Saturday, October 26, 2019

Snippet: Shapeshifter

Image by Karen Arnold from Pixabay

Just then the room got so warm that I thought the modeling materials might melt.
Nobody except me seemed surprised.
“Ah, is the air conditioning acting up again?” None of us thought the retrofitted air conditioning which the trustees had finally allowed us to install was worth much – except when it failed, when we became aware of how much worse matters could be. When I’d last been working in the office, the air conditioning had failed during August on a regular basis. If it was now so much worse that it couldn’t handle the benign warmth of May, we were going to be in for a very uncomfortable summer.
“Oh, that’s just Ben,” Ingrid said.
I remembered the fish episode. “Oh, God! You’re not letting him work on shapeshifting again, are you?” When Ben shifted into a smaller form, like a fish, the air heated up with the excess energy released; when he shifted back, he sucked energy out of the air and the office got icy cold. I felt that the temperature effect was quite as much as I wanted to experience, but Ben fretted about the fact that physics predicted much more extreme changes than we actually got.
“He’s being sensible about it now,” Colton promised me.
I seriously doubted that.
“He only changes to air-breathing species.”
That was a pretty low bar for “sensible.”
“Mammals,” Ingrid added.
“And there’s –”
A sound like a fire alarm echoed through the office. I jumped and eyed the sprinklers in the ceiling, but nothing happened. “What the hell was that?” The air around me chilled as I spoke, and I went from sweating to shivering in a heartbeat. For this first day back at the office I’d dressed up my jeans with a new cold-shoulder burgundy top; now I wrapped my arms around myself, wishing I’d settled for one of my comfy old vintage rock band T-shirts.
“I was about to tell you,” Colton said, “he sets an alarm to remind him to change back. A very loud one,” he added unnecessarily.
“That was my idea,” Ingrid said, “after he got out into the main office. As a monkey. A grey langur. I think that’s what he called it, afterwards.”
She waved one hand. “Don’t ask me how, I’m sure monkeys aren’t bright enough to visualize a Möbius strip. We think he might have followed Colton. Anyway, he was out here swinging from windows and chattering and throwing, um, feces, until Annelise coaxed him down with a bit of cruller, and he cuddled up to her and suddenly remembered that he was a human being. So now he has to set the alarm before he shifts.”
“And you trust Ben. In his office. With the door closed. To remember to set an alarm?” I cupped my palms over my bare shoulders, which were rapidly becoming a mass of goose pimples.
“He hasn’t forgotten himself since the monkey episode,” Colton said.
“And if you recall, there are certain problems associated with shapeshifting,” Ingrid added.
I deduced that his clothes still didn’t make the transformation with him. If he was stripping down before each experiment, I could see why my colleagues preferred him to work in the privacy of his own office. Still, it seemed to me that Annelise could have been asked to chaperone him. She certainly knew what he looked like without his pants on. Actually, so did the rest of us, since the fish episode, but she was his girl friend and could be said to have volunteered for the experience. Oh, well. Not my circus, not my monkey, right?
“Ben,” Colton called now, “cut it out with the shapeshifting. Thalia doesn’t like the temperature changes.”
A moment later Ben walked through the wall sideways and turned to face us as his imaginary Möbius strip twisted to deposit him on this side. I was glad to see that he was more or less fully dressed, if a bit disheveled. “Thalia, can’t you make some sacrifices for science? I’m noting the weight differential and plotting that against the temperature changes with each shift.”
“Mathematics,” I said, “is not an experimental science. And why can’t you just change to something approximately your size, so you don’t keep messing up the temperature for the whole office?”
Ben gave me a pitying look through his smudged glasses. “Thalia, are you forgetting that I weigh a hundred and sixty pounds?”
“Don’t think I ever knew that, but so what?”
“Do you really want me to turn into a jaguar?”
“Well, no, but…”
“What hundred-and-sixty-pound mammal do you suggest that I shift into?”

Monday, October 21, 2019

Famous last words

I try to respect the privacy of children and grandchildren by not publishing pictures of them online (too bad, folks, the poisonous nature of the Internet is depriving you from seeing some awesome cuteness -- what's that? You don't mind? You've seen enough pictures posted by doting grandparents to last you a lifetime? Oh, all right). Still, this isn't so much a picture of the Marauding Hun as an illustration of her impressive binkie collection.

