Messy love

evokes a hunt

not for my best

for my redemptive better

redefined by innocent eyes

trusting me despite my wear

an evolutionary courage required

by a miracle

cloaked in countless wishes

covered in infinite prayers

adored beyond comprehension

I Am Human

Living Disabled in an Ableist Culture

You wouldn’t know to look at me that I am disabled. It was a long, rough, and savings-sucking fight to keep working. I remember my primary doctor at the time telling me, “People get uncomfortable around those in visible pain, so they want to distance themselves”, an explanation for how differently I was treated by colleagues once I couldn’t hide my RA. In my autoimmune support groups, I know this hiding of illness is common, as if we aren’t human beings. The rejection of self is a recipe for depression and worsening physical health. Even college students, who may be afforded accommodations, often hide their disability, or do not accept it as part of their identity. We teach children that disability is something to be overcome. The Arthritis Foundation puts non-average patients who’ve done something impressive, on the covers of their monthly publications. They all say the same-“Don’t give up! Push through! Find a stellar specialist and eat fresh and healthy”, not bad advice, but not acknowledging any fluctuations in disease activity that make them unable to perform. Instead, a low-to-no-symptom snapshot in time of a world-class millionaire golfer is meant to inspire the more than 50 million patients they serve. I translated it as ,”you just aren’t doing everything you can”, although for new patients they provide some common-sense advice and a sense of belonging.

Recently, I read on a Crip Theory thread, “I’m not sure I’m disabled enough to claim that term”. I admit, I’m not comfortable with the term, either, and grew up averting my eyes. This is the ableism inherent in our very genes, that unconsciously tells us we must suffer greatly, and with witnesses, in order to earn flexibility and acceptance. Crip theory applies to queerness, along with disability, the compulsory able-bodiedness an agent of capitalism sharing common features of compulsory heterosexuality. Some scholars are working with Crip theory to create spaces that support the success and wellness of different mind/body types. It isn’t hard to imagine an expansion of this concept, however practical considerations may not always allow for authorities to provide what we need.

Disabled people, and advocates, promote Crip world-making by dismantling beliefs and assumptions about our authenticity and grit, our talents and worthiness. It’s hard to take care of oneself when you feel unsupported, so I suggest starting by giving yourself a bit of flexibility first, like a rotisserie chicken or prepared salad shortcuts , or a week for writing a blog post. Giving myself what I need in terms of rest, meditative time, efforts to find good doctors and bodywork practitioners, fresh meals and gentle exercise, and slack on weeding the garden, it all signals my inner self that I am worth it. Learning to accept oneself after disability is a process. Therapy with the right person may help, as can meditation and energy healing, to release repeatedly the ableist messages racing through our minds every day; they’re just trying to figure out how to get us back in the tribe. That’s not our tribe, anymore. My tribe now is a motley mix of other warriors and spiritual folks, the two overlapping in a predictable way, my own little “crip world”.

We create these expansive spaces by throwing off normative definitions of what we are capable of creating, and showing up as ourselves in all our complexity, as uncomfortable as that sometimes is. One of my absolute best tools is a daily morning meditation practice, my touchstone before I cast off from shore daily in a sea of ableism that I (mostly) let float by me.

Eudaimonia- Part 4


Even after caking mud from the shore over my protective clothing, I felt on the precipice of overheating. I hid among the bamboo on the outskirts of our residential community while I tried to calm galloping fear threatening to unhinge me. Haff hasn’t responded to any of my telepathic attempts, which makes me ambivalent about following through with our emergency plan. Did Dusan tell him? Or, worse yet, kill him?

Dusan Soroka’s family is as powerfully positioned in the Laws sector as mine is in the Sciences sector of Eudaimonia, and I presume, on Parnus. Our parents pledged our betrothal for obvious reasons, however no one consulted us. My parents had stood silently and typically distracted in their laboratory when I railed at them about using all of my future for their “New Earth”.

“You will do what is required of you, Scotia. But, right now isn’t the time for you to worry about your future partner. You’re still a girl with studies and…”, my father looked at me sternly, “skills to master.” At that time, he was bullying me about my refusal to perform dissections on feral cats and mice. We had so few animals left, but he was confident in his own judgement, as always. The betrothal, to a Soroka no less, was mere frosting on their New Earth cake.

A part of me still clings to their illusory parental love. Remembering the sheer silken shift I wore, my feet bare with gold rings on my toes, gossamer strands of my blonde hair sticking to Dusan’s velvet shirt, I let my mind drift. Different courses of study meant we barely knew one another. At thirteen I had to bend my neck all the way back to look up at him, his eyes black pools searching mine for something I didn’t understand. We stood on an elevated black platform which disappeared in the night, but for massive torch pits on either side and behind us, swaying flames casting us in blue light and flickering shadows. I wanted to reassure him as his hands enveloped mine and we recited the rites of promise in front of most of the elite populace of Eudaimonia, rows of long white benches stretching far into the darkness. When his mother, who oversaw the legally-binding ceremony, asked him if he wanted to say anything on this momentous occasion, Dusan pulled me in front of him and crossed his long black arms over me. I felt my head against his breastbone, and forced the corners of my mouth up while he held me tightly against him, my arms captured.

After a long moment of quiet, he announced, “It is Soroka’s honor to share our melanin with the vulnerable, and old earth, Braun family line”. The silence took on an ominous quality I sensed, but didn’t comprehend. No one spoke of the Braun’s genetic inability to endure peak daylight hours even with solar protection. We are the reason the betrothal ceremony took place at night under a new/dark moon. My parent’s closest friends looked appropriately aghast, while others behind them whispered behind cupped hands, but what he said next made them cheer as though they’d won something.

“I promise you today, Scotia and I will produce a minimum of twenty offspring on New Earth, genetically strong with superior intelligence”, his voice rose with the crowd’s applause, “to help us create our dream world on Parnus!”. I barely registered what he promised, possessing only a sketchy understanding of Dr. DeWoer’s embryo lab and nursery. My studies focused on genetics and culling DNA. The next day my mother began administering weekly estrogen shots. My menses began three months later.

By the time of our Recommitment Ceremony when we were both fifteen, I’d developed into a young woman, my hips widening and breasts budding, this time under an indigo shift that brushes my knees. Judging from Dusan’s towering frame, clad only in loose wide-legged shorts to his knees, I assumed he’d been given growth hormones. He bent down slightly to look me in the eyes, all his boyish apprehension gone, his own dark pools hypnotizing me as I heard, “It’s good to see you again, Scotia”, without his lips moving. My face must’ve registered my conflicting emotions judging from the lecture I received later that day. Showing such emotion in public equated to a weak character. I’d shouted at my mother and threw the book I’d escaped into prior to her intrusion. Hormone shots she’d been administering daily for the previous month made me rage one moment and sob the next, while my breasts could barely stand the touch of even the softest bamboo shift.

The next day my eggs were harvested by Dr. DeWoer, Haff’s father, with my best friend’s mother, Comair, administering anesthesia and strapping my ankles to stirrups. In my hazy memory, a shadowy figure stood next to and and a bright light at the end of the bed outlines Dr. DeWoer with a surgical cap over his fluffy copper afro. I can still feel fingers firmly stretching my labia apart, when I think of that day, ice-cold liquid squirting deeply into my feminine cavity. They said I wouldn’t feel anything; I’d be asleep. But, I’m not. It’s as though a searing hot knife enters me and I scream as a man once so kind to me says, “hormones have dried her out, give me more juice” and pushes a slippery rounded ultrasound wand through my hymen and upward further, then further toward my ovaries. “Hold her, Damn it!” Thankfully, I fell asleep with another type of sedative right as he secured the wand and before he inserted the collection needle at the top of my vagina. My mother told me Dr. DeWoer punctured and drained follicular fluid from my ovaries, thereby harvesting mature eggs. The procedure itself was done with precision and utmost care for the eggs.

Memories threaten to overwhelm me as I start to think of the second harvest two years later, the one when Dusan was present, and made certain the doctor did not touch me until I was asleep. When I awoke, he held my hand, and was staring at me. I rub habitually at the red S tatooed on my neck under my right ear lobe. I am not that child-woman any longer, I breathe the words in and exhale slowly to erase my mind’s screenplay. Be here, Scotia.

