You can read my short story here: The Flowerhead Year
It’s another level of head in the clouds.
You can read my short story here: The Flowerhead Year
It’s another level of head in the clouds.
I don’t journal a lot these days. Instead, there is comfort in quickly scribbled words in a tiny pocket notebook.
I’ve been using many from my Field Notes stockpiles, going through about one book per month. At the same time, I’m also using a Moleskine-styled pocket notebook with a sky blue cover that’s dedicated to school notes. I’ve been jotting down my thoughts that way.
Just quick words about what’s going on in my brain. What I observed, and the media I consumed. That sort of quick brain dump really shouldn’t replace regular journaling. But they have fewer filler words because I’m not concerned with making them coherent.
Anyway, Field Notes are good for taking quick notes while I’m around the house, watching TV, or browsing the internet. My attention span is so short these days I can do all three at once.
I’m training myself to take notes while watching a film, to get myself more actively engaged with the material.
Anything interesting I learned or thought of. I’ve been sporadically watching Dark Matter and The 100, and taking notes helps with the boring parts. Something about the 2010s television amuses me so much, all that teen cringe rushes right back. It’s tons of fun.
I took five or six pages of notes while watching Alien (1979) a few nights ago. The thoughts that run through my head when watching a horror film cast making stupid decisions? I jot those down. A quick observation about nice background music, cool set designs, and oh, that opening title sequence is beautifully designed.
An important part of my workflow is the archiving process. I always save the first page of the pocket notebook for indexing. After I finish a notebook, I writing down the contents for ease of reference later. I don’t keep track of page numbers, only the subjects.
Then, I go through the entire book, page by page, and transfer the most notable information to my digital note-taking app.
I use the Bear app (not affiliated), and have been using it for three years. It’s becoming my digital commonplace book. The digital advantage of being searchable is essential, which is why around 10% of each pocket notebook goes into Bear.
During the transferring process, I type and expand. My handwritten story starters only have a few sentences, and I write it into a full tale while typing it down. Two lines of hastily written poetry became a full-length poem in digital form. This is a method that combines analog creativity and digital usefulness. The best of both worlds.
I only write down things future me would consider interesting to find out. Which is a lot of things, as I learned from re-reading some of the old notes I took a few years back.
Field Notes are pretty good. Their paper isn’t the best quality but it’s great for general writing. Their quarterly limited edition provides good variation. Each three-pack is different, sometimes made with special printing techniques and such to keep things exciting.
I don’t own every single edition, only a few I actually like. No doubt there are crazy collectors out there spending hundreds on a tiny notebook. They are well-made products that generates enough hype to keep people coming back.
Carrying a pocket notebook isn’t as life-changing as some people describes. It’s simply fun, which is why I do it.
As I organize my notebook collection, I find out gladly that most of them are well used and filled to the brim. It made me infinitely pleased that I’m not a hoarder of new and shiny things.
I only ever collected blank notebooks as a kid. Cheap, colorful ones from the neighborhood stationery store. I never used all those. I wasn’t planning to.
Now I make it a mission to use every last one of the notebooks I purchase. When, is the question. Eventually, is the answer.
I prefer to use things, and it makes me happy to find a dusty old notebook with crinkled papers filled with words. It’s so much more interesting than a pristine, factory white one.
It’s Christmas Eve 2020. I went down a rabbit hole of fireplace videos. I don’t have a fireplace in the house but I’ve always been fascinated with ‘em.
I’ve grown to love the sound of a crackling fire. It’s not the most pleasant sound, but is mysteriously compelling. Sometimes the cracks and pops can even be startling. In that brief moment of loudness, you are brought out of the tranquility and reminded of the primal fear of fire.
I ask the $20 Echo Dot, “Alexa, play fireplace sounds,” and Alexa would wordlessly begin to sound like it’s burning. This is great for some background ambiance. For when I have no coffee shop to go to, or, more realistically, when I don’t feel like listening to the same-sounding Lo-fi hip-pop radio playlist again. The digital warmth is certainly nice. What’s nicer is the fact that it drowns out the silence in the void.
Surrounded by modern white walls of the living room, I put on Netflix and searched “fireplace”. I was delighted to find out there is a whole series of these videos. Hour-long recordings of a burning fireplace, in UHD 4K. “A real fireplace sparks and crackles, adding warmth and atmosphere to any home.”
I looked up an interview with George Ford, the creator of the fireplace trilogy. His favorite is the Classic Edition which happens to be my favorite as well. It’s suitable for all seasons unlike the Yule Log, and the Birchwood Edition takes too long to start.
It takes a while for my television to adjust to high quality, which was frustrating when I upgraded to a better quality plan just as Netflix did the price hike. Again. There is something surreal about the pixelated flames burning inside a TV screen.
The Netflix-made “Bright Edition” is a joke comparing to the original. It’s a tie-in with the 2017 film Bright, and features a graffiti-covered wall and a dumpster barrel fire. Gotta have that dystopian edginess. The fire looks like bad CGI and even changes color like a LED light stripe. The occasional fairy-thing flapping about is unnecessary but hilarious.
Comparing to Netflix, there are countless videos on YouTube. The selection is endless. Different types of fireplace, different locations. Campfire in the wilderness. Fire by the Christmas tree. Some of them have millions of views. I suppose there’s a real audience for these videos.
Give me all the warm and fuzzy feeling at the end of the year. 2020 is challenging, and 2021 doesn’t promise to be magically better.
Happy holidays if you celebrate, and happy burning.
2020 is such a difficult year (and I’m sure you’ve heard this expression a hundred times) but it doesn’t mean I don’t have fun, occasionally. Being in isolation for the majority of the year meant I consumed a bunch of good stuff. What can I say? Not productive on the writing front has led to this.
I’d like to make the Favorite Things Roundup a regular thing. Once per quarter, or whenever I feel like it.
