Friday, September 29, 2006

Scripps 9/11 poll: 36% of Americans Easily Misled

http://www.scrippsnews.com/911poll



It's an old poll, from early August, but it's not getting the attention it deserves. Some random thoughts:


-Where are these 36%? I've never met any. I've seen hundreds online, but I don't consider that meeting someone. You can't meet someone online, you can only write to them.

-I have a theory about polls: they're never truly representative because they necessarily only sample people with nothing better to do than answer some random questions from a stranger.


-Some media is liberal-biased, some is conservative-biased. Occasionally, completely by accident, media is fair-minded and objective. I don't really see it as a problem. It's the free market and a free press. If you want to keep the press free you have to accept bias. I think we should spend less time worrying about journalistic dishonesty and more time worrying about journalistic stupidity.

Journalistic Dishonesty is here to stay, it's part of our media culture. If we passed some (inevitably ineffective) laws to regulate journalistic integrity it would only give us an excuse to look at news stories less critically. It would make us more credulous and journalists more insidious. I prefer having the understanding that, no matter what the source, they have an agenda and they'll frame their stories to fit the agenda.

Check out this graph from the article I linked: "Anger Mounting Toward Government".



Notice anything stupid or dishonest? Since you're obviously smart enough to have come here in the first place, I probably don't need to point out that this graphic apparently has a random time scale. 2 years, 1 year, 3 years, then 5 years. It wasn't enough to show that anger towards the federal government is at an all-time high - among people with nothing better to do than answer random questions from strangers - the author of the graphic also had to compress the time scale to make it look like anger towards government is skyrocketing, rather than returning to slightly higher than normal levels after 9/11 pulled the country together. Supidity or dishonesty?

On the side of dishonesty we have the fact that the graphic could be construed to support a liberal bias (Look how divisive Bush is!) or even a conservative bias (Government is raging out of control, pissing people off).

On the side of stupidity we have the fact that it's possible Scripps only asked this question in the years reported on the graphic, and that Chris Campbell blithely plugged the dates in without checking the increments.

Since the article doesn't bother to print - or even link to - the source data we have no way of knowing. I'm going to give Scripps the benefit of the doubt and assume it's dishonesty.

I'm so f-ing productive it's ridiculous.


What's sad is that I have the next installments of the stories ready and I still haven't posted them.


I got my hands on something called GIMP, which is an open-source knock-off of Photoshop. To show how talented I am at applying random effects to a photo I submit the above photo. I call it "I'm so f-ing artistic and cool."


Saturday, September 23, 2006

19 bastards

I spent the last week digging through the official "loose change" conspiracy theories in (belated) commemoration of the 5th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. I do pretty much everything belatedly. I gritted my teeth and went in with an open mind. I suspended my disbelief that a couple of college students with $3,000 and some spare time would uncover what the 9/11 commission didn't.

I'm happy to say that I've "done the research" and I've come to some conclusions. I'll get to those in a minute. First, let me save you some time.

This is what conspiracy theorists actually believe:

-A neo-conservative cabal (NCC) , an International Banking Cartel (IBC), or Zionists (Jews) carried out the attacks on 9/11. That is, the same parties were responsible for each and every attack - WTC 1, 2, &7, the Pentagon, and flight 93. For consistency let's just say they think the Jews did it, since that's what they mean by NCC or IBC anyway.

-Jews perpetrated the attacks - with the cooperation of Osama Bin Laden, noted friend of the Jews and Americans - in order to hoard more Jew-gold. The versions vary - it was for Iraq's oil, or insurance money on the towers, or insider trading on the airlines, etc... - but clearly the motive is assumed to be monetary gain. That's reasonable. It wouldn't be the first time someone spent billions of dollars to fake a massive terrorist attack in order to make billions of dollars. Oh. Actually, I guess it would be.

*-I'm just going to add this even though they never explicitly say this, because clearly they believe it. They think that the conspirators' (most likely Jews) evil is surpassed only by their mental retardation. Moving on.

-They believe that the conspirators blew up WTC 7 basically for the hell of it. Same for the Pentagon and Flight 93, for that matter. I guess when the Zionists were planning 9/11 they decided it was too simple to just fly airplanes into the Twin Towers, they needed to blow up a couple of other things and stage a heroic tragedy. A rule of thumb for bad-ass conspiracy is that more complicated is better. The idea is to come up with a conspiracy so asinine that people like me will argue it's too asinine to be true. It's the Scooby Doo principle: it's just so stupid it might work!

*-They believe that you're completely illiterate and have to be spoon-fed their complex ideas in a video. They believe you're not going to visit http://screwloosechange.blogspot.com to verify that what the video claims is undisputed and true. They also believe that you'll pay to buy the video even though it's offered free on the internet. They believe you're as stupid as the conspirators.

-Finally, they believe that thousands of experts in almost every discipline of engineering either a) don't know what the hell they're talking about, or b) have been paid hush money. The handful of engineers that have supported the conspiracy theorists' claims excluded, of course.

In short, don't bother "doing the research." There's nothing to research yet (and there won't ever be anything to research). The conspiracy theorists have yet to produce a single piece of evidence of an actual conspiracy theory. Every claim they have ever made has been refuted, easily. If 9/11 really was an inside job, the evidence will surface to prove it.

Me and My X Part 3 - Welcome Back Chuy

Now the story gets funny. I become a licensed geneticist. It’s a very prestigious job and it gets me a very prestigious trophy wife. Trophy wives always do one of two things: they divorce you, or they kill you. Obviously she divorced me. I didn’t take it too hard.

Marriage is a contract. Her part of the contract was to look stunning at mixers, go jogging every morning for my neighbors to covet, and have occasional, disinterested sex with me. My job was to make money and at some point give her half of it. I didn’t mind about the sex, I cheated on her openly and zealously. As an adulterer, I got what I deserved.

I didn’t have the talent to do much besides family pets. Certainly I couldn’t engineer livestock, or vaccines. I did some botanical modules. One of them garnered some acclaim for its artistry. I called it the “Ameliana.” Amelia for obvious reasons, Ana for my trophy wife. I don’t look back on Amelia any more wistfully than I do my ex-wife. They were both simply women I tried to love, but couldn’t.

The botanical made me a moderate amount of money. I semi-retired at a young age. I worked consulting occasionally and taught a course at community college on, ha-ha, bioethics.

Chuy had a bit less fortune. I know because he told me. He had a problem. He was probably the most brilliant – and, in one sense, accomplished – geneticist in history. But since he left school – failed out, in fact – he would never be able to work as one. Genetics as a field doesn’t look kindly on unreliability, because if it comes out screwed-up you have to kill it.

So Chuy took the little baby girl and he went to Listonia, a corrupt little backwater fragment of a remnant of what used to be the Soviet Union. Things were better there for him, if not particularly for the Listonians. In the U.S., when somebody asked about his little girl
s mother he had to make something up. Her mother died. Divorce. Jail. Whatever they would believe.

But if the people in the impoverished neighborhoods he lived in got suspicious he ran the risk of losing her, so he moved from place to place, enrolling her in the worst possible schools, where they asked the least possible amount of questions. This was important because he had a baby girl with no known mother or place of birth, and he was a drop-out from a genetic institute. Eventually someone would figure it out.

