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The Last Day of the Great Laibon [a story]

by Michael Robbins

This story is dedicated to my father.

 

Kiana had been in the wilderness alone. It was against protocol, and exactly what she needed. That’s what she told herself anyway. Lions came to nuzzle her belly, rumbling softly, perhaps due to that acute animal instinct for knowing when something was wrong. Usually they scattered when the Old man came around.

The first time was on the first day of the month, on the first hour past noon. Of course it was. He popped around a tree on those sand scattered Kalahari plains and waved. Kiana started, then bent over the hand-held UV monitor in both her mitts and muttered, “It’s not real.”

800px-Vachellia_erioloba_-_Camel_thorn

On the second day, at the appointed hour, he climbed into the sun-screened Jeep with her with a cheery “Hello!” Her grip tightened knuckle white on the steering wheel. “You’re not real,” she repeated, almost as a mantra. Her bright green eyes shunted her off onto a vision, flashing to the live-feed six weeks past, to the same man, now more emaciated than he’d been at their last contact, seemingly plied with ever-more tubes in every vein. She blinked, jerking to the side, but the man was gone, at least for now.

Twice more she saw him, at a distance paralleling her as she did her job, collecting genetic samples from the indigenous wildlife. It wasn’t normally dangerous work, but it was always better to work in teams. Especially on the Kalahari with its hundred-degree-plus temperatures, sparse grasses, pale sand pans and gnarled camel thorn trees clawing infrequently at the sky. On the sixth day, it almost cost her.

Kiana had sampled some weaver birds but hadn’t been paying enough attention to her surroundings. Which was how the cheetah had stumbled into her. They literally tripped over one another. Luckily Kiana rolled one way and the spotted cheetah the other. Her heart hammered at her ribs with startling ferocity. That was nothing compared to the snarl issuing from the big cat.

Its eyes were cloudy. It must have an older cat who stumbled carelessly into the noonday sun and been blinded. With all the other adverse effects of climate change it couldn’t have been helped. This was not helping her at all, though. Her limbs were still trying not to move. She didn’t seem to have much control over her shrill breathing, something the cheetah’s ears tuned in on with terrible accuracy.

That’s when the Old man stepped around her, waving both long arms and yelling, startling the cat enough that she could get off a shot with her tranq pistol. It took a couple of shots to flatten the agitated beast, but it was done.

The pistol thunked to the brittle yellow grass as the Old Man swung back to her with that familiar grin. “That’s why you shouldn’t be out here by yourself,” he said. “Baby? What’s wrong?”

“…please stop,” she whispered, her overflowing eyes burning. “…god, please stop…you can’t be here…”

“I don’t see why not. The cheetah seemed to agree with me.”

“B-but, Poppa, you’re gone. You’re…y-y-you’re…”

It all came spilling out, all the tears dammed for the past six weeks, all the suppressed emotions, stealing her breath, choking her. The Old Man returned from the truck with a paper bag for her to breath into. He held onto her with soothing words as she hunched over herself, hyperventilating for how long, an hour? All she was able to choke out in all that time was, “forgive me.”

“What for, baby?” he asked.

“I-I wasn’t there, Poppa. I-I didn’t come for the end.”

“The cancer was pretty far along this time. There wasn’t a lot anyone could do.”

As he’d done when she was younger and brought home every stray dog in the neighborhood, teary-eyed, he now dabbed her cheeks with a kerchief that was the same safari-brown as his sleeveless shirt and shorts. “It’s okay, Baby. Say what’s really bothering you.”

She could look at him now, into the smiling eyes that had raised her, the face now smoothed of all aches. “Is heaven real?” she asked.

“It’s better than heaven,” he shrugged. “Go on. You can do it.”

“I can’t.”

“What, the little girl who frolicked with lions? That’s not who I remember.”

“That’s just it. I didn’t want to remember you like that, all wasted away. I wanted you to be strong in my memory. I wanted to remember all the fishing trips with you and Momma. I wanted to remember that big hug you gave me when I came home from my mission.”

“You can still have that. Nothing wrong with that.”

“But I-I’m not ready.”

“I wasn’t. Nobody’s ever ready. That’s okay. I have faith in you, baby.”

“Does Momma hate me, for not coming home?”