The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix Limited Series)
Binged this show in one afternoon. It’s that good. I rarely feel strongly about movies or TV shows, and keep a handful of names when I have to answer what’s my favorite show.
I can say The Queen’s Gambit is my favorite show of this year, maybe ever. Halfway through the series, I upgraded my Netflix plan to the $12.99 version to watch it in 1080p, and that’s saying something. The sepia-tinted past deserved rose-tinted glasses, and we can all romanticize addiction and obsession if we get to see Beth Harmon slay her opponents on the chessboard.
This show is well-paced, well-written, and well-acted. A gorgeous rendition of something I never thought would be so interesting to watch.
Supergiant has done it again. Another amazing game from the indie developer. I’m not a big fan of roguelike because the idea of losing progress upon death just never appeals to me.
But Hades is a different kind. It’s more of an action RPG than a roguelike, where death is a part of the story and never wasted. The gameplay is polished to a shine, and the weapons are all so different but balanced. Every run stands a chance and feels amazing to play.
And the art style. God the art style is ever so amazing. The underworld looks glamorously Art Deco. All the gods have the best design in their millennia of iterations. Everything is beautiful to look at, and seemed gilded underneath.
“The Line” – Kalandra
The first song, “Border”, is so jaw-droppingly gorgeous. When it played on Spotify’s radio I dropped everything to pick up a pair of headphones to listen to it. The album is Kalandra’s debut, though they had put out some singles and EP before. I had never heard of the band before this album, and it made a strong impression.
It’s apparently nordic. The mood of black sands and the fjord is such a strong visual inspiration for a lot of stuff I’m currently daydreaming about.
Though Rusto dislikes children, he can tolerate the orphans running around the station market. As long as they keep to themselves, only steal from the oblivious travelers stopping at Rodan 8C for resupply and not his spacecraft parts, he let the children roam free around his stall.
They like shiny things, the orphans. They like ghost stories and the latest weary stranger arriving at the station. They gossip, a lot, like a pack of sparrow drones. They are good at gathering information that way, and trading them for shiny things. Those little rats scurry through the air ducts and between the fueling pipes.
Rusto listens to their fanciful tales while he cleans his wares, sometimes curses at them but they take everything like a joke and always come back with giggling laughs. They ask which portal generator is for what class of a ship, as if that kind of knowledge could one day allow them to fly far away from this hell hole.
Not now, kids. Not anytime soon. Rusto knows. He has been rotting on this dusty colossus in the frozen vacuum for a handful of decades. They drift in space, orbiting a decaying tourist planet that fewer and fewer come for a tropical getaway. Life is a dead end and the only good entertainment—besides the bar and Red Lights—is a good story.
“…and murders. I know they are. They store the dead bodies on their ship, and ferry them off-world. I know they do. I’ve seen it.”
The orphans chitter as Rusto is waiting for a penny-pinching customer to make a decision. Rusto sits his weight on a stool behind the display stand, as the traveler inspects each and every one of the oxygen recycler filters. Rusto is patient, and it’s not like these sapient species can live without oxygen.
Personally, Rusto takes comfort in bargaining spaceship parts. His hearing is well, so naturally, the orphan’s story flows into his ears. There is a steady monotone in dressing the gears, which look positively ancient. Whichever ship they last belong to must’ve come from galaxies away.
He pays half a mind to the orphan’s new tale like he usually does. Except for this time it catches his attention. He listens closer just because of the subject matter.
The kid dumps his pocket full of credit chips on the tarp and starts sorting them by colors. He keeps on talking.
“I did saw the bodies on that Terran ship!. They store them upright, in this hard, white material. It’s like the dead bodies are frozen! It could be cry freeze, but there’s no chamber, I tell you. No wires, no nothing. I doubt it’s even the tech we can understand. It’s like those poor bastards are still alive when the Terrans turn them into white stone!”
“Terrans?” The children look at each other in horror. “Did you just say Terrans? They are freaky, that’s what I heard. And they are here on 8C? Why are they here?”
Rusto knows the Terrans are just space merchants, nothing more to it. Same as every other ship, they are stopping at the station for resupply while unloading some of the goods they are carrying. Exchange for credits, buy more goods, sell them in another galaxy.
He has seen plenty of Terran trading ships in his lifetime. Some as large as a colony ship, gliding like a massive whale in one of those old films. Or small and agile cruisers, buzzing like flies, usually with something less than legal onboard.
Rusto sees this particular ship at the hangar. It looks nothing fancy, parking at the dim end of the lot. He never sees the dead bodies, though. The children’s tales are just tales.
Until much later in the evening, when half of the market is closing shop and the other half opening up for the nightlife—the real freakish hour of the day, when everything hangs in limbo—he spots a pair of Terrans with a handcart. The metal wheels make creaky noises as they carry the stone-encased bodies down the service path. Rolling, screeching, toward a temporary stall.
They are selling them, Rusto realizes Wirth a rare kind of chill. The Terrans truly have no respect for the dead. Even on an old station like 8C, they mourn their dead by holding a drinking ceremony in the bar and float the body wrapped in good fabrics.
Did the Terran kill those people, who look like their own kin? They freeze them in stone, preserving their likeness, and use them as decoration.
The pair of Terrans look…average. They are much smaller than Rusto himself, but most sentient species are. Terrans are slim, soft, and fragile beings. Maybe that’s why they make their dead into stone things, so they become strong in the afterlife. Rusto can rationalize their culture, but even he cannot fathom why they would sell their deceased.
Perhaps some perverse customs would be interested.
The Terran spacemen are neatly dressed in khaki work suits, faded but clean. One could never know they deal in such distasteful wares. Rusto eyes their cart as they push it across the market. Before he can think it through, a boldness takes hold of him.
“How much?” Rusto asks, stopping them in the path. He searches the eyes behind their masked faces for a sign of comprehension. They must speak the common tongue if they get so far away from home. “For one of these.”
