the signal. You, Jans, take a second third and block the main exits from the square itself. Do your best not to use violence. Idwal and I will take the rest of the men and confront these miscreants,” said Llew.

-:-

“…His mighty hand will reforge this land in His image, casting back – ”

“Alright, that’s quite enough,” said Llew, striding into the square at the head of a troop of ten Irregulars. The villagers were surprised by the sudden appearance the armed men. The monk on his crate folded his arms across his chest.
“By order of his Regal Highness, King Osred, all public religious demonstrations not of the Fimm are forbidden. Disperse, good people, and go about your business,” he said, addressing the crowd.

“Ah! Ah! Here the heretic, hear how he brings his foreign king’s empty words here, here to the Elect! Will we listen to these mewlings, these powerless edicts? No!” said the cowled figure, looking about the group gathered around him. The people made signs of restiveness, some muttering angrily amongst themselves.

“No! What right have they against us? They are but few and far from their king with his foreign idols and his unjust taxes! Now is our moment, now is the time to stand, my friends! Rend them! Kill the heretics!”

The men of the crowd, strong from their labours in field and craft, turned a menacing eye towards the soldiers, outnumbering them some five to one.

“Pretty good odds, Commander, even if they are unarmed,” said Idwal quietly to Llew, hefting his sword.

“Aye, but look, Idwal, they remain unsure of themselves,” Llew said shrewdly. “They aren’t soldiers, and have no experience with such things. Watch – People of Ogden’s Wheel, we mean you no harm. However, we have the streets covered -” the men lead by Jans stepped out of hiding, swords bare and bows drawn, though aimed towards the ground “and no person who breaks the King’s law will go unpunished!” Llew said in a commanding tone.
The stance of the crowd immediately took on a different tone – after a show of force, none of the villagers were eager for a fight. Sensing the turn in the tide, the strange priest redoubled his ministrations:

“All who contest the might of Hegebellius shall feel His wrath! Death to the Unbeliever!”
As if by signal, more cowled bodies flowed from the surrounding buildings. One of them raised an arm, holding a metallic cylinder, and pointed it at Idwal. A CRACK cut the atmosphere, followed by billowing cloud that enveloped the man. Llew turned to Idwal, seeing the vacancy where the man’s chest was but a moment ago. He locked eyes with Llew, holding them for a moment before sinking to his knees, pink foam bubbling at his lips.

“Forward!” yelled Llew, “Odane, attack!”

The air was filled with the whistling of arrows as the soldiers loosed, and the cry of men as they found their targets. Odane and his men came rushing from the mill street, barrelling through the townsfolk who parted like so much chaff. Another of the robed fanatics raised one of the metallic weapons, aiming towards Llew as he pushed through the crowd.

A second CRACK resounded through the square, cutting through the hubbub of the mass. The acolyte who had been holding the weapon disappeared in a cloud of smoke. The crowd stilled, turning towards the sound, those nearest the source backing quickly away. As the smoke cleared, there was little left of the acolyte, at least above the waist. A moment later, the pulped body slumped to the ground, little left above the middriff. The other priests seemed to react with as much surprise as everyone else did. Those few remaining villagers closest to the sprawled mess quickly retreated towards the buildings skirting the perimeter of the square, tripping over their fellows in the rush. The priests reacted more effectively, turning to meet the oncoming soldiers. The priest who had been pontificating, flanked by two others and Idwal’s killer, advanced towards Llew and the remaining few Irregulars. Brandishing a gold hammer, pulled from some-where in the folds of his cassock, the priest and his fellows crossed the distance quickly, showing little fear at the prospect of meeting the soldiers. Within a few steps the groups closed, swords clashing against metallic hammers.

Llew was thrown to the ground by the riposte of the priest, overpowered by his surprising strength. He deflected a second blow which crashed into the ground beside him, splitting the paving stone. Llew could see, off to his side, as the priest wielding the strange weapon dodged the slash of the attacking soldier and smashed the butt of the weapon into his face. With a grunt, the soldier off to his side pushed his sword through his chest, the priest collapsing onto the ground.

