Fiction: Avatar Remaindered, 3

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3: Still the First Day


Sard loitered just inside the natural rock arch entry to Crystal Cave, disgruntled at having to hide. He fiddled with his and Srese’s torches, for when they used to come here to their cubby, stored side-by-side on the shelf just inside the cave.

And I still haven’t been told anything. He felt jittery. But, his arch-enemies Phin and Youk would be weeding in the vegetable gardens in the Simmonds-Everard quarter, ha-ha, furious that Sard wasn’t there to do it for them. Tiny iota of satisfaction. No idea where Srese is.

He flicked his torch on off, on off, then directed the beam at the different cave features. Gave himself a frisson of fear. Is that a minion behind the crystal faun? He had to know when to start running, didn’t he? A joke he used to play on Srese when she’d irritated him beyond words.

He resumed his watch from the arch. Just in time, because there was Ghulia with huge pack on her back rounding the Gaudi-wall. The only, real, little-pieces-of-glass-and-stone mosaic in the habitat. Every other wall always covered with holos or video representations or a combination.

“You came through the kitchen garden?” Sard said. The garden in the curve of the aforesaid Gaudi-wall. Greg’s personal handiwork. No one else allowed. Greg’s basil, chili, garlic. Greg’s cinnamon tree in a tub. Greg’s cola tree in the other tub.

“I’ve got a pass,” Ghulia said. She appeared to be serious. He studied her face for further clues. He wasn’t Srese who knew the meaning of five thousand facial expressions. “Carry the pack?” he offered.

“Later,” she mouthed.

“I’ve got a thousand questions,” Sard said.

She pushed by him making a zip-your-lips sign. Beckoned him further into Crystal Cave, signing for him to take his torch. She took Srese’s. She unfolded a silk-paper map. Very softly, so he could barely hear her, she said, “These crossed squares in circles represent Gammy’s sensors. They in turn represent him keeping tabs on his avatars. Go ahead, have good look.”

Even behind the frozen waterfall, in the amber glow where he and Srese used to have a cubby, there were sensors. And also everywhere he had just shone his torch at.

Ghulia pressed two fingers on his lips. She smirked like she knew his fears exactly.

He frowned like thunder but pressed his lips together.

“Safe to let go?” Ghulia breathed. After he nodded and she dropped her hand she turned and started along the walk-path. Clock-wise.

He studied her making sure her clothes or the pack did not brush by the walls or the cave-furniture, stalagmites and things, and mirrored her demeanor as best he could, though he doubted that the very walls were alive. Duh stupid, he thought on the next breath. It’s all about noise. Clothes brushing along the wall. Feet scuffing.

Ghulia stopped midway a blank stretch of stone-kreet and crowded him close to the wall with her. To whisper in his ear again. “Picture the map.”

“Why not look?”

She pinched his ear.

He sneered. He wasn’t a child anymore. She twisted it.

“Ow!” he said soundlessly. She twisted harder with her face on fierce. He pulled away but subsided. She might gut him before telling him the important bits. He nodded against her hand. I’ve got the map. So what?

She stepped forward and was gone.

He almost dropped his torch. There’s a holo in this bit of blank wall? His pride fell to his knees. He stepped forward. Ouch! He managed to not cry out as he clapped his hand to his nose. Hit the wall, of course. Not enough instructions. He stepped sideways and forward. Made it through.

Ghulia swung Srese’s torch, its wide-beam setting, to show him the space they were in. “No sensors here. Look at this wall, Sard.” She was letting bygones be bygones. Surely that should’ve been him offering that particular olive branch? He hated being pre-empted.

The cave they were in was huge but seemed to be partitioned off. A natural sand-colored wall rose perpendicularly to meet with the ceiling while the actual rock ceiling continued beyond. The partitioning wall meant they were in a huge half-egg-shaped space. Ghulia pointed back the way they came. “Our Crystal Cave is through there, its contours made to look natural with stone-kreet. Now look down here.”

He tracked her torch beam to the path they stood on. “Perambulating? The same as through there?”

“And look up here.”

At a height along the path’s boundary-wall that he could reach with his up-stretched hand, were holes of two sizes a couple of paces apart all the way around, he proved to himself with the swing of his own torch. “The larger ones to hold sensors, the smaller ones for cladding and wiring fasteners?”

Ghulia nodded. “In this habitat, the entrance to Two Forty is directly opposite the holo to our habitat, equal in distance left or right along the perambulating path. Remember that.”

“Right.” He forgot it as soon as he played his torch beam over the central space. “What are these pedestals in the middle, like mesas rising above the cloudy dust?”

“A very good likeness.” She chose anti-clockwise along the new stroll path. “Where the cave-furniture stands when this habitat is in use.”

