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SCI, Topic 4: Here to Help

Listen to me.
I’m here to help.

I’m here to warn you.
I’m here to help.

Who am I?
I’m the alarm bell.
The warning voice.
The voice of reason.
Listen to me.

I’m here to help.

I’m here to warn you.
When you’re doing something foolish.
Something risky.
Something new.

Something outside your comfort zone.

I keep you safe.
I’m here to help.

You’ll shoot your eye out.

They’re all gonna laugh at you.

I’m here to warn you.
To keep you safe.
Safe from yourself.
Safe from failure.

Listen to me.
I’m here to help.

Listen to me.



This entry was written for Second Chance Idol, Topic 4: Nothing Good Will Come of This.
Jennet ran her hand lightly across the uncut grass, letting the soft blade tips tickle her palm. She stretched out on the small patch, breathing in the scent of the soil and letting the artificial light warm her skin.

A soft series of beeps signaled the end of her required thirty minutes under the UV lights. She drew in one more deep breath and sat up. In one movement, she hooked her jacket with a finger and swung her legs over the side of the raised bed.

Outside the door of Greenhouse B42, Jennet paused, letting her eyes adjust to the dimmer lights of the corridor.

“McPhee! I haven’t seen you in a while!” Jennet turned at the familiar voice, hoping she wasn’t blushing.

“Henry! How are you?”

“M’okay. Getting ready to catch some rays. Wouldn’t mind some company . . .” Henry gave her a lopsided grin.

“Actually, I just came out of there. I have organic chem in about ten minutes.”

“Aw, that’s too bad, maybe another time?”

Jennet nodded her assent.

“Hey, Jenn, if you ever need help in organic chem, let me know. I’m still assisting Prof. Garza; you can usually find me in her lab when I’m not in class. I’ve had three classes with Ben-Ari, so I can give you some pointers for how to deal with him.”

“Um, thanks! I’ll do that.” Jennet suppressed a giggle and waved at Henry as he stepped into the greenhouse bay.

Henry Carroll had TA’d Jennet’s xenoanatomy class, but her pre-vet program didn’t overlap with astrobiology much past the first-year courses. She could probably count the number of actual conversations she’d had with him on one hand, and they were all about anatomy.

But he knew who her organic chem instructor was.

Jennet didn’t really need help in organic chem, but she would at least need a refresher on today’s class, since she didn’t hear a word Prof. Ben-Ari said.

~

“How’re the cows?” Henry tucked a small blossom into Jennet’s hair. Over the past eight months, Greenhouse B42 had become their favorite.

“Changing the subject, huh? They’ll be okay, I guess. We had a to quarantine a small part of the herd, but that seems to have halted the spread. The other herds haven’t been affected.” Jennet pulled away from Henry and focused her gaze on the enviro-control panel on the wall, nearly hidden by a trailing ivy.

“I’m coming back, you know.” Henry leaned over and brushed his lips against her temple.

“I don’t know, actually,” Jennet said, darting him an angry look. “Anything could happen down there. The atmosphere could be toxic; the fauna could be more dangerous than the initial probes indicated. There could be disease.”

Henry sighed. “You know what I mean, Jenn. And it’s not like our lives are risk-free on this ship. Just last month a whole deck lost life support for an hour. Hader’s parents were caught in that--they barely made it. Besides, this planet may be what we’ve been searching for. This is why our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents have lived their entire lives on the Andromeda. This expedition could change everything, and I have a chance to be a part of that.”

“Yeah, I know.” Hard as she tried, she couldn’t quite suppress the quiver in her voice. “It’s just-- it’s a little scary, you know? This is all we know. Nobody alive on this ship even remembers Earth.” She twined her fingers with Henry’s, and he pulled her closer to him.

“That’s not true--there’s still the cryos.”

“They don’t really count. Not until we know for sure they’ve survived the stasis.”

“Can’t you just imagine, Jennet? Someday, we could lie in an actual meadow under actual sunlight, not a lousy ten-by-ten bed of grass and wildflowers under artificial UV lights.”

Jennet giggled. “Maybe we can even stay there longer than thirty minutes!”


***
Author's Note: This sketch is part of a concept that's lived in my head for quite some time now. I guess I've just been waiting for the right moment to let it out.
“Really honey? It’s two o’clock in the afternoon. “

“C’mon, mom! What’s summer for if not to stay up really late and sleep away the morning?”

“Well, for starters, I expect your chores to get done, sleepover or no.”

“I’ll get ‘em done! I still have all day.”

