Thursday, May 30, 2024

In the Shadow of Her Majesty, Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty: Our Woeful Return

Our return to the anarchist settlement was begun as expeditiously as possible, as a wild and headlong flight over rough and roadless terrain would have worsened the condition of the gravely wounded Lucretia; Ernest had confirmed Diego’s assessment of her injuries, which included a shattered clavicle, a punctured lung, and a deep wound to her thigh that had come perilously close to the femoral artery.  Ernest took his place next to her in the rear of the all terrain vehicle, from where he could use the small medical kit from my bag to staunch her wounds and diminish her discomforts; even as she flitted in and out of consciousness, she moaned and writhed in a most piteous way, and it was only Ernest’s use of an injectable soporific that calmed her agonies.

We made what progress we could, at every moment troubled that we might be overtaken by enraged pursuers, who would most certainly have been informed of our presence by the now extinguished Caddiganite patrol.

Even though our collective well being was decidedly imperilled, our concern was yet deeper for our wounded comrade.   Glancing back at where she rested in the rear seat of the vehicle, I could see that her lips were stained with blood, her breathing laboured, and I must confess that I did not hold out much hope for her recovery, despite Ernest’s ministrations and the care with which Diego picked our path through the trackless wood.  Her breathing grew more and more shallow and rapid, and her face paled, and it felt that the end must be near.

As indeed, it was; I watched in horror as Lucretia’s back arched against the seat restraint, her stained lips opened as if to draw a great inhalation, yet no breath was taken, and she settled back and was still.  

“She has died,” Ernest said, simply, his voice raised over the engine and the clamour of our progress.

Diego’s face tightened with a grim determination.  “Right,” he said, bluntly, his voice flat and devoid of all affect.  Then, dear reader, did the pace of our flight become wild and wanton, as the engine roared and we veritably flew through the woods, crashing and leaping like an afrighted stag in mortal flight from the hounds.  I found myself most thankful for the restraints that held me into my seat, for without them, I most surely would have been thrown bodily from the vehicle.  Diego drove like a madman, seemingly without regard for life or limb or the integrity of the vehicle, yet his reactions and instincts were unerring, and insofar as I was able to endure the bludgeoning of our progress, I marvelled at his fierce and necessary competence.

There had, in those opening moments of our retreat and our necessary caution, been a worry that we might be soon overtaken by pursuers, but as we placed more and more distance between ourselves, that clearing, and the routed and lifeless patrol, it became more and more apparent that our evasion had been effectual.

It was not long before we reached the barely maintained track that had brought the four of us to our point of reconnaissance, and there our pace quickened yet again, although being upon a surface of at least some regularity did diminish the bruising pace of our progress.  I found myself uncertain as to whether or not offering a heartfelt condolence would be timely and appropriate, for I had no knowledge of the character of the relations between Diego and the unfortunate Lucretia; it seemed that they might have been intimates, but then perhaps not, for such things were evidently much vaguer amongst the anarchists.

He seemed satisfied to lose himself in a grim focus upon our journey, and given the woeful circumstance, I felt it best to honour that desire, so we continued along the remainder of our rushed peregrination in a charged and dour silence.

I shall freely admit to feeling a not inconsiderable joy when we once again crested the rise that brought the settlement gates into view, for I felt most wearied by these past days, and my temples throbbed and ached from the many bruisings and pummellings I had received throughout our trials, to which our fraught and bumptious retreat had contributed a great deal.  Our approach slowed by but the most fractional degree, and it seemed for a moment that it was Diego’s mad intent to careen through the gatehouse, knocking the guards aside as if they were ninepins.

It was only at the very last possible moment that he applied the brakes, and we slid to a long and dramatic halt just yards away from his fellow anarchists.

Diego leapt from his seat, and rushing posthaste to where Lucretia’s still form lay lifeless behind him, removed her body from its place in the vehicle with the greatest of tendernesses.  Taking her blood-flecked corpse in his arms, he began what was to be a long funereal march to the central fortification; the guards, seeing her devoid of soul and breath, gave out a cry altogether, and with much lamenting and ululations, the group of them followed Diego inward through the fields.  

This might have been more easily accomplished by simply driving, no doubt, but it was clearly Diego’s intent to perform the task in a more personal manner, one that would summon the broader community in a liturgy of loss.  Indeed it was so, for as they walked away from where Ernest and I stood just beyond the outer gate, they gathered about them yet others from the fields and workshops, and soon there was an impromptu procession of those mourning the loss.

“We should gather our belongings,” I said to Ernest.  “And be sure to take Lucretia’s computing device.  We shall have need of it, if we are to determine our next course of action.”

“Indeed, milady,” he replied, and after having done what I requested, we began our short  

Ahead of us as we walked, the cries grew and redoubled, as the entire settlement poured forth to lament the loss of one of their own; I will confess that, while I cannot say that I knew Lucretia in any meaningful sense, I too felt sorrow arise within me, for the cold hand of Thanatos had also taken much from me in these last several days.

I found myself overwhelmed by a great fatigue of body and mind, indeed, all of the boldness and valkyrian spirit that had so recently risen within me had vanished like a passing zephyr, and as Ernest and I entered the central compound, I realised that I would be hard pressed to continue further.

“Ernest, I fear I am…I am quite exhausted.  I shall…need to rest for a while.”

“Very well, milady.  That is to be expected.  Let us together go to the quarters you were provided, and there you might take a period of necessary repose.”

With the cries of profane lament turning to doleful and equally profane song behind us, he and I found our way to the small room that had been turned to my use this last night.  It was the most humble and meagre of chambers in the Central Committee building, containing within it a single narrow canvas bunk with a threadbare comforter, a single battery powered LED, and a small dresser, all dully illumined by a clear plexiglass window long yellowed with age.

It was not the sort of accommodation that I would have felt fit for a commoner, much less a lady of any quality; I would imagine that the cells provided for prisoners or the most dour of anchorites would have been no less spartan.