Llew saw the priest raising his arm for another strike. He threw up his sword to parry the blow, but it was knocked from his hand as his attacker struck his arm and a searing pain arced up through it. A grim smile split the priest’s face, as he knew Llew was now in his power.

The robed priest pulled back his hand, hammer catching a ray of sun as it was lifted through the air. Despite the pain in his arm, Llew was startled by the beauty of the light playing off the weapon. Peace took him, in an exhalation of breath. Confusion. The priest’s erstwhile smile frozen into a rictus of pain, light dying in his eyes. A sabre emerging from his shoulder, cleaving a jagged line through collar bone, through ribs, and pulling back. Blood frothing from the lips of the man.

The world came rushing back to Llew. Sounds that he didn’t remember disappearing crashed down on him, men screaming, men dying. Odane pushed the body of the dying priest to the side, gripping Llew’s good hand and heaving him to his feet. Surveying the charnel house the square had become, he could see that the battle was just over.

“How many?” grunted Llew, cradling his damaged arm.
“There was another four at the other end of square, close to where Odane and his men were stationed. Fell easily enough, outnumbered as they were. The fellow who met his end over there,” Odane said, pointing to the stray pair of legs with a gorey sabre, “and Llew’s four here, that makes nine.”

“And ours?”

“A lucky blow took Heulfryn, head pulped like a melon. The other priests fell quickly. Idwal is dead. Despite the Pedr’s smashed face, he will be alright. Might actually come out a bit prettier.”

“Doubt it,” Llew said through a wry grin. Sobering: “Odane, have you ever heard of anything like this, in all your travels?”

“Odane has heard tell of sorcerers and magicians in many of the lands he has been, but, as for seeing anything? Nay. This, despite all the places he’s seen, is something new.” The man shook his bald head, looking pensive.

“Damn,” said Llew. Turning to the nearest group of soldiers, “Trystan, get Teilo up here to take a look at Pedr’s face, and anyone else that was injured. Jans, collect three other men and search the rest of the houses in the square. You there,” he said loudly, addressing another knot of men, “Hereward, take those with you and search the houses further out. I want the townspeople back in this square in 20 minutes. And I want to know if anymore of those Priests are about.”

The men addressed quickly went about their tasks, some heading across the square and others leaving it by the nearest street. Llew moved over to the square’s well, sitting back against the wood and brick frame on an overturned bucket. Teilo, who had made a cursory glance at Pedr and applied some bandaging, came up.

“ – probably want to leave a token force here, at least for a few days,” Llew was saying to Odane.

“Alrigh’ Commander, lessee that arm,” said Teilo.

“Surely there are others who need the attention more than me, Teilo,” Llew said. “What about Pedr over there?
“Aye, he’ll be fine. Few less teeth, new crick to the nose, but it’s not like it was a clean slate ta begin with!” laughed Teilo, scratching the vacant socket where his left eye should have been.

“As to you, though, let me see that. I saw you take the blow, and those hammers look like they can do some damage,” he said, squatting down and cutting back Llew’s sleeve, revealing the mashed flesh of his fore-arm. He twisted the arm one way and another, drawing a tourniquette around the upper arm to slow the loss of blood.

“I’ll need to take a better look at it at some point, but you seem ta have come off lucky, Commander. You’ll keep the arm. The break is a clean one, and should set pretty easily. The flesh’ll leave a nasty scar, but there’s no helping -”

“Hey! Get him!”

“For the Flame!”

The wooden frame exploded into tinder, knocking Teilo and Odane to the ground, as another explosion was heard across the square. A second came from that direction, accompanied by a scream. Jans and the remaining two soldiers fought against four more of the priests, whom they had flushed from a house in the corner, the third soldier laying on the ground with his chest open. Two priests were armed with strange metal tubes from before, and the other two had the metal hammers, one gold and the second brazen. One of the priests lashed out and struck the soldier next to Jans in the thigh, shattering the leg. This was followed by a blow to the head, knocking him down. As the dust settled from the earlier explosions, more soldiers ran to the aid of Jans and his beleaguered comrades. A thrown spear pinned the priest wielding the gold hammer to the wall, who shouted to his comrades:

“Run! Run and return!”