He recalled how in their tender youth he and Srese had tried to knock over the crystal faun in Crystal Cave without succeeding. “I’m hardly going to believe that.” The mystery making, like the dust, was getting up his nose.

“Look here.” She pointed with her beam at a street-sign pointing into a dark tunnel.

Two Forty. “A radial? My apologies. Perhaps we are standing in a disused habitat.” Ha, that was good. How he made his apologies sound disbelieving by the addition of that scornful perhaps.

His erstwhile care-mother was in the ignoring mood apparently. “We’ll stop here, take a break,” she said.

“Great. A picnic in the dark.” He orchestrated her moves with the light of his torch.

She took off the pack. Got out sandwiches and a bottle of cola water. Greg’s special recipe that would be. “Only the ground to sit on, I’m afraid. Think. If this is Two Forty, where can you expect the rest of the complex?”

Incredible how she bulldogged him. Sard chewed. Drank. Recovered his cool. The input of brain food, probably. He marshaled home base in his mind. He had nothing better to do this minute. “The CAVES, aka the performance complex, are a left and a left.”

Was that an expression of regret that passed over her face? Instantly smoothed. She reached over and switched off his torch. “In this habitat the performance complex is at the end of Wingham,” she said.

“Why?” It slipped out before he could think of a superior expression.

“Dependent on natural features.”

“We’ve got our mulbry plantations at the end of our Wingham. I suppose it’s useless to ask what natural features?” he said.

Her silence was the answer to that little ploy. “Is that where we’re going?”

“Where you are going to lead me.”

“Right. Okay to use my …?”

“Torch? If you must.”

“… augmented sense of direction?” He felt his face redden. Good thing it was dark. Some would say that this was what he was made for.

He strode into Two Forty. Swung his torch to light up the mouths of Second Circle, left and right. He ignored the lanes. The entries to First Circle on both sides of Two Forty were exactly where he expected them to be, complete with appropriate street signs.

Radials always ended in Central Plaza. Here too. This market place was twice the width of the Circles, the same as the one at home. Though it still had its flagged-look stone-kreet paving there was no evidence remaining of any stalls. At home the front walls of apartments facing the Plaza were of carved mulbry wood. These had no front walls.

He led past the mouths of Two Ten, Simmonds, One Fifty and One Twenty and swung left into Wingham.

“Very good,” Ghulia said.

He shook his torch. It seemed to give out less light.

Ghulia stepped past him to take the lead. “We go left here, then right and right. There’ll be an airlock with no lens installed.”

Sard stopped at the shutters. “There’s a sound, but it can’t be the ocean.”

“Why not?” Ghulia said.

“Just a feeling.” He shrugged. If he verbalized it, he would sound like the kid she obviously still thought him. “I’d rather experience its right or wrong than solve it as an intellectual exercise.”

She looked slightly bemused, if there was such an expression. “Well,” she said. “You’d better help me get the hatches open, then.” He joined her at a large steel wheel on the wall beside the hatchway. As they turned it with both their hands on the patterned grips, both pulling clockwise, a vertical shutter slid sideways, into the wall, in a crude parody of an irising doorway. Reddish sand from outside trickled in over the sill.

“Don’t go away,” Ghulia said when he let go the wheel. “There’s the horizontal shutter.”

The shutter creaked upwards. He was still groping for a wisecrack when his feet lit up with light brighter than a thousand of the habitat’s lights burning at once. Then his knees, his whole body, with the unbearable brightness creeping up his face. The light was blinding. His eyes shut of themselves. But I don’t do reflexes, he told himself.

Ghulia laughed. She pushed past him and stepped over the sill. Talked at him from out there. “Ah Sard, my love, you won’t keep the Earth from its path or the sun out of the picture.”

He stepped back and back. Opened his eyes with his head in the blessed shade. Used the lintel to frame out the golden glob. Ghulia stood with her back to the spectacle, her face shadowed. But the bottom edge of the sun leaked down and turned the top of the doorway into a slab of molten gold. He retreated farther. Huge amounts of light smashed into the airlock, more than he could cope with. The sun was like something alive as it followed him back and back. More and more of it showed all the time.

“Come out here, Sard. Stand with your back to it.”

His eyes spronked with black spots. He bumped unseeing against Ghulia’s mothering hands as she turned him. But there was no roof overhead and no UV barrier in the sky and the whole unknown un-moderated world waited behind his back. He felt totally helpless.

“On the map this place is called THE DOORSTEP, capitalized because, I assume, it immortalizes some other, older doorstep,” Ghulia said. “It’s big enough to camp on. These sidewalls will keep out the wind.” She gestured left and right, and let the pack slide down to the ground.

He controled his breathing. She was calm. So would he be. The head-high stone-kreet walls on both sides defined the space as a sort of room. He needn’t look beyond it yet.