He blew a raspberry out the side of his mouth. “Never. ‘Worried’ is more like it. You should give her a call.” Together they stood. “I’ve been allowed this one visit. I’ve probably overstayed it already. Why don’t I help you load that cat in the cage before I get back?”

This was done in no time at all. As she slammed the metal cage shut in the back of the Jeep, he tipped her chin up, chucking her on it. “I’m proud of you, baby.”

She ducked her head with a smile. A stiff breeze whipped through her bones and he was gone. In the depression in the grass where he’d stood, there remained a small red book of Psalms, the one he’d always carried with him for forty years. The one Momma swore she’d buried with him.

RE: The Texas abortion fiasco & the Supreme Court

#TheDudeTrader1

I shared this tweet a few hours ago:

The most distress aspect of the abortion dispute, from the beginning, is that the onus is always on women. The rancor and punishments always directed at them and no responsibility attached to the male. Men have as much to do with pregnancy as women…

But no punishment is attached to their actions. Without their sperm, you wouldn’t have a baby, whether it was voluntary or forced on the woman. Oh heaven forbid we should ruin that boy’s future, he’s a good old boy, and she, oooo, she’s just a…oh please, let’s not.

None of the so called evangelicals seem to give a rat’s that a woman’s life might be ruined, or lost, because we know abortions are not going to stop. They’re just going to be rendered unsafe by a pack of odious, unfeeling justices pursuing their own agenda.

Make no mistake, no man is going to be charged, no billionaires will face consequences for taking part in impregnating a woman, which si another obscenity perpetrated by this generation of vipers.

I’d like to add that admittedly, I’m not fond of people, especially politicians with their false cozying up to the religious maniacs who have spent the last 40 years turning this country into a backwater as venal as Russia under the communists.

But I value LIFE, which includes humans, not matter how dense they are. Nobody in the GOP or the religious right/wrong seem to realize a lot of young women are going to die because of this decision–or NON-decision–by the conservative justices on the Supreme Court. Maybe they don’t care. They were certainly fine with Donald Trump committing mass murder last year. I’ll be watching, and pushing with every other decent person, to make sure this ass-backwards law in Texas takes a dive, and to see to it that this SCOTUS does not take us back to the Dark Ages.

–statement by Sherrilyn Ifill, President & Director-Counsel of the NAACP’s Legal Defense & Educational Fund (LDF)

https://www.naacpldf.org/press-release/ldf-issues-statement-on-supreme-court-decision-in-case-involving-texas-abortion-law/

Review: George R. Stewart, Earth Abides (1949)

(Original printing by Random House in 1949)

One might ask, once you’re done Googling the given title, why the HELL would we be interested in a book published 72 years ago. That was before the Red Scare of the 1950s, before fears of nuclear war overtook all future versions of Armageddon. There is wisdom in old works, perhaps more than can be found in contemporary books. I found for myself this is a more timely text than was seemingly possible.

The back cover of the 1976 edition I read describes this as ‘a novel about a tomorrow that could happen today’. After the events of 2020 it seems very close to home. Our protagonist, Isherwood Williams, spends some time in a cabin in the woods recovering from a rattlesnake bite. He comes back to a city that appears deserted. Scattered newspapers, what’s left of them, tell of a ‘new and unknown disease of unparalleled rapidity of speed, and fatality’. Unlike in 2020, in the novel there was a concerted and competent government response, although this pathogen still wiped out the better part of the population of the late great United States.

I saw a lot of myself in Ish. He was well read, and probably more mechanically inclined than I. Basically he’s a good person trying to make sense of an impossible situation. At first he was all right with solitude, he could do without loads of people and their problems for a while. Peace and quiet were nice, and he was free to do what he wanted. Some inhibitions had to be broken, such as when Ish had to start breaking into stores to get canned goods, just for his own needs, now without fear of prosecution. Given that all means of mass production were essentially gone, canned goods were all that city people had to live on.

But no one can live alone forever. That’s how Ish was adopted first by a homeless dog, Princess, which lead him to Em, his future wife and the woman who would become this novel’s Mother of the community they gather together in an old California suburb. . As the first, original Mother, Em becomes the heart of what they call the Tribe, probably the most intuitive person and the one everyone defers to in matters.