“Oh, you better bet you’ll get ‘em done. So, did you have a good time? What did you do all night?”

“Just watched creepy movies and pigged out on junk food. You know, usual sleepover stuff.”

“Really? Then why didn’t anyone pick up the phone when I called?”

“. . . You must’ve called when we were out. Jamie’s parents took us to that one theater that does the late-night horror flicks.”

“Funny, Jamie’s dad didn’t say anything about that when he called me last night.”

“Maybe he just forgot to mention it?”

“Mm-hm, like maybe you forgot to mention that Jamie’s parents were out of town last night? Seems they were under the impression that Jamie was staying with us.”

“. . . “

“Was it a fun party?’

“. . . yeah.”

“Good. ‘Cause that was your last one for a long time.”

Yes ma’am.”

“Now, go put your things away. There’s a list of extra chores on your bed, since you’ll have lots of time at home this summer. I suggest you don’t waste any time getting to them. And since you didn’t tell me the truth when I gave you the chance, I’ll be thinking of a few more shortly.”

***


JamieDodger: so they took my phone, i can't go out, and i can only use the computer for an hour a day

SuprGoalie23: My mom's changing the wifi password daily. My chores have to pass inspection before I can have it.

JamieDodger: omg ur mom's hardcore

SuprGoalie23: Yeah. Hey, did she call ur house the night of the party?

JamieDodger: uh no? we don't even have a landline anymore.

SuprGoalie23: Are u kidding? She totally tricked me!

SuprGoalie23: She asked me why we didn't answer, and I made up a dumb excuse.

JamieDodger: we were busted anyway.

SuprGoalie23: Yeah but she piled on extra punishment cuz I lied.

JamieDodger: that's some bs. hey time's almost up i gotta go.

SuprGoalie23: l8r

JamieDodger: c u

F-list peeps: I'm still working on this, but I'm posting now so I can edit and hopefully link to the entry thread from work. Feel free to comment on the WIP if you are so moved.

Apologies, I was five minutes late getting back from lunch when I finished, and I forgot to delete this header.

“Oh, honey, you don’t want that one. . . “

“But Mommy, it’s so tiny and cute!” .

“How come it’s not feeding with the other puppies?” her older brother asked.

“It’s the runt. Sometimes there’s one puppy that’s littler than the others, and its brothers and sisters won’t give it room to eat. A lot of times they don’t even make it.”

“What if we took it home now? We could save it!” Said the boy.

“Yeah!” the little girl said, her braids bouncing as she jumped. “We could give it a bottle like a baby!”

Their mother sighed. “It just doesn’t work that way, sugar. And I don’t want you to pick a puppy that might not survive long enough to bring home, even if the breeder hand-feeds it. Now, what about that one with the big, brown spots? That one’s pretty cute, too . . .”

~

Spike watched the humans for a few minutes more before he darted out from his vantage spot under the bush and headed back to the abandoned coyote den under the train tracks. Most of the animals were napping just outside the den, as usual, but this was no problem for the agile tabby. He slunk between the sleepers to the best sunny spot, where, Maizie, a collie, lay, and batted her in the nose.

Maizie jumped up with a yelp. “What was that for?”

“We’ve got another one, boss!” Spike said, flipping his tail back and forth.

“So you have to wake me up with your claws?” Maizie pawed at her muzzle.

“Sorry, boss.”

“Hmph. Right, then, what have you got?”

“Cocker spaniel litter, maybe three weeks or so, not far from here. Red Stumpy found out about them through the Squirrel Network and alerted me a little over a week ago, but I saw them outside today for the first time. Several groups of humans were looking at the puppies. There’s definitely a runt--can’t get in to nurse, poor little thing.”

“And the humans?" Maizie asked.

“The humans in the house seem okay--they’re bottle feeding the little guy--but the none of the others showed any interest."

Maizie rested her snout on her front paws. "All right," she said. "I don't think there's any cause for alarm yet. Continue watching the litter; let me know if there's any change. I’ll get the crew ready, in case we need to move quickly.”

Several of the other animals in the den were already awake and listening, but they waited for Maizie’s signal--a series of three barks. There was a flurry of shaking and stretching, and within a minute Maizie was surrounded by a motley assortment of wild and feral animals.

“Spike has reported from the Little Tree section. We need to prepare for a possible new addition--a puppy, cocker spaniel. Raccoons, I need you to check the kibble supply. You might need to go to the Big Place--they throw out bags all the time.”

