Occam’s Phaser: Simplicity in Fantasy

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Photo from wikipedia. Text from the sick depths of my soul.

Occam’s Phaser

Ding-ding-ding-ding-ding!

All right, people, I want you to take a moment and appreciate the fact that, after long practice, I may have just typed the nerdiest letters of my career. Occam’s phaser. Sheesh. Shove me in a locker, somebody, cause I ain’t makin’ it to senior prom.

With that out of the way…

(Occam’s phaser! Hurr!)

I want to have a serious talk.

You guys have all heard of William of Occam, right? Born in…well, probably Occam. A mendicant friar and a logician of the 14th century, who posited, among many logical principals, the idea that the simplest solution is probably the correct one. There’s more to it, but that’s how we non-logicians usually express it.

And a bunch of people took offense to that. Wouldn’t you? I mean, you’ve got this fancy theorem that took you like five years to embroider into factfulness, what business does this punk monk have coming around and going naw, simpler is better, dawg, and then you’re all like my name is Immanuel Kantstopdis, and I think nature is diverse as hell. And then, they see you whip, and possibly nay-nay, and by God–

Okay. Overcompensating. I’m going somewhere with this, I swear. Or I’m trying to.

Occam’s razor is the idea that the simplest solution is probably the correct one. Occam’s phaser, which is my idea, is the same general principal applied to your fantasy novel: the simpler you keep it, the more your story is likely to work.
We’ve all read those epic fantasy novels. You know, those ones. Where there’s a thousand pages of scenebuilding before you get to the plot, where you need the Cliff’s notes to keep up with the list of characters, and where everybody, everybody, gets paired off with either a romantic partner or a small country by the end of the novel.

When you write your Amazon review for this novel, it probably features the phrase ‘excellent worldbuilding’, mostly because, well, somebody did spend a lot of time, and that much literary real estate has to be worth something. Trick is, you can sell an acre of swamp and call it ‘real estate’. You can sell a shotgun shack (doors and windows not included) and it’s still fricking real estate.

But that’s not what you want real estate to be, is it? You want your novel to be in Beverly Hills, to have a midcentry modern dream house on it. You want lights to turn on when you clap. You want Jennifer Lawrence next door, and you want her to bring you casseroles when you move in. (Or organic cruelty-free parsnip chips. Or whatever hip people eat now).

My point is, you only need to:

1) Have a character in your story if that character is necessary to the plot,
2) Describe the setting in detail if the setting is plot-crucial or particularly unique,
3) Add in a plot twist when that plot twist is natural, and doesn’t take a lot of work to fit in.

That’s it, baby. That’s Occam’s phaser.

It’s easy to get carried away with your own descriptive powers whilst in the throes of composition. Problem is, it isn’t readable to do so. We don’t need to know the name of Lord Aston’s squire if this is the only scene she’s in. And a few descriptive terms–surly, for instance, or sunny–will probably suffice, if you need them at all. When you spend a paragraph or two describing this squire, you’ve indicated to the reader that she’s going to be important later on in the story. That’s what description does. And when you make that promise too often, and don’t stand by it, your reader doesn’t know what to pay attention to anymore.

Same goes for settings. As an adult human being, I know what a field of grass looks like. I know what an oven looks like. Now, unless there’s something important about this oven–the main character’s mother has cooked every dinner he’s ever eaten on it, and it represents his sadness over leaving home–or something unique–it’s a magical oven that only cooks children–I don’t need more than a little bit to know what I’m looking at. Woodstove might tell me enough, or gas oven, or big white oveny bastard brooding in the corner.

And plot twists? Oh, Jesus, plot twists. There is nothing, nothing more annoying than an unneeded plot twist. Ask yourself, always: is there some question here that hasn’t been answered by the course of the story so far? If there is, twist the night away. If there isn’t, hold off. It’s just going to throw your reader off balance, and leave him expecting a major shift in the plot…which, since your plot twist doesn’t go anywhere, you’re not going to give him.