While spring tide during the full moon is still a week away, I feel like I have no choice but to hope high tide is enough for me to land in close proximity to the ledge in front of the cave entrances. In danger of becoming frozen in my imaginings, I force my body to move forward in spite of my emotional state, the only sane option. Dusan swore I would regret birthing Haff’s son, something elite citizens had not chosen to do in almost a century. Immensely hurt, he took custody of our son, Zehmy, as well as my eggs awaiting fertilization, as recompense. We discussed simply overlooking my misdeed with Haff and claiming both Zehmy and me, but Diana Soroka wouldn’t allow it. I think his mother was rather glad he broke the betrothal contract, despite her son’s unhappiness. My parents and Haff’s were more than a little afraid of the massive Soroka clan, descendants of a formidably powerful monarchy before the African continent became uninhabitable, just as my ancestor’s home in the Americas did. Our families formed Eudaimonia together almost a century ago, along with hundreds of other influential families.

Securing the straps of my S bag around my shoulders, I eye my goal one last time before wading into the water with my mini longboard. Hoisting myself on top of it, I paddle out more than twenty meters before turning around, gifting myself a few meters to gather my courage. Usually, Haff is here in the water with me, just as he was the very first time I’d landed on the ledge in front of the cliff face’s opening. Taking a deep breath, I caught a strong wave with my board and hurtled upward, caught in the flow of water as it swelled, and then dwindled too far from the cliff. Adjusting my trajectory much closer, I paddle out again before my brain calculates the risk, and catch a truly impressive wave. My breath is caught in my chest as it smashes against the craggy cliff with me and the board, the latter breaking in half and falling into the sea. I didn’t dare secure the board to me, but regret its loss, nonetheless. Not near the cave’s ledge, but approximately three meters below it I clung to irregular quartz veins with my hands in matching pinches while the balls of my feet and bent toes cling to a shale outcropping barely wide enough to accommodate them. Gasping, I feel more stinging cuts than I’d anticipated, blood running into my mouth from one or more on my head, but it doesn’t matter because finding edges and pockets is my only concern. In my experience, when I stopped, when I doubted or hesitated, I got injured. Swinging my body to the left I reached upward for an edge, my arm falling until two fingers find a shallow hole. It will have to be enough. As I swing my body again, pebbles break away under my feet until I’m standing on my toes and laying my body as flat as I can against the cliff.

“Grab the rope, Scotia”, a deep familiar voice commands from above.

My toes are slipping, my body sliding on the rock face as a thick knotted rope dangles immediately to my right. Switching direction, I mindlessly grab it with both hands just as my toe ledge crumbles. Twisting the rope around one arm I grab with my left and and use my feet to walk up onto the ledge in front of our summer caves, noting the almost completely flat surface under my feet until the last meter. Sheer wet shale too slippery for palming successfully, although I would’ve tried.

As it is, Dusan is before me with a small grin and sparkling eyes as if he finds me comical. Me, an unmelanated Braun who’d thrown away her chance to be a part of his esteemed empire. “You!”, I yell at him, “How could you, Dusan? Where is my son”? Blood is running into my eye as I approach him, but I care not a single speck for what I must look like, such concerns having left the planet with Zehmy and Dusan.

He’d somehow grown more attractive, his tall muscular frame powerfully evident under a grey solar-protection skinsuit, calculating almond-shaped eyes set in an ebony face with sharp cheeks and a wide Nubian nose, hair in braids from his crown to the nape of his neck, secured with tiny silver clamps stamped with an “S”. Why is he here?

Dusan bent to the ground and opened his own S bag, removing a synthetic bladder and what looked like cotton bandages and adhesive tape. “Sit, and I’ll tell you about Zehmy”, he nods to the ground beside him and I readily comply, grimacing as I lower myself. As always, I feel at a distinct disadvantage in Dusan’s company, even though he probably saved my life with that rope. “I thought we were past you fearing me”, he wet a cloth and held it to my cheek, brought it away pink and rinsed it with more water from his bladder and said, “close your eyes” before squeezing it over my head. Cool streams run down my arms and chest. Raising one arm and wiping the blood and dirt off it, Dusan mutters, “sorry” every time I gasp, then rinses the cloth and gently cleans my wounds limb by limb.

“Why did you leave me, Dusan? You swore”, I choke on the last word.

He stopped and looked me in my eyes. “I would never leave you. We were well past the moon by the time I surfaced from a sedative Mother put in my shake after we boarded. It still upsets me. I’m here to get you now, Scotia. You’re needed on Parnus. Zehmy and I need you. The new earth needs you”.

I study him as he folds a cotton gauze square and tapes it in place with three loops around my forearm. “What about Haff”?

“Yeah, he told me about your handfasting. I told Haff I appreciate him keeping you safe. Honestly, I wouldn’t have been surprised if citizens had killed you by now, but I told Zehmy I’d try. He’s growing more intelligent by the day, already solving algebraic equations, and Scotia… he’s gifted in other ways. Come on, let’s get in the cave before you get burnt”. Dusan bends down and picks me off my feet before I can respond, then marches into a much cooler interior before setting me on the ground again.

While he gets our packs, I ponder what he said so far and realize his invitation does not include Haff.

Pluto’s 1st House Renovation

A Tale of Losses and Esoteric Gains

**The nature of Pluto’s transits is unique to a Soul’s natal chart. No single aspect defines or predicts which choices we make, nor the the impact of others with millions of their own choices.** This transit has become easier as I expanded my spiritual practice with rituals and learned astrology. If you read something here that doesn’t sit well, I suggest giving it time to marinate.

As the planet of transformation begins it’s transit into Aquarius on March 25, Pluto asks me to reflect on it’s time in my first house and as a Crone-share what I’ve learned.

Capricorn is the energy of traditions, religion, discipline, government, authorities, military, and career. When Pluto, named after a Roman god of death and the underworld, began transforming all things Capricorn in 2008 I recall several transformative culture and political shifts including:

  • Stock market crash/Great Recession began with bank fails
  • Michael Phelps winning eight gold medals
  • Heath Ledger’s death from sleeping pills when he played the role of The Joker in The Dark Knight
  • Twilight series launch by Stephanie Myer, and in the United States
  • The first African-American President, Barack Obama, was elected and changed the face of politics forever.
  • Miley Cyrus announced that Hannah Montana grew up when she wore a backless gown and sent protective Moms into a tizzy.
  • Britney Spears was placed in a conservatorship that lasted until November, 2021.

On the surface, Pluto’s influence may appear as fate, but I’d have jigged where I jagged a few times if I knew then what I know now. Revealing these personal truths is not about victimhood or blame. Chiron at the zero Aries Point indicates my “unhealable wound” is showing who I really am, underneath the personas I create for acceptance. Like many souls, my complex history didn’t grant me tools of self-confidence, self-worth and emotional regulation. In 2008, I still looked to the world to tell me what kind of day I was going to have.

Pluto entered Capricorn at 0° in January, 2008 in a wide conjunction with my Moon at 8°, and my Ascendant (represents physical body and public rep) at 14° Capricorn. A planet’s expression in a sign is most pure at zero degrees of any sign, as evidenced by Pluto’s dramatic influence on 2008 and 2009.

  • I gave a successful talk at a National Conference and became a resource for others in my profession.
  • I was given a big raise in pay.
  • My daughter, an only child, graduated college and got engaged.
  • I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis/disease from a biopsy of a nodule. I began an anti-malarial medication for it.
  • My daughter’s first job began at The U.S. Dept. of Defense and she moved six hours away.
  • I worked from home occasionally if my RA flared, with my Director’s, but not my supervisor’s knowledge.
  • I also started working on weekends in order to keep up with an increasing workload.
  • I often felt like 2 people.

In the 1st house, Pluto slowly chipped away at my identity by both giving and taking away power and wealth starting with foundational aspects such as being a Mother of an adult student, and being a respected coordinator in medical education. My ego was methodically dismantled from 2008 to 20015. I knew what made me feel good about myself and fought losing any of it, especially after my daughter became fully independent.