"She's not using those things after her first birthday." So spake her mother, the Organizer, a couple of months before that event. The Hun is going on eighteen months now and, well, you can see how well that worked out.

Definitely my descendant. Chances are that in another 70 years she too will be grappling with the embarrassing problem of an extremely large bead stash and a roomful of fabric that she can't bear to part with and realistically isn't going to live long enough to use up. Or, who knows? Maybe she'll continue to specialize in pacifiers.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Snippet: The empty crib

The seventh and supposed-to-be-last book in the Applied Topology Series, A Child of Magic, should be released as soon as I can get results back from my cover artist and formatter. Maybe a couple of weeks? In the meantime, while I am engaged in such fascinating amusements as putting in the accent marks on all the French words my characters in Tangled Magic have been using - after which I have to do surgery on the sagging plot - I thought I'd start putting up little snippets from A Child of Magic.


I’d had nearly an hour to myself since walking in the front door, and it was beginning to feel subtly disturbing. I wanted my baby. I wanted to see the three-cornered, almost toothless smile that lit up his whole face whenever he saw me. I wanted to check the two bottom teeth that had recently appeared and give him a frozen bagel to gum while he fussed about the top teeth that would show up, so I was informed, any day now. I wanted to hear him squawk, “Baa-baah!” (Okay, so he hadn’t mastered “Mama” and “Dada” yet. So what? He made up for it in advanced motor skills.)
I hated to tie up the land line in case Lensky called, but I went back into the hall and dialed Mom’s number anyway.
“Mom! Where are you?”
“In the kitchen, silly girl. We’re having xtopodi in garlic sauce tonight.”
Ugh, octopus. Tentacles.
“With an apple-marshmallow Jello salad.”
Mom was definitely a Greek-American cook, even if my father preferred that she emphasize the Greek part.
“Do you and Brad want to come over?” Her voice switched into coaxing mode. “And bring Aleksi, of course. I haven’t seen the little devil since you brought him over Friday night. Did those top teeth come out this weekend?”
A wave of cold went through me, and for a moment I thought it really would stop my heart. “He’s… not… with you? Jenny left me a note. She said you’d taken him to your church thing today…”
“Angels Unawares?” Mom clicked her tongue. “I would never take him with me to that since he started crawling all over the place. I’m much too busy serving lunch to our homeless visitors to keep an eye on him, and anyway, some of those poor unfortunate souls might have infectious diseases. You must have misunderstood Jenny’s note.”
“Um. Yes. Probably.” When had my hands started shaking so hard? I tried to hang up, but kept missing the phone. On the third try I just dropped the receiver on the floor. I needed to get to Aleksi’s room. It had all been a mistake, of course it had been a mistake; he was just napping, and I would kill Jenny for leaving him alone like this, and…
The crib was not – quite – empty.
Sprawled face down in one corner was Blue Beary, the minute stuffed animal that was Aleksi’s current object of affection. Last week he had adjusted remarkably well to my disappearing into the bedroom with a notepad and an armful of books every morning, but that stuffed teddy bear was a different story. Any separation from Blue Beary during his conscious hours resulted in impressive screaming tantrums. Bathing him was only possible if Lensky knelt by the tub and waved Blue Beary at him while I soaped and scrubbed all his little baby creases.
There was no way anybody – Mom, Jenny, Lensky, anybody who cared about him at all – would have casually walked off with Aleksi, leaving his beloved toy in the crib.
And more: the car seat was in the corner where I’d left it in case Jenny needed it.
I should call somebody, I thought, but the thought was coming from a great distance. Lensky, Ben, Ingrid, anybody at the Center… No, I should just teleport to the Center… but how could I leave? What if it was a mistake, and Jenny would hurry in any minute with Aleksi and her apologies for the misleading note? And if I wasn’t here?
I hung onto the edge of the crib while the room spun around me. Oh, I should never have agreed to go back to work. If I knew anything, I knew that now – too late.


Images: Hopf Fibration by Niles Johnson [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], teddy bear by Pavel Ševela [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]

Friday, October 11, 2019

New art work

I'm baaaack!

First step in recovery from surgery and intermittent illness was to get back to writing - specifically, creating a synopsis for A Child of Magic so that Cedar Sanderson could get started on the cover art.

Next step was getting back into the workroom. My daughter the Organizer was a tremendous help with the initial job of reclaiming the space (any room in this house that goes unused gets turned into a junk room) but that left me with a lot of piddling little sorting-and-classifying jobs that are by no means finished.