So. Only have Bertie the Bertblandished carried off by the dragon if it’s going to change your plot. Does it make him see the importance of fire-proof wizard’s robes? Does he become friends with the dragon, take him back to the castle to help them win the war? Does he realize, uncomfortably, that the dragon is actually his mother, and maybe that’s why everyone he has a burping contest with seems to spontaneously combust.

If it does one of those things, that’s great. But even then, it better do one of those things because that question has been raised in the natural course of your plot. Maybe this annoying wizard-chickie has been harping on him about fire proof robes for the entire story, and now he gets the reasoning, and starts to talk to her more–and it turns out she’s just awesome, an incredible person, and she has a lot of really good ideas for defending the castle, and he winds up marrying her or something. You get the idea: a plot twist has to answer a question and move the plot forward. Otherwise, you’re just wasting everyone’s time going retrograde. Remember Ptolemy? Time waster. Yeah, you heard me.

(If you got that joke, please join me on this schooner full of people who aren’t getting dates for prom. It’s warm here, and we have twelve-sided dice.)

So, when you write, consider the beauty of simplicity and pare accordingly. But remember: even William of Occam didn’t mean something had to be bare bones to be correct. Embellishment can be beautiful and effective, too–as long as you keep it in moderation.

Why Money Matters in Fantasy

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One evening, I fell asleep. The next morning, I didn’t wake up.

Well, that’s not quite true. Obviously, I woke up eventually. Just–not by natural means. I woke up with a syringe in my arm and four strangers looking down at me.

The syringe was full of glucagon, and the strangers were EMTs. They saved my life. They were at my house because my boyfriend called 911 when I wouldn’t wake up to his usual morning poking and prodding. I’m a Type I diabetic, and I was having what the fancy folks up on the hill call a hypoglycemic episode: my blood sugar was in the teens (normal range 80-120), and my body had, in an effort to keep me alive, shut down most of its higher functions.

This is, obviously, a serious thing. Four EMTs sort of serious. If a hypoglycemic episode continues long enough unchecked, it can result in brain damage or death. And the worst part was, I had no idea why it happened. I hadn’t been drinking or eating anything unusual the night before. I had taken the right amount of insulin at the proper time. So, when the nice people who just saved my life asked me if I wanted to go to the hospital, I said yes.

Now here’s the part I’m not proud of. Saying yes only happened after I thought about it for a few minutes.

You see, I was pretty broke at the time. And my first thought wasn’t about saving my own life, or making sure that this never happened again. My first thought wasn’t Definitely Not Dave’s peace of mind. It wasn’t even that we were short at work, and my boss would need me (I think I was off that day, actually).

No. My first thought, ignoble though it may be, was:

I can’t afford this.

That’s right. I could have died, and my first thought was about money.

It was horrifying to realize. Just as horrifying: should the zombiepocalypse happen, the first thing I’d probably do is go rob a pharmacy of all its insulin. I’m not an evil person, and I certainly don’t think crime is the proper solution to anything. But when you suddenly need a decade’s supply of an expensive medication or you die, crime starts looking much more viable. You don’t have the money to live, otherwise, and your insurance certainly doesn’t cover extra vials in the event of flesh-eating manbeasts.

Why am I mentioning all this?

Because I want to talk about money in your story. Especially your fantasy story. You see, all those years your parents told you money didn’t matter were cruel, cruel lies.

Money does matter. Money matters more than anything.

It’s one of those unpleasant truths we realize early on in adulthood. Somewhere in your mid-twenties, at the latest, you stop being able to get away with the shit you got away with earlier. You’re no longer young and inexperienced. You’re no longer going to school. You’re no longer living with your parents, paying nominal rent whenever you can afford it and sneaking Mom’s Triscuits out of the pantry when you want a snack. When you get your first three hundred dollar heating bill, you realize why Dad always guarded the thermostat like a national treasure. When you get your first two hundred dollar water bill, you realize why Mom always shed a solitary tear every time you washed your soccer uniform and just your soccer uniform.

Now, my dear, starts a long, grey adulthood. Enjoy plugging all your appliances into the same surge protector so you can unplug them easily when you leave the apartment. Enjoy taking baths and not showers because of the four dollar difference on your water bill. Enjoy not washing your jeans until they stand up without you. Enjoy never visiting your friends in the country because it costs ten bucks in gas just to get there and get back.

