A Most Decadent Pizza For No Reason At All… With Chicharrones (of course!)

No really. I had absolutely no reason at all to make this pizza. I wasn’t celebrating anything, I didn’t finish a project, and I didn’t just finish a triathlon or any other type of physical exertion that would justify the enormous amount of calories I was going to ingest. In fact, that was the point!

My therapist had asked me when I’d last been non-productive, lazy, or in some way pointlessly decadent. For those of you who know me, it wouldn’t surprise you to know that it had likely been years since I’d done something like that. The last time I remember was maybe in 2010 when I’d bought a block of fancy cheese for no reason at all, and I was so proud of that fact that I’d advertised it great fanfare on Facebook.

Long story short, while my intense, perhaps slightly monomaniacal obsession with being productive, efficient, and flawlessly punctual has resulted in some material benefits, the other effect is that it is only after a rather large amount of self-flagellation and self-imposed achievement targets that I would allow myself to have anything that would be remotely pleasurable. Hence, the therapy. And hence, the following pizza.

Initially, I’d considered ordering a pizza in, but after much reflection, I came to the conclusion that no restaurant pizza would truly be able to satisfy me or my specific tastes. Which is why I decided to make my own. Now, the quibblers among you may point out that by doing so I am still being productive. Yes, you would be right, but goddammit, let me do my babysteps and my nice, long run-on sentences, okay?

My Cast-iron Pizza

My main goal for my pizza was to make it the most ridiculous pizza possible, with the most amount of cheese and crazy toppings that I would be suited just for me. So yes, you cilantro-hating freaks, MY pizza has a shit-ton of cilantro on it.

As for the technique, I had a couple of ideas on what to use , but I eventually settled on making my pizza in a cast-iron pan. Really, it’s a technique that’s as easy as it is brilliant. The standard size of the pan is perfect, and given how tall the sides are, you can mound up the pizza to your heart’s content.

Here’s what I used for the dough for one pizza:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon yeast

I mixed it all up, kneaded it, and let it sit for at least 6 hours. It should look like this (the right is after it’s risen):

Following the method in the link above, you then place the dough in the slightly oiled cast-iron pan (clever man that I am, I’d cooked up some bacon, and I simply left the grease from that in there), and then, with base of your palm, you flatten it out.

Easy right? Now cover in plastic and let sit for two hours, while we do the toppings.

The kick-ass toppings

This definitely won’t match popular opinion, but I’m not a huge fan of tomato sauce on pizza. Sure, it’s fine once in a while, but it’s usually way too sweet, and you don’t really taste the tomatoes. Look, as a former farmer, I’ve had the best tomatoes on the planet, so those crappy tomatoes that people usually use as a base for their sauces is the beer-equivalent of Coors Light that itself was watered down with hot piss. So no, not a huge fan of regular tomato sauce.

What do I like? I really like pesto-based pizzas. In my case though, since I’m ever the contrarian, I wanted to try something a little different that would be more in alignment with my Jackson Tango-style of cooking. In other words, it would involve something that most white people cooking doesn’t have: flavour. Zing!

Obviously, my “pesto” would be a combination of very fragrant herbs. I used a bunch of cilantro. The WHOLE bunch, motherfuckers! Never just use a few anemic sprigs of it! I also used a bunch of Thai basil, and since I had some, I used some spinach stems. Why? Because you should never never waste your vegetables. Not only is there plenty of flavour in stems, there’s also plenty of fiber, which translates into fantabulous poops in the morning. On that note, here are the herbs/greens:

I then chopped them up coarsely, food-processed them, and squeezed out as much water out as possible in order to avoid my pizza getting soggy (the right is the end product):

Besides, the greens I of course needed onions. In my case, I used scallions, because I find that they’re sweeter. And again, I used the whole bunch because I’m adding them in order to TASTE them. I then fried them up in bacon grease.

Besides that, I had some mushrooms, which I rescued from a work-party and that people were about to throw out (What is the deal with people who don’t like mushrooms, anyway? I bet they wear MAGA hats unironically.). I also cooked up double-smoked bacon and chopped it up coarsely:

Obviously, I needed cheese. I decided to use old cheddar because, again, I wanted a strong-tasting cheese, not the usual mozzarella that is all too often bland. How much cheese? All the fucking cheese! Because, not unlike my relationship with mayonnaise, too much cheese is not enough cheese:

Am I done? No! I have three more things. The first is a bunch of spinach leaves, which I’ll wilt on the top at the end. But that’s obviously not the most exciting of ingredients. Remember. FLAVOUR. Can you guess what this is?IMG_5504

It’s homemade goat’s milk yogurt! Courtesy of Julie! It’s so so so incredibly delicious. You’ll see how I use it in a sec. But most most most excitingly are the CHICHARRONES!!!!! THAT I MADE!!! Thanks Sam! He’s the one who gave me the pork fat, from which I rendered the lard and made chicharrones. Deep-fried pork-skin, people. If you have never had it, you have never truly lived.

Putting it all together

IMG_5513

Ok! Back to the pizza dough. When the dough has risen for about an hour and half, pre-heat the oven to 550F. It must be that hot or else your pizza will not come out right. As the oven is pre-heating, you can start with toppings. Here’s mine with the onions, the greens, the bacon, and the mushrooms:

IMG_5514

I then added the cheese. All. Of. It. Trust me. If you’re worried about the cheese overflowing, remember that the cast-iron pan’s sides are quite high and they’ll catch any spill over.IMG_5515

Into the oven!

Throw the pizza into the oven on the medium rack. What you want is for the cheese to melt and begin to brown. It should take about 12-15 mins. This is what it should look like:IMG_5517

ISN’T IT A THING OF BEAUTY????? What’s phenomenal is that the cheese cooked all along the edges without sticking to the sides. That’s what the brown edges are.

But we’re not done yet! Now, add on the spinach and throw the pan back into the oven for about one minute. It should look like the picture on the right.

And now? Using a knife, draw it around the edge to loosen the pizza from the pan. Then, with a spatula, you should be able to lift the whole thing out onto a plate. It should look like this:IMG_5521

Check out the profile view too!IMG_5520

Yes! That half-inch mahogany brown layer is the cheeeeeeese!!!

And now for the final step

Cut out a piece of the pizza and plate it. Now spoon out a dollop of goat’s milk yogurt and place it in the middle of the piece of pizza. Finally, garnish with pre-heated chicharrones. This is it!!!!IMG_5522

Doesn’t that look phenomenal! And it tasted pretty fantastic too! It was so good in fact, that I ate three quarters of the entire pizza. I could have eaten the whole thing since I’m not a normal human being, but I came to my senses, and instead enjoyed the following:IMG_5510

Ahhhhhh… The perfect evening. An absurdly decadent pizza paired with a super-strong beer and a ridiculously over-the-top movie. If you’ve never seen a Takashi Miike flick, you must. You must! Yakuza Apocalypse (that really is the title; it involves yakuza vampires battling someone in a frog-suit) may not be the best introduction though. I’d suggest watching Sukiyaki Western Django:

Or 13 Assassins:

Or Hara-Kiri

May you have a pointlessly decadent evening as well!

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Musings on my writing, or exploring my current bout of utter self-hate in the pit of despaiiiiiiir

So these days, I am the living embodiment of Wesley in the Pit of Despair:

Why? Oh, you know, it’s a thing I do periodically. It’s sort of like an emotional vacay, only instead of going somewhere nice and positive, I usually descend in a depthless pool of misery and self-hate.

I typically visit the Pit of Despair right after I’ve completed a book. Especially right after I’ve started to use said complete book to query agents and publishers to see if they’ll deign to pick up my latest work. And right after my flurry of submissions, I’m usually trapped in agonizing limbo waiting to hear back from anyone. Anyone, that is, who’ll have something positive to say, of course. Because the rejections always come very fast and swift and never fail to pile up faster than an elephant turd-cake.

But let me step back a bit and provide some background:

Some background

I’ve been trying to break in to science fiction since about the end of 2013. A little under five years. I actually finished writing a book in 2010 (An Okanagan Messiah Cometh (initially named The Drowning Death of Gilded Butterfly, but I changed it after it sounded too painfully pompous. I’m still partial to the old title), but I tend not to really count that because I’d started writing that one largely as a therapeutic exercise while I was doing my doctorate. I’d needed something to cleanse my mind of the bone-dry science papers I was writing, so obviously writing a florid sci-fi climate-change story was the way to go. At that point, I wasn’t terribly serious about getting published, so after submitting the novel to a handful of places (and hearing nothing back), I spent the next 3 years farming (long story).

In 2013, while I was unemployed in Colorado, I felt that I needed a new challenge. For reasons that I honestly don’t quite remember, I decided that I was going to become the best damned science fiction writer that ever lived. I later revised that to wanting to succeed in the sci-fi world — a task that turned out to be no less difficult. Note that I hadn’t really bothered to define what “success” would look like. More on that later.

The book I started writing was a Star Wars satire novel entitled, I, Tim: Memoirs of a Cook on Moon-Sized Planet Vaporizing Space BattlestationThe idea of it was that it was going to be working-class take on Star Wars. A sort of behind the scenes look at how the “heroes” of Star Wars really were. The general idea being that they were manipulative assholes and not heroes at all. Yeah, I’ve always had something to say/criticize even then. Anyway, it was inspired by this Eddie Izzard clip:

I had a blast writing this book. Really loved it. I also learned a lot from writing it too, not the least of which was how to write. That is, how to develop a system of writing/scheduling that would end up in a reliable quantity of words every day that would result in a book. Because writing is work. Anyone who tells you that it’s lovely, effortless dance with the Muses doesn’t know what the fuck they’re talking about. It’s more like a constant battle to pound your lazy mind into submission and wringing as many words out of it as possible.

Still, at this point, I didn’t have too many hopes about my writing. I did submit the Star Wars book to agents/pubs, but I wasn’t expecting that much. I did, however, start submitting my first book, The Okanagan Messiah Cometh, but again thinking that I wasn’t going to get a positive response, I started writing my first “very serious” scifi book, The Promise of a Battered Moon — which is now available through Kristell Ink, by the way, so if you’d like to do me a real solid, you can order it on Amazon. Meanwhile, I’d found a job at that point doing trail-building with Boulder County, but it was then I really honed my system of writing in the mornings, evenings, and weekends.

In the spring of 2014, something incredible happened: I got a publishing offer from Permuted Press to publish The Okanagan Messiah Cometh! I was thrilled. Not sure if you know the industry very well, but 2014 was a time when small publishers like Permuted Press were in the process of trying to make their business models work. Long story short, many of those presses didn’t have the best business plans, nor did they offer any support to the authors. At the time, I knew nothing of this. I was thrilled though, that with this book deal, I was also able to find myself an agent. So with a publishing deal in hand and with an agent, I thought I was really going to make it!

Bwahahahaha…

At the end of 2014, I finished The Promise of a Battered Moon. I then shared it with my agent, who then promptly disappeared and barely returned my emails. Since I was a noob, I figured that he was busy (and not an asshole), and so I continued writing. My next project at that point was the sequel to The Okanagan Messiah Cometh. Why was I writing that sequel even though my book hadn’t been published yet? Well, I was writing because in my contract with Permuted said they wanted a trilogy out of me. And so I started writing Salt Spring: Battle Royale. 

