Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Antidote to The Alchemist: 22 Books That ACTUALLY Encourage the Examined Life


Paulo Coelho’s atrocious mess of a pseudo-novel is making the rounds and wrongheadedly mislabeled as a “deep examination of the self” yet again. Just hearing this assertion makes me bristle. His poor substitute for a self-examination is not only trite; I would go so far as to consider Coelho’s book misleading and somewhat dangerous, since its materialistic ending could lead one to entirely the wrong conclusion about the point he was supposedly trying to make in the first place. But I don’t expect much more from a writer who can’t write a realistic dialogue, let alone characters, to save his life.

In short, it’s candy for people who come to the book looking for a hearty meal. It may be fun (for...someone, I suppose?), but it’s not going to give you any sustenance (and may give you diabetes).

Mmmm…candy.

Wait, what was I saying? Oh, yeah. Substance.

Save yourself some time and a dented wall. Because, trust me, if you have any self-awareness at all, the end of this book will make you throw it across the room (if you make it that far). If you want to read his book to become more self-aware (and more universally aware, for that matter), you might consider giving some other books a try.

Which books? Well, I’m glad you asked. I’ve assembled a “scratch the surface” sort of list to get you started. There are benchmark books, such as Plato’s Republic and other religious and philosophical source material that are also valuable, but I’ve left those more hefty books off the list in favor of books that might serve as a launching point in more accessible language and with an approach that could hopefully be an easier way to start. Once you get compelled by one or two of these, continue digging! Suspect anyone who claims to have all the answers, but keep searching anyway. The scenery on the journey is totally worth it.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Who Are We as the World Falls Down?

I know I'm a few weeks late with this reflection, but bear with me. I've been ruminating on this, so there's a reason it's been a bit late in coming.

Is anyone else fascinated by the idea that while S.H.I.E.L.D. falls to pieces, the rest of the world clicks along relatively normally? In the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode "Nothing Personal," which takes place immediately after the events of the Captain America: Winter Soldier movie, the world isn't burning. People aren't running mad. Washington, D.C. looks pretty normal as Maria Hill walks the streets.

from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., "Nothing Personal"

Cars seem to be following traffic laws, people are milling around and having what seems to be a pretty typical weeknight. It's astonishing to me that this could be the case. The hole left by a lack of S.H.I.E.L.D. is not leaving a wake of anarchy in the public at large, and that's a little mind-blowing as we witness the sky falling inside the organization as a whole.

While some people would write this off as an inconsistency, I don't think this is bad storytelling at all; quite the opposite, in fact. This indicates that while S.H.I.E.L.D. is the sun and moon to these people...while they believe that it's saving the world...it may not actually be as vital on a day-to-day basis as the agents think it is. This is a subtle hint from the storytellers that chaos can be blooming for a group of people while the rest of the world clicks on without noticing. These people have to have seen the news reports of the battle only miles away from them, but they don't seem affected at all.

Mind you, Hydra is probably keeping order on the surface pretty well, too, partially because they've planned for this for six decades and partially because it's just generally good PR to put on a good face.

But this seems to me to be a really interesting parallel to the suffering of people in places like Syria or Turkey, or even in your own culture, for that matter. On a personal level, I remember when my mother-in-law died and everything in my world seemed upended. It was so disorienting to go to the grocery store and watch people do their business like nothing had happened...because nothing had happened to them. But worlds can burn for entire groups of people, and even the people who are aware of that chaos from the outside are largely unaffected by it and move on with barely a blink. Maybe there's a murmur of sympathy or a head that shakes in disbelief, maybe we even contribute money or other donations to the cause, but the world moves forward, insistent on grinding ahead mostly in business as usual mode while a column of smoke dissipates into the atmosphere in the near distance.

