Snippet 2: I Don’t Know What to Call This

Early on in creating the world and culture of Planting Life in a Dying City, I wrote the life story of ‘a random person in the world’ to get a feel for the culture and society. This is the life story of Koltche.

Koltche was born in the communal area of the family compound and named for the hearth–the first thing eir birthing parent saw after the birth. Ey spent most of eir first 6 months with eir birthing parent*** but any of eir parents would care for eir or nurse eir at need.

At six months ey was given the run of the compound in the care of the grandparents and elders. Ey continued to nurse for 2 more years, but most of eir care was taken by Paumtche, one of the grandparents.

When Koltche learned to walk, ey began spending most of eir time with eir younger siblings. Ey learned to help tend the family garden and home, at first imitating eir siblings and grandparents in play and then helping in earnest and ey learned what to do and how.

At 5 years old, Koltche was allowed to leave the compound in the care of eir siblings. They explored the great city, especially the wharf area, hunted for fish and seaweed in the shallows, and sailed the small boats out to the reefs to hunt grouper and sea urchin and skates.

Koltche quickly learned to swim and dive, but never gained skill with the small boats. Ey’s skill with a spear caught the attention of one of the grandparents, who began taking eir into the jungle surrounding the city and teaching eir to hunt on land. The jungle was strange and disturbing, but ey learned quickly and the endurance swimming taught translated well to grandparent’s endless jog through the jungle.

Though it wasn’t talked about, everyone understood that Koltche would not be staying with the family.

When ey came of age, the family entered negotiations with another family that survived through foraging the jungle. The new family was poorer and less respected than Koltche’s family of traders, but a marriage would give Koltche’s family access to trade goods they normally had to buy through city merchants.

Koltche met eir prospective spouses and they spent time together for several moons. Koltche found that sex wasn’t something ey enjoyed, butthe marriage group was well established and already had several children so eir participation wasn’t needed for the family to continue.

The change was gradual, with Koltche spending more and more time with the marriage group until ey stopped going ‘home’ in the evening.

With eir new spouses, ey spent most of eir time in the jungle, hunting and learning what plants to gather. While ey never went on the great trading ships, conversations around eir birth hearth had taught eir much about what was and wasn’t valuable. Ey used this knowledge to help eir new family decide what to focus their gathering on and who to bargain with.

Ey never lost eir love of the sea, going at least once a moon to the harbor to dive and gather the oceans bounty. These trips were welcomed by eir marriage family, who rarely had fish to eat and enjoyed the treat when eir fishing went well.

As in eir youth, Koltche remained a loner, most comfortable on eir own. It wasn’t until Aiutche came of age and joined the marriage group that ey found anyone to connect with. Aitche was notoriously clumsy but one of the best trackers in the family. Ey and Koltche often hunted together, Aitche tracking the game they sought and Koltche bringing it down.

Koltche had been with the family 5 years when one of the children caught eir eye. Chotaikystche was often following Koltche to the docks and ran with the children of the fishing families as often as with their siblings. Koltche didn’t act immediately, but discussed it with eir spouses, in the normal way they discussed all the family’s children. No official decision was made but the general feeling was to wait and see.

Chotaikystche continued to haunt the docks and Koltche traded favors with a friendly fishing family to allow the child to go on their child-boats. Chotaikystche takes to the boats easily and gets along well with the fishing children. Koltche makes hirself available to answer questions Chotaikystche has about live among a sea family.

Others among the older children are also being guided towards their future path. Chopaumtche begins tagging alone with Koltche and Aiutche learning from them both tracking and hunting.

For Koltche, early mornings hunts are increasingly challenging. Dimming eyes are less a problem for eir than for Aiutche, but sore bones and old injuries make the early cool painful. As Chopaumtche gains in skill, they start staying back at the soawpawt some days. One day Koltche stays behind, a few days later Aiutche stays behind. As Chopaumtche learns from them, they learn from their parents, the grandparents.

Used to long hours on the trail, Aiutche easily fell into caring for the tchaftche, the toddlers. Koltche, to eir surprise, found hirself helping eir siblings with the few babies. The patience gained waiting to the right moment to strike and the skill reading non-verbal cues served eir well in handling colic and knowing what caused a baby upset.

Koltche had little interactions with the elders, but the last of them died in those years when ey and Aiutche were learning to be grandparents. Ey saw the change this brought to the grandparents, some of whom seems bereft and like they had lost their way without the advise and guidance of their parents. At this time, Koltche and eir siblings began taking medicine to stop fertility. The family had enough children and it was important the break between generations be unambiguous. When there were no more babies to tend, Koltche pitched in with random work about the home. There would be more babies soon enough.

The oldest of the grandparents began retiring to elder status. Chopaumtche took more and more the trail work and Koltche and Aiutche stayed more and more at home. Until the day came when Chopaumtche read a trail that Aiutche could not.

The hunt was Chopaumtche’s from then on. Koltche admitted privately to zeself that ey had stayed on the trail the last year from stubbornness. Chopaumtche’s acceptance and respect for eir need to remain, instead of pushing to take eir place, earned Chopaumtche eir respect and support in taking leadership among the emerging generation of parents.

The first marriage was an exchange. Chotaikystche married out to the fishing family, and one of theirs married into the new generation of parents. With this marriage, Koltche and eir siblings officially became grandparents. The first babies came with in a year.

Koltche rarely got involved in the wider matters of the family. Ey did not participate in negotiations for marriages or trade arrangements with other families. Nor did ey have any interest in sitting in the council house.

Instead, ey became a mentor to the young parents. As the one member of the grandparents with the most experience with babies (even though ey could never have had a baby of eir own), Koltche was the one they would come to with fears and concerns both during and just after birth.

Ey finally became close to another one of eir spouses, a grandparent who had birthed four children for the family, all of whom survived to marriage age. Suotaikystche took primary responsibility for tending the pregnant parents and assisting with births, which through ey and Koltche into close association on a regular basis.

The years passed quickly, with most of the youngest parents being married-out so they could be in a like-age group with their spouses.

Aiutche was the first to take one of the parent’s under eir guidance. Chasing tchaftche was for the young, when all was said and done, and Aiutche’s knees were hurting and energy dwindling.

Suotsaikystche too soon took a student, a young parent who was too fertile for eir own good and wore eir body out with pregnancies before it’s time. Ey would have no more children, the parents’ agreed. But eir experience made eir a wonderful apprentice for Suotsai.

Koltche never officially took a student, but ey was quick to recruit a few of the parents to take over walking the colicly babies for eir, as eir knees became less and less able to keep up. With in a few years, ey was sure that there were three parents who would gladly step into eir role when the time came. And with how fertile the parents had been this generation, they might need that many.

Koltche did not live to retire to elder, but passed quietly in front of the fire, a baby sleeping in eir lap.

Ey’s body was taken to the jungle and left for two weeks. Then eir skull was retreived, cleaned, and given a place of honor in the family home, next to eir few spouses who had gone before eir.

I made several changing to the language — especially how names were grammatically structured — after writing this. But with some variation, this is how most of the characters of Planting Life expected their lives to go.

If you missed it, Seasons 1 & 2 of Planting Life in a Dying City are available on my website, Season 3 should be posting here next winter.

Snippet 1: Me and My Webserial from June 2022

I don’t remember why I started doing these, but they were fun and silly and I posted them on Fedi on and off through out June, then got distracted by the Smashwords sale. I’ll probably post some more next time I’m in a mental place to be a bit silly.

June 2nd

Me: I has successfully adulted.

Me: New rabbi is hired (yay!), kids passed homeschool eval, food shopping is done.

Me: I can be done for day yes?

Webserial schedule: Ahem.

Me: I can be done for next hour yes?

Webserial schedule: Fine, but I’ll grump at you the whole time.

Me: YAY!

——

Webserial schedule: It’s been an hour, time to get to work!

Me: but… but.. but.. dinner time!

Webserial schedule: grrr

——-

Me: Okay, dinner is done, it’s time to–

Webserial schedule: Edit!

Me: No, it’s time to play with the Kid

Webserial schedule: *wails*

——-

Webserial schedule: Finally! Are you reading to start edi–

Me: Writing time!

Webserial schedule: What? No! You need to edit!

Me: But I’m 200 words short of minimum post length.

Webserial scedule: The post needs be done before you go to bed! you don’t have time to write! it takes you at least an hour to edit and schedule and your brain will turn to mush by 10!

Me: 10:30. Writing time!

——-

Webserial schedule: You still haven’t started writing.

Me: Yeah, well the kid’s bed broke again…

Webserial schedule: *glares*

Me: I’m writing, I’m writing!

——-

Me: See? Done. I told you I could do it.

Webserial schedule: Awesome! You do work well under pressure.

Me: Yup. Still, I’m glad i have Monday’s post already scheduled and…

Webserial schedule: *looks*

Me: What?