In March 2015, my Okanagan book with Permuted released. How many sales? Oh, maybe a dozen or so books. Most of those were from family and friends. Clearly, I wasn’t hitting it big with this. The lack of support from the press wasn’t helping either. Not to mention my general cluelessness about book marketing. But no biggie, right? The next one will be better, right? Since I’m working with a press and since I had an agent to help me, I was still on the path to success, right?

Ha.

A few months later, after seeing that my book was making basically no sales, Permuted Press ended my contract. Did I mention that I had finished Salt Spring: Battle Royale? No? Well, I did. And now, since the contract was broken, it was no longer being published. As a general note, this was during a time in the book publishing industry, when a lot of presses were disappearing and readjusting to ebooks and trying to figure out a better business model. I suppose I was part of the chaff that needed to be winnowed.

Without a publisher, I turned to my agent and asked for help. What should I do? Surely someone in the business could help me. Surely we could figure it out. Not only had I finished the sequel, I’d also finished the Promise of a Battered Moon, so I had two completed works that could be shopped around to new publishers. Oh, and almost three because I’d half-finished a sequel to the moon book. That was good, right?

Instead of helping, my agent dumped me. Yep, not the bestest of dudes. Still not quite sure what happened. The guy had just stopped replying to my emails, and then only replied to stop our relationship.

Jesusfuck.

That was my first visit to the Pit of Despair.

In 2016, I eventually managed to move forward. I did the only logical thing to do. I started the process of querying and submitting all over again with the Moon book and the Salt Spring book. I also started writing a new book entitled, If Not Liberty (I initially named it Cthulhu on the Front Range. I still like that title very much).

In early-2016, I got a book deal with Kristell Ink for my book The Promise of a Battered Moon. They’re a small press, but they’ve proven to be wonderful to work with. Sure, I could consider that I was “successful” at that point, but I wanted something more. And so I continued submitting and writing. Sadly, Salt Spring: Battle Royale, got no offers even after about 60 queries, so I decided to self-publish it. Do please do me another solid and buy it. I really like that book. It’s inspired by my time living in a yoga spiritual centre. Long story.

By mid-2016, I finished If Not Liberty, and started submitting and querying again. No dice. Not even after a few very positive replies. I was depressed for many reasons. Chiefly, I thought that If Not Liberty was on a technical level the best I’d written. It also had a killer concept: a Black trans cook was using the Elder Gods to overthrow the Chinese occupation of the US. What’s not to like about that?!? I’d even invested in having a trans sensitivity reader help me with it to ensure that it wasn’t offensive. But despite it being my best attempt there were no takers. I returned to the Pit of Despair.

In 2017, I self-published If Not Liberty. I tried starting a new project, but at that point my confidence in my writing had been really shaken. What the hell was I doing? Why the hell was writing? Who the fuck would want to write what I wrote? Obviously, my writing is shit. That’s what everyone thinks and confirms numerous times through the very plentiful rejections — if they even bother replying.

This brings me back to the present:

The Present

After maybe three abandoned projects, I finally started a new project in spring of 2017, entitled Love in the Age of the AI Uprising. I just finished it this last April. Great, right? Sure, why not.

Much like the other books when I finished them, I felt like this book was the best I’d written. It represents the culmination of all that I’ve learned writing-wise these last few 5 years. It’s the one where I feel as if I’ve taken into account all the feedback I’ve been given about my previous books. It’s the one that where I feel like it flows the best, is the most hilarious, and the most socially relevant. It’s also the book that’s the most personal, and into which I’ve poured the most of my personal experiences. The main character is Chinese-American and it follows him as he fumbles through finding love, even while he’s harangued by his lunatic family.

So as I mentioned in the beginning, I sent out a bunch queries this last month. Don’t ask me how many. As you may imagine, the usual response time is anywhere between 4-6 weeks, sometimes even longer, so I still have quite some time to wait. Of course, I’ve received a few rejections already, but by and large, most of my queries are still in play. In the meantime too, I’d gotten some positive feedback from a mid-range sci-fi editor, some more directed requests from some agents, and even a request for a full manuscript (this is a good thing because it means that the agent has read part of my work, and is interested enough to give the whole thing a chance).

But despite the fact that it’s very early in the process and there’s no real reason to think that my latest book is doomed, I’ve already descended into the Pit of Despair.

Why? Because I did something stupid. I took…

A critical look at my writing

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think my writing is bad. I don’t think I suck. I don’t even think that my latest book even sucks. In fact, I really love it, and I think it’s the best thing I’ve written.

But what I think about the book is not the issue. The issue is what others think about it. More specifically, what others want to read and what they’re expecting.

You see, I’ve had the unique luck of getting some feedback on not only my latest book, but also The Promise of the a Battered Moon. A co-worked had expressed interest in my writing, and so I asked her to be a test reader for Love in the Age of the AI Uprising, and exchange I’d give her a physical copy of The Promise of a Battered Moon. 

She actually enjoyed Love in the Age of the AI Uprising. She even got pretty much all my gags in there, and also caught the plot twists that I wanted to find and respond to. Everything that I was trying to do with the book worked.

So what’s the problem, right?

Well, the problem is that she then started reading The Promise of a Battered Moon. And then, most devastatingly, she said she liked it MORE.

Sigh… Yeah, I’m a drama queen.

But I have good reasons to be depressed by her reaction. First, it flies against what I think of my own writing skills and how I think I’ve improved. To be fair, she didn’t say anything about my writing style, and she also wasn’t looking at that, but my irrational self has decided that I am very likely a failure whose skills are moving backward and not forward. Fortunately, I am rational enough to know that’s not true. Second, it makes me worried that my latest book has no chance of succeeding. Again, there’s no guarantee of that, but I think it’s reasonable that the probability of my success is likely lower because if the book isn’t an unqualified hit in the average person’s eyes then it likely won’t be so in an agent’s or publisher’s eyes — because, as alluded to, the publishing industry is brutal, and they can only afford to publish what they consider to be the best of the best.

The more interesting question is why did my colleague think that my Moon book is better than my Love book. Looking at this question has been giving me perspective on my writing and my writing goals.

The thing about the Moon book is that it’s a pretty standard scifi book. It’s got lots of action, the character archetypes are pretty familiar, and there are very clearly defined heroes and villains. While does touch on issues of racism and injustice, it’s not a challenging book. The book doesn’t make you uncomfortable. The reader tends to be relaxed when they read it. It’s a fun book.

The books I wrote after writing the Moon book are very different in that each one was trying something a little new. I didn’t want to write an average hero in any of them. I wanted to do something different. That’s why I tried my hand at writing a trans character in If Not Liberty. I’m not 100% sure, but I believe that part of the reason why the book wasn’t sellable was because of the trans character. It was also dark. Very dark. Brutally depressing. It was, frankly, an expression of the US at the time, and my worries about where the country was going. Hell, there’s even a Trump character in it!

With the Love book, I wanted to try to do something a little more positive. So I was going to do a “love story”. Sorta anyway. While it was about a guy falling in love, it wasn’t a standard love story like a rom-com (though I did put in some elements of that). It was really more like a Bildungsroman, or a coming of age story. But again, I didn’t want to write standard coming of age story where some young person becomes mature and gains responsibility. Again, I wanted something different.

I wanted to portray a character stuck in existential angst. Someone who was aimless and had no idea what to do with his life. Someone who was in debt, insecure, and doing everything to ignore his current situation. In other words, what many folks out of college are now experiencing. The way I wrote the main character was someone who was frustratingly clueless and for whom it would be uncomfortable to read about it because it would hit too close to home. Also, the character wouldn’t be ignoring his own issues but the shit going on in the background, which was basically a country tearing itself apart. That, I felt, was another accurate portrayal of many people today. So “coming of age”‘ in my Love book was focused on a narrow band of growth where the main character finally gets kicked out of his inertia and starts doing something with his life — while also falling in love.

Great, right? Well…

Here’s the thing

Almost all the feedback I get, even from publishers and agents, is that while they all say that I’m talented (woo!), there’s something about the stories and characters that never quite land for them. I’m still hoping that someone out there will see what I see in my work, but the comments are making me wonder what I should be writing next and what I should be aiming for.

What AM I aiming for anyway? What do I mean by success? What does that look like to me? There are people who read my work and they like it. Isn’t that enough? Shouldn’t I be content with that?

Sigh…. No, I’m just not content with something small. I want VALIDATION, dammit, and the more universal, wide-ranging, and filled with lucrative book deals the better. Seriously though, I want to be recognized as a good writer by my peers. I don’t necessarily want to be popular like say Dan Brown (gag), but I would like to be highly respected like John Scalzi or NK Jemisin or Paolo Bacigalupi. A Hugo or a Nebula would be nice too.

But you know what I’ll settle for? I’ll call it good if I can get published by a mid-range scifi publisher. Someone who isn’t massive like say Tor, but someone big enough that their books get picked up by libraries in the US and Canada. That’s a reasonable enough goal, I think.

Ok, with that goal in mind, I’m thinking that I can’t really write anything that’s too experimental. Certainly nothing that’s too intentionally uncomfortable, as was my intention in some of my writing. Also, I definitely need to tone down on all the politics in my writing. I gotta stop inserting political messages in everything I write. I obviously won’t eliminate them altogether, but I can’t just make it the whole thing.

That said, I’m not about to write another fucking “Hero’s Journey” book. I just can’t do that. If I did, the whole thing would be satire, and that definitely doesn’t sell. No, I have to figure something out that balances out my own wacky ideas with something that’s still commercial and fun to read.

Anyway, easier said than done. I’ve come pretty close (again) to quitting writing, but I’ll likely wallow in the despair a bit more and start writing again.

Wish me luck!

Author spotlight: Lindsey Duncan author of Scylla and Charybdis

Check out this interview with Lindsey Duncan, author of Scylla and Charybdis! Buy the book here!

51Se9K0IGAL

So, this story you’ve written. What’s it about? Why should I interrupt my nap-time to read it?

 

Scylla and Charybdis is about a girl from an isolated space station populated solely by women who believes the universe has collapsed from the effects of an alien-engineered disease, Y-Poisoning.  On a salvage mission, she encounters a hypermental – a man – named Gwydion who challenges everything she thought she knew … and puts her on collision course with the wider universe.

 

You should read the novel if you’re interested in exploring a whole new universe along with Anaea, stumbling into surprises along the way.  If you enjoy making new and unexpected friends … and causing a little chaos along the way.  It’s science fiction, of course, but it has some fantasy and mythological sensibilities.  I think it would appeal to any speculative fiction reader.

 

Where do you get inspiration? Where did the ideas for your latest novel come from?

 

I find inspiration in a number of places.  I often find that one idea isn’t enough to start the juices flowing; the collision of two different, unrelated ideas is the most powerful impetus.  And as much as history and mythology inspire me, sometimes it’s the craziest things that spark a story.  I love taking metaphorical sayings literally or taking a joke premise and playing it straight.  One of my pending short stories came out of my allergy season misery, where I started riffing on the idea of evil trees … tree armies?  Spy trees?  Aha … that’s a story.

 

Leading Edge printed a story of mine recently that came from a frustrated experience playing a buggy computer game.  Because I’d followed the steps of its mystery in the wrong order, I couldn’t get the end chapter sequence to trigger where the priest confesses.  Finally, I shouted at the screen, “Stop blessing me, you’re the villain!”