In 2009 Pluto started his long game, moving from 1° to 3° Capricorn. In the collective & my career, we can see Pluto’s secretive influence, as well as big ambition and self-destruction:

  • President Obama was sworn into office as the 44th President of the United States and a ruthless campaign began in Congress and among U.S. business leaders to disempower him.
  • Michael Jackson, The King of Pop, died from an overdose of propofol, a surgical anesthetic given by his personal physician because he couldn’t sleep while creating This Is It, a show he considered his masterpiece.
  • Avatar was released.
  • I gave another successful presentation at a national conference of medical education program directors, and was elected to a board position by my National Coordinators organization.
  • I continued to hide my disease from my supervisor and HR, having reason to fear for my job and most importantly-insurance. I witnessed two other coordinators lose their jobs after gaining a national reputation in their respective specialties, and one of them warned me about taking the board position. I accepted it, anyway.
  • I became friends with an older gentleman who volunteered for me; a cerebral, yet light-hearted, friendship that often took me out of my comfort zone, in a way that changed how I view friendships, food, and gratitude.
  • I took and passed a certification exam which qualified me as an expert in my field, one of only twelve in a field of over 200.

Archetypically, Pluto is Lord of the Underworld and our worst fear-Death

Nothing transforms us more powerfully than death. In my immediate world these loved ones left, each unexpectedly and dramatic:

  • Grandma, Flossie Blocher, 2009
  • Dad, Greg Blocher, 2010
  • Son of friend who committed suicide in 2007 did the same, 2012
  • Dear Friend, David Garvey, 2013
  • Husband’s old friend, a teen counselor, is murdered, 2013
  • Furry Friend of 20 yrs, Jack, 2014
  • Father-in-law, Ronald Schultz, 2015
  • Other Father-in-law, Dick, 2017
  • Another much-loved cat Kiki in 2021

My husband and I lost childhood friends, and I lost cousins, in unexpected & tragic ways, death dancing in our periphery, each loss hurting and changing people we love. Each refining what I value most.

1st House of Self/Life

Rheumatism and bone/spine diseases are Capricorn’s territory in the physical body, an earth sign which is foundational. While the Capricorn energy of hard work and ambition were familiar to me, secrecy and calculated plotting in the work place lay in my unconscious fears about losing my job. My need for security drove me forward despite painful rheumatoid joint inflammation. Ten years prior, I was a waitress and single mother. I was proud of how far I’d come.

In 2010 Pluto squares Saturn, the ruler of Capricorn, and became extra:

  • WikiLeaks Julian Assange released millions of classified documents detailing U.S. military operations, toxic waste dumping in Africa and executions at Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp along with hundreds of other secrets.
  • Chile has one of the strongest earthquakes ever recorded (Pluto rules the deep earth and mined resources).
  • The tallest building ever is opened in Dubai on January 4, 2010 (AMBITION).
  • Polish President Lech Kaczyinski dies in a plane crash (change in government).
  • Haiti has a 7.0 earthquake killing approximately a quarter of a million people.
  • My Program Director announced his resignation and my workload continues to increase.
  • The new Program Director doesn’t allow me to work at home and expects 10-hour days, even at Christmas time.
  • In December, 2010, I’m diagnosed with fibromyalgia and given Xanax by my doctor when I claim powerlessness over my stress.

Elementary Plutonic Lessons

  1. It’s just as important to be liked at work as it is to be competent (see The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene). Being likeable is often MORE beneficial to success than work output or innovative ideas.
  2. I engaged in a power-struggle with the new Program Director I couldn’t win because I felt like I was “right” and it made me much sicker.
  3. Power corrupts.
  4. Incompetent physicians are propped up/covered for sometimes by their colleagues. It’s a powerful “club”.
  5. Pluto is harsh when we refuse to let go of what is clearly departing. I regret giving fear of the unknown any power.
  6. Always listen to your gut, especially when it comes to people.
  7. When I was offered severance in 2011, I should’ve taken it rather than the offer to work with someone I knew was horribly dishonest and manipulative. The toxicity and plotting that ensued cost me mentally and physically, while I suspect it was a game to her. When I received a copy of my employee file a few months later, the last of my naivete “exited the building” of my psyche. My file read like Shakespeare, and some betrayals hurt like hell. They’d padded it because I filed a complaint with the EEOC when I was denied an accommodation to continue working at home (ironic, I know) when needed. It was small consolation when I heard the two liars primarily responsible for my termination were found out a year later; management not only planned it, but negatively coached them. I remembered the manipulator asking me before I was fired, “What would you do if you didn’t work here”? There’s no amount of money that’s worth working with snakes.
  8. When in doubt, do what you were put here to do. In August, 2011 I started my blog “The Fifth Decade”, my answer to what I’d do if I didn’t work there.

During this time there are two good friends I am very grateful for (both disabled themselves), as well as my husband. Ableism isolates people like me. I felt as though people thought I just wasn’t trying hard enough; such feelings are common among disabled folks. I continued to push myself for the next few years, even starting my own virtual assistant business and working online for mTurk with microtasks. Multiple rounds of physical therapy resulted, my tendons swelling with repetitive tasks, my mind often foggy from inflammation.

Financial losses and windfalls (also Pluto’s domain):

  • Loss of work income several times, working for $2/hr at one point
  • Extended unemployment benefits in 2011, 2012, and 2014
  • 401k used in entirety for living and medical expenses
  • Social Security Disability approved in 2018 using a “less than sedentary” work ability after 2 yrs of no income


  • In 2012, David and I went to see Cinema Paradiso, a 1988 Italian film where he broke down crying next to me in the tiny art museum theater. When I asked what was wrong, he whispered he was just so happy to have such a good friend. He changed something for me in that moment.
  • In January, 2013, Pluto squared my Venus in Aries and I quit smoking cigarettes.
  • In 2014, despite finances, we took a week-long trip to Ireland, a true dream where I felt well right up to when we arrived at the airport to leave. Lines for Customs or anything else aren’t RA-friendly, I learned.
  • In 2016, I found an online support group where new friends are amazingly empathetic and loving. A few of us in this area of the country get together in-person once or twice a year.
  • My flower garden, although much smaller, is a sanctuary. Nature is a balm.
  • My parents have always been supportive and share their cabin in a wooded island paradise.
  • I have time to write.
  • My first and only grandchild was born in 2016.
  • Our daughter, who lives here now, is thriving.

In 2018, when Pluto was at 18° Capricorn squaring my N. Node in Aries (symbolic of life’s mission) exactly, Rheumatoid Disease attacked my lungs and resulted in a cytokine storm which almost killed me because the doctors only heard the “arthritis” part of RA, unwilling to even consider my suggestion that it was a catalyst. For several days they ordered tests, which came back negative, except for C-reactive Protein, an inflammation marker. A huge dose of IV steroids saved my life after one hospitalist finally called my rheumatologist. There were at least 4 others who ignored me. I fought for my life, and won that year.

After having what they term “critical hallucinations” during my hospital stay, I started meditating and reading a book I inherited from my old friend David, Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph. D. I facilitated a women’s New Moon circle centered around sisterhood for a year, and began studying astrology. Five years later I know a little bit and can feel the energies around me and in the collective.

I feel like I’ve been given another chance at life, so now I write and take better care of my heart and mind. Over the past few years my vision of myself as a writer has changed. The hustle-culture of poorly-paid traditional publishing doesn’t fit my needs, nor my gifts. While I’m unsure where this road leads, I’m confident and emotionally mature enough to take the wheel now, with my spirit guides and ancestor’s blessings. While life proved how cruel it was long ago, the past fifteen years has shown me deeper darkness and grace than I imagined possible. Every day I anchor myself in the knowledge that everything, except love, is temporary .

Eudaimonia- Part 3


“Who is it, Scotia? Where did they come from, Scotia? Did they communicate, yet? Why are they here?” Leaders of Eudaimonia gather at the sea wall, each of them with weapons in their hands and worry on their faces, each asking me questions before they’d even stopped walking. While a few are in their defense overalls, most are still in their night shifts, a glaring sign of recently neglected drills. My Lab Assistant Preeky Kala, barefoot and rumpled in an unevenly buttoned lab coat over her prized soft bamboo sleep shift, afro flat on one side and braided on the other, catches my eye as she calmy cuts through the garden and simply stands next to me assessing the scene before us. I’m not surprised she isn’t carrying a weapon like the others. “Told you you were exhausted”, I said to her, “You fell asleep before you finished, huh?” My only friend left on Eudaimonia says somberly, “woke up slobbering, too”, as if it is a crime. “Wonder how heavy those things are. They should beach any minute, Sco”. One of her best traits is that she doesn’t ask me nonsense questions.