In Listonia, on the other hand, if someone asked where the girl’s mother was he would just shrug and say, “I bought her.” He could enroll her in the worst possible schools and they were almost as good as the best schools in the U.S. Nobody asked any questions as long as she memorized Listonian “history” and placed well in math competitions.

Chuy also worked very hard to learn to speak English properly, like everyone else in Listonia. He had to, because he ran a small business. He re-made little old ladys' beloved fu-fus for them. He got a fake license, but nobody in Listonia particularly cared if he had one or not. He was the only geneticist in the country who could make a cat that didn’t get cancer after a couple of months.

As for the baby “girl”, he named her Sasha. She went by Wahsa because she thought that was her name. Wahsa, not surprisingly, had an academic career similar to mine; distinguished, a tier just below the truly elite. She grew to be a fit 16-year old girl. The Listonian boys called her beautiful. She was a perfect feminine reflection of me. She was a disturbing and profane memento of what the God before Chuy and I could have made me.

So Chuy and I and Wahsa sat, happily unaware of each other, at opposite ends of the world.
The problem was that while my star was fading, Chuy’s was rising. The powers that be in Listonia figured out soon enough that they had someone interesting, someone useful.

Again, I know all this because Chuy told me. He came to my door one April morning and rang the doorbell. It had been so long I didn’t recognize him through the peephole, so I answered. And when I opened the door I still didn’t recognize him. He had the weight of middle-age around him. His carefree demeanor had finally run dry.

It was Wahsa I recognized.

“Chuy. Nice to see you after all these years. Leave now and I won’t call the cops.”

His speech sounded more choppy and guttural than it should, but he pronounced the words distinctly.

“I’ll tell them you helped.”

“What the hell, Chuy? You came here to blackmail me? My wife’s taking half already. I can’t afford it. Now go.”

I avoided looking at Wahsa, but she stood fixated on me. She still didn’t know. She couldn’t understand how I could look so much like her and not actually be her. I hoped she was as disgusted by me as I was by her.

Wahsa spoke confidently, like somebody used to being indulged.

“Father, I think I’m offending him, somehow. Let’s go.”

Chuy smiled affectionately. It was sickening, but it was then that I realized she was innocent. I felt pity for her, compassion; I felt a little dizzy.

“It’s not… you. It’s your father. He has to go now. Both of you.”

Reflexively I reached for my wallet and pulled out a few bills.

“Here. I don’t know what you’ve done Chuy, just get her out of here. I mean, get out of here.”

Wahsa looked close to tears. It broke my heart, then it pissed me off that it broke my heart. Which broke my heart. Chuy patted me on the back.

“I’m so sorry.”

Before I could shut the door he jabbed me with a shock stick.

I woke up an hour later, tied to a chair. Worst of all, Wahsa’s face stood mere inches from mine. I could feel her breathing on me. She didn’t even jump when I came to. She must have seen me stirring.

We were in my basement. Chuy busied himself with some sort of makeshift distillation equipment. It looked like he brought his lab with him. He even brought a parser.

“Chuy, you steamy pile of goose-shit. You came to make another?”

“No. I came to save your life.”

Wahsa looked at Chuy, consternation showing on her face.

“Make another what, father?”

I decided to press it, hopefully turn her against him. Chuy prepared a nasty-looking syringe and I wasn’t convinced it was the antidote to anything.

“You haven’t told her, Chuy? Listen young woman, haven’t you ever wondered who your mother was?”

She laughed at me, the little bitch.

“She died before I was born.”

I pressed on.

“I saw you looking at me. You know, don’t you? You don’t have a mother, you never did. But I was there on the night you were born. I can tell you what happened.”

She laughed again; not a scoffing laugh, she was delighted.

“What a strange game. I’m glad we’re saving him.”

With that she sashayed upstairs. She had to know. All I could think was, “what a strange game.”

“Chuy, did you know we even think alike?”

Chuy worked at his parser.

“Interesting. Her name is Sasha, but you should call her Wahsa.”

“Why did you do it? Why didn’t you tell me?”

Chuy seemed satisfied with his work at the parser. He took the syringe and drew some fluid into it. He knelt in front of me and spoke softly.

“Because you wouldn’t have let me.”

Chuy lovingly stuck the needle in my arm and continued.

“I wanted to become a God. But I wanted more. I wanted to look down on my creation and bask in it, the way a man looks up at his creator and basks in it. It had to be you. The others made me write notes. I was constantly writing notes, mute. Not by choice but by imposition. But you learned my language. You loved me.”

“Chuy, I wanted to cheat off your homework assignments. It was easier if I understood what the hell you were saying.”

I looked around as he talked. I tried to guess what he had just injected me with.

“Everybody wanted to cheat off me. You were the only one that ate with me, that got to know me.”

“Ok, so you were a little confused.”

“No, no. I never loved you sexually. I couldn’t.”

“Jesus. Chuy…”

“That’s why it had to be a girl.”

I felt sick. Chuy didn’t want a daughter. He wanted a bride.

Merle the Dead Part 3 - Tea with Fatima

The viceroy swung his paper fan with desultory sweeps, rippling the butterflies printed on it. His narrow eyes peered just over his beak of a nose. He had an insubstantial figure, draped in a kaleidoscopic robe. He puckered his lips as he brought a cup of sour tea to his lips. He seemed unaware of the old man reading a book on the bench next to him. He merely fanned, and puckered, and watched the rider in the distance; a slight figure, cloaked and hunched forward over a gigantic white horse. The horse ran wildly, every muscle strained to popping out, as if to shake the mad woman off it's back. The rider moved as one with the horse, her cloak impossibly still no matter how hard the horse turned, or how fast it ran through the brush.

The viceroy swallowed and smiled. Still not acknowledging the man next to him he said, “Magnificent young woman, Cecil.”

The old man stirred a little at hearing his name. He looked up from his book, the corner of his lip curling up.

“Ayes to ya', Honor. Wells worth the dower. Every shell o'bit.”

The viceroy's eye darted to Cecil, he scrunched his face in annoyance.

“Magnificent woman for such coarse heritage. I'll have to teach her to speak proper hegemony, I suppose.”

Cecil leaned into the viceroy; the viceroy leaned away, still not looking at Cecil.

“S'pose not, Honor. Her mums was a Heggy, learned her the properties and duties right. I won't-a took none but a Heggy, Honor. Not for last, not for next, not for ever. I won't-a want no range woman, theys wild as dogs. No properties and duty. No, Honor, I mades lil' Fatima with a king's woman.”

Cecil swayed back away from the viceroy and cupped his hands around his mouth to shout.

“Adileen! Comes out for teasies with the Gubna!”

A short woman emerged from the house behind the two men. She shuffled over to the back of the bench, her long dress too binding to stride. The viceroy twitched, visibly making an effort not to look at the woman behind him. He fanned more insistently.

“I'm quite familiar with Adileen, Cecil.”

The woman spoke softly, but intensely; her low voice smoldered.

“Honor. The news speak well of you, and the court.”