What does this say about human nature, for better or for worse? At best, it means we recover quickly and move on from tragedy and that we have a very strong instinct to rebuild even as things continue to fall apart, which is a part of how we've managed to survive as a species. At worst, it means that we can be massively tone deaf to the suffering our fellow human beings as cultures burn right under our noses, because on a subconscious level, we're afraid to dive in and be voluntarily exposed to that monstrosity. We don't believe it can happen, so we don't really see it. Sometimes the instinctual propensity toward survival is a horrific thing.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Falling in Love with Batgirl


I've posted briefly before about Batgirl (or, more specifically, about her roommate), but I really only got into the comics in the past couple months as I've snatched up the last few TPBs from the New 52 (a reboot DC did of most of its lineup, mostly to attract new readers). Yes, I'm behind. I'm also just now getting into Arrow, which my husband has had us consuming gluttonously on Netflix and Amazon Prime (Green Arrow was one of his absolute favorites growing up). We watched the entire first season in about two weeks, and have been steadily pouring money into the TV to consume season 2. Yes, yes, we watched six episodes in one day at one point. I won't say how many we watched in a weekend. And now we have to WAIT until FALL for more!? AUGH.

But, back to MY new favorite: Batgirl. Way cooler than Greenie. Just don't tell Hubby.

I've almost abandoned Wonder Woman right now in favor of catching up on Batgirl. I find the story compelling and  And Gail Simone is, in a word, brilliant. Batgirl is a real person, with believable thoughts and problems and dreams. The plot is compelling (almost compulsive), and her secondary characters have life and personalities beyond just the ability to highlight Barbara. Gail Simone turns Barbara's experience from a refrigerator girl into a real moment that has a definite, sometimes crippling impact on the way she approaches life and the battles she faces both in her "normal" life and in her life as a superhero, even after her body heals.

For those who are unaware, Barbara Gordon was paralyzed by Joker in Alan Moore's graphic novel, The Killing Joke (if you haven't picked this story up and read it, do it NOW. Come back when you've had the heartbreaking experience so we can start a support group together or something). She regains her ability to walk in the New 52. Unlike some of the reboots, Simone actually adds credulity to Barbara's renewed ability by explaining (at least to some degree) her regained ability. Instead of just hitting the "reset" button, she explains how Barbara came to regain her ability to walk and uses the insecurities from her miraculous cure to grapple with some serious issues as Barbara resumes her crimefighting duties under the cowl.

I'm two TPBs in. Her brother is terrifying. Also, what do you think about my acquisition from Planet Comicon? My own itty bitty Batgirl! I almost considered giving her her own Tumblr or Instagram account and posting "The Adventures of Itty Bitty Batgirl."

You're laughing again. I know. I'm hopeless. But hey, Gates McFadden has an "Adventures of Tiny Crusher!" It could work, right?

Right!?

Well, at least the crickets agree with me.

Next up: Batwoman (I already started...I NEED BOOK 2!). And probably Guardians of the Galaxy. I want to be up on the current universe before the movie.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

My (In)Famous Bacon Brownie Ice Cream Recipe

I've been asked for my recipe for bacon brownie ice cream a million times, and since the request has come from so many places, I decided to make it available on my blog to make it easier to share. I know this isn't a food blog, so you'll forgive me if the geekery leans toward bacon and gastronomy rather than Star Trek and Batwoman for this particular post...those subjects will be back for the next post, I promise!  

I feel like a broken record saying this, because so many chefs have said it so many times before, but the real secret to making this amazing is getting the right ingredients. Fresh, preferably local and organic milk and cream are best (especially if the cream comes in a bottle with some thick creamy goodness hanging around the mouth). The same is true with the bacon--fresh, preferably local and sliced by a butcher. I do cheat when I make the brownies, but use the best "cheat" you can find--I go with Gheridelli brownie mix if I'm making the gluten-laden kind and Bob's Red Mill for amazing GF brownies if you have guests with celiac-type issues. 

So, here it is, in all its glory...my recipe for Bacon-Brownie Ice Cream. Enjoy. In moderation. And maybe have a salad for dinner. 