Webserial schedule: *looks*

Me: I do have it scheduled! It’s the finale for The Bargain, and I know its…

Webserial schedule: *looks*

Me: … The Bargain finale was last Monday’s post wasn’t it?

Webserial schedule: Yup.

June 3rd

Webserial schedule: You need to write an episode of HNSW today.

Me: Fuck, I only got 5 horus sleep last night.

Webserial: Yeah? And whose fault is that?

Me: I can write it Sunday and edit it Monday.

Webserial schedule: Saturday night is the Shavuot movie marathon. You’ll be lucky to sleep at all.

Me: Fuck…

——–

Webserial schedule: Nooo! You can’t stop!

Me: Look, it’s half written, but I can’t write another six hundred words of people sitting around talking. I need to figure out what next.

Webserial schedule: So write something else!

Me: I need lunch. And laundry needs to be done. Also nap.

Webserial schedule: *sighs* You won’t forget?

Me: Yeah, I promise.

Me: And, hey, we have the whole season for HNSW mapped out. That’s good, right?

Webserial schedule: Yes! I can’t wait!

June 6th

Webserial schedule: *snore*

Me: Aren’t you supposed to be yelling at me right now?

Webserial schedule: Huh? What?

Me: I still haven’t finished tomorrow post. I should work on that right?

Webserial schedule: What! Tomorrow? What!

Me: Yeah. I’m having trouble focusing, but I don’t want to miss another post, you know?

Webserial schedule: START WRITING!!!!

Me: No need to be rude about it.

June 7th

Me: Focus? What is focus?

Webserial schedule: Let’s put your music on, there’s a good human.

Me: Music is good…

Webserial schedule: *waits patiently*

Me: *singing along with Damh the Bard*

Webserial schedule: So… you had something to write? Hadn’t Benj asked Nastasia a question?

Me: Oh! Yes! They need to talk. Karen is done being patient too. And… and stuff. Right. Stuff.

Webserial schedule: Well, it’s an improvement…

June 12th

Me: Yes! Writing has been done.

Webserial schedule: Don’t stop! You’re on a roll! What happens next.

Me: I have to stop. I’m late to walk the dog.

Webserial schedule: But the story!!!!

June 13th

Webserial schedule: I know you’re having a rough day, but do you think we can get some work done? Deadline tomorrow.

Me: I can’t. I just… I can’t do an hour and a half of work today. I’m already into knives. I just…

Webserial schedule: Shh. It’s okay. Hey, so maybe you work on it early tomorrow and it goes out a bit late? That’s not to bad, is it?

Me: But I said I would do this. And I’m letting people down. And I’m failing. I’m failing at everything.

——-

Webserial schedule: Hey! It’s okay. Look, you kept me going for a year and a half. That’s big! And you published a book. You’re doing good.

Me: But I’m supposed to publish consistently. That’s the rule. Readers don’t like it if you aren’t consistent.

Webserial schedule: Fuck the rules. Fuck all the assholes who tried to tell you how to do things ‘right.’ You’re doing good. We’re doing good. Okay?

Me: Okay… Maybe I could write a bit today?

Webserial Schedule: Just don’t push yourself.

June 15th

Webserial schedule: We gonna get anything done today?

Me: I don’t know. It just…

Webserial schedule: It’s a blah day.

Me: Yeah. Trying to write Karen on a blah day…

Webserial schedule: Karen doesn’t do blah.

Me: I know!

Me: Maybe Marcus? He’s sick. I’m sure he’s real blah right now?

Webserial schedule: We can try. Can’t hurt anyway.

Me: Okay.

Me: Blah day’s suck.

Webserial schedule: Yup.

——-

Webserial schedule: Marcus?

Me: Yeah. *sigh*

Webserial schedule: You really should…

Me: Kids are going out to play after lunch. Maybe then?

Webserial schedule: Maybe. *sigh*

June 24th

Webserial schedule: We survived another week.

Me: Yup. Still no buffer.

Webserial Schedule: Two PTSD flare ups in one week, what did you expect.

Me: To miss today’s episode.

Webserial Schedule: Win.

——-

Webserial Schedule: How long do you think you’ll keep doing this?

Me: Which this? The webserial or these posts?

Webserial Schedule: Oh, I know how long you’ll keep doing the serial — until you come up with a better idea or break.

Me: Hah! Which do you think will come first?

Webserial Schedule: Not sure. But I don’t see you breaking anytime soon.

Me: me either.

Me: So I guess you were asking about these posts?

Webserial Schedule: Yeah.

Me: I’ll keep going as long as they amuse me.

June 26th

Webserial Schedule: Hey Jess?

Me: Yeah, I know…

Webserial Schedule: Can I help?

Me: I don’t think so. Brain stuff making it hard to focus.

Webserial Schedue: Okay. I’ll poke you in an hour. Sound good.

Me: Works.

——-

Me: I figured it out! I figured it out!

Webserial Schedule: You did? Awesome! Get writing.

Me: On it.

Vehan: Dominic

I wrote this story around a decade ago, but never knew what to do with it. I kept it with all my other Mason Jar bits and pieces, always hoping to find a place for it or the inspiration to write a sequel or something.

Then I started working on Vehan and suddenly, I had the perfect place for this old friend.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

(This is the last Vehan story I have planned for the moment. There will be more in the future, but not sure when.)

Content notes: fictional slavery, scars, trauma response, violence, blood, abusive society, longer than my usual post

Something attracted me to him the moment I saw him. I’ve always been a sucker for lots of skin and muscle, but normally I go for long dark hair, not short-cut blondes. Not that it mattered, either way. I was looking for a house haoza, not a bed warmer. I like my men to be able to say no.

Perhaps it was his face that drew me. It is so rare to see a haoza’s face. Especially in the market, most keep their heads down, trying to appear docile.

This one, though . . . Like all of them, he knelt on the market’s display platform, raised a few feet off the street so that a potential buyer could examine the merchandise. The one who caught my eye made a point of meeting the eyes of each person who examined him.

I walked right up to him, ignoring the long line of haoza and the short line of purchasers. The dust caught within my sandals was more of an annoyance — and worth more of my attention — than the rabble there.

I wasn’t surprised that he watched me as I approached. What did surprise me was his expression. Not defiance, but curiosity, assessment. I might have spent some time exchanging stares with him, but a few steps away from the platform I saw his scars. They ran from his chest to his shoulders and probably continued down his back. No field lash caused those scars.

I was so intent on the scars that I barely heard his quiet greeting, “Sen, how may I serve?”

I reached out a hand but stopped myself before I touched the scars. On a sailor, I wouldn’t have thought twice about those scars, but this man was no sailor. “Who took a knotted whip to you, haoza?”

The muscles in his shoulders tensed, and his face, when I looked, was tight and pale. “My . . . My former sen.”

“Was he a ship’s captain?” That might explain the use of the whip: they were the usual punishment on a ship.

“No, Sen.”

I debated asking further but settled for lifting an eyebrow. The smart ones recognize the implicit question, the obedient ones answer. Others aren’t worth my time.

This one hesitated, then said, “I . . . I believe she liked my pain, Sen.”

I knew the type. A lash was painful but not disabling with proper use. A many-tailed knotted whip was excruciating and could cripple or kill, which was why most didn’t use it on a haoza. It was said the gods protected their property, and even in Geifo, killing haoza was still illegal. Though the gods hadn’t done a good job protecting this man.

And with his boldness, he was likely to attract another like that. Someone who would enjoy breaking him.

To this day, I don’t know why I did it. I have my own standards, but I’m not usually one to weep over the brutality of the world. People, be they sen or wahin or haoza, either adapt and survive or whither and die. The wise don’t waste time trying to save every stray that crosses their path.

His eyes, I saw, were golden, with flecks of brown, neither defiant nor subservient. Simply . . . accepting.

I paid half again what I had planned for him without even asking about his skills or training.

It was the best purchase I ever made.

On the way home, I stopped to make several more purchases. The bazaar was crowded, as always. Tables, tents, booths, and barrows filled the square. It was packed to bursting with vendors hawking their goods, haoza on errands, mothers with children, carters looking to sell their services… All, it seemed, yelling at the top of their lungs. Halfway through, we passed a blessed pocket of quiet where half a dozen children and a random assortment of their elders sat listening to the market storyteller. No one interfered with one of Granny Ipnol’s stories.

Most of what I bought was foodstuffs for the next few days, things that would keep well in the summer heat. My new haoza was well burdened before I was done, but he did an impressive job carrying the bags and baskets. Ironically, it was the sturdy fabric I picked up to clothe him in that was more than he could juggle. The bolt slid right off his shoulder. He tried to grab it, but it hit the ground, and a dozen people had trampled the cloth before I could retrieve it. When I straightened, I saw a mix of shock and fear on his face. I didn’t bother to try and say anything in that madhouse, just slung the bolt over my shoulder and headed home.

