eng, Uncategorized

Last Winter

DiXit cards, First edition

Rogers always felt uneasy when he had to visit ALHEL, the Arctic Last Hope Experimental Lab. He did not like spending time with scientists. This scientist he did not like in particular. Never meets your eyes, never answers your questions, and has an annoying habit of correcting your grammar.

Yu Fei hasn’t spoken a word since Rogers entered. No hello, how are you, not even a side glance! He was sitting at a long countertop and slouching over his computer. Rogers frowned at the mess around the scientist’s workplace with spider webs of colorful cables and hoses hanging from the ceiling and clutter of transistors, robotic arms, valves, and tubes of unknown purpose. For an army man like Rogers, this place was the heart of evil. He tried not to look at the opposing wall, but it drew his eyes against his will, like a gruesome car crash on a highway. There, behind the armored glass, was a vacuum chamber with thousands of ghostly egg-shaped orbs of various sizes floating inside. Bright thin lasers were bombarding the orbs from all sides producing electric crackling sounds. 

“You know what they call you now?” asked Rogers, “Lunatic Chicken.” 

Yu Fei was still pretending nobody was talking to him, so Rogers did something that would surely turn his attention. He picked up a random object from the table as if to see it better. It happened to be an eight-way wrench. As soon as he put it back, Yu Fei rolled with his chair and moved the wrench two inches to the left. His sleepy red eyes flicked upward in annoyance. 

“Get it?” Rogers continued as if nothing happened, “chicken because you are sitting on your eggs. And do I really have to explain the lunatic part?”

“People joke to sublimate existential anxiety, “Yu Fei mumbled in his usual expressionless tone. 

“Can’t blame them. I’m feeling a little existential myself looking at how humanity’s only hope is a misanthropic scientist running an experiment that nobody can comprehend.” 

“If I’m the only hope, you should leave me to it.” Yu Fei rolled away in his chair, showing that the conversation was over. But Rogers was fast on his feet and blocked the way to his laptop.

“You know what I really think?” Rogers leaned with his broad hips against the table and folded his arms across his chest.” You couldn’t care less if humanity lives or dies and yourself with it. You’re psycho. All that matters to you is to be right about something.” 

“Everybody will die eventually. And if you spare me constant interruptions, maybe I’ll accomplish something great before I do.”

“Tell me, aren’t you happy that our planet has reached its last winter? In a normal situation, you would have some trouble proving that such tinkering with spacetime is safe.” Rogers nodded towards the egg-shaped orbs glowing in the dark.

“I do think it is quite fortunate, yes. Besides, I hate winter. But unless you are blaming me for the climate collapse, I don’t see your point.”

“My point is that people are suffering, starving, suffocating on this overheated planet, including your wife and your daughter. And you are telling me that this is fortunate, you sick bastard!”

“So, do you want me to work on it or to hold your hand?” Yu Fei used the moment of confusion to snatch his laptop. Before Rogers could come up with a reply, the scientist was deep in his screen.

Rogers clenched his teeth. “I came to tell you that the Congress decided to abort your project and revert the money into a shuttle program.”

Yu Fei lifted his head and froze with a glassy stare into a point on Roger’s chest. “Your shuttle program,” he finally said. “Are you proud of it?”

“As a matter of fact, I am. We will be able to evacuate half of the remaining population within the next year.”

“Very stupid of you. You will be killing them. Their chance to ever reach an inhabitable planet is smaller than the chance of a butterfly somehow cooling our climate with a flap of her wing.”

Rogers blew out a noisy breath. “You want to talk about chances? What about the odds of somehow hatching an inhabitable world out of an egg.”

“Stop calling them eggs. You know what they are. Besides, I am not taking any chances. I am engineering them. It’s just —” Yu Fei rubbed his eyes and suddenly looked more tired than usual. “I cannot be precise enough at this scale, and the chaos takes over every time.”

“I can see that,” said Rogers, looking around the room.

“How long do I have?”

“Tomorrow, you have to start the safety shut down of the lab. A special committee will be sent from the Command Center to oversee it.”

Yu Fei nodded and returned to his screen. Rogers could see that there would be no more discussion. He took one last look at this den of tech clutter. He felt a tint of remorse. The kid was certainly a genius, but such an attitude could not be trusted. 

On his way out, Rogers mechanically lifted the cables slacking in garlands from the shelf and managed to catch sight of Yu Fei rushing to pull the cables back down. Poor Martha, he thought. 

Yu Fei descended the ladder and turned the flaps of a bunker door. Once inside the airlock, he took off his safety suit and opened the compound door. The smell of stale bodies and sweat hit his nostrils. Against a backdrop of usual radio chatter and children crying, he could hear the sounds of celebration coming from the living area. In the tight space, with sleeping bunks folded up and chairs folded out, all of the inhabitants of his living compound were gathered around the table. They were drinking and greeted Yu Fei with a loud cheer. Martha met his eyes with an apologetic stare. 

“There he is! And he does not know yet! Show him!”

Somebody handed him a leaflet with an image of a sparkling white spaceship and a tiny blue marble left behind. There was a red square stamp with the words’ Boarding Approved’ on it. 

“We will be the first ones to leave this hell! And all thanks to your wife’s connections!” 

Yu Fei simply asked, “Rogers?”

Martha nodded. He turned around and rushed upstairs and through the bunker door into the dusty air. Outside, the wind was howling and tearing, throwing thousands of tiny darts in his face. In a few moments, Marta came out wearing her safety suit and dragging his suit along. 

“Don’t be silly. You’ll get sick.”

Yu Fei could not find anything to say to her. All he wanted was to be as far away as possible. He jumped into his rover, but she was blocking the way. 

“I know you don’t like him, but Uncle Rogers wants what is best for us,” Martha was screaming to reach him over the howling wind. 

“Shuttle will never arrive.” Yu Fei tried to pronounce each word clearly.

