Saturday, January 26, 2013

Laughter

A psychologist guest speaker named Phil Jorn came to our Lifetime Health and Fitness class yesterday. After his speech, one thing really turned in my mind throughout the day.

As an exercise, the man had us close our eyes and picture the last time we had had a real laugh (of the "ROFL" or "LMAO" sort).

I pictured the night prior to that day. I was texting my friend Angela and we had gotten on the topic of Kurt Vonnegut. I told her I wanted to go on a Vonnegut splurge this summer, beginning with reading Cat's Cradle - however, my phone oddly auto-corrected to "Dradle". I was intrigued by the correction and told Angela I wanted to look into the word.

I searched "dradle" on Google, intending to look only at the very first results. The first results linked to Urban Dictionary.com, and if you, Dear Reader, know anything about Urban Dictionary, you know that it is far from a politically or socially correct, family-friendly source.

Needless to say, it had nothing to do with Cat's Cradle. I laughed like I've never laughed before, since I was half-LMAO-ing and half trying to stifle my laugh as my roommate did homework across from me at her desk.

I took a screen shot of the obscene Urban Dictionary definition and sent it to Angela, whereupon an even more hilarious conversation ensued.

What I learned from picturing this instance of laughter in class yesterday was how good it did actually feel. I didn't reflect on the feeling afterword; instead I quickly continued my studies for the next day (today) and didn't think on it again. But the elation I felt from it was conjured up again during Phil Jorn's exercise, and I felt the gut-tightening bubbly lightness. I was reminded of how few times I had enjoyed that same hysterical experience since starting college in Fall of 2011, and I was grateful of the psychologist's lesson.

A fact he enlightened on us after the exercise: Children laugh on average 400 times/day, while working adults laugh about 15 times. I was surprised by both numbers, but soon was reminded by a few peers that children generally do think everything is funny, and working adults often want to exude a more mature image of themselves to other working adults.

If you're anything like me, though, you don't want to be the average working adult. You want to appear young, and excited and enthused about the world around, taking everything in with an open and happy mind. Laugh when something's funny, and let the people around you (even if they are "working adults") know that it is okay to laugh. You'll make light of the difficult parts of life and make friends easier along the way.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Lonely Restaurant

The dull of the crowd of the restaurant surrounds me in rippling waves, undulating and repeating. I remain seated among it, like an unmoving warning post anchored to the sea floor, my aloneness like an orange beacon.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Fangoria




Prelude P. I

In a world quite similar to ours walks a woman quite similar to myself. She passes by the corner store I know so well, except there, placed directly and solidly where my favorite book store lay, is a year-round fireworks armory. The Wendy's down the street is one of a chain of nun-chuck-wielding teaching facilities.  The place in the mall where I love to get new sneakers? A hatchet display. Where I got my favorite jazzy sequined dresses for high school dances? A knife-throwing arena. Why, might you say, are there such differences in the world of the woman-quite-similar-to-myself? Because she lives in a world preparing for an apocalypse. As you should be able to tell by the parallel places and their uses, this is a very advanced kind of parallel world. This world, named Fangoria, had plenty of hints that an apocalypse would come, and those hints were unfailingly obvious, written everywhere, by unseen extraterrestrial neighbor of theirs, for anyone old enough in Fangoria to read.

Why do I know so much about this world? Because the woman-quite-similar-to-myself told me. Her name is Ginny. Ginny was the first successful attempt at planting a Fangorian on a planet with intelligent life. Her mission was to tell her Parallel Earthling the entire predicament on Fangoria, giving a short, believable spiel using her equipment and mirroring looks to rectify her existence to her Parallel, then to use that to try to get the attention of the United Nations, to let them know that Fangoria truly was a real parallel world to Earth, and that they needed help.

Unfortunately, though her mission was the first successful one, it was not at all easy for Ginny. The underground Interworld Communications of Fangoria - whose job was made to seek out any intelligent life in the universe and ask them for help - planted her at first somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, near the surface. As she explained to them her surroundings, they figured it was another failed mission. Which was nothing the ICF weren't used to - they experienced decades of failed missions, and a new mission began every day, with a new Fangorian subject who always seemed to die not long after being planted on the new planet. How Ginny became a subject for the Earth mission is a discussion for later.


P. II

Kam Jagar, a researcher in the SSF, was a long-time family friend to Ginny's family, the Teeson's. Before the apocalypse occurred last year in Fangoria, and before all the elaborate hints showed up in every division over a decade ago, Kam was best friends with Ginny's father, Yeardley. Yeardley and Kam worked in Interworld Communications together in the ICF, before the Secret Society needed to be secret. Yeardley was famous in the ICF for his talent in the Linguistics department.