My home is not exactly what I would call ‘modest’, though, for the most part, a single haoza is enough to care for it. And I enjoy a bit of cleaning now and again. Beating rugs can be very soothing. I was poor as sen go, but thrift gets one through times of no money better than money will get one through times of no thrift.

The wall enclosing the house was eight feet tall, of good granite. My mother had replaced the functional gate of my grandfather’s day with a decorative metal archway. The grounds are my pride, with a half dozen gardens blending one into another. In the summer drought season, I sometimes hire a haoza or child to come around once a day and water them. Otherwise, the only hand that touches them is mine.

Once inside, I directed him to the kitchen to put away the food. “When you are done, report to me in my study. It is down the hall from here, the third door on the right.”

“Yes, Sen,” I heard him murmur. There was a strange catch in his voice, but he was moving before I could get a good look at his face.

The haoza, who had not thought of himself as Dominic Bransur in over a decade, followed his new sen’s directions to the kitchen. Dominic Bransur would have died before letting himself be captured and sold as a slave – haoza as they called it on this cursed world. That proud man would not have been able to imagine the horrors the haoza had survived. Some days, the haoza still felt Dominic’s shame and humiliation at the things done to him, the things that he had done. Mostly, he tried to forget Dominic. He tried to survive each day without becoming one more broken wretch like so many haoza at the market.

The haoza was a survivor: it was the only thing left for him to be. Whatever happened, no matter how painful or shaming, he survived.

Whatever this new sen did, he would survive it.

These thoughts carried him through the house and into the kitchen without seeing where he was. The kitchen stopped him cold. It was large enough for a half dozen cooks to work together and had a real oven. The pale brick walls were lined with cabinets. . . And it was empty. No cook, no pot boy, no one to take the packages or tell him where the food should go.

It was a cruel trick. There was no way to tell where everything went, so no matter what he did, he would anger the cook. Even D . . . even before his capture, he had known better than to interfere with the cook’s domain. But if he did not put the food away, he would be punished for disobedience. And that on top of the punishment he would receive for letting the fabric fall in the market. Worse, the sen had picked up the fabric before he had been able to reach it and carried it home herself. . .

He pulled his thoughts back to the present. Fretting over how she would punish him was a waste of time, and got no work done. He set the various packages down and began to open the cabinets.

Sometime later, he returned through the halls of his sen’s home, following the directions to her study. The food had been put away as best he was able. As he walked, he focused within himself, leaving behind all thoughts of that marvelous kitchen. He did his best to sink into the core of himself, to be better able to endure whatever came next.

The door to the sen’s study was open. He hesitated a moment, then walked in, knelt, and prostrated himself on the floor.

In his brief view of the room, the haoza had seen his new sen standing behind a desk. Two windows at her back were open to the light breeze and sun. The floor beneath his face was patterned stone. Lovely to look at, but already digging into his knees . . .

“Oh, for goodness sake, get up!”

He froze, shocked as he hadn’t been in years, then sat back on his heels. It was difficult not to wince as the weight of his body drove his knees and feet into the edges of the stones.

“Stand up! You’re no good to me crippled.”

The exasperation in her voice sounded more like his old nanny than any Sen or Master he’d ever belonged to. He was still wrapping his head around the strangeness of it when he realized he was already on his feet. Belatedly he murmured, “Yes, Sen.”

He focused on the wall behind her, waiting for what would come next. He felt a spark of hope, quickly squashed. Surely if she didn’t want him crippled, his punishment wouldn’t be too severe.

She made a sudden sound, too annoyed to be called a sigh, too drawn out to be called anything else. “Look at me.”

He made himself meet her eyes. It had been easier to do in the market when his fate wasn’t yet in her hands. When he hadn’t failed at the first task she set him. Her eyes were a cool blue, set in a wide face that looked like it smiled often. Not all smiles were good ones. She had brown hair pulled back into a braid that fell across her left shoulder.

She was speaking, he realized, but so softly he had to strain to hear her. “-afraid. Not what I expected from- BLACKSTONE!” The sudden curse made him jump, and he focused on slowing his breathing, listening to his sen, now speaking loud enough he heard her clearly.

“I am a fool. You’re worried about that mess in the market.”

He stared at her, with no idea how to respond, what he was supposed to do or say. . . What did she expect him to be thinking about?

She walked around her desk and came to stand in front of him. “I’ve never whipped a horse for tiring, never beat a dog for losing a scent, and I never have, never will, punish haoza or wahin because I set them a burden they couldn’t carry.”

The haoza felt his knees go weak in relief, and the room spun around him. The ‘priests’ had mouthed things like that, as pious sentiments. But the haoza had long ago realized that the sen of this city believed no such thing. Could this one be different? Did he dare hope?

“When the cloth slipped, you tried to grab it, but your hands were already full. Mine were empty, and I am neither so old nor feeble that I can’t carry a few bolts of cloth for a short distance.”

She smiled, a strangely mischievous expression, “You don’t know how to react to me, do you? Not many do. I’m an eccentric.”

Nothing he had suffered in the last dozen years had prepared him for this. He felt his mouth hanging open slightly and closed it, fearful of giving offense to this strangest of Sens.

Her smile cleared, and her face became solemn. “If nothing else, I give you my word, never will you suffer anything like this-” she gestured to his scars, “in my home or at my hands. Neither whip nor lash will ever mark your skin while you are in my service. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Sen.” He pulled his thoughts back under control. He was being foolish. He understood that very well: he understood that a sen’s word meant nothing when given to a haoza, but no haoza with any self-preservation would ever say such a thing. For now, what mattered was that she was not angry with him, that there would be no punishment tonight. “Thank you, Sen. You are kinder than this haoza deserves.”

The sen waved a hand, dismissing his gratitude. “Now, there are several things I need to cover, and there will be a great deal for you to familiarize yourself with. My last haoza, Aram, was growing too old to keep up with the care of this place, and you will be taking over his duties.”

“Yes, Sen.”

“At my request, Aram has retired. You are permitted to visit him if you choose, for two hours every other day to learn from him how he managed my home.” She paused and raised one delicate eyebrow.

Retired? Who ever heard of a haoza who was allowed to retire? But he knew better than to ask the sen. Perhaps this Aram would answer his questions. “Thank you, Sen. With your permission, I would visit him tomorrow after I have learned more about your home and met the others who serve you.”

“Sorry to disappoint you, but I have no other staff. It was only Aram, and it is now only you.”

He felt the blood try to drain from his face and forced his breathing to slow. No others meant the burden of her temper would fall only on him.

“I should have taken the time to learn your skills before finalizing the sale. As it is, any lack in your abilities will need to be rectified. In the meantime, we shall muddle through.”

“I do hold small entertainments on occasion and I have built a reputation on being able to manage with a single haoza what many cannot pull off with a dozen.”

“I understand, Sen,” the haoza replied, “I have served at entertainments similar to what you describe.” And tried very hard to forget what had been required of him at those ‘entertainments’. “I believe I can meet most of your needs, save that I can only cook plain fare, and I do not know how to clean fine fabrics.”

He relaxed slightly as the sen nodded. “Do not go into the gardens without my express permission. If you need something from the kitchen or herb gardens, inform me, and I will see to it.”

She turned away from him to continue the paperwork she had been working on when he entered. He watched her work, not knowing if he should consider himself dismissed or not. Eccentric, she called herself. Well, it was politer than bat-shit crazy. The light from the windows created a halo on her hair.

After a minute, she glanced up, one side of her mouth quirked up in an ironic smile. “In case you didn’t notice, I don’t hold with much formality. You don’t need to stand around waiting for me to dismiss you.”

Well, that answered that question. He bowed, “Yes, Sen,” and turned to leave the room.

“One moment.”

He froze and turned back to face her again. “Yes, Sen?”

“I am Apchinga. You may call me ‘Sen,’ or ‘Sen Apchinga’ Understood?”

“Yes, Sen Apchinga.”

“Good. What was your name?”

He froze. Why did she keep asking these questions, saying these things no one else did? “My . . . my prior sen called my Jesalin.”

Sen Apchinga startled and looked him up and down, “You prior sen was either blind or a sadistic bitch. Combining the scars with that name, I’d say sadistic bitch.” That raised eyebrow invited him to comment.

“She was . . . frequently harsh, Sen Apchinga.”

Sen Apchinga’s other eyebrow rose to join the first. “Harsh.” She shook her head. “She should never have been allowed haoza, and I will speak with the priests on the matter.

“Regardless, I did not ask what your last sen called you, I asked your name.”

The haoza felt a rage and despair he had not known in years. His hands clenched, his eyes burned, “I am a haoza, I have no name… Sen,” he had to force the title out, though it burned his tongue to say it. He went too far. Even this madwoman would punish him severely for his insolence.

The sen blinked at him, nonplussed. Then she shook herself. “Oda,” she ordered, come here, pointing to a spot next to her desk. She wasn’t angry. Even through his own rage that scared him. The calm ones were the most dangerous.