The viceroy shifted uncomfortable in the bench, fanning himself furiously. The three of them watched Fatima riding maniacally. Gracefully. Her horse seemed to almost outrun the cloud of dust kicked up behind her. She banked the horse hard towards the house, almost turning it over onto the ground. She rode hard and straight, accelerating to the house now. As she approached her face became visible, she grinned broadly. Cecil giggled with delight. He shouted at Fatima.

"'Ats my birdie, Fatima. Gets everythin' ya can outta the beast."

The horses nostrils flared, gasping for whatever air it could suck out of the onrushing air. Adileen watched, impassive, behind the bench. She put a hand on Cecil's shoulder.

"She'll kill that horse."

"Ha. We'll buys another."

The viceroy watched nervously as the horse and its rider loomed closer. He clenched the bottom of the bench and swatted the fan jerkily back and forth. A small tear appeared in the paper, the viceroy didn't notice.

"Cecil! She must slow now!"

Fatima did not slow. She rode now within twenty feet of the bench, bearing straight for the viceroy. The horse covered half the distance in one stride. The viceroy gasped and jumped to his feet. Fatima pulled hard on the reins, the horse strode half the remaining distance and reared up, it's hooves batting within a yard of the viceroy.

The horse landed forcefully on it's front legs and knelt down. Fatima slid off the horse and yanked off her hood. Coarse, long, black hair framed her round faec. She strode to the viceroy and fell to a knee, not taking her eyes off his terrified face. She regarded him with a sensual curiosity, her lips open slightly and her eyes wide. She spoke between gasps for breath.
"Honor. I have been anxious for your call."

Cecil giggled. Fatima looked at her mother behind the men and smiled mechanically, her wide eyes unperturbed the gesture. Adileen curled her lips up and turned around to shuffle back inside the house.

The viceroy recovered from his shock. He turned on Cecil, tearing his eyes from Fatima.
"You've abused the August's gratitude this time, Cecil. I'll have that dower back now, and I'll have your head in Hegemon. This child nearly killed me."

Cecil chortled and coughed. He spoke through his laughter.

"The dower? Keeps it ya'self, Honor. I'll send it with the birdie. Ya' can takes my lil' birdie, and the dower, and we'll sees what the August reckons 'bout my neck."

Cecil drew a finger across his neck and sputtered out a final chortle. He stood up and took the viceroy's shoulders in his hand. Cecil glanced over at Fatima, still on one knee and watching intently, then he put his lips to the viceroy's ear and whispered.

"You're a foolish little woman, ain't ya' Honor? The August wants that little dervish close, hear it? You just takes her to him, maybe you takes her to ya'self, Idun' cares, you just gets her sweet face outta mine or may end with both our noggins on the gate."

Cecil kissed the viceroy on the cheek and patted his shoulders. The viceroy turned over his shoulder and regarded Fatima suspiciously. She smiled innocently and rose.

She asked him coyly, "Have I displeased you Honor? I meant only to impress you. I beg your forgiveness. I anxiously await our departure to the Hegemon."

She walked past him, brushing him on her way into the house. The viceroy spoke with a dangerous tone.

"You have proof of the August's supposed demands, yes? Or you will pay this dishonor in blood."
Cecil chewed his lip.

"I'd gut ya', Honor, ya wants to take my pledge on this. I knows a few things from out here they don't dare tell at the court. Ya' take the girl, you'll see. She's an angel, she just rides like a devil. Take cares with 'er, and ya'self."

The viceroy drew a sharp breath and took a long look at the wilderness around the house. He turned and silently walked inside the house. Cecil chewed his thumbnail and watched the viceroy go. He giggled.

"Tell the August we're all settled and square, now. He dun' owe nothin' but his thank yous, now."

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Me and My X Part 2 - Chuy on Mt. Olympus

Chuy and I walked briskly to the building. We sweated, even in the cooler midnight air. Five minutes of silence later we arrived at the research center. Chuy pulled the keycard from his pocket and set down the carrying-cage. He swiped the card. Nothing happened. I was almost relieved.

Then a green light appeared and the door unlatched. Chuy swung open the door and motioned me to follow him in. We went to the elevator. Only one thing could stop us. The security cameras weren’t a problem. We weren’t stealing any equipment, so nobody would even bother to check them. As long as nobody robbed the lab we were in the clear.

The only problem was if a professor was working late. We could try to pose as grad students doing late-night research, if only we weren’t carrying a cat around. We had no cover. We risked expulsion and worse. Neither of us cared about the cat.

The elevator doors opened. An empty elevator greeted us. We had five floors to make it to the lab. Chuy hopped inside, I stepped in after him.

“khoin hupp!”

I watched the digital floor readout tick off the floors.

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

The elevator opened to an open hallway. We actually ran to the lab. The poor cat jostled and jarred, made screechy little mewls as we ran. Finally we reached the door. Another swipe, another anxious moment, then a green light and the door unlatched.

We were in. The re-genesis labs are never as impressive as in the movies. The equipment doesn’t have the brand-new, freshly-cleaned sterility. The monitors don’t have convenient three-dimensional graphical readouts. There’s no crew of twelve scrubbed-out engineers doing busy work. All it takes is a piece of hair, some patience, some timing, and a competent genetecist. That was Chuy.

Chuy and I set on the room in a flurry, flicking switches and checking readouts. We needed at least 2 hours for the incubation, we wanted to be out of the lab by 4:00.

The process of making a cat goes like this: a lab tech takes a hair sample.

I plucked a hair from Whiskey with some tweezers.

The lab tech takes the hair to a genetic parser unit. It has to be a hair because the parser is designed to read hairs. In the early days they read blood, but it got messy sometimes. And it didn’t look good on commercials.

I fed the hair to the parser. Chuy and I waited a few minutes for the machine to read the genome.

Now, the hard part: an expertly-trained geneticist checks the growth genes. The genes are sometimes subtly dissonant in different cells. When the first animals were re-made they called it cloning. The assumption was that every cell carries a perfect copy of your genome. They do, almost. But infinitesimal differences in certain regions, especially the growth regions, made the so-called clones imperfect. They died young. A tiny change in the cellular environment, something as mundane as a .01% change in Ph, can make the whole animal unstable.

So a geneticist who knows his animals, his genetic profiles, has to run statistical analyses. He has to know how to interpret them. Especially, he has to know how to fix them. It’s not as passive as cloning; it’s an act of creation.

Chuy pored over the results. Without looking at me, he said, “scheg da ghalfay.”

“Chuy, if anybody’s out there that’s just going to make it more obvious we’re in here.”

“scheg foa hoppish lights.”

Lights, Chuy can pronounce. Chuy seemed insistent, and I knew he wasn’t going to let it go. I opened the door and peeked around both corners.

“There’s no office lights, Chuy.”

“scheg hall huf zem.”

“Fine, I’ll check the rest of the hallways. Listen for 'shave and a haircut'. That’ll be me.”

I stepped outside. The door shut behind me. If anyone saw me they didn’t have to know Chuy was in the lab. If anyone saw me - I followed the janitor in, got lost, that's all.

I walked to the end of the hallway and looked around the corner. Nothing but the auxiliary lights from overhead. I checked the other end. Nothing there, either. I started to walk to the other side of the building, but stopped short. I could hear a soft su-surring, like someone whispering. I froze.