Midway through this process, the discovery of some charms and pendants left over from my epoxy resin phase inspired me to pause the organizing job, clear a work space and turn them into wearable pieces. My apologies for the picture quality; I'm not an expert with the iPad.

The top piece is made up of charms that I first painted with alcohol inks, then sealed with resin while attaching tiny flat-bottomed crystals before the resin cured. The pendant on the bottom right is based on a piece of drusy something-or-other that I probably acquired at a rock show, with an unpainted charm that also got the resin/crystals treatment. The pendant on the bottom left consists of a flat, polished piece of rainbow hematite - I think - attached to a big flat filigree pendant and topped with a silver-colored tree charm lavishly decorated with crystals.

None of these pieces required much work beyond digging through my drawers for chains and jump rings, except that I did have to use the flex shaft to clean out the burs that clogged the bail of the leftmost pendant. But it was exhilarating to make something again.


And speaking of making things, don't forget that the first two books in the Dragon Speech series are available now. The Language of the Dragon is still only 99 cents and Dragon Scales is $3.99.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

They both do it

In fairness to both sides of the political divide, I have to admit that some prominent Democrats are as guilty of word salad as is President Trump. This is from a speech given by Kamala Harris in Iowa on September 30:
“We need to have a strategy that is a winning strategy, about saying that we have got to recognize the challenges before us as a nation and the world are big challenges about who we are, our definition, our standing, and our strength as a nation. And to meet those challenges it will not be about going back to the good old days, it will be about looking forward and taking on the challenges that meet us today and — the winning strategy is that the right thing to do is say that we will address the big challenges of our nation, the issues that wake people up in the middle of the night.”
“Challenges” used five times in two "sentences", one of whch isn't even a sentence. Good grief.
But at least nobody had to deliver instantaneous translation into another language.
Although simply translating this into English might be a good idea.

Back in the early Pleistocene, when some schools still made a casual pass at teaching something, I had an English class in which each of us was required to stand up in front of the class and talk for three minutes on a topic of the teacher's choosing. Using complete sentences. (I admit that I was frequently guilty of the evasion used by the kid who was an expert on worms. "My report is on birds. Birds eat worms. Now, worms...")

President Trump and a number of the Democratic candidates are old enough to have gone to school in those bygone days. "What do they teach them at these schools?"

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

The real crime in that transcript

Okay, sometimes I’m a bit of a political junkie – particularly at times like this, when the current book ground to a halt during my two weeks of sniffling and I haven’t mustered the energy to get started again. But in my defense, how many people are there in the Western world who aren’t curious about the actual contents of a phone call that’s being touted as sufficient cause to impeach the current President?
So I read the transcript, and I didn’t see the things that the impeachment crowd told me would be there. No quid pro quo. No repetitive demands for investigation of l’affaire Biden. And nothing about the upcoming election, just concern about dirty tricks in the 2016 election. What, Mueller could “investigate” the 2016 election to his heart’s content for two years, but it’s somehow illegitimate for the President to do so? Gimme a break.
On a careful re-reading, though, I did come across something that is… well, okay, not criminal, but certainly cruelty to a certain class of people – translators. I’ve never been a fan of President Trump’s word-salad style of speaking, and it was fully evident here.

“I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike ... I guess you have one of your wealthy people … The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation. I think you’re surrounding yourself with some of the same people. I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it. As you saw yesterday, that whole nonsense ended with a very poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance, but they say a lot of it started with Ukraine. Whatever you can do, it’s very important that you do it if that’s possible.”
Never mind whether you see impropriety in this jumble of words, I’m not arguing about that. Just consider this: unless Zelensky is fluent in English – or even if he is - somebody had to translate this into Ukrainian. Which means they had to decide, on the fly, what it meant.
Do you suppose the translator made a flying leap and converted this stream-of-consciousness word salad into complete sentences that actually made sense? Or did he throw up his hands and go for a word-for-word translation that would have been inferior to what you can get from Google Translate? I’d love to know. And if the conversion had been to any language that I can actually read, I’d be scouring the Internet to find out. Sadly, a passage in Ukranian would be worse than Greek to me – after all, I can actually sort of read Greek, given plenty of time and a good dictionary. So I guess I’ll never know.
Nor will we ever know how much vodka the poor translator needed to recover from this experience.
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