“Please, try to understand. We cannot keep living in these conditions any longer. Even if we never arrive, life is good there. We will get enough food, and everything is clean, and then… we will just sleep.”

“I can do much better,” said Yu Fei and suddenly understood. “You don’t believe in me.”

Martha was silent. Her eyes were begging, tearing, the only pair of eyes he ever enjoyed meeting. But not anymore. 

“Goodbye then,” said Yu Fei abruptly, did a back turn, and speeded away, showering his crying wife with the dust from under his wheels. 

His thoughts were spinning as he cut through the crusted plane. Each breath was sawing at his throat, and there was a stinging pain in his chest. He wondered if it was a heartbreak he was feeling or was it just particle matter? At the same time, his mind was lighter than a snowflake and giddy like a child. He was truly and utterly free. Which meant he could finally go all the way.

He entered the lab and switched on the lights. Quantum manifolds were glowing with a dim light behind the armored glass. As if the armored glass could ever stop the unfolding of the spacetime packed into them. Oh, the show he had to put on for the bureaucrats to check their boxes. Fortunately, the manifolds were stable in 10 dimensions. Provided the ultimate unfolding into 4 dimensions is done at once, the Earth, being in the center of it, will be left untouched, while a large portion of the galaxy will be just pushed away with this newly unpacked matter. 

When military onlookers and security inspectors were getting on Yu Fei’s nerves, he liked to imagine what would happen if one of the eggs accidentally unfolded into 9 dimensions. That would instantly turn a planet into a pretzel and everyone walking on it – inside out. Try to scold me now with your mouth on the inside, general. 

He spent years in frustration trying to direct matter particles and balance out the forces in the geometry of 10-dimensional space, all efforts failing because of occasional nanometer imprecision. His design was perfect, his calculations solid, but implementation was always beyond his reach. The solution came to him a long time ago, but the few human ties were stopping him. Now he was done with that. He would fold himself up and enter the manifold. Of course, there will be no way back, as such folding is not reversible. And god knows what will become of him after the final inflation… But what an experience that would be.

He selected the most promising orb on the latest stage of completion and shut down the rest. Installed on the inflator with a sharper side down, it now resembled a light bulb rather than an egg. The inflation will begin in about an hour. For him, time did not matter, as everything will be done in an instant, but for people here — the less they see of it, the better. Such a night like this with a dust storm raving is the best. 

He pulled down a lever and twisted shields opened in the ceiling, revealing a large barrel of a gravitational folder – a small black hole of his own creation. The force of gravity, usually so weak compared to other forces, was enhanced with artificial amplifiers and created a self-contained field where the space warped upon itself into a multi-dimensional Mobius strip. He adjusted the barrel to project himself right inside the orb. Oh, well, that was it. He took the last look around with his imperfect human scenes and entered the gravitational field. 

There was no pain, only vertigo from endless spiraling. He could feel parts of him spiraling on the outer loop and other parts rolling into a tight coil in the middle. Some minutes or years later, when it was over, he found himself in complete darkness inside an enormous bubble. He could be in all places at once, and nothing moved. He knew what he was then. He was a photon, a spec of light existing outside of time. There were objects, frozen still. He recognized them immediately, it was his design, but things were slightly off, which made everything out of balance.

At last, he had complete control over this world, powerful as a wizard, like a god even. Amazing how much one tiny photon with consciousness could do. Now he could put everything in its place once and forever. 

The following day, the dust storm was still raving. People who had some business outside of shelters were out of the habit of looking up at the sky, so nobody noticed anything strange. A committee of white lab coats who arrived at Yu Fei’s laboratory found it lifeless and dark, with no trace of any activity nor the scientist. On his work desk mounted a pile of lab journals meticulously scribbled all over, with diagrams of concentric orbits full of planets like beads on a string, spread unevenly, of different sizes, weights, and chemical composition according to tight notes on top of them: Au, Pt, Co, Cu, Fe. Only they were orbiting around nothing, and a ring of small stars was orbiting on the outer loop around the planets. It was like a Solar System on acid.  

Then, in the evening, when the dust clouds had cleared, but the darkness never fell, people started looking up, each one freezing in place as they encountered their new skies. There were thousands of beautiful moons of all colors and a few tiny suns shining through them with soft recessed lighting of a warehouse ceiling. 

In no time astronomers in all observatories were gaping through their telescopes and flipping through the copies of Yu Fei’s notebook. And when everyone was properly impressed, the main light show of the day had begun. 

First, one giant fiery feather rose slowly above the horizon. It was twisting and tumbling and shifting its color from tenderly apricot to mesmerizing purple. It was growing wider at the horizon. Its glowing threads got brighter and thinner, flowing with the smoothness of long exposure photography. At last, a perfectly round pebble of complete darkness rolled out into the sky and stared down on Earth and right into the faces of its inhabitants, lifted with grimaces of horror and wonder. 

Rogers found Martha on the roof of her shelter some hours later, her 3-year old daughter snuggling in her arms. They were standing quietly away from everybody and watching this cry-in-color of the dying star. 

“They’ve just confirmed, it is completely safe,” Rogers said, stepping at her side. “It is a massive black hole feeding on a supernova star. But far enough from us. This star is so huge that the feeding will last for several thousands of years, and then this black hole will become inactive.”

Martha nodded.

“Any news of Yu Fei’s whereabouts?” Roger asked.

“No.”

“Folks are going bonkers over his notebooks at the Command center. He really made it, this son of a bitch! Now humanity has a perfect climate year-round, unlimited resources, and hundreds of inhabitable planets just next door, can you imagine? There is no mention of the supernova star in his notes, though. I wonder where it came from.”

Martha faced him with a bitter smile, confirming his suspicion.

They watched the glowing neon skies in silence. 

“You know,” – Martha said after a while, “he was not very warm, but he was certainly bright.”