The Terrans exchanged a surprised look.
“The statues aren’t for sale, sir.”
Sta-choo. That’s what they are calling this. Rusto looks for an equivalent in his native language and found none. It should be similar to a monument. However, these things are too small and numerous to be monuments.
Hearing the Terran speak make Rusto realize a critical error. The statues are not for sale, so they are not decorative souvenirs like he previously thought. For the first time, the children may be right in their assumption.
“So what are they for?”
Rusto asks out loud. The Terrans exchanged another look among themselves.
“We are taking them back to our home system. Our Sol is too far away and we need supplies and a bigger ship. It’s waiting for us on the lower deck of this station. We are taking the statues there.”
The sound comes from the translating device, a common accessory the Terrans wear like a wrap on their necks. Their words are stiff and mechanical. Rusto understands, though he wonders how much of their true meaning is lost in translation.
“Are you going to sell them in your home system? Why not sell them here, then you don’t need a bigger ship to carry your cargo.”
There are holes in the Terran’s narrative. Suspicious. Profit is one of the usual things that drive one to murder.
“We are not selling the statues.”
They say this with finality.
The killers feel neither guilt nor sympathy. Rusto muses, since they appear to be uninterested in hurting those not of their kind. Or are they waiting for the right prey?
They are stiff–their voices flat, but otherwise polite. A peculiar behavior, but Rusto has seen worse. But the children, no one is looking out for them and no one is going to care if they disappear one day. There are young bodies among the Terran’s cargo. Naked, and tense when they died. The children may be captured turned into a statue.
Rusto looks around. They have attracted a small crowd. Workers who got off work and on their way to bars or sleeping quarters. Plenty of witnesses here. He is safe if he exposes the Terrans right here.
“Fine. If not for profit, then why did you kill them?”
For a moment, silence. They exchanged another look, as if they can communicate with looks alone. This time, entirely confused.
“We didn’t kill anyone.”
The crowd murmurs.
The pair look like prey animals, small and innocent, wrapped in bulky suits. “How did you come to that conclusion?”
“You are hiding dead bodies inside the white stone. You have the nerve to parade it down the street. You have committed crimes, and are now escaping back to your home system.”
Rusto says, his voice raised. The spectators are his neighbors and friends who stand with him.
“I will report you to the Galatic Peacekeepers.” Like they’d do anything for him, but the foreign travelers don’t need to know. Rusto looks intimidating in size, and his bluffing never fails him. Yet the Earthlings look unbothered, just curious.
“You think there are dead bodies inside the statues?” They asked. “There are none. It’s all stone, marble, mineral on our homeworld.”
The small crowd of night dwellers gathers around the scene. All examine the cart full of statues with mildly horrified but interested stares. Rusto himself caves in. He has to prove himself right. Before he can think things through, he uses one of his forelimbs and gives the closest stone statue—what looks like a woman carrying a child—a shove. His touch light enough to be an accidental nudge. And with the crowd buzzing around him, no one notices.
The anatomical body falls, as if in slow motion, toward the ground. The marble leaves a phantom coldness on his skin. Then the spell breaks, the stone shatters to pieces.
The head rolls away to the side, half of her face gone. The legs break into pieces, but the arms are still half intact just not attached. Everyone stares, some gasp, and take a step back. There is no dead body inside. It’s all just stones.
The previously unfazed Terran let out a howl. A gutwrenching sound, the way it goes through the static speaker of the translator. Rusto winces, alarmed. Sounds like a battle cry. He tenses, preparing for a fight—but instead of a war cry, it was the sound of sorrow.
One of the Terrans kneels, attempting to pick up the broken pieces. They are trying to put them back together like a child with building blocks. It’s all broken now. The sharp edges of the stone cut through their gloves in the frenzy. No one can see their face behind the mask, but Rusto imagines it’s a look of desperation.
What is broken cannot be mended. The other Terran simply stands leaning against the cart, quiet.
Slowly the kneeling one looks up at Rusto. “Are you happy/ satisfied now?” The translator glitches as it struggles to convert strong emotions. “For five years we have searched far and wide for our artifact/belongings. The sculptures are a part of our history/past that is lost to the stars. We are locating/gathering them are returning them to our home.”
“I…” Rusto begins, but the Terran stands up and presses a bleeding hand to the trader’s chest.
“They are not trophies/decorations, though they used to be, a long time ago. Now they belong to our history/past that we don’t want to forget. Why did you destroy it? The sculpture is older than you, older than this space station. It was carved by hand out of a rock, long before we human/Terrans could leave our home, long before any of us was born.”
As Rusto understands it, he has done a horrible thing.
“You are not killers.”
“No. We are artists, historians, and travelers. We are reclaiming the history of our species.”
“You Terrans make wars, just like the rest of us.”
“Yes. Some of the statues are made from war. See, this one depicts a warrior with his weapon. We do not select which part of the history we tell,” the Terran paused, looking out the greasy window panel of the station, toward the stars beyond. “At least, not anymore.”
Rusto thinks he can scrap together some credits to compensate for the damage. He contemplates, though he doesn’t say anything.
The space station orphans sneak between the adults’ legs, picking up the tiniest pieces of stone, examining them under the white light.
“Well,” they say, lost for words, as is Rusto.
The Terran has stopped weeping, and together they sweep the pieces into a garbage bag and carry it like a hefty bag of coins. Neither of them speaks again, before turning away and continuing to push the cart toward their destination.
They are going home. Rusto follows their diminishing shadows with his gaze. With their long lost treasure, now found.
They are going home. After all, that’s all that tired travelers could ever dream of.
On the last day of high school, I got up earlier than usual. In the shower, I washed my long hair with lavender soap, and saw a few flower petals getting stuck at the drainage. They were pale white rose petals, almost indistinguishable amount the shampoo bubbles that gathered there. They twisted and crumpled, yellowing into an ivory white, like a few pieces of tissue paper.
