Saturday, April 27, 2013

‘X’ is for ‘Xenophobia.'

‘X’ is for ‘xenophobia,’ the fear of people or things different from yourself. This is most typically applied to one species’ dislike of another; the hatred humans harbor for the imps that enslaved them an apocalypse ago, or the triclopic disdain for how badly gremlins screwed the world over. While no census has ever been taken, it’s presumed the majority of any given sapient species dislikes automatons, robotic creatures that spend their entire existences consuming and combusting sapient species. It’s undetermined whether automatons are xenophobic of biologicals; their constant chasing and consumption might be considered an unhealthy xenophilia.
Loves you to bits.
Everyone’s felt the pangs toward “the other.” You aren’t my family. You aren’t my species. And you comets, they definitely aren’t from around here, and I wish they’d slow down as they plummet from the sky. How can I trust you?

Fear of the “other” is hardly limited to other species or races. The Human Age alone has wide discontents, its hermits who hide in the frozen south, and tens of thousands of Red Brigade pilgrims who left the secular Empire of Gold and Jade for The Frontier. “Misanthropy” was coined describing human opinions of other humans. There’s a political theory that if any species’ population rises high enough, it’ll divide into groups that will set against each other. Imperial economists are looking into this, to either remedy or monetize conflict.

City-states in The Frontier have self-congratulatory reputations as melting pots, where imps are not judged by their ancestors’ failures, where triclopes will tinker with remains of gremlin technology, and where centaurs and nine-legs set aside feuds so ancient that no other cultures understand them. The anthropologically-inclined believe this has only set up different group practices of segregation; consider how the sick or little-familied in Clemency are often hunted for public entertainment. In the city-state of God’s Lap, home of the world’s last skyscraper, many floors of the grand building have low- or zero-tolerance policies for visitors from any other floor. Intolerance finds a way.

And tolerance isn’t always for the best, either. Consider: of 300 gremlin automobiles ever recovered by triclopes who moved past their loathing of gremlin technology, 288 of them self-detonated. It turns out gremlins did not like “the other” touching their things. They’re dead now, but so are the budding mechanics.

Friday, April 26, 2013

‘W’ is for ‘Armed Conflict,’ or, ‘Escalating Hostilities,’ or, ‘Police Action.’

‘W’ is for ‘Armed Conflict,’ or, ‘Escalating Hostilities,’ or, ‘Police Action,’ or... what's the word...?

First he heard them. They were late, two hours since dawn, before crawling out of their holes, camps all hidden under the palm canopies, all out of sight. Three days of failed attempts to siege his position and their smartest decision had been to sleep where his crew couldn’t see them. The humans came groaning, and rustling over brush they couldn’t name, and scratching at infections they’d never seen, and hid. Hees heard them hide in the great walls of foliage below his hill, and glanced three eyes down into their pocket of the valley, at the lip of the only slope leading up the only high ground for a quarter of a league. It was a bump in the terrain compared to the canyon walls east and west, but it was the only foothold available if your empire wanted to siege across to the Uncanny Valley’s western cliffs.

Hees remained at the precipice, flies crawling through his hair and ears, and raised up the sauropod leg that ought to have been his breakfast. It sweated more than he did, and he smeared it across the trees around him, painting their bark with gore. So did Matou and Yaw’s crews, and Alpee and Hamam, even though they’d been up the entire night butchering. Further up they burned pyres of the stuff, dispersing a stench unbearable even with gum stuffed in his nostrils, and he glanced between all the panting and painting triclopes, then up to the southern sky. Only the faintest hint of smoke over the pissavas, and no rumbling yet. Doa was a day late.

Ten, then fifteen, then eighteen green and yellow uniforms in the basin below, their petty two-eyed lives leading them to believe they were hidden amid tall brush. The Empire’s soldiers wore trousers and sleeves, not at all suitable to this boiling climate. Yet they judged Hees and his crew as savages for painting the trees with carrion in their underwear. He heard them. They had the same number of ears as Hees and yet seemed to think he couldn’t hear them.


“What is that smell?”

“I can hit that one.”