*Inspired by a blog post on Ultimate Solar system by PlanetPlanet https://planetplanet.net/2018/06/01/the-million-earth-solar-system/

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eng, Uncategorized

Higher Being

DiXit cards, Anniversary edition

One moment, there was just the usual kind of suffering – burning sun, hot breath of desert, strong wind with dust showers in your face, strains and pains in the legs, difficult terrain of deep sands and sharp rocks – all-inclusive of the Marathon des Sables, the “toughest footrace on earth.”

The next moment, it was hell. The light went off, and all of the mass of sand was lifted in the air. In the red twilight, the shadows of the dunes were moving like waves in a sea storm. But that was a sandstorm, a much deadlier kind of monster.

Before it happened, Ryuta Kobayashi, number 127, still had all the chances to be among the ten first finishers of the toughest 85-kilometer leg of the ultra-marathon. He was content with his performance this year. He could feel how much stronger he became compared to last year. His gruesome year-long workouts of running half-marathons without a drop of water made his body efficient and never-complaining. Last year he spent all of the distance in the company of other Japanese runners. He made great friends and had fun. But this year, he could stick with the strong dark-skin Moroccan runners. Even though he could not understand their tongue, he felt ecstatic to be there, on one level with them. He copied their pacing and foot placement technique and learned from them to cut across small dunes to save time. Even after the storm began, he could still see their silhouettes ahead of him and tried to reach them until he could not see them anymore. 

“I have to stop moving,” he thought. But it was not easy because he had to move to not be buried in the sand. He could see absolutely nothing. The sand punched him off his feet many times, but he rose up. He swallowed sand, and he breathed sand, and the sand was even inside his goggles. Finally, he found some shelter behind a big rock and managed to cover himself with his heat reflective blanket. 

The storm went on for hours. When it was finally over, it was night. The landscape was not recognizable, and there was not a sign of human presence. Ryuta considered his choices. He could stay where he was and wait for the rescue, or he could try to follow his compass and head to the northwest – the general direction of the race. He chose a second variant. There were so many people running that surely he would soon meet somebody. He checked his water supply – only half of a bottle. 

He conserved his energy, moving during the cooler hours and sleeping under his blanket in the hottest hours. When the water was over, he peed into his bottle but decided to resist drinking it for as long as possible because he knew that salts in the urine will only make his thirst worse. One time he managed to catch a lizard. He held it in his grip and saw the liquids pulsating in its translucent body. He felt an urge to rip through the flesh of the lizard with his teeth and suck its blood. But part of him resisted. That part that was presently looking into the lizard’s eyes and having a mental conversation with it. Saying, “It is only natural. You are part of nature. You should understand.” The lizard was not understanding. It was scared and wanted to live. And Ryuta surprised himself by letting it go. “I am too civilized or not that close to dying yet,” he thought. 

That night he saw his first hallucination. A giant stag burning with phosphorus green light was standing on a dune before him. The stag nodded to Ryuta and started moving in the north direction. At this point, Ryuta was sure that the northwest course he had chosen was a mistake. Might as well follow the hallucination stag. And he did. 

As he walked, he started to notice many desert animals around him moving in the same direction. That was a good sign; there must be water somewhere ahead. The stag disappeared, but Ryuta followed the trail of animals, and they soon led him to an abandoned building, half-buried in the sand. 

It was dark and damp inside. Moist air pleasantly tickled his sore nostrils. What was left of the interior resembled some Ancient Greek shrine. It had an altar with a giant clay amphora on it. That is where all the small animals were heading. When he approached, he could not believe his eyes. The amphora was full of clear water. Probably, it has accumulated the raindrops over time, and the conditions inside prevented evaporation. Carefully, he started drinking, scooping water with his hands, never minding all the mice and snakes hanging on the rib. 

When he was strong enough, he took off his shoes, his backpack, most of his clothes, piled them up on the roof of the building, and set them on fire. He left out the blanket. Whatever happens, he thought, I will not leave this place until I’m rescued or dead. 

The rescue helicopter came down the next day, attracted by the smoke.


***

After two weeks in a Moroccan hospital, a flight back to Japan, and a few days of relaxing at home, Ryuta felt like facing the world again. He turned the sign to “Open” on the doors of his little izakaya in the Ningyocho district of Tokyo and started cleaning up. Before any visitors arrived, the owners of the neighboring stores began to flock in congratulating him on his miraculous survival. Ryuta suspected many of them were just curious to see if he sustained any irreversible injuries that they could rumor about. Soon, he picked up his usual routine of mixing up drinks and preparing appetizers, shouting out greetings, and memorizing the orders. 

His good friend, Kamijo, a tempura chef, has already closed his shop for the day and was sitting at the bar. Next to him was a frequenting salary-man, whose name Ryuta never asked, but with whom he often engaged in friendly conversations. 

“So, what’s next for you?” asked Kamijo.

“I am just waiting to fully recover so that I can go back to training again,” – Ryuta replied.

“Training for what?” salary-man asked.

“Next years’ Marathon des Sables.”

At those words, Kamijo and the salary-man both intoned a surprised “e-e-e” sound.

Ryuta laughed.

“You think I’m crazy,” he said, and it was not a question.

“I am worried about you,” said Kamijo.

“It’s hard to explain. But I just feel most alive when I’m out there running, pushing myself to my limits. I almost died, it is true. But now, when I think of it, I sort of miss it.”

“Post-traumatic stress disorder,” said Kamijo. “You do not know how to adjust to your normal life anymore.” Salary-man was nodding energetically. 

“Maybe. But when veterans remember the battlefield, those are not happy memories, I think. Mine are — I would not say happy but — euphoric of a sort. I feel like I did something great. Like I finally found myself there and got to the essence of my life.” 

“You convinced me. I’ll try dying of thirst when I hit my next identity crisis,” said Kamijo.