“Always the optimist, aren’t you? Thanks, Preeky”, impulsively I put one arm around her in a brief half hug. The trio of re-entry capsules no longer glowed, but bobbed like silver buoys in the lake/sea/ocean a mere fifty yards from our diminishing sea wall. Whoever pops their head up through the hatch of one raindrop-shaped vessel is unrecognizable, moonlight casting their face in shadow as they hoist half their body out and wave with their whole right arm. Rage stirs in my guts and I can’t help feeling a bit woozy as I peer at this New Earther. “At least it is human”, I intuit to Haff, who jumps a little at my voice inside his mind.

Realizing not only can I hear Haff’s heart racing, but mine is speeding up to catch his, I’m distracted by the implication for a second before he replies, “Only one capsule is open. What’s in the others? How does it feel to you? Quarantine would buy us time, even if it’s all good… Remember who they are”. It’s not hard for us to believe we were talking about salsa and eggplant less than two hours ago, high on our love and new telepathic gift. I’m unsure when exactly we accepted unpredictability as the norm. Perhaps it was gradual during those first few weeks after they left us here and made me Culler. Of course, I fought it, but no one else wanted it, either. They argued that it was MY family who performed the hated role for generations. “Good to see you, Preeky, as always”, Haff gives her a brief one-armed squeeze. “Let’s just hope low tide is low enough to keep them from hitting the wall. Spring tide… I don’t want to think about it”. Preeky nods in understanding. Haff doesn’t know I know about the two of them.

“Thought this might be handy, Scotia”, Garvey, his sun-baked face friendly, shouts over a vibration of wind and energetic chatter from our growing crowd, and offers me a vintage pliable plastic mega phone I know he prizes. Smiling at him, I take the cone from one of my biggest critics. The figure in the capsule retreated below and out of sight. “Can we harvest some, give people something to do? We could put a few things in the cellar and pull up the sun shade canopies over the rest if you think that’s a good idea?”, I rapidly ask the Master Gardener and he agrees to my multiple queries with a nod and by tapping one finger against his temple. Yes, I nod back, we could all use a task to slow down our cortisol-marinated minds.

Hoisting the megaphone, I hope Haff is right and take a deep breath, “Thank you for getting here so fast and at the ready to defend Eudaimonia, Everyone! We don’t know a lot for sure, but Garvey got a glimpse of a globe on one of the parachutes, so they probably are from Parnus. We have at least one human, but only one capsule open, as you can all see. We also have ripe food in our gardens which needs securing quickly”. The last part caused some pushback, “If they kill us, what good will eggplant do, Scotia?” and “Shouldn’t we guard the shore”? and “Yeah!” and “What if they attack while we’re in the garden?”. At times like this, I’ve found their leadership fluctuates, and it’s best to let their fears vomit forth for a few minutes. Exhausting, but most of the time I am surprised they haven’t killed me, yet.

Myself, I cannot keep my thoughts from Zehmy. I wonder if he is shy like me or friendly like his father. Or maybe, our son is nothing like us. The sky turns from black to purple before my eyes and pulls my attention to approaching daylight. We have 5 hours from purple sky to get indoors out of the sun, with the last hour requiring protective gear. While it is possible to wear the gear for longer, it isn’t advisable with solar flares. No one has even tried since one of Garvey’s Planters (Walco Prist) fried in his suit. I notice Garvey speaking with a couple of Material Science Gardeners and then they head in the direction of our ever-ripening vegetables, much of it in danger if left for one more sun period. Re-entry capsules and our curiosity would have to wait. Small plant canopies lay assembled and waiting for late spring.

“No matter what happens during the next hour, we all need to be actively engaged in surviving! Those capsules probably don’t contain food for us, but they may need protein.” There; now they shut up. Although I hated causing panic, it was the tool they responded to best. Taking another big breath, I prodded their fear, “If many return, make no mistake-they WILL take”, I paused for effect, “Everything. Do you hear me? Every. Single. Thing. Now, please! Help Garvey secure some of the harvest. We must use our time wisely! Haff and Preeky will stay here and wait for Dr. Gronne and any others. Let’s go!” I march purposefully to our garden without looking back, not feeling half as confident as Haff often tells me I look. Hoping the work might provide my mind with some respite from picking at my most tender motherhood wound, I found myself almost running.

Grabbing an ancient wheelbarrow with worn wooden handles from the long gardening shed/greenhouse, I nodded to a few of those who followed me on my way back out, “Thanks, Adanni and Pesha. Thanks, Jory and Visset.” Not as many as I’d hoped, but I never knew who I could count on in Eudaimonia, except Haff and Preeky. Heading for the squash, I heard Haff’s voice in my mind, “Sco? Can you hear me Sco? I love you, Baby. I’m in this with you”.

“I love you, Haffney”, I imagine this zipping back and settling beneath his copper head of curls, both relief and hope tempering my aura of dread a bit. If there was any chance of us seeing Zehmy again, Haff would make it happen, I knew. Picking up the largest squash in the garden, a waft of citrusy floral teases me as I whisper, “thank you”, right before I cut it’s vine a few inches from the top with my pocket knife and place it in the wheelbarrow, quickly turning to express my appreciation to another. We were hungry sometimes, mostly at the end of summer when our stores in the caves ran thin. Pressure behind my eyes comes along with the effort to concentrate on only squash. I sqeeze them shut tightly then reopened them. A cool soup, made by Preeky and a few others came to mind, with my fried millet cakes in the caves this summer. My mind circled back to wonder about the person in the capsule, and if there are others. Why? As I placed the 6th squash in the wheelbarrow, I paused to make note of who else picked this year’s harvest, but couldn’t make out everyone in the predawn shadowy light. Drs. Kilgore and Alfonso, partners and colleagues of Haff’s in Bio-C, had almost a full wheelbarrow of eggplant, the two dressed in yellow coveralls and talking low in a steady murmur. Seriously academic, and older than most of the Eudaimonia Leaders, they mostly kept to themselves, just as Haff and I do. They didn’t notice me until I rolled up behind them with my wheelbarrow of a dozen large squash. As descendants of Elites, Haff and I felt we must frequently prove ourselves not only valuable, but likeable. Haff is much better at the second part than I. “Thank you Dr. Alfonso, Dr. Kilgore”. A quick and simultaneous nod on their way toward the cellars makes me think they might appreciate our precarious position. Or, they may just be afraid of me.

“Baby, I need you to listen to me. You need to hide, Scotia. It was Dusan we saw in that capsule. Dusan came back, Sco! He came back for… “, Haff’s increasingly tense message faded to silence, our connection cut off somehow.

“Haff? Haff! Tell me you’re ok, Haffney”! Instinctively, I left the wheelbarrow and slid between the container that served as our gardening storage shed and another which housed seeds, harvest, and Garvey’s personal living space. Dusan and I were betrothed at thirteen, which everyone knows. But no one knows Dusan is also my nightmare, not even Haffney. Shit. Even leaning against solid metal, the world is spinning. I have to move. Panic is driving me as I race to our container and my S-bag hanging just inside on a hook next to Haff’s. Slipping rubbers I’ve only worn once in the past two years over thin wool socks, Dusan’s hawkish face fills my vision and memories threaten me from several directions. My racing heart won’t let me stop, has no space for logic or love or anything other than getting as far from the shore as I can. Spoiled by my parents, I didn’t consider what my relationship with Haff would do to Dusan’s reputation, to his pride. But, he’d punished me enough.