“Put these lenses in, darling. You’ll fry your eyes if you look at the sun without them,” Ghulia said. So like in her care-mother mode. He took them, hating her viciously for a couple seconds. If she’d done her job properly, he wouldn’t still need all this mothering.

She lay out a small cloth between them. Chopsticks at its opposite ends. She dished cold rice into two dinner bowls. Shared the contents of a jar of sauce between them. “Eat up. The curry will provide the heat. There’s water in the bladders beside the airlock. Did you see them?”

“No.”

“Fetch.” Was that a tinge of impatience in her voice? He was glad to be inside for a minute. The situation was starting to fall apart. He loitered. “Sard. Bring out a bladder of water!”

She took it and drank her fill. She gestured with her chopsticks.” Eat. It’ll be dark soon.”

“Eating is such a puny thing to do while this …” he gestured in his turn, “… is happening.”

She put her chopsticks and bowl down and watched the sun’s descent with him. Ha ha, he’d shamed her into appreciating the event. The sun was a blob, a huge golden orb, melting inexorably down to the horizon. “There should be a stately-grace music track to accompany it.” All the surfaces of the DOORSTEP were plated gold. Every grain of sand had a mad glitter.

Now the sun’s lower arc touched the edge of the land far away, making a rim of flaring fire that then leaked into the land and pooled below it. The main body of the orb sank further and further. At its final gasp it collected its excess from the land and left it dun and cold after the last rays faded.

Ghulia pushed a cylindrical object into his hands, the size of a cutlery canister. “Watch what I do with mine because I’m only doing it once.”

Whatever. But he watched for another possibility of gaining the upper hand.

She held her cylinder by its top circular edge with one hand. Pulled a string tail at the bottom and rose to her feet at the same time as shaking out the cylinder’s folds. Unfurling the thing, whatever it was. Standing now, she took the corner and flapped the fabric over her head.

He saw his opening. “Hey presto! A batman cloak.”

She pressed her lips together.

Gloating over her irritation he missed her next actions. Suddenly she was a cocoon, kneeling geisha-style then subsiding down on the ground. Not waiting for him to digest the previous steps, she pulled up a sort of hood from the wrinkles around her shoulders.

Sard laughed.

“Your turn,” she said. “Unless you want to sleep cold.”

The light was gone by his tenth try. Figuring she couldn’t see what he did, her being so honorable about her torch, he flapped the sheet out onto the ground, stretched himself over half of it, and pulled the rest over himself.

She made no comment so he probably got away with it.

She said, “What we just witnessed was a sunset. The sun sets in the west. In the morning, the sun comes up in the east behind this, the ridge which contains the habitats.”

“The sun comes up in Everard, you mean.”

“Everard, Wingham, Neilson and Simmonds were Gamester’s original engineers. Using their names instead of the traditional names for the directions was part of Gamester’s connivance to keep reality from us. And indeed, most people never see a real sunset, or experience sleeping under the stars.”

Time to change the subject. “What were the dots out there?” he said.

“Tussocks of a spiny desert grass. Spinifex.”

“How is coming out here going to help me get up beside Srese?” Sard said.

“If you find that you don’t want to leave your comfort zone, then you’ll have to take what’s coming without my support.”

He couldn’t read her expression in the dark. “What do you mean, what’s coming?”

He heard her pace her breathing. “Rider is a Yon Kerr clone,” she said.

“Like Ferd,” Sard said, bitter because Ferd would be teaching Srese from here on in. “Though it’s me that’s the genius.”

“Rider has more in common with Ferd’s twin. They both were remaindered. As now you are too. Most remaindered avatars are moldecked soon after their competition is judged. Ferd’s twin sister left the habitat with a herder woman. Both she and Rider escaped.”

Sard ignored the thing about being moldecked. Had to be her trying to scare him into behaving. “But Rider came back? Why?”

“To help a group of us train for survival. While he was out in the world, he learned of all the disasters that might kill an enclosed community such as ours. Rider’s twin taught Ferd and then was moldecked in the usual way. Like Ferd must teach Srese.”

“And be moldecked straight after?”

“Yes. This trip was designed to be the first step toward your escape. Now shut up and let me get some sleep.”

He turned his back. Spent a bit of time re arranging his sheet. Why sleep on the bare ground when it was so easy to bring a couple of self-inflating mattresses? That’s what they did camping in the Pit.

#

A bright light torched into his face. He couldn’t even open his eyes until he turned to the ground. Breathing up sand. He wasn’t in bed? Was that the sun bearing down on him? Blinking groggily, he searched for Ghulia from ground level. Nowhere. Another of her tricks. He’d kicked out of his sheet during the night and he was toasted. He climbed to his feet. Every part of him twanged.

No Ghulia. The only things remaining were his sheet and the silk-paper map weighed down with a lump of stone-kreet. He unfolded the map with trembling sweating hands.