“You have too much free time,” was a verdict of the salary-man.

New visitors came in, and Ryuta was busy taking their orders. After a while, he returned to the conversation.

“It is not only that,” he said. “I also hate leaving the job unfinished. I was in the greatest shape of my life, and I was so close to the biggest achievement of my life. It just bothers me a lot to leave it like that. I will not rest until I finish the race next year.”

His companions completely ignored him. Salary-man was staring into his drink. Kamijo was studying the “today’s special” boards above Ryuta’s head. They did not show in any way that they heard him or acknowledged his presence. This is not funny, he thought. But he decided to be above it, and instead of getting angry, he offered, “Would you like a refill?”

Nothing. Not a single reaction.

“Common guys, it’s not funny.” 

Not a blink.

Fine, he thought, you can act childish all you like. I’ll wait until you call me.

Somebody called for a check. When Ryuta arrived at the calling table, there was nobody there. Escaped without paying? But why call for a check then? Weird. Suddenly, all sounds disappeared, as if he dipped his head underwater. He looked around him and saw that the whole store was empty and quiet, and the chairs were lifted on the tables. 

Cold sweat covered his forehead, and his stomach turned. Something weird was happening to his vision. Everything looked like those magic eye pictures that change when you focus your eyes a certain way. He could see the walls of his store, but when he moved his eyes just slightly, he saw gray ruins instead and planes flying low dropping their bombs, all in silence. Then, finally, he could force his focus back on the familiar world. Still, he could not escape a sickening feeling that at any moment, he could focus his eyes on something he was not prepared to see. Something that could destroy him.

Gripped by panic, he ran out to the street. It was autumn there, with a chilly wind, yellow ginkgo leaves on the ground, and Halloween decorations. Never mind that he started that morning in early May. Ryuta sat down on the pavement and tried to breathe. There must be a reasonable explanation. He is having some bad trip from the medications they gave him at the hospital — that was it.

“Already falling out of time, buddy?” somebody said above his head.

Ryuta looked up, but nobody was there, just a jack-o-lantern decoration installed on a postbox pole. 

“Yeah, yeah, it’s me talking,” Jack-o-lantern reassured him. “Now, try not to move too much. I need to talk to you, and you are very hard to catch.”

Ryuta opened his mouth, but he didn’t seem to have anything intelligible to say, so he just closed it.

“There. You’re doing great!” said jack-o-lantern in a cheerful coach voice. “Listen, things might be confusing now, but you’ll be fine—actually, much more than fine. The thing is, you drank from the source of life. As a result, you are much higher being now than you were before.”

“Higher being?”

“Higher, in a sense that you now exist in a higher dimension.”

“What?”

“Let me explain. Your normal existence was in the fourth dimension. That meant that you could freely move in three dimensions and could not help but float helplessly through the fourth dimension of time. Also, you could create whatever comes to your mind in two dimensions. Are you with me?”

“I think so.”

“Right. When you drank from the source of life, you were lifted to the fifth dimension of existence. That means that you can freely move in time, and you can change the three-dimensional world as easily as drawing a picture. That’s why I am a jack-o-lantern now, but I could be anything I want. Does it make sense to you now?”

“No, not really.”

“I’ve expected that much. Look, I am not the best one to explain this to you, but I can bring you to the Teacher. From Her, you can learn the craft of five-dimensional life, and things will get much better.”

“Well, ok. Let’s go. Where is she?”

“Right here, as always. You just never tried to look in Her direction. I can point you there. Just hold my hand.”

Ryuta hesitantly, feeling quite stupid, grabbed on a stick that served as jack-o-lantern’s hand. The next moment, the world as he knew it disappeared.


***

Yes, that was precisely what he was trying not to see under the veil of normal reality when he was panicking inside the store. A monstrous wrinkled pulsating matter was folding in concentric circles from the center of his vision, in any direction he looked. It somewhat reminded him of a rose. If roses were made of pure insanity. Then he had a bizarre feeling that he could only identify as a brain overheat. Like he was trying to solve several algebra problems at once. A terrible headache pierced his head.

“Let’s try in words then,” said a low vibration inside his body. 

Ryuta bent over and threw up. 

“How about now?” said a melodic female voice. Ryuta lifted his head and saw that he was in a garden surrounded by thick bushes, and a giant yellow rose was sitting on a throne in front of him. 

“E-e-em. You are a rose?” he asked stupidly.

“If you say so,” Rose replied. 

“Where am I? What is happening to me?”

“As my friend already informed you, now you exist in the fifth dimension. Navigating four dimensions takes some getting-used-to. I am here to teach you or to bring you back.”

“You can bring me back? How?”

“Yes, if you really wish so. Look —” Rose pointed to the nearest bush of beautiful blue roses with her staff made of a thorny vine. 

One of the roses turned into a sharp-shaped origami. 

“It used to be a living rose that changed with time, but now it is just a three-dimensional object made of a folded two-dimensional plane,” Rose explained. “We can go even further.” She pointed to the origami rose again, and a piece of paper with a drawn rose on it fell to the ground. 

“You see, I can just make you one dimension less again if you ask me.”

“So I can return to my normal life?”

“Yes. But I want you to consider first what you will be losing. Right now, you exist outside of time, so you can move in time wherever you want. You do not have to age or die. You can take any form. If you wish to experience relationships, you can live among humans or among inhabitants of other planets. You can have many lives. You can set yourself a goal to help people – that’s what many of us find rewarding. Or you can invent endless pranks on lower beings for your own entertainment. There is no right or wrong. It is completely your choice.”

Ryuta tried to imagine what he would do with his new powers. See the world? Go to the beginning of time? End global warming? Recycle waste into the fifth dimension? He almost felt excited about his prospects, but one thought was bothering him. 

“Can I still compete in the Marathon des Sables?”

“You can. But I am sorry to say, it would not be as satisfying as before.”