Eudaimonia-Part 2

Old Earth

Despite the familiarity of our daily commute, it feels different between us, as if we cleared a long table of refuse between us, and put out fresh wildflowers. Swinging our clasped hands together, it occurs to me I feel loved. The night is quiet except for the rhythmic sound of waves slamming against our crumbling sea wall, a soft whoosh mixed with continuous long crunches, windmills grinding and filling intervals when the lake/sea recedes. The Eudaimonia Center, where Haff grows embryos and I oversee culling, is our most essential structure. Threatened by the rising sea, it currently sits with one corner touching the rising lake, solar windows 2 floors above the waterline. Once-sprawling gardens complete with an intricate hedge maze and baby animal statuary had separated the scientific center and school from the shoreline a few miles away. A sea surge claimed that parcel not long after most of the population, including our families, left for Parnus. Now, it’s difficult to remember Eudaimonia 20 months ago, before blast off day and their betrayal. Dusan’s broken promise, especially. I think responsibility for the others helped propel me and Haff forward, numbly in survival mode, our days melting into one long slog. We woke one another up last night. Had it really been less than two years? We’d both trained for Gene-Culling, a healing modality necessary for evolved humanity on a “new earth”, but fate had other plans.

“Can we stop for a minute?” A floral briny sea breeze reaches us after it winds among rows of closed sunflowers and bushes of dessert chicory dancing in the shadowy moonlight. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”, I ask Haff, loathe to give up this rare satisfaction. Yellowing tomato plants, eggplant, and squash are heavy with fruit, all bathed in moonlight. Haff spent almost all of his free time here, as did my assistant Preeky Kala, the two becoming close.

“I think the worms might’ve multiplied and soapy water worked better than milky, just like Garvey said, but the bone meal is what increased the crop”, he replied with enthusiasm, “Not the best timing with bio exams breathing down my neck, but I’m sure I can squeeze in a half hour before sunrise, pick for us and Mrs. K. Mmmm… I can almost taste your eggplant and sauce, Sco”, Haff gushed, grinning and entirely ignoring dusty empty patches where melons and cucumbers grew only once, seeds not germinating this season.

“I’ll make it for your birthday dinner since everything is in so early. Can’t wait to make a big batch of salsa with Mrs. K again, maybe we save some for summer if we can show some restraint”, I replied gamely, intent on keeping our bubble of contentment afloat as long as possible.

Haff let go of my hand and turned to look at me, his eyes reflecting a more serious bent. “Yesterday you reminded me…”, he paused and looked down at our bare feet for a second before looking up again and finishing with, “of everything I love about you. I remembered how I felt, how WE felt, before they took Zehmy. This place… it wears me down, but you”, he took my hand, spun the titanium circlet identical to the one I gave him at our hand-fasting, “with you, I can be who I’m meant to be”.

“Wait a minute… did you just…”, I thought, and couldn’t help laughing nervously when Haff nodded slowly, his bushy russet eyebrows raised and wrinkling his forehead, eyes wide in utter shock. “This is our proof!”, his thrilled thought is translated by newly-active neurons in my claudate nucleus, or the center of my brain, a buzzing sensation accompanying his message. “We told them we were meant to be!”, he said silently.

Good Goddess! I can’t wait to see the looks on their faces!“, I skipped a few feet then back, unable to contain my feelings. Throwing my arms around Haff’s neck and kissing him anchors me in reality, here on old earth, where I can not see the looks on our parent’s or any of our friend’s faces. “Ok, what do we know?’, I say aloud, knowing he’s in possession of facts.

Looking up at the sky of stars then back at me, he recites “Evolved genetic pairings create telepathic sensitivity, an evolutionary quirk in our DNA.” Haff memorizes everything he reads, one of his many cerebral talents. “This evolution has been found among families who’ve been acquainted for multiple generations, a new development barely studied due to an extremely small sample of only seven pairs”.

Many of our parent’s peers in the science community considered it unworthy of further exploration, likely because most of them had purchased genetic culling for their family trees, and in so doing, disqualified their kin’s DNA from evolving. “From what I remember, it’s theorized prolonged exposure to my DNA triggers your higher mind abilities and vice-versa…, but none of the investigators actually had the ability to document it First-Hand”, Haff explained with emphasis on the last part. Personal experience of any hypothesis is the gold standard. “Beyond telepathy, enhancements are unknown, but with what we know-they could’ve buried it”, he speculated.

“I love you, Haffney”. I felt a slipping sensation at the base of my skull as my message sped to my lover in a nanosecond. Reaching for my hands, he disappears them in his, and thinks, “Let’s go home for another hour. We’ll still be early enough”. I let my apprehension surface for just a moment before deciding I’d rather lose myself in him. The truth is, I’ve already decided the crier needs to be culled, as will anyone else who exhibited emotional weakness during their sacrifice, per the First Law of Eudaimonia. The seal my parents left me will stamp their expirations heroic, for the greater good of our dwindling numbers. “Race you there”. I pulled my hands away from him and ran, imagining the wind blowing away my worry about the aftermath. Reaching the door first, I sent a thought to Haff, “Meet me in the loft”.

While we telepathically planned distance and interference tests of our newfound gift, three re-entry capsules blocked the garden from moonlight with their mammoth parachutes. During the capsules’ splashdown, we decided to keep yet-another privilege of our birth a secret.

Their resentment was understandable. While billions scattered across the planet during climate migration, our families and friends’ families built secure estates and social clubs where resources such as energy, meat, and linens were more plentiful. Most importantly- this elite class rarely knew the pain of homesickness most people endured. Three generation of this “let them eat cake” mindset had turned the populace bitter, yet weak and less intelligent than those eating “nutritious food”. By the time the Elite Eudaimonia Center practitioners left for Parnus, including the ship with their parents and son, the only crops growing were millet and sweet potatoes. Iron supplements were provided without disclosure of source, most assuming they’d been created in The Eudaimonia Center’s labs. They were correct, but now they know the blood capsules are created from plasma, and exactly how it is sourced. They may have forced me to be a Culler, but they couldn’t control how I survived while doing it.

Haff and I were the first ones to join Garvey at the sea wall after he raised the emergency alarm, his panicked voice projecting a booming and almost unbelievable message about splashdown capsules. Container doors automatically unlocked for all leadership, a group of fifty three scattered throughout Eudaimonia. “Did you see any markings, Garvey?”, Haff shouted.

Still leaning his lanky form into the wind, Garvey replied, “Pretty sure there was a globe on the ‘chute, Haff!” The top of one capsule rose, then slid backward. Who returned to a dying planet?



do this

for dreams

to gain this

like we did

in our time

in our prime

Are you trying

Nothing worth having

comes easy

and you’ll sleep

when you’re dead

Look here

aren’t you glad

Thoughts & prayers

Go this way

not your way

It’s you

or them

and there’s not

enough for both


Part 1 Sacrifice

Eudaimonia- noun, Aristotelian ethical concept of everyone performing the strengths they were born with “for the highest human good”; acting in alignment with one’s soul.

A stream of knee-length robes the color of robin eggs provide some light against dawn’s sooty sky, this year’s adolescents passing the end of our container and flowing into the Eudaimonia Center three blocks down where we both perform services. Pulling my gaze away and swiping at the wetness on my cheeks, I pour the tea.  Now is not the time.  It never is.  Dainty rosebud cups clink together as I hurry down the path to a small patch of greens we refer to as Our Spot. I can hear Haff sighing loudly, despite years of practice waiting for me, but maybe his memories or sympathy weigh more than impatience today. The tea is cool and likely bitter now, but I pour it anyway and hand him a cup before settling on the ground and pouring my own, using the busyness to distract me.  “Thanks”, he grumbles, holding the tea cup’s tiny porcelain handle between his thumb and finger, kneeling next to me with his hairy calves crossed at the ankles. Our lane is crowded due to the witness mandate, and I notice Haff isn’t the only one who didn’t bother to get dressed. Maybe add the instruction for next year, I think, as Lyphane perches herself adjacent and slightly in front of Haff, the sun high enough now to outline her ample form.