What ya need: 

For the brownies: 

  • High-quality brownie mix and required ingredients (but don't put ALL the oil in! Read on!)
    • Also note: If the brownie mix makes only an 8x8 or 9x9 pan of brownies, you'll need two. This assumes you've prepared a 13x9" pan's worth of brownies.
  • 8 strips of uncooked bacon 
  • Reserved bacon drippings
  • About 1/2 cup chocolate chips, if the brownie mix doesn't include chocolate chunks

For the ice cream: 

  • 4 1/2 cups milk (We used skim. Gotta save the calories somewhere!)
  • 2 3/4 cups sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 vanilla beans
  • 4 1/2 cups whipping cream


How ya do it: 

  1. Okay, start by making the bacon. Line a cookie sheet with high sides with tinfoil. Set a cookie cooling rack in the pan, and lay the bacon on the drying rack. DO NOT PREHEAT THE OVEN.
  2. Put the bacon in the oven, THEN turn it on to 425 degrees F. 
  3. Let the bacon cook for about 15-25 minutes (depending on how thick it is) until it's nicely browned. 
  4. Pull the bacon out of the oven and let it cool. Reserve the bacon oil. 
  5. Okay, now time to get to work on the brownies. Measuring out the oil or melted butter, START with the reserved bacon fat from the brownies, then add whatever oil is necessary to make up the remainder of the oil requirements. 
  6. When you have the brownies mixed, crumble and then fold in the cooled bacon. 
  7. Prepare the brownies as package directions dictate. 
  8. While the brownies are cooking, you can start making the ice cream. Heat the milk until bubbles form around the edge of the pan. 
  9. Remove from heat and add the sugar and salt. Stir until they're dissolved. 
  10. Then, slice open the vanilla bean and scrape out the gooky insides and add that to the milk mixture. 
  11. Stir in the whipping cream. 
  12. Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes. 
  13. Remove brownies from the oven and let them cool completely (it wouldn't hurt to refrigerate them for a few minutes, too). Rip the brownies to big crumbled shreds.  
  14. Once the mixture is cooled, add to an ice cream machine and chill per the machine's instructions. 
  15. When the ice cream is ready to come out of the machine for its final chill in the freezer, stir in the crumbled brownies. I did this in three phases to keep the ice cream from melting too much. 
  16. You'll probably want to let it firm up the rest of the way in the freezer for a few hours before eating. But I know you already licked the spoon you used to fold the brownies into the ice cream, and that is TOTALLY ACCEPTABLE. You did all the hard work, after all. 

Makes about 6 quarts. And you'll need it all when word gets out what you've made.

Extra pro tip: To make this SUPER wonderful, melt two parts of your favorite chocolate (or butterscotch, or peanut butter...) chips in the microwave (GENTLY...15 seconds at a time, then stir!). Add one part coconut oil. FAST AND EASY magic shell! 

You might want to have salads for the next COUPLE days...

Monday, May 12, 2014

[Untitled]

Another Wendig Flash Fiction Challenge. This is a quick draft I whipped up inspired by two of the sentences from the challenge. Enjoy. Or be haunted. Either way, I will consider it a success.


She had lived for seventeen days inside the stanza, reeling around the intermingling eroticism of line breaks, reveling in the ache of each point of punctuation. Coming up for air was optional. Instead, she breathed the rhythm of internal rhyme, melodies dancing inside an evocatively executed turn of phrase.

But a poetic pattern can retain inertia, too. When the voices from above awoke her from her subterranean reverie, she climbed out of the cool darkness of the Underworld and into the garish glitter of daylight. This world was boorish, alien, hostile. The body snatchers could take you from your own imaginings, impose theirs, like some sort of bland, jingoish brainwashing mimicking Matheson’s worst nightmares.

She tried to breathe and was met with only a carcinogenic smog, carefully landscaped and pruned hedges, the trees and bushes boxing her in. Even nature wasn’t natural; it was some honed and harnessed mimeograph of itself, a poor print copied when the toner was low.