“Yes, I thought so. If I can be anything or anywhere, there is no joy in overcoming my weaknesses.”

“Does it really mean so much to you?” Rose asked.

Ryuta thought for a while. 

“Yes,” he finally replied, “it’s not only the Marathon, it is everything. If nothing is a challenge to me, I can never be happy.”

“Oh, you are one of those,” said Rose, and she sounded sad. “You’ve made up your mind then?”

“Yes. I want my life back,” said Ryuta.

Rose sighed. “You will regret it,” she said quietly and lifted her staff.

***

In the next moment, Ryuta was lying face-up on the burning sand. 

His blind eyes were staring at the sun. 

The help was not coming. 

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eng, Uncategorized

Amitola

DiXit cards, Anniversary edition

On the day when Amitola was born, there was a double rainbow hanging in the skies; hence the name she received from her tribe – Amitola means “rainbow.” The shaman foretold that the child will have two worlds to live in, and he was right. 

In her first world, she lived happily until the age of 15. Her tribe was kind to her, despite everything. Only one old woman was obsessively purifying with incense everything Amitola touched or stepped on, but nobody bought into her panic. It was the birds that troubled her. Black birds that seemed to always circle high in the skies above Amitola’s head. Sometimes — just one or two, sometimes — the whole noisy flock.

Much later, when Amitola got to know the other world, she saw how her childhood could have been different. Wasn’t she a textbook example of a bad omen? She would not blame her tribe for shunning her away or even killing her. But instead, she cannot even remember being teased about the bird droppings that always covered her shoulders. “Omens are what we make of them,” was a cool-headed philosophy of her people. And so, far from demonizing her, everybody waited for their turn to host her on their land to improve the fertility of their crops. People don’t get wiser nor kinder than that. 

If she wasn’t a true daughter of her tribe, she could be blaming herself for what happened. When pale foreigners came and killed all the men and took all the women, she could be blaming the black birds for the curse they brought upon her village. But she knew better than that. The birds were flying above her head for 15 years, and nothing bad happened. Then the giant sailboats arrived, and her world got destroyed. She knew exactly whom to blame — the giant sailboats and whoever had sent them. 

 Amitola was delivered into her second world when brute strangers separated her from her mother and brought her into a brothel. A fat pale man dressed in too many layers of clothes sat on top of the table and waved her to approach. He squeezed her chin and turned her face sideways, then he licked her neck with his flabby tongue and spit on the floor. He said something in his cackling language, and everybody laughed. He then threw her on the floor and put his leg on her back. And like that, he continued to drink and to cackle, tapping and fidgeting his foot from time to time. 

Amitola tried to think about the birds circling above her, even though she could not see them through the ceiling. To them, it was of little importance what happened below, if it wasn’t something they could eat or something that could kill them. What was happening to Amitola down there was not any kind of an important event for them. And it didn’t have to be an important event for her if she looked at it from the far above. More birds joined the round dance; with each bird, she felt a stronger pull of the vortex forming by their wings. 

She thought, “You will lift your leg now.” And the man did so immediately. Then she thought, “You will crash the jug with your drink on your head.” And as he did it abruptly, there was a lost and terrified look on his face. She directed him, now her obedient puppet, to escort her into a private room where nobody would disturb them and feed her a good meal. She had to take care of other women of her tribe, but the powers left her quickly. So she ordered the man to keep watch outside the door for the whole night as she slept, gathering her strength.

The following day Amitola summoned the black birds to circle again above her head and ordered her puppet to free all the women of her tribe. He stepped out the door with determination. After about ten minutes, she heard men shouting outside. 

“What’s wrong with you? Let her go!”

Amitola peaked through the window. Her puppet, his jaw clenched, was drugging a woman by the hand while another man tried to push him away. Finally, the puppet was knocked off his feet and fell in the mud. The man kicked him a few times for good measure and took his woman back to the house.

“That would not do,” thought Amitola.

She went out of her shelter and told the first man she met, “You will bring me to the one who has the most power around here.”

That turned out to be a man dressed in a black robe who was performing some rituals when Amitola entered his house. If that was the power that strangers respected the most, that suited her perfectly. Carefully choosing her words, she said to the priest, “You will make sure that women of my tribe are safe and comfortable in this village and treated with respect.” He nodded, then fell on his knees in front of the altar and started to play. Half an hour later, he ran out of the house and rang a bell, calling the villagers to gather. He spoke to them in an urgent elevated tone, often raising his arms to the skies. The crowd rumbled, but soon the tribal women were brought forward, and one by one, they entered the priest’s house. As they passed Amitola, each one of them touched her gently with gratitude. 

Amitola was grateful to the black birds and this strange power she could not explain. But she was also sad because she thought of more and more sailboats arriving and other villages that will be destroyed. Other women will have no one to protect them.

She found her first puppet still lying in the mud and told him, “You will bring me to the one who controls all of the sailboats.” Of course, she knew that she will have to cross the sea. What she did not know then is that the black birds will not be able to follow. 

Amitola was standing on the deck of the giant sailboat and watched the black birds turning back to shore one by one. Before her powers left her, she made one last suggestion to her puppet-man, “I am a daughter of the most powerful ruler of this land. The one who marries me will have all the reaches of this continent in his pocket.” She could only hope that it would be enough for her to carry on with her mission in an unknown land of pale strangers.

At least it got her through the sea journey. Everyone in the crew treated her with respect. She would even feel comfortable in her private cabin if she could pretend for a second that she was on land. She did not suffer from seasickness much, but just the wrongness of it all got on her nerves. Humans were not meant to be dangling on the waves with no land in sight, each nude sunrise followed by a nude sunset. Terrified as she was to face her enemies, Amitola was relieved to see the land again and be grounded as humans should be.