He glanced to the door. “Now, haoza.”

Each step seemed an eternity, one following the next as his vision narrowed until all he could see was the next step, the next step.

A stool sat on the indicated spot. One he was sure had not been there earlier. “Sit.” He sat, facing her, his head level with hers. She watched him, that damn eyebrow demanding.

He said nothing. She would punish him, he knew she would, and he would survive it. She would . . . She would . . .

But she just sat there, watching, waiting, while the rage and fear and confusion built until he could scarcely breathe. “HE’S DEAD!” Without realizing it, he exploded to his feet, the stool clattering behind him. “Dominic Bradsur is dead! He died 12 years ago when he was pushed down the stairs and landed in this God-forsaken world!”

He was shocked to find himself inches from the sen, screaming in her face. His hands . . . Gods help him his hands were clenched around her arms, his fingers clamped so tight that his broken nails had drawn her blood.

He had killed himself.

He backed away, no thought but horror and the need to run. Run before she summoned the guard, before . . . he tripped over the chair, fell back. He tried to stand, couldn’t, couldn’t make his body work.

She rose and came to stand over him, her blood dripping down her arms and forming a small puddle before his eyes. She knelt down next to him. She spoke, but her words made no sense, “Every day we die, Dominic, and every day we are reborn. You survived. There is no shame in that.” He couldn’t imagine what she saw, staring so deeply into his eyes, couldn’t make his mouth work, to beg, to plead. After a moment, she stood, “I’ll be back in a few minutes. Don’t do anything stupid while I’m gone.”

She stood and left, closing the door behind her. He heard the scrape of a key in a lock and knew there was no escape.

He curled up on the merciless floor and allowed himself to weep until darkness swept him away.

————————————————–

Dominic slept through the rest of the day and the entire night. I don’t know if he was that tired or if his spirit was trying to protect him in the only way it could. From his name and words, he was one of those strange travelers who arrived on Vehan from far places ruled by far-off gods. Such folks were known from time to time – my mother’s best friend had been one such who had been named sen at her testing. She said the oddest things at times.

But from Dominic’s words, something had gone badly wrong sometime after his testing. Where had been the priests who should have protected him? What was wrong with the sen who had owned him? Worse even than my grandfather, who had finally been demoted to wahin for his cruelty. The way many of my fellow sen treated their haoza had long bothered me, but this spoke of a massive failure in the temple even.

I would have answers, and sooner rather than later. Though not that night.

The morning sun shines right through the office windows, so it isn’t surprising that he woke early. Actually, on that floor, the surprise was that he slept through the night.

I’ve often wondered what he thought that morning. Waking on that torturous floor to a mug of beer, a pillow under his head, and an open door.

Of course, he wouldn’t have known that every outside door was secured. Whatever other sen might have done, he was my responsibility now.

The next I saw him, I was kneading dough for the day’s bread. Flatbread again since I hadn’t had the energy to make it the night before and let it rise.

He was limping as he came in – I hadn’t been joking about that floor crippling him. My bastard of a grandfather designed it that way. It took time to gather the supplies, but in the following months, the two of us tore up that floor and replaced it.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised when he came to me and prostrated himself again. It irritated me. I hate staring at the backs of people’s heads. Not that he had learned that yet.

He said nothing, but I could feel the words – questions, demands, confusion, running rampant in him. I had nothing to say, but he obviously wouldn’t say anything until I did.

“Speak, then.”

His voice was rough and deeper than the day before, “Why, Sen?”

I sighed; I couldn’t help it. I delayed answering by pushing a strand of hair out of my face, smearing flour all over my forehead.

“That’s several questions, isn’t it Dominic?” It was the first time I’d said the strange name aloud. Its edges were sharp on my tongue.

Even with his face to the floor, I saw him flinch at his name. I would need to find him another.

“Yes, Sen.”

The dough fought back against my kneading, demanding my attention. I couldn’t watch it and him at the same time.

“I ask every haoza who enters my service their name. It is an easy way to earn some bit of true loyalty, which is much more useful than simple obedience. Your reaction was . . . unique.”

The dough was ready to bake. I set it aside to take to the neighborhood cookshop. Unlike most, this house had its own oven, but I saw no point in heating it up for just two rounds. The steps to bread are straightforward, the same each day. I covered the dough with a cloth and turned to look at Dominic.

“I took something from you yesterday. Backed you into a corner and took the only thing you had left that belonged to you alone.”

I looked down at him, exasperated and uncertain. “As for why I did not summon the guard, a dog whipped too hard will snap, a horse spurred too hard will buck, and a man pushed too hard will lash out. I don’t blame the dog, or the horse, or the man. I blame the person holding the whip.” Not knowing what else to say, I shrugged and brushed my hands off, scattering flour across the floor. “I could have summoned the guard. I saw no point. You had no intention to harm me, and I doubt you will forget yourself that way again. If only because you have no way to be certain that I will forgive a second attack.”

Tired of looking at the back of his head, I slipped my toes under his chin. Obediently, he lifted his face until he was looking up and meeting my eyes. I saw in his eyes a confusion of anger, fear, and uncertainty, “Do you have anything further to say?”

He spoke, in a quick and servile manner, at utter odds with his expression. “Yes, Sen. Thank you, Sen, for giving me another chance, I never intended you harm, and I know I do not deserve your forgiveness.”

I sighed and turned to the barrel of wash water. “A pretty speech, all the proper words. I think your eyes speak more truth than your mouth at the moment. Let us assume then that all the forms have been observed, pious gratitude, dire threats, so on and so forth, and move on with the day.”

I felt his eyes on my back as I washed my hands. He disappointed me. I had expected more from him, from the haoza who boldly met my gaze in the market yesterday. Who judged me even as I judged him. Foolishness. I knew better. Other cities might be different, but here haoza were the property of the gods in name only and learned to keep their heads down.

“What do you wish of me, Sen?” the low, raw voice surprised me as I dried my hands, continuing before I could respond, “My life depends upon your whim. I am grateful and amazed that you did not call the guard and have me executed last night. But I also know you can still call them today, or the next day, or the next. My life is yours now. And I wish I could hate you for it.” I had to strain to hear his final sentence, a bitter, anguished whisper.

“Stand up.” I kept my back to him while I dried my hands. Behind me, I heard soft scuffing on the floor and nearly stifled groans as he obeyed. “What I wish of you is the truth, no more and no less.” Bracing myself, I turned, facing him, looking into his eyes. He did not flinch or look away. “I am not so foolish as to think you have any reason to trust me, but I hope in time I can give you one.” I was surprised to find I was smiling. “And I am glad you can’t quite manage to hate me.”

He . . . Dominic . . . Drat it the man needed a name . . . Stared at me, clearly not believing, but I could live with that.

“Why don’t you set the table for breakfast? Plates are in the cabinet by the door.”

It only took a few minutes to get a summer breakfast together. The last of yesterday’s bread, a handful of fruit, and a hunk of cheese doesn’t take much preparation. He was quick enough to set the table but had set it for one person. I wanted to tease him but didn’t think either of us could handle it. “Get yourself a plate and come sit.”

The poor man stared at me with his mouth agape.

“Well, go on. The food doesn’t bite, and neither do I.”

Return to:
Vehan
Henim’s Choice

How NOT to Save the World (S2, Season Finale)

Season Content notes: fictional bigotry,

Joan waited in the darkness of the tunnel, and prayed as she hadn’t prayed in years. She’d stopped believing in God years ago and without God, she hadn’t seen the point in keeping the traditions and rituals. It hadn’t been until years later that she realized in walking away from those traditions, she’d also lost her people.

She’d never admitted how much that loss had hurt, not until she huddled in an improvised and reinforced escape tunnel listening to the dust and debris settling.

“Hear, O Israel –” she couldn’t hear anything except the ringing of her ears. Not even the words coming from her mouth. But she’d stopped /hearing/ the Shema and all it meant years before. It wasn’t just about God. It was about family. People. Belonging. The lord is one — /and so are we/.

And she had cut herself off from that.

Amal grabbed her hand, pulling her. Without thinking, she nodded (of course, he couldn’t see her) and grabbed Ahnold.

Carefully they felt their way through the tunnel, praying — figuratively this time — that it wouldn’t decide to collapse on them. On the other side, they shoved the washing machine out of the way and dusted each other off.

“What now?” Ahnold asked.

“We have to get out of here,” Sarge said. “We don’t want anyone to know we were there when that whatever it was went off.”

“Joan, are we free of the ward?” Amal asked.

She tried conjuring a small light spell. “Yeah.”

“Alright, try to get us out of here without the neighbors noticing. Then we’ll go around the block and split up. We’ll meet at the backup location in three days. We’ve all got emergency supplies in drops, so we should be okay until then.”