Unless you’ve led a very privileged life, some of these things sound familiar to you. Deprivation and conservation are the story of being a grown-up, for most people. You’ll make more money and get out of it, eventually–hopefully. But when you don’t have a lot of cash, your own poverty rules everything you do.

Which is part of why it surprises me–even shocks me–that people in fantasy world never seem to be poor. Even when the author says they’re poor, money just kind of materializes. Stuff just kind of materializes. And the possessions these supposed ‘poor’ people have: well. They don’t always match up to the poverty described.

Consider, for instance, a family of subsistence farmers in a medievalesqe village within a make-believe Arctic Circle. These people obviously have a hard life, and most of it is probably lived in several feet of snow. So, two things they probably won’t be doing, that your silly ass might try to make them do:

1) Living in wooden houses, and
2) Owning horses. 

At first, a wooden shack and a Shetland pony seem pretty in keeping with what we know of a classic Anglo fantasy-type world. But if it’s really cold, you need to think about such things twice before you do them. If they live in wooden houses, where the hell are these trees coming from? Not a lot of timber, within the Arctic Circle. (You might want to, likewise, consider what they’re making fires and tools from. Hint: it’s probably not wood.)

And the horse? What are they feeding this thing? A big animal like that is expensive to keep up and would be difficult to keep warm in a frosty climate. You could trade the horse in for oxen or reindeer, but you’ve still got the upkeep problem. These subsistence farmers more than likely run that plow by themselves, and, for that matter, probably can’t do too much crop-growing anyway. Breaking up the almost permanently frozen ground would be a toughie. Their diet is probably heavily meat based, and they probably have all the health problems you’d expect from that (or would they? Many Inuit cultures didn’t.).

I think the place where we get confused is the idea of value versus actual paper/metal money. Just because a society doesn’t have a lot of gold pieces floating around doesn’t mean things have no value: a cow, for instance, might be worth three gold coins, but in a tiny village on the outskirts of the world, the likelihood of someone having those coins is low. They might, however, have two goats, or thirty yards of fabric, or a winter’s supply of firewood. Therefore, the value of a cow is a little mutable, but oh buddy, it is still value.

So please, when you’re writing a fantasy world, do consider your monetary system. Consider what things are worth and why. Consider that our cow, plenty valuable in green pastureland, might actually be less valuable in a desert or the Arctic, where no one has the necessary resources to use said cow for its true value. And consider that a young person starting out in the world is going to actually need money, and will probably make some decisions based on funding (or lack thereof).

Fantasy has this tradition of treating the mercenary as a figure of questionable moral fiber. But sometimes, my friends, to go on the quest, you need to raise money to buy the horse. And then, once you’ve bought the horse, you need some money put aside for feed, and a good saddle, and a horse blanket, and stable fees. Your peasant-turned-princess doesn’t just need a gown to go to the ball, if she wants to blend in: she needs a footman, and a carriage, and etiquette lessons, and dancing lessons, and a hairstylist, just to name a few.

Money is the blood in the veins of your fantasy world, just as it is in this world. There’s no escaping it, and you shouldn’t try. If your character is of a lower class, you can’t simply forgo the realities of living in that class. People do things solely for money all the time. (Be honest with yourself, boo boo. Why do you go to work every morning?)

Adventures are expensive. If nothing else, you wind up using a ton of vacation days.

(A note: for a great example of how to use money in a fantasy story, check out The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, if you haven’t already. There is, to be honest, a lot I don’t like about Rothfuss’s writing, but this is one thing he gets spot on. And, in spite of having to think about money constantly, Kvothe has plenty of fun adventures. The way he learns to get around his own poverty is, in fact, one of the chief character-building themes in the novel.)

What’s Up With Me, III

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Sooo. I’m writing a brief post, basically just to tell you I’m not posting today. Why? Because I have SO MUCH on my plate right now. So very. Fricking. Much.