Yet as I had the night before, I found that my enervation was such that sleep swept upon me as a dark roaring wave; no sooner had I settled upon the firm bunk than I was lost to the world, the last fluttering vision before my eyes being the stalwart Ernest standing dutiful watch at the door.

I cannot say how long I slept, nor was there even the slightest sense of time, for the oblivion I entered was both dreamless and timeless.  When my eyes reopened, all that I knew was that it was dark and in the depths of night, with only a faint ochre glow from the yellowed window casting a baleful and bilious light into the chamber.  

I had been, I realised at that moment, awakened by two things: First, I was in rather notable discomfort, as the blows and traumas of the last hours left me aching to my very bones, and; Second, I was ravenously hungry, for I had not eaten since having consumed a bowl of a watery gruel the evening before.  There had been a breaking of the fast that prior morning, which I in my weariness had been unable to attend, but at that point in time I will admit to having only craved my morning coffee, which I knew would be lacking in such a place.


“Yes, Milady?”  With his words, his eyes lit, glowing a faint indigo in his dark corner of the room.

“Can I bother you for the time, Ernest?”

“Certainly, Milady.  It is four twenty seven am.”

“Thank you, Ernest.  Ernest?”

“Yes, Milady?”

“We don’t happen to have anything to eat, do we?”

“We do not, milady.  I can, should you desire, investigate the kitchens of the collective refectory, and return with whatever I find suitable.”

“No, no. I shall wait until the morning.”

“Are you certain, milady?”

“I am.  Thank you, Ernest.  I shall endeavour to sleep again.”

I admit now that even in that moment, I was aware that such endeavours were going to be found utterly wanting, for hunger and discomfort are hardly the dearest companions of blessed Nyx.  If, dear reader, you have ever found yourself in a place where sleep was desired yet slipped from your grasp, you know precisely the nature of my next three hours of life and breath.  It is, as I am quite certain you are painfully aware, an entirely disagreeable state of being, tossed with all manner of grim thoughts and sorrowful phantasies.  It feels as if one is imprisoned in a timeless, impassible Tartarus, and I endured it with a grim stoicism.

Yet it did pass, as does all that is mortal, and when I finally determined that the morning was filled adequately with light, the community sufficiently roused that the refectory would be again open to feed anarchist and guest alike, I roused myself, dressed, said my morning prayers, and with Ernest’s assistance, managed despite my insufficient night of quiescence to make myself at least adequately presentable in polite company.

Then he and I departed my chamber, and found our way to where our hosts were coming together and breaking the fast.

Chapter Twenty One: A Most Welcome Repast

Monday, May 27, 2024

The Ape and the Machine

A while back, my phone stopped charging.  I was on a road trip with family, and though the phone was plugged into a 12V to USB connector, it just wasn't taking a charge.  I'd watch it struggle, the charging graphic flitting on and off as I navved our way home.  It didn't lose charge, but neither could it seem to bump up above 65%.

It's a cheap refurb Samsung, because that's how I roll.  Sure, it was a hundred and seventy five bucks, but it still chugs along nicely at a fraction of the price of new.  Refurbs do that, right up until they don't.

It was, rather obviously, something to do with the connection between the phone and the charger cable, which is the increasingly ubiquitous USB-C.  Either the phone was dying, or my cable had given out.  When I got home, I slotted a USB fast charger into the phone, and that worked like a charm.

So the issue was the cable, or rather, the pluggy bit.  Well, good, I thought.

Cables are cheap, and we dispose of them much as we dispose of things we perceive of has having little value.  This was the same one that had come with the phone when I bought it, so it wasn't exactly built to last.

I could just order another one.  It's what we do.  You don't bother fixing such things.  

Only, looking at it, I found myself wondering what a fix would entail.  Did I really need to add more waste to the world?  Here, an object so complex that for most of human history, creating it would be beyond the ken of even the most skilled artisans or scientists.  It is capable of transferring both power and gigabits of data, carrying as much information in a second as all human writing from our first scratches on cave walls through to the founding of the American republic.  Why dispose of it?  What was most likely wrong with it?  

For the twenty four pins on interior of the two-sided USB-C connector to work, they've got to come into contact with the pins on the receiver.  The connector, being made of inexpensive metal, is entirely capable of deforming over time, loosening to the point at which connections are inconsistent.  That diagnosis exactly matched the nature of the failure.  

So fixing it should be straightforward.  Just apply force.  But how to do so without breaking it?  I have no pliers that are adequately delicate, and the odds of just mashing it into uselessness seemed high.

Then I realized, well, no, I did have what I needed.

I picked up the cable, and delicately placed the connector in between the canines of the right side of my mouth.  I touched the tip with my tongue, feeling the coolness of the metal.  A tongue is a remarkably sensitive organic instrument, really rather excellent at perceiving small things and infinitesimal variations.  

Then I bit down, applying a tiny but slowly increasing amount of force to the center of the connector.  A moment passed, and another, and then my tongue felt the metal give, ever so slightly, the very smallest of movements. 

I held it up and peered at it through my reading glasses.  No visible change.  Good.

When I plugged it into my phone, it worked perfectly.

A win for the higher primate, I suppose.

Friday, May 24, 2024

In the Shadow of Her Majesty, Chapter Nineteen


Chapter Nineteen: I Am Full of Surprises

I knelt immediately, whispering to Mother’s dress the necessary instruction to return to camouflage, for it seemed clear that our assailants believed they had encountered the entirety of our party; we must not be seen.  Around us, bullets whined and spat lethally against the trunks of trees, to which Diego, who had taken cover with fallen Lucretia behind a large oak, returned fire in bursts from Lucretia’s rifle.

“How many are there, Ernest?”

He took a moment to conduct a thorough assay of our circumstance, his head scanning slowly from left to right, in a measured surveillance of the firefight ahead.

“Twelve, milady, standard light Hammer patrol.  They’ve formed a skirmish line along the far side of the clearing, and first fired from cover.  They appear to be advancing dangerously on our comrades ahead, milady, but are unaware of our presence here.  What is your will, milady?”