“Right.” Joan took her time setting up the stealth spells. They could not afford to rush. When she was done, they all crept upstairs and out the front door — the neighbors weren’t even home to notice them.

Once out the door, she saluted the team and headed west. Once she was in a safe place, she could use magic to try to find out who had attacked them. Not that there were many options. The usurper must have found them somehow. Nervously, Joan fingered the contact card she’d carried with her for 6 months. It didn’t have any trackers — tech or magical. She’d tested it six ways to Sunday. Besides, if the card had given them away, why hadn’t someone tried to take them out before now?

No, this had nothing to do with the kid. Something else had given them away. “I hope you’re okay kid,” she muttered to herself, “but I am so taking down your mom if I get the chance.”

Did the kid feel safe there? Did she have people she belonged with? Joan hoped so. But if the kid did, then Joan would be ripping them away from em.

With a sigh and a shake of her head, Joan turned for her grandmother’s place. Savta might not be home, but she’d never mind Joan dropping in. And some time in her grandmother’s tradition-grounded space… Joan might not belong there anymore, but it would still be a comfort just then.

***

Lerato and her team got home late, exhausted, and messy. They’d heard about the explosion on the net when they were halfway to the location. Then they’d started running. The house was (obviously) in pieces when they got there. But the fire was out, and when they showed their EMS cards (fake), they’d been allowed to join in the efforts to dig through the ruins and look for survivors (or bodies). It had been Jolene who noticed the nearly-destroyed tunnel. She hadn’t said anything at the time but filled the others in on the way back to base.

The worst part was none of them saw anything about what had caused the explosion. The only thing they knew, was that something had happened before the explosion to alert The Dragon something was coming.

They’d been back at base only a short time when the phone rang.

Lerato and Jolene looked at the phone, looked at each other, looked back at the phone.

With a wince, Jolene answered the call. “Hello.”

“The code is braid, Chicago, 1400, Donagh was framed.”

“Yes, mx. We don’t have much to report. The house you said they were in exploded shortly before we arrived. We were able to insert ourselves into the ‘rescue’ operation. No bodies, but a possible escape tunnel. As far as we know, no one else noticed the tunnel.

“Mx, is there anything you can tell us about how you were alerted?”

“I’ll send copy you in the final report. Obviously, we are more interested in this group than we were when you received this task. I can tell you that we know they were in that house less than a half hour before I called you.

“Use that to get eyes on them again. I will be in touch.”

T-minus 1 year 64 days

Brigadier General Cheung of the Space Force was wrapping up (and looking forward to a late dinner) when someone knocked on their door.

“Come in,” they called, grumbling about last-minute things when they were trying to get out the door.

The grumbles cut off abruptly when Lu Xia Wu stepped into the office and closed the door behind hir.

“Would you mind turning off your surveillance briefly, general?” the dragon asked.

Cheung hesitated a moment, assessing their unexpected visitor. They would not be surprised if Lu Jia Wu was the dictator’s choice of assassin. But they couldn’t imagine the dragon would walk openly through Space Force’s main headquarters intent on an assassination.

They carefully keyed in the sequence that would turn off all surveillance in their office.

“Very well.”

“Thank you, general,” the dragon stepped further into the office. “May I sit?”

“Yes, of course,” Cheung hurried to wave to one of the seats across from their desk. “Can I offer you a drink?”

“No, thank you.” The dragon seated hirself and took a moment to look around the office. Zi nodded as if in approval. Cheung bristled a little — the lackey of an usurper had no right to pass judgment on them! But tried to keep their reaction off their face.

From the look on the dragon’s face, they failed.

“I was worried when she gave you control of Space Forces. As usual, she knew what she was doing.”

That was neither question nor command, so Cheung chose not to respond.

“You’ve extended Ms. Littlesun a great deal of trust, General. I hope you feel that trust has not been abused.”

Still, Cheung said nothing. This sounded like a fishing trip, but the dragon would not have come for a fishing trip.

“We have — largely through chance I must admit — learned that a group of rebels is planning to assassinate you, General. They believe they can kill you in a way that will implicate Ms. Littlesun.

“It will take some time, but we can track down the rebels who wish to attack you. However, if we capture them, we lose our chance to trace their communications back to the ones who gave them their orders.”

Cheung leaned back in their chair and steepled their fingers. These people always managed to come up with something completely unexpected.

“You wish to allow this attempt to proceed.”

“Yes, General.”

The general nodded. “You did not need to tell me this. You could have done as you wished.”

“That is not how trust is earned.”


Needed to wrap this season up early. Next week we’ll start a month of snippets followed by a new schedule that I had notes on… somewhere. Anyway, after Snippet month it’s Season 2 of The Bargain and continuing with What You Will.

Continue to:
Webserial Catalog

Return to:
How NOT to Save the World (S2, E1)
How NOT to Save the World (S2, E5)

How NOT to Save the World (S2, E5)

Season Content notes: fictional bigotry

Ho’neheso frowned as she listened to the transmission. Her ‘games’ with Wu had taught her to break security from the inside. No one in her father’s organization was better. But from the outside, she was a lot weaker. So there were a lot of reasons her bug might have gone silent just then.

The calling card she had given Joan all those months ago didn’t have any bugs or trackers on it. Ho’neheso had known better than to try. But she hadn’t needed to. Even before Wu had collected Ho’neheso from the park, the first night she’d met Joan, hir teams had been tracking her. It hadn’t taken them long to find her public information. Nothing in it had tripped any red flags, though. Ho’neheso had done a deeper scan herself but hadn’t had any hint of Joan’s involvement with her Dad’s enemies until Joan herself admitted it.

Still, knowing who Joan was had made it possible — not easy, but possible — to eventually track her down. Arranging the bugs in their hideout had been harder — especially without Wu finding out.

Ho’neheso hadn’t wanted Wu or her Dad knowing that Joan was an enemy. When her conscience started bugging her, she reminded herself that it was traditional for the Evil Overlord’s daughter to have a crush on the Hero. (There were several notes about it on her Dad’s Evil Overlord List.)

And if her Dad insisted on being the Evil Overlord, that made Joan the Hero, right?

Her conscience hadn’t given her much trouble, though. For over six months, Joan and her friends hadn’t said anything about the rebellion. There’d been nothing Ho’neheso could have reported except that Joan and her friends didn’t like Ma’evoto. Which made them no different than the majority of the world. (Ho’neheso thought. According to Wu, her Dad’s approval numbers were going up. But not by that much.)

Except now she had heard something. She’d heard them plotting to attack General Cheung and blame it on her Dad. Right before the transmission cut out.

If Joan and her friends had found the bugs, they would have shut the bugs down before talking about killing General Cheung. Right?

And if they hadn’t shut down the bugs something else had. Or someone.

Someone like one of Wu’s strike teams. Or Gene’s action teams. Which meant Wu already knew everything, and Joan and her friends were… Ho’neheso swallowed and rubbed at the blue triangle in the center of her shirt. It had been Joan who’d helped her be okay with being a girl. She owed Joan.

And if it wasn’t her Dad’s people? If it was someone else?

Then Joan might be in real trouble.

Ho’neheso swallowed again and picked up her comm. She wanted check on her friend, but she couldn’t. She wouldn’t make it even halfway through Wu’s security without time to prepare. But Wu and her Dad had told her she could come to them with anything. No matter what.

And if they could, they would make it right.

They hadn’t let her down yet.

“Wu? I need you to help a friend.”

***

Lerato was pissed. Over 20 days trying to track down this rebel team, and every lead came up dead. She’d known better than to think it would be easy, especially with the sparse information higher had been able to pass on to them. But she was pissed. Jolene had pinned her down and was rubbing her shoulders, trying to get her to relax, but it wasn’t helping.

“We know they are in this city–”

“Were.”

“Just how hard can it be to find a group of people with a technomage and a skeletal cyborg in a city of 1 billion people? They can’t be that–”

The phone rang.

Ani jumped to check the number. “Unknown.” She shrugged and answered it, activating a tracking app as she did. “Hello?”

“This is The Dragon. The code is braid, Chicago, 1400, Donagh was framed.”

Ani’s eyes got wider and wider as the voice spoke. When it finished, she choked out, “Acknowledged.”

“The team you were supposed to track has been found. You are receiving an anonymous SMS message with their address now. Something is happening. Your team needs to get down there, see what is going on, make sure that team is safe, and, if necessary, keep them out of police custody or the hospital.

“We need that team alive and as well as possible. I am taking a personal interest in this matter and will call later for an update.”

“Yes, mx. We’re moving now!”

The phone clicked, but already Jolene and Lerato were on their feet. “What’s going on?”

“I’ll explain on the way,” Ani said. “That was The Dragon.”

“Fuck.” The Dragon did not make direct calls to the cell-based action teams. The breach of security alone…

The team was up and running in under ten minutes. They didn’t know what was going on, but it had to be important.