I’ll be back with you on Friday, when I’ll hopefully be done with my NaNo Novel–we’re at about 43,000 words right now, so the end is in sight, if I don’t run out of steam before I get there (highly likely. I’ve always been bad at finishing things). Once I do that, I have an anthology story to finalize, and another to start (luckily, with no crunch, but I know me and I know I need to start it now). I also need to get Little Bird out–I know, I know! I’ve been dragging ass on that one for a while now. I’m also trying to crank out enough blog posts to keep this blog going during the month of December, when I usually spend every spare moment I DON’T spend sleeping at work.

I’ve also got Thanksgiving to think of, and a house to clean for friends coming over, and all the stuff everybody else has to do. I feel like if I can just push for two days or so, I can get the most pressing stuff (NaNo, anthology story) out of the way.

So, long story short, regular programming can’t be regular today. Sorry, folks. I just need a little bit of time to get my stuff done.

Xoxo,
E

Sad Wednesday Apologies

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Appy Polly Lodgies.

Okay, guys. This isn’t going to be an easy post, and a lot of that is because I’m going to spend it apologizing to you.

Emily doesn’t like apologies. But this is a case where Emily really, totally, truly, SHOULD make them. So.

Some of you may have noticed–Little Bird didn’t ship, as it was supposed to, on 9/21. Even though that date was PERFECTLY divisible by threes this year. So it kills me.

Why, you might ask? Well–becaue Emily bit off way more than she can chew this year. Four books in one year is a lot, when only one of them was already written. Emily needs a few more months to get LB coverized and prettified. Because Emily spent most of the time up until the deadline date editing and helplessly dropping fresh stories like turds in the church bathroom. Yes.

So the new, ABSOLUTELY TRUSTWORTHY, release date for Little Bird is now 11/12/15. Just like it was for A&J last year. Because 11/12 is a nice looking number. All spiky, and then that little round bit on the two. (It also happens to be me and DND’s Definitely Not Anniversary. So, you know. Easy to remember).

Again, I have to apologize. I thought I was capable of working faster than I actually am–or, at least, of staying focused on the stuff I needed to do. I’m neither of these things. What I AM is big old liar. Can you forgive me, small cadre of readers? Huh? Huh?

In better news, there are other projects coming down the line as well. I’m writing a sci-fi story for a fiction anthology, and a very fine new friend has offered to help me out with an audiobook version of Aurian and Jin. And, if you’re bored, there are always these stories on Wattpad, both of which I’m updating right now, to slake your Aurian and Jin thirst for the next month-and-change. I’ve got a few more schlepping around on my hard drive: they shall become visible presently.

Again, so sorry to have to do that. But I’m still–STILL–working all of this out.

Writing: Truth in Fiction

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I want to tell you guys a story. It’s about German-born pianist Hans Wegener.

In 1939, when he was only 24 years old, Wegener was recognized as one of the greatest concert pianists in the country. Leaping into the gap provided by the absence of many Jewish entertainers, he was able to rise quickly to prominence, playing in the grandiose style of the nationalist movement.

He was heavily favored for private parties, in fact, by many key members of the Nazi party, including Goebbels and Seyss-Inquart and, on occasion, Hitler himself. It was Goebbels, the great propagandist, who said of the man: ‘only at (Wegener’s) fingertips do the German people return to their old musical might.’

What none of them knew: Hans Wegener was also a British spy. He had been feeding the British intelligence through letters to his mother, a British national, since Hitler’s ascent in 1933.

There are many stories about Wegener, but the one I’m interested in telling here is the one that ended his career: the story of his concert at the reintegration of Danzig, after the Polish campaign that would later prove to be the beginning of WWII, into Germany.

Wegener played a legendary four hours that night. He played for the German military leaders of the campaign, including General Heinz Guderian, all of whom were flushed with success. He played classical songs of German composers long dead, nationalist tunes churned out by Gobbels’s famous propaganda machines, and, as the night wore on and the military leaders grew drunker, maybe just a little swing, just a little jazz.

What none of these peacock-proud generals realized: as Wegener played, Wegener’s luggage was making the rounds.
When Wegener and his twelve suitcases, previously full of outfits for every occasion on the front, left by train in the morning, he was not headed back to Germany. He made it, in fact, all the way back to London before anyone realized something was wrong.