Kam was paired with Yeardley on an assignment that involved deciphering the meanings of some frequencies they received from a nearby planet called Dresdid. Kam and Yeardley, instead of working together on the assignment, decided to challenge each other to see who would get crack the code first, figuring out what Dresdid was trying to tell Fangoria. Dresdid was the only planet with intelligent life that Fangoria knew about at the time, and therefore the only planet they needed to keep a close eye on. Kam beat Yeardley by eight minutes, deciphering the first code of many to come which would prove to be threats to the well-being of Fangoria.

Kam beamed back at Yeardley, patiently waiting for Yeardley to finish. After the first few minutes, Yeardley looked back at the paper in front of him. Finally taking in the words as a whole, the corners of his mouth became tense, slowly turning back down.

He stood up. "Yeardley..." He walked to his friend in three easy bounds. "Take - take a look at this."

Yeardley read the threat aloud. "We may no longer be peaceful to you, our neighboring planet, for we have received information that you wish to plant subjects on our land without our permission. You must realize how detrimental this could be to us should your devices for plantation fail."

As Yeardley and Kam read through the code once more, carefully, another member of Linguistics entered, unnoticed. The man had to put the papers with the new frequency print outs under the mens' noses before they would notice them.

Kam looked up. "Thank you, Bryarly."

"You know the protocol," Bryarly said before leaving.

The men did. It called that receiving two separate sets of frequencies consecutively was a serious matter, and that even if it called for staying late, the men would have to stay in the office and decipher it as soon as possible.

For the urgent purpose of finishing this one sooner, Kam and Yeardley decided to work on the same one. Instead of it being a day-long assignment, the men finished in less than two hours. With the end to the message, the men personally walked straight to Seidel, the head of the ICF.

Seidel read the messily written code, half written by Kam, the other by Yeardley. The head of the department promptly took out his paging device and called every member to attention as soon as possible. Yeardley and Kam both put their hands to the callers on their belts instinctively, even though they had just heard the message spoken in front of them.

Once all members of the ICF assembled in a circle, Seidel read the whole message:
"We may no longer be peaceful to you, our neighboring planet, for we have received information that you wish to plant subjects on our land without our permission. You must realize how detrimental this could be to us should your devices for plantation fail. As we are unsure of when you plan to send your first subject, we have sent our own first subject to make your people aware that you will soon be under attack. An improperly made threat for attack on your behalf for a properly made warning for attack by ours."

The threat someone sent to Dresdid must have been unmistakable, because once the ball was rolling for return threats to Fangoria, there was no stopping it. Corn fields in Division 18 were burned, all except for the words "We are coming," which were left every few acres. Store fronts exhibited these red-painted words on their windows. City streets had the words burned into them.

It seemed nice enough that Dresdid gave them so many warnings, except that they came continuously for a decade. Kam and Yeardley were hired full-time for the amount of work necessary to decode the new messages which came in from Dresdid weekly. At about the same time a new department was established in  ICF, one whose mission was to seek out who could have threatened to plant a subject on Dresdid without contacting the ICF directly, and what or who that subject could have been to trigger such a retaliation from Dresdid.

Meanwhile, as no one would own up to having threatened Dresdid, Dresdid grew increasingly paranoid. Being a relatively peaceful planet, they sent frequencies to Fangoria stating that if another threat was not detected in the next ten years, the "warnings for threat" on Fangoria would cease. However, if another of the same threat occurred, or if someone actually was planted on Dresdid without consent, their neighboring planet of Fangoria would cease to exist.

Yeardley was frightened not only for his own life, but for the lives of his wife and kids. He had a 6-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son. This was the most direct ultimatum that Dresdid had set, and Yeardley was determined this time to have his voice heard by Seidel, to know that the best possible reply was submitted back to Dresdid.

"We must tell them that we are doing our best to find who it was, and that this process could take more than 10 years. It's not necessary for them to terminate the entire planet for one imbecile who just happens to know how to hack into our communications systems!"

At once, everyone's paging devices sounded, blinking red - everyone's but Yeardley's. Yeardley noticed the strange look on Kam's face as he stood in front of him with Seidel. The look was apologetic.

Yeardley felt all eyes on him as everyone left their work stations and surrounded him. Several officers entered their ranks and grabbed Yeardley's wrists, placing them in handcuffs.