And the creak of a bowstring. Two bow-strings amid the leaves, distinct while attempting harmony. He prayed south for Doa to hurry, and for the smoke to hasten.

He jerked the stump of leg up and caught the arrows with two wet thucks. Then the foliage below parted, from the ground to the canopies, and his three eyes drowned in hundreds of humans. They unleashed a swarm of gilded arrows, glittering as they sailed up the slope. Hees rolled inland, but Yaw was struck in the shoulder, and their crews cried, and everyone reeled from the slope, leaving access bare. Into that nudity rushed flanks of humans behind tower shields, beating rhythms with spears, beneath the watch of their archers in the trees above.

Hees fell to the pens, but husky Alpee was already there, yanking an arrow from the wood and drawing its head to slash the bonds. Hees yanked open the cage and hollered inward, two heavy hoots, and their theropods spilled out. Three days of siege and they knew where they were allowed to feast. Twice as long as he was tall and tails erect behind them, swaying and sibilating, snapping their fangs. He spanked one in the hindquarters and snatched its head-crest, riding along its side back to the cusp of their ridge. The monolophosaurs didn’t care about archers, and they considered tower shields good landing spots. Hees had to release as his steed leapt off the ridge and on top of three humans, craning its jaws over their crumpling shields to gnash at them.

"Monolophosaurus" by Michael Skepnick
The monolophosaurs didn’t care about archers, but they felt pain, and they soon shrieked with it. The ground palpitated as the Empire’s specialized archers peeled through, spitting lightning up the hill. Three days their wizard snipers had finally arrived. All Hees could do was swing his sauropod arm and hurl it over the ledge, smashing one of the bastards in the face and painting him with gore.

The throw earned his perch a blast from their snipers, and the ground beneath his feet exploded. Alpee’s crew had to catch him, and two looked in his eyes, and he blinked assurance that he was alive, and they dumped him in the ferns. Good men and women, one and all.

His triclopes went to the ledge with javelins, and loosed the trebuchets, made from trees and launching stumps. He felt their impacts in his guts, a satisfying alternative to breakfast, until one half-fossilized stump froze still in the air. Then another, and a third, an insult to all triclopes, as those wizard snipers caught projectiles. In the next instant, they reversed and plummeted into the ranks of triclopes.

He inhaled in shock, and the stench of carrion painted everywhere made him retch. He must have wretched south, for several strings of smoke greeted his watering eyes, thick in the nearground.

“About time,” he muttered, rubbing a fist to his lips. A three-eyed banner waved briefly above the pissavas before it was ditched, and its triclopic owner ran for his life from his cattle. Doa. Three days was long for her to find and goad automatons into chasing her crew, but this close, autos would stay for the smell of biologicals.

Hees backed from the slopes, tugging at anyone near him, and hollering for them to fall back. The first Auto Drones punched through the tree-line, perfect spheres of rust and steel, smoke billowing their asses. They rolled at him, but he had high ground, and so they rolled at the Empire of Gold and Jade first. Wizard snipers sprayed them with lightning, and some drones stuttered, but were immediately climbed over by their kin. Dozens climbing upon dozens, fiery ports opening in their hulls, sucking in spears and arms and bodies.

Some Auto Drones ignored the feast of humans, spiraling spherical bodies up the slope and heading immediately for his fragrant high ground. They’d probably never smelled anything so appealing, and he left it to them. Already the jungle trembled for the crane arms of greater automatons, Mammoths and worse tearing near, who would soon impregnate this entire league of the Uncanny Valley. No one was going to be able to cross it. What a shame. He saluted to the scurrying humans before departing to find and congratulate Doa.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

'V' is for 'Vampires,' their dynasty and apocalypse.

'V' is for 'vampires,' that mildly evolved undead. An executive zombie, really. According exclusively to one series of accounts from the annals of the triclopes, this strain emerged shortly after an apocalypse of meteors wiped out all dinosaurs and most plant life. The skies were blotted out by seemingly eternal clouds of ash, which were the perfect circumstances for vampires to give living a shot.

A vampire's best friend.

So you knock off most of the sauropods, and most of the giant plants. That left the mammals in control, which is when vampirism really took off. The World of Night, where rats and fanged birds carried the plague across the entire continent. Tribes of infected centaurs and humans laid waste to any straggling healthy civilizations.