I walked backwards quietly, towards the stairwell. I realized suddenly how careless we had been taking the elevator. The whispering got louder. I reached for the door handle behind me. Just then I felt a cool draft on my neck. The air-conditioner.

I stood there and I chortled to myself. I listened and I heard the same whispering sound. Air rushing through the vents. I walked back to the lab and rapped sharply.

Shave-and-a-haircut. Knock-knock. Maybe they should call it “shave and a haircut, thank you.”

Chuy didn’t come. I knocked again, quieter this time. Chuy still didn’t answer. I saw Chuy through the window. He had finished with the parser. He was coding the template tissue. I knocked again, but he didn’t answer. He didn’t even turn around. He couldn’t hear me. I knocked again. Now he turned around. He smiled at me and he waved me off. He wasn’t going to let me in.

I tried to understand, and I failed, so I got angry. It was our project. Whether he could use me or not, I wanted to be a part of it. I knocked again. He waved absently. The template tissue was done. He took the tissue and put it in the growth chamber.

The growth chamber is just slurry, like amniotic fluid but regulated with hormones. With the right mix of hormones you can grow the tissue to two years, but nobody ever goes past six months. Any longer and the probability of an error increases exponentially. It’s a very small probability, but still too risky. If it comes out screwed-up, you have to kill it.

It would take two hours, and it would take constant monitoring. Every growth profile is a little different. Chuy would have to watch the levels. Cats have pretty well-known profiles. They’re easy to grow. Some animals are harder.

If you’re curious, there’s no profile for humans. There is one, in theory, but it’s illegal to even research it. The sentence for human cloning is execution, every time. It's never happened, though. Every genetecist spends a few hours every semester watching video of the early experiments. The ones that didn't come out right. You watch the videos strapped to an emotional bio-meter. If you register any emotion other than shock, disgust, or sadness, you're gone. If you don't register at least sadness, you're gone.

I decided to wait downstairs. I checked my watch. 2:15. We were late. He was late, I was sitting on a bench in front of the building thinking of the perfect way to tell him how much I truly despised him. It was a long two hours. Chuy was upstairs, a god. I was the gatekeeper. The chauffeur of the god.

I could have left, but my sense of curiosity barely overwhelmed my sense of betrayal.
Finally, Chuey emerged from the lab carrying two cases, now. One case had a towel over it.

“What the hell was that, Chuy?”

Not the speech I had rehearsed, but I was tired. Chuy handed me a note. He had obviously been thinking, too:

I’m sorry. You would have stopped me.

“We were supposed to do this together.”

My anger froze. A high-pitched squeal came from the carrying case, the other carrying case. Not how a cat should sound.

“It didn’t come out right. Chuy, I should’ve been there. Oh God. We can’t let it live.”

Chuy seemed exultant. He shook his head slowly. He tried to hand me the case, but I recoiled from it.

“Whatever’s in there, I don’t want to know. We shouldn’t have done this. Chuy, I’m sorry, we have to kill it.”

The sound coming from it was awful. It was screeching now. Chuy pulled back the towel. As bad as I knew it would be, I wanted to look.

I truly wish it had been some hideously deformed kitten. More than anything I have ever wanted since then, I wished it was some two-headed, inside-out, pus-oozing, circus-freak of a kitten.

It was a baby. A little baby.

“Jesus Christ! Chuy! What the fuck did you do? What did you do? This is a capital offense! You’re going to get us killed.”

He smiled, full of grace. I was as astonished as I was appalled. I don’t know how he did it. He shouldn’t have been able to. There aren’t any texts, not even black market ones. He had figured it out himself.

Then it got worse. I noticed something about the baby. It was pink. As in Caucasian. And it was a girl. I mustered all the eloquence I could.

“What the fuck! What the fuck! What the fuck!”

Chuy handed me another note.

I used your X twice. I had to make some adjustments, of course. It was easier than I thought it would be.

Chuy patted me on the shoulder. I looked at my shoulder. A few stray hairs clung to my shirt. I walked to my car. Chuy didn’t follow me. I wouldn’t have let him if he tried. We were both dead men if anyone caught us.

“Don’t come near me, Chuy, ever again.”

I thought I could hear him crying. Joy, sadness, I don’t know.

I went home. I sat on the bed. Amelia stirred, feeling the pressure.

“Hey, babe. How’d it go?”

I collapsed. I put my head on her breast and squeezed her arms until I could feel the bone underneath and I cried.

Things didn’t work out for me and Amelia after that. Chuy disappeared. His parents called me a few weeks later, asked if I knew where he was. They said he called them, and told them not to worry about him, but they knew we were friends. I told them we weren’t friends, and not to call back. And that’s where it stood for sixteen years.

He had become a god. I would become a god, too, but my place on Olympus comes a little later.

One last thing on TV, for now

I like to think I have a knack for knowing whether a series is going to work or not. A lot of ideas for new TV shows are pretty good, even if they don't get executed right. A lot of things can go wrong between writing a show and putting it on film. Some ideas, though, are just obviously stupid. Who didn't see these shows flopping?


Ex. 1: Surface. A show about sea monsters. Sea monsters! Realistically, how many adventures can you write about sea monsters? It's like trying to make a television series around Godzilla. He can only destroy Tokyo so many times. Make a show about pirates, I might watch it. Pirates might watch a show about sea monsters, now that I think about it.

Ex. 2: Book of Daniel. A priest gets high and sees Jesus. I'm an Atheist and I'm offended. When South Park does it, it's funny. Jesus in South park is a sympathetic guy; a good-natured, bumbling everyman. Jesus in Book of Daniel is made out to be The Son of God, the absolute moral authority for most Americans. As a writer, you just can't pull that kind of authority off unless you're, well, Jesus.

This season I'm calling it for two shows. There are surely more but I get depressed just looking at some of the new fall lineups. CBS looks solid. ABC looks abysmal. We'll see. These 2 shows have no chance:


Ex. 3.: Kidnapped. Compare this show to Missing. Missing works because there are about 1,000 ways and reasons someone can go missing. People get kidnapped for ransom. That's about it. How long before people realize they're watching the same episode week?

Ex. 4.: Brothers and Sisters. This is the description from ABC.com:

"Brothers & Sisters is a compelling, new one-hour primetime drama from executive producers Ken Olin, playwright Jon Robin Baitz about the California-based Walker family. In the series, we meet a collection of incredibly intertwined and somewhat damaged adult siblings who embrace one another unconditionally while striving to reflect the perceived perfection of their role model parents. In the days ahead, they will navigate waves of temptation, deception and grief."

Just a note before we explore the impending cancellation of this show. There are 49 other states besides California. It would be nice to see them on television every once in a while.

Here's what I can say about the show, just having read the blurb on ABC.com: Playwright Jon Robin Baitz has a very boring family, and he wrote a television series about it. Ahhh, there's nothing more exhilarating than upper-crust ennui. Not only does this series sound boring, it sounds depressing. Even his name is pretentious. Somewhat intertwined and incredibly damaged siblings might be interesting, the other way around makes me want to take a nap. At least the OC has hot chicks in bikinis. No thank you, I won't be “navigating waves of temptation, deception, and grief” with the Walkers. Maybe if the waves have sea monsters.