  “Hey, we have each other,” I say under my breath, my eyes meeting those of a couple neighbors staring at us.  “Uh huh”, is all he can manage.  I sit cross-legged and focus on not spilling my tea. We look up and down the parade of young males, most unable to grow a beard yet. Seemingly resolute in their duty and uncharacteristically quiet, solemn moments drag by until choked sobs draw our attention toward the end of the line. “Hate this shit”, Haff mutters under his breath. My own tears dry in my eyes when I hear it.  Looking around at the crowd I see shoulders shaking, heads turning away, but no one leaves, thankfully. A rare sparrow alights on a branch overhead, and temporarily draws the crowd’s attention.  None of the young males seem to notice. I should follow up on sedation dosing with Dr. Gronne, Head of Methods.  Walking toward the sobbing one, I whisper “Here, it will help”, as I offer them my cup.  “Get away from me!  Stay away from me!” they yell, shake their head and swat at the cup.  Tea spills on my hands as I snatch the cup back, cradling it in both hands.   “You are fortunate.”  Jaw clenched, I grind the words out, “If this cup hit the ground, this cup that was my Great-Grandmother’s, you would have lost more than your fertility today.”  Everyone is staring now, the crowd, the line and Haff, all waiting to see what I will do.  My head swiveling slowly, I meet their stares, just as I always have.  It was thoughtless of me.  Walking back to Haff I focus on the tea pot patterned with roses sitting on clover, blue grass and long sprigs of yarrow tinged yellow by sunshine. The line begins moving, silently.  My mother loved roses, too, always impractical and unapologetic about it.  I don’t dare sit, but force my hands onto my hips, more of an overseer than a spectator now.  Haff gets to his feet and pries one sticky hand off my side and envelopes it in his.  An officer approaching from across the road reaches us, “Your instructions, M’aam?”  “Obtain their name and container number for now”, I tell him as Haff looks away. It’s unlike him not to offer a greeting.

“Return to your homes for the reminder of daylight hours and enjoy this day of connection with your container mates. You are invited to turn on your screens at nine this evening for instructions regarding required health exams. Thank you for your contribution to the greater good of humanity”, the announcement poured from outdoor speakers placed on every container. There were indoor speakers utilized for weekly sanitizing and hygiene reminders, always the same, as well as emergency weather instructions, which rarely were. “Why are you looking at me like that?  You know I have to maintain authority, especially now, just like you do.  Or, just like you should,” I say after the heavy metal door rumbles closed, locking us in until 4:30 in the morning, unless we are needed. Goddess, please don’t let us be needed. “Damn kid will be lucky if they don’t expire him rather than snipping his vas differens, but it seems like they trust me more since we returned with so many people.” It feels good to remove my head scarf, air cooling my sweaty noggin. Squeezing my eyes tight for a few seconds, then reopening them, I smile at him and declare, “I’m here now”.

Turning his back on me and walking across the room Haff flips on a wall fan, as he does when he wants to mask his deep voice.  “That’s going to run out before morning, you know”, I caution and immediately regret it.  Climbing the steep steps to our sleeping loft, I run a finger along the edge of a nearby frame then flop myself on the stiff foam sleeping mat so I can peer up at a polished balsa ceiling. Almost indiscernible patterns in the wood calm me as I imagine a canopy of trees swaying, rustling whispered secrets I can’t quite hear. Today isn’t any worse for me, I tell myself. But, Haff is struggling. I’ve been feeling his need to articulate growing all week as I distracted him with physical projects helping neighbors, his favorite way to affect our circumstances. I feel guilty for wanting a different experience with him than this, greedy and selfish because I know how much he loves children. Still, I can’t help thinking it could be our only free time before we settle in the summer caves in 3 months. Clearly, I miscalculated.

“I don’t care, Scotia.  I DO NOT care today”, he pummels a hammy fist into his palm and wanders around our small dinette set, needing to move as he spills what’s tearing at his heart. “Today I just wanna be sad because it’s a damn sad day, isn’t it?” tears are running into his copper-colored beard. The sobbing boy affected him. He climbs up and sits down next to me on our handfasting quilt. My body tilts toward his. It seems my world has tipped toward Haffney since we were paired in our first-year engineering courses seven years ago. With how close our parents were, it never should’ve happened, but algorithms didn’t account for close friendships. Unsupervised evenings skinny-dipping in The Big Lake and hiking wooded hills surrounding it seemed to exist in another lifetime, a fairytale, ending with a frightening warning for others. How I wish we could be there now, sitting in a meadow with a bottle of sweet red wine stolen from my parent’s collection of artifacts, a picnic of cheese and sweet rolls, maybe an apple. Haff and I pointed out constellations to one another, each trying to outsmart the other as insects hummed and fireflies lit up unexpectedly and made me giddy. A memory of the way he looked at me, my tangled white-blonde hair blowing furiously in the wind until he pushed it out of my face and kissed me quickly, softens my irritation now.

“I’m sorry they took that from you, Haff,” I rub what I can reach of his broad warm back with one hand, my long fingers splaying to cover more of his warm expanse. I wish we could go back to before they left us for Parnus. “Nothing I say or do will change it, Baby. Just like nothing will make this planet habitable, again. Nothing I do brings back our son from Parnus, Haff, or makes them reach out to us on satellite. My only respite is you,” sitting up so I can look in his dark eyes I whisper slowly drawing out each word, “Please don’t ever think any of this is ok with me. They left us here to destroy us- you in Bio-C and me on the opposite end of Eudaimonia. I worry sometimes you’re starting to see me as a villain.”

Taking my hand in his, he scrapes the blood from under my nails with his pinky nail and wipes it on his shift. “We both have blood on our hands. I don’t hold you more culpable than I do myself, I just wish there was more understanding. What happened today is going to happen again. People need someone to blame who lives here, not on Parnus.” Haff lays back, draws my body closer with one thick arm and tilts his fuzzy curls against my buzzed head. Not what I planned, but this is the glue that keeps us together, I realize. Tomorrow, we’ll return to our dreaded roles, but today we have one another and two shower allotments I intend to enjoy.

“Haff, I love you”.

“You know I adore you, Scotia”, he says, his voice cracking on my name. As our sunburned lips meet in a gentle kiss, I think fleetingly of Parnus once more, until Haff reminds me how deftly he loves me, starting his descent behind one ear lobe and holding me still as his kisses tickle my neck and breasts. Exploring one another’s bodies is never mundane, caressing our most intimate weaknesses, I thirst for him with my whole being, hips rising in invitation. He tantalizes me right to the brink of release… then stops to grin at me wolfishly. Nothing is changed between us, I tell myself. Rolling on top of him with a guttural, “oh, you’re sooo funny”, I tug at his shift until he raises his arms laughing, so I can slip it off. The sight of Haffney DeWoers, fully grown and a far cry from the slim boy I fell in love with, stirs a feral and possessive instinct in me. I press my lips to his and lay my body full length on his, just the way he likes. “Savoring us”, is what he calls it and says it’s what he envisions when he is about to lose his mind any given day. Moving down, I rest my head on his wide chest. Haff encircles me with his warm golden arms. I want to say I know they’ll come for us soon, but it isn’t worth ruining this moment.

Later, we soap one another’s bodies, Haff preferring a large sponge and me a stiff bristled brush. He brushes me reluctantly, yet it never fails to excite him when I say, “harder, please”. A couple harmless fetishes neither of us ever mentioned aloud were born from our isolation here on Eudaemonia, or “old earth” as we often called it. Sated and sipping dandelion wine from rose teacups at our dinette table, we told one another about the things we’d been saving one another from, a multitude of reluctant sins neither of us would’ve ever guessed. Our guilt united us, again. A second cup of the bitter wine turned our thoughts away from talking, but I think we both knew our acquiescence was no longer a given. Later we danced while the neighbors played a mandolin and bells, and I told Haff I’d envision this the next time I was in danger of losing my mind.


Memory lane has more bends and double-backs now that I’m almost fifty-five. Today’s meandering walk began unexpectedly, as most of these trips do. While hip pain has put a dent in my dancing routine, I’m still swaying; determined to go with the flow of life rather than drowning in a what amounts to a puddle.

Thinking about these hips, I remembered a seasonal friend named Leonard, who helped me make more money as a waitress. I say “seasonal” only because we lost touch when he stopped working at the restaurant where we met, a natural fate of most coworker friends from my 20’s. Leonard bussed my tables within seconds of customers leaving because 1. I tipped him well, and 2. We were friends. How he helped me most is by advising me to swing my hips when I walked through the restaurant; apparently I had a complete absence of this feminine wile (sorely lacking in this generally, to be honest). I remember laughing hard, likely because we’d smoked a joint, and responding how I’d have gotten in trouble for “switching” if I’d done that as a young person. Such overt manipulation seemed nasty to me, until Leonard told me I was leaving money on the table; men watched me anyway. I love blunt people, as I often miss subtlety.