I considered our options, as one must when considering any decision of consequence.  Neither parley or surrender could be considered with such a barbarous and cruel foe; flight or retreat were not realistic, as we were many miles from safety, and likely to soon be overrun by Caddiganites coming to the aid of this cursed patrol.  With Diego pinned down, and Lucretia either dead or incapacitated, the situation of our erstwhile allies was utterly impossible; we could not expect them to defend us.

Diego was bravely holding them off, firing short bursts at every moment he was given opportunity, all the while covering fallen Lucretia with his own body, but for all of his admirable courage even I could see that the noose our enemies had cast around them was tightening.  Time was of the essence.

Reason counselled bold and direct action on our part, and Prudence, though she be oft one to commend an avoidance of risk, here seemed also to reluctantly concur.  I took a deep breath, and turned to Ernest.

“Ernest, I have decided.  I require two things of you.”

“What are they, milady?”

“First, I require the Ruger from my bag.”

He opened the fire-scarred leather pouch, and retrieved the trusty pistol, which he placed in my begloved hand.  It felt so comfortably familiar, light and perfectly suited to a ladylike hand.  Generally speaking, it would not have ever been considered a weapon of war, as in its time it was used solely for sport.  I knew it as well as I knew my own mind, however, and now my mind was turned to martial endeavours.

“What else do you require, milady?”

I took a second deep breath through my nostrils, and felt the cool of the air charge me with purpose; my gaze fixed upon the far off brutes who grew ever closer to their presumed prey.

“Kill them, Ernest.”

He bowed slightly, showing no more concern than had I asked him to fetch me my slippers.

“Yes, milady.”

Ernest turned, and with a swiftness and grace worthy of Hermes himself began to run, his course inscribing an arc parallel to the left flank of the firefight ahead.  It was clearly his intent to strike them on their right flank, and this left very little doubt as to the most appropriate course of my own action.  I advanced rightward at a brisk pace, my eyes regarding Diego’s increasing peril with some concern.  He was unable to return fire now, so nearly encircled was he, and I suspected he was also suffering from a paucity of ammunition.  

I was soon within the range of the little Ruger, or, to be more precise, within the range within which I had near absolute confidence in my own capacity with it.  One might have thought, in such a moment, that one’s priority would be a stealthy engagement, but as I marked Ernest’s near completion of his flanking manoeuvre, it occurred to me in a flash of insight that this was precisely and exactly incorrect.  

I did not need to be invisible; I needed to be blinding.

A whisper, again, to Mother’s dress, and in an instant, it went from a chameleonesque invisibility to maximum albedo, as the nanoscale fabrics of the dress redirected all of the sun’s light outward in the brightest of possible hues.  

I was radiant, the most brilliant object in the field of vision of all.

The startled Caddiganites froze as one, momentarily confused by the appearance of a wild and blinding apparition before them; it was at that moment that I took most careful aim and fired.  The nearest of them, a large and heavyset brute, was just under thirty yards away, and I felled him cleanly with a single round to the temple.  My second shot brought down another, whose jugular the bullet ruptured in a most gruesome manner.

The startling effect of my bright manifestation was quickly dispelled by their awareness that I had a decidedly lethal intent, and all ten of the remaining members of that patrol turned their murderous fury on my person.  

Their dark rifles chattered with rage; I cast my besleeved arm upward to protect myself, but I was struck most violently by their hail of bullets, and I fell.

Here, dear reader, I can hear you saying: What?

Did you not just tell us that you were struck down?  How can that be so, and yet you still live to tell this tale?

I most certainly was, and I most certainly do.  I would imagine, from the insights you have gleaned previously regarding the capacities of my garment, you shall not be surprised to learn that it is also radically viscoelastic.  In practical terms for the layperson, this means that while the fabric is as soft and flowing as the finest silk, it transforms under duress; impacts in a given area of the garment, those that exceed a certain threshold of kinetic energy, trigger a hardening effect across an appropriate portion of fabric, to include the entirety of the dress if fate necessitates such a response.  It becomes quite impermeable to all but the most forceful penetration.  It is, as again you might have surmised, woven from a similar doughty material as the fabric from which we construct our airships.  Newtonian laws being what they are, however, the force of those ballistic impacts was most rudely conveyed to me, albeit in an even distribution; I was cast most indelicately upon the forest floor.

It was at this very moment that Ernest appeared among them, for my purpose was not merely to strike at these villains, but also to draw attention from his rapid approach.  As a Series Nine, his physical prowess is immense, and he is capable of sustained flight; he swept down from behind the distracted Caddiganites as the Angel of Death upon the Egyptian firstborn.

I did not not see the first of his victims, for I was still struggling to rise to my feet; I confess that even though I had trusted fully in the aegis of Mother’s wondrous dress, I had not quite anticipated the sharpness of the blows I would receive, and I was most shaken in both body and mind.

I will assume, from what I witnessed upon raising my bleary eyes, that Ernest’s first action was to smite the closest Caddiganite into the dark of lifeless oblivion, and then wrest from his insensate form the rifle with which he had so recently been seeking to do us harm.  This I did not see, but simply inferred from what I beheld: nine shots in rapid succession, followed by nine men crumpling to the ground; the entire carnage was completed in less than the time it takes the second hand on a watch to count off two ticks.

His duty completed, Ernest waited patiently for my arrival in the clearing, which I effectuated as expeditiously as I could; my ears were still ringing most disagreeably, and I was certain that I had received the ugliest of bruisings.  I strode forward to inspect Ernest’s handiwork along the fallen patrol; of them, two remained alive, one barely breathing, the other gurgling piteously from a wound that had shattered his jaw.

I dispatched both of them to the mercy of the Lord’s care.

It was then that Diego approached; he had risen from his redoubt, and was carrying the unmoving form of Lucretia in his arms.  He regarded us both with an equal admixture of amazement and the deepest concern.