I ran my fingers through my hair. Brunette, or so I hoped. The tips of some strands were turning white and felling off. I pulled slightly and a handful of hair fell right off. As I washed out the soap, a sinking feeling grew in my heart. I watched with mild horror as more and more rose petals fell at my feet.
My suspicion was true. As I wiped the fog off the mirror, dripping water from my still human skin, I looked into my reflection and found something other than myself. A few rogue flower buds were sprouting amongst my hair.
Not yet blooming but they were about to. Not yet a bouquet, but they were about to become as one. A bouquet of roses will replace my hair and my face. They are growing out of my scalp as if it was fertile soil, and bloom for all four seasons for the rest of the year. They would bloom forever—for a year. I would no longer have a face—for a year, which felt like forever.
I recognized this. I was becoming a Flowerhead.
It was not the news I enjoy waking up to. But the incident in the shower wasn’t the first sign of my transformation. It started with loose petals shaking out of my hair as I brush it into a ponytail for school, or the small, dead flower buds on my pillowcase. It started with classmates commenting on the scent in an attempt at small talks: “I like your shampoo, smell like roses”.
It was a strange sensation, having flowers growing from my skin. Nothing painful—surprisingly but thankfully. It was simply out of the blue. A bit itchy, a bit sore. And on the day of my graduation no less. I would be starting college as a Flowerhead.
Never imagined I would be the one who got inflicted. The Flowerhead Syndrome was random. I heard all about it on the news, but never paid two minds about it. Guess I never thought it’s something that would happen to me. The Flowerhead Syndrome—its scientific name I forgot. There are a few nonsensical Latin words in there. The name has a calm bizarreness to it.
That’s what it was, bizarre. No one knew the cause or the cure. It seized its victim for a year, and there it was gone. People have all sorts of theories. Maybe some kind of alien pollen, or a government brainwashing regime. The stories were countless. Mine? I agree with the aliens.
I was only slightly upset, as I downed the black robe and cap and got my diploma. People stared at my floral head, but no one commented anything.
It was illegal to discriminate, and more and more people are becoming Flowerheads nowadays. Life wasn’t going to get harder.
In the next three days, I went to my part-time job at the yogurt shop as normal. The flowers on my head were multiplying like an aesthetically pleasing cancer. I could still eat food, thank God, and I stuffed my face with frozen treats when the manager wasn’t looking. I could see perfectly fine, even as my eyes were covered by the vegetation. This syndrome must be either alien or magic, there can be no scientific explanation. Or both, or all of it.
The sixth day was when Mom noticed my new condition. She came out of her studio. Dried paint on her hands and apron as I was in the kitchen pouring myself a bowl of cereal.
“What’s wrong with your face?“ She asked, squinting her eyes. She wasn’t wearing her glasses.
“Oh, I’ve got the Flowerhead.”
I only had one chance to announce it, and I tried pulling it off casually. I said it as if I said I had a cold. If only the flu made you look like a mutated creature and last an entire year.
“I see,” she said. Her hand was reaching for my scalp, as if I was back to six years old and she liked to run her hand through my hair. “Are you still going to university?”
Back to this again. We had enough discussion about this. She didn’t like me going to the other end of the system to attend school, so this would have been a perfect excuse to keep me in the nest. I had my mind made up months ago.
“Yeah, why not?”
“It’s too far away. I always said you should go to a college on this world. It’s just more convenient, and you can come home for the weekend.”
Like she’d even notice when I was gone.
I might have to run away from home if it came to that, I thought idly. Imagine that, a runaway teenager at eighteen, who stuck out as the most floral person everywhere I went.
“Fine, fine,” I didn’t want to start this again. The subject change was abrupt. “What do you think of my flowers?”
“White rose,” she observed it from different angles, like my head was a still life piece. “Just like the community garden.”
It made me think. The greenery project in front of our apartment had dozens of flora from our home planet. The flowers bloomed in a miniature ecosystem behind glass domes. I wonder if the pollen theory had any true. I certainly didn’t inhale anything before I became…this.
“What are you going to do?” She crinkled her nose. My smell was apparently too strong for her air filtration implant in her delicate nose. Or that she wouldn’t;t want to catch what I had. Even though everyone knew it wasn’t contagious. Old fashioned like her still had a sort of phobia. They lived through plagues and viral outbreaks, after all. I understood.
“I don’t know. Keep living as normal I guess.”
“But its’ not normal. It’s far from normal. You’ve flowers for a head, for God’s sake! Now you look like one of those freaks on the news. What would the neighbors think? Are you going to see a doctor? I can find you a doctor, a proper one—“
There it was. The kind of outburst I was expecting. Mom always acted calm and collected because if she spoke all her thoughts out loud, they would flood with venom. She wouldn’t;t do that to me. She was the only one in the world who truly loved me. No, she wouldn’t/ she was one of the only few people this side of the galaxy who gave a fuck if I lived or died—but she could still scold like a boarding school nun.
That’s fine with me. She inhaled sharply, and turned to the cabinet above the oven to get self-medicated. She popped two pills and chewed on them like hard candies. I cringed. That was bitter. Trust me, I knew.
“And why white roses, of all the beautiful flowers of the great flora kingdom? There are so many. Thousands, millions. Why something so…basic.”
I had no smart comebacks. This fact bothered me as well. It didn’t reflect my individuality, or whatever Flowerheads on the online forums believed their flowers represented. White roses just weren’t colorful or exotic enough, and I hated that I was stuck with it for a year—unless some scientist somewhere found a cure within that time frame, which was highly doubtful.
There was much unknown about the Flowerhead disease, and yet most people didn’t care. We as a society had evolved to stop demanding answers from the universe. They simply accepted it as a part of life, like there wasn’t a walking vegetation next to them on the pedestrian crossing. Just indifferent, because if they obsess over it, the sheer mysterious in the world would blow their mind.