My mother is very no-nonsense and as far as one can get from a femme-fatale. She taught me faith, resiliency and work ethic, values I hold most dear. Now my aunts, on the other hand, they switched their hips naturally, each of them sexy and feminine in different ways. I saw one as a nurturer in tank tops and short shorts rooting for the Steelers very loudly and being funny, easy to laugh and give out love, while another had a powder poof on her dresser I thought was magical, wore flowing caftans, and had beads in the doorway to her music room. Another had a smile bright as the sun and made me feel special every time she turned it on me, her walk in heels the epitome of womanhood in the 1970’s, and another who asked me if I was hungry every single time I walked through her front door and ushered me to her kitchen for at least some koolaid, maybe a secret cookie, and a probing question or two about girl stuff.

So, I channeled my aunts and practiced switching slightly, Leonard often reminding me during shifts. My tips increased with a few customers, and every cent helped us, my delighter and I. One of my regulars gifted me a black silk tie for my uniform, although I’m unsure if that was because I started switching, but it happened not long after I adopted it. Fortunately, I was paid an hourly rate at my next job, but I never forgot Leonard’s advice because it felt like overhearing guys in a locker room.

Then I meandered further, and remembered dancing as a teenager and how I swung my hips for hours on end, gyrating to Prince, Madonna, Adam Ant and Bobby Brown. Of course, that made me pull up “Every Little Step I Take” on YouTube, the first cords encouraging muscle memory and dancing with Bobby and his crew. Stopped for a second to remind myself not to do those criss-cross moves fast enough to trip over my feet, but had a good laugh wrapped up in good times. Funny thing is-my hip feels better.


We were all valuable according to a bright choir of assurances along Directorate Pathway #5. Oxygen converters planted every half meter pumped out relative affirmations intended to keep travelers’ headspace positive and productive. “Laws of Greater Good insure our survival” I repeated in my “for the record” smiling tone, while my gut pitched in a grief, anxiety and repressed anger soup. In my newish sun goggles, still snug with zero leakage, I tilted my head, stuck my eyes on a windowless brick tower, and prayed my tension wasn’t observable to Oversight.

“3 Month Extension” a transparently thin slip of bamboo with her name and new expiration date spit out the holographic lips of Appeals Agent #47. A miniscule neon oval recorded my reaction for my permanent profile. “All decisions are final. Promptly exit Expiry Appeals Tower #3 along the green line and have a positive and productive day”. Its serrated mechanical arm rose from the wall next to me, pointed and tapped on the line. I’d entered maybe 10 minutes before and they didn’t give me an opportunity to plead as I’d rehearsed. Glossy purple toes my little sisters painted 3 days ago stuck out of size 10 wraps, which seemed glued to the floor. We needed more time. Perhaps naively, I’d hoped we would receive one of those 20-year extensions I’d heard about more than once in the past week. They probably didn’t even exist, my mind raged now. “Do you require assistance to exit?” Agent #47 tapped again, this time leaving a smear on the top of my wrap.   

“No”, I spat, then added, “thanks” for the record. My legs finally moved, their green line taunting me. As I pushed out the door, I envisioned the 5 of us laid out under a neon dancing tree canopy, mesmerized by whispering leaves and tiny, yet noisily chittering, birds who dove at one another as if playing. My step-father Ghistar taught us about finches. Our family spent as much time as they could afford in the protected areas since they’d partnered five years ago and moved into the grower community, a step up from the recycler community.

“Lithia! Wait up, Lithia!” Henny’s arms enveloped me before she’d fully stopped running and threw me a little off balance as I stopped. Normally, we would’ve laughed at our clumsiness. Instead, I sobbed into her shoulder, the rough hemp uniform scraping my cheeks and nose, her shaking body a confirmation she knew the outcome. “Ok, let’s get to my place so you can collect yourself before going home to tell everyone”, Henny’s words rang with clear pronunciation of each word.  Although I could tell it hurt, she pushed me away and wiped my face with her sleeve, uncaring of snot smears. “Stop crying”. People jogged a bit to distance themselves from us. Recorded distress could result in a series of supervisory visits from Safety Officers, and debits. Henny’s unit was second from one end of grower units, and easy to slip into unnoticed during the day while growers worked and most kids trained.

Inside she raced to her room for a hat, while I admired a holographic image of Henny’s lineage all the way back to her great-great grandfather, Mach Lipnee, in 2072. He and his wife had five branches, and each of those had at least three. Large thriving families a Lipnee source of pride, Henny was one of five. I imagined them all perched on the expansive padded bench made of bleached driftwood and dense navy canvas, a sizeable table of real wood set in front of it. In this scene of mine, Eutechia, Henny’s stout mother, her knee-length braid the color of tilled earth coiled on top of her head, brought a bamboo platter of steaming vegetable hash to the rowdy crowd from her all-green galley kitchen splayed against the opposite wall. Not for the first time, the colors brought growing fields, sandy beaches and deep lakes to mind, and tickled a recollection within me. Henny returned with a forced smile. “Here, you can give it back later. Don’t argue, just let me. I still can’t believe Ghistar expired.” She stuck her favorite cowboy hat with ties on me and it popped up from my unruly crown of curls, turned copper by intense sunshine and my hatred of hats. “Here’s a Simplifier. You’re gonna need it, I’m telling you”, she pushed a tiny cup at me while I shook my head. “When you face your Mom and tell her she’s only gotten a bit of an extension, you’re gonna break down, Lithia, you know you will. Then everyone is gonna lose it because you never get upset. That’s why she sent you”.

“You’re right”, I relented. “Such a good friend, always looking out for me. If I didn’t have you…”, my throat closed on me then. “I love you”, I managed, gulped the Simplifier and rushed out the door.

There’d only be three of us if Mom expired in five months, only me and my little sisters. How could I meet the daily, monthly and yearly requirements of the grower community? “Damn it”, I muttered to myself. We’d end up in a community my mother had worked so hard to pull us out of, a harder community my little sisters didn’t remember and weren’t prepared for even a little bit.  My own beatings flashed across my mind, as did feelings of vindication when my fist drew Ninbur Sokolov’s blood.

Dr. V plucked me off my track of spiraling despair when he noisily settled on his porch in a reclining wooden chair he made from a dying hardwood, and yelled out, “Hi, Lithia! It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?”

All your days are beautiful, Old Man. “Been a little hard, Dr. V, but you’re right,” I looked around us at the neatly kept gardens in front of tidy home units. A toddler laughed across the way as his mother played peek-a-boo. “In the grower community it’s always a beautiful day, even when it storms. Not sure, though, if we’ll be able to stay, ya know, with Ghistar’s expiration”. I wasn’t sure why I said it to him, perhaps his age made me comfortable enough to announce my fear despite the Simplifier.  Maybe it was how everyone kept their distance from us over the past week, even at community meals. Dr. V took a sip of whatever was hot in his cup, both hands almost entirely white from sun damage, and stayed silent behind his sun shades. Mother and I worked from dawn to sunset over the past week, weeding, planting, and picking. Our household’s weekly credits were halved with Ghistar’s absence.

“When do you finish training?” Always the professor.

“With extra time in the fields and studying every weekend, I can finish in a year”. “Grower training is a two year course so you can incorporate the wisdom of changing seasons. You’re gifted for a 2nd generation grower, thanks to your mother.” Dr. V was a professor of agriculture and natural science, a role he seldom relinquished. “The plants and trees have an energy I can’t explain, especially when they are fruiting.  Ghistar wanted me to take the planning qualification course, but now…” I looked up at gathering clouds and ordered my tears to fall back into my skull.

