Sunday, May 8, 2016

Rise of the Valiant - The Second Week

Week 2 - Day 1 - "Big News!"

It's been an eventful day, but let me start at the beginning. 

I spent a long time deliberating on a course of action for the week. Knowing Margaret exists just beyond the mountain, I wanted a way to connect our two homes. If Margaret could access my crops and watch after them on any days without rain, I would feel a lot more comfortable heading out into the wilderness for a few days to explore farther than I've been able to go previously. There are two real options to connect our lands. I can build a safe, reinforced tunnel beneath the mountain out of the already pre-existing network of caves, or I can build a tower that scales up the side of the cliff to the top of the mountain. I really like the idea of a tall tower to give me a vantage out over my own valley, but I really lack the necessary resources to build it. I need more manpower in order to make these two projects a reality. 

Early this morning, I set out to discuss the situation with Margaret and get her input. I also asked her about the campsites that I've been finding all over the place. To my surprise, she told me that there were other humans on the planet who had passed by quite recently. They had not taken any interest in her, so she hadn't gotten the chance to socialize with them to her sincere disappointment. They spent the night on a nearby mountain and were heading west the last time she had seen them. This news changed everything. 

I spent much of the day leading Margaret through the series of caves to my side of the mountain so she would know the way. As we went, I made sure to properly light the path with torches and cover any dangerous ravines with wooden planks and platforms. It is quite an uncomfortable journey even with better lighting and footing. It's a temporary solution for now, but Margaret is also convinced we need to make a dramatic change. Nevertheless, she now has a clearly marked path to and from our homesteads. She promised to take care of the crops while I"m away. After I finish this entry, I plan to set out tonight to try and catch up with the human campers. 

One last thought, though: Margaret is an odd creature. She doesn't seem to have much awareness about space or what lies beyond the surface of our planet. She has no knowledge of the planet's name, or really what a planet even is. She doesn't understand why I'm so worked up about these nomadic humans, or what it could mean for me if I find them. They could be the ticket to getting off this rock if they happen to have a ship. They could even be from a human settlement that we could potentially move into that would be more self-sustaining than our simple farms. Everything may change if only I can find these humans. 

Week 2 - Day 2 - "Meeting Alex" 

It's late. I had a long day. I hiked for almost twenty-four hours through the mountains and valleys west of Margaret's place. I finally managed to catch up to all that remains of the human explorers. I found a broken man at an all but abandoned campsite named Alex. We talked long into the night. I think it's getting close to dawn right now. I can't keep my eyes open much longer, but finding Alex has been quite disappointing and somber to say the least. 

Alex is the last man of a five-man team that was sent to survey the moons of Talitha Rim I. Apparently that's the name of the golden planet we are orbiting. The two moons were likely candidates to start a new colony for the displaced human survivors such as ourselves, but over the month the team spent here tragedy befell the group. Now only Alex remains. They do ... Alex does not have a ship of his own. They were dropped off here while other teams were dropped in other locations. The ship that sent them on this mission never returned to collect them. Alex has been waiting for several months and has given up hope. I don't know what this means for me, yet. I'm much too tired to think anymore about it today.

I'd like to take Alex back east with me, but he seems insistent on staying here at their main camp. They chose the location for its proximity to a nearby mine - abandoned long ago by some unknown prospectors. Alex assures me the mine is dangerous and the first of his team was lost trying to explore its depths. He claims winged creatures with long, elastic tongues lurk just below the surface of the planet. I sympathize with him and his loss, but I fear if he stays here all alone he will join his teammates in death. I will have another try to convince him tomorrow. 

Week 2 - Day 3 - "The Beacon"

Alex refuses to return with me. He is adamant in remaining here at camp. He claims its the safest place on the planet, but was panic-stricken when I tried to enter the nearby mine shaft. He dragged me out by my arm before I got to the first set of platform stairs heading into the depths below. I'm not sure what to do about Alex. I can see that grief is causing him to lose his judgment. Aside from that, I did discover something quite valuable. Just inside the mines there is a device - a seismic transmitter - that is monitoring the geology of the planet and sending a signal to some unknown receivers. It's quite possible that I could adjust the device to transmit a distress signal instead. Alex didn't care much about the machine so I packed it up and took it homeward with me. Perhaps tomorrow I will set it up to broadcast a simple message into space. 

Perhaps there is hope of a rescue after all for Alex and myself - and Margaret if she chooses to come with us. 

Week 2 - Day 4 - "Tunnel Construction"

Margaret has insisted we begin work on a tunnel to connect our two homes. Apparently making the trip through the natural caves is as unpleasant for a Glitch woman as a human man. We were up before the sun rose to get started on this large project. Margaret was able to use the seismic survey machine to get accurate readings on where to construct the tunnel so that we would accurately connect both sides of the mountain at the right altitude. It was slow going once we got started with only a broken matter manipulator between the two of us, but Margaret is quite skilled as a structural engineer. The two of us have a wealth of skills that will make living on this planet more comfortable indefinitely.

When we finally broke ground on my side of the mountain, Margaret began construction on my house while I worked on the transmitter. She insisted it wasn't right for me to live in such a simple shelter with a sleeping bag. She set to work on upgrading my tiny farmstead into a real home. I helped here and there, but most of my attention went to fine tuning the distress beacon. Hopefully, it will reach someone in space soon. 