On the tenth day was when I have decided to start writing things down. Monumental changes were happening to me, and I would like to remember it for later. I seemed to change shape by the hour. There was no telling how many roses were on my head—or in my head, I couldn’t find a proper term—a few dozen, a few hundred? The flowers were everywhere. My hearing got bad because they were in my ear. They covered my eyes and my entire face, so eating was impossible. Somehow I still lived. The flowers had their photosynthesis, and I sense things so I could still see.
I walked around smelling like a kid who just got her hands on her mother’s perfume. I smelled like that all the time now. It made me want to avoid elevators so strangers wouldn’t look at me with disgust. It could have been worse.
I could’ve smelled like literal trash. I could. The thought comforted me so. A more romantic person than me could find a pleasant angle to this mutation. Wax poetic about the loss of self, of organic matters, and their contradictions. I could try. I promised myself I would never start self-hating no matter what. I could’ve been a lot worse.
Like my cross-system move to New Victoria, a city-state on Talos 2R. The flight was alright, for that was my first interstellar trip alone. I would never miss the in-flight menu. My fear of small, enclosed spaces got amplified. It felt like an eight-hour elevator ride.
When I arrived at the decent-sized college town I went to pick up my two suitcases. They weren’t there. I realized with a sinking feeling that the company lost my things. I’d just have to deal with it.
So, new in town with nothing but some allowance money, I headed toward the University of New Victoria. At least I wouldn’t be homeless after checking into the college dormitory.
A big city made me feel so much better.
There was a good amount of Flowerheads walking about, like it was the most normal thing. They acted like actual people, because they were. No one even bat an eye at them—I mean, us. I got compliments even. On the subway about my flowers. That never happened before. The elderly woman with a paper bag of grocery asked politely for a closer sniff. I didn’t see why not. I
t felt a bit weird, like someone asked to touch my arm. I stopped washing my head but still kept bathing every day. I watered my plants once I entered the bathtub. The flowers were blooming under the New Victoria suns, and they bloomed into the long, cold nights. Though on scorching hot summer days the buds drooped. That day my flowers looked below average, but not exactly sad looking.
Well, the old lady said I reminded her of her old garden back on the planet Earth. Our homeworld, where I had only heard stories about. I didn’t realize she was that old. An early generation settler. She gave me a fresh carrot as a parting gift when she left at Adela Ave. I never saw her again. She was a passing stranger, kind to me, and made me feel a bit less alone in this new town.
No matter how much I thought otherwise, I was still a perfectly average human. I still craved social connection even when I thought I was fine being vegetation. Growing up I tried so hard to isolate myself until my mutation finally gave me the reason to. But I didn’t have to, I didn’t have to starve myself off of human contact altogether. I was no plant. I could still find a place to fit in.
And what’s better than a city like New Victoria? It’s not as suffocating as a metropolis, but it’s still large enough to contain people of all walks of life and gave them enough space to grow—enough to not want to kill each other. I liked it. I didn’t care what I study at UNV as long as I got to stay.
It was a good Thursday night when I first stepped foot into the Salon. It was after a stressful study hall session, which lasted long after the second moon had climbed over the first one. The air smelled artificial, or at least it would’ve if I could still smell anything other than my own rose blossom. The thing about human-settled planets was that they all smelled like filtered oxygen. It was a pleasant night regardless.
The Salon opened all day and all night. It occupied a corner of the street crossing on my way back to the dormitory. I reeked of floral, but so did the Salon. A sort of stomach-turning monstrosity that was a mixture of too many flowers. Just looking at the signpost I could already tell what sort of establishment it was—a place for Flowerheads.
It was a hair salon, that much was obvious. It had one of those spinning striped post things. I didn’t know why, must’ve been a popular decoration from the homeworld.
This salon didn’t cut hair. They trimmed the flowers.
For a small, reasonable fee. Retro-styled ad posters covered the window display, showing all the sorts of bush they could trim our head into. I entered, entirely too intrigued to ignore this little shop.
“I’ll just get the basic Victorian pruning package,” I told the front desk, a yawning boy with hair made of drooping Brugmansia. He looked to be in the middle of the transformation. The flowers had yet to take over his face. I made sure to pronounce the full name of the packaged deal so he wouldn’t get it confused.
“First-timer, huh?” He glanced at my head. “I can get the gardener. Just wait over there for a sec.”
I went to sit at the one-legged bar stool. Realizing my overgrown head probably egged me as an inexperienced Flowerhead. Actually that night was the first time I realized the flowers could be styled and organized. So much so it became a fashion choice, not an involuntary disease I contracted. The signs were obvious.
In New Victoria, everyone looked some form of aesthetically pleasing, even when they—we—looked like literal aliens.
In the next months, my obsession with the Salon made time flew by. I was eagerly waiting for my plants to grow out so I can try the newest style of trimming. Some days I had only green bushes with sharp thorns, some days I have a head full of the proudest flowers. The gardeners were magnificent. They could make a Flowerhead look like a human with dyed green hair, or make them stand out with an old English royal garden on their head. As the gardening scissors snipped away my growth, the quiet sound drowned out all the other ambiance in the world. I could relax after a day of school. I could grow attached to this.
Except that this kind of entertainment would get stale after nine months. I was back to my old self. I was dragging my feet to find the next thing that holds my interest. Human or Flowerhead, I was always looking for excitement without trying to step out of my comfort zone.
It’s sad, really. Becoming a Flowerhead was the most exciting thing that ever happened to me. Now I only counted until the one-year time limit was up. I couldn’t wait to turn back into a human again. I kept a calendar over my bed, counting down the days. It all went downhill after that.
The calendar becomes the only thing I could think of every day. Good memories of being a Flowerhead gets replaced by the anxiety. I was born human, I could never get used to being something else.