On the back spiked her handwriting, “Change is Life. Life is Change.” What she always said. “You need to learn things faster than I can teach you. Counting this new day as Day One, I am looking forward to your company at early breakfast on Day Two. You can do it, son. Remember that I love you to pieces. G.”

Great.

Fiction: Avatar Remaindered, 2

Wall in the secret corridor

Sard is still in shock but is beginning to get his act together. He feels cheated that his care-mother never took him to the secret places they now visit. The old man they meet, Rider, has to be a such a fake that Sard plans to out him the minute he’s free ..

Getting the art for posting the novella in chapters is a process in action, as is sourcing a good book cover, without which it can not be published. Enjoy!

Part 2: Plan B


Ghulia sat beside him. “You look like you’ve got a week of work to do in three minutes.”

“Srese is it.” Sard indicated the mini-monitor above the bed. “What does that mean for me?” How could he trust someone as scatty as Srese to look after his interests?

His care-mother leapt up onto the bed, he was amazed to see, and switched off the mini-monitor.

“People think because there is no sensory-felt in the Nest, there are no receptors. Never dreaming that the communication gear itself might carry signal,” she said shakily.

He stared, his mouth agape.

When she noticed she hugged him hard. “Sard-baby, this is it. The first day of your new life.” Cheerful when obviously that wasn’t how she felt. “How much time do you think until Phin and Youk notice you missing?” she said.

“Probably around lunchtime when Phin will want to make sure I don’t eat. They’ll find their clothes ruined in the ionizers and suddenly they’ll care a lot. Why?”

“You have no more time at their disposal. In fact, you have no more time at all for ordinary things. Get into some nondescript clothes and smoothe down your hair. I’ll call in sick, which everyone will consider perfectly understandable.”

If it hadn’t been for her fear—utter and stark—Sard wouldn’t have gone along with her chivvying. He didn’t understand half of what she was on about but changed into ordinary jeans and shirt. Moccasins on his feet. His hair combed as flat as it would go. He could but coast in her wake until the facts came out.

“We need to go to the Dining Hall,” Ghulia said.

“I wasn’t there that long ago.”

“Nevertheless.”

The corridor walls, though still mainly grey, fluttered with blue stalks and leaves. Sard started every time a bird shadow exploded from the undergrowth. “That’s how you feel?” he said.

She talked from behind the bit of her scarf that she covered her mouth with. “Ignore it. It’s Gammy guessing.” She led him into the Dining Hall, empty of breakfasters, and into the kitchen-office cubby and introduced him to that fool, Gregorius the Dining Hall Manager, as though Greg and Sard had never met.

“You know my care-son?”

“Sard,” Greg said. “Will I put you on the roster for early breakfast?”

“There is a roster?” Sard’s amazement wasn’t a put-on.

“Only for the early session, mate,” Greg said while he made them a coffee each.

Ghulia was like, go on this is an emergency, and it was an easy thing to commit to when Sard had no idea of what was blowing in the wind. “Yeah sure, put me down for a couple of weeks.”

Ghulia took the coffees and led him to a table. No one else around helped make it too weird to enjoy. His care-mother waved him down opposite her. She stared pointedly, dragging his gaze along with hers, at every sensor within their range – alongside every light fitting and behind every air-filter screen.

Because of them, she explained without a word, she wouldn’t be saying anything about the emergency in here. She allowed him about two minutes to gulp down what was a hot drink. She drank hers as if it had no flavor and no heat. Like it was water straight from the moldeckery. He followed her out into the corridors. “Where are we going?”

She shrugged and brushed her ear.

Oh yeah. Gamester all ears. They’d exited in the Lane alongside the Dining Hall, walked Neilson-wards. Left into First Circle, crossed Neilson Street and into the lane alongside the silk weaving workshop. They went to its back entry in the corridor parallel to First and Second Circles. As they entered, Ghulia grabbed the doorbell with a practiced move. Obviously to prevent the bell jangling.

She pulled him down onto his hands and knees with her to crawl under the silk stretched from the wall to the loom. The woman already under there apparently had the task of tying off the beginnings and ends of the silk cocoons after their filaments were woven into the new fabric. Ghulia mouthed, “Mab, this is my care-son.”

“One of the avatars, Ghulia.” Mab likewise spoke voicelessly. Sard was like he attended a ball game, his eyes following the action.

“Not chosen for the game,” Ghulia said.

“Plan B?” Mab raised her eyebrows.

Ghulia nodded.

Mab tossed her head to indicate that the person they wanted, whose name Sard was not able to read from her lips, was still up there. Wherever that was. She waved Ghulia and Sard out from under the loom and Ghulia pushed him through a curtained doorway into what was at first glance a kitchenette.

Or maybe the place where they cooked up dyes, he decided seeing the various cooking vessels with coloured slops. The whole rear wall was draped with silks.