Seidel spoke. "I apologize Leeson, but we received a tip that has led us to believe that you put the threat on Dresdid. As first in command on our Linguistics team, I must remove you of your duty and put Kam in full charge of the department until we can question you properly. Until then, you must stay under lock-down in this facility." He kept his eyes steady with Yeardley's, undoubtedly searching Yeardley's eyes for some sort of explanation.

"Oh, come on, Seidel! You have to be kidding me! You know me!" He walked slowly with the officers but kept his head turned to search the eyes of his new higher-up. "Kam, please! Would I do this? Kam, we discovered this together. Tell them!"

Kam just stared at Yeardley, defeated. He loved his friend, but he knew that association with Yeardley after an accusation as large as this one would have consequences for him and his own family as well. He looked at Seidel and mimicked his expression and posture, which were of stone.

Yeardley shouted his friend's name one more time before turning the corner in the officer's clutches.

Kam promptedly went to work after that, recording his own voice and sending the frequencies of it to Dresdid, hoping his telling that the suspected man of threat was detained would subdue their tensions.

Forty-two hours later, Fangoria received a reply. Kam decoded it as soon as Seidel himself handed the print outs to him.

"Yeardley Leeson is in fact the one who first contacted us." The message said. "Terminate him."

Kam went to Seidel right away and read the message to him. Nothing else could be done. There was no way of finding out for sure where Dresdid got this information, no way of trying to stress that Yeardley was sitting with Kam every time they were in the Communications room, that there was no way Yeardley could have sent a message of threat, and clearly no means by which Yeardley could have carried out said intended threat. The Linguistics team had no reason to have the code for entering the teleportation unit.

"Thank you, Kam," Seidel replied forlornly. He sent Kam away, against his protests.

Kam decided at last that he would do what he could to fight for his friend's life. Yeardley didn't deserve to die, and his family didn't deserve to suffer for such a wrong accusation. He walked out of the Command Center and stood in the hall leading into it, out of Seidel's sight. As the messenger left the room following him, Kam was glad to see that it was Garrity, another person close to the Linguistics department. Kam hurried to walk beside him.

"Garrity! Hey, how is the family?" He patted Garrity on the shoulder.

"Fine, Jagar. And yours?" He didn't look in the mood to make small talk. Kam felt that he could easily get Garrity on his side.

"Great. Hey," he quieted his voice, "Look, can we talk about this first? You know Yeardley as well as I do. You have to be reasonable."

"I'm doing what I have to, Jagar," Garrity replied, staring straight forward, only looking at the road ahead. "Orders are from Seidel. You know what questioning him could mean."

Kam sighed. "I know, but this time--"

"It doesn't matter. His word is the final word. He's always been right. And even if Leeson isn't responsible--"

"Do you hear yourself? This is our friend you're talking about! His family - Do you know what would happen to them? To Patricia?"

"Please, Kam. I'm doing this for my family too. Don't add to the number of people who will be affected in this."

Nothing could be done. They had reached the holding cells and seen Yeardley in the first one, lying on the steel block of a bed. They waved to the guard to let them in his office. Garrity gave the guard the orders given by Seidel. All the while, Kam stared at Yeardley's back in his cell, his lying body facing away from him.

Just as well as Garrity, the guard knew his place. "All right. I'll get the executioners."



P. III

Once her father, Yeardley Leeson, was executed, his friend Kam made the horrifying discovery that Dresdid now wanted the Leeson family to be questioned, to be sure that Yeardley did not pass along the code to get into the teleportation unit at ICF. As Yeardley's son Zane was only 2 years old at the time, and could not yet speak, his wife Patricia and 7-year-old daughter Ginny were interrogated. After the abject confusion on their faces seemed genuine enough, their home was thoroughly searched for evidence that the code could have been concealed or written somewhere. Nothing was found, but the family would remain blacklisted until suspicions from their neighboring planet ended all together.

Still, Dresdid sent messages through Fangoria's long distance frequencies. Kam's full-time job was more demanding without Yeardley to help him, and continuing on with a younger and less-experienced second-in-command often made him wish his friend and accomplice was still there to work with him. He was just glad Dresdid spared the Leesons.

After the Leesons were interrogated, Dresdid reported that they had received intelligence from yet another anonymous source that danger still existed. Full-time guards had been added to the entrance of the Linguistics department room, and Seidel himself monitored every out-going message from the facility while on duty, so there was no possible way that the message could have been sent by an authorized Linguistics team member.

A new message was sent. Fangoria would have to find and plant the culprit on Dresdid by 10 years from that very date. The fate of the culprit was was not mentioned, left to their own interpretation. If Fangoria did not find and send the culprit to Dresdid after that 10 years, the planet would be terminated creatively.