Wegener, realizing the outbreak of war was now inevitable, had gotten himself to the safe harbor of England as soon as he could. With him, hidden in his suitcases, were twelve Polish children of Jewish descent. Over the course of the war, Wegener would apply for and be granted British citizenship, and adopt all twelve of the children. He never returned to Germany again, but made music on several occasions for British high command.

Why am I telling you this, you might wonder? Am I about to make some sort of moral point about the bewitching value of music, the blind eye even the most choking of dictatorships often turns on its artists and writers?

No. I told you this whole story, in fact, because it is a big fat lie. It’s bullshit. It’s fibbery, frippery, etc. And the theme of our Writing Day is, in fact:

WRITING: HOW TO LIE WELL

This might not seem important to you. It might not even seen moral. But trust me: if you want to write fantasy/sci-fi, you want to lie like Chikikiri, silver-tongued folk hero of the Himalayan Montep people. There is an art and a science to lying well. And it is the same art and science you should take to worldbuilding.
We’ll explore this in five parts:

1) Tone.
Let’s look at this story. A British spy in the German intelligentsia, a concert pianist, children smuggled from the Eastern front in suitcases. It’s not a real story–there was no such person as master pianist Hans Wegener–but the elements sound like a lot of WWII stories out there. Unlikely heroes, simple people doing their part, a great bolshy nationalist regime. We’ve all seen some of the movies this lie takes its tone from–The Pianist and Inglorious Basterds are two more recent ones that come to mind. (And there was, for your edification, a British man who smuggled a lot of Jewish children out of Eastern Europe in a similar fashion–check out his real story, which is much more inspiring than my fake one, here).

So we’ve managed this: creating a lie that feels the same as the truth, or at least what the general public sees as the truth. And, when you’re writing up your fictional world, this should be your first step: setting up a TONE. Is your world a heraldic one, icy and Vikingesque and brave? Is it a Byzantine courtworld, full of trickery and subtle deception? Study up on the real life places your world resembles. Get the feel of them. Because, lemme tell you, you need to keep to tone. If you don’t do this, in fiction or in lies, your whole story falls apart. People like a story, even if it’s supposed to be true, and can sense when the facts fall out of kilter even if they weren’t facts at all. So learn tone. TONE. TONE.

2) A Little Bit of Truth
Some things in this lie were absolutely factual. The Germans invaded Poland in September 1939, and the campaign was begun, through some lovely German lie-spreading, over the Germans wanting the Polish city of Danzig ‘back’. Goebbels was the prime-time man for German propaganda, and there WAS a great demand for German musicians after Hitler’s ascension in 1933 (due to the dearth of Jewish entertainers. Hmm, wonder why.). There WERE some German national spies for Britian in Germany at the time of the Reich, and musical interest in such ‘degenerate’ things as swing and jazz were discouraged heavily.

A WWII historian could probably take me apart like a mover trashing IKEA furniture, but the likelihood of the person I’d tell this to BEING one is relatively small. Therefore, in conversation: worth the risk. I once told Definitely Not Dave, a native Bostonian, that the town of Chapel Hill was founded by Mennonite dissenters Jebediah Chapel and Isiadore Hill in 1789. If he didn’t believe me, he could check out the Statue of the Founders on Estes Drive. To DND’s credit, he only believed me for about five minutes, but what made it work is the little bit of truth–being from Boston, he wouldn’t know the story of Chapel Hill from Adam, or the fact that there may not be a single Mennonite in the state–but there IS an Estes Drive, and he knew there was, and this is absolutely the sort of tiny snotty town that would have a Statue of the Founders somewhere.

There should be basic truths to your story, and you should deploy them with care and attention. In my novella The King’s Might, everybody swears by the Allking, a man named Telhir who came down from the Northern mountains some six thousand years ago. The swears are scrupulously footnoted and explained. The history of the swears, in fact, gives a history of the nation–and the built myth of the folk-hero Telhir explains a lot about the people.

3) But Not Too Much Truth
However, if you drown the reader in detail, your story will be JUST as unconvincing as it would if you included none. We don’t need to know Hans Wegener’s height, his hair color, his just-ended relationship with a rotund but fetching cafe waitress. We don’t need to know a TON about the German invasion of Poland, the history of British intelligence in Germany. I may’ve even been stretching it with what I DID add in there.