 

I can’t remember exactly what inspired the original short story on which Scylla and Charybdis is based, but it was focused on the idea of the choice between two equally unpleasant options – the two governments controlling the human universe.  As I developed the plot into the novel, it became more about the exploration of the societies, and the solution wasn’t so simple as a binary choice.

 

What are your plans to conquer the world?

 

I’m going to feed everyone into submission.  It’s hard to mount an effective resistance when you’re stuffed full of cake.

 

What research rabbit-holes have you been down while writing? What was the most interesting, or the most tedious?

 

I’m one of those weirdos who gets absorbed in any topic she researches, no matter how obscure, but there was one book I picked up in hopes of gleaning useful information that made my eyes cross.  It was a guide to guns, and I had hoped for general tips as to how to describe them … not a hundred pages of detailed history of models, specs, capacity, etc.  I kept reading until the bitter end, hoping against hope that it would move on to something I could use.

 

On the other hand, one of the best books I read that I didn’t have much hope for was a history of fencing.  It covered so much of the politics, culture, and associated colorful characters that it was a joy to read.

 

I’m currently reading about synesthesia for my next novel project, and that has been a whole new adventure.  The topic incorporates a lot of others:  neurology, creativity, artistic perception and metaphor, psychology, the nature of scientific analysis … it’s quite a ride.

 

How often do you provide a cat sleeping spot- I mean, write? Do you have a comfy chair and a routine, or do you freelance cat-nap style?

 

I’m a dog sleeping spot, at least intermittently:  Lexi will dissolve into a boneless  dead weight, and Peri sort of squirms about as if she’s not sure what laps are for before she settles in.  I definitely don’t have a set time for my writing, but I have two spots I usually work from:  my desk / command center upstairs, and my laptop sprawled on the floor.  (While the dogs are on the couch.  Yes, they’re pretty much in charge.)  It’s always home alone for me:  I find it difficult to think with other human energy in my space.

 

When you’re not writing, what do you spend your time doing? Besides looking at cat pictures on the internet, obviously. [Work, hobbies or daily life, whatever suits you!]

 

For my day job, I’m a chef / pastry chef at a catering company.  We do small events, custom catering, and personal chef services, so every week is a new set of experiences.  I also perform and teach the traditional lever harp.  I specialize in Celtic music, but I also play Renaissance, showtunes, holiday and classical selections.  Between that and writing, I stay pretty busy, but I always seem to manage to get my fingers into one more pie.

About Lindsey:

NewProfileI’m a professional harp performer, chef / pastry chef, and speculative fiction writer from Cincinnati, Ohio. My contemporary fantasy novel Flow is available from Double Dragon Publishing. I’ve also sold a number of short stories and a few pieces of speculative poetry. I write predominantly fantasy, usually epic and/or humorous, with some soft science fiction. I play the traditional lever harp with a specialty in Celtic music – but I also perform modern and Renaissance tunes. And yes, you read that right – I have a diploma in Baking and Pastry and an Associates in Culinary Arts and am currently working in the catering field at Kate’s Catering and Personal Chef Services (Dayton, KY).

Scylla & Charybdis

http://amzn.eu/1kULIfQ

Short Story: Oriental Space Banana

Check out a short story set in  the world of my new book, The Promise of a Battered Moon! It follows one of the main characters, Eric Lin.

Oriental Space Banana

It was during the final checks on their pressure suits that Matt’s partner had gushingly tried to explain Eric’s “acting notes” with many hand gesticulations:

“…it’s like right after Oh Dae-su was let out of that room after fifteen years of going batshit crazy and training like a mofo. Bambambam! Hruh-hruh-hruh!He’s walking around and he sees this group of thugs and he’s like ‘I don’t give a shit, I’m gonna steal your fucking cigarette.’ And they be like ‘Fuck you old man, I’m gonna kick you to the ground.’ Uhhh! He falls to the ground, but he’s still got the cig in his mouth and he takes this drag and gets up and he’s got the Crazy Asian look and he grunts, ‘Hrmmmmm. Hrmmmmm.’ And they know they’ve messed with the wrong dude. Cuz whhaaaaBLAMMO! Oh Dae-su kicks all those dudes asses. You get it Eric? Just be like Oh Dae-su. Be like ‘Hrmmmmm. Hrmmmmm.’ No one will mess with us. It’s all you gotta do. Ok?”

“He’s got it, Ian. He’s got it. Finish your checks, alright?” Matt had said, putting an end to Ian’s growling Old Boy impersonation and pushing him away to complete his verification protocols before they docked with Orbital Station Torus-83. Watching his boyfriend float off with a mixture of bemusement and affection, Matt had shaken his head before reiterating to Eric: “Honest, it’ll be easy. You don’t even have to say anything. You just need to look the part — and you do!”

Eric had again tried to protest, even as Matt was slapping on red-star decal patches on his suit: “Matt, this is fucking crazy. First off, that was a Korean movie. I’m Chinese. Second, do you have any idea how dangerous it is to impersonate a PPA representative? This was supposed to be a supply run, not some crazy attempt to…”

“Dude, dude, dude. Chiiiiill,” Matt’s portly features had creased into a jovial expression. With a wide smile, he’d made a taaadaaa! hand motion and said, “Check it out! You’re the spitting image of PPA Special Purchaser Hua Guofeng!”

Looking down at the forged insignias, Eric had admitted, “Wow, yes. It does look pretty good. But one close examination and they’ll look fake. Jesusfuckonwheels, dude. I may look the part — nominally — but you two are fucking white. It makes no sense why a PPA representative would have white people with him…”

“Bodyguard. Interpreter,” Matt had pointed at Ian’s heavy form and then at himself. “No one on the station speaks Chinese, so you obviously need a translator. And, big shot PPA honcho that you are, you need a bodyguard. Easy. Will you just relax? Don’t forget the sweet deal I made you, ok? Get in to character, dude. Just do like Ian said. Do the Crazy Asian thing and be like ‘Hrmmmmm. Hrmmmmm.’ Ok?”

It was ridiculous and Eric should have refused. But he’d been weak. Matt had made him an offer he couldn’t refuse: in return for playing out this little role, Eric would get first choice of the goodies out of the blackmarket that Matt ran on their home station. Of course, when he’d tagged along, Eric had no idea this was what Matt had been planning. He cursed himself for being so naive. He should have suspected that something wasn’t kosher when Matt had o-so-casually offered him a berth on his supply run — a coveted spot that everyone on their station fought and bribed for to get out of the claustrophobic confines of their spinning metal-donut home. And yet, Matt had invited him without asking for anything in return because they were “buddies.”

The supply run was supposed to be straight forward: pick up a few spools of copper wiring, a few tons of deut-pellets and an assortment of spare parts. And it had been straight forward. So much so that they’d completed their tasks within the first half hour after they’d docked and they’d had everything they bought safely lashed against the walls of their orbital-glider. Then, with the time remaining that could have been spent enjoying the sights of the station or having a nice tall synthalcohol drink, Matt had sprung his plan on Eric, throwing in his irresistible lure and convincing him with equal measures of cajoling and strong-arming.

And now, in subsection 44D between spokes 5 and 6 of the station, Eric was being scrutinized through the squinting, skeptical eyes of a pale, sun-starved Punjabi stall owner. Probably sensing the doubts and fears that were oozing out of Eric’s pores and forming a thick miasma of freakedoutness around him, the Punjabi man shook his turbaned head and asked again,

“Are you sure? You know it’s a restricted item, yes?”

Matt made a show of whispering into Eric’s ear, while Ian stood a few steps back, his arms crossed over his chest, making his best impression of imposing authority. After waiting a few heartbeats with an impassive, inscrutable expression — ’cause, that was what the Chinese did, right? — Eric grunted and uttered one of two of the Chinese words that he knew: “Shì.” Yes.

“Satisfied?” Matt said, flashing a shaky smirk. “So you have it? The CPU for Yaogan Dienxing 58C?”

“Yes, I have it…” the stall owner replied, still not convinced who he was dealing with.

“Are you sure it’s not a counterfeit?” Matt pressed.

“Counterfeit?” bristled the stall owner, his chest rising under his pressure suit. “What do you take me for? All my items are genuine guaranteed! Anyone here will tell you that Amir is the most trustworthy orbital salvage re-seller on this whole station!”

“Fine then. My apologies,” Matt said with a shit-eating grin. “Then PPA Special Purchaser Hua Guofeng is satisfied and would like to verify it.”

Yet, Amir the stall owner waffled: “Sir, this is a restricted item. I am unable to sell without the proper permits under the rules of the Union-PPA armistice. The consequences of this…”

“Permits? Yaogan Dienxing is PPA property!” Matt huffed. “Special Purchaser Hua Guofeng is here to reclaim it! Do you think that we’ll go back empty-handed? Do you think that we didn’t come prepared?”

“Shì!” Eric added loudly, deciding to throw in an angry scowl he’d imitated from his dad, hoping it would be convincing. What was probably more convincing though, was Ian stepping closer, reaching into his pressure suit front access panel and revealing the handle of a handgun.

With his eyebrows elevated, Amir protested, “Sirs! The rules! I can’t…”

“We’ll pay cash. Not credit. Hard currency. Yuan,” Matt cut in, waving a wad of red bills, neatly folded in half.

This caught the stall owner’s eye, and with a sigh, Amir said, “Very well. I’ll bring it out.” Giving Eric a bow, he apologized, “Hua Xiansheng, I am sorry but as you know it’s an old model without the current nano-identifiers. However, I’m sure the esteemed gentleman can verify it with his slimware.”

“Of course he can!” Matt said officiously, as the stall owner retreated into his store room. Turning now to Eric, he encouraged: “Go on. Put them on. We have to verify it’s the right piece.”

Not having any other options, Eric groaned and put on the idiotic shiny-chrome wraparound sunglasses that Matt had given him. Of course?!? The only thing that was a matter of course was that none of them had slimwares installed in them. Slimwares were expensive, high-end interface tech that were only available planetside; in theory, way back during the pre-war economy, slimwares should have trickled into the orbital communities — but with the Union-PPA war and severe resource shortages, they had become even more restricted to the privileged few and the military. But this played in Eric, Matt and Ian’s favor, as it was unlikely that Amir could tell that Eric didn’t have a slimware, but only a jury-rigged set of sunglasses with a primitive networking system that may or may not work.

Fortunately though, as soon as the stall owner brought out the part, the lowband detector on the sunglasses logged into the satellite’s CPU, and a bunch of Chinese script from the system’s BIOS flashed in Eric’s lens. Needless to say, being from a fifth generation Chinese family living in the Union, Eric couldn’t read any of it. The only person who could actually speak Chinese in his family was his grandfather — and even then, all he knew were a few broken phrases that probably mangled the tones. Not that any of that mattered when the Union-PPA marked him and his whole family as potential enemies of the State and ruined Eric’s chances at living planetside.

In any case, there was no need for Eric to understand Chinese, as the only thing he needed to be sure of was if the CPU could take them to the bootsplash page, for which Matt had somehow found the codes for on an old anarchist darkLeaks site. Sure enough, the login prompt appeared under a quaint RedFlag Linux GUI, and Eric entered the systems without any problem. After this, it would be a simple enough affair to mesh the root files to any opensource English system nd they’d easily be able to access it for whatever Matt intended for it — which Eric realized that in all the hullabaloo, he still had no idea what the thing was for.

With a stoic nod, Eric looked at Matt and grunted the second of the two Chinese words he knew: “Hăo.” Good.