***

In hir office in the World Government building, Wu sighed and turned to Ho’neheso. “I’ve done what I can. I wish you had come to your Dad or me before this, but… I understand why you didn’t.”

Ho’neheso glomped on hir and squeezed. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Wu shook hir head. “Don’t thank me yet, daughter-of-my-heart. I’ve trained you better than that.”

Ho’neheso stared at hir a moment, then looked away. “You already knew about them, just not where to find them. You had a team assigned to them.” She swallowed. “What are you going to do to them?”

“Nothing yet.”

The door opened, Ma’evoto stuck his head in. “Wu, I got your alert. Everything okay?”

“For now, my friend. But it seems your daughter has much to tell us about a friend of hers. This one has a team investigating now.”

“Alright,” Ma’evoto said with a sigh. “Can it at least wait until dinner?”

“This one believes so. And Ho’neheso? You will get the answer to your question — or as much as we can give you — then.”

She did not like that answer, but there wasn’t much she could do about it.

***

When the lights went out, the team all reached for weapons. Or, in Joan’s case, her tablet. Ahnold took the lead, heading for the stairs. “The door is stuck,” he said. “I can break it. I don’t hear anyone.”

Joan finished sketching her spell into the tablet, then cursed as it fizzled before her eyes. “Someone’s got a mage ward on this place. A good one.”

“We’re under attack,” Amal said. “Get to the escape tunnel.”

As a group, they turned and moved to the back of the basement. The escape tunnel was an actual tunnel leading to their neighbor’s basement laundry room. The tunnel exit was hidden behind the washer machine and a light illusion. They’d never expected to need it, but Amal insisted — just in case.

With Ahnold bringing up the rear, they started moving through the tunnel — just as the explosion brought their house down

Continue to:
How NOT to Save the World (S2 Finale)

Return to:
How NOT to Save the World (S2, E1)
How NOT to Save the World (S2, E4)

What You Will: A Queer-er Shakespeare (S2, E1)

(Find Season 1 on my website if you need to get caught up.)

Season Content Notes: Revenge plot, violence

In a corner of Countess Olivia’s grounds gathered three gentlemen for some unsanctioned sport. Or so it seemed, for they huddled together behind the box trees, like boys hiding from a tutor. That was Sir Toby Belch, the countess’ uncle; Sir Andrew, one of her suitors (who she would have been happier to see gone); and one Fabian.

As they huddled and chortled over their sport, a fourth came to join their fun. Mistress Maria, that was the countess’ chambermaid. Sir Toby, seeing her first, cried out, “Here comes the little villain. How now, my metal of India!”

Maria’s grin broke through before she regained control and showed a properly sober face. To Sir Toby and his fellow hooligans she hissed, “Get ye all three into the box-tree: Malvolio’s coming down this walk: he has been yonder i’ the sun practicing behavior to his own shadow this half hour: observe him, for the love of mockery; for I know this letter will make a contemplative idiot of him. Close, in the name of jesting!”

As she spoke, she dropped a sealed envelope upon the walk, glanced over her shoulder, and hurried off murmuring, “Here comes the trout that must be caught with tickling.”

The three, ignoring their venerable age (and the well-being of their clothes) climbed up into the trees and peered back the way she had come.

They didn’t have long to wait, for soon followed Master Malvolio. Steward to the Countess Olivia and commander of all within her home. He was speaking to himself.

” ‘Tis but fortune; all is fortune. Maria once told me she did affect me: and I have heard herself come thus near, that, should she fancy, it should be one of my complexion.” (Here, he paused to admire that complexion in a still bird bath. “Besides, she uses me with a more exalted respect than any one else that follows her. What should I think on’t?”

“Here’s an overweening rogue!” Sir Toby growled, shaking his fist. He might have fallen from the tree had not Fabian grabbed his arm and hushed him.

“O, peace!” he whispered. “Contemplation makes a rare turkey-cock of him.”

Sir Andrew, unable to be silent when others spoke, added his own portion: “I could so beat the rogue!”

And then it was Sir Toby who cautioned peace.

Malvolio continued along the walk, lost in his daydreams. One day, the countess would recognize his long service and raise him to his proper place. “To be Count Malvolio!”

It was only with utmost effort that Fabian kept Sir Toby in the trees and quiet over the next few minutes as Malvolio continued in this vein. But finally, he came far enough along to notice the letter Maria left on the walk.

He stopped, bent over, and picked the letter, examining it in detail. “By my life, this is my lady’s hand these be her very C’s, her U’s and her T’s and thus makes she her great P’s.” (Fabian pressed a hand over his mouth to quiet his laughter.) “It is, in contempt of question, her hand.”

Sir Andrew shook his head and asked quietly, “Her C’s, her U’s and her T’s: why that?” And Fabian nearly fell out of the tree.

Luckily for the rascals three, Malvolio did not notice, instead bending all attention on the letter. “‘To the unknown beloved, this, and my good wishes:’–her very phrases!” Suddenly, he looked around, peering low under the bushes and around the hedges. He then slipped his finger under the seal and pulled it from the page, opening the envelope. Then he continued but more quietly, “By your leave, wax! And the impressure her Lucrece, with which she uses to seal: ’tis my lady. To whom should this be?”

Settling himself on a bench directly under the box tree, he continued reading silently — but now the scallywags could read along with him.

Jove knows I love: But who?
Lips, do not move;
No man must know.

If this should be thee, Malvolio?” he asked himself, his earlier daydreams flashing into bright promise.

I may command where I adore;
But silence, like a Lucrece knife,
With bloodless stroke my heart doth gore:
M, O, A, I, doth sway my life.

Fabian grinned and murmured, “A fustian riddle!”

It was, indeed, a pretentious thing, and Sir Toby was delighted by it. Eagerly they listened to the steward muttering to himself.

“‘M, O, A, I, doth sway my life.’ Nay, but first, let me see, let me see, let me see.

“‘I may command where I adore.’ Why, she may command me: I serve her; she is my lady. Why, this is evident to any formal capacity; there is no obstruction in this: and the end,–what should that alphabetical position portend? If I could make that resemble something in me,–Softly! M, O, A, I,–”

This followed several minutes of Malvolio trying to find some way to claim that those letters were a reference to his name. A period where Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Fabian passed the time by making a mock of Malvolio’s foolishness and ignorance of the trouble he was walking into.

Finally, Malvolio gave up, saying, “M, O, A, I; this simulation is not as the former: and yet, to crush this a little, it would bow to me, for every one of these letters are in my name. Soft! here follows prose.”

‘If this fall into thy hand, revolve. In my stars I
am above thee; but be not afraid of greatness: some
are born great, some achieve greatness, and some
have greatness thrust upon ’em. Thy Fates open
their hands; let thy blood and spirit embrace them;
and, to inure thyself to what thou art like to be,
cast thy humble slough and appear fresh. Be
opposite with a kinsman, surly with servants; let
thy tongue tang arguments of state; put thyself into
the trick of singularity: she thus advises thee
that sighs for thee. Remember who commended thy
yellow stockings, and wished to see thee ever
cross-gartered: I say, remember. Go to, thou art
made, if thou desirest to be so; if not, let me see
thee a steward still, the fellow of servants, and
not worthy to touch Fortune’s fingers. Farewell.
She that would alter services with thee,
THE FORTUNATE-UNHAPPY.’

Malvolio was transported into raptures as one who has been granted a vision of the heavens. “Daylight and champaign discovers not more: this is open.” He stood and pulled himself erect, thrusting his shoulders back. “I will be proud. I will baffle Sir Toby, I will wash off gross acquaintance, I will be point-devise the very man.” Shaking a fist to any who dared dissuade him, he declared, “I do not now fool myself, to let imagination jade me.” He let the first fall, and a soft smile crept across his face. He looked down at the letter with eyes bright, “for every reason excites to this, that my lady loves me. She did commend my yellow stockings of late, she did praise my leg being cross-gartered, and in this she manifests herself to my love. Jove and my stars be praised!”

Then something caught his eye, and he sat down again. “Here is yet a postscript…”

‘Thou canst not choose but know who I am. If thou
entertainest my love, let it appear in thy smiling;
thy smiles become thee well; therefore in my
presence still smile, dear my sweet, I prithee.’

“Jove,” he said with a happy sigh, “I thank thee: I will smile; I will do everything that thou wilt have me.”

With firm purpose, he stood from the bench and strode off, ready to achieve his future.

As soon as he was out of sight, the box tree exploded with laughter. Fabian slid down the tree first, stammering between bursts of laughter, “I will not give my part of this sport for a pension of thousands to be paid from the Sophy.”

“I could marry this wench for this device,” Sir Toby chortled, stumbling down to trip over the bench, still laughing.

“So could I too,” agreed Sir Andrew, “trying to figure out how to get down from the tree.”

“And ask no other dowry with her but such another jest!” Toby continued, ignoring Sir Andrew.

“Nor I neither,” Sir Andrew agreed again.