“Full of xxxxing surprises,” he intoned, barely above a mutter.

“‘Cretia’s in bad shape,” he continued more audibly, his voice growing husky and tightening.  “We’ve got to get her back to the settlement doctor, like xxxxing now.”

And so, collecting our necessaries and taking to our vehicle as quickly as we were able, we did.

Chapter Twenty: Our Woeful Return

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Of Darkness and Clarity

Progressive Christians love complexity and uncertainty.

It's a significant part of the discourse, as integrated into the prog faithy schtick as Kramer's abrupt arrival through Jerry's front door or a Dangerfieldian tug at one's collar.  

The world is complex! The world is uncertain! Therefore, faith is complex and uncertain!  One must, if one is a progressive, embrace the Holy Dark, that place where we cannot see and where our path is unclear.

This, one is led to believe, is a marker of authenticity, a sign of progressive faith's connection to the Unknown and the Unknowable.  "Look at how bravely we acknowledge that we know nothing, and accept that our faith centers on simply sitting with our uncertainty!  Embrace the darkness!"

There is, of course, a truth to that.  We contingent, mortal beings cannot know the wholeness of the Divine intent.  The Numinous is infinitely beyond us, because, like, yo, that's what makes it Numinous, brah.

But true as that might be, there's a practical flip side to that truth.

If you're a church hawking uncertainty and complexity?  No-one, by which I mean pretty much functionally no-one, wants what you're selling. 

Why would they?  They have it already.  I mean, seriously.  It's the old "selling-refrigerators-to-the-Inuit" absurdity.  

Our blighted saeculum provides complexity and uncertainty by the heaping bucketload, every single day.   We are stuffed like foie gras geese with meaninglessness, directionlessness, and the irreconcilable cognitive dissonances of culture.  Truth and meaning are torn from our grasp by the shrieking winds of political disinformation and mammonist hucksterism, and human beings feel utterly lost in the yawning chaos of it all. 

We can feel it tearing at us, taking us apart, bit by bit.  Our sense of ourselves trembles, and the yearning is for something...anything...that can hold us together.

A theology that says, "Well, sure, yeah, we have no idea what we're doing, really, I mean, who even knows, lol, whatevs?"

Sure, you're "being authentic."  You're "authentically" offering cups of water to the drowning. 

That is not what the Gospel is, nor is that what souls seek when they realize how very lost they are.

Faith embraces the cloud and the Holy Dark.  Sure.  Fine.  But it is also and more vitally the pillar of fire by night.  It is the light that shines in the darkness, that the darkness cannot overcome.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Work Breaks, the Law, and Sabbath Imperatives

It was Monday, and May-warm-lovely out, so it was a day for chores, both in the yard and in the house.

I don't mind them, to be honest, as they're just part of caring for one's little patch of land, but they do take energy.  I trimmed back bushes, cut back ivy, and cleared away the clippings.  I edged and mowed the front yard.  I emptied the kitchen compost bin into the compost pile, which I had turned with a pitchfork prior to burying that mess of semi-decomposed waste deep in the warm steaming pile.

It was the labor of an entire morning, and as I was my own boss, I took it at my own pace.

Being deep into the creaks and groans of middle age, that meant taking a pause every half hour or so.  I'd pop in the house for a sip of water, or to sit for a moment.  It'd be a minute or two or five, and then I'd bop back outside to get back into it.

That morning, I worked for about three hours.  I took at least three breaks of varying lengths.  When done, there were chores in the house...attacking the pile of dishes, vacuuming up the endless stream of hair that flows from our dog, walking said dog, feeding said dog, making dinner...and by the time the hour struck ten, I was ready to sleep.

Physical labor requires physical rest.  It's a basic reality.

Which is why I find myself fuddled by the latest kerfuffle coming from the big dangling nether states.  Texas and Florida legislatures have both recently made it illegal for counties to require water and rest breaks for farm workers.

Here, I confess to being of two minds.  Most of the souls whose hands and backs bring us our food are Latino, and many work here without the protections of citizenship.  There's a strong profit motivation for unscrupulous growers to take advantage of that status, knowing that people who fear summary arrest, detention, and deportation are far more likely to endure abusive work conditions.  Protecting those human beings would be best and first accomplished by providing a clear, sane, and open path to citizenship.  

As a still yet more important matter, ensuring humane working conditions seems necessary if you're not, well, evil.  If you can't run a business without inflicting harm on your workers, then that business is an abomination in the sight of the Lord.  Biblically speaking, I'm on solid ground here.

But...then there are the regulations being proposed.  'Cause the county regulations in question seem insufficient.  In Florida, they mandate one ten minute water and shade break every two hours.

This is...peculiar.  I mean, isn't it?  Am I wrong here?  I work outside in the summer on the regular, and that's just not quite enough, bro.  The hotter it gets, the more true that becomes.

Field work is physically intensive, and when temperatures rise into the 90s and 100s  (that's in the thirties, for the rest of the world), you've got to have water available all the time.  You've got to take shade breaks whenever you're feeling pressed.  When it's humid out, that gets even harder.

An employer who didn't provide access to water and shade as needed in the conditions that will increasingly become the norm in the American South wouldn't be doing their workers any favors.  With temperatures rising due to climate change (words redacted for Florida readers), any farmer or rancher who worked to the rule would find their workers struggling.  

Sure, the argument that county-by-county regulations are too scattershot might have validity.  But is it a real argument? Are the folks making that argument arguing for clearer federal and state level regulations, or suggesting that business should be utterly free?  Are they arguing that the biblical injunction to give adequate sabbath to laborers and to never ever oppress or profit maximize doesn't apply, because Reasons?

Then something rather different is at play.  

Monday, May 20, 2024

Anarcholibertarian and Anarchocapitalist

Anarcholibertarianism is a peculiar thing, I'll admit.  

It is not the same thing as anarchocapitalism, because anarchocapitalism is a raging oxymoron and conceptually self-annihilating.  