“It’s what we’re looking for!” Matt said a little too enthusiastically, sharing a quick smile with Ian, before holding out the money to the stall owner. “Special Purchaser Hua Guofeng is pleased with the legitimacy of your wares. Please accept payment.”

“Of course it’s legitimate. I’m pleased you’re pleased. PPA Special Purchaser, my ass. I sure hope you know that those are illegal and I hope you idiots don’t get caught. Now kindly leave my stall and never come back again,” Amir grumbled, grabbing the money and hiding it in his pressure suit.

It took considerable effort for the trio to bow politely and leave — what with Eric’s stress level having spiked at the revelation that their charade had been seen through, while on the other hand, Matt and Ian seemed to be oblivious to any silly questions of legality and were instead bursting with victorious ebullience. As soon as they reached a quiet part of the station, there were two very contrasting reactions:

“Dude! We got it!”

“I’m so screwed! He knew we were faking!”

“Yeah! Yes! I knew we could do it!”

“Don’t you know what that means? They’re going to hunt us down!”

“It was your plan! Great work, dude!”

“Great? Are you listening to me? Do you know what they can do to me?”

“Nah, nah. It was your plan too! We did it!”

“I’m going to be fucking arrested!”

“I can’t wait to try it out when we get back. It’ll be awesome!”

“Fuck! I thought the orbital communities would keep me out of this shit!”

“I know! Everyone will love it too! I just know it!”

“JesusfuckinghaichChrist! Are you guys fucking listening to me?!?” Eric screamed, finally getting Matt and Ian’s attention. “I’m fucked! Do you not get that? Oooooh well, sorry to be a downer, but you guys aren’t worried because if you get caught, you won’t be arrested and thrown in the isolation camps! But you know what? I fucking will! Do you privileged white bastards realize that? And for what? I don’t even know! What the hell was this for anyway?”

Matt and Ian took a few blinking moments to register Eric’s minor meltdown. Some inkling of his concerns eventually trickled in, and when it did, they gave each other a look and simultaneously reached out to Eric.

“Are you listening to me? Guys? What are you guys doing? Goddamn it, get away from me! Stop it! Damn it!” Eric protested, finding himself in an asphyxiating group hug, and, in spite of himself, feeling calmer even though he was fairly certain Matt and Ian were utterly clueless to what he’d been saying.

“Huuuuuug it out!” Ian said, giving Eric tight squeeze.

“Don’t worry, Eric! We’re here for you, bro!” Matt added, before disengaging. Stepping back and giving Eric a wide grin, he patted his shoulder in a way that he probably didn’t realize was infuriating: “You’re with us! We’ll take care of you! We got your back, man! And we’ll vouch for you for sure. Anyway, the transaction was using my cash, so if it was be traced — big IF, by the way — it would come back to me, not you. Besides, I can easily take the heat, worst case scenario, so don’t worry! We got you, bro!”

Only mildly mollified, Eric said hesitantly, “Okaaaay… I guess that makes sense, but let’s get out of here, alright? I really just want to… What’s that? What’s going on? What the hell is happening?!”

WHOANGH! WHOANGH! WHOANGH!

The station’s emergency sirens had started to blare, and the lights switched to a strobing, epileptic red, precipitating a flurry of activity and urgent cries around them.

“Oh, shit,” Matt muttered.

“Damn…” Ian sighed.

“Not reassuring! Not reassuring at all!” Eric shrilled.

A series of heavy thuds shuddered through the station, spreading along the corridors and ended with a high-pitched venting. Given his profession as an orbital mechanic, Eric found some consolation in being able to identify the stations’ rotational thrusters being forcibly shut down — though the consequence of it was annoying as it was terrifying. Without its regulated rotation, the loss of gravity was immediate, causing many curses everywhere as the stall owners scrambled to tie down their wares that were starting to float away. Meanwhile, Eric, himself scrambling to reach one of the safety bars, looked desperately at Matt and Ian for guidance or explanations or anything really, but found them deep in conversation, conferring without any of their ever-present goofiness — an absence that frankly was the most alarming of all.

“Well, I guess we could do that. I still think we should head down the center though,” Matt said, tapping his chin.

“The center is slow. We have to get through to the shuttledock as soon as possible, and spoke 5 is the closest,” Ian argued.

“I get the fastness. But we don’t know who’s doing this. If it’s the Union, we can work with it. But if it’s the PPA then going through spoke 5 will be bad, since they like to go through the smaller passageways first,” Matt pointed out.

“My guess is that it’s the Union. This whole thing has their marks all over it. Pissing people off by taking the gravity away and initiating a lockdown. Standard Union procedure. I’ll bet the power will be back in on a second,” Ian said. And, right on cue, the blaring sirens went blissfully silent and the lights returned to normal. “There, you see? Like I said. It’s the Union. Now they’ll just do their sweep.”

“Ok, fine. So it’s the Union. Doesn’t help us with him though,” Matt said pointing at Eric.

“Right, right. That’s the thing huh?” Ian frowned, chewing on his lip.

Eric, hearing his fate being discussed, was wracked by the fear of being abandoned for the sake of convenience — an act that wouldn’t surprise him, as it was always easier and better for one’s health to jettison a political liability rather than tie oneself to it. Still, Eric clung to the hope that Matt and Ian wouldn’t do that — even though he knew his insane wishful thinking was counterbalanced by all too many experiences otherwise. Bringing his panic down to a manageable level, Eric asked, in an uncertain, unhopeful voice:

“Uh, guys? Can you please tell me what’s going on? Are you guys going to leave me here or something?”

Again, Matt and Ian looked at each other, though this time, they apparently decided that a group hug wasn’t going to be necessary (and would have been challenging without gravity anyway). His brows furrowed, Matt explained slowly and far too calmly,

“The Union is making a show of force and cleaning house… as much as they can, anyway. They’re just causing a ruckus and letting people know they’re in town.”

“But this is an orbital station! No one has jurisdiction here!” Eric ineffectually lodging his complaint; for fuck’s sake, freedom from any of the planet’s jurisdictions and their systemic injustices was the sole reason he’d migrated to the orbital communities — and not so that he could live in cramped quarters, questionable oxygen recyclers and a perpetual plague of itches, rashes and unidentifiable smells. “Why are they here? This is neutral territory! They can’t be here!”

“Technically, they can,” Matt shrugged. “The terms of the 2082 Armistice didn’t make the orbital regions and Luna City neutral. They left them as ‘Unassigned-Low-Priority-Areas,’ which means that the Union and PPA can come up if they wanted to. They usually don’t since it’s expensive to send troops up here in a shuttle, so by default non-planetside regions are neutral.” Matt heaved a sigh and threw up his hands. “But they come up every so often whenever they feel like their troops need some low-grav combat training… or basically when they’re wanting to wave their dicks around so they don’t feel like they’ve lost their toehold in space. Sorry, Eric. Looks like it’s one of those times.”

“But they can’t find me here! I’ll be arrested!”

“Relax, Eric. It’ll be ok. You’re a Union citizen, right?”

“Like that’s ever helped. Any excuse is fine to dig up an evil ‘spy’ from the fucking Orient and toss me away!”

“Don’t worry, Eric. We got you. Just relax…”

“Stop telling me to relax! I’m not going to relax!”

“BOOOOOT! BOOOOOOT! I GOT IT! The Twin Towers! Horn of Gondor! Boromir’s best scene! Yes! That’s it! BOOOOOOT!” Ian bugled, cupping a hand over his mouth, as his joviality returned with a vengeance. Eric and Matt stared at him, their mouths soundlessly shaping partial words. “I know how to get us out of here! We need a distraction! I can do it! The Horn of Gondor! BOOOOOT!”

“Ian, please. I can’t do this now…” Matt said tightly through his teeth.

“No, man, no! I got this! I so got this!” Ian persisted with an infectious, impossible to hate smile. “It’s gonna be just like Boromir did when he was saving Merry and Pippin! There they were fighting the Urk-hai when Legolas stops, tosses his beautiful blond hair and says ‘The Horn of Gondor’! And Aragorn looks around with his hot scraggly beard and he’s like, ‘Boromir!’ Oh, man! So hot! Then: Clish! Clish! Ugh! Ugh! They kill like a hundred orcs! And Boromir screams to Merry and Pippin ‘Run away! Run away!’ And argggghhhhh! He keeps on killing the orcs! Left right left right! Clish! Clish! Just like that! The best scene evaaaarrrr!”

Ian smiled maniacally, his eyes wide, his nostrils flaring, and both fists clenched in the air, as he relived the fantasy scene. Then, before Eric or Matt could do anything about it, he pushed off the wall, straight into the direction of the station’s main torus, crying out, “Go down spoke 5! I’ll meet you there! Boromir and the Horn of Gondor will save you! BOOOOT! BOOOT!”

“No! Ian! No! Get back here! Not like this! There’s a better way!” Matt yelled at Ian’s quickly disappearing form. Seeing that his boyfriend had left him no choice, he ground his jaw and said to Eric: “Come on. We have to get out of here.”

Eric didn’t argue. Pushing off surfaces and grabbing on to holds, they made their way through the station spoke as fast as they could. It was slow going though, as they had to wade through the chaos of people who were either frantically trying to get to their transports like they were, or trying to salvage their livelihood and gathering together their wares. After much wading and considerable shoving and swearing, Eric and Matt managed to swim their way to an access corridor two sections away from the shuttledock, where Matt motioned that they should stop and wait.

Watching Matt anxiously try to establish a signal-connection to Ian, Eric’s mind cleared enough to feel a combination of gratitude, but also of mild guilt that someone had put himself in danger for him. With an awkward smile, Eric tried to be optimistic:

“I’m sure Ian will be fine, right? He can take care of himself, right?” Eric said unconvincingly.

“Mmmmm,” Matt grunted as he slammed his uncooperative communicator.

“I’m sure he knows what he’s doing. He’s an orbital mechanic like me so he knows his way around stations,” Eric reasoned.

Matt snorted. “It’s a dark day when I’m being told not to worry by you of all people.”

“He’ll be fine!” Eric forced a smile. “And he’s got a gun too so he can defend himself. Nothing to worry about.”

“He doesn’t have a gun, Eric. That thing he pulled at the stall was his coldflame-soderer. The handle looks like a gun doesn’t it? We thought so too.” Glancing at Eric’s gaping expression, Matt exhaled sharply. “Dude, don’t fucking look at me that way. How the fuck do you think I feel?”

“But… but…”

Matt gnawed on his fist as he shook his head. “You know how that scene with Boromir ends? No? Borormir fucking dies. Sean Bean has this heroic moment fighting off orcs, and then this huge fucking Uruk comes around and shoots him with a million arrows. It was only afterwards that Boromir and Aragorn have their scene, when Boromir finally says how much he respected and loved Aragorn… and he fucking dies in his arms.” Matt groaned again. “Ian loved that scene. Called it romantic. Called it the only real emotionally intense scene in the whole series where two people really say how much they care for each other. Maybe it was. For me, the dying part threw me. Not Ian though. Can’t tell you many times he wanted us to cosplay that scene. Fuck. Oh, and by the way, Merry and Pippin still get fucking caught by the orcs even though Boromir dies for them.”

“… But that’s a movie. Ian knows what he’s doing…” Eric fumbled.