“Here,” Fabian said, “comes my noble gull-catcher.”

Finding his feet again, Sir Toby knelt in front of Maria and bowed his head, “Wilt thou set thy foot o’ my neck?”

Maria put her hand to her mouth and dropped her eyes, unable, for a moment, to speak.

Finally, down from the tree, Sir Andrew threw himself on his knees beside Sir Toby, “Or o’ mine either?”

Looking up, Sir Toby offered Maria his hand, which she took and pulled him to his feet. “Why, thou hast put him in such a dream, that when the image of it leaves him he must run mad.”

Blushing, Maria asked, “Nay, but say true; does it work upon him?”

“Like aqua-vitae with a midwife,” Sir Toby assured her.

She grinned freely a moment, then, as if recalling herself, dropped his and stepped back. “If you will then see the fruits of the sport,” she said, “mark his first approach before my lady: he will come to her in yellow stockings, and ’tis a colour she abhors, and cross-gartered, a fashion she detests; and he will smile upon her, which will now be so unsuitable to her disposition, being addicted to a melancholy as she is, that it cannot but turn him into a notable contempt. If you will see it, follow me.”

Fabian was carefully not looking at Sir Andrew’s yellow stockings, but Sir Toby had eyes only for Maria. “To the gates of Tartar, thou most excellent devil of wit!”

“I’ll make one too,” Sir Andrew called out after the pair as they headed quickly for the manor.


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Henim’s Choice

A knock at the workshop door startled Henim, and ey steadied emself before putting down the crystal pair ey had been tuning. “Yes?”

Ey turned and saw a novice peering around the door frame. “Priest Henim?” the novice asked, wide-eyed.

If the novice was a first year, they might have never seen a proper crystal workshop before. Henim shook eir head. Ey had been a priest for barely a year but still wondered if ey had ever been that young. “Yes, novice?”

“Summons for you, priest. From the testing chamber.”

Of course, it was. With a sigh, Henim started cleaning up eir table. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

After another long look around the workshop, the novice turned and hurried off.

After Henim’s anointing as a priest, ey was assigned to crystal crafting. Ey had been delighted. Henim loved the intricacy and finicky nature of the crystals, the care needed to bring out their full potential.

But Henim had impressed his superiors in his final test. Impressed them greatly. So now they summoned em at least once a week to help with a young adult who refused to accept the results of their testing. Ey didn’t mind helping — was always happy, in fact, when ey could help someone find peace with themselves and their future.

And the people ey helped seemed to appreciate em. Last sunsday ey had received a gift — a woven hanging — from Shoneng, the first woman ey had helped. To Henim’s delight (though not surprise), Shoneng had found a place in service to a sen who valued both Shoneng’s skill as a weaver and mass of curly hair. Just as Henim had promised her she would. Many of the other Henim had helped also kept in touch.