 She looked out for the birds, but none showed up. Instead, when the rumor spread of her arrival, gawking public started to flock around the ship, curious to see an exotic princess. She felt ridiculous as she was still dressed in her ordinary clothes, nothing even closely ceremonial. But nobody had to know it. She tried to copy the facial expression of the elders as they sat at tribal gatherings, never speaking but commanding respect solely with their presence.

It seemed to be working as day after day more and more poshly dressed men came to greet her, coming in bigger and bigger chariots with more and more horses, each bringing a gift shinier than the other. Amitola made sure to treat them all with coldness. She would take one look at them and say the only word she learned from strangers: “No!” But her heart was full of doubts because she didn’t even know where she was going with that.

On the third day, she had a different kind of visitor. A big raven landed on the tiny window slit of her cabin and stared at her tilting its head. 

“Now, what do you think you’re doing?” he finally asked. 

Amitola was not surprised. She always suspected that ravens could talk by the glances they gave her but were choosing not to. 

“I am not quite sure.”

“See, that’s the problem.” The Raven jumped from the window on the table and started pacing along its edge. “What is it you want to achieve?”

“I want to stop the sailboats from coming to my land across the sea.”

Raven cawed like a normal raven, and Amitola realized that that’s the way they laughed at you.

“Do you think you can take a broken vase and make all pieces match together again? Maybe you think you can separate fresh water from a stream that has fallen into the sea or take back the breath that has left your mouth?”

“I just — I just thought I could do something since I’m the only one who could get here from my people.” Amitola looked at her feet, feeling quite silly. 

 “Your people must be desperate if they sent you,” Raven measured her tiny figure with a skeptical eye. “Anyways, I flew here to give you a word of warning. You should not reject the next delegation that shows up here because that would be the prince. And his mother the queen — well, let’s just say she does not take the critique of her son gracefully.”

“Is she powerful then? The queen?”

“Most powerful person in our kingdom. I mean, formally, the king is a ruler, but everybody knows where the real power is.”

“I see. Say, should I marry the prince?”

“That would be wise of you. But there is a problem. There is a reason why our queen is so touchy about him. He is a bit difficult to like.”

“What do you mean?”

“See for yourself. They are approaching.”

Amitola could already hear the noise. The sound of people cheering outside and the steps of many horses pulling heavy chariots. The door of her cabin opened, and a procession of people entered the tiny room. They squeezed by the walls and into corners to form a corridor for the prince to pass through. He stoked briskly towards her. He was dressed in shiny armor with a red velvet cape; a helmet with a closed visor was hiding his face. He stopped in front of Amitola and gestured to his servants to present the gifts to her. Some shiny things were brought to her feet, but she didn’t take one look at them. Raven was resting on her shoulder.

“Tell him to open his visor,” she asked the Raven.

Raven cawed the words in the local tongue. Amitola could see the fear in servants’ faces, some of them people backpedaling towards the exit. But the prince did not waver. He bowed lightly, lifted his helmet, and took it off, exposing a face that was only half-pale. The other half was red-brown and crawled upon his pale half in curvy folds shaped like a bird’s wing. Amitola smiled.

She turned to the Raven on her shoulder. “Tell him that I can see a very good omen in his face.”

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eng, Uncategorized

Better Off Rabbit

DiXit cards, First edition

A couple of miles from Japan’s coast, there is an island that belongs entirely to rabbits. Rabbits roam there freely with no predators or human supervision. Tourists come to take pictures in which they are surrounded by crowds of adorable rabbits of all colors and breeds. They bring snacks, so rabbits usually tolerate their attention. 

With one exception – there is a gang of badass rabbits the tourists know better to avoid. Their leader is known as Steve, and he has quite a reputation among humans and rabbits alike. You can easily recognize him because he is always covered in black soot, not to appear in any way adorable. His routine mischiefs involve pooping in tourists’ bags, knocking off their smartphones, or nibbling on their headphones and chargers. But when he is in a bad mood, some unfortunate visitors will leave the island with bitten fingers and scratched faces. 

Very few humans or rabbits would guess that, when Steve was young, he was a white and fluffy pet rabbit kind. They would be even more surprised to learn that what he is trying to cover with soot is a cute heart-shaped spot on his bum. That spot, an object of his siblings’ jealousy, promised a bright future to young Steve, a life of luxury and Instagram fame. 

But the promised life was stubbornly evading him. His first owner was a little girl who liked to hurt him and kept forgetting to feed him or clean his toilet. From that early experience, Steve learned to show teeth, and that’s how he became a warrior rabbit. He decided he would fight for his right to be adequately treated by his owners. While he was passed from one home to a shop, to another home, and a shop again, he never gave up hope to find the place that would be fitting to his talent. 

He became so experienced in changing hands that he could now predict the character of his next owner by the entrance door to the house. Ornate and showy – probably a gay couple struggling to rescue their relationship with a pet. It would not work in the end, and none of them will want to stay with Steve. Barn-like door meant he was there only to help make some babies, to which he said, “No, thank you! You’re not getting my heart-shaped spot until I get the life I deserve.” And no matter how hard it was to resist the advances of rabbit ladies, Steve stubbornly abstained until he was back in a shop again. 

Now he was brought to a plain steel door of which he didn’t know what to make. On the way there, Steve observed his new owner appraisingly and so far liked what he saw. It was a cool-looking guy with tats on his arms and a goatee. There was a “no bullshit” sense about him that made Steve think they could bond. The steel door was suspicious, but, hey, at least it was something new. 


Inside, Steve was met with unpleasant news — he was not the only pet. A fat red cat was sitting on the table and watching him with lazy green eyes. 

“Ehm, hello,” said Steve.

Cat did not reply.

“Can you hear me?”

Cat gave out snorting laughter and said, dragging the words like drunkard’s feet, “Of course I can hear you. Haven’t you seen me move my ears?”

“Then why didn’t you reply the first time?” Steve was getting angry. 