Corporations and corporate power structures are no less a threat to liberty than political power structures.  Because capital is social power, eh?  Capital exhibits all of the gravitic tendencies of human power to concentrate itself, creates all of the same wild imbalances and injustices, and is ultimately as much threat to freedom and human dignity as any other form of collective power.

Wealth has always worked this way, which is why my moral teacher spent a remarkably large amount of time challenging the ethics of capital in his day.  Profit maximization and the relentless focus on the accrual of capital were, for him, fundamentally suspect and dangerous to our integrity as persons.  

At best, wealth represented a system that needed to be subverted and used slyly against itself.  

At worst, Mammon was the heart of our failure.  It is the system that enslaves us.

Which, again, is why it is so peculiar seeing those who are nominally libertarian so enthralled by the power dynamics of capital.  It is no less a danger to liberty than concentrations of political power.  Assuming that the accrual of socially mediated proxies for ownership and control somehow makes one more "free" is absurd.

Freedom, for the libertarian, is an essential state of being, a fundamental aspect of sentience and personhood.  It is an inalienable right.  It will always stand independent from imagined structural frameworks, be they legal or economic.

In the Shadow of Her Majesty, Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Eighteen: A Vital Reconnaissance

“How do you even walk in that thing?”

It was Lucretia who posed the question as I made my way with care up a densely wooded hillside; the desire to make that inquiry had been evident on her countenance ever since our party had exited the four seat all terrain vehicle that had carried us to within a half-mile of the Caddiganite encampment. The remainder of our journey was to be afoot, for it was imperative that we not alert our enemies to our presence; as we advanced, Lucretia’s frequent glances at my progress through bush and bramble evinced her concern that I would be unable to maintain their brisk pace.

I shall note, at this juncture, that such a failing on my part was not at all present; both Ernest and I had little difficulty staying with our two anarchist companions. Lucretia led the way through the leaf-heavy undergrowth, rifle slung over her shoulder, as in her role as chair of their Intelligence Committee such duties fell on her capable shoulders. Diego followed behind, for though his strength was prodigious, he was burdened with the carrying of the “Sounder,” a man-portable fast recon rocket of anarchist design. Ernest had, of course, volunteered to carry it himself, as such is a footman’s duty, but Diego would have none of that, a refusal that seemed to rise from some combination of masculine pride and a lingering uncertainty about our competence. Ernest had, instead, taken charge of my bag of necessaries, a duty to which he was much accustomed.

“It is considerably easier than you might think,” I replied quite calmly to Lucretia, an assertion emphasized by my utterly unwinded voice.

Mother’s dress was of a singular elegance, but it was hardly a hindrance, even in making one’s way through a barely broken trail. In another era, a dress of similar design would most certainly have been of near-insurmountable impediment, as the primitive fabrics would have snagged and torn dreadfully; the corsetry, too, would have been so constraining and lacking in elasticity as to make its wearer far more vulnerable to fatigue and spells of fainting, particularly as it was then considered unladylike to engage in the strict regimens of calisthenics that are now expected of gentlewomen.

Further, while my footwear at the gala…a lovely pair of Tavistocks…would not have been helpful in such terrain, I was not such a fool as to have worn them for my journey back to Port Baltimore, and instead wore more practicable boots of modest heel and greater comfort.

Ladies of the Peerage are flowers, yes, but we are not delicate flowers; our beauty is like that of Her Majesty, and our refinement is akin to the refining of steel.

Upon my response, Lucretia opened her mouth to say something in further reply; what that reply might have been cannot be known, for at that very moment Ernest, who was as always diligent by my side, stopped abruptly in his tracks, raising a closed fist to indicate that he required silence. In a clear, stern voice, he declared: “Hold please. All stop.”

I, of course, did as he asked, as did both Diego and Lucretia. For a moment, he remained silent, his head cocking from side to side in an action that mimicked a human listening intently; this was likely unnecessary, as his audio sensors are located in a variety of locations across his frame, but it helped convey the intent of his action to all of us.

Having confirmed whatever it was that had caused him to halt our progress, Ernest spoke words of alarm.

“Approaching drone, milady. Please, we must all find cover immediately.”

I, of course, did what was necessary with all due diligence; Diego and Lucretia again exchanged another meaningful glance, but rather than question Ernest’s urgency, they joined me in doing as he had so politely asked.

No sooner had we found suitable cover beneath a stand of pines than the tell-tale whirring of a drone became audible to our lesser human ears; it was a small patrol quadrotor, one that moved with execrable patience one hundred yards above the winter-denuded treeline. Closer and yet closer it came, the menacing mosquito-whine of its motors like needles to our ears, for should its controller ascertain our presence, our efforts so far would come to nothing.

It did not pass directly overhead, but a hundred yards to our southwest, and though for half an instant it seemed to linger in a most importunate way, this proved to be nothing more than an illusion; much to the relief of all, it effectuated a turn to the southwest, and was soon gone from both sight and earshot.

Diego rose from beneath the scrub-bush beneath which he had hidden himself and the rocket, and before taking it up again, called out to Ernest.

“Pretty xxxxing impressive,” he said. “Just how good is your hearing, uh, Ernest?”

“Thank you, sir. Like all upgraded Series Nines, I can discern sounds between 5 hertz and 150 kilohertz, with a sensitivity to -100 decibels.”


“It is, and again, thank you, sir.”

Lucretia, who had also extricated herself from her carefully chosen cover, herself was looking at me oddly.

“Can I help you, dearest Lucretia?” I said.

“Your…dress,” she said, with focused intentness.

“Yes, Lucretia?”

“It…changed colour. Went full camo. Like, you were almost invisible. Blink of an eye. ”

“Of course,” I said. “That was what I specifically requested of it. All garments of its type can replicate any colour or visual texture at a subvocal command. Generally speaking, of course, this is in order to match the particular sartorial demands of a given social occasion: festal greens and reds for Candlemas, various subtle luminescences for moonlit dances, expressions of interest in a partner, and the like. In other, less pleasant circumstances, such as this one, it clearly has a broader and more significant utility.”