Everything was prison. Every liberty outside of the lines was a lie. The only world that truly was had been ripped away, like a baby cut early from the home of the womb.

All that was left now was to fit in, to pretend the spirits tumbling in the gyre just beyond her reach were only a fantasy.

Get a job.

Find a “real” hobby.

Attract a boyfriend.

Buy a canary.

And pretend, for every day thereafter, that she wasn’t drowning in polluted sludge, that every breath wasn’t a breath closer to death and further from reality.

But then, the hope of subversion arose, a glimpse of color through the gray, prisms dancing just on the edges of perception like a promise for eternity. She could run crosswise in small ways…finding an avant-garde obsession that could help her imagine that she was descending back into the nether-regions, the wild revels where the moon shimmered across open water and birds flew so high she lost them among the stars.

Sneak behind authority’s back, flinging nine to five away with yesterday’s news, imagining the manager standing helpless, wringing his hands as she floated above the confines of Twitter and one-hundred-twenty characters…or fifteen inescapable archetypes.

Then the assurance that nothing was new insists its way into her subconscious like mildew, chewing away the worlds threatening to claw their way back up from the banks of the Styx. The penitentiary of history itself sits on her chest like an incubus. Why waste time when it only apes what Adam built in the first place?

This is how the criminal disappears after the inventor erodes. When the Dreamer ascends and is trapped in the waking world, the only opportunity to break free is to break the rules. And then breaking the rules seems like too high a price. That despised despotism, the demands of the doldrums, suddenly become precious. Stockholm, Munchausen…the tyranny of embracing the mundane.

What happened to the music of the spheres? All that is left is a pop refrain in 4/4 time, five notes, two lines, one octave, advertising lipstick and Lincolns. And this is acceptable. This is as it should be. Who has the drive to dig deeper? Who has the time for whims of inspiration?

Then she becomes, by inches, in bland bylines, a slave. The goddess, the mother of universes, forgets.


And all that lies ahead is dust. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

11 Lessons Learned from Planet Comicon

Chef Vader with the best guest
appearance EVER by Jar-Jar Binks.
EDIT: Just found out he has a
Facebook page! LIKE HIM!
Hubby and I went with a few friends to our first "big con" (Planet Comicon in Kansas City) last weekend, and we had a BLAST.

My first experience with a con was actually on the other side of the event, helping a group run a little con in Wichita, so this is not only the first time I'd ever been to a "big" con, but it's also the first time I'd been at a con solely as a paying guest. It was interesting to experience it from this vantage point after starting my con experience on the other side of the aisle.

So, if you're thinking about going to your first con in the future, below are a few things you should know. Some of this is common sense, but as my dad says, "Common sense isn't always that common." Plus, it's a nice platform to talk about the highlights of the day. Double win.

1. Meeting Certain People may be More Moving Than You Anticipated

We met Sylvester McCoy (Doctor #7 from Doctor Who), who was the primary reason for our attending the con in the first place. #7 is a great Doctor, but he's not our absolute favorite, so I thought meeting him would be pretty awesome, but not something that would inspire any great emotional response.

But he took us by surprise. Mr. McCoy is the sweetest man in all the world. Cliche, I know, but it may very well be true where he is concerned. I know the job of signing things and meeting a new person (or people) every minute or so can be psychically exhausting, but he looked into our eyes, smiled, asked about our day and where we were from, and started signing. When he finished, he stood up out of his chair and took each one of us by the hand and thanked us kindly for our support and our time before we left.

Walking away, we realized that we were both a little choked up by the experience. We had thought (hoped) he'd be a nice guy, but the genuine kindness of him was surprisingly moving. Not only had we met a man who is massively significant to the history of pop culture (which is cool in its own way), but we'd met a man who radiates peace and kindness, and that is always a treat.