Till then, I will be as patiently as I could, waiting for the day I become human again. For the day I could leave this behind, just a bizarre chapter of my life.
Ever since March, there was a feeling in my bone that this year would be different. And different became an understatement. The global pandemic and all the millions of things happening at once. Somehow all these events pointed me to November. Like something big is about to happen. As someone living in the US, it’s the election season.
Currently, I’m under a lot of stress from work and school, but I’m starting to find joy in a world seemingly mad.
You must’ve heard it from a lot of people, but go vote. Other people say it better than me, there are lists about how and why you should vote. Not many people read this blog anyway. No matter how much the future looks bleak, it’s your chance to change it.
Snapshot of my life
Currently reading: Slouching Toward Bethlehem, by Joan Didion
Currently watching: The Boys on Amazon Prime
Currently playing: Overwatch (it’s just so much fun)
Currently drinking: badly homemade milk tea
Currently listening: Caravan Palace
Current dream plan: bonfire s’more at the beach
Actual Plan: design a poster for school
So, the world is in the middle of a pandemic. It feels like a surreal state we are currently in. I’m writing this post to prove I’m still alive, ha.
It’s difficult times, and I’m quarantined in California for a few months now. Tried not to leave the house as much as possible, but the reality wasn’t as ideal.
In May 2020, I had a 3 A.M. trip to the ER and got diagnosed with something serious, but at least it wasn’t coronavirus-related. In June, I had a major surgery and spent the majority of the summer recovering. Now I have a clean bill of health, and got the result back that it wasn’t cancer. All is good now.
I’m too young to die. So many things I have yet to do. Anyway, it feels amazing that I’m still alive–even though we are living in uncertain times. I have decided to stop looking forward to the better future that may or may not come, and learn to appreciate today.
Whatever I’m doing, whether it’s writing, reading, playing too much video games, and watching Netflix, I’m going to enjoy it. Because life is supposed to be enjoyable, and I’ll never again beat myself up for feeling guilty of enjoying it.
My current WIP, Project CAGE (title pending), is going well all things considered. Not sure it will hit the shelf this winter, since I’m only halfway through the novel and I don’t want to rush it. But I will be spending the rest of summer working on it. I’ll try not to get distracted by flashy new projects. Cage the Magician is one year old now, and it has changed so much. I need to finish the first draft no matter what it looks like.
People on the internet joked that we are living in the darkest timeline. I’m sure there are darker ones than this. No matter what I put my characters through, I will always guarantee them a happy ending. Or at least a bittersweet one. Never a tragedy, because I don’t want to live in a tragedy.
This is my selfishness as a writer and worldbuilder. Now I want to live long enough to share the worlds in my head–with you.
August 1, 2020
Attention all operatives, the Board have decided on the recent rise in violence against human in the Xamion system. Several thousand human residents across the planets had been abducted or murdered due to racism violence. The Watcher Council has calculated a spike in the possibility of further escalation. As a response, we will be exporting Earth entertainment featuring dinosaurs to the Xamion system, which includes motion media as well as fictional prose.
The dominant species of the system, the Bildrus, have an extensive amount of historical knowledge about other galaxies, due to their mandatory education system. They are knowledgable about many systems except for the Milky Way because it’s a great distance away.
By injecting dinosaur media into the Xamion pop culture, we are expecting an increase in the fear of these prehistorical creatures. By contrast, if humans, small and hairless, survive and prevail against these fearsome beasts, the Xamion public would fearfully respect humankind as a result.
The operation is codenamed “Jurassic Park”. It should be noted that the Jurassic Park films are on top of the list.
The decision is made to protect the local human. It is not for the amusement of the Board. All operatives assigned to Operation Jurassic Park should receive their mission updates shortly.
End of announcement.
Julian is unimpressed with his new assignment. He is always unimpressed with everything. His colleagues come to CICADA for some kind of adventure, or the satisfaction of saving the world. To Julian, it’s just a job that pays well.
To be brief, his boss has him working the desk job in the cubicles. It’s perfectly safe, comparing to other professions in the same agency, and just what he wants.
He is assigned to Operation Jurassic Park, a brand new project born from the higher-ups. His assignment includes scrapping the internet from bad dinosaurs movies, pirating them (or legally acquiring them, even though he does not have enough funds to work with) and uploading them to the cloud drive.
Everyone on his floor is assigned to the same project, but different time periods. A hundred bad dinosaurs movies are playing at the same time, across all monitors. They have to screen the films to make sure they are appropriate for distribution.
On coffee break, he asks his co-worker.
“Who would want to watch these many B movies?”
It’s unfortunate that the first half of the 22nd century—the time period Julian is in charge of—does not produce enough good movies.
Samuel dreams of an infinite rollercoaster when he falls asleep at the cubicle desk. A beep on his computer wakes him up.
“Alert: Message from Watcher Tain.” The automated voice of the system AI says.
Samuel unwillingly opens the email. Tain is a pain in his ass.
“Hey Samuel. The operation is going smooth on my end. The films are distributed throughout Xamion. Initial feedback is quite positive. Raptor Ranch is better received than the Jurassic Park films, for some reason.
That’s not the main thing I need to talk about. Cinema is good and all but only the Xamion II and IV residents have popular movie-going habits. The other planets simply do not have cinemas or its equivalents.
We need a cyberspace website. Thanks.”
Samuel groans into his hand. You need a website, everybody needs a website.
“This is what sucks about middle management.” He mutters to himself, and turns to write an email to his goons. He mumbles while he types. “We need a website…to host all the dinosaurs movies…and novels…make the e-reader…user-friendly.”
He takes a walk around the office floor. His office building is just another boring skyscraper in downtown. With a few layers of shell corporation names, the agency’s office location is hiding in plain sight.
A thought strikes him, while looking out the window at the cityscape. Once it’s here, it hits him hard.
He rushes back to his desk and sends the follow-up email to the group.