“So it isn’t actually a black dress,” Lucretia murmured, half to herself.

“No,” I said. Mother’s dress had, at my whispered command after the passing of the drone, returned to the dun greyish black that it had been since we arrived at the anarchist compound. “It is not. It has no inherent colour. But it shall stay in these woeful colours, pressing necessity aside, until Father can be properly memorialised. I am, after all, in mourning.”

“You people are just full of surprises.” It was Diego, who had hefted the Sounder again upon his broad shoulders.

“We are indeed,” I replied, and with that, the four of us continued on deeper into the woods.

The remainder of our foray towards the Caddiganite firebase was without incident, and when we had reached a wooded rise that offered a suitable vantage point approximately one quarter mile from the location of the camp, Diego set up the Sounder on a crude launching apparatus. Buttons were pressed, transponders were activated, as he and Lucretia busied themselves about preparing the rocket for its short but vital mission.

From there, we retreated back along our prior route, until we had put sufficient distance between ourselves and the Sounder; this was not simply for our safety during the launch, but also to make it more difficult to determine our location when Caddigan’s thugs came looking for those who had just observed them.

Looking back towards where the rocket awaited, Lucretia made a few final adjustments on the portable that would receive the data we required.

“We good?” asked Diego.

“Sure are,” replied Lucretia.

“OK. Let’s go,” said Diego, and with a rather anticlimactic motion, Lucretia brushed her fingers across her antique screen.

From five hundred yards away, there was a faint roar of ignition, and with a throaty rush, the Sounder was away; it flung itself through the thick canopy of the treeline and disappeared skyward in a wild, low, corkscrewing ascent, one evidently designed to diminish the possibility of intercept prior to the capturing of target images.

“Hold. Image stabilising now. Hold. And…there. Got it. Perfect. We’re…”

There was a flat dissonant tone from the tablet, followed a half-second later by a tight, distant retort, as the rocket’s wild dash over the firebase was ended in a violent and lethal punctuation; Lucretia gave a short gasp of genuine bewilderment.

Xxxx,” she swore. “They’ve never been able to hit a Sounder before.”

“You got what we needed, though, right?” Diego asked.


“Right. Let’s get the xxxx out of Dodge.”

I took this archaic saying to mean that it was time for the four of us to beat a rapid retreat, and I was not mistaken, for within moments we were in a headlong flight back towards the small clearing where the all-terrain vehicle was waiting. Our pace, which had been formerly cautious, was now wholly governed by the necessity of escape, and all concern for discretion was abandoned.

I hiked my skirts as necessary, and made good haste, although I will confess that the bluntly practicable and simple garb of my companions permitted them to outpace me by a not inconsiderable degree; Ernest, of course, remained by my side; had he been so instructed, he would easily have pulled ahead of us all.

Further and further ahead Diego and Lucretia ran, nearly out of view through the trees, and as they descended the long rise that lead to the clearing a hundred yards ahead of us, I had a momentary and unwelcome vision of the two of them leaping into our vehicle and roaring away without Ernest and myself; it was utterly preposterous and unwarranted, and I batted it away as one might a pestering fly. These were our allies, and I trusted them implicitly.

At the very instant of that unfaithful thought, there came from ahead of us three most terrible and unwelcome sounds; first, a shout of alarm from Diego; second, a sudden fusillade of small arms fire, as a dozen rifles barked together; and third, a single cry of anguish from what could only have been Lucretia.

A Caddiganite patrol must have found our vehicle, and for the second time in two days, they had snared their unwitting victims.

Or so they imagined.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

In the Shadow of Her Majesty, Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Seventeen: Of Plunder and Planning

The awkward moment passed, as they are wont to do, and it was then with a shared and singular purpose that I found myself in common cause with Diego and his people. Having considered the information before us, and following a period of intense discussion amongst all parties present, it was decided that a small group should sally forth to reconnoitre the nearest Caddiganite encampment, a forward base established only recently ten miles from our current position.

Getting to that decision, however, was rather more complicated than one might have expected, or perhaps precisely as complicated as one might have expected, depending on how well one understood the People’s Front and their processes for determining to do anything.

“We got a couple of images from one of the four drones, right before they brought it down,” the fierce dark-haired woman had said. Her name, or so she shared before our planning began in earnest, was Lucretia, and she was evidently Acting Chair of the Intelligence Subcommittee. “Not sure what to make of this, exactly, but they’ve recovered a couple of large objects and are trucking them back to their firebase. Rebecca? Any thoughts?”

I peered at her ancient screen, upon which an image was evident, showing a truck bearing an item of cargo; I recognized it immediately, even though the picture of it was blurred.

“This is, by design and profile, what remains of the Firedrake’s primary railgun, which I know in basic form from a schematic Father once showed me. It appears so damaged as to be inoperable, although it is likely to have some parts that can be cannibalised.”

“Great,” said Diego, sarcastically.

Lucretia swiped to the left, and another image appeared. “What about this one?”

The next object had been captured perfectly, although that was of rather less help than I would have hoped. It was a large rectangular solid, perhaps ten by ten by fifteen feet in volume, or so I quickly estimated given its size relative to the truck that bore it. It was wrought of a gloss black alloy, upon which were cast intricate and ornamental patterns in gold and silver, decorative flourishes that highlighted Her Majesty’s Crest, which was proudly emblazoned in the centre of each face of the prism. It was utterly undamaged, having survived the plummet and the fire with nary a scratch, and bore about it a fierce dignity, yet also a sense of menace; what first leapt to my mind was that it had about it the form of a great sarcophagus.

“I do not know what that might be,” I said, honestly. “But I suspect, given that it is of our most sophisticated construction, such that it could survive the crash undamaged, that within that dark object must be the cargo the Firedrake was charged with carrying to Williamsburg. I cannot speak to the nature of it any further, for such information is not known to me, but I fear from what I do know that this is a terrible turn of events for both your people and my own.”