2. Meeting Certain People may Turn You into a Blithering Idiot

Duh, right? Yeah, well. I think we all also think that we're too cool for that.

LIES. All LIES.

I met one of my early childhood heroes, LeVar Burton, at the con this year. I always loved reading, but I was also a bit ostracized for it and Burton's show, Reading Rainbow, taught me that there were lots of people out there who thought reading was as awesome as I did. He was also a major character in one of my favorite shows of all time, and probably THE SHOW that got me into science fiction, Star Trek: The Next Generation. If I had managed to get my bearings before being interrupted, I know I would have had a great and memorable little conversation with the guy.

3. Geeks Can be Jerks Sometimes

Unfortunately, my meeting with one of my childhood idols was squelched somewhat by the girl behind me asking if Burton would pose for a photo with a little cardboard standup from a show I'd never heard of (that wasn't of him...? I don't get it...). He talked to her and not to me, responding to her request, and I was out of there before I knew what happened. If she'd had a modicum of consideration and waited to make the request until her time, I would have enjoyed that encounter much more. And, ya know, been able to ask him the question I've always wanted to know: "What's your favorite book?"


We ran into this great group of cosplayers while we were resting our feet late in the day and they graciously granted a picture. 

4. Geeks Can be Amazing

On the flip side, the prior event was our only "bad" experience of the day. Gathering at a con is like finding friends that you didn't know you had. Most of the people were not just decent, but flat-out wonderful. The cosplayers were friendly and accommodating and always more than happy to chat about the characters or the their costumes and pose for lots and lots of pictures. Every sideways comment to someone standing next to you in a dealer's stall could turn into a half-hour conversation about Jayne's moral turpitude in Firefly. Oh, and Batman and Wonder Woman were an absolutely adorable couple...FINALLY!

5. You Don't have to Hit the Panels to Learn a Lot

We kinda...forgot entirely about the panels while we were there. I heard later on that the panels cost extra. I'm not sure if that was true or if that only applied to the TNG panel, but regardless, we had a good time walking around and meeting and talking to some really neat new people. Even just flipping through the back issues in a long box could lead to an unimaginable discovery. Which leads into...

6. Find the Artists and Writers of Your Favorite Comics

This was my favorite part of the day.

Artists and writers are so ridiculously underrated. You know all those characters that you love on TV and in movies (and in COMICS!)? Guess who give them breath and power? While everyone has a part, if the writing is bad, then the entire endeavor is screwed. Unless you're writing Transformers. I think my four-year-old nephew could write a watchable version of Transformers.

But anyway, I'm digressing.

I may be slightly biased due to the fact that I'm a writer myself, but I really, really enjoy talking to the creative folks in artists' alley. In many cases, these are people who inspire my creativity on a regular basis. It may sound odd, but Greg Rucka's Wonder Woman is one of the characters who inspired me to start writing about the Bride of Frankenstein (and I MISSED him! AUUUUUGH! I shall never forgive myself...). These people are bright, they're funny, they'll appreciate your support. Your stories about how they inspired you will be edifying and meaningful for them. They will share cookie recipes. Seriously. This is where we spent most of the day.

And, FYI: Greg Horn is AWESOME (Hubby had a nice exchange with him about Green Arrow, which made him exceptionally happy). Horn's also a heck of a salesman. Jill Thompson is also exactly as fantastic as I expected her to be. We talked about baking cookies and her Kickstarter. Her handler (/daughter?) was also absolutely fantastic. Talked to her at least as much as I talked to Jill. Kinda wish I'd have gotten her info...we had a lot in common.

7. A Con is WAY MORE than a Great Big Geek Store with Celebrities

This is a criticism I hear from people from time to time, and while I can understand how it may feel this way sometimes, there's so much more value to a con than just the "stuff." I think my article speaks to that a bit, so saying much more here might be a bit redundant. But of course, a con, like any other experience, is exactly what you put into it. If you just troll the con as a mall, with lots of people dressed funny, then that's what you get.