“The drying racks,” Ghulia said. “Vents in the floor and ceiling.” She bent and felt for something under a swag of silk scraps in a basket. “Go on through.”

“Huh?” he said pointedly when he could’ve said a ton of other stuff.

She pressed a headband into his hands that had a torch on the front, and pushed past him through the curtaining. A passage? How was it that when he and Srese had investigated every corner of the habitat in their single digit years, Ghulia and he now stumbled along a passage Sard hadn’t even known existed?

He nodded his head to swing the torch up, across and down. The sandstone walls were darkened with age. So, not a newly carved passage. The floor was ordinary polished-with-use stone-kreet. He felt betrayed by the way Ghulia, who might have shown him the tunnel as a treat but didn’t–ever–showed no hesitancy in her walking having obviously been through here many times.

“Mind the ceiling.” She led him up a set of steps. He had go bent for a couple of paces before they went down again, and that for only a couple of steps before they had to do it all again. Why not a straight tunnel for pity’s sake? His temper started to build. “Where are we going?”

“The sooner we get there, the sooner you will know,” Ghulia said.

He ignored the tartness in her tone in favour of a bit of his own. “How is that an answer?”

No answer.

Fine. The way the passage slung about twisting and turning, they could be going anywhere. About all he was sure of anymore was that they’d entered the passage in the silk workshop in the Neilson-and-Everard Quarter.

“Ouch.” He forgot to duck and did his mother stop to commiserate?

She had entered a foyer. The two sets-of-doors-setup made it like the foyer into the Nest, that he and Srese called the airlock. Where they used to play their spaceship games. He wasn’t attending when he should have been, he thought dismally, when he just about fell into the room beyond. It was so large and light and round, he was totally overwhelmed.

By the time he’d collected himself, Ghulia had abandoned him and was stepping out a pattern in the middle of the room with an old joker already there. The person they’d probably come to see. The man’s features were certainly something to see. Grey hair and wrinkles that Sard only ever saw in video-mentaries and then only because he’d searched beyond the common tripe. Most people he knew would prefer to be moldecked than grow old.

The grey head continued to step and turn and gesture, completely unselfconsciously. Sard’s hands grew clammy from embarrassment about the weirdness of someone ignoring bystanders. Personally, during a public performance, he had to have everyone involved in the action of the moment. He’d sent people out if they refused to be in the moment.

Finally the oldster made a namaste-type ending to his routine. After a minute on hold he turned and came. Ghulia would be no help as she continued on hold, Sard saw. She wore her unapproachable meditational expression.

The oldster arrived in Sard’s face while he was still thinking daggers at Ghulia. At the same time—like the old man timed it—a vast bright light sprang into being at the top of the rock rim above the perglass dome ceiling that Sard had had no spare time to see yet. A sun event. He’d bet on it.

“It’s the sun,” the old man said. “Too hot in here when that gets going. I’m known as Rider.”

Sard didn’t nod to say he understood, because he understood nothing. He shook Rider’s proffered hand to express a minute vestige of politeness.

“Have a seat,” Rider said.

There was only the floor. Polished stone. No rugs or cushions. Sard remained standing. Damned if he was going still further out of his comfort zone without knowing why. His skin crawled as he felt the man studying him.

Sard pointedly studied the scene. The perglass dome perched on rickety columns of stacked stones. Nowhere did the dome meet the walls. In the gaps between the stone pylons, the room’s air must mix freely with the outdoors. Or what it looked like.

Seeing where Sard looked, the old man said, “Originally the dome sat on that rim of rocks.” He pointed at an edge far above the dome, that was just now limned with sunlight. “Lucky for us the glass didn’t break when it slid down, though naturally it needed stabilizing.”

“Naturally,” Sard said. The floor was of the usual polished stone-kreet. Including the one they’d come through, three dark entrances broke the encircling wall.

“When it rains, it’s all hands on deck for bailing,” the old man said.

One point to Sard for having moved his attention on while the old man was still on about the gaps between the dome and the wall.

Above the dome hung a circular piece of what would have to be sky, brown-tinged by the aging UV barrier in the per-glass. “The dome dislodging from its original mounting caused this hall to be abandoned by the community,” Rider said. “One of Gamester’s engineers’ mistakes. Serendipitous for us.”

Ghulia finally came to grace the meeting with her presence. “Rider, this is my care-son, Sard. Superfluous to Gamester’s needs.”

“Mmm,” Rider said.

Ghulia nodded. Something she was doing a lot around these people. Sard interrupted the flow of meditational discourse, whatever they thought they were doing. “I don’t need plan B. Srese will get me into Plan A with her. What we planned when the competition was first posted.”

Rider stared at Ghulia. “He doesn’t know?”

“I brought him as soon as I was sure.”

“Yet it is his life,” Rider said. “He needs the knowledge. I think Plan B, Scene 2, Ghulia. You know what to do?”