Diego leaned in, carefully regarding the dark image on the screen. “Do we know where this is now, ‘Cretia? Like, it’s for sure in that firebase?”

Lucretia shook her head. “We don’t. Can’t get close enough with standard drones to confirm. Could have been moved deeper into the territory they control.”

“In which case we’d be pretty xxxxed,” Diego rumbled. “We have to know. I propose a quick light recon, get us close enough to overfly them with a Sounder, get the hell out. If it’s there, then we get the word out to the RCC, try to take it down. I ask approval.”

This, evidently, was how the group signified that a conversation and decision point was necessary, and in order to reach the point of action (which did eventually occur), there needed to be a process that established consensus. I had witnessed some of their decisionmaking upon my arrival at the compound, and what ensued was a convoluted ritual that made the proceedings of the Ladies Aid Society feel like a pleasant afternoon frolic.

This is, of course, precisely the blight that so inevitably imperils the earnest efforts of utopian anarchists, for while consensus and procedure are perfectly acceptable in when one is debating the colour of the table linens, times of existential crisis require considerably more expeditious choices. I am convinced, from my studies of the Spanish Civil War of the early twentieth century, that this is why the brutish fascists of that era had overwhelmed the passionate, inchoate republicans.

I would describe what came to pass in all of its peculiar detail, if only as a matter of giving insight into the idiosyncrasies of their society, but if I am to be absolutely honest, I was unable to follow their byzantine and seemingly arbitrary logics. Motions and amendments to the motion, I grasp, and like most members of the Ladies Aid Society, I have more than a passing understanding of Robert’s Rules of Order; what played out before me felt like a non-Euclidian parliament, or perhaps one of those mythic Babylonian debates in which every participant was required to imbibe to the point of drunkenness.

Why was Diego waggling his fingers in the air? Why was Lucretia mimicking his action, but with her fingers pointing downwards? Why were they moving about the room, grouping and ungrouping, rising and sitting? Was this farcical dance intentionally or inadvertently comic? I could not begin to tell you the answer to any of these questions, and therefore I shall not try, for:

“Lorsqu’on se retrouve en compagnie de personnes d’une autre culture et que cette culture se présente d’une manière qui semble absurde à notre sensibilité, il est toujours nécessaire de rappeler qu’ils sont probablement du même avis sur la vôtre.”*

Madame Toussaint’s advices on the matter are rather more extensive than that summary, but her essential principle remains most helpful; at a bare minimum, it helped me refrain from giggling.

After about forty five minutes, the group arrived at the conclusion that they should do the exact thing that Diego had suggested, and, rousing myself from a sense of torpor, I stirred myself to interject.

“Ernest and I shall, of course,” I said, “be accompanying you in this effort.”

It was Lucretia who responded, cutting off what seemed to be another outburst from Diego. “Look, Rebecca, I appreciate that you want to be helpful, and you have been. But this is some serious xxxx we’re heading to do here. It’d be better if you and your bot stayed where you’re safe.”

I smiled. “I do appreciate your concern for my person, Lucretia. I can assure you, however, that our participation in this reconnaissance is necessary to ensure its success. Ernest is, as I’m sure you’ve noted, a remarkably capable and formidable footman, and I am not some hothouse orchid that requires tender care and protection. I am able bodied, capable of defending myself, and the only one in this room who has any knowledge of Peerage machines.”

Diego again began to speak, but I raised my hand to indicate that I was not finished, and he…somewhat surprisingly…did me the courtesy of stilling his voice.

“I am also, more significantly, the only representative of an interested party in this affair, a…how do you say it…a ‘Beautiful One’...and it is essential that I have direct knowledge of any discoveries that might be made. For the furtherance of our alliance, it is imperative that Ernest and I be part of this effort; that decision is mine alone to make, and I have made it.”

“She’s not part of the collective,” Shain pitched in. “We don’t technically have any authority over her, not that’s been ceded.”

“Agreed,” said Raj. “The points are valid, my siblings.”

Lucretia glanced meaningfully at Diego, who shrugged.

“OK. Fair enough. We have consensus. Looks like you’re coming along, then,” said Diego, and to my immeasurable surprise, there was no further discussion on the matter.

Really, sometimes it is as easy as that.

“When one finds oneself in the company of those of another culture, and said culture presents itself in ways that seem to one’s sensibility preposterous, it is always necessary to recall that they likely are of the same opinion about your own.” Toussaint, p. 137

Monday, May 13, 2024

Splash Mountain and the Strange Arcs of Corporate Intersectionality

Back in 2021, my family took a trip to Disney World, where we rode the soon-to-be-closed Splash Mountain.  It was as I remembered it, from years before.  A little more threadbare, perhaps.

It's been reconceptualized now, as the characters and stories were all removed and replaced with characters from the 2009 Disney film The Princess and the Frog.  Tiana's Bayou Adventure, it's now called.  

In that replacement, there's a peculiar irony.  

The Song of the South, the film on which Splash Mountain was based, is just the teensiest bit cringey.  Just the weensiest.  (Cough.)  Zip A Dee Doo Dah isn' actual feeling one would have gotten in the wildly racist Reconstruction-era South.  That's where the Uncle Remus stories were recorded by Joel Chandler Harris, a journalist and folklorist writing in the postwar period.  Remus is an amalgam character, one who gives voice to the actual narratives of enslaved peoples that were shared with Harris.  

Harris was white, of course, which means the tales were spun through his lens, although there's considerable murkiness about what that lens actually was.  He was understood by his contemporaries... such as Mark Twain... as being solicitous to Black folk, and Remus was read in much the same way that the wisdom fables of fellow-slave Aesop might be read.  Those stories were among those my grandfather would read to me in Georgia when I was a little boy, and that was the context in which they were presented.  

In the late twentieth and early twenty first century, that's been spun differently, as it's seen through the lenses of intersectionality and cultural appropriation, which the fluffy mid-20th century Disneyfication sho nuff exacerbated.  Oof.

But there's a peculiarity about reconceptualizing that ride.  