This community Ish gathers, this Tribe, is comfortable, too much so perhaps. Even when a crisis arrives, when the reservoirs have dried up and no more water is to be had from their taps, it is very hard to stir the people to make an effort even to dig a well.

I can see this–I believe it. For a novel written seven decades ago, it has a clarity and insight. These are average people with average goals, without much ambition to rebuild civilization as they knew it. Ish’s efforts to educate the children of their small Tribe come to no avail, until he settles on more basic–and potentially fun skills, such as bows and arrows. And of course there is the Hammer, which Ish has carried with him from the beginning. This becomes an unconscious symbol of power, a tool as well as a faithful companion that Ish has to pass on in the end.

I would highly recommend Earth Abides. There is more truth, more humanity there than a lot of the propaganda we’ve indulged in for the past several years.

(The 1976 Fawcett Crest edition)

Lianna in the Microverse: Conclusion

Soon as this was over she wanted to get stoned again. So much had been real…so much surreal: the heft of Kali Ma’s sword in her fist, the cool solidity of the pommel. Cradling Lady Smirnoff to her chest, her weight in her four arms evenly distributed, drooping like a lazy cat…

Four…arms–!

The Professor and Dr. Chen bumbled into each other as Lianna jumped up. She tossed off the blanket, then immediately tugged it back to her naked chest. She took in the bland white medical cabinet over a sink behind the medics, the stiff sheets under her legs.

Dreamy, fuzzy images floated in the periphery of her thoughts; an emergence of some kind on the main floor of the observatory, her tail swishing between her buttocks. No tail now, she thought. Some wise ass must’ve thought it’d be a good idea to get her to the outpost’s dispensary. That was probably a good idea since she didn’t remember much after first she dropped Lady Smirnoff, and then collapsed herself.

She slapped her left shoulder, groping for ridges, skin folds, anything that would be indicative of a scar. She came up empty. “Professor, how many arms did I have when I got back?”

Their distended eyeballs gave the game away. Troopers that they were, they kept up the pretense. “Two, of course,” the Professor replied, lifting his arms. “Just two. Right, Chen?”

“Oh yes, yes! How many arms were you expecting to have?” His forced laugh reeked of fear and barely suppressed hysteria. And then Petersen burst in.

“Got the stills developed! They’re gonna love this at the…” he frowned, first at the two scientists waving their hands like livid sports coaches. His eyebrows raised at Lianna, nodding at her cot. “Oh. Hi, four-arms.”

That earned him the double sock in the arm that she’d been waiting for. “I knew it!” Lianna bounced off the cot, pacing the room despite the Professor’s efforts to keep up and drape his lab coat over her. “I knew it! It’s the first proof that the Hindu cosmology has a basis in fact! I gotta write this up in the Physicists Quarterly–“

“Lianna…”

“Mom would shit if she could see this! This would be the best–!”

“Lianna!”

Both bare heels slapped on the deck. The Professor stopped himself just in time, finally succeeding in wrapping his coat over her. “Your other limbs disappeared shortly after we had you settled,” he said.

“What, they melted?”

“No, they…how do I say this, dissipated. I can’t explain it better than that. They seemed to vanish as soon as you came off your high. Umm, how much powder did…?”

“A snootful.”

“I thought it’d be a bit much.”

Lianna crossed her arms with a smirk. “And if there had been evidence of a transformation, I suppose you’d keep it from me anyway?”

The Professor sighed. “Lianna, cultivating a personal relationship with Kali is not something I’d encourage.”

“But isn’t that what Mom and Poppa wanted to investigate? Surely that’s the reason they kept such extensive notebooks.”

The Professor nodded to both points, though his downturned bushy mustache suggested he now wished that he’d never let her get her hands on them, let alone follow the hints and star charts highlighted in red in the margins. ‘What happened to my tail? And what about Lady Smirnoff?”

“First, allow me to congratulate you on the successful conclusion of your extraditionary mission. She’s in the next room. Would you like to see? We can discuss the, umm, other item after that.”

Her deep crimson skinsuit glistened even in the dimmed lighting ordered for her recovery room. What was left of it, anyway. Lady Smirnoff looked like she’d been through a war and lost. Her right leg was a purplish stump below the knee. Her left side wasn’t in much better shape. The skinsuit over both her left shoulder and breast was torn, exposed to the dangers of the Microverse. In fact, her left breast appeared to have been punctured by a barbed shaft. Tardigrade, Lianna deduced silently.