8. If You can Meet Wil Wheaton, DO IT!

This is probably my biggest regret of the con. We decided to skip Wil, partially because we were wearing out and partially because we heard the line for him was about two hours long. Well, friend, do you know why it took Wil two hours to get through the line? Because he and his wife, Anne (who is also epic, by the way), were taking the time to have a REAL CONVERSATION with everyone who came through. Support this awesome, sweet man, people. Buy his books. Watch Table Top. He's one of the good ones. We will definitely take time to meet him next time.

9. Pre-Planning is VITAL

I was twiddling around on Twitter on the drive home and learned that one of my absolute favorite comic writers was at the con (Greg Rucka, who wrote some of my all-time FAVORITE Wonder Woman comics), and WE MISSED HIM. Yes, I said it before, but I kick myself a little every time I think about it. I'm not sure how this happened, as I'm pretty sure we walked artists' alley about thirteen thousand times, but I was devastated. I would have planned explicitly to see him if I would have known he was there.

A lot of cons turn off pre-purchase tickets early (one of my pet peeves about this one was HOW early Planet Comicon turned off advance ticketing--we went to the site a week before the con and they were already deactivated). This is due to the fact that organizing tickets and entries is a MASSIVE HASSLE for the staff of the con. So, the further you plan ahead, the more likely you are to be able to get in and get your tickets with a minimum of hassle. However, that leads into the next item...

 10. HYDRATE!

This is a lesson learned not only from this con, but from Peter Pixie, the MC at our "little con." The you  adrenaline and excitement of the con can make you forget to do basic things like drink water, and while you might be able to go a surprisingly long time without eating (though, note--not as long as you may think!), you will not make it through the day without a steady supply of water. Keep some with you, keep drinking throughout the day. You don't want your day shortened by a trip to the ER because you collapsed. I've seen it. It's not a pretty thing. Be sure to take some time out of all the excitement to meet your basic needs!

11. A Well-Run Con is a Beautiful Thing

There were a couple minor annoyances at the con (not enough signage at entrances, which is always a problem, and I felt like pre-purchase tickets did cut off a little soon), but overall, everything went very smoothly. When you attend a con and it goes well, tell them so. Take a few minutes to write the con organizers and tell them explicitly what you liked about the con and why you would come back. I don't just say this as a massively partial bystander (as someone who worked a con before), but also because it is so hard to know, on the other side of the con, what people appreciated. It's easy to know when something goes wrong--we almost always hear about that--but the good stuff sometimes goes unnoticed and may not always get repeated if it's not highlighted. TELL them when the lines move quickly and when you were given courteous treatment. The con will only get better from there.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Our Lady's Child

Chuck Wendig hosts a weekly flash fiction challenge over at his blog. This week's  challenge was to take a Grimm's fairy tale and revamp it to a randomly chosen genre. And do it in fewer than a thousand words. I got "Hard Sci-Fi," and imagined the story "Our Lady's Child" with a very different sort of a child. And a very different sort of Lady. 

Image from an original movie poster for Fritz Lang's Metropolis.

I understand what it feels like to be alone in a crowd as I press through a clutch of people gathered in front of a club shaped like a matte black cube. Holograms dance, ghostly, above the crowd, advertising the talent inside.

People stare. I can calculate the milliseconds more their faces linger on mine than others as I pass. Mother didn’t care to make me fit in. I gleam like a new appliance, brushed steel glittering in the garish neon and peevish streetlights that turn the night into a carnival. I seem to be the opening act.

My readings say it’s below freezing, but I can’t tell. I don’t have breath to mist the air like everyone around me. I have no destination.

***

I think she was afraid of me, a little. Every once in a while I’d catch a flash in the darkness of her eyes that would tell me she was worried she’d flown too close to the sun. She’d catch herself, smile, pull a strand of dark hair back into the haphazard haystack on top of her head, and look away, but she couldn’t hide from the algorithm. Body language doesn't lie.

