Sunday, April 29, 2007

More Pictures Up For Moore's Meadow

Weeks 14 and 15 of my 52 week project are now up over at Flickr. Weeks 16 through 18 are in the camera right now, awaiting processing; I imagine they'll be up for viewing in about a week.

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Friday, April 27, 2007

Meet Hermestra


Monday, April 23, 2007

International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day is Here!

And I'm late, dammit! But, better late than never, I give you "Last Call," originally published way back when in On Spec, and (insert drum roll)...

...which is soon to be A MOVIE!

Yes, "Last Call," the story that reduced editor Jena Snyder, artist Robert Pasternak, wife JoAnn Murphy and countless others to blubbering pools of tears, is being made into a movie. A short movie, mind, but a movie nonetheless. More details will follow soon.

Oh, go here to see others doing the same thing (lots and lots to read), and to see why Jo Walton announced such a day.

And now, the story:

The phone rang. Jackie rolled over and peered at the clock, eyes blurry and trying to make out the numbers. 4:25.

Her eyes flew open and she reached for the phone. The baby chose the same moment to practice soccer with her bladder, and she grimaced, pressing her free hand to her belly. Shefound the handset and brought it up to her ear, hit the button to answer. Dreading the voice she might hear on the other end.


A soft clicking, and then an impersonal voice. “Mrs. Ferris, this is the operator. Please stand by for a call.”

What the hell
? More noises, and then another voice, hollow and sounding far away. So unexpected it took her a second to realize who it was.

“Jackie. Sorry about the time, love.”

With some effort she rolled over onto her back, lay there with her free hand still on her belly, feeling the baby’s motions. “Allen. My God, honey, the phone ringing so early scared the hell out of me. You haven't come down already, have you?”

A moment’s silence, and then a small chuckle. “No, love, not quite yet.” A few loud breaths, and then, “How’s the baby?”

She smiled, felt the motion as it rolled inside her like a dolphin trying to breach the surface. “Just fine. Must know that its daddy is calling, because there’s some sort of party happening down there right now.”

Her husband chuckled again. “Do me a favor, Jack? Put the phone up to your belly for a minute. I’d like to talk to the Worm for a couple of seconds.”

Jackie laughed. “Jesus, Allen. NASA must owe you some big if you can get patched through from building the station just to talk to a fetus.”

There was a knock on the bedroom door right then, and her mother poked her head in, a concerned look on her face. Jackie mouthed Allen’s name and shrugged her shoulders, smiling so her mother would understand it wasn’t an emergency. Then she pointed at the chair in the corner. Her mother sat, still looking concerned.

Something in Allen’s voice changed, took on the firmness that he knew got things done for him. “Please just do it for me, Jack. Go ahead and put it on speaker so you can hear as well, if you like.”

She frowned. “Sure, Allen. Mom’s in the room now as well.”

“Good. I’ll talk to her for a moment as well.”

“Oh-kay.” She dragged out the word. “Glad NASA’s paying the tolls on this one.” She pressed the button on the handset, held the phone above her belly. “Go ahead, hon.”

A few more deep breaths, now sounding somewhat hoarse over the speaker. “Worm? This is your daddy. I know you haven’t heard my voice for a few weeks. That’s because I’ve been working far away from home, helping build the new space station. Whatever you turn out to be, Worm, boy or girl, I want you to know in advance that your daddy is very proud of you. I know that whatever you choose to do, you will do it very well and with much joy.” He took some more breaths. “I love you very much. Please remember that.”

“Allen?” Jackie sat staring at the phone. “What the hell?”

“Just a second, love. Denise?”

“I’m here, Allen.”

“You’ll know what to do. I love your daughter more than life itself, you know.”

Jackie’s mother smiled slightly. “I never doubted it for a second, Allen. You were always more than I could have asked for.”

“Thanks.” He laughed. “You too, sometimes. Take care, Denise.”

Jackie switched off the speakerphone. “What the hell is happening, Allen? Are they keeping you up there for overtime? Because if they are, I’m going to phone Morris myself and let him know what I think about that. They promised you’d be down in time for the delivery.”

“No overtime, love. But- His voice caught, and except for the echoing breathing, he was silent.

“But what? Allen, honey, you’re scaring me.” Jackie could feel tears coming to her eyes. “Please don’t do this. Just tell me what’s happening. Please.”