A good reference point: what do you think people will WANT to know? In the lie’s case, background information is added because the reader might not actually know some of it. (Polish invasion date, bit of background on Reich’s musical history, etc). Some is added for flavor and character (Herr Wegener’s suitcases, his age, the Germans possibly listening to forbidden jazz) and some is added for faux authenticity (my fake Goebbels quote). So there you go: EDUCATION, FLAVOR, and AUTHENTICITY. The three things your worldbuilding should provide for your readers.
And, last but not least, though we’ve touched on it a bit already:

4) Know Your Audience.
I’m trusting you’re probably not a WWII buff, when I tell you this lie–though I’ve provided enough care in my lying to cover myself if you’re a dabbler. I’m trusting you aren’t into British Intelligence. I’m praying, PRAYING, you aren’t a Nazi sympathizer.

In a low-profile writing blog, my chances are pretty good. When I told DND the story of Jebediah Chapel and Isiadore Hill, because he was from Boston and not an NC native, my chances were pretty good.

When you’re building your world, what do you THINK your audience would want to hear about? Do they need a lot of this world’s history to understand the plot? Or will they be more interested in the theory of magic? Customs of love, childbirth, and marriage? People pay more attention to things they want to hear.

And, lastly for really reals this time:

5) Know more than you use.
I actually learned quite a bit, to tell you this lie. I learned about the Eastern Front during WWII, the German occupation of Poland, got a good general Reich timeline going, learned some great stories about British heroes of WWII, and found out who the FUCK Heinz Guderian was. Did I use all of it? No. Because, again, Rule Three. Too much fact ruins a lie just the same as it ruins a story. But the facts guide you. They show you where the story SHOULD be going. And they’ll do the same for your fictional world–you might only need to MENTION the Brondisian War, but you should damn well know who fought it, what it was fought for, the rough shape of it, and who lost and gained what. Otherwise, you don’t know WHY it was mentioned. And this is the sort of lack of understanding, the sort of communication breakdown, that kills a story.

Because people might not know how much you know, or what precisely it is. But trust me–when you don’t know these things, it comes though in your writing.

There y’go: how to lie. Sorry for the long post, guys.
EFR

PS–Just to be clear: I am not encouraging you to lie about anything that matters. That’s, frankly, despicable. But a few tall tales here and there, lying for the aesthetic art of lying? It’ll be good for you. Promise.

Story Excerpt: Erasure

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Image by Paul Robichaud, via Unsplash. This is what you bastards'll see now for every story excerpt.

So I’ve been working on this sci-fi dystopian kind of thing lately. I know: travelling oft-travelled ground. But it’s fun. And fun is what I need, because all this editing is most DEFINITELY something other than fun, probably something four-lettered. It’s a revamp of an old story I’ve had kicking around in various forms forever: a little worried I’m veering into the territory of cliche, but hell. You gotta have fun sometimes, and to hell with the cliche-ery.

It’s the story of Moll Coulter, a former criminal of uncertain background who’s had her memory partially erased by Sunrise City Gov. It’s got all that chewy Blade Runneresque dystopian stuff in it. Moll does recover her memory, about halfway through–when she discovers that, not only is the world around her not what she thinks, but the people she trusts are perhaps not the people she SHOULD be trusting. Fun tipple includes Soyful Noise, a Christian soy-product conglomerate, home products made from a combination of soy product and cockroach, a brief but informative lesson in how to kill a law officer with a grappling gun, and a man, the mysterious Thelonius Crowe, with a Coat of Many Colors. Yes, they say things like ‘oh my Dog’ and ‘cheese us rice’. Taking the Lord’s name in vain went out with the ascent of Soyful Noise, and they’re nothing if not creative.

Worth continuing? Lemme know.

EFR

****
ONE
The Girl Who Almost Burned Us

It was Friday–a Bright Day–and Moll Coulter was dreaming of apples.