“We do not want any erotica. I repeat, we DO NOT want to distribute any inappropriate material to Xamion.“
Then comes a chorus of “yes”, “understood”, and “sure, boss”.
A goon has the audacity to reply, “we do not?”
It’s hard work micromanage multiple realities and galaxies. Samuel cannot even manage his team of office workers without having massive headaches, one worse than the previous one.
Call her a skeptic but Lucia really cannot see how this is working.
How do you market dinosaurs to a bunch of aliens who have no definition of these creatures? How do you insert them into popular culture, and somehow arrive at a result that benefits humanity?
Disaster film might evoke sympathy inside the xeno, therefore achieve the goal. But no, it has to be dinosaurs. Not even humans want to see these shitty movies.
When she first applied for the job here at CICADA, she had grand ideas, too. Something about protecting humanity spoke to her. She truly thought she could do some good.
That’s before she discovered the leadership is a bunch of lunatics.
Operation Jurassic Park is the last straw. The Board has officially lost their collective minds.
She angrily drafts a two-week notice letter.
Attention all operatives. Operation Jurassic Park will conclude later this week. Except for the website maintenance crew, all non-essential personal will be reassigned to new or ongoing projects.
The operation is a success albeit with setbacks along the way. The Xamion residents do not have the same emotional range as humans, so it is impossible for them to feel sympathetic. Their version of fear and awe was also different, according to recent analytic reports.
Instead of respecting humanity for besting the dinosaurs, so they treat humans better, the xeno species arrived at a different conclusion The result was unexpected.
The widespread distribution of dinosaurs media had gain immense popularity among most settlements. The website has crashed twice due to the enormous amount of visitors. Tickets are sold out in the cinema (or the local equivalents). The news was spread through word-of-mouth, since the marketing team was working less than efficient.
The settlers hailed humans as geniuses, intelligent and creative for producing the media. Humanity in the Xamion system has gained a new reputation. Humanity in the system are well respected because of Operation Jurassic Park. Violence against humans has dropped 140% percent during the last month.
Some operatives are under the wrong impression, that this operation would not achieve the intended result. They are wrong.
The mission is a success.
The last time Ruso was betrayed by his handler was also his first. He wasn’t prepared for it. No one really would. Ten years in the business made him a professional, but not professional enough. Old-fashioned backstabbing was still painful.
Crawling back to his safe house in a bullet-ridden aerocar that no longer flew, he swore it would never happen again.
At least the medicine cabinet was well-stocked. The liquor shelf? Less so. For two moons, Ruso holed up in the dingy apartment in the slum. A perfect place to let his wounds heal while drowning in self-pity. A perfect time to consider early retirement from the job—one didn’t involve in his unnatural death, hopefully.
He was laying low, but it wasn’t easy. Lowdwellers talked, a lot. He could not take a walk on the street without the bounty hunters from a galaxy away hearing about. He had always been an outsider, even among his own people. Not a lot of Ghrusculs became assassins. Too cumbersome. Ruso was a small runt abandoned at birth and raised by the streets. Unwelcomed at most places he used to call home.
He wanted revenge. His handler was all fake smiles and hidden clauses. He hung Ruso out to dry, calling it a “vacation” and sent another asset to do the job. It went south, and he made Ruso take the fall. The number was half a million credits for his head, the last he heard of it.
He woke up sick. The medicine cabinet was empty. He considered a venture outside for some pain injections. Then, as if on cue, the telephone rang.
He wondered if it was telemarketing, just for the sheer irony. The phone was an old fashioned landline, one that not even the trash recycler wanted. It startled him when it worked, and was shrieking at such obnoxious volume, too.
“Hey, are you open for business?” The voice sounded young and lightly accented. Some dumb kid.
“Wrong number,” Ruso was about to hang up.
“No—wait, wait!” The voice called. Ruso stayed on, because he was getting used to the headache and bored. “Check your front door. Janajati, 200mg.”
Ruso hung up. He grabbed the rail pistol from under the couch and checked the front door through the slit. No one was outside his door. He checked the only window, next to the door and in the kitchen. Nothing stood up, just the bustling stackable dirty streets. He went to open the door. The hall was empty. A small package in yellow wrapping was sitting on the ground.
He locked the door and returned. The line rang again.
Ruso picked up.
“You kill people for a living, right?” Same kid, same trick trying to sound older than his age. “My employer wants someone dead.”
“I’m not in the business,” Ruso said tensely. He turned the package over. It has a smiley face sticker from Cha’s Pharmacy on the back. “Who am I talking to?”
“People call me ‘Green’,” the caller winced. His voice wavered briefly, perhaps was the bad connection. “Yeah…Look, man, I can’t do this mysterious benefactor thing. Woll’uyen…Tash-kor? I butchered that, didn’t I? The name’s on the file, along with his pic. Dead by Thursdays, that’s…let’s see, in five days.”
Along with the injector pack was a crumbled up, hand-written note. Ruso assumed it was the file. A printed photo of an Issiosiax in a three-piece suit.
“It’s ‘’Green’,” the caller corrected him. “Dumb, I know.”
“Green. So you’re my new handler? You’re human. A human working for the Ranorks?”
“What? No, no,” Green said. “This is private interest. Half a million points’ already in your account. The other half after he makes the news. Good?”
“Who do you work for and how did you find me?”
Already, Ruso felt his resolve weakened. He couldn’t hide in this shithole forever. He had some savings from past jobs, but not enough to last. He needed this. He knew.
“My employer has their ways, I suppose,” Green was pulling away from the microphone. “Sorry, give me a sec.”
There were noises coming from Green’s side of the line. People talking. Ruso pressed the phone to his largest ear, straining to hear the conversation. Nothing much he could hear, but Green’s voice was still coming through.