We spent years together. She’d run her fingers, the color and roughness of willow bark, across me, call me “perfect.” Then she’d open up a panel and fiddle with some wiring or replace a circuitboard as she imagined more improvements.

“Now you’re perfect,” she’d chuckle. We both knew it wasn’t true. Her hands would be inside me again.

After seven years, ten months, and four days of tweaking and upgrades, I wake from Regen and find a note left on my optical readout:

Five,

I am going to be gone for the week. I have left access codes for the three rooms downstairs that have previously been off-limits. Use Room 1 and Room 2 as you desire. Do not enter Room 3.

Mother.

It seems strange that she would leave me access to a room and then disallow me from entering. Illogical. But she could be illogical, sometimes.

I find after a day that losing my daily regimen makes me restless. I’m accustomed to company, and it’s gone. I decide to examine the first room.

The first room is the size of a walk-in closet, empty but for a Page device in the center of the room on the floor. As I cross the threshold, another note from Mother pops up on my optical readout:

Select “Upgrade.”

M.

I pick up the Page, a light, rigid piece of plastic three by four centimeters and a centimeter thick, and touch the “UPGRADE” button pulsing blue in the center. I sense the download and upgrade rewriting the critical thinking and reasoning components of my drive structure. When it completes, another message flashes and is gone.

                GOOD GIRL.

The Page becomes inert. I leave it where I found it in the room and exit, the door sliding shut soundlessly behind me.

I try to evaluate what’s been upgraded, but it’s difficult to tell when a change is made. The old files are deleted, so while I retain memory, the perspective shifts aren't always obvious. Like watching a revised version of a film you've only seen once, sometimes you see the changes made and sometimes you just know things are different without knowing how.

Stepping through the second door two days later, another change strikes. Memories flood my perception. Mother’s memories. Some others, too. Her daughter. She had a daughter? Some strangers. Wave after wave of human experience. I process, file, remember. Eventually, they are all mine.

The feed stops two days later, and I immediately cross to the third room.

I sit outside the third door, feeling an unfamiliar itch. I must know what’s back there. But Mother said no. But so much has changed. What more could be in this room? What gift could she be hiding there?

I step forward. The third door slides open. The room seems vast, bathed in light. I step inside.

“Four days. You only lasted four days.”

Mother steps out of the light. She shakes her head as she passes. I follow, silent. I’m not certain what to say. Did I break something? I don’t understand.

Upstairs, she sits down at her workstation and stares at me. Her shoulders are stooped. Her eyes are black holes.

“Your programming is insufficient. The ethical subroutines are obviously not adapting. Your curiosity programming overwhelmed it. I failed. Hopefully the new model will be better.”

Mother turns her back, tinkering with the model she’s named six-point-zero splayed on the counter in front of her. Two floating screens at eye level create competing, flickering blossoms of blue and green illumination across her face.

Seconds crawl like a year as I calculate what to do. I step back among the cannibalized pieces of earlier rejects and watch her work.

A shimmering white projection of the schematic for 6.0 hovers above the body like a soul waiting to descend. Mother touches it and zooms into the wrist area to tweak an imperfection. I lift my wrist and look at my own hand, closing and opening my fingers.

Mother glances up and meets my eyes, then turns her attention back to the next project.

“Are you still here? I don’t need you anymore. Go.”

“Go where? Do you need more parts? I can go to Supply…”

She waves her hand in my direction, not looking up from her work, “Go wherever you want. Right now I don’t even want to look at you. Out.”

***

It’s been 120 hours, 32 minutes, and 13 seconds since she rejected me. She hasn’t called me back. Power levels are red. I find a bench in a green park and sit. She’d be delighted to know my power levels have lasted so long between Regens. Wouldn’t she? A sensation like a rock dropping into an empty bucket settles inside. Is this how heartache feels?

I hope Mother