Again, the stories in Harrises writing were almost entirely the authentic narratives of enslaved African peoples.  That's a known known.  Brer Rabbit, Brer Bear, and Brer Fox derived their inspiration from West African trickster narratives, in which the weaker or the oppressed use their wits and wiles to overcome those who hold power.  As is so often the case with the disenfranchised, one has to dig through the narratives of their oppressors to find their truths and the tales they told.  For all of the flaws and clumsiness of the Uncle Remus stories, that's the purpose they served for the people who first told them.

The echoes of those stories have now been erased.

In their place, a story that is...different.  The Princess and the Frog isn't an African tale, nor is it a tale told by the African peoples who were brought enslaved to America.  It is also not a narrative with roots in the Black American experience.  It's rooted in a Germanic story, a classic European fairytale.  One that's been reframed to celebrate Creole and Bayou culture, certainly, but still. 

It's the word when you paint over a white thing with blackness to entertain an audience?  It's..uh...yeah.  I mean, how isn't it that?  

So to make amends, you replace the authentic stories of enslaved peoples with...a European fairy tale?  Capitalism is so weird.

If Disney wasn't run by lazy profit-driven execs happy to make bank off of commodified intersectionality, they'd have left the ride alone, and there'd have been a remake of Song of the South instead.  Lord have mercy, if there's ever been a Disney film that needed a hard reboot, it's that one.

It could have been something more...real.  Something that reframed those tales to surface the real and existential challenges facing Black folk in the Klan-dominated Reconstruction era South, and drilled down on the deep African roots of those now cancelled stories.

Maybe Barry Jenkins could have directed.  Ah well.  In another timeline, perhaps.

Saturday, May 11, 2024

Of Trump and My Anarcholibertarian Predilections

Last year, I sat in front of a class of undergraduates and talked about my postapocalyptic Amish novel.  At one point, in response to a question from one of them about separatist/quietist movements, I described myself as having "anarcholibertarian predilections," which got a laugh from a couple of bearded young men at the back of the class.  

It's such a silly, self-absorbed, overwrought way to think of yourself, which makes anarcholibertarianism a perfect match for silly, self-absorbed, overwrought me.

I've dabbled with the idea that I might politically self-identify as libertarian over the years, but if I am, I'd have to be of that peculiar variety.  Every time I think I'm there, when my frustration with the rigidities of bureaucratic folderol and the clucking propaganda of twitter pharisees and apparatchiks have me considering going full Ron Swanson, libertarians disabuse me of the notion that I could ever possibly fit within that "movement."  

Not that it's a movement, not really.  It's as incoherent as the language on the AI generated image I prompted for this post.

The news about Libertarianism recently, insofar as there is ever any meaningful news about libertarianism in America, is that the Libertarian Party has invited Donald J. Trump to speak at their convention.

It's yet another reason why any libertarian worthy of the name would steer away from the American party, and a reminder of how neofascist, corporatist, and "strong man" ideologies have devoured the concept of libertarianism in America.  If your libertarianism ends up justifying the power of a despot, an oligarch, or a charlatan, it ain't libertarianism.  

It's monarchism, and honeychild, there is a difference.

My libertarianism doesn't bend the knee to anyone, including myself.  Perhaps that's because it's less a political philosophy and more a question of my theology, which seems a better place for libertarianism to hang its hat.  That is, let it be clear, not me saying it is less relevant.  It's me saying it's more central to my identity as a person, my understanding of how human beings are to live together, and our relationship with our Creator.

There's probably some pre-existing definition of the word anarcholibertarian, one that was argued and fretted over by earnest folks with Germanic surnames a century ago.  I mean, surely there is.  I don't care.  I mean, being anarcholibertarian, why would I?

My libertarianism is "anarcho" because I don't trust human beings with power.  Put the prefix "an" in front of "arch," and that's really all you're saying:  "no power."  Whatever the power structure may be, there is within it moral hazard.  The concentrations of power that manifest in political systems become self-perpetuating, as power seeks to reinforce itself.   There is no form of political system that is immune to this, because political systems are human social constructs, and humans love love love power over one another.  

Which means...because no human community can function without power...that I prefer systems that check and balance the powerful.  Oligarchies and despotisms, being the self-serving things that they are, are the enemy.  Social democracies and liberal republics are invariably frustrating, but they do a far better job of preserving the average soul's liberty than any other system.  This is precisely because they put the brakes on power, because they make the concentration of authority in a single person or group more difficult.  We've forgotten this, we Americans, as we posture and bellow at one another from our position of privilege.

Preserving the liberty of the powerful is and has always been unnecessary.  The wealthy and the social elite have their armies of lawyers...or their actual ensure that they are free to do as they please.  Rules, like the covenant of marriage or the Constitutional process for the peaceful transfer of power?  These things do not apply to them.

The more someone loves power, revels in it, glories in it?  The less one should trust them with it.

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

The First English Language Use of the Word "Multiverse"

"...we of the nineteenth century, with our evolutionary theories and our mechanical philosophies, already know nature too impartially and too well to worship unreservedly any god of whose character she can be an adequate expression. Truly all we know of good and beauty proceeds from nature, but none the less so all we know of evil. Visible nature is all plasticity and indifference, a moral multiverse, as one might call it, and not a moral universe. To such a harlot we owe no allegiance; with her as a whole we can establish no moral communion; and we are free in our dealings with her several parts to obey or destroy, and to follow no law but that of prudence in coming to terms with such of her particular features as will help us to our private ends. If there be a divine Spirit of the universe, Nature, such as we know her, cannot possibly be its ultimate word to man. Either there is no spirit revealed in nature, or else it is inadequately revealed there; and (as all the higher religions have assumed) what we call visible nature, or this world, must be but a veil and surface-show whose full meaning resides in a supplementary unseen or other world."

- from William James (Harvard philosopher, brother of Henry James, founder of American psychology), "Is Life Worth Living," 1895, the first English language use of the word #multiverse.