Thanks ESPN

Congratulations to ESPN for ruining Monday Night Football. You know what sports needs less of? Tradition. Maybe next you guys can tear down Wrigley field. One of the great things about sports is that they're intergenerational. I can sit next to some random old dude at any bar in America and watch a game, and he's seeing the same thing I'm seeing.

Sitcoms

The sitcom used to be my favorite TV medium. It's half an hour with no point other than to make you laugh. That has to be a sign of how far we've advanced as a race. At least some portion of every day is set aside for nothing more important that simple laughter. Iran doesn't need nuclear energy, it needs sitcoms. (Contest: who can come up with the best Iranian sitcom? Ex.: Everybody Hates Schwartz.)

Sitcoms lately have hit a rut, though. Since Phil Hartman died and Michael J. Fox got Parkinson's it seems like the networks have shied away from novel situations for their situation comedies. Sitcoms don't have to all be about the same thing. You could, for instance, have a show about a bar. Call it something like, “Bottoms Up!” That might do OK. Or 4 Friends in New York Hang Out. It worked twice already (Seinfeld and Friends). Think of Three's Company. It wasn't that funny, it was the exact same episode every week (Ex.: Jack misunderstands something Chrissy says, spends the whole episode not asking, "is this what you meant?"), but it was an interesting situation and it worked.

A final note on sitcoms. Brad Garrett was really funny in ELR because he didn't have to carry the show. He could be goofy and weird in a way the lead character can't. It was pretty much his job. Why not, for the obligatory series-after-the-series-that-made-me-famous, cast him in another supporting role? It's not that it's impossible to make the jump from supporting-to-lead, but it's pretty rare. And it's obvious when it's going to work. Here's a guaranteed hit (listen up Networks): an all-star cast of secondary goofballs. No leads. Bring together – for instance – Costanza, Kramer, Karen (W&G), Robert (ELR), Woody, etc... and just set 'em loose on some random city. Complete mayhem.

New Television Naming Conventions

First, every crime drama needs to be re-named “Law and Order”. For example:

Criminal Minds becomes Law and Order: Criminal Minds.

Justice becomes Law and Order: Justice.

CSI: Miami becomes Law and Order: CSI: Miami.

Next, every family sitcom needs to be re-named “My Wife is a Bitch, But I Love Her Anyway”. Exceptions: Kudos to CBS for airing not one, but two sitcoms about unconventional families. Something like 50% of couples in the real world get divorced. In TV land, only Christine and that guy from Two and a Half Men do. Those two shows get to keep their names.

Moving on. Every prime time drama gets renamed “Beautiful, Rich People in California Have Problems.”Unless it's a David Kelly show, then it's Beautiful, Rich People in Boston. The most egregious example of this genre has to be Windfall. So they win the lottery, and that's when their troubles really start. There's something blackly offensive about Hollywood types lecturing the rest of us about how money is the root of all evil.

Gilmore Girls keeps its name, but may I suggest, “That Chubby-ish Lady Is Oddly Attractive?” She's not chubby, she's not skinny, she's real. She's chubby-ish, and it's kind of sexy.

Next up, medical dramas. ER and Grey's Anatomy need to be merged into one show so the doctors can have a bigger dating pool. Maybe Grey's ER. Want to land a doctor, ladies? Go to medical school. If TV has taught us anything it's that doctors will not date anyone besides other doctors, unless it's a nurse. But only if the nurse really wants to be a doctor.

House keeps it's name. So far no romance on the show, which is refreshing. Give it a season, though. House will end up having a fling with the brunette, regretting it, then all bets are off. Also, thank God I don't live in whatever city that show is set in. Every week it's like watching the black plague. Another thing to watch for: at some point someone on that show will come in with the plague. And it will rain toads. Or locusts. I love House.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Merle the Dead Part 2 - Merle's Account of His Awakening

I dreamt a still deeper sleep

An Ygal aren't a monster like other demons; it's a monster like a man. More's the peril, see. They're reeky things most times, but might put on a fair fragrance if a man meets one in the right mood. Two Ygals can damn near converse just by reeking. I'm not privy to how many of the beasts Loethe had familiar. More than I, for fact. I only prop'ly could introduce the one.

The Ygal I knew, we met under a rotten circumstance. I was dead and he had a contract, namely my body. I surmise my wakening must have set a fair jump in him; me hardly full of his preserving sauce, him with the needle not even out of my arm.

I marked him for but a largish man at first, my eyes not yet set to the pitch. A soupy pitch it was, too, all smoky with lit incense.

“Say man, what died in this darkness? And match a lantern for God's sake, I can't see a damn thing. Or open a door at the least.”

The long shape of him stood very quiet in the haze and pitch. His odor fought through the incense and stung at my sinus. I had a gauzy recollection of having drunk a few yards and figured I'd gotten myself tossed in the local constabulary. I called him again:

“Sir, you've got something rotting in here, what is it?” I said.

Ygala can speak any man's language, provided they've learned it. The words seem to rattle out of their mouths, though. The accent is unmistakable to man that's heard it, like an escaping steam of consonants, and when I heard him hiss at me a powerful shiver took me. I hadn't yet deduced my passing, but I began to suspect it's imminence.

He said something that sounded like, “You sir, are rrroting in here.”

“That's got the ken of jibe, Ygal. I get the notion one of us has found ourself, or itself, in the wrong spot.”

I spotted the Ygal through the haze as it moved towards a window, a faint glow of dawn sheening from it. The Ygal flung the window open with a sharp flip of it's long fingers.

“Both in the right spot. But you are in the wrong state, sir.”

The haze of incense began to creep out the window. The details of the room started to grow out of the smoke. Shelves poked out of the walls, holding up a circus of bulbous jars. A tray of nasty looking knives and clamps perched by my side. The Ygal lowered itself into a great wooden rocker chair.

I searched the room for the closest door and tried to keep a flat temper.

“Eh? Knocked out on your table for a day? And what's this cutlery, here? Eating the locals won't keep a good peace with the village, Ygal. They'll come for me.” I leaned towards the Ygal, still searching out a door. “They'll come for you, too.”

The Ygal rocked few ticks in his chair before answering.

“Perhaps if I put it more specifically” it said. “You are deceased. The tools you see before you I have only just used to preserve your body. This is my mortuary. Is this clear, now?”

I sat dumb and dumbfounded. I had somehow gotten myself into the house of an Ygal; a daft Ygal, on the top of it. I raised my dead body from the table, stepped a few ticks of a jig and bowed to the beast in the chair.

“Can the dead dance?”

The Ygal considered a moment.

“It would seem so, yes.”

“By my eyes, beast, I'm not dead!”

“Your heart no longer beats, sir. It hasn't for over a day. This is very shocking for me, also. Please, sit down and let's consider this.”

I thumped my paw over my heart with a bard's flourish. I started the first line of a lover's ode I'd learned as a chit. I made not even the first verse when I noticed: my heart, so often set aflutter by the ode, was not aflutter nor even a-sputter.

“And yet beats on my... my God! What have you done to my heart, fiend!”

My chest felt cold under my chest and, as the Ygal had noted, my heart did not beat even once. The Ygal hardly regarded me; one long-fingered hand propped up it's green head, the other reached absently for a jar and doled it over to me. A leathery red thing floated in it, like a plum in a vatlet of pickling sauce.