“You’re right about us, Eric,” Matt said somberly. “We don’t know much about what you had to go through with the Union. We don’t know anything about violence. Oh, we know it’s there; but it’s always been far away so we could ignore it. But the difference between Ian and me is that I’ve known people who fought in the war. I know what happens to people like you. Ian, though? Not so much. His family never involved him. He was sent straight to the orbital communities so he could be spared the “distatefulness” as his mom put it. Good for him. Trouble is, sheltered bastard that he is, he probably thinks this is a game and he’s reliving his favorite scene.”

Absolutely nothing comforting came to Eric, as he imagined a smiling Ian, happily bobbing along in the station, filled with cartoonish heroism, as he encountered a patrol of battleframed Union soldiers armed with a complement of flechette handcanons, self-guided emulsifier-probes and autocanon spider-drones… against which Ian would bring to bear his handy-dandy coldflame-soderer and his armory of imaginary elven-forged swords and daggers.

As if to highlight the potential of atrocious things happening, a hideous grinding gurgle sounded throughout the station, followed by an ear-piercing whine that caused the walls to shiver. Eric identified the sounds as the station’s metal gears and fluids being initiated without the proper warm-up sequence. Worse, the pattern of sounds were uneven and erratic, meaning that the thrusters weren’t being activated in the proper symmetric sequence — which in turn meant that if they were allowed to turn on, the pressure throughout the system wouldn’t be even. So instead of returning the station to a controlled rotation, the erratically firing thrusters would…

WHOANGH! WHOANGH! WHOANGH!

Eric and Matt were thrown against the wall as the entire station lurched to the side with only the right quadrant thrusters receiving pressure. If this kept up, the station would be thrown out of its orbit, potentially ending up on a collision course with another station — or much much worse, it would end up on a decaying trajectory that would cause it to burn up in the atmosphere. Remarkably, even though Eric knew all these things, the only thing going through his mind were visions of dead hobbits that bore a haunting resemblance to him.

As quickly and suddenly as the thrusters started though, they abruptly came to a stop. With the station slowly drifting back to its quiescent state, a pleasantly modulated voice came on the intercom:

“Residents of Orbital Station Torus-83. Remain calm. Everything is under control. Do not attempt to leave your location. Do not attempt to contact anyone. And do not attempt to access any control panels. I repeat: remain calm and do not move…”

“Fuck, I guess we know what Ian was up to then,” Matt grunted with a faint grin

“Ian did this? Is he nuts?” Eric said, his eyes wild. “What the hell was he thinking? He could have killed us all!”

“Yeah, in theory he could have…” Matt mused, shaking his head.

“In theory?!? The station could have crashed! It could have been torn apart!” Eric said, whapping his forehead with his palm.

“But it didn’t. And the Union got things under control, which Ian probably expected,” Matt said reasonably. “What I’m worried about now is that he won’t make it past the Union patrols. Odds are they aren’t letting anyone past and they’re going to search everyone and won’t…”

“Hey guys! Did you like my Horn of Gondor?” Ian yelled out happily. He was drifting down the corridor, his face plastered with a goofy Cheshire grin. Nudging off the wall, he launched himself into a pirouette that landed him straight in Matt’s arms. “Hey, babe! I’m back! Miss me?”

Matt had a moment of shock before spluttering:

“Ian?! How are you here? I thought you were going to die! I thought you were going to get killed like Boromir!” Matt proceeded to shake Ian by his pressure suit before finally giving him a tight hug and kiss.

Ian replied with a puzzled eyebrow raise. “Kill myself? Do you think I’m crazy or something? The Horn of Gondor doesn’t mean you die, doofus. It’s a distraction! It gets the orcs to come over! And it worked! No one checks the secondary access panels. There’s no security on them even though they have the full functions of the main panels — well, if you know how to get to the right menu functions, obviously. You should have seen it! Once I programmed that wonky discharge sequence, those Union soldiers swarmed over like nobody’s business.”

“Jesusonastick, Ian! Boromir dies! That’s what I was expecting! What did you think I was going to think?” Matt exclaimed, delivering a whack on to Ian’s head.

“Ow! Stop that. Dude, that’s the second part of the scene. The first part is the fighting part,” Ian explained. Then with a grin, he made a mooney face for Matt, “The second part is ours, you know? The emotional part? The hot part? Remember… ‘You’re my captain! You’re my king!’”

“Not here, dude. Eric’s here,” Matt said laughingly batting Ian off, unable to keep up his chiding.

However, while that explanation seemed fine and dandy on how Ian managed his “Horn of Gondor”, something occurred to Eric: “Hey, wait a minute. How did you get here? No one’s supposed to move from where they are.”

Ian laughed. “That’s the easiest part! I’m obviously a Union citizen, so I just showed them my ID, told them I was a lost and confused tourist and they let me pass. Easy peasy! See, Eric? We totally got you covered. Anyway we better get going. Come on! Let’s get back to shuttledock and blow this joint!”

And just like that they pushed off, Eric following along as Matt and Ian continued laughing and celebrating the success that had come to them so easily, all with the benefit of being able to opt out of the unpleasantness Eric couldn’t. Not that Eric was complaining, of course. They helped him and held true to their word. Clearly, it was helpful to have them as friends. It was just that it would have been nice not having to feel like he had to curry for their favor or always be on their nice side so he wouldn’t get screwed over.

It was as Eric was lost in the swirl of his old thoughts and wounds that he slammed straight into Matt and Ian’s backs, causing them all to tumble uncontrollably and spastically grab for anything to stabilize themselves.

“Hey! What’s going on? Why’d you guys stop? What… Oh…” Eric’s cursing came to a sharp close as he saw what had caused Matt and Ian to come to a stop.

Standing in front them, her boots magged to the floor in a battle-ready stance, was a tired-looking Union soldier, who, with her helmet off and her short red hair floating around like her head like a demonic halo, appeared to Eric like a steampunk angel of death — especially when she swiftly lifted her assault rifle and pointed it straight at him while asking:

“That’s far enough, boys. What’s your business here? And what are you doing with a PPA agent?”

The red-star decals. The fucking fake PPA decals. Eric paled. Curse Matt and Ian! He should never have come along! He should have just stayed in the safety of his room and never fucking left! Scrambling to pull the fake identifiers off, Eric cried out, “These are fake! I’m not a PPA agent! I’m a Union citizen!”

“He’s a Union citizen! Those are fake!” Matt repeated, waving both hands in front of him.

“Totally fake! They’re very fake! See?!” Ian said, helping Eric rip off the decals

“I see,” the soldier said, pursing her lips, as the red decals drifted past her. “So what are you doing with fake PPA decals?”

No explanation could come to Eric, as the only thing in his head was a big gaping black hole of fear that was consuming his soul. Matt and Ian, however, had plenty to say:

“He’s trying on a replacement suit! They came with it!”

“That’s right! It was part of the suit. It’s the seller’s fault!”

“We only realized that they were put on later! It’s an evil stallowner!”

“Yeah! Evil! Very bad man!”

“He might be a PPA agent too!”

“We can show you where the stallowner is!”

“What a plot! We helped foiled it, right?”

“We could be heroes, right?”

“Yeah! We deserve medals, right?”

Seeing Matt and Ian’s explanation bounce off the soldier and unwilling to see an innocent person go down for him, Eric finally got his shit together to interject for himself,

“M’am. We were here to buy supplies. You can check our shuttle. It’s got the things we bought and it’ll match our purchase record. But then we had extra time, so we did some shopping around and we found these decals, and I thought I could get it for a costume party that we’ll be having on our station. What better costume could I have than going as a PPA agent, seeing as how I’m Union citizen and also ethnically Chinese. Clever, right? Hahahahaha.” Eric formed a shaky smile, impressed by the coherence of his story that was perhaps fueled by his stress hormones.

For the next part though, his panic was leaking into his speech and making it into a wild blubber: “I swear I am a Union citizen! Like these guys! I have all my identifiers! My name is Eric Lam. ID number: 120TD-BAN09. SSN: 09820309B. Date of birth: March 3rd, 2052. I’ve been a full time resident of Mandala Station in the Third Quadrant Constellation, and before that I was a resident of Luna City. I can tell you my residences for the last fifteen years! You can verify with my biometric information! I’m a certified Union-born citizen of Chinese descent — with no affiliation to the PPA! I’m certified and authenticated! My blood will show it! Please take it! Take my blood!”

The soldier looked impassively at Eric’s out stretched hand for far too long, before grudgingly beckoning him over, and retrieving a biometric ID scanner from her utility belt. Placing his finger in the reader, Eric prayed it would back what he was saying; of course, what he’d said was true, but every so often those scanners weren’t properly cleaned — and if it still held the information of someone who’d been blacklisted, then you were paddling up a torrent of shit.

The scanner flashed green. Eric was confirmed as a Union citizen. He was pretty sure that he’d had shat in his pants otherwise.

“Alright, Citizen Eric Lam. Looks like you check out,” the soldier announced, though still gazing at him skeptically. “You boys are lucky. If the others ran into you first, they’d have seen a PPA agent and two Union traitors and they’d have pumped you with exploding flechette rounds and asked questions later. New recruits get trigger happy on their first training missions.” The soldier chuckled as she looked at their palid expressions. “But you guys are harmless enough. Just two bozos and a banana in space. Never know what you’ll find up here, I guess.”

“Hahahahaha. That’s right. Bozos and a banana. That’s them and me! Good one! Yellow on the outside and white on the inside. Hahahahaha.” Eric giggled inanely, bobbing his head and resisting the urge to add a few so-solly’s. He suppressed his shame and disgust, as neither would help him live. “Thank you for checking on me. Can we leave now?”

“Sure. You’re Union citizens. You’re free to leave,” the soldier said curtly, stepping aside slightly to let them pass.

With meek waves and the bashful grins of preschoolers, Eric, Matt and Ian floated past as fast as they could. Having escaped death by explosion into tiny bits, they spoke not a word until they got onto their orbital-glider, initiated the launch sequence and were safely on course for home. It was only then that they exhaled loudly and felt comfortable to speak.

“Costume party! Killer idea, Eric!” Ian said first, thumping Eric on the back.

“Yeah! Good one! Glad you thought of that! I wouldn’t have wanted to give up our satellite piece,” Matt agreed appreciatively.

“Sure, yeah. Sure. I’m just happy she was willing to test me,” Eric said with a weak smile. Then realizing that he’d never asked what the satellite part was for, he asked. “So why did we do this for again? What was the part for?”

“Oh! Only the best thing in the world!” Ian said enthusiastically.

“Yes! Those old satellites still have the old access codes for the PPA media stations, so we’re going to use it to stream holo-series from the PPA. I love their historical holo-novellas. I’m so excited for the Zhou Enlai series! We’ll finally get to see it! It’s impossible to get from the Union channels!” Matt grinned excitedly. “And don’t forget your cut! I’ve got a good idea for what we can do with that. Here’s the thing…”

But Matt’s voice had become inaudible, as Eric realized that their whole enterprise, with him risking his Union citizenship, him almost being killed or thrown back into the isolation camps or worse… was for a pirated holo-feed? Something fierce and uncontrollable started to build in Eric…

“…are you hearing me, dude? It’s gonna be great! Hey, are you ok? You’ve got the Crazy Asian eyes going there…”

My special lamb meal! What piece(s) did I eat? They’re round, there’s only 2 of them, and they’re neither the kidneys or eyes!