“But the rats . . .” one of the raccoons started.

Maizie interrupted with a great woof. “The rats are smaller than you, I’m sure you can take them on. Get a big group together if you have to. Some fresh bedding would be nice, too, bits of blanket, towels, whatever you can find. It’s been a while.

“Berda, Farlo, I’d like you to dig a new burrow in the den.” Two badgers nodded their assent. Maizie turned to a red fox. “Gree, I’ll need you for the snatch, if it comes to that. Don’t range too far for a few days.

“Felines, get in touch with some of our outliers. If we bring in the puppy, we’ll need some extra patrols for a while. Dogs, spread the word to the Taken In. Find out what they know about the litter and the humans--and use the Squirrel Network to find out if any of our friends have had a litter recently. Feral or Taken In, it doesn't matter. Anyone who might have milk. Go.” Another series of barks, and the group scattered.

~

“The puppy isn’t doing so well.” A week had gone by, and the whole group was in council. Spike sat on a fallen tree trunk so everyone could see and hear him. “The mother is rejecting him entirely, and the humans are worried.”

“We’d better take him, then,” Maizie said. “Who else has a report for me?”

Skittles, a tortoiseshell, spoke for the Feline Patrol. “We found about a dozen solitaries willing to help patrol for a few weeks.”

Next, a small mutt chimed in. “I talked to Fizziwig in the dog park! His humans took him to the vet and he heard about the puppies there. The runt’s name is Doodlebug. The vet says there isn't anything they can do if he refuses to feed."

"Thank you, Lulu. That means milk is a big priority. Where are we on that?"

Chester, a lab mix, spoke up. "There's only one litter I've heard of, boss, but you won't like it."

"Well?"

"Larina."

A couple of coyotes at the back of the group yelped.

"Larina isn't one of us anymore!" one said.

Maizie bowed her head. "It’s true my nursemate has grown proud since founding a pack with her own kind. I fear she may not remember her friends."

The meeting was interrupted by a howl from within the den. The group fell into a hush as the Matriarch, a coydog, padded out.

"If Larina has forgotten where she came from, then we shall remind her. She will talk to me. Have Grey Stumpy arrange a meeting."

~

They met at night, at the border of Larina's pack's territory. Maizie and the Matriarch didn't know what to expect, so they brought Jinka the bobcat and Rollo, a German Shepherd who had been Taken In, but could jump his fence if he wanted to get out. But Larina came alone.

The coyote stood tall and proud as Maizie approached her. "You wish my help?" she asked.

"We are bringing in a puppy from Little Tree. He is very young, and hasn't been feeding well. He is in great need of milk if he is to survive. We have heard you have a new litter."

"Many pups do not survive. I have lost a number my own now. It is the way of things."

"Do you not grieve those lost pups? Would you not have them survive if you could save them?" Maizie asked.

"The strong ones survive." The coyote shrugged.

"How can you have become so cold?" Maizie asked.

The Matriarch appeared by Maizie's side. "You were not one of the strong ones, yet you survived with our help. Or have you forgotten that you suckled at my teat instead of your own mother's?

"You are one of us. You would not be what you are now without the very help we are asking of you. In fact, I remember you brought a pup from your first litter to protect him from his brothers and sisters. He is with us still."

Larina hung her head. "Very well, Matriarch. I will do this for you. Send word when you have the pup, and I will come." She turned and loped away into her territory.

~

"The humans have stopped bringing Doodlebug outside with the other puppies," Spike announced. He, Maizie, and Gree were the next yard over from the house.

Gree the fox yelped her disappointment. "How will we get him now?" She asked.

"One of the raccoons will have to do it," Maizie said. "Spike, you said there's a basement window with a hole in the screen?"

"Yup. I'm sure we can widen it enough to get in and out."

"Send a squirrel to fetch the coons right away."

It was a tense wait, but finally the pup was in paw.

"He is awfully tiny," Maizie said. "Send for Larina; this is going to a tough one."

Posted via LiveJournal app for iPhone.

The morning sun warms my bed. Eyes still closed, I listen for the familiar bustle of the bakery downstairs; Father pulling the first loaves out of the oven, Granny chatting with an early customer.

When I can no longer deny the silence, I throw back the covers and examine my surroundings. Someone has left a clean shift and robe on the foot of the bed, but instead I put on the soiled, torn skirt and tunic I fled my burning village in.

***

There are about a dozen others, dressed in the same robes I found on my bed; the youngest is about ten, the oldest in his thirties. All “divinity students,” hiding in plain sight. All at different levels of ability and training. I do not speak to them.