“What's this, then?”

My Heart in a Jar to Keep

The pair of us set down for a long time, hours by the Sun's arc's telling. Some sorcery had gotten my heart pickled, sitting in a jar by my nearly final resting place. I pondered my question, he pondered his, and after these hours I asked him.


“You've done this spell, Ygal, so no dispute of 'who'. That leaves us 'why?', also 'what else, eh?”

“'How?', perhaps sir?”

“How to lay a man down then sit him back up? Not a spot on my worried thoughts, devil. Now 'How to kill a devil?'... I might find some interest in that shortly.”

The Ygal flapped it's head aside. It thumbed a knob on its face. Some swarm of possibilities buzzed in its rot brain, no doubt. I snatched up the meanest-looked of the sharp nasties on the tray and bore further towards the beast.

“See, devil, my heart had fraught a lump of woe upon first sighting you. Now it's in that jar, over there.” I shook an eye towards the jar. “I think the odds are turned a bit now, me being dead, you being unarmed.”

“Yes. It is the problem I've been considering.”

“So let's get on with the first matter. Why?”

“There's no reasonable explanation.”

“None too satisfying a reply.” I menaced the knife in its face. “You ought mull on this, demon, while I'm making bits of you: the sooner I get the right score from you, the less bits I'll make of you, and the sooner I'll finish. I put it again, what's the meaning of your mayombe on my poor soul, eh?”

“I can't lie, sir.”

“That's all you've done, monster! Out with it now.”

“There's no reason...”

“This is the last odds you'll get.” I carved a button off its shirt, pressing the flat end of the blade against its chest.

“...that I should do this to you. No reason at all, sir.”

I got no hint of fear from the words gurgling out of it's mouth, but I sensed a powerful tremble through the handle of the scalpel. I faced it full in the eye, it's cat-eyes darted around. I took one of its big shoulders in my off hand and pressed the knife a bare slice into its chest. Something hot oozed onto my hand. It gurgled something in it's own tongue, prayer-soft. That was the moment it knew, and I knew, it was going to die.

Its eyes fixed on mine, full of stillness, and out of the beast rose a reek I cannot now recall, or forget. A gorgeous reek; not a reek at all, but a communication from every pore of the thing to every pore of mine. There's no proper account of it anywhere. When I die I might understand. I couldn't, at that moment, conceive an evil thing. I stayed my hand. I backed away from the Ygal, and the scent was off it as sudden as it rose.

I wiped his gush off my blade with my trousers.

“Ygal, you swear you haven't worked this mayombe on me?”

His voice held no trace of emotion.


“I swear, sir.”

“I've set myself on believing you, Ygal, for a while. Tell me something else.”

“Hmmm?”

“Where the hell are we?”


“10 marks from the Hegemon, sir.”


“The Hegemon? That's weeks from my hamlet, even on the road.”


“Then I should say you arrived in remarkable condition. You'd only been dead a few hours by my reckoning.”


“I must have pulled a right woolly drunk on to end up dead 10 marks from the Hegemon.”


I put the scalpel back on the tray. Whatever answers there were to be had weren't odds-on to be found in the Hegemon. Nothing's ought to be found in the Hegemon, it's a place to be lost. I sat down and put on my best kind regard for the Ygal, considering I'd been moments from his executioner.


“I might have your name, Ygal.”


“Borthas, sir. Very close to that in your language, at least.”


“And I might also have the name of the party whose shell bought my embalming.”


“Your wife.”


“Never had one. Who was this person claiming matrimonial relations with me?”


Borthas rocked in his chair a few times, his thumb working on a knob under his lip. He raised out of the chair quietly and went to a desk, pulling a slip from a drawer then handing it to me.


He said, “It to difficult to pronounce. it is written on this bill of sale, however.”


The slip had a contract neatly penned on it, with two signatures at the bottom.


"The body of Hiram Killian is placed in the custody of Borthas the Ygal until such time as it should be placed in the ground. Signed and agreed:
Borthas the Ygal
Fatima Black"


“A little irreverent isn't it, Borthas?”


“She insisted on the language, sir. I couldn't imagine you would mind.”


“Hmmm. I've never heard the name. Fatima Black. Fatima. Fatima. Black. Black. Nothing. For the like of it, Hiram Killian is a new one, too.”


“She'll return for the body, sir... for you.”


“Ha. Yes, I suppose I'll set a few hairs gray on her when she does.”


“Perhaps not. She seems a likely culprit for this... obscenity against nature.”


Such a ken of woe hit me that I nearly dropped to me knees. To be called an obscenity of nature by an Ygal! And alas on top of woe, for the Ygal to be right. But I had spent the hours before almost scotching Borthas, and scotching him bloody, setting my woe to anger, and my anger to resolve. Borthas's slur had jarred me, but only enough to set the stone in me harder. I gritted my teeth and walked to the door.


“Borthas, pray to what gods the Ygal worship you have not deceived me. I haven't the notion of what web this widow has spun, but intend to unravel it. If I find your scent in one of its threads I'll return to this place, and I'll kill you as dead as I stand here. Which which road do I follow to Hegemon?”


Not that I had any mind to visit the fair capital, I merely needed a sense of which road not to walk, and which road to let Borthas guess I would. Borthas considered for a long tick before answering, now rubbing a knob on his temple.


“This has put me in an ethical dilemna, sir.”


“For god's sake, Ygal, what further injury would you add to this insult? I won't wait a knot longer for this Fatima to arrive and reclaim me. Quickly, which road?”


“The language in the contract was very specific. You are not, I'm afraid, in the ground. You are still my charge, sir.”


“An Ygal would be an odd travelling companion. I should say the fair citizens of Hegemon might take exception.”


“It is unfortunate, yes. We'll have to take caution.”


“There's no contract, Borthas, I'm not dead.”


Borthas merely sent an eye to the jars on his shelf, presumably my with my guts afloat in them.


“I merely meant I'm UNdead, Borthas.”


“I cannot break a contract, sir. It is completely counter to my ethics.”


“Creation!What's the difference, Borthas, you end up in hell either way. You're a demon.”


Something I got a hang on about Ygala very quickly was that you could smell their temper easier than you could see it on their faces. Borthas face grimaced a mote, hardly enough to differ it, but a hateful stench filled that room. Worse even than the everyday stench of an Ygal. His voiced sounded no angrier than the snarling cacophony of an Ygal's accent ever sounded, though.
“Even as such, I should like to spend my time on this paradise with honor, sir. Something else occurs to me, it may even interest you to know.”


“How about it?”


“Your tissue is dead, sir. It is seemingly animated by mystical means, and it is preserved as best I could manage, but it is dead yet. You might find my expertise practical. You might also find that a wealthy Ygal will be better received in the Hegemon than a penniless dead man.”


So my choice was set for me. I nodded. Borthas's intolerable scent subsided to a bare nauseating.
He said simply, “I must gather a few balms,” and began stuffing some unknown vials and flasks and instruments in a gunny. I leaned against the door and narrowed my eyes at the land outside the window.


“We're not going to the Hegemon.”


“We might as well, sir. It's the last place I'd expected you'd go, Mrs. Black would just as likely deduce the same as not.”