What Henim didn’t like were the constant interruptions. Maybe ey should request a transfer?

~~~

In the testing halls, a grumpy senior priest directed Henim to one of the small ‘consultation’ rooms. “Haoza,” the priest said, “And denying it.

“I don’t know why we waste time trying to talk them around. It’s not like their complaints will change anything. Send them to auction and let their sen sort them out.”

Henim wanted to argue–haoza belonged to the gods and should be treasured as such. And it wasn’t only haoza who needed help adjusting after the testing. But Henim didn’t have the rank to challenge a senior priest and ey refused to leave the new haoza waiting in distress because Henim got emself in trouble.

So ey bit eir lip, bowed to the other priest, and entered the small chamber.

Only to stop in surprise. The haoza waiting knelt on one knee, her symbolically bound hands resting lighting on her raised thigh. It was unusual for a haoza who contested their role to kneel at all, never mind with this calm stillness. But that wasn’t what stopped Henim.

It was her eyes. Piercing eyes, even in one so young, that judged and challenged em.

Before Henim could find eir voice, the woman said, “Thank you for coming, priest. I am Osang, and there has been a mistake.”

Her voice wasn’t anywhere near as calm as her face. Henim heard anger, frustration, and a hint of fear.

“I think,” Henim said after a moment, “that you may be right.” Ey moved slowly to sit beside the woman, as ey did for all these… consultations. For the first time meeting with one named haoza, ey had to resist the urge to duck eir head.

Up close, ey could see tear tracks on the woman’s cheeks and reddened eyes. The knuckles on those clasped hands were white.

“Will you sit, Osang, and tell me what you think is wrong?”

The woman blinked and her shoulders hunched, looking for the first time like the scared young woman she must be. But she collected herself and slowly sat down. “I am sen,” she said after a moment. “I don’t know why the crystal said I’m haoza, but I don’t care. I’m not. Crystals aren’t always right!” That last was said with more defiance than conviction.

Henim, too, had been taught that testing crystals could make mistakes. It had made for a great deal of late-night philosophy debates in the temple studies. Did a flawed testing indicate a failing in the testing priest? The crystal itself? The work of the priest who tuned the crystal? A test sent by the gods to keep their followers alert? In the abstract, it was a fascinating, if fruitless, discussion.

In practice, Henim had never seen a failed testing. Had almost been starting to believe they didn’t happen, or only happened impossibly rarely.

Now…

“Crystals aren’t always right,” Henim agreed, “And I would say that you aren’t acting like haoza at the moment.”

She looked at him in surprise, distracted from her upset. “What do you mean? I was kneeling. And I tried to be respectful…”

Henim grinned. “For now, let’s say if your second test confirms you are haoza, you will have a lot to learn. But I don’t think that is very likely.” From the moment Henim had entered the room, Osang had tried to take control of the conversation. She’d faltered, and was now letting Henim lead, but that was the inexperience and habit of the young for an ‘elder’. Though Henim was barely a decade older, ey remembered how old the testing priests had looked to em.

Sen, quite probably. Wahin, possibly, but if so a stubborn one who would bow rarely and to few.

Osang blinked at em. “I told you. But the other priest didn’t want to listen.”

“Well, I am not him. I promise you, I will always listen. And you may ask for me in the future if you need a priest. I am Henim.” Ey paused, and she nodded that she heard em. “Now, you will need to wait here a bit longer, but I will arrange for another test and come get you when it is time.”

“Thank you.”

Her voice wobbled a bit, and Henim offered her a hand. “You’ve been very brave. And you’ve handled yourself well.”

She sniffed and wiped at her eyes, then took Henim’s hand. “If I start crying, that doesn’t mean I’m haoza.”

“Sen cry too. Especially young sen who have done a very difficult thing and know they are with someone they can trust.” Henim squeezed her hand and a moment later the young sen was crying on Henim’s shoulder.

Being forced into the wrong role, a life at odds with everything you were… it was horrifying. Many had faced fear in this room, but they had known deep inside themselves that they were truly on the right path. It was the path itself they feared.

For Osang… she truly would have been trapped. That lazy-ass excuse for a priest — senior priest, no less! — would have condemned this woman to that for the rest of her life, because he didn’t want to ‘coddle’ new haoza.

As ey held Osang and soothed her, Henim made a promise to emself. Ey would request a transfer to work full time with those going through testing. If it was in eir power, they would all have whatever help and support they needed.

And one day a certain senior priest would find emself banned from the testing wing and never allowed back.

Return to:
Vehan
Henim’s Test

Continue to:
Dominic

Change of Plans — What You Will Season 2

Hey folks, if you follow me on Fedi you know what’s going on right now. Lots of life shit, nesting partner in the hospital. It’s been a thing.

Thankfully, (for my mental health as well as this newsletter) I’ve been able to start writing again. Unfortunately, Meadowsweet is SUPPOSED to be erotica/as close as I can manage. And I just can’t get in a headspace to write sex right now.

So I’m swapping stories around. Next week we’ll start Season 2 of What You Will (A Queer-er Shakespeare) and Meadowsweet will come back in the fall when What You Will is done for the year.

(How NOT to Save the World should continue as usual — I’ve already got next week’s episode written.)


Viola is in love with Duke Orsino

Duke Orsino is in love with Countess Olivia

Countess Olivia is in love with Cesario

Cesario is really Viola in disguise… or is he?

Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is a very queer play,

But what if you could make it queerer.


Cesario has come to know himself, and the dead will walk the Earth before he ever again answers to the name ‘Viola.’ But still he cannot deny his love for Orsino, a love that can never be. Olivia still spurns Orisno’s suit while pining for Cesario — who wants nothing of her or her love.

And unknown to all of them, a dead man is walking the road to Illyria.

Catch up on Season 1 now. What You Will Season 1

As always, newsletter subscribers get early access.

How NOT to Save the World (S2 E4)

Season Content notes: fictional bigotry

T-minus 1 year 65 days

Amal squatted down in the middle of the room and looked at his team. Joan held up the wall while she fiddled with her tablet. Amal didn’t ask what she was doing — he knew he wouldn’t understand anyway. On the chair next to her, Ahnold sat at attention and glared a hole through the Amal. (Not literally. He didn’t have laser eyes, even when he wasn’t wearing his skin suit.) In the other corner, Sarge was sitting on the floor surrounded by a disassembled gun or 10.

When Amal took his glasses off and tucked them away, Joan and Sarge stopped what they were doing to focus on him. Ahnold, of course, did not.

“The Council has a mission for us,” he said. “It’s an assassination.”

That got Ahnold’s attention. “We are finally going after the usurper?”

“No.” Amal braced himself. “They want Colonel — excuse me, General Cheung taken out.”

“What!”

“You’ve gotta be kidding.”

“Cheung is not the enemy.”

“Right,” Amal nodded. “Cheung was always one of the good guys. But as much as I hate to say it, they just got a promotion. Why? They’ve been stuck at colonel for over a decade. What did they do — or agree to — to finally get stars?

“The Council knows more than we do, and they’re the legitimate government.”

Joan, in a rare display of temper, stomped around the room for a minute. When she stopped, she was glaring at Amal. “What aren’t you telling us?”

Amal shook his head and stood up to face her. “They want us to make it look like the Bastard ordered it.”

“So this isn’t really about Cheung or anything he’s done. It’s a maneuver.

“We’re supposed to be the good guys, Amal.”

They were in the basement. Cliche but one of the easiest ways to deter physical snooping was still solid concrete and dirt. Amal wished, desperately, for a window. He wanted to see distance, the horizon. Something to remind him of the big picture and the peace it could give.

“We are the good guys, Joan,” he said. “But being the good guys doesn’t make this a fairy tale. We need to keep our eyes on the goal. Sometimes that means making some hard choices.”

“Maybe,” Sarge said from his corner. “I don’t like what I’m hearing, the type of people the Council is recruiting… Hard choices we got, and maybe not the obvious ones.”

Amal sighed and rubbed his head. “I know. I know. But with the Bastard having so many nonhumans supporting him, it was inevitable that folks afraid of them would support us. And the Council isn’t actively recruiting the haters. In fact, I received warnings against working with them. They aren’t to be trusted.”

“That’s something. I just…”

“We’re the good guys,” Amal smiled, “We want to act like it. But even the good guys need to get a bit dirty sometimes.”

Reluctantly, Joan nodded. “I don’t like it. But you may be right. And that Bastard is sure as hell wrong, so…”

“So let’s get planning.”

And the light’s cut out.


What? No. I didn’t run out of time to write this. It’s an artistic choice. Really, you people…

Continue to:
How NOT to Save the World (S2, E5)

Return to:
How NOT to Save the World (S2, E1)
How NOT to Save the World (S2, E3)

Henim’s Test

Decided for now I’ll share Vehan stuff both here and on newsletter as it’s written. If that isn’t working for anyone, let me know. There’s be a few more Vehan posts in the next week or too, as it’s a writerly ‘Ooh-shiny!’ at the moment and I have ideas for several more short pieces like this. No idea what long term post frequency will be.

Content notes: fictional slavery, bondage, hurt/comfort, assault reference, parental abuse reference


The woman was standing with her hands bound to the floor. The length of the rope would have been comfortable if she was kneeling, but she refused to kneel.

Henim had been told the woman became violent after testing, refusing to accept her placement as haoza. Ey understood. Henim had rejected eir placement as well, not realizing it was only a first step on a longer journey. A journey that might end today.

Henim had studied and learned for several years as an initiate of the priesthood. Eir grasp of the magics and crystal manipulation was strong. Now ey faced one last test.

And ey was angry. The woman was needing, hurting. She should be getting real help, not being a test for a novice, no matter how complete eir training.

Still, here they both were. Henim’s test was to help her accept her role as haoza or to determine that retesting was needed — that the crystal used to test her had failed.

Henim approached her, making sure she saw em coming. “Greetings, haoza.”

“Rodents eat your bones!” the woman yelled. “I am not supposed to be here! I am not supposed to be haoza!

“Let me go!”

Stopping out of her reach, Henim shook eir head. “You attacked the priest who did the reading,” ey said. Slowly, ey sat down on the floor.

Ey knew ey had read her right when her face filled with confusion. No longer faced with an authority figure looming over her, she didn’t know how to react.

“Why did you hurt the priest?”

“I… I…” Suddenly she was sobbing. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt him. Just… I’m… I’m supposed to be sen.”

Supposed to be, Henim noted. Some haoza wanted to feel trapped. This woman sounded like she already was trapped. “Why are you supposed to be sen?” ey asked.

“My parents are sen,” she said, “I shamed them in front of the whole city. It wasn’t my fault!” she started yelling again. “That priest was wrong!”

Henim’s heart went out to her, but ey didn’t reach for eir yet. While children followed their parent’s role half the time, it was far from guaranteed.

“Your parents shamed themselves, haoza,” ey soothed. “They had no right to push you into any role. You are not ‘supposed’ to be anything but yourself.

“I know you feel it — the urge to submit. You have been submitting to your parents all this time, trying to be the sen they wanted.”

“No,” she jerked back. “No, that’s not true. That’s not what…”

Fear filled her eyes now, instead of anger. “You’re wrong. You have to be wrong. I’m going to be sen! I promised them… I mean… I wanted…”

“What did you want?”

Tears now, trembling in her eyes. Henim clenched eir hands inside eir sleeves.

“I wanted to make them proud.”

Now ey reached out, reached up, and wiped the tears off her cheeks.

“Oh, my poor haoza. It is not your fault. Any parent should be proud of such a daughter. But you are grown now, and it is time to be yourself.

“It is only us here. Your parents will never know what you do. Let go of ‘supposed to’. ”

As ey spoke, the woman’s frantic breathing leveled out. She shifted back and forth a few times. “They’ll be angry.”

“They aren’t here. You have been so good for so long, haoza.” Henim cupped her cheek. She nuzzled into it, seeming unaware of what she was doing. “Show me yourself, beautiful one.”

With a slow sigh, she folded her legs under her and knelt.

“But it’s not just for now, is it?” she asked plaintively. “If I… you want me to go out there. And my parents will know…”

“They don’t ever need to, haoza.” Instead of protesting, she relaxed into the word now, leaning into Henim’s touch. “We can take you straight to your new quarters.”

She started a bit. “All of my things!”

“Were never yours. You knew this. Those things belonged to your parents. Now you will earn your own things. Things no one can take from you.”

“Not even my loom? The woman sighed again and nuzzled his hand. “My mother hated how much I wove…”

Henim chuckled and brought his other hand up to pet her dark curls. “I think I can find you a new loom. I’d like to see your weaving. It must be beautiful. Just like your hair.”

She sniffed and bent toward Henim. “It’s supposed to be sen’s hair. Haoza can’t have long hair. Especially with curls. Too much work.”

“Nonsense,” Henim said, with perhaps too much heat. The woman flinched, and Henim tried to speak more softly. “If you were mine, I’d have you with me all the time, so I could play with your hair. You’d kneel next to me while I worked, with your head in my lap, and I’d do everything one-handed because my other hand would be buried in your curls.” Ey chuckled a bit, acknowledging the double meaning of the words, and ey felt her shiver even as she pressed herself into em.

“Come,” ey urged, “Give yourself to me. Lay your head in my lap and submit. Give in to your desires.”

There was a hesitation. Another little sigh, and, bit by bit, the woman bent down and lay her head in Henim’s lap.

“What is your name?” ey asked after a few minutes stroking her hair.

“Aphshona,” she murmured. Then stiffened. “No.”

Henim’s hand stilled. “No?”

“That’s the name my parents gave me,” she said, “If I’m not keeping anything they gave me — I’m not keeping that.” Then, her voice took on a tinge of hysteria. “They can’t find me–they can’t punish me–if I have a new name.” She lifted her head and looked at em, pleading. “Right?”

Henim leaned over and hugged her. “Ah, beautiful haoza. You make me proud. Be who you want to be, and I promise we will keep you safe from them.”

She was quiet for a few minutes. Breathing, relaxing. “Shoneng. I’m Shoneng. I’ll keep part of that name because they helped to make me. But they don’t get to keep me.”

“No. Beautiful Shoneng, strong haoza. They don’t.”

Henim said nothing further. Only sat with her head in eir lap and fingers tangled in her hair.

At one point, she asked, scared, “I’m in trouble, aren’t I? For hurting the priest?”

Henim didn’t stop stroking her hair. “Only a little trouble.”

She accepted that and said nothing more.

Sometime later, ey stood and released her hands from the floor.

“Come. Let’s get you settled into your new life.”

It was only much later that night when Henim realized that from the moment ey had begun speaking with Shoneng, ey had completely forgotten it was a test. Eventually, ey realized that that was why ey had passed.

But by then, ey didn’t care.


I rather like Henim. We’ll be seeing more of em. Possibly more of Shoneng also.