The priests tell me I must learn to control my gift, even if I choose never to use it again. That’s what they call it--a gift. They warn me of possible accidents caused by the gifted who do not seek training, and tell me that many people are afraid of people like us.

People like us.

***

I dream. I am a little girl, and Grandfather tells me my favorite story: A witch is stealing men away from the village. She sucks out their souls to power the spell that keeps her young and beautiful, and then puts the soulless bodies to work as slaves. One day, she sets her sights on a handsome farm boy, but he sees through her. He pretends to be seduced by her, but instead, with the help of his true love, tricks her into casting the spell on herself, which releases the souls she has gathered over the years. Without her magic spell sustaining her, the witch withers and dies within minutes. The clever farm boy is proclaimed a hero.

I look up at Grandfather. “Can magic ever be used for good, Grandfather?”

“What a foolish question, child! Magic is an unnatural force--even when someone thinks they can harness it for a good purpose, it ends up twisting their minds, and they change.”

Grandmother gives Grandfather a look I don’t understand.

I wake up. Yesterday I learned how to use magic to heal the broken wing of a bird. That didn’t feel evil. I felt the same surge of power I felt after that soldier stabbed my mother--that didn’t feel evil either. Just . . . different.

When I am going to become evil, I wonder, and will I even notice that it’s happening?

The priests call it a gift.

***

It is quiet in the classroom today, everyone intent on their own exercises.

One of the boys conjures a ball of light in his hand and tosses it toward the ceiling. He catches it, and tosses it again. The others start to turn and look, and another boy grins and holds his hands out. The first boy tosses him the ball. One by one, everyone joins in. Even the priests.

I stare in horror.

How can they be having fun?

***

My clothes are gone. I always put them in the corner when I undress. They aren’t there. I have thrown the covers off the bed and flipped over the mattress. They aren’t there. I knock over the bedside table. There are no other furnishings in the small chamber, nothing else to look under.

So I scream.

When the priests come, I scream louder. They do not try to stop or comfort me. One priestess brings a small chair and sits in the room with me, and the others leave. I will find out later she is there to make sure I do not harm myself.

***

My clothes lay at the foot of the bed, alongside the novice’s robes that have been there since I arrived. They have been cleaned and mended.

I look at myself in the small mirror on the wall. The bruise covering my left cheek is fading, the cut across my temple nearly healed. In my repaired clothes, I almost look normal, but I don’t know what normal is anymore.

I go to the refectory. The ten-year-old boy comes and holds out his hand, and I let him lead me to the table with the others. A girl, a little older than me, speaks to me.

“Before I came here, I got in a fight with my little brother. He was playing with my things, and broke something special to me, and I was so angry. I reached out to grab the pieces from him, and-- and a flame just-- it just burst out of my hand.” Tears streamed down her face.

Another student, a young man, says, “It happened that way for most of us. We all know how hard it is, we all know the stories, and what people say about magic. But we have each other here, and we all believe in doing what good we can with our gifts until we can live openly in society.”

A dozen hands reach out to embrace and comfort me as I weep.

***

I’ve been here two months. The priests have determined that I’ve learned enough control that I can, if I wish, leave the monastery, suppress my magic, and live a normal life, whatever that means. Or I can stay, and continue to learn.

I don’t understand why I’m here, why soldiers destroyed my village, why I don’t even know if my family is still alive. Why I can use magic. Perhaps I never will. But this is my life now; I have to learn how to live it.

I reach for the novice’s robes.
I am many things.
I am some things all the time.
I am other things only at times of my choosing.
I am yet more things only when I have to be.
I am a few things temporarily (I hope).

I am a Daughter. I only have one parent left; I still--always--grieve for my father, stepfather, and stepmother.
I am a Sister and a Step-Sister.
I am a Granddaughter. Only one grandparent remains as well.
I am a Great-Granddaughter. My last surviving Great-Grandmother died over ten years ago. But that doesn't matter.
I am a Niece.
I am a Cousin.
I am a Friend.
I am an Employee.
I am a Coworker.
I am a Patient.

I am a Cook.
I am a Baker. They are not quite the same thing.
I am a Knitter, Spinner, Weaver, Embroiderer sod it Fiber Artist.
I am a Choral Singer.
I am a Reader.
I am a Writer.
I am a Gamer.
I am a Nerd.