“Could be. I'll give that a quick ponder, you give that gunny a quick pack.”


“It's leather, sir.”


“Sir. Heh. I like it, but you never asked my name.”


“It is against our customs, sir.”


His lips curled up a hint, revealing a row of needly overbite. It might have been a smile, but he smelled as bad as ordinary. I could have left him there, then he could've followed anyway. I had a notion of better odds if the beast traveled at my side than behind me.

Merle the Dead Part 1 - A Note Excerpted From Loethe's Demonological Survey

Ygala - A man-like variety of hell-spawn inhabiting the wider and wilder fiefdoms of Panagaea.

Appearance
The Ygala have a fearsome aspect. Most immediately one notices the bony knobs that protrude underneath their purple, leathery skin; at places breaking the skin. The knobs become more prominent as the Ygal ages. Each Ygala is said to have unique patterns of knobs. An experienced demonologist can identify the specific beast according to it's pattern, as well as estimate the relative longevity (there is some debate as to the absolute lifetime of a typical Ygal). To the untrained eye, however, the knobs appear nothing more than a grotesque affliction, appearing as boils might on a plague-stricken man.

An Ygal's facial features are humanoid compared to most demons; possessing two narrow eyes set low against the misshapen lump of a nose. The mouth is wide - thinly lipped if lipped at all - and filled with large conical teeth. At present no specimen has presented itself for anatomical research – a fact many demonoligists greet with genuine relief – but the number of teeth is estimated to be far more than a natural complement.

The Ygala are generally tallish creatures, gaunt in a way that might seem dignified were it not so utterly ghoulish. Reports of Ygal of 2 metres are common in the extant literature. The arms are wholly disproportionate to the body of these creatures, reaching to the knees or below.
If undaunted by the repulsive of sight of one of these demons, one might next detect the repulsive odor of the Ygal. It is theorized that Ygala have a rudimentary capacity for a sort of olfactory language, apart from the primitive language they share. This is unconfirmed, but may explain the pungent stench that invariably accompanies an Ygal. Other theories follow from the study of social, rather than biological, factors.

...

Evidence of Social Structure
Of the higher demons the Ygala exhibits an unusual level of social sophistication, which has allowed them to live in an uneasy proximity with humans and natural animals. This should not be taken as a sanctioning of the beasts; they are unnatural affronts to the Gods, mankind, and the natural animals. They cannot escape their base, nether-worldly origins. Make no mistake, the Ygal is as loathsome a fiend as any demon, perhaps more so because of their ubiquity and relative innocuousness.

Little is known of the exact Ygal social order, other than it's implied existence. The Ygal avoid contact with humanity - a mutual arrangement, to be sure. Some contact with the Ygal has become profitable, however, and their observed behavior hints at higher order affiliations among themselves. Certainly the beasts have demonstrated an understanding of the human notions of contractual obligation and economy. The author reports this fact warily, it should not be taken as encouragement to enter into dealings with the Ygal, but the Ygal have proved to be experts in the arts of embalming. What dark methods or magic are involved, and to what dark purpose this art is applied to humans can only be speculated. Some of the wealthier denizens of the fiefdoms indulge these creatures' expertise, however, against the propriety and decency of Humanity at large.

The Ygal may not often exhibit open hostility to their fairer cohabitants of our homelands, and their presence is tolerated as a matter of pragmatism, but bear witness always: these are demons. The day will come when their evil purpose will be uncovered, and on that day the price in blood will be paid to send the Ygala back to hell.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Me and My X Part 1 - Stealing from Dr. Sun

We made her when were undergraduates, in secret. Me and Chuy. Choi, Chuy, Chulee, maybe Chuk. I have trouble understanding him. He’s Pakistani, or Chinese, but he speaks broken English; and he has a speech impediment. We’re gods now, though, a god doesn't need a name. We wanted to re-make Chuy's cat, we ended up being gods.

I met Chuy in botanicals lab. Every genetecist starts with botanicals, even before fruit flies. They're simple and clean. You learn how to use the parser and the incubator, and you learn to get it right. Thirty years of debate on bio-ethics came down to three simple rules: first, if you get it wrong you have to destroy it. Second, don't make anything you're not willing to destroy. Third, if you have to kill something - even once - you lose your license and the police keep a close watch on you for the rest of your life.

That's why you start on botanicals instead of fruit flies. You can destroy a plant, but a fruit fly you have to kill. Chuy taught me how to get it right; which genes you could tweak, which feedbacks to look for once you made a change. I trusted Chuy because he was brilliant. I went along with his plan because I was curious.

He told me the university had a mammalian lab, and that all you needed to get in was a clearance card. He told me his parents had an old cat that they loved very much - as much as the loved him - but that they were too poor to re-make it. He told me he'd seen a clearance card on one of our professor's - Dr. Sun - desk. He told me he wanted to give his poor, old parents a Christmas present. He told me we wouldn't get caught. When he wasn't lying, he was always right.

We went to Dr. Sun’s office-hours in the afternoon together. Dr. Sun had two PHD’s, maybe three. He honestly couldn’t remember. He should’ve traded one of them for a maid. Tall piles of ungraded projects, half-written proposals and god-knows-what-else littered the room. Going to see him was like going spelunking. I miss Dr. Sun, I liked him.

I peeked around in his office. He never closed the door. He didn't need to, he got all the privacy he needed behind towers of boxes and cabinets. It took a few seconds before I found him sitting behind his computer, behind a few trees worth of final exams. I knocked tentatively on the wall, but Chuy just strode in, beaming.

"Hya, Docca Shun”

Dr. Sun looked up at Chuy from his desk, then looked over at me. He always had a look of bewilderment on his face, as if the more he studied life the less he understood it.

“Hi, boys. How’s the assignment coming?” I probably had more of an accent than Sun. I think he told us once that he grew up in Hawaii.

“Oh-hooh”. Chuy bobbed up and down and shook his head for emphasis.

He put his backpack on a miraculously bare corner of Professor Sun’s desk and made a show of looking through it. Now I just had to distract Dr. Sun.

“Dr. Sun, it just seems like no matter what filter I use the data doesn't fit.”

I had the homework in my hand, ready for Dr. Sun to examine. He took the paper and put on a pair of reading glasses. He glanced at it a moment before he spoke.

“Which series?”

I stuck a finger on the paper - the B-series. I watched Chuy out of one eye as he searched Dr. Sun’s desk. Chuy found the keycard. With a magician’s grace Chuy pulled out a dummy-card from his backpack, holding it tight underneath his homework paper. He put the paper on the desk, on top of the real keycard. A simple switch now; Chuy dropped the dummy card and picked up the real one.

Chuy pocketed the card and made his version of an “Aha!” sound.

“Gra!”

Maybe this was really why I called him Chuy, he sounded like Chewbacca every time he got inspired. Chewbacca was an old movie-alien that sounded like my friend Chuy, but Chewbacca was an eight-foot dog on two legs. My grandpapa made me watch the movies.

Chuy pointed earnestly to his paper.

“Drong Jada!”

Dr. Sun looked even more perplexed. I helped with the translation.

“Wrong data. You’re right Chuy, this was from last week’s assignment.”

Dr. Sun checked my paper again.