“All right.” She heard him sniff loudly. “Shit. Wish they knew of some way to wipe your nose inside a helmet.”

“In a helmet? Why are you in your suit, Allen? Shouldn’t you be talking to me from the living module or the shuttle?” She bit her lower lip and grabbed the blanket with her free hand, twirling it into a tight knot around her fingers. Her mother got up from the chair, came and sat on the side of the bed, put her hand on Jackie’s knee.

“There’s been an accident, love. Davey’s been killed.”

“Oh my God,” said Jackie. “Poor Andrea. Oh God. I have to call her.” She reached over to the night table and grabbed a tissue, dabbed at her eyes and then her nose.

“I was there too, Jack. With him at the time.”

“Jesus, Allen! What happened? Were you hurt?”

“No trauma to the suit, if that’s what you mean. But there were other problems.”

Don’t do this to me, Allen! Stop fucking around and tell me what has happened to you!”

“I’m sorry, love.” More breathing. “I wasn’t tethered at the time, Jack. I had my MMU on, so that I could maneuver between where Davey was working and another spot on the solar array we were trying to fix. I was down beside Davey when something happened to the MMU – they figure it was hit by a loose screw that’s probably been in orbit for a few decades.”

Jackie closed her eyes, tried to remember what Allen had told her about his suit. Her eyes snapped open. “The MMU? The unit with the nitrogen gas you use for jetting around between sites, right?”

“Right, love.”

“Then what?”

“Just before they patched me through to you, Wesley told me they figure the screw was doing something like a hundred thousand kilometers per hour. It blew right through the MMU. The releasing gas sent me spinning.” There was silence for a second. “I guess it was me that knocked Davey into the path of the laser. Don’t know how or why he kept his hand on the dead man’s switch.” His voice was quieter now, more distant.

She took a deep breath. “Where are you?”

“About seventy kilometers away from the station right now, maybe even more.”

“Christ.” It was a whisper. Her mother reached out and took her free hand, eyes wide and fearful. “Please tell me they’re sending the shuttle to pick you up.”

Allen was silent, only his gasping breaths coming through right now.

“Damn it, Allen, tell me!”

“They tried, Jack. But Mission Control stopped them before they could even close up the airlock and push away from the station. There isn’t enough fuel to safely pick me up. They’d lose the shuttle and everyone on board as well.”

“As well.” Jackie repeated the words. A sob welled up from deep inside her, escaped before she could cut it off.

“I’m sorry, love. I wasn’t sure where this conversation was going to go once it came out, and there were some things I wanted to make sure I did. For your benefit as well as for the baby.” More distant breaths. “Shit. Only so much time and so much to say, I don’t want it screwed up by crying the whole time, making so much noise we can’t hear each other.”

Jackie closed her eyes for a moment, fought to regain control. She was an astronaut’s wife, damn it! Part of her had always been prepared for this.

She tried to speak but her voice choked inside her throat. She coughed, then said, “I’m all right now.”

“Good. I knew you could handle this. Wesley didn’t think this call was a good idea, but thankfully they called Morris. He cleared it right away. Man knows what’s important.”

A thought came to Jackie, of her husband floating through space forever, lifeless body wrapped inside his tomb of a suit. She bit her lip. “What’s the view right now?” she asked. She knew her husband could rave for hours about all that he saw when he was in orbit.

“Great.” Allen laughed. “A little unsettling, to tell you the truth. But still great. Just wish it was constant.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m spinning crazier than a top, love. It’s worse than the first time I jumped from a plane, when I forgot to arch my back. Earth-space-Earth-space-Earth-space, on and on. At least I had a chute to straighten me out back then.”

She smiled. “I remember that jump. I was so pissed off with you when you came home with that sprained ankle.”

A small laugh. “Only time in my life I’ve regretted being served my meals in bed.”

The doorbell rang. Denise got up to offer a hand, but Jackie shook her head vigorously, waving her towards the front door instead. “There’s someone at the door, Allen.” She pressed the heel of her free hand to her left eye, smeared at the tears that were starting to flow there, repeated the procedure on her other eye.

“Should be Morris and Sandra, Jack. He told me they were going to be heading right over. Just make sure you check before opening the door, confirm that it isn’t media. They shouldn’t know about this yet, but you can never be too sure.”