She had put the blackout skins in the windows yesterday morning, when she was still relatively sober, and had therefore done it relatively well. In one corner of the window, the skin had begun to peel, and a single batonlike ray shot through, ending in a hot white coin of light on the floor. Moll shifted and turned in her sleep, as though the brightness bothered her.

In her dream, the apple twirled, backwards and forwards, on its stem. It was perfect, unblemished, round. There was a smell that rose up from it–a smell that Moll, who had never seen a real apple in her life, associated with body wash and perfume and high class hookers.

It was a peaceful smell. Delicate. Moll felt intoxicated–which was nothing new. This intoxication just felt better.

“Ohmidog, Moll,” said a voice from outside the room. “Oh. My. DOG. MOLL!”

The apple disappeared, gone in a flash of white light. Moll was left, bleary-eyed, staring at the cracks in her bedroom wall. She yawned, stretched. Knocked three empty bottles of Admiral Soyton’s 150 Proof to the floor.

One bottle, rolling into the beam of light, cracked, exploded, and began to melt.

“MOLL! WAKE UP, MOLL!”

The bedroom door rattled on its hinges, and, after what sounded like a summary kick, snapped at the lock. Bobbitt, her enormous mass shrouded in a protective suit, rushed inward, dashed through the beam, and slammed the corner of the curtain back into place. 

“Heyyy,” Moll said. “Bobbitt.”

“Are you INSANE?” Bobbitt screeched, her voice tinny through the suitspeaker. “Bright Day breaches are no joke, Moll. You could’ve burned us all in our beds. Lucky I saw the corner, coming home from work. Cheese us. One tiny hole–one pinhole–that’s all they say it takes. And you left a whole corner undone. That’s how the Alegharis died, you know. Rip in the Bright Day skins, too cheap to replace it. Tenement B burned to the ground.”

“I didn’t–”

“Apologize, Moll.”

“But–”

“Apologize. Now.”

Moll blinked a few times, waited for her vision to come into focus. Bobbitt, her face sweaty and pink with exertion beyond the suit mask, was scowling mightily. All four of her chins wobbled dangerously downward.
Moll sighed. “Elaine was home, wasn’t she.”

“Yes!” Bobbit threw her suited arms up as far as the suit would let her reach. “If killing yourself and destroying all our possessions means nothing to you, yes, beyond those little factoids, Elaine was home sick today. You would have burned my only child alive in her bed. You would have–”

Bobbitt choked, sputtered. Wheezed. Looking at her, bent over and hacking, Moll did feel sorry.

“I’m sorry,” she said. Still hacking, Bobbitt gave her the finger.

“Look,” Moll said, sitting up. “I didn’t mean to. I just–”

“You were drunk,” Bobbitt growled dangerously. “I know. When are you not?” She fiddled with the suit collar, pressing buttons and twirling dials. There was a faint pop as the pneumatic seals loosened, and Bobbitt drew the suit helmet over her head and tossed it into a broken-backed chair.

“Find a new place to live,” she said at last. Moll would give her this: she sounded regretful.

“But,” Moll said, though at this point it was more just to say something than because she had any argument.

“Nope,” said Bobbitt. “Find a new place. Bright Day breaches, broken bottles on my floor, shouting obscenities where Elaine can hear them–you’ve become a liability. If we’d lived a hundred years ago, I might’ve given you a second chance–but this isn’t the United States of America anymore, Moll. This is Utopia. And there are no second chances in Utopia. Not for any of us.”

Moll would also give her this: she was shaking her head. She didn’t smile. She didn’t look happy about it.

“I’ll give you until the end of May,” Bobbitt said. “That’s almost two weeks to find a new place.  After that, if you aren’t out of here, I will personally throw you on the street, Bright Day or Dark Day or anything in between. And I doubt–I highly doubt–that your suit is in any better shape than your blackout skins.”

Moll nodded. It was all she had left to do.

“This breaks my heart,” Bobbitt added, after a moment of silence. “Just thought you should know. You aren’t a bad person, Molly. Elaine loves you. But what can I do? What the hell else can I do?”

Moll certainly didn’t know.

Bobbitt closed the door on her way out. The door, its latch broken, swung right back into an open position.

Moll sighed, leaned back, and closed her eyes.