“Yes. Astute eye, Chulee. See here? Almost no jumble of numbers is completely random, is it? Each has some characteristic noise in them. Was there something else?”

“No, that covers it. Thanks, Dr. Sun. Sorry we didn’t have a more interesting mistake for you.”

“No, no. Just glad someone’s doing the work. It looks like you two are almost done.”

Chuy shot me one of his buoyant grins and patted his pocket. I backed out of the office.

“Yeah, almost done. Thanks again.”

Chuy and I walked down the hallway to the elevator, nervous and giddy. Chuy jammed the down button. He waited, as if expecting the elevator would instantly jump up to get him. He jabbed at it three more times.

“Chuy, relax. It’s coming.”

The elevator doors finally opened. Chuy and I stepped inside. The instant the doors closed Chuy pulled out the keycard, brandishing it like it was some kind of magical relic.

“fee kot zit! Kot-tam ind gell ya!”

I laughed.

“Goddamn, hell-yeah and fucking-A Chuy. Now put it away. I’ll meet you downstairs, 1:00 A.M. Don’t forget the card. We’re gonna do this.”

The elevator opened. We looked out anxiously. The whole time we were expecting to get caught. Getting the keycard was the hardest part. That’s how easy it was.

I gave Chuy a ride back to his parents’ house. They lived in a lower middle-class neighborhood. The houses were big, but dilapidated. Chuy told me he thought they were palaces compared to where he came from.

He didn’t say anything as he got out of the car, he just patted my shoulder and bolted to the front door. I watched him get in his house. I could see his father inside, hunched over and indifferent to Chuy's arrival. I could almost hear his mother's high-pitched nagging. Chuy always told me they had to love him very much to bring him here. I had my doubts. Chuy waved and shut the door. I drove off.

I lived in some student apartments nearby. I never thought of them as palaces, but they had everything a broke student needed. A centuries-old convection stove, a couch, even a cable-connected InterV. I ran the car into my spot and checked for a light in my kitchen. No light meant no girlfriend.

No luck. I could see Amelia silhouetted against the blinds, probably cooking.
Normally that silhouette excited me. She cooked as well as any four-star chef. All girls from the Midwest can cook, I think. She had a sharp mind, sharper than mine. Funny, beautiful. I might have loved her if I had met her a few years later. I don’t think you learn how to love someone else until you’re at least 24.

That afternoon I just wished she had somewhere else to be. I’d have to get rid of her for the night; she’d have too many questions when I left at midnight. I walked up to the door and ran through my mental inventory of excuses. She must have seen me coming, the door opened on her smiling face.

The apartment smelled good, she smelled good. It was going to be the perfect night if I could find a way to get rid of her. She slung an arm around my neck.

“Hey, babe. Gazpacho. Hot night, cold soup.”

“Sounds good. I thought I smelled something baking, though.”

“Bread. I’ve been slaving away all day for my man.”

“I love you not having any Thursday classes.”

“And what does my man have for me?”

I kissed her, almost politely, on the lips. I was too young then, but I understand now that humans have an innate, complex language hidden in the greeting kiss. Politely on the cheek would have been, “we’re in trouble”; politely on the lips is, “I’m in trouble.”

“My man better do better than that. What’s wrong?”

“Chuy and me have a big project. He’s coming over after dinner, maybe late.”

“You should’ve just invited him. He’s probably stuck eating a bowl of kale in some dank dormitory.”

“He lives with his parents. They eat... chinese food, or something. I tried it once, didn’t like it. He ate three helpings.”

“Oh. What are you two working on?”

“Evil plot to destroy the world.”

“Oooh. Can I help?”

“Um. Yeah. Listen…Amelia.”

I’ll tell it honestly. I wanted a way to get rid of her, just not too soon.

“Uh-oh.”

“You know how Chuy gets real focused on something? Obsessive?”

“Oh yes. Remember that game you ordered on the IV? He played it for 24 hours straight.”

“Exactly. He's kind of particular about getting things just a certain way. We have a botanical module…”

“A flower. Don’t be such a snob”

“It’s at the lab. It’s night blooming. He says he calculated it, it starts at exactly 1:12 A.M, lasts until morning. He says we have to get pictures for our project. I told him to pull one from the IV, he says it has to be ours, though.”

“And you have to go with him?”

“He doesn’t have a car.”

“And you didn’t want me to think you were sneaking off for some midnight tryst.”

“You got it.”

“Well, that’s in 7 hours. Don’t sweat it. I trust you.”

“Thanks.”

“I’ll go with you guys.”

She was just fishing for a reaction. I almost blew it.

“Kinda late, but ok. You might be a little worn out.”

I gave her a sycophantic little peck on the cheek.

“You might not be so lucky. You guys do your thing. I have to be up early tomorrow.”

So I got the best of both worlds. She stayed the night, I didn’t. The only thing that didn’t work out was me wearing her out. I could never wear her out. She was still up reading when I left that night.

“Get some sleep, Amelia.” I told her.

I pulled on some dirty laundry and went to get Chuy.

Chuy waited by his doorstep as I drove up to his house. He’d probably been waiting there all night. He sprang up when he saw me stop by his house. He ran up to the car, carrying a cage in his hands. The cage held his tabby, an one-eyed fossil of a cat.

I tried to get the cat's attention, “Hey Whiskey. Mrow. Tsk, tsk, tsk. Chuy, is that cat even alive?”

The cat looked at me, almost impetuously, and let out a sour-sounding mewl. Chuy rubbed her nose through the cage.

“Jeez un koot giddy.”

“I guess. Let’s get out of here."

My anxiety rose a little bit with each stoplight. There was nothing illegal about making a cat. People had it done all the time. Our final project before graduating would probably be something like re-making some crone’s beloved fu-fu. But we had a lot to learn before we knew enough not to risk screwing it up.

I had a lot to learn, at least. Chuy knew more than a lot of the professors. His brilliance irked me, sometimes. I worked just as hard to learn half of what he knew. His brilliance amazed me, too. I wanted to be around it, with a dim hope I might get a little warmth from his spark.

I never knew what Chuy needed from me. A car, I guess. He needed somebody to drive him to the lab so he could re-make his parent’s old cat. They didn’t have the money to buy him a car, or to get the cat re-made. Every penny got spent on the palace.

My nerves simultaneously screamed at me to turn around and to get going. I badly wanted to be a part of the job, but a part of me knew something would get screwed-up. Yes, it was just a cat. Even something as simple as an insect, you don’t want to screw it up, because then you have to kill it.

We arrived at the university before my misgivings had a chance to settle. I parked at the curb, on the opposite side of campus from the lab. I left the car idling and turned to Chuy.

“Maybe we can do a fundraiser or something. I’ve got a little money you can borrow. We don’t have to do it this way. We get caught, we're out for good.”

Chuy shook his head. He spilled out a stream of consonance even I couldn’t understand.

“What?”

Chuy snatched a pen off my dashboard, pulled his notebook from his backpack and scribbled fiercely. He ripped the page out and handed it to me. He had perfect handwriting.

"No. The cat is irrelevant. You don’t care about the cat. Neither do I. We have to do this now. We will be gods!"

Chuy patted me on the back cheerfully. He was right. I didn’t care about the cat.