Denise headed downstairs, Jackie following slowly behind her. At the foot of the stairs she paused, watched as her mother let the former astronaut and his wife into the front entry. “It’s them, Allen,” she whispered. “But I’m not sure I want company right now.”

“Your mom will know what to do, love, don’t worry. Just go settle into your comfy chair.”

Sandra came over and gave Jackie a quick hard hug, looked her in the eyes with her own agonized expression, then turned and followed Denise into the kitchen. Already Jackie could smell the coffee brewing. She turned and went into the den, eased herself into the comfy chair.

"You know where the key for the safe deposit box is?" said Allen. Jackie held her breath a moment, willing herself to be strong for him. "On the rack by the back door."

“Yeah. There’s a video for Worm in the box, something I made a few days before launch. My will and a note for you as well.”

He waited for her to answer, breathing still sounding louder and more ragged than his voice. When she didn’t talk, he continued.

“Insurance and the pension should cover things nicely, and I suspect you can expect a decent payout from NASA. Spend something on yourself, put a bunch away in a fund for Worm for education. I’ll trust you to know what’s right to do with it.”

Jackie held the phone away for a second, blew her nose. “Damn right you’ll trust me, hon. I do the money stuff even when you’re home.”

“Ha. Right you are.”

They were both silent for a few seconds. Then, “Have I told you today that I love you?”

Before she could fight it off, a sob jumped from deep inside her. She pulled the phone away from her ear, biting hard on her quivering lower lip and squeezing her eyes against the new flow of tears. No matter how hard the day, no matter the time, Allen always found time to say that to her every day they were together. Even if it slipped his mind until the literal last minute, he would wake her up at a minute to midnight if he had to, just to tell her that.

But then she found a smile, small and sad, but still a smile. “Trust you to wake me up in the middle of the night to let me know. Couldn’t remember at a decent hour, could you?”

They both laughed, Jackie’s laughs quickly turning into a coughing fit to cover up the rising swell of sobs.

“Remember all our special walks in the woods, okay? And dinner at Packrat’s.”

She smiled. “Always.”

His breathing was more ragged now. “Seeing the Perseids together on our third date, and me lying in bed crying from laughing so hard when I read you things that you always managed to put up with, even when you hated them.” His voice caught. “Never forget.”

“Never,” she whispered. She closed her eyes and imagined she could smell him right now, his sweat and odor comforting her.

“I have to go now, love.”

Her eyes flew open. “Now?” Jackie heard the hint of a wail in her voice. “Why now? You phone to tell me you’re about to die, and then you hang up on me before I can get my head around the news!” The tears pouring down her cheeks were ignored now.

“Jack, I’m not heading off into some obscure orbit. The MMU kicked me down, straight into the gravity well.”

“Down.” Her heart stopped.

“Down. Guess you’d hear it from Morris or worse, on the news. I’ll be going out like a comet, love.”

“You’ll burn.” This much she remembered.

“I won’t feel it. Fat chance I’m going to wait around for my face to catch fire. Just don’t tell Worm, ‘kay? Let the little gaffer know that I went out in a blaze of glory, not in a blast of self-administered explosive decompression.”

More sobs. “Okay. It’ll - it’ll be our secret.”

“Right.” Breathing, sounding heavy and frightened, some background noises. “Jack?”

She caught her own breath, held it for a moment until she felt some semblance of strength return. “Have I told you today that I love you?”

Silence. Her voice caught in her throat and she was about to scream his name, but then he finally answered her. “Today and every day, love. Take good care of Worm.”

There was a click, and seconds later a dial tone.

The baby started to kick again. Jackie sat on the comfy chair, legs curled to the side, one hand on her belly and the other still holding the phone, eyes closed. The sobs started when her mother came into the room and put a hand on her shoulder.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Horrible News

Michael Bishop, author and, more important, friend, has lost his son. Jamie Bishop was a German prof at Virginia Tech, and it has been confirmed that he was one of the victims in today's shooting tragedy.


A SFWA-Related Rant

Can be found here. We'll see if people agree or just get pissed off with me.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Three More Weeks of Moore's Meadow

More pictures are up here. It's starting to feel like a project now, rather than just a small group of photos.

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Monday, April 02, 2007

A Short Interview With Me

As done by Tobias Buckell.


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