She bit her bottom lip then seemed to come to some conclusion. “Yes.”

“I thought you just agreed to no more decisions without my input?” Sard said. What did he care about the whine even he heard in his voice?

Amazingly, Ghulia laughed. “Rider, you know him better than I do.”

“I was him once,” Rider said. “Still am sometimes, though I try to keep those moments private. We should get out of here. The heat,” the oldster explained to Sard. He hustled them towards their entry.

Sard let Ghulia take the lead back down the secret passage. He felt like his ears had burned off. He decided he’d go to the hardcopy museum next, and read the Name Book. Bet there was no Rider in it, the man was such a fake. That grey hair had to be a wig.

Ghulia stopped well before they reaching the curtaining of drying silks. “I want to show you a couple of things before you’re too old to enjoy them. You take Two Forty and Second Circle. Don’t let anybody see you. Hide in the overhang of Crystal Cave. I’ll be there in half an hour.”

Sard frowned.

“Indulge me, son. You owe me for that tantrum back there. I thought I did a better job than that, socializing you.” She had him by the ears then, and not gently either. She shook him. “Wake up to yourself, Sard-baby.”

Tears in her eyes and her voice. What could he do but indulge her?

1. New/Old Life

My fungi library … couple missing I see …

This is the (1) before the previous (1). I thought I wouldn’t need reading in my new life?

The idea that I could slough off my old life and take up a completely new one isn’t happening and was probably doomed from the start. It’s true that while I was in treatment, I put everything normally ‘me’ out of my mind to keep my attention on the main event, to learn the disease, what was required every day, learn the people involved, how the meds affected me, keep my oxygen line straight. [I was on oxygen for ten days]

But after a while it became necessary to take up reading again. In between engaging with staff, which was mostly in the mornings, hung swags of time. Watching TV while in hospital is difficult. Volume is restricted. You can’t turn the TV off, attend the x, y, z person/procedure needing your attention, and turn it back on expect to hit the same place where you left off. The remote is fiddly, usually on the same gadget as the nurse’s call button.

While I was on the Oncology Ward at John Flynn Hospital, out in the corridors practicing my walking, I discovered nooks with bookshelves filled with books. Life-savers, in effect. Not that I read every book. But every walk I took, I’d change a book, like at at a library. I’ve read both fiction and non-fiction voraciously for most of my life.

I’m now officially in remission with a totally clear PET scan. My last chemo session was at the end of January, followed by two Rituximab (monoclonal antibodies) chasers taking me into the beginning of March. A ‘stupendous recovery’ my hematologist calls it, given where I began. My hair started growing again the week of the first chaser. My toenails apparently need more time.

Since I moved into the unit where I’m living now, I’ve been sorting through books … nineteen boxes of them. Some books don’t need a decision. Anything to do with fungi make it onto the shelves beside my work station. Fiction using fungi as plot devices, bad or good, also onto the shelves.

Most other books get the will-I-want-to-read-this-again question. If not, straight into the remaindered pile. If maybe, I open the book anywhere and read a few pages. If boredom sets in after only a few paragraphs, into a remaindered pile it goes. The books that will be sent on their way so far number about eight boxes.

Other things I’m reading at the moment are an article titled Proposal for a subdivision of the family Psathyrellaceae, which I keep for breakfast reading since it is a .pdf and must be read on the laptop. ‘Sideshow’ by Sheri S Tepper. This follows on from ‘Raising the Stones’ which is one of fungi-related novels in my collection. Tin Tin in Adventures on the Moon by Herge for light relief. And I’m thinking of soon reading ‘Meld’ the second part of my trilogy Doomed

We’ll see.

After Chemo

Every morning I open the vertical blinds out to the patio and open the glass door then the screen door and go out to check what little things have sprouted. I said fungi would be first thing in my new life, and so it has so far been.

I take their photos: caps, stems, undersides, the way the gills attach to the stem, the pattern of their gills, is there or is there not detritus from a partial veil on their caps, what color is the cap, what color is the center? I note a few more things for future reference.

These may be in the Coprinopsis genus
These may be of the Parasola genus

All of them are tiny and really to make good photos I’ll need some equipment superior to what I have. An older model mobile phone with a 50% success rate where the photo is sharp enough to enlarge for extra detail. Just like the older model operator whose eyesight is not as sharp as it was, but whose eye for detail still works very well.

After breakfast and a couple of chores I may sit down at my laptop and do online fungi IDing on the various FB fungi groups I’m a member of, or I may submit a few more fungi observations to https://inaturalist.ala.org.au

Some days … when my state of being doesn’t allow me any running around … that’s all I do. Like today. Have to keep reminding myself, need to crawl before I can walk.