Though the message was ambiguous, at least Dresdid was being lenient.

Ten years should be enough time to find someone, if an entire planet is looking for them, right?


P. III

Almost ten years passed.

Division 19 - home of the Interworld Communications of Fangoria, and at the head of the world-wide mission of finding Criminal X, as the wanted culprit was named - put the teleportation unit in the ICF facility to good use in the past decade. They were running out of criminals to plant on alien planets. They decided that with their equipment, they would give it their all to save the planet. They would try to find a planet in the millions around them which had intelligent life, and ask it to help Fangoria from its impending death.

Seidel agreed that it was most humane to use criminals on death row as their subjects for plantation on other planets. After that, he was forced to send the blacklisted. However, by the eighth year of search - and after all the criminals on death row,and most of the blacklisted people in Fangoria returned as corpses, or even at times parts of corpses - hope began to dissipate in the facility.

Seidel was deterred from going on with the plantations until a man named Ternjae from Records suggested he should go on.

"Commander Seidel, we have several reports of sightings of a planet not far from the charter which show signs of having an atmosphere similar to ours."

"Do you have print outs?"

Ternjae showed him his clipboard. "Here." He pulled out the bottom photograph. "And this one is as close as the spot camera could get. From this vantage point the camera is turned parallel to the edge, and you can see the same kind of blue line arcing the planet: the end of the atmosphere and the beginning of space."

It was three months until doom's day for Fangoria. Seidel was desperate.

Seidel sighed. "Any word from Kam?"

"You would be first to know, Commander."

After a long pause, Seidel replied, "Do you have the Blacklist with you?"

"Yes, Commander." He handed him the list of some of the most infamous people on the planet. Those who had their name blacklisted were one misdemeanor away from death row.

Seidel's eyes searched down the list for the next name. "The Leesons? I thought they were acquitted?"

Ternjae's tone did not waver from professional. "As Yeardley Leeson's name was spoken of directly by Dresdid, and also as his family was specifically called by them to be interrogated, wasn't it agreed that they should stay on the list?"

Again, Seidel sighed. "Very well. Send two of my officers to retrieve Ginny Leeson."



P. IV

Ginny's life is about as fun as you would suspect anyone's life to be in the midst of The End. Fairly early on, as news of Dresdid and their supposed plans circled the globe, Fangoria spent many years producing weapons for defense, ranging from kitchen knife-size knives to the return of WWII-era weapons. As the message that Fangoria would be "terminated creatively" proved to be the only hint they were going to receive at what the end of days would bring, everyone decided to protect themselves accordingly, building armories and adding and improving safety shelters. At age 14 Ginny got a job at a knife throwing arena. She's an MMA fighter and her closet doubles as a knife, grenade, and gun armory. Besides that, it's easy to see that she's my parallel self. She looks and acts exactly like me. Okay, well like me, except super bad-ass.

Once the ICF officers showed up at her door, Ginny and her mother Patricia knew what was going on. Another family at her high school had been blacklisted for something a few years before, something due to the fact that their father tampered with records in the ICF. I learned very quickly that you don't tamper with the ICF. That's the only difference between Ginny's world and mine: they need a facility and organization that keeps their friendly neighborhood planet Dresdid in line, whereas we aren't as near to any known planets with intelligent, albeit paranoid, life. One by one the four members of the Miles family disappeared, in alphabetical order by their first names. They knew if Criminal X hadn't been found by then Ginny would need to be prepared.

By that time, she was numb to her mother's crying. She said goodbye to Patricia and her 12-year-old brother Zane without tears. She had prepared for this day, and there was no getting around it. She followed the ICF officers without resistance to their car.

The head of the ICF, Gregorio Seidel, introduced himself to Ginny personally. Surprisingly he began by apologizing.

"Ms. Leeson, I am terribly sorry. I wish that we could be meeting under better circumstances. As you must already know, your father worked here. Yeardley was a good friend to everyone."

"Then why the hell did you kill him? Oh, I'm sorry, I meant to say why the hell did you have him killed for you?" she spat.

I waited a second to see if my Parallel (as Ginny called it) was just making a joke. There was no way she would have said those words exactly to the head of such a powerful man in her world. But her face stayed completely dead pan for too many beats. It turned out she was telling the truth. At that point, she didn't care to die. She knew she was being sent into a mission which ended the life of every person sent into prior similar missions. So she was prepared to die fighting.

And so her story continued.