“You make your own fate, your own legacy, Lithia. Ghistar is a loss to our entire community, as you can appreciate. We will all have to adjust, especially your family.” He said it as if it was not only obvious, but already a done deal. If I could just finish my training everything else would fall into place; not places I’d dreamed of, but places my sisters and I had a chance without having to resort to crime. When my father was alive and my mother in grower training as well as her recycler job, he withheld food so I’d be hungry enough to steal packets of noodles. He said he began his career of taking at six, too. Still love those noodles.

“I don’t know about fate, Dr. V, but I can try. Do you think I could borrow your bike for a little bit? ” I’d grown more bold than ever in the hour since I left Expiry Appeals Tower #3 with my mother’s piddly 3 month extension.

He hesitated, then nodded, as if pleased. “Only if you tell me how long they extended Calliandra’s expiration. Promise not to tell a soul.” He held up his pinky for some odd reason.

Paz’s family lived in a coveted end unit in the recycler community, although none of them performed the hard and dirty work of recycling. Instead, they sold time. For generations, people from every community bought illegal extensions from the Sokolov family while the government, in return, held them in esteem. The scarce naïve complainer simply expired. Ghistar warned me about them, “They’ll use their lab-created physique to lure you in like a thirsty doe to their pool of short cuts for status, for a better unit, for training, for kids.”

Ninbur Sokolov, my only childhood enemy, flung open the door before I could jangle the bells, all six feet of him grinning, gangly and golden. I’d partner with him if he’d agree to wear a fine white shirt identical to the one he currently sported, rolled at the sleeves, casually unbuttoned, daily. My smile and appreciative stare encouraged him.

“I thought you’d never agree when father told me about Ghistar and your Mom. Who would’ve thought when I was pounding you bloody we’d end up partnered!” He noticed the look on my face, thankfully. “Aww… what a blockhead hello after all this time. Sorry, Lithia. I can do better. You’ll see.” He took my hand and excitedly gave it a squeeze then instantly let it drop when he felt my tremor.

 “Don’t get ahead of yourself, Son!” came a bellow from Paz as he advanced down the hallway with a tap-tap and loud exhalations. The bald “Maestro of Time”, as he referred to himself, had grown wider in the years since Lithia’s family moved, and he’d acquired a cane. His eye shades hinted at day blindness, a common malady in humans who didn’t expire at an average of fifty years. Nin wouldn’t have that issue. Their impressive family lineage holo shone above the arch where he paused, a massive tree with too many branches to count quickly. It doesn’t matter, I reminded myself as I appreciated a forest holo running the entire length of what could only be a Great Room, with a simulated blue sky above us.

In the middle of a sea of unknowns, I prayed for Ghistar’s guidance. Although I couldn’t fathom why Nin liked me now, I was thrilled he didn’t greet me with an insult, or worse-a slap or shove. “Nin, maybe we can start over, now that we’ve grown up and can express our… feelings differently?” I purposely moved closer and looked up at him with wide-eyed innocence, instinctively sure of his attraction. His eyes widened for a second in confirmation.

“You young people! I swear you’re gonna combust!” Paz guffawed, hugely amused by himself. “I know, I know. I was young and full of fire, too, once upon a time.” Quick as a wink, his mirth vanished as he warned, “This is a legally binding contract you are negotiating with one another, with my oversight, of course. As you know, it ain’t standard for folks your age to partner.”

Still looking up at Nin, I began negotiations. “I want ten years for Calliandra Daire in exchange for my partnership with Ninbur”.

“Come. Sit.” Paz lowered his girth into an immense wing-backed chair before a welded round table ten feet across. He slowly rested his cane against one arm and took in my shadow of unruly curls. “You don’t look all that strong for a grower.” As if he could see me.

“Dad. Stop.” Nin’s jaw squared, a good sign.

“There’ll be time for courting, Son. Right now let’s stick to reality, as harsh and ugly as it is.”

His purpose clear to me, I responded, “People often underestimate me, Mr. Sokolov.” A smaller wingback chair located directly across from him called my name. “Will you sit next to me, Nin? I’m so nervous.” May as well admit it and wring some benefit from my obvious terror. I angled my body toward Nin and slightly away from his father after we sat, the latter predictably pouting.

Ghistar’s voice rang in my head, “What 19-year-old wouldn’t be afraid? Only a foolish one.” Ghistar also taught me the crucial strategy of right timing.

“Who would’ve thought when Calliandra and Ghistar ascended to the grower community, his recycler blood would expire him decades early? His brother Myser cost him everything after ALL the years he labored and trained, ALL that wasted time. Such a shame.” He rubbed his hands together and smiled at me in contradiction to his words. “This hand-crafted paper of lily stalks, rose petals and iris stalks has served for all of my children’s partnership contracts, but none bring me as much joy as this union between you, Lithia Daire, and my youngest son, Ninbur. Of course, we will begin with a priceless gift of 7 years of life as an extension for your mother in exchange for your lifetime partner oath to Ninbur Sokolov. He wrote my name with a quill he dipped in purple dye and the words, “in exchange” before I stopped him.

“No. I bring more than 30 years and a healthy bloodline. 15 years seems fair, now that I reason it out.”

Paz’s glare made me look at Nin, who once again took one of my hands in his. “Ten it is. The Partnership celebration will take place in January so we can have a day ceremony.”

“Wait! This January? Give me just a sec.” I counted on my fingers; only five months from now. Nin squeezed my other hand in his. “Is January ok with you? Will you be ready? I mean, damn Nin, this is the rest of our lives. If you need more time to, ya know…”

He appeared to seriously consider pledging his life to me in just five months’ time. “Yeah, I know. Listen, Lithia. To be honest, I’ve sampled women from every community to the point that sex with a stranger is just tedious. Let everyone think we’re too young, but I know I want to be partnered to you, only you.” His eyes were honest.

“Nin, I can’t say that I’ve sampled anyone, but to be honest, I did kiss a couple people after I practiced on our home bot.” He smiled then.  “Would February be ok with you? It may sound silly, but I feel like 6 months will be easier for my family to accept.”

“February is perfect, Lithia.” He leaned over and kissed me softly, to my surprise. “Please indicate the month and year and we will decide on the day after we discuss it alone, Father.” Nin addressed Paz while he held my gaze. Butterflies fluttered in my belly as I felt his intention and admired his nerve. To say Paz dominated the space was an understatement, but Nin held an air of independence without being disrespectful.

Stop it, fool, I admonished myself. “I hope everything flows this easy, Nin. I think the next point is children. We’re going to make the most beautiful legacy, Mr. Sokolov. I hope to present your first grandchild from Nin within a year of earning my grower cert.” They both studied me intently while I let it hang in the air.

Ghistar told me once, “People don’t need to know what you know, nor what you don’t know. Don’t get caught up with showing off because we’re never as bright as we think.”

“Lithia, you know from my blonde hair and gold skin I was a lab baby, right?” He looked so vulnerable I almost felt badly, but this was for life.

“You can still make babies, though. Of course, I knew”.

Paz appeared uncomfortable as he shifted his weight and struggled for words. “Well, the thing with lab babies is they have to marry a live-birthed human. It’s the law, you know.” I nodded. “It’s also the law that they can’t reproduce more than two humans, despite there being no proof of any abnormalities in their offspring. If you think about it, two allows you to pour into them and not be overwhelmed with work and mothering.”

“Oh. I didn’t realize.” My silence spoke disappointment better than any words could, a trick I’d learned from my mother. “I’d like us to live in the grower community, then.” The sheer anger on their faces made it hard, but I kept on, “We can come visit often, but I want our children to live where people are kinder and less stressed by their work, where “positive and productive” is a real attitude, not just a joke. We will be the first Sokolovs to live in the grower community.” I looked at Nin and he appeared to consider my proposal.

“Father, I won’t become a grower, if that’s what you’re worried about”, he chuckled, “and I like the idea of getting a new start, maybe moving us all up one day.”

The wind kissed my face as I pedaled as fast as possible to deliver my news. It would be ok, maybe. There was so much I needed to talk to Henny about, but first I had to tell my mother she had a ten-year and three-month extension.

“There you are, Lithia. Where did you go? We have company and the best news”, my mother stammered a bit on the last line. What was he doing here? “Dr. V, I mean Ivan, has gifted me ten years in trade for partnering with him. We just signed the contract. Isn’t it wonderful? Now you can finish and get that extra qualification.”