“Coming, coming!” Green’s voice came from far away. “Yeah, sure, I’ll buy coffee. Latte? Two lattes half sugar, and a matcha green tea, got it.” He came back. “Sorry about that. The comm device in the package, clip it to your ear so you don’t have to lug this antique everywhere. So, we good?”
Retirement could wait, said every hitman ever.
Thus begin a new career with this strange human handler. Russo was making good money so he didn’t complain. Actually, there was no much to complain about. The jobs were never too simple or challenging. It kept him on his feet. In three months, he had infiltrated a galactic corporation’s regional office, poisoned a tourist trying out local street food, and got rid of a drug dealer who was getting ahead of himself. Not big-time contracts, but not small either.
Green’s voice was there to guide him, as annoying as that sounded. He seemed to know Ruso’s every move, and made odd comments now and then through the comm piece. Yet he also knew when to shut up and let Ruso do the work.
Risk had gotten used to his presence. One thing was clear. Humans were scary conversationists. They could spend hours talking about nothing.
He was sitting in a dingy diner that served “American-styled” food. Green recommended this place, said their food printer was high-quality import so it was almost the real deal.
The Contact was sitting across from him. In the private space of the red plastic booth, they discussed the target.
“I heard you’re the most feared assassin in this part of the galaxy,” the man said, blowing smoke after inhaling from a pipe-like device. “Is it true?”
Ruso was not particularly interested in the man’s information. He trusted Green would find out about everything he needed.
“I wonder if an apple pie still counts as an apple.” In the earpiece, Green was on one of his usual rants.
“Sure,” Ruso said. “If you say so.”
“Be glad your boss paid me enough to talk. Here, the guard schedule,” the Contact pushed a little chip toward Ruso. “The warlord usually wine-and-dines in the hot spring area before moonfall.”
“Back on Earth, we’ve got a saying,” Green pauses for dramatic effect. “An apple a day, keep the doctors away.”
Ruso forked his slice of synthetic apple pie.
“That sounds like an expensive lifestyle,” he said, chewing on the syrupy part.
His Contact did not have the appetite, nor did he noticed the other conversation going on, parallel to his own.
“The area is open and has plenty of roofspaces nearby,” he looked anxious, with his voice lowered even though there were few other costumers nearby.
“You’re also very well paid, if I may add.
It’s ancient wisdom,” Green said. “Hey, it’s not just in Commonspeak. It rhymes in English, too. Also Chinese. A lot of humans grow up hearing this phrase.”
“Do I look like a ninja to you?” Ruso huffed.
“Ninja is Japanese, not Chinese. You really should read more about human history. Fascinating stuff.”
“Not exactly,” the Contact said, looking away to check their surroundings the tenth time since they sat down.
“We’re done here,” Ruso said, standing up. He picked up the empty plate and handed it to the cleaning bot.
“Hey there, excuse me.” On his way out, he asked the waitress. “Do you know of a fresh produce market nearby?”
“Yes!” Green yelled, victorious, a little too loud in his ear. His voice synced with the waitress nodding. “I know I can convert you. You will see the benefit of the Earthling way!”
Ruso cleared his throat. He did not grin. He knew the area like the back of his hand.
Ruso would never become a stealth guy, not in a million years. His approach to disposing of the target was straight forward. He first takes out the waiter on a smoke break. He could not disguise as him—the uniform was too small—so he took the key card. He climbed through the outer wall of the hot spring resort, walked across to the other end of the private property, and entered the building through the roof access door.
The guards were simple. Their footsteps sounded like thunders, thanks to his great hearing. So they were easy to avoid. Since getting Green as his handler, Ruso no longer had to worry about the surveillance cameras. The human took care of them on his end.
Once inside, he took an elevator to the ground floor. The halls were empty, except for expensive vases and revolutionary-styled paintings.
He noticed the Ranork family emblem. Instantly recognizable, too. He did not comment on it. He was always silent during missions.
He strode toward the outdoor spring. This pool of pinkish water was a rare luxury in the entire Ishtri system. Someone like Tezux Ranork who dealt in shady businesses could surely afford it. Ruso knew him well.
Revenge was right under his nose, so Ruso admitted he might have gone overboard. Shot all the guards and then seven bullets into Ranork’s head. By the end, there wasn’t much left to shoot at.
“Woah,” Green spoke in the comm, for the first time since Ruso entered the resort. “Let’s not meet in real life. Now get the hell out of there.”
Later that night, near the morning, Ruso ate his apple pie at a different dinner. It tasted different, though he could not tell which was more authentic.
Green ranted away in the earpiece.
“…not that it wasn’t a mission accomplished. I’m glad Target’s done, and all, but—it’s supposed to look like an accidental drowning!” Green paused to catch a breath. “Now look at all the paperwork I have to do. How am I gonna explain now? Target shot all his guards while naked in the pool and then accidentally drowned?”
“Those gills-men drowning? You are bad at jokes,” Ruso grunted. “I’m sure you can make it work.”
“Fine, fine.” The keyboard cluttered away on Green’s end. “Ugh, my boss is gonna kill me.”
“You sent me to kill my former handler. Anything you want to clue me in?”
“My employer wants him dead. I’m just the middleman…” Green hushed his voice. “A middleman who can pick which asset does the job, and I thought…you might appreciate this.”
Appreciate killing the man who stabbed him in the back? Ruso certainly did.
“Thank you,” Ruso said. He had been considered saying this all night. It seemed like the perfect opportunity. “There is something I need to ask you, face to face.
“What? Why? This channel is totally secure, you can ask anything here.”
“If you say so,” Ruso paused briefly. “Who am I working for? Who is your employer?”
“Look,” Green exhaled noisily. “I’m just the intern here. It’s a giant organization. One beyond the imagination of either of us. We are cogs, so let’s do what cogs do best.”
“Work, get paid, and shut up about it?”
“Exactly,” Green said. “Simple.”
So it was. Ruso was a simple man. The first time he was betrayed by his handler was also his last.
This one is not so bad.