The Collector


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The broom paused; its wielder knelt and dug at a crack in the red floor with one ragged nail. He held his find up, turning it this way and that in the light of a pillar of flame before pocketing it with a satisfied grunt and resuming his chore.

Purgatory /pərɡəˌtôrē/
From the Latin purgare, to make clean.
adj. 1) having the quality of cleansing or purifying.

The vast stone halls of Purgatory are never silent. Besides the roar of the fires there is a din of workers chattering at each other as they scoop souls from the incoming charnel carts and sort them into fires, the constant scrape-scrape of rakes as the minor choirs pick through the ashes collecting great sins: murder, rape, the lies that ruin lives. These will be polished, preserved, returned to the World Above. Only at the far end of the hall among the Silent Choir does a sort of hush pervade.

It is not a tidy process, this stripping-away of the impedimenta of mortality. The seraphic nets – seraph, from Hebrew śārap, to burn – sift the mortal dross from souls as they move from cart to fire, that fire to the next and the next and so on until the final pillar where the Silent Choir approves each soul to go beyond or sends it back to begin its trip through the fires again. The floor is covered in sieving-chaff, a slow buildup of the little sins and petty jealousies, mundane slights and lonely hopes that cling after death, which are burned away as the soul is cleansed.

Through and around and among this clamor, the janitors push their muffled brooms. Each janitor drags behind him a bin of tailings, and as it fills he empties it into the great crematorium which throbs and coughs at the center of the hall.

The day that Resver found his first shard of dream, he was barely a century old. He held it up, wondering at the color of it among the ash and grit of charred sin. His foreman cuffed him and set him back to sweeping; after, he was more circumspect.

“But what are they,” he asked eventually, holding out his handful of glittering flecks. The other janitors shrugged. They had not been created to question, only to do the long slow task of the infinite sweeping-up. The seraphim of the Second Choir scowled and blinked at him, stirring the dust with their threefold wings. “Dreams,” one said. “Hopes and wishes.” Words Resver did not know, but that he wanted–desperately–to learn.



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My nam is Ro
and wen i hear
a tragedy
in mine own eer

then my frens trust
i have forsooke
i post my feels
i vayg the booke

So. One of the things that’s interesting to me about the original bredlik poem is that it does detail a real incident. So the invented poems don’t always land well for me- did the cow really lik her son? I should note that I’m not the Ro of the poem, but that there is a Ro, and that this is effectively a poetic subsubtweet, in the FINEST tradition of poetry. I mean, if she’s willing to make a public post stating that she’s Tired of Being the Strong One and Can’t She Have Feelings and Why Are People So Mean I should be willing to make a similarly public post stating that I think that vaguebooking about how messed up YOU are about your friend’s personal tragedy that you were told not to tell anyone about is entirely appropriate.

15 year old me is so proud of Middle-Aged Me right now.



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“Here’s another one,” Elspeth said, brushing ash carefully away with her fingers. The rectangle of tech stuck for a moment and then came free of the compacted soil. To the north, Minseok was dusting silt away from another object, some sort of flexible ring of metal and nondegradable fabric. He swore under his breath and turned on his haunches to look at her.

“They’re with every body we find,” he complained. “But there’s no pattern to the way they’re presented. Some are down by the pelvis, some in the ribcage, they’re on one side or the other or even strapped to the humerus. It doesn’t seem to vary consistently by gender or race or even age.”

“Wish we knew what they were for,” Elspeth agreed, turning the slick object over carefully. Inside would be microcircuits, degraded beyond sense or repair by the Pulse. Fragments of contemporary art indicated that the front was a display of some sort.

“Religious, probably,” Minseok yawned. “So much religion. So many religions. You’ve seen the images. There’s a beatitude to the faces, looking into the glow. And the textual evidence that remains keeps referring to icons and iconography.”

“Probably.” Elspeth sighed, and labeled the device, to be sorted along with thousands of others similar but not identical. “I just hate labeling everything the same way. It always makes me feel like I missed something.”

The device sat in her bin, winking in the sun, ready to fulfill its destiny in a sterile museum case, over a carefully worded label describing where it was found, and by whom, and under what conditions, and terminating in her least favorite phrase in all of archaeology:

A ritual object.



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He walked towards the faintly humming, glowing town, quickly.

Well. Perhaps walked was the wrong word. He rolled. Or perambulated, or whatever one called the motion of tracks.  Still, GN5-11N-6-R, or “Gunslinger,” as he liked to think of himself, was moving townward, and that was the important thing.

He checked his loadout: six-gun, check. Knife roll, check. Recipe book, check. Had he been human he would have patted his pockets; as it was, he simply scrolled through the lists he’d premade before leaving the starport. Grit collected in his tracks and he wished he could grimace.

Copper wasn’t much of a town, by Galactic standards, but it was a town in need of his services, and that’s what mattered. After the Treaties had been signed and the Uprising ended, he had found himself at loose ends, in possession of nothing much beyond his weapon, his wits, and an uploaded copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. He liked to think that Julia Child would have appreciated him. She had been as much a misfit as he, her stature and voice and lack of training making her anomalous in her time.

The batwing doors swung open, their clatter masking the hiss of the atmo bubble that enveloped him. He didn’t mind hard vacuum, but the halfassed air of this planet grated at him as much as the silt that mucked up his tracks and threatened to scratch his precious knives.

He dropped one hand to the holster at his side, servo motors whining.

“I’m here about the job,” he said.


Koschei’s lament


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I found the space between my ribs
a place wherein my hurts could dwell
and just in case i took it out
and put it where–I cannot tell

I don’t regret decisions made
nor let myself dwell on the past
but still I bet that I could love
if once again the lots were cast

and if she finds my hidden heart
I’d bind myself to her by vow
and yet unkind words hold us here
Like “That was then, and this is now.”

I can’t remember where I hid
the embers of my will to love
but in the timbre of her voice
I hear the hawk stoop to the dove.


If I drew our family tree
it would look like the trees I knew
as a child:
axe-severed things
ground-swollen and mushroomed with forgetfulness

Here a branch lies, intact
where it fell: a father, a mother, a child

The trunk, rotting, is mossy,
New trees finding root along its length
Does the branch belong to this tree?
or that?

A family isn’t a tree
unless it has roots as well as branches:
It’s a daisy chain
perfect until you try to put it on
and then you have a handful
of nothing
just gaps and broken stems

But the daisies are still
and in their guessing parts
they love me
they love me not.

Plot Twist


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Your heart is not as cunning as a cat
or even as a mouse; no silent feat
of love lies still in ambush, no dramat-
ic pounce is waiting for me when we meet.

No soft sweet words like sugar on your tongue
are flavoring this morning’s daily spat
I found a pair of underwear among
the laundry underneath an old bath-mat
Your email’s not a secret, nor your PIN
Nor is the order you placed yesterday
for roses that I think you hoped would win
forgiveness for the bed in which you lay

It’s not the secrets that you hid which shame
me; it’s just that your password was my name.