It was vampirism like the world has never known since. There were so many that they were forced to hold each other back and let blooded critters breed. They farmed people, region by region. The imps and centaurs still live where vampires stuck them, claiming ancestral birthright, even though that birthright was a nightmarish pen. The wars of that period were of impatient vampires against cultured ones, killing each other over the expiration dates of mammals. And then there was the apex predator.There’s the legend – the awesome legend – of the infected tyrannosaur rampaging the south coast. It never spread the disease because it just ate anything it came across – centaurs, dorads, anything. Your people hid in a cave? Then a bat flutters in, and before you realize it, the bat turns into a vampire tyrannosaur and he’s eaten your entire tribe. I love that people believe it’s still skulking in the volcanoes of the south. I don’t even care if it’s real. Who doesn’t want to believe in a vampire tyrannosaur, blending in with lava mist or drinking sharks at the bottom of the sea?

Surprisingly unsafe from inventive vampires.
If it’s still swimming around, it’s almost all that survived. Because under the torrents of dust, they were unbeatable kings and queens, spreading their disease at will and treating the planet as a buffet. Then the planet closed for business by clearing its atmosphere. It was the first morning in nine hundred years. The sun crawled across this continent, frying skinny-dipping biters, their ranchers and warlords, some fleeing in the forms of bats or wolves, though still more standing slack-jawed in awe. They’d thought the sun was a fairytale.

Funny that they all turned to fairy dust. I hear faeries eat vampire bones, and pay handsomely if you can find some.

Hands-down, the best apocalypse. It was just a sunrise. A little twinkling of a nearby star, checking to see how we were doing and eradicating most of the undead in existence. If only it was that easy to get rid of tentacle monsters.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

'U' is for 'The Uncanny Valley.' You probably saw this coming.

‘U’ is for ‘Uncanny Valley,’ something you’ve doubtless heard of by now. The Uncanny Valley is a titanic canyon dividing the continent, running from the north-edge of the ocean and splitting into three smaller valleys at the most southernly border. It is so vast that it is the only thing that has prevented The Empire of Gold and Jade from colonizing The Frontier in the west.

The Uncanny Valley sports several unique features. Its basins are notoriously warm, supporting multiple broad jungles that themselves are home to most of the world’s deluxe-class sauropods like brachisaurs and tyrannosaurs. The northern region is the exclusive home of gryphons, and the world’s only manticores live in its southern region. These large biological creatures have also attracted most of the world’s remaining automatons, holdovers from the Gremlin Age, who hunt sauropods and manticores alike. In addition to its vastness, these dangerous inhabitants make it still harder to cross. There are families of triclopes who advertise their ability to help you cross, though it is some of the most hazardous work in the world.

A unique geological feature, The Uncanny Valley is believed the result of an apocalyptic quake that split the continent, but it predates any written history. It has famed depths, creases and cracks in its basin allegedly running deep into the core of the planet, or to the origin of the World-Ocean. He first succubae were discovered slumbering deep within its crevices, along with structures like underground temples that also predate any doradic or impish culture. Optimists believe answers to the world’s apocalyptic cycle could be down there. Pessimists think succubae are the beginning of the awful things you’d be better off leaving alone down there.

Though a wonder of the world, most cultures stay away from The Uncanny Valley. Its wildlife is too dangerous to approach unless you’re deliberately rustling sauropods or farming gryphon feathers for all-chemistry. The Empire of Gold and Jade have plans to build a bridge across its gap, yet no structure of such a size has been erected for the entirety of the Human Age. Humanists consider that a good reason to build one.

UPDATE: This addition is for Larry Kollar, who in a previous post asked why the Uncanny Valley doesn't flood. After all, if it's a canyon stretching from ocean to ocean, it ought to be wetter than it is. I meant to be ambiguous about this, but not so ambiguous as to not answer it at all. The Empire of Gold and Jade has charted the southern end on the Uncanny Valley, which terminates in a half-frozen ocean, and found it mildly above sea level, and usually quite waterlogged, if not lake- or river-logged. Their attempts for expansion in the south have mostly been ocean-based with their fledgling fleet. However the northern edge has never been charted, in part due to the extremely hot climate, and in part due to the high population of gryphons. Human eyes may never have laid upon the northern opening of the Uncanny Valley - something my fiction is going to go into, and which makes a little mum about.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

'T' is for 'Timeline,' dedicated to Richard Bon.