Once again, the cat did not accommodate him with an answer. He just walked to the other side of the table, waving his fluffed-up tail. Then he sat there staring at nothing in particular.  

“Weirdo,” Steve muttered to himself and started exploring his new home.

The place was a spacious studio with minimal furniture made up of light modern materials, mostly glass and steel. Steve nodded approvingly, noticing the apparent absence of a woman’s touch — no further division of owner’s attention. He was also pleased to find a tray full of delicious grass and a comfortable bed. It smelled of another rabbit — some passed away sweetheart, no doubt. Steve was not worried about filling in somebody’s shoes. He was much more relieved to learn that his owner had some rabbit handling experience.

Suddenly, he heard the cat mumbling. He pricked his ears to hear better but could only catch a few words, “… another one, kill me.”

“Hey, is there something you want to tell me?” Steve confronted the cat.

“I was just informing Ferdinand of the happy addition to the family.”

Steve approached and saw that the cat was sitting next to a ball-shaped tank with a goldfish in it. So, they were three pets. Some fauna enthusiast, this guy, Steve thought bleakly, but aloud he said, “Hello, Ferdinand. How do you do?”

“Ferdinand does not speak,” explained the cat.

“Look, Mr. Cat…”

“Marquise.”

“Mr. Marquise, I know that my arrival may be hard to adjust, and you might be missing your friend who passed away —“

“Missing? That noisy vanity of a rabbit?” Marquise laughed with surprising energy until the tears poured from his eyes. Even the goldfish Ferdinand appeared to be laughing, making jumpy loops in his tank. “Oh, what a joke,” Marquise finally said, sighing and falling on his side from exhaustion.  

Steve was deeply offended, but he didn’t want to begin his new life with a fight, so he tried to change the topic. “Are you happy with your owner?”

“Oh, we are very happy,” said Marquise making a weird emphasis on “we,” as if leaving Steve out of it. 

Steve could not understand why the cat was being such an ass to him, even preferring the company of a num fish over a potential intelligent furry companion. He must have really hated the previous rabbit. Steve once again decided to be patient and prove himself worthy of a conversation. He asked, “So, what do you enjoy the most about living here?”

 “The feeding, for sure,” replied Marquise enthusiastically. Ferdinand seemed to support this answer as he began to swim much faster. “The master really understands what we need in terms of food to feel happy and alive,” he continued, “We get anything we ask for.” 

“I am pleased to hear that. Though I am usually not very picky with food.”

“That’s because you eat plants, and it does not matter how you get them — it’s enough for them just to be in front of your nose.”

“Sure, what else do you want from your food?”

Marquise rolled his eyes and sighed. “See, that’s why we have nothing to talk about. You don’t understand the pleasures of life.” 

“And your friend Ferdinand does understand you?”

“Oh, he does!” Marquise rubbed his side on the fish tank, and Ferdinand froze still in the furthest end from him. “Watch this.” Marquise pawed on a tank from one side, and Ferdinand jumped to the opposite side. Then Marquise pawed again, and for a while, it appeared as if he was playing ping-pong with himself, catapulting the goldfish from side to side. His face was a sight of ecstatic pleasure, with his tongue out and eyes half-closed. Then he stopped abruptly, sat back, and began to wash his face in slow lazy movements. Ferdinand was recovering from the shock on the bottom of the tank. 

“The play,” Marquise continued as if he was a lector returning to his notes, “The chase, the waiting, the glimmer of hope, and then bam —“ with a lightning speed, he suddenly snatched Ferdinand out of the tank and shoved him into his mouth. For a second, Ferdinand was beating inside of the cat’s mouth; then, Marquise spit him back into the tank. 

“This is what I call a happy life!” he purred as he jumped off the table and walked to his bowl of cat food on the kitchen floor. 

Steve watched as Ferdinand pretended to be dead for a while and then started swimming again. The goldfish had mad eyes. “I don’t think Ferdinand enjoyed it as much as you did,” Steve finally said.

“He will enjoy it even less when one day I eat him.”

“And what would the master say when he sees that his fish is missing?”

“Not his fish. It is my fish, and he will just buy me a new one. I told you, we are very happy here.”

“So when you say we, you just mean yourself?” Steve felt a sudden revulsion against this pretentious prick.

Cat did not reply. Instead, he jumped up the backrest of the sofa and started walking back and forth along the long glass wall, humming some silly tune. This behavior was so obnoxious, Steve turned away and made a mental note, never to talk to the cat again. 

When Marquise noticed that Steve lost interest in his performance, he spoke again. 

“When I say we —“he paused and stretched, “I mean myself and Casper.”

Steve looked at the cat, puzzled. Something moved behind the glass wall. Something thick was folding and twisting there. Steve jumped up, and in a split second that he was in the air, his blood chilled to ice as he glanced at what was behind the glass — a giant, thick, spiral coil of a boa constructor.

Steve was hiding in the furthest darkest corner of the room, trembling. The sense of betrayal was so devastating, it overshadowed even the mortal terror in him. Here he was, dreaming about a happy life with a human, while in reality, he was no more than a feed for some boa constructor. He glanced back at his heart-shaped spot, and his eyes filled with tears. Life was so unfair! 

“Waterworks already?” Marquise sounded bored. “Casper just ate. He won’t wake up for another week. So — please — save me the nuisance of listening to your sobs just yet.”

“How can you be so mean?” The words barely came out from Steve’s tightened throat. “I am a pet like you. My purpose is to be a human companion. To be loved and —“ he trailed off, realizing how little sense he was making. 

“Well, some pets are simply better than others,” said Marquise and marched away.

Steve was looking at the feline’s rear and thinking, what was it that made Marquise better? He was lazy, close to obese, had a terrible character and his fur was blotchy red. Not even remotely cute. Who could understand humans and their whims? And then it hit him. How silly it was to rely on creatures he could not control nor comprehend. He gritted his teeth. At the end of the day, he only had himself to blame and to rely on. 