I am a Drow Rogue.
I am a Zabrak Soldier.
I am Tarnum, the Immortal Hero.
I am a Berserker and an Engineer and an Embermage and an Outlander.
I am a Hufflepuff.

I am a Cashier (and a Service Desk attendant and a Service Coordinator).
I am a College Graduate.
I am a Master of Library and Information Science. And I cling to that, even though I still don't, and fear I may never, work in that field.
I am a Caregiver.
I am a Procrastinator.

I am a Pagan.
I am a Skeptic. I am quite sure those do not cancel each other out.

I am a Person Like Any Other, with hopes and fears, sorrows and joys, pet peeves and idiosyncrasies.
I am a Person Unlike Any Other, with my own hopes and fears, sorrows and joys, pet peeves and idiosyncrasies.

I am me, for good or ill.

I am.

Oh, why not?

I'll bite, and give LJ Idol, Exhibit A a shot.

A small holiday wish

If you can't have the best Christmas, have the best Christmas you can.


(I was absent for a while, and I've been lurking for a while. I really should explain one of these days. But love and hugs to everyone, especially those of you who've been having a tough time.)

Idol Finals: The Impossible Choice

So much for "I'm gonna start posting more on LJ again!" Well. There is still a Life Update of Doom I ought to do, if anyone's even still reading, that's over a year overdue. But for now, more LJ Idol!

I haven't posted a damn thing since I was eliminated, despite my good intentions about Home Gaming, and now it's the finals, and the last two writers standing, whipchick and notodette, have been called upon to make a case for both themselves and their opponent. Both are outstanding writers, and both make an excellent, though very different, argument. I have until tomorrow to choose between them, and I'm not sure it's enough time to make that decision.

If you've followed Idol at all this season, even if it was just while I was competing, I encourage you to read both entries and vote for your favorite. The poll is open to all:

http://therealljidol.livejournal.com/603806.html

And even if you haven't followed Idol and don't care a whit about the competition, I urge you to read the entries, as well as alycewilson's thoughtful Home Game entry. What these ladies have to say applies to so much more than an internet writing competition, and have certainly given me some food for thought. They are well worth your time.

LJ Idol, Week 24: In Your Wheelhouse

The centerpiece of my personal altar space is a dish that I made long ago in a community college ceramics class. It’s really ugly, so I keep it filled with polished stones and shells collected at various times and places, a couple of pagan-y trinkets, like the tiny goddess figure I bought for a dollar somewhere (I’m a poor pagan), and a few items precious to me. One of these last items is a penny.

It doesn’t look like much: it’s smooshed out thin with a bit of a curve to it, almost like what you get out of those vending machines you sometimes see at amusement parks, where you insert a penny and a couple of quarters, and it spits the penny back out at you imprinted with some cartoon character. Only this penny is completely smooth. And more than a little dirty.

***

In 2001, I took a trip to visit my dad, who lived in northern Arkansas. I hadn’t seen him in a few years, since we had both had moved away from Chicago in different directions, and I didn’t have extra money for traveling. But I was working full time, and we had agreed to split the cost of a flight so I could afford the trip.

Alongside the usual activities for an Arkansas trip--visiting the extended family, taking a boat out onto the lake, and staying home to play with the cats--we went to this little train museum-y thing. (You might think twenty-five years working for Amtrak would turn a guy off trains for life, but not so with my dad.) They had a working train that guests rode along a stretch of track while the “conductor” talked to us about the history of the place and the train we were on--appropriately for my dad and me, an old commuter train from Chicago. I think the place was a former station or rail yard for a defunct rail line, as they also had a working roundhouse that we got to see in action.

Before we got to ride the train, though, we had to wait for it to arrive from the other end of the track. When it was approaching, my dad and a number of other men (clearly other train fanatics, as they all seemed to know what they were doing) took pennies out of their pockets and put them on the track. I wasn’t really sure what they were up to, but I remember Dad saying something about having to get it on the track right, or it would just fly off when the wheels hit it.

The train came, and passed us, and came to a stop at the wheelhouse. My dad stepped up to the track to collect his penny, and he gave it to me. It was flattened out smooth, with a bit of a curve, and covered with black marks (well, those may have been there before). If you look really closely, you can still see the image of the Lincoln Memorial on the reverse of the coin, but otherwise it's not even recognizable as a penny.

I used to carry it with me, in a zippered pouch that I kept in my knitting bag to hold assorted small objects. But for the last ten years or so, it has lived on my altar, representing my memories of my dad. To anyone else, it's not even worth the one cent it originated as, but to me, it's priceless.

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