In celebration of my book birthday (and actual birthday) tomorrow, I made a very special meal of lamb for myself. Just a warning before I go on: this post is NOT for vegetarians or for the squeamish or for people who don’t like my brand of salacious humour, not to mention Canadian/British spellings of colour and neighbour and humour and flavour.

I found the particular lamb part in a nice neighborhood butcher store. What part? Well, as I mentioned in the title, there’s only two of them in the lamb, they’re roundish, and they’re NOT the kidneys or the eye balls. Can you guess what I prepared? Don’t worry! I’ll leave lots of clues!

Before I get to that, I’ll start with the vegetable part of my meal:

Bitter melon and shiitake mushrooms

Bitter melon is my favorite vegetable! And yes, it is bitter. Very. This is what it looks like:

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Now this isn’t a post  about vegan options for exciting new dildos. Or is it?

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One thing to pay attention to is that the seeds of the bitter melon must be removed. They are absolutely not edible. In fact, when they get really really red (which can happen when they get a little ripe), they can be poisonous. So yeah, take them out. Cut both the  bitter melon and shiitake up into thin slices, and always rearrange them into a vaguely phallic arrangement. This is to maintain their fundamental karmic power. You can stick that thought in your power orifice.

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When you cook it up, be sure to stir fry it in a very hot pan. In this case, I used this particularly tumescent product:

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This is lard. Not a congealed emanation of the night. It also has a very high smoke point, so it’s excellent for stir-frying. In this case, I rendered this lard myself from leaf lard, which really is quite simple. AND you get cracklings! No, that isn’t code for anything, you filthy-minded freaks. Cracklings are simply crispy bits of pork skin. Yum! Anyway, after stir-frying the bitter melon and shiitake, they should look like this.IMG_5190

Ok, now for the carb:

Hops butter smashed potatoes with cracklings

This erection of ingredients is the best thing ever:

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I read about smashed potatoes a while ago, and I thought that I could do a version with hops-infused butter. Above are two yellow potatoes, the jar is filled with hops-infused butter I’d made for something else, and on top is a packet of sumac that I put there rather gratuitously.

 

After boiling the potatoes,  I smashed them. That was rather anti-climactic, wasn’t it? I can’t be done that quickly, can I? Well, that’s what she said.

Anyway, I then fried them in butter and mixed in cracklings. Now THAT’s exciting! Picture below.

But now, the lamb!

Lamb bits!

First of all, I know that my eating  this part of the lamb may gross out some of you, but I want to make one point. Eating the unwanted parts of an animal (i.e., the offal) is a way of not wasting the life of the animal. It is, I believe, one way of respecting the animal. That said, if you haven’t guessed it, I found lamb testicles! They looked like this. I chose to cut them before taking a picture of them because I figured that may make them seem less gross. Dunno if that especially worked.

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I was very interested by one description of lamb testicle, which said it was a bit like the texture of scallops. Only it was lamb. Anyway, so I cooked it up lightly, largely wanting to avoid overcooking it. This is what it looked like:

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Now, I didn’t use salt during cooking. Sounds mad, right? But I had a good reason. I decided to hit at this point, after it was cooked, with homemade umeboshi vinegar. Why? Because umeboshi vinegar has a lovely fruity fragrance  to it, and I wanted to retain it. Oh, yeah! I also cooked it in lard and used sumac as a spice. Sadly, the sumac did not come out as a nice flavour.

The final product!

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This is my entire birthday meal! As you can see, I paired it with one of my favourite beers, Old Cellar Dweller by Driftwood. It’s a beautiful barleywine. Most excellent.

How was it? Very fascinating and satisfying on many levels. Of course, the potatoes were brilliant, and the bitter melon and shiitake was excellent as well. But you really want to know how I liked chewing on lamb balls, right? Answer: I enjoyed it very much.

Surprisingly, lamb testicles are very mild tasting. The texture was amazing though! It really was like a scallop! It was also quite moist and succulent. I don’t think it would even be possible to get it to be dry. Interestingly, I tasted almost no lamby flavour at all.

Was I grossed out? You know, I did feel a few moments of repulsion, but I had to wonder where that was coming from. Because, as you know, I have no issues eating other internal organs, including very foul smelling ones like intestines. So did I feel the repulsion? My best guess is some kind of old social conditioning around the fear of penises and the fear that I may suddenly turn gay if I touched or looked at a testicle or penis. Fascinating right? Amazing how deep social conditioning goes.

Anyway, I’d say that this meal was one of my top 5 or so birthday meals that I’ve had. Woo! Great way to start a new year.

Also, check out my new book and if you’d be so kind, buy it and leave it a review!

Short story: 好好玩 (Hao Hao Wan), set in the world of my upcoming scifi book The Promise of a Battered Moon

Curious to see whether my book, The Promise of Battered Moon would your cup of tea? Fair enough! Here’s a story set in that world. It follows one of the main characters, Ann. Ann’s your typical augmented super-soldier assassin, though she’s been out in the field a tad too long, and her sanity has been fraying…

好好玩 (Háo Hăo Wăn! So much fun!)

Ann hmmmed and hawed as she filled her bin, fussing over the colorful veggies. One green leaf from that lettucy-thingy… Two red leaves from that hybrid sorta-arugula… Three streaky orangey leaves from that mystery-plant that Ann got a kick out of even though she knew that, spliced as the thing was, it was more animal than vegetable and it probably shrieked and screamed on some inaudible frequency as every crisp delicious “leaf” was torn off and caused it to ooze rosy-whitish goo. If she had anything to do with it, her bin would have the delightfullest scrumptiforous-est salad mix there ever was. Major Reed would approve.

Of course, Ann’s harvesting was going slow — much below the 30lbs per hour. But there was no way to hit the mandated quota, not even if Ann put into play her augmented responses. For one, she and the rest of the field hands were harvesting in the blazing noon heat, making the leaves already half-wilty and losing their precious water-weight with every pick. For another, the system was rigged. Obviously. No one was meant to hit the quota. Why? So order could be liberally maintained with…

BZZZZTTTT!!!!

…a few thousand volts  applied by bored overseers through the convenience of their remote compliance-inducers.

Spasming and grimacing as she gripped her bin, Ann put on the show she’d mimicked from the other field hands. The shocks had no effect on her, as her slimware’s dampeners absorbed and dissipated the charge. Frankly, this part of the job was her favorite. She didn’t often do the whole spy thing and get into the meat of a juicy role play. Not only did she get to do a full-on infiltration, adjusting her skin tone down several notches and donning a costume of amorphous coveralls and a wide-brimmed polyester hat, she also totally changed her body language, adopting a shuffling, defeated gait and posture.

As far as the overseers could tell, Ann was another imported field hand, brought to the retreat-island from some random, climate refugee migrant-producing Southern country that neither the Greater Pan-Americo-European Union nor the People’s Protectorate of Asia had bothered annexing because it had no valuable resources or strategic value.

“Stop what you’re doing! Break time! Tĭng xià! Kě yĭ xiu xĭ!” an overseer screamed in English and Mandarin.

Joining the collectively suppressed groan, Ann got up from her knees and flipped the cover on her bin to activate the crisper. She followed the field hands deeper into the main complex and into the cramped residential quarters, which consisted of a long hall with rows of double bunks. At the far end was a rudimentary kitchen with three ancient electric stove-tops on which pots of stew were bubbling. A line had begun to form despite that there were no odors of identifiable food. And why would there be? Real, actual food — the stuff the field hands grew and handled every day — was reserved for the guests. Workers were provided with ration-cakes of yeast-protein aggregate bound to chunks of recycled carbohydrate-substitute and necessary vitamins and minerals. The one salient flavor it had, if you concentrated really hard, was that of salty chalk.

Ann watched the field hands’ interplay. None of them were complaining. They knew better than to. Everything they said was monitored, and if they exhibited too much sedition or rebellion they’d be quickly knocked down. And none of them wanted that. They knew the job they had on the artificial island was significantly better than what whatever job they could get in the migrant camps — and easily taken away.

Hmmm. This group wasn’t going to do be ideal, Ann considered as she looked them over. She needed people with more… more… what was the word that Major Reed would use? Oomf. That’s what she needed.

Ann’s gaze settled on a hard-featured East Indian woman sitting in a corner, speaking in low tones to a wispy-haired older man. Yes, that could work, Ann decided as she headed toward them.

“He ok?” Ann pointed at the old man, whose head had sunken low and was now shaking back and forth, refusing whatever suggestion the woman trying to get him to do.

The woman, whose heavily pocked features marked her as a survivor of the synthpox pandemics, squinted her eyes suspiciously at Ann. “He’s fine. He’s taking time to drink, ok? He’ll be ready work.”

Ann knew the old man wouldn’t judging by his wheezing. “I wasn’t going to tell anyone.”

“Good on you. You’re a saint. Leave us alone, ok?” the woman growled.

“Listen. If he doesn’t help us meet our quota, we’ll be fined tonight. I’m just watching out for us. I think this could help.” Ann stepped closer and lowered her voice, showing the woman a bag of whitish tablets. “It’s just ibuprofen and anti-inflammatories. It’s nothing much, but it could help him get through the day… and finish the harvest.”

The woman stared at the bag, her hands tightly clasping and unclasping as she fought an internal struggle against accepting help and owing a stranger. In the end, she said quietly, “Hand them over. You know I don’t have anything to trade, ok? I have nothing of value.”

“Like I said, I’m protecting us. Those pills are old, so they may not work,” Ann shrugged, as she sat down.

“Here, dad, I’ve got something for you. This will help. You have to drink your soup to keep up your strength,” the woman coaxed her father into grudgingly placing a pill in his mouth.

Her father! Even better. Ann loved the family angle.

Almost immediately after swallowing the pill, the old man’s complexion brightened, and he even cracked a smile as he began to hungrily slurp down his soup. Hell, they better work. They were military-grade all-purpose stims laced with an assortment of antibiotics and antivirals. Standard issue for all personnel in the field, and now this lucky bugger was getting the best the Union’s medical science had to offer.

“I’m sorry for being touchy. We’ve been robbed twice already,” the woman explained. “Thanks for helping. I’m Suki. This is my dad, Amal.”

“Ann. Don’t worry about it. We’re all in this together, right?” Ann replied. “Is your dad sick?”

Suki grimaced, “Nutrient deficient. Magnesium and potassium. These ration-cakes don’t have enough of it. So yes, in a sense, he’s sick.”

“The cakes? Don’t they provide all the calories we need?” Ann asked, affecting innocence.

“In terms of calories, they do. You get the basics from them, not much else. If you’re on this diet too long, like my dad, you end up exhibiting nutrient deficiency. My whole Master’s thesis measured that, but of course it never got published,” Suki said bitterly. “What we need is actual food. Real food. Not this synthesized crap. We should be getting the vegetables that we grow and harvest.”

Ann nodded sympathetically, grinning on the inside. That was the spirit she was looking for. Someone angry, outraged and pushed too far.

“The bastards got us trapped, don’t they?” Ann sighed mournfully, adding her fictional backstory, “Who are you sending to back home? I’ve got four of my own, and two sisters with three kids each.”