By the time Casper woke up, Steve already had a plan. There was only one place to hide. Ferdinand would not like it, but that fish had little to lose. In the week that passed, Marquise frequented elaborate games in which he almost ate and then released Ferdinand. Steve expressed his protest quietly by chewing through the cats’ belongings when he was not looking.

On the day of the feeding, the human brought his friends to watch. What a pervert! But Steve was determined to spoil their fun. Still, nothing could prepare him for the terror he felt when an enormously large boa constructor slid out of his glass tank and slithered towards him in large undulating curves. The snake’s head was facing Steve with one side then another; each side stared at him with a cold amber eye of a natural killer. Steve was shaking violently, but he forced himself to stay put. There was nowhere to run anyway. He had to remain still until the very last moment. When the snake was only a few feet away, he noticed that the muscles in its coils flexed in preparation for the bounce, and he told himself – now! 

He dived into the fish tank, replacing most of the water in it. From behind the glass, he saw the stretching gape of the snake’s mouth, and then there was complete darkness. Ferdinand was fidgeting in panic around him. The walls of the fish tank were cracking but still held water. Now it was a gamble. Either the tank will eventually give and break, and this would be the end of Steve, but also a severe injury to the boa’s gut; or the human will bring his beloved pet to the doctor and remove the tank surgically. Steve waited. It was harder and harder to breathe. The acid juices were rolling down the tank walls and dripping into the water. 

After what seemed like an eternity, a slit of light burned Steve’s eyes, and two gloved human hands carefully removed the tank from the snake’s body. As soon as the opening was clear, Steve picked up Ferdinand, leaped out of the tank, and ran for his life. He raced down white corridors and into the street, and even then, he kept on running, dodging human feet and car wheels until he reached the sea. There he parted ways with Ferdinand, hoping that the poor fish can one day recover from what he had been through. 

Sitting on the pier and watching the vast stretch of the ocean, Steve felt reborn into a new free life. Right there, he decided that he will never be anyone’s pet again. And the rest is history.

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eng, Uncategorized

Three Snails

Jeremy was a wise and old snail.

He never had children, so he had plenty of time to meditate and brood over the nature of reality. For that, he was a go-to council when something was out of order.

Like that day.

Tobias was hurrying up the hill with some disturbing news,

“Children are littering in the forest!”

Snails take great pride in being ecology barometers. Much less is usually enough to send everybody packing their shells. Heralds had already taken out their horns to signal evacuation when Jeremy stopped them with a quiet gesture.

“What exactly were they littering?”

Tobias looked around nervously —

he was known for being nearsighted.

“Looked like — like some round stones,” he stuttered.

Stones? Stones are non-GMO, so there is no harm,” said Jeremy thoughtfully.

“As long as they are not too many.

Who of you here is the fastest?”

Matias, a young and energetic snail, pushed through the slimy crowd and looked up at Jeremy with a dog-like enthusiasm.

“Go watch them and count every stone while I check our landscaping regulations.”

Matias happily curled up and sent his shell rolling down the hill.

Not even a week passed when he clambered back up, panting.

“I saw the children! They were not littering! They were feeding birds!”

Jeremy looked at Tobias.

“See? Your eyes are big with fear but blind to the truth. Because of you, we nearly left this forest with great welfare services.”

From shame, poor Tobias turned green and melted into a pancake.

One sunny day when Jeremy woke up from an afternoon nap, he saw Matias and Tobias going up the hill to see him. Matias reached there first.

“Children killed an old lady!” he blurted out as soon as he was close enough to be heard.

Jeremy completely woke up.

“What? Do you mean the nice lady living in the middle of the forest with the tastiest kitchen waste around?”

“Yes, that one.”

“I knew those children were dangerous! How did it happen?”

“They burned her alive and then ate her.”

Jeremy sighed and cleared his throat.

“Attention, everyone. Pack your shells. We are leaving. I won’t stay another day in this non-vegan forest.”

At this moment, Tobias politely cleared his throat.

“Forgive my intervention,” he began, “but things are a bit more nuanced than that.”

“What do you mean?” asked Jeremy.

“I took your lesson to my heart, wise Jeremy, and didn’t trust my eyes alone. I asked several witnesses instead, and this is what they told me.

“A spider from the house corner reported a cooking accident. He got out of there when he detected smoke and is still on a run warning everyone about the fire.

“A catterpillar from a backyard garden swears that the old lady set a trap for children, kept them in cages and then ate them.

“And one of the ants marching down the path from the house told me that children were invited by the old lady to eat the house together. The ants helped some too. And now it is gone.”

Jeremy was silent for a long time. His eyes were closed and his head cranked up. Snails new that he should not be interrupted when he is like this, and that some profound wisdom will soon be spilled out from his mouth.

He finaly spoke. “We are small creatures and our perspectives are too small. We may never see the whole picture.”

The snails responded with a worried rummble.

“But what should we do?”

“Is there a fire or not?”

“Are there cannibals?”

“Quiet! Quiet!” Jeremy demanded. “Our sences are limited but we must look at the facts. Does anyone see a smoke?”

“No.”

“Does anyone see the house?”

“Hmm, also no.”

“Therefore, once we excluded impossible, we are left with the truth – children ate the house.”

“But Jeremy, why would anyone want to eat a house?”

“Remember, the Universe does not owe us any explanations. We might solve all the “whats” without ever grasping “why.” But in this case, it is quite obvious —they were composting it.”

“O-oh,” everyone exhaled, and there was much nodding and relieved laughing.

After all, ecology is always on top of a snail’s mind.

When old Jeremy was finally left in peace, he looked at the honeydew droplets on the surface of fresh green leaves and smiled to himself.

One more mystery was solved. The world became a little more knowable.

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