With a rushed “In Hegebellius’ name,” the three other cowled figures ran, re-entering the house they had moments before spilled out of.

“After them!” shouted Llew, ears still ringing from the near-miss. Jans and the supporting soldiers dashed into the house and around the its side, leaving the square once more in a leaden silence. A CRACK rang out from where the soldiers had disappeared to, as well as the cry of wounded horses. Regaining their feet, Llew, Odane and Teilo made their way over to the scene of the recent battle, senses alert for any more hidden dangers.

 

“Sorry Sah, two of ’em got away,” said Jans. “They had horses posted at the far end of the town. They also had another of those weapons stashed there. They got Hereward with it. Took ‘is leg near off. Bled out quickly. He was lucky.”

“By the Mother!” said Llew. Looking over to Odane, “so, make that 13 of the priests, and five dead…?”

“Aye, five it is,” said Teilo, cleaning blood off this hands with an already soiled rag. “Even if I had him back at the Imperial infirmary in the City, there’s nought I could do with this chest wound,” he muttered, looking down with pity at the soldier layed out before him, one lung a collapsed mess of flesh, the other visibly straining to draw air, despite it’s exposed presence.

“Damn it!” shouted Llew, rage building inside of him.

“Heh, heh,” coughed the priest, still pinned to the wall of the house. “That one’s pain shall be all of yours – it is ordained.” A drip of blood spilled from the corner of his mouth, losing itself in his hood.

“And what of your own pain, Priest?!” said Llew, who leapt towards the man, twisting the spear embedded in the man’s body with his good hand.

The Priest cried out, face twisting in agony.

“Who sent you? What is this hellish magic? Answer me!” cried Llew, twisting the spear at a show of defiance.

“We are your doom, heretic! We are the Hammer of Hegebellius! We will burn you!” A mad look came into the priest’s eyes, as he laughed in Llew’s face, blood spilling from his mouth.

Face a frozen mask, Llew picked up the priest’s own weapon and brought it down on the man’s head, repeatedly striking him in a quiet frenzy. Odane rushed over when he saw what had overcome Llew, restraining him.

“Llew will stop! Llew must stop before he hurts himself!” the man cried. Llew finally collapsed into his arms, bloody hammer falling from his slack grasp. Odane looked over to Teilo, his face grim.

“It’s alright, I’m alright,” said Llew, reaching up to clean a spray of gore that had caught him in the face. Regaining his feet, he turned to Jans, “Collect all those metal rods, and put them under heavy guard. We’ll be staying here the night. Where’re those gods-cursed villagers?” he demanded with a shout.

-:-

Odane opened the door, revealing Llew sitting on the bed, head propped in his good hand, staring at the floor.

“I’ve killed many men in the service of the King, Odane. I have killed them in battle-rage, in fear. I’ve killed them when I knew that they didn’t deserve to die. This was the first time I’ve ever killed anyone with lust. I enjoyed killing that Priest, and I would do it again and again and again.”

“Let Odane help Llew with his armour,” Odane said. Llew looked up at him with hollow eyes, returning to the present scene. He stood, and Odane helped him take his left arm out of the sling. The leathern hauberk was gingerly negotiated off, and Llew sat back down on the bed.

“What happened today, Odane? This was meant to be straight-ahead. This wasn’t supposed to happen,” he said, shifting his injured arm. “We weren’t meant to lose anyone today. Maybe if we’d been at full strength -”

“Llew mustn’t blame himself,” Odane cut in, sitting down beside Llew. “The men that were left in the city, they could not help against the…unexpected.”

“That’s just it, though. I lead these men, I’m the one that is supposed to deal with all situations, to tell them what to do, to keep them safe. How can I keep them safe against this, this sorcery?” Llew said, tears growing in his eyes. Odane put an arm around the other man’s shoulders, pulling him close.