Suki shook her head and pursed her lips. “Two. Boy and girl. Sunil, their father was crippled in an accident, lost his job, and we couldn’t keep up with the payments with only my salary. We tried moving… I tried looking for other jobs… And this was what was left at the placement center… ‘Farm on a tropical artificial island floating over historical Tuvalu’ they said… Sounded good at the time,” Suki’s eyes had taken a distant, burning look as she spoke softer and softer. “Whatever. We’re alive, I guess. But we don’t have to put up with this. They need us to work. We should demand some decency. We should change all this. We should organize.” Suki suddenly went silent after saying dreaded “organize” word. Glancing around quickly, she continued with her hand over her mouth. “Everyone’s fucking tired of this. Treated as less than human. When we get the chance, we’ll show them. We’ll fucking show them.”

Perfect! Wonderful! This Suki was the ideal of package of anger, resentment, and passion, tied together with a neat bow of tragic circumstances, wasted opportunities and systematically crushed hopes.

“Yes. That’s all we need. Just one chance,” Ann said bobbing her head deeply, matching Suki’s conviction. “And when it happens, everyone will act too. I’ll keep my eye out for anything that can help.”

A faint grunt was Suki’s reply, as Ann walked away, leaving the woman to dream her vengeful fantasies.

Based on the retreat-island’s records, to say they were vulnerable to rioting by the labor was, to put it mildly, something of a lurid fabrication. Previous incidents of attempted rebellion had been bloodily suppressed and backup protocols swiftly implemented. There was even a supercut of all the greatest “labor control incidents” that had been edited into a snazzy training vid all the overseers had to watch. There was no doubt the retreat island was very professional and thorough indeed, and that Suki’s imaginary uprising would be crushed.

Or maybe, as Ann thought cheerfully to herself, not this time!

Ann lightened her skin tone a few notches and slipped into the maids’ rest area. Time to check on the part of the equation. It wasn’t difficult to find where the party was. She just needed to make a bee-line for the poshest spot on the retreat-island — which in this case was found by the side of a charming pond filled with bright and active “koi,” expensively spliced so that their intensely bright colors would change, pulse and flicker depending on the stimuli. Beside the pond were a series of ceramic-topped authentic-looking pagodas neatly enclosing a plaza filled with chairs, loveseats, and sofas. They were all occupied by very beautiful people making whimsical demands such as:

“Ruler! Gimme a fucking ruler!” a bleach blond Caucasian man screamed delightedly from his divan. The man was dressed in pale white shorts that accentuated the remarkable golden-bronze color of his skin that seemed to practically glow. It was a hue that all the guests shared and that Ann imagined varied from day to day depending on what was à la mode. Today’s skin tone, apparently, was fake-tanning-salon-tacky-with-no-hint-of-irony. “Where’s my fucking ruler? I know how much the mathy people in the crowd will want to be precise!”

“Enough John, enough. You’ve had your fun. Let the man do his job. You’re keeping my drink from being refilled, you know,” a hazel-haired man said, tinkling the ice cubes in his glass. “Whaaaa? Not you Ian! I’m sure you of all people would want to know the truth!” John mock-protested. Grabbing the ruler that had been brought to him, he continued: “Are these people’s dicks small or what? Isn’t that a fucking mystery we want an answer to? I wanna know! You you and you! Get over here and pull your pants down. Time for the moment of truth.”

Standing in front of John with his pants around his feet was a young South Asian man. Shortly, three other South Asian men came to stand beside the first and let their pants fall around their feet. They were of indeterminate nationalities, but Ann could reasonably guess they could be tracked down to the defunct and drowned nations of either the Philippines or Malaysia — far enough from being Chinese to avoid a faux-pas, but the allusion was clear.

“Hold it out for me! I’m not going to goddamn touch your dick. Theeeere we go. Ok… Three and a half inches. And you…” John went on, seemingly not noticing the grimacing of the other guests, who, even though they were doing their best to ignore the provocative stupidity, were finding that their drinks were souring and their dainty amuse-bouche treats were tasting stale.

Ann was surprised there wasn’t more of a reaction from John’s antics, especially given that half of the guests were mostly Chinese with some random PPA members thrown into the mix — a Russian here, a Kazakhstani there. The other half she didn’t expect so much out of, as they were largely uniformly Caucasian — the regular Union mix of Euro-mutt and melting-pot American — with a sprinkling of token African-Americans and Hispanics.

But, as any of them would tell you, the Union-PPA war was done and over with five years ago with the signing of the 2082 Armistice — ages ago — and any conflict between the two political titans was just impossible and soooo passé (if you could ignore the low-level, black-ops antagonism that kept the war furnaces burning). Indeed, reconciliation was the explicit goal of the retreat island. The project was the brainchild of a few starry-eyed Union and PPA citizens who had sat in on one too many hippy-dippy seminars espousing a bullshit-slathered rainbow of free-love-conquers-all and color-and-history-and-race-is-a-socially-constructed-illusion-we-should-sweep-under-the-rug.

Tamade! Ta zhě me yòu lăi le! Wŏ bu neng sò ma pì!” Fucking hell! He’s at it again. I can’t take this horse shit! a bristly young Chinese man said from within a small group sitting to the side of John’s spectacle.

An older Chinese man held the riled man back, “Ní zùo xìa. Ní gěi wŏ diu liěn, wŏ jiu zhò ní.” Sit down. If you embarrass me, I’m going to kick your ass.

“Ke shi zhè ge… Wŏ měn zhé me kě yĭ zhŭn zhè gè… Chì shĭ le! Wŏ yì dìng yào bă zhè gè băi gŭi bì chĭ lăi!” But this… We can’t let this… Fuck! I have to do shut that white bastard up! the young man grumbled, glaring at John, who was crowing and holding up the ruler.

Hăolahăolahăolahăola…” Okokokok… the older man sighed. Looking over to a quiet woman, he said: “Xiăodò. Bă zhè ma hou jĭe jŭe. Wŏ měn do shi hăo pěng yŏ.” Xiăodò. Resolve this nonsense. We’re all good friends.

Hăo. Měi wèn tĭ,” Sure. No problem, Xiăodò replied, gracefully giving the old man a deferential bow.

Ann was immediately intrigued. Her slimware had flagged Xiăodò and initiated a scan on her. Certainly, she looked ordinary and one might even say she was rather plain in comparison to the other women there. This was intentional, as the family’s bodyguard couldn’t possibly look better than the members themselves. As Ann’s slimware noted, the woman had been modified to have a basic complement of titanium-laced bones and hyper-reactive musculature. It was nothing compared to what Ann had, but it still marked her as a Person of Interest.

“Ooooo! I want to see too!” Xiăodò said, waltzing up and peered at the servants’ members. Hooking her arm around John’s waist, and pressing herself against him, Xiăodò said, “Looks like you’re right about their penises being small. Though I believe they fall within the population average. What the average is among us, however, may be something different, of course, since none of us are mere average, of course. How about we check yours first?”

Before John could react, Xiăodò tore of his shorts in a blur of movement.

“Hey! What are you doing? What’s…?” John said angrily, twisting to look at Xiăodò, but suddenly found he couldn’t. He paled, realizing he was trapped in the bodyguard’s augmented grip. “Hey! You can’t do this! Let me… Ow! Please…”

Now, if it were Ann, she wouldn’t have wasted the moment. She’d think of something clever and memorable. Sadly though, she knew that Xiăodò had different constraints than she did, and so she understood when, instead of doing any violence (even the milder forms of it), Xiăodò grabbed John’s penis and began kneading an erection out of it, saying in comically sultry voice,

“So you are bigger! Oh, my. Big boy, aren’t we?”

Oh, boo. Ann supposed she shouldn’t be surprised by the lack of real consequences for the pampered elite. What surprised her though, was what Xiăodò decided to do next. Yelling out with big grin, she cried out to the others, “Who else has a big dick? Take it out for all of us to see! And let’s not forget the pussies! Who’s got a hot vee-jay? Let’s all see it!”

Wŏ! Ní měn kàn ba!”Me! Check out mine! the old man, Xiăodò’s boss, replied first, enthusiastically pulling off his shorts and gleefully thrusting his hips as he laughed.

“Oh yeah? Don’t forget mine!” a red head cried out, vigorously wagging his genitals.

Haí yŏu wŏ!” Me too! a beautiful woman yelled, pulling off her lacy slip, and spreading out her impeccably groomed crotch for everyone’s edification.

“Yeah! Check out my poon!”

Ní kàn wŏ de duo piào liàng!” Look how hot mine is!

“I haven’t had this much fun in a long time!”

Hăo wan! Hao hăo wan!” How fun! So much fun!

Ann rolled her eyes as she retreated from the nonsense. She’d seen enough. O, the terrible, difficult lives of the powerful that they could resolve their troubles by fooling around with their genitalia. No, no, no. That wouldn’t do at all. That wasn’t how it was supposed to go, Ann tutted. This reconciliation bullshit wasn’t supposed to fly. It wasn’t how the game was played. War can’t be put out of business.

“Weeeeell. What have we got here?” a gravely voice said. In the middle of the hallway Ann had snuck into was a burly man, standing with his arms crossed. The blond-haired, blue-eyed man had chiseled features that, similar to Xiăodò’s looks, weren’t too attractive, but attractive enough.

Another heavy voice sounded behind Ann: “Looks like we got ourselves an infiltrator! Real ugly one too. Thought they made them more good-looking than this. I feel my dick shrinking looking at her.”

Putting on her “ugly” smile, Ann said, checking to see if they were bluffing, “Duì bu chĭ, xian sheng. Sorry, sir. I’m one of the cleaners.” Ann raised her hands, and made to reach into her blouse as she said, “Sir, you can scan my ID here and you’ll see…”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Don’t you do that. I know you fucking spies carry flipguns. Not one fucking move,” the bodyguard in front of her said, whipping out his sidearm. “Shit, do you think we weren’t going to see you’re on the wrong shift? What balls you have to come here to steal our company secrets. Who are you working for? I’ll bet one of the chinks here. Raise your fucking hands! Hey Jimmy, check her to see if she’s got anything on her.”

“Yeah, sure Larry. Keep your weapon leveled on her, man. I don’t want to get clipped by a set of taseclaws.”

Ann imagined serene mountainscapes and limpid moonlit lakes, as she willed herself to be calm. Fucking flipgun? Fucking taseclaws? Fucking goddamned industrial spy? Fucking fuckwit asswipe turdmonkey goons. She’d never carry any lame-ass “weapons” like those. They were fucking toys compared to the real gear Ann had been spliced with.

“She’s clear. Let’s take her to the service center. We can work her over there,” Jimmy said, pushing Ann forward.

“Bet you won’t just tell us who you’re working for now, huh?” Larry crowed. “Don’t worry. We’ll get it out of you.”

“What’s the matter? Don’t think so? You’ll fucking see,” Jimmy snarled, interpreting Ann’s silence as stubborn defiance.

Uh, huh. Ann was going to show them how much these dude-brahs’ discount-brand augments that made them look so swoll’ worked out against commando-assassin Union operatives. In her silence, she’d been debating whether she should follow them to their service center and kill  them there, or do it right now, which would push up her timeline… Ah, fuck it. Might as well get things over with.

“Fuck! Hold her!” Jimmy cursed, as Ann twirled around and slapped his gun away.

“Goddamn it, Jimmy! What the fuck!” Larry swore as he tried to bring his own gun around, but was kicked out of his hand.

“Get her, damn it!” Jimmy said, throwing himself onto Ann with wannabe kung-fu, while Larry jumped in with pseudo-krav maga.

Ordinarily, none of their attempts at subduing her could stop Ann given she could move exactly 2.2 times faster than them — but Ann let them connect, slowing down enough so they could land a few hits.