‘T’ is for ‘Timeline.’ Richard Bon asked for a comprehensive timeline of my fictional world, and while I don’t want to spoil everything, I am willing to lay out a thousand years for T-day. I hope he enjoys it!

0 Years – The undetermined baseline of modern history. Many cultures and apocalypses are believed to have existed before this period, but are not widely recorded or recognized. Triclopes, Nine-Legs and Centaurs had something going on around this point. Much less afterward.

~1 Year - Apocalypse of Sauropods
-Sauropods, theropods and winged creatures, thought to be long-extinct, return in enormous numbers; reappearance unexplained.
-Cities trampled, ancient diseases reintroduced, various civilizations collapse.

~10 Years – Lands both east and west of The Uncanny Valleys become grazing land and hunting grounds for dinosaurs. Anyone who wants a civilization better be discrete.

~150 Years – Gremlins amass enough technology to erect anti-sauropod strongholds and safe zones. Progress begins.

~250 Years - Apocalypse of Gremlins
-Gremlins launch flying cities that sauropods cannot touch.
-Lightning cannons used to police populations of sapient creatures; immediately regulate what technology other species may have. Show favoritism to submissive tribes of triclopes.

~280 Years – Gremlins “adopt” triclopes as laborers.

~315 Years – Gremlins “adopt” imps as pets; begin breeding them like show-dogs.

~350 Years – Gremlins perfect automaton technology; relations with triclopes terminated.
-Automatons begin work in construction, maintenance, medicine.

~400 Years – Triclopes return to ancestral territory in northern Uncanny Valley. Seem to be building strongholds as though not trusting this to last.

~550 Years - Apocalypse of Autos
-Gremlin technology turns against them; all flying cities crash, explode; gremlins go extinct.
-Gremlin technology ‘automatons’ hunt and consume all living things. Motives unknown.
-Imps escape extinction; seek refuge in far west; establish underground cities with dorads and humans.

~580 Years - Automatons have tough time with sauropods, gryphons, cyclopes; feuds begin; automatons amass more greatly near Uncanny Valley, entrenched in warfare they’re not programmed to recognize they’re engulfed in.
-Every other life form still relatively screwed; nomadic cultures reign.

~650 Years – First rumblings of an “Imp Empire” far out west.

~750 Years - Apocalypse of The Shock
-Continental electrical storm fries majority of automatons; divine intervention?
-Imps claim responsibility for The Shock; “befriend”/”enslave” humans for labor in expanding a magic-based empire.

~770 Years - Imps formally establish empire in the far west, based on magic and manipulation of elements; magically-enhanced agriculture becomes food source for many cultures.

~820 Years - Impish empire flourishes throughout regions west of The Uncanny Valleys. Dissidents flee east.

~900 Years - Imps undertake great project to “wake their ancestors” for next great age.

~920 Years – Triclopic scholars uncover imp fraud; imps did not cause The Shock; minor war breaks out between triclopic tribes and imps.

~930 Years – Triclopes, Centaurs, Satyrs have minor land-wars with imps over ‘sacrifices’; humans begin to flee enslavement in favor of tribes in the east.

~980 Years - Apocalypse of Demons
-Imps’ ancestors, The Demons, awake and set planet on fire.
-Half of the world’s imp population dies; millions from others species perish.
-Beginning of a pan-species war against Demons, sweeping eastward.

~981 Years – The Human Age
-Golden Emperor and Jade Empress, both humans, unite their tribes, use all-chemistry and golems to stop tide of Demons.
-Humans now most populace species in the east; Golden Emperor and Jade Empress establish a proper empire. The Human Age begins.

~1000 Years – Massive campaign undertaken to document world history undertaken by humans. Other focuses applied to all-chemistry and agriculture.