Part 1, Fungi

A recurring part of my new life will be fungi. Even though I can’t get out into the field as yet … am stuck photographing whatever comes up in plant pots … I’m spending the majority of every day traversing the four FB fungi groups I belong to, and now also adding old data to my account at iNaturalist.org

Hygrocybe astatogala

Life After Chemo …

The tile which, after suffering an unfortunate accident, nevertheless became a work of art

Today someone asked me if I could see my life lining up after chemo. It stopped me in my tracks.

I’ve been living in the moment of having cancer and having it treated for so long that plans about what to do afterwards are not on my horizon.

Should they be? I’ve gotten out of the habit of making plans. After all, it wasn’t just cancer that hit me. There’s COVID too that hit the whole world. Does anybody now think they know what is around the corner?

— — — —

But let me tell you what happened with that tile.

I was learning to paint with ceramics at the time. My next big project was going to be a 30 cm square tile using all the techniques of applying texture available to me. I’d gotten as far as recessing the sky areas by patient scraping and sanding with the scrubber part of the dish-washing sponge. The applying the three coats of sky blue. In the foreground I’d started the stylized bamboo, and the carving-in of various landforms.

Un-kilned tiles (referred to as green ware) are extremely fragile. I decided to leave it at the workshop for my next class the following week for that reason. Nobody knows how it happened, just that sometime during the week the tile broke.

The pebble insert above was my first idea for saving it. The rest of the class, Carmel, Carole, Sue and several others all made suggestions. If I was to have a band of pebbles, I’d first need to saw off part of the existing bits, top and bottom, then stick the middle two bits on another tile, kiln the whole assembly, and finally glue the pebbles in.

I didn’t like it. No elegance in it. There had to be a better solution, I thought. I took the tile home for the four-week interim around Christmas and New Year and studied it often.

Finally, I realized that the only way to camouflage a break so definitive would be to have more breaks. More pieces.

Did that. Very satisfying. Ended up with about eleven pieces. Was able to highlight a different technique on each of them. I use it as a puzzle. Lend it to people and they call me in the night to ask which piece goes where.

— — — —

I think that this puzzling-together of the pieces I am left with after my life broke is probably going to be the way into a new way of being. There will be no lining up of the pieces. How can there be?

I’ve got old bits that need upgrading … my writing and my painting … friends from then, and family, to convince that my new way of being is how I’ll need to be.

New bits … the amount of attention I now need to give to my health … new friends to make and maintain … my grandchildren now within reach to nurture … a new way of gardening to learn …

More new things than old things possibly, and all of them having to fit into a narrower borrowed time.


Magnetic Resonance Imaging

While the beast illustrated here was once what a newspaper printer looked like, being in the Magnetic Resonance Imager today felt just like this looks like. The whole event was as near to a first hand nuts and bolts steampunk experience that I will want to experience.

fineartamerica.com

Imagine lying on a stretcher bed inside a machine like this in essence, being told to take deep breath and hold it. Dozens of times. Each episode you’ll hear a clickety-clacking, high pitched whistling, rumbles, moans and groans, cracking and creaking; each soundscape in sets of six to nine instances.

At the same time you’ll feel waves of heat traveling down the presumably steel stretcher you’re lying on that’s sliding slowly in and out of the MRI donut. The ghostly voice in your ears and the SOS squeeze bulb in your right hand are your only contacts with reality.

At the end, one of the staff said quite matter of factly that they don’t have many fans. First thing I would do is modernize the monster and cut back the high decibel sound effects. I doubt that my hearing improved.

End Times: Societal Collapse

Volcano, Watercolour by Rita de Heer

Yes. Pretty serious title. It’s the mood I’m in. After a twelve week euphoria about still being alive, first in hospital and then for six weeks in a respite community, learning to be a normal person again, the other day I got back to reading some of my favorite commentators on the state of the world.

Michael Mobbs, of Sustainable House fame, writing a Spinifex column in Fifth Estate, told the story of how he looked for a bolt-hole for when what’s coming arrives … this is the end time we’re talking about. The societal collapse. He’s convinced we have no more than ten years!

He couldn’t find a good bolt-hole. The whole east coast of Australia was burned in the 2019 bush fires and most of the creeks he looked at were either dry or running at about ten percent of what they once were. There’s no safety, or security in the bush. He went home, back to the city, where he’s thrown himself into food gardening, and modelling that.

Me? I was in shock. Here I am … went my thinking … going through the gnarliest treatment on Earth in the hope that I last ten more years and see my grandchildren on the way to growing up, and my society is going to fall over around my ears? Ending is such a final thing.

I’m aware of course that the average length of time for surviving cancer is five years, and I aim to step off my mortal coil with grace when the time comes. But only if I’ve given my descendants the best possible chance at surviving what’s coming.

In my mind I ran around like a Henny-Penny complaining about the sky falling in, me trying to think of solutions. Imagining how I’m going to spend the next five years.