Further puncture marks could be found in both wrists, another in her suit through the crotch. Some repulsion prevented Lianna from examining that hole too intensely. Lianna took a scanner from a young medic in training, which enabled her to probe the puncture just below Lady Smirnoff’s breast that almost reached through her chest cavity to her heart. Curiously, all these puncture wounds had been plugged with a flexible, indigo-tinted foam. Further proof, to Lianna at least, of Kali’s charity, or malice.

The medics stepped aside to let Lianna in, but not too far from the floating examination table. They were keeping her in an induced coma for now, they told her, pending a decision by the outpost’s chief of staff toward what exactly they were supposed to do with her; whether her punishment by Kali had been sufficient, if indeed that would factor into any subsequent care she’d receive at a better equipped facility.

Her hand squeezed the smooth blotchy stump, just above the knee. Lianna peeled back one of Lady Smirnoff’s eyelids. Her pupils had shrunk to tiny dots. Her facial features, usually so stern, was relaxed in sedated rest. She hadn’t been prepared for this, Lianna thought, her hand lingering for what little comfort it might offer. Sweet Kali, what a state her mind must be in.

“Baby, come on,” the Professor said, gently taking her hand. He led her along the main corridor to the Specimen Lab. Normally this was where cultures were housed in specialty racks, behind vacuum sealed doors housing the wall-mounted coolant cells. He fixed on the third coolant door to the right, grunting as he yanked the handle down.

A tray rolled out containing no racks full of specimen trays, only an extra-large storage bin, about the size of Lianna’s upper torso. With the input of a code, the top was forced wide open as a bushy something arched out of its confined space.

“It didn’t dissipate…”

“Presumably Kali wanted this preserved, as a keepsake,” the Professor muttered. “So we’d know this wasn’t entirely a dream.”

The thick fur yielded several centimeters to the touch. Moments passed as he watched her stroke the reddish streaks. The end where it should’ve ‘connected’ seemed evenly cut, or partly healed. “Did you guys…?”

“We didn’t have to do anything. It sort of popped off as soon as you two hit the floor, just as a chameleon’s would.” All latches shut quietly, efficiently as he tucked the fur back under the lid and shoved the tray door shut. Lianna drew the lab coat closer, almost disappearing inside it.

“Professor, this isn’t a surprise to you. None of it. I’ve given you probably the most absurd, unscientific reports you’d ever seen, about things that would normally get a gal shipped to the nearest funny farm. And you…you just accept them. How much did you know, before I started out there?”

He kept his hands in his pants pockets, then adjusted the online scribbler in his top shirt pocket with a smile. “I had a more adventurous youth than I’ve let on. Several of my experiences could be described as humbling. I’d like to tell you I was never…hmm, intimate within my interpersonal contacts, but,” he shrugged, “I could never lie to you, child.”

“But you’re never gonna tell me about those experiences, are you?” she asked.

Still smiling, perhaps a little more warmly, he held out his hand to her. “There’s too much to cover in one afternoon,” he said. She clutched the coat to her bunched in one hand, while with the other she took his proffered palm. “But I see no reason why we couldn’t start.”

Continued from ‘Summoned by Kali’: (link)  https://mike3839.com/2021/01/18/summoned-by-kali-a-story/

Here’s where it all began: (link)  https://mike3839.com/2020/02/11/lianna-into-the-microverse-introduction/

Barack Obama A Promised Land review

This has been a hard book to get through. It’s not a difficult read; President Obama has a way of drawing you in, making the hard choices easy to understand. His conversational skills haven’t failed him.

I suppose the problem, for me, was that I remember those years and the bullshit thrown at both he and his wife Michelle. For the first time Obama seems free to express his frustrations and disbelief not only at the continual obstructionism, but also his personal struggle with racism.

What’s also made it hard is the fact that the same dipshits are still in Congress, still spewing the same toxic nonsense they had 12 years ago. If anything, the recent crop of Republicans is 100 percent worse.

I’ve gone on but honestly, it is worth the read. We are guided from his early days as a senator, on through the first presidential campaign in 2008, and closing with…nahh, I won’t spoil it. Can’t wait for the second volume. Cheers.