~1010 Years – All non-human species begin to flee the east; Empire of Gold and Jade provides some groups with treaties to keep land in ‘The Frontier,’ lands west of The Uncanny Valleys, or to serve as second-class citizens domestically. Religion is outlawed. Mass exodus of Red Brigadiers.

~1160 Years – Large number of golems attempt to rebel against The Empire of Gold and Jade; are defeated and destroyed. According to government records, there are no casualties. Viewed as first apocalypse to be stopped by a ruling empire.

~1190 Years – The Empire of Gold and Jade begins to move west of Uncanny Valleys; claims to need land for expansion. Triclopes and Red Brigadiers declare formal war against them.

~1200 Years – Massive famine that government records as having no deaths. Thwarted by all-chemical agriculture. Recorded as second apocalypse averted by the standing empire.

~1260 Years – Present. Things are going great, according to government records.

Monday, April 22, 2013

'S' is for 'Sauropods.'

‘S’ is for ‘sauropods,’ the great beasts of burden in The Frontier. They were considered either extinct or purely mythological for much of pre-history, until that one apocalypse where millions of them returned from the dead. Where exactly they’d gone or how they’d returned is still a mystery, the very answers trampled beneath their titanic feet. And while they wiped out a few minor civilizations with their come-back, they’re generally easy to cohabitate with today.

‘Sauropod’ is a wildly misunderstood word that is often used to refer to all dinosaurs and anything dinosaur-like. Even dactyls, which have more in common with giant birds than anything, are referred to by the name.

"No, you tell her she's not a sauropod."

The most famous strain are deluxe-class sauropods. Convoys moving between city-states will often purchase brachiosaurs, using their sheer size to scare off raiders. Ankylosaurs, too, are favored by impish convoys, as their tails double as defensive weapons in skirmishes. And though not technically “sauropods,” would-be heroes have been trying to saddle tyrannosaurs for a thousand years. No one’s made it work, but the first one to succeed is going to be famous, and probably win their first war by intimidation alone.

Sauropods are generally misunderstood by those who don’t directly deal with them. Often theropods are lumped in with them, and because of the fame of brachiosaur and hadrosaur pods, they have a reputation for gigantism. In fact most sauropods and theropods are smaller than humans; compsognathus is so insignificant that, even though numerous, it is considered a common pest or food source in much of The Red Crescent. Most cultures are plentifully exposed to sauropods and ought to know they range wildly in size, but they simply don’t care. They only care when they’re being attacked by them, or betting on the hadrosaur races up north.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

My Foot Stopped Working: Nothing I Can Do, and, The End of Blogging

The worst is over. Not the A-to-Z Challenge - that's been fun - but the worst of the lung infection. Three times this week I was able to walk downstairs and make myself lunch. Whine about ablism all you want, but I do not handle immobility well. It's my big emotional vulnerability, especially when my body is so taxed that it can't move anymore, while my nerves as so shot that they're begging me to adjust for relief that can't come. I'd say I was a proper mess this time last week.

It got so grim that my neuropathy became unimportant. The loss of feeling hasn't progressed beyond the previous level in my feet for about two months, and there's been no suspicious loss of motor control. After one last set of tests and fruitless meeting with a neurologist, I've given up. Unless I get another sign on the neuropathic front, this is just something I'm going to deal with. In the scope of my medical life, numbness isn't scary. And while the last set of tests were utterly useless, I did get this funny and racially insensitive label from the hospital paperwork:

In case you were wondering: I'm officially not Hispanic.

The A-to-Z Challenge and my recent illnesses have also led me to question my posting habits. I've posted daily for several years now, and this month's theme hasn't done anything unusual to me, other than demand more of my time. As I prepare the next slate of submissions for magazines and agents, that time feels like it's dwindling, especially on those days when I haven't had the strength to lift head from pillow.

So, beloved readers, how would you feel if The Bathroom Monologues finally ceased daily publication? The new routine would remain consistent. I'm thinking of running a Friday Flash every Friday, and something non-fiction every Monday. Twice a week feels more manageable, though it's not set in stone. I'm seriously curious for what readers think about this, and what they want from the blog.

So: what do you want from The Bathroom Monologues?
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