Some time later I remembered that I’d known the 2030 deadline already. That I had accepted it already and had become nihilistic in my attitudes toward the end-time events, being a long-time environmentalist …

——

The above was all written a few weeks ago. Treatment is on-going. I feel sicker and less able to get involved in any damn thing with every turn of the cycle. Two to go. Maybe in six weeks … two more chemos, one more lumbar puncture with chemo … and when I’ve been able to address the near constant oral thrush in my mouth … I’ll be able to think again.Maybe then I can get excited again.

Too tired right now.

Cancer is the New Go …

From living here …

My life couldn’t have changed more in the two months since I posted last.

It started with a respiratory infection. In May. GP sent me for my first COVID test (negative) and then sent me home to sweat it out. Three weeks later, I was still coughing and I agreed to a tele-conference. The Doc heard me coughing and prescribed asthma medicines. He was of the opinion that my asthma had been “turned on” by the bushfires earlier in the year, and was now being exacerbated by wood smoke from cosy winter fires.

Six weeks of serious coughing ensued. The Doc asked me to count the average number of times I coughed during a minute–which was six times when the bout was particularly fierce. And how many hours per bout. Some days that would be six or seven hours. Another tele-conference and two live appointments, different medicines and different regimes of when to take them didn’t throw any light on the matter. Because, since my lungs were clear, it had to be asthma.

In the first week of September, maybe, I decided in my dull, sick state of mind I should get a second opinion. To be able to have my blood tested–I had to go for another COVID test as local clinics refused clients with any symptoms of COVID. My second-opinion doctor rang me as soon as he had the results on his computer, on a Sunday, and convinced me to come into the surgery the next day on Monday 14th September.

“Your blood doesn’t look very good,” he said. “Anemia and probably malnutrition are only two of your problems.” He organized for me to be admitted to hospital in Queensland. A friend drove me–the border crossing was a mess of detours and a long conference with the police charged with keeping the border safe.

In hospital I was required to be quarantined for a fortnight and COVID tested, again. Ten of those days were taken up with all the tests medical expertise could put me through. Plus blood transfusions to address the anemia, a platelet transfusion, oxygen (which finally stopped the coughing), lots of good food. I swear I ate red meat at every meal.

It wasn’t until the PET scan that my hematologist got a hint. An inconclusive lung biopsy was next–other than I definitely had a lymphoma. The results had to be sent to the state medical review board for confirmation.

What I’m sick with is called Intravascular diffuse large B cell lymphoma. Also known as Intravascular DLBCL. It’s rare and largely unknown how well chemo will work.

My second-opinion doctor saved my life for the present.

Food: Back to testing ingredients

One of my successful low-FODMAP lunches … two pieces of GF toast, 2 pieces dried tomato and maybe a couple of half-olives, tofu, sprinkled with black sesame seeds. Lettuce for a green and water to drink

Almost 2 months after I had the flu which last three weeks as far as I can tell, I’m still coughing due–my doctor said to an asthma flare-up. He puts it down to wood-smoke in the air and a new allergy. He prescribed an antihistamine and expected me to get better forthwith. When that didn’t happen but I’d have an all day coughing fit if and when I went outside, I bought an air purifier for in the house. It’s hard to tell if it’s making a difference, except when I stick my nose outside.

My nearest and dearest people are getting sick of the constant news, no I’m not better yet. Yes I’m still coughing. My son reminded me last call that I’ve been coughing for as long as my new grand-daughter has been in the world. A couple of days ago I researched the malady again–you get like that when you get no resolution from the medical profession. This time I discovered that a tenacious flare-up is a possible after-effect of catching the flu if you are also an asthma sufferer.

No, it wasn’t a wonky website. I think it was the Mayo Clinic. If not that one, something equally as dependable.

While it didn’t give me any hope for when I might hope to be rid of the flare-up, it did give me a bit of comfort that it exists, and people do get well again. Fingers crossed. Next, I researched inflammation. Inevitably, food intolerance came up. The wrong foods for a person can cause a lot of inflammation in their gut, and when your gut goes into a leaky-gut-syndrome, the inflammatory compounds will cross the gut wall and be carried all over the place by your blood.

All this is happening while I’m trialing the fortnightly fruit and veg boxes, with me trying out all sorts of foods I’m not accustomed to. Like the spring onions today, of which I am allowed to have 75 grams a day according to the low FODMAP diet app I have on my mobile. After six years on the diet, it’s gotten a bit onerous to be measuring every mouthful and I’ve let it go a bit. Today, though, after spring onion on my delicious lunch, I had a bad coughing fit.

So I’m back in testing mode. I’ve already cut out black currants for breakfast, of which I’m allowed 13 grams–not worth the bother if it’s going to cause me to cough for hours after breakfast. Tomorrow, no spring onions on my lunch, see how I go.