“You goddamned bitch!” Larry spat, kicking Ann in the ribs.

“Made me lose my gun! I’ll fuck you up!” Jimmy yelled as he punched her in the face.

Oh, Ann could have stopped them, but she let them hit her, while making the appropriate grunting sounds. It was the charitable thing to do. She didn’t want to emasculate them too easily by demonstrating how useless they really were. There was artistry to a proper smackdown. Like say now, when Ann was crawling on the ground, as if to get up, and then reaching weakly at Jimmy’s leg trying to get at him:

“Look at this, Larry. She’s still trying to reach for me! More fight in her than I expected,” Jimmy laughed as he kicked away at Ann’s hand.

“Whatever, man,” Larry sneered. “Let me report this in before we really work her over.”

“Hear that bitch? This ain’t over! Whoa… she’s got my leg! Look! I caught myself a real ugly fish!” Jimmy snickered again, wiggling his ankle where Ann had grabbed hold. “They must have put some kind of refusal-to-submit compulsion in her. So annoying… Wow. Gotta say that she still has some kind of grip though. Ok, that’s enough… Fuck. Enough I said! Let the fuck go! Get off me! OW! Larry! Get her the fuck off me! NYARRRGH!!!!”

With a satisfying crunch, Ann had broken Jimmy’s ankle. Abruptly standing up, she leveraged herself, and tore off the foot with a fleshy twist. Yup. The Union had provided her with a grip that could apply up to 2000 pounds of force. Larry stared agape, as Ann gave him the what’s-your-move-bitch eyebrow raise.

“What the fuck are you doing? Take her down!” Jimmy helpfully screamed.

Snapped out of his daze, Larry performed an acrobatic leap, retrieved his gun and then twisted around to empty its high-velocity flechette rounds into Ann — none of which had any impact on her at all. Yup. The Union had kitted her with a reactive carapace that could block the shockwave of a sub-nuclear detonation.

“Oh, fuck…” Larry said, finally understanding how things stood.

Yup. Ann flashed forward, extended her boneblades and slashed Larry’s throat straight to his spine, leaving him no opportunity to gurgle or grab at his neck. The fool crumpled to the ground like a deflated sex toy. Who’s the ugly bitch now, biatch?

“…support! I need backup! Intruder alert! Highly dangerous enemy! Come immediately!” Jimmy screamed into his slimware.

Finally. Ann had been patiently waiting for him to sound the alarm. With that ticked off her to-do list, she stuck a blade through his temple, ending his attempts to get up and stumble away from her.

The entire security network blared soon after Jimmy’s alarm was sent. Splicing into the surveillance system, Ann could see the security supervisors hadn’t notified the guests that they should be heading to the safety of their rooms. Stupid, but not unexpected. Ann now tracked an entire platoon’s worth of heavily-armed, fully plated security troops converging on her location, probably expecting some kind of intense firefight.

What Ann had planned, however, was something completely different. Naturally, she loved an invigorating firefight as much as the next, but Ann had zero intention of killing any more people that day. In fact, as she slipped through the corridors and punched her way into the basement floors, she sealed the corridor, leaving the guards trapped for at least an hour. The fewer of them around the better.

Ann’s next step didn’t include any killing or slicing or maiming, but was legitimately challenging. She needed to overcome the apathy and the broken spirits of the retreat island’s labor force. She needed them to be not only passionate and angry, but bloodthirsty. For, how else could she get the field workers and servants to overthrow their masters if they didn’t have any of that righteous indignation fueled by blind, rabid fury?

Fortunately, Ann had just the thing to get the labor into the right mood.

…this is how you get them to do as you say. Don’t be shy. Go on! Try it,” a thick-necked man grinned into the camera, as he spoke to a dainty young woman. Before them was a field worker on his knees, his head bowed low.

Ok! Let’s see here. It’s the red zappy button, right?” the young woman said brightly, adding a ditsy giggle.

That’s right! Go on! It’s easy!” the man encouraged.

The woman’s fiddling resulted in a sharp screech, as she shocked the field worker through his compliance-inducer.

There? See? Easy isn’t it? And that’s how we control our labor force!” the man beamed.

Ew. What’s that smell?” the woman wrinkled her nose.

“That would be this feller’s bowels. Sorry about that,” the man said, waving for someone off camera to drag the body away. “We don’t usually use it on the maximum setting except to make a terminal example of a worker, but well done!”

Ann had tracked down the overseers’ training video and was playing it on every screen on the retreat island. Predictably, in the lounging area, the guests were getting somewhat upset at the distasteful display that reminded them how soiled their hands actually were. Meanwhile, in the workers’ area, the apathy was morphing into angry mutterings and grumbles. Close, but not quite there! The next part though, Ann knew would really get them going.

Oh, dear. I hope I haven’t inconvenienced you,” the woman said, making a pretty moue.

The man laughed. “Not at all! We’ve got plenty more where they came from. Here’s the clever part of it. Can you guess where he’ll go now?”

Go? You mean heaven or hell?” the woman frowned.  

No! I mean what we’ll do with his body!” the man grinned.

Do? I don’t know… Return it to his family? Compost it?” the woman sniffed, the thoughts being clearly beneath her contemplation.

Hmmm… Compost… Haven’t thought of that… That would be a good idea,” the man tapped his chin. “But that would require extra facilities, and our solution is much more elegant. We just toss them to the sea! Real easy. One of the many benefits of being on an artificial island. There’s always a place to get rid of the shit we don’t want.”

Looking straight into the camera, the man said with wink: “Actually, this is good for you trainees to know. Don’t get too attached to the labor ‘cause they all end up in the sea. These migrants don’t last long and no one gives two flying fucks about them. They sign on thinking they’re making money for their family, but we never send anything back. We just say they broke their contract, so too bad. No one complains, no one cares. Fucking migrant losers is all they are. So it’s real easy for us to purge the oldies and cycle through a new batch. Saves us a bundle!”

By the time the worker’s casual electrocution-death had registered among the field hands, they were angrily yelling and shouting at the screen. The final revelation that their work had been for naught set them completely aflame, causing them to burst out into the hallways in a furious horde, led by none other than Suki (bless her spirited soul!). The overseers who attempted to stop them were mauled to death, discovering too late their compliance-inducers were no longer working — thanks to Ann. At the same time, the guests’ lounges area had exploded into a flurry of action, as the bodyguards began to direct their wards away to safer areas on the retreat island. But there was going to be no such place — also thanks to Ann.

As the rampaging mob spread into the facility, the bloodshed and destruction rapidly escalated. Whatever security guards that were available killed as many as they could, but for as many as they killed, ten times as many workers burst through bent on revenge and retribution. By the time they made it through to the central areas, most of the guests had largely fled, though a few stragglers were beaten to a bloody pulp. While she wasn’t supposed to allow these “high-value stakeholders” to get harmed, Ann figured a few deaths wouldn’t be too off-message, which was that…

It was a mob! It was a riot! A glorious worker uprising! The poor exploited climate refugees were rebelling and throwing off their oppressors! Major Reed would be so proud.

Even the guests’ escape couldn’t be better. They were forced to flee to the flight pad, where waiting were heavy transports that had been scrambled to rescue them. The guests, screaming and blaming each other as they rushed onto the transports, were visible from a distance. They’d replaced their luxuriant tans with a very stark skin tone of privileged-lily-white.

Watching the workers cheer as the transports took off, Ann waffled on the last step of her mission. A crazy thought flashed in her mind: wouldn’t it be great if these guys continued on living on their island? They would be able to feed themselves by farming the land and maintaining the facilities. It would be great! They could build their little utopia, bring in their families, rebuild their communities, live happily ever after…

Ha, ha. Good one. Nope, that would never go. As Major Reed said, stick to the narrative and keep it consistent. Having migrant losers suddenly win, made no sense, right? Shaking her head, Ann sent the command to break the island apart and sink, and signaled her insertion vehicle to retrieve her. Nothing would be left of the “fun” except some fancy-pants debris and floating, ragged corpses.

Getting on the Gluten-Free train: Idli rice+lentil “bread”

Since I too must be able to say that I’ve gotten onto the gluten-free bandwagon, here is my contribution. This is also a “bread,” but composed exclusively of rice and lentils. It’s actually significantly easier than most recipes, as it requires no pre-made flour. Whaaaaaat?

This bread is based on idlis, a South Indian steamed bread, which I’d actually encountered while in Sri Lanka. If you haven’t had it before, it’s a light, steamed bread made out of fermented rice-lentil batter. It tends to be rather tender, and also has a pleasing sour flavour to it, not unlike sourdough. To make idlis properly, you need a particular metal mold to steam it in, but since I didn’t have that, I’d experimented with baking the batter instead, which resulted in what follows.

Seriously, this is dead easy. And did I mention it’s gluten-free and therefore super popular and healthy and hitting all the right food trend notes? All you really need for this is time and an immersion blender.

Idli “Bread”

There are lots of ways to do this, and I swear to you that it’s nearly impossible to get wrong. As an example, I did this entirely from memory, which I’d thought was accurate, but ended up being entirely wrong… and yet ended up with perfectly satisfying results!

This is what I did. I soaked the following for two days:

  • 2 cups brown rice
  • 2 cuts red lentils

That’s it. How much water? I guess about 4 cups, possibly more. If you look at other recipes, the proportion of lentils is much reduced, but as I said, it didn’t seem to matter too much. I suspect though that for me it simply made the cooking time longer. Some say you need to soak the rice and lentils separately, but I did them together, which was also fine!

  1. After soaking the rice and lentils, they should look like this:

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2. I then blended it up very thoroughly with an immersion blender. Yes, amazingly, both the rice and lentils blended up very readily into a smooth paste. I put a cover over the bowl and let it sit in the oven with the light on for 24 hours. This allows the batter to ferment. Some recipes say you should let the batter sit for 8 hours, which I suppose you could do if you wanted a less sour flavour. Note though, that there is no starter! All the bacteria you need is on the grains of the rice and lentils.

 

4. The fermentation process should make the batter fairly bubbly and fragrant. The smell isn’t unpleasant, per se… just nothing that I could exactly pin down. Give the batter a good mix, line a baking pan with parchment paper, and pour the batter in. I ended up needing one large and small baking pan.

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5. This is the long part! Bake the batter at 375F for 70-80 minutes. It’ll firm up, trust me, but it’ll take a while. As with Julie’s gluten-free buckwheat bread, you want to bake it until the top gets all crackly. Around 20 minutes to the end, you can pull the bread out of the pan, and continue baking on a cookie sheet or something. This will ensure that the sides will be properly cooked. What I even did was flip the bread upside down and bake it for a few minutes that way. In any case, if in doubt, just bake longer.

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6. Man, I thought I took a better picture than this, but anyway, this is how it turned out. It’s not as gummy as it looks, ok? Honest. The outside is nice and firm, but still tender enough to bite through.

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7. Here’s a much better picture. What I did was cut the bread in half lengthwise. As you can see the crumble is dense, but still somewhat fluffy. In fact, it struck me that it was very similar to the shape of ciabata or panini, so…

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8. I made a sandwhich! Not bad, right?

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Gotta say that turned out pretty well. I used sauerkraut, cabbage, hops-infused butter, and refried beans. Yeah, it’s not “bread,” but the texture of it is pretty close! Let me know if you try it!