Week 2 - Day 5 - "Home Improvements"

The construction on my house was completed today. Margaret returned to her own valley about halfway through the day. Before heading out, Margaret built me a table and chairs as well as a soft bed from the fabric she'd been making in her spare time this week. She is quite extraordinary. I think in days to come I may return to exploring and gathering resources so that Margaret can continue to put them to good use. It seems like the best application of our skills at this point. She seems content with our modest amount of food and our humble homes, but I'm constantly thinking of what we can do to improve the situation here on this small moon of Talitha Rim I. 

Neither of us have heard anything from Alex. We are both growing extra crops for him, now, but I wish he would just come live over here on our side of the mountains. I'm worried about him living alone in such a remote location. 

Week 2 - Day 6 - "Contact!"

I awoke early this morning to a strange humming coming from my second floor. Apparently, my distress signal had been received and a small frigate was on its way to the planet. Unfortunately, they were also in distress and looking for a place to set down for repairs. It appears we are going to have guests. I rushed through the new tunnel to tell Margaret that more people were coming. As always, she was delighted at the prospect of new company. Her only regret was not having any tea to serve. 

There is no way to know how many are coming or how long they will be staying to make the repairs. It's clear, though, that we need to expand our farming efforts in order to feed any more mouths for any amount of time. Margaret and I agreed that consolidating our farming efforts would be our best chance at survival for now, so we set to work leveling and tilling up Margaret's Valley which had much more land available for farming. Margaret set out to cultivate more corn, potatoes and rice. I spent the entire day building a makeshift barn in the middle oft he valley where we could store up grain and crops. I'm sure in the future Margaret will make necessary upgrades to the barn, but for now it does the job.

Week 2 - Day 7 - "The Arrival"

The frigate arrived sooner than I expected. Today I met with the three crew members of the Naka. The captain is a Hylotl named Shinobu whose motley crew includes the Avian, Chef Ihui, and the Floran, Mar Ryespine. Her skillset has not been disclosed to me yet. It's not clear to me if Shinobu is a man or a woman, but it seems impolite to ask. Margaret came over to greet the crew at my place where we had a simple lunch of corn and potatoes toasted lightly on a campfire. Chef Ihui was not pleased. 

I offered to let the crew stay in my home until we could make other accommodations, but they decided that was not necessary. Ihui was insistent we get a kitchen set up for him right away so we could all enjoy a proper dinner. After living on rice, pearlpeas, corn and potatoes for two weeks I could not be more delighted at this proposition. We took the crew of the Naka to Margaret's Valley where Ihui overlooked the crops. Between the five of us, we decided the best place to set up a temporary barracks would be within the tunnel itself. Only Mar seemed displeased at the lack of sunlight living under the mountain, but Shinobu assured her that she would get plenty of time outdoors in the days to come. 

Between the five of us, construction of the barracks went quickly and smoothly. There were finally enough people available to clear a considerable amount of land, gather enough resources and construct a working home all at once. Margaret oversaw construction with Ihui and me, while Shinobu and Mar gathered up the stone, wood and dirt necessary to keep everything running smoothly. Unlike my first nights on this moon, they will sleep well in beds tonight. 

Next week we have to assess the damages to the Naka and prepare to get her shipshape. 

- Excepts from the Journal of Edge Valiant on the Founding of the Valiant Empire

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Memories of You

I have to warn all who dare enter that this post is going to be emotionally charged.

I actually wrote it a year ago. My wife went to the hospital for pregnancy complications and was told she'd be leaving with a baby - a few weeks earlier than expected. I only had a few days to process this information, which for reasons that will be explained within was complicated. I couldn't sleep and I was up all night writing and sorting through my feelings. This blog post is one of the results. I didn't post it because it felt unfinished, unrefined. I didn't mind putting my emotions out there for all to consume, but I did want to edit the writing before posting. I just wasn't brave enough to re-read it after it had been written.

My new son turned one yesterday (May 4, 2016) and I felt it was time to revisit this and put it online.


"キミの記憶" or "Memories of You" is one of the most important songs in my life. My Japanese is pretty bad, because I let it fall far into disrepair over the years, but for some reason this song spoke to me even before I transcribed the significance of every word and stroke of every character into my mind. I was listening to the soundtrack of Persona 3 one night and this song came on. It's peppy and upbeat. It's pretty and I've always enjoyed it since playing Persona 3 long ago. This particular night it was the English words that caught my attention because they play off a few lines from the game said by one of the characters. In particular, "I will never leave you" stuck out as one of the most meaningful moments in the game. It was then that I realized what the song was actually about and from that moment I had to know every word. As I began to unravel the meaning of the song, listening, reading the lyrics and translating them, I unraveled emotionally as well.

Since that night, I always turn to this song when I need to actually, truly feel my feelings. Even on antidepressants, the song manages to burn through the haze of emotional indifference to rip the true feelings from my heart and slap me in the face with them. I even wrote a poem that night several years ago about teardrops filling up the concave inside of my glasses - it wasn't a great poem so I won't share it, but I really liked the imagery of my tears falling onto my lenses. It was the first big release of tears since my son died. Several months had gone by and I had done my very best to lock it all away and bury it with mood altering drugs. I put on my brave face to "get on with life" and left a huge emptiness lingering inside. But that random, fateful night, this song dove into my heart and dredged up all that pain.

The very strange thing about this song among countless songs of love and loss in any number of other languages is that it's about a female android mourning a human whom she had grown to love over the course of the game. The nature of her love is fairly ambiguous - whether platonic or romantic - but it really doesn't matter. It's strange that this song and that relationship is what the developers chose to focus on when there were many, many other relationships in the game that could have been emphasized. It is a game about relationships, in fact. The reason the android is so meaningful is because she begins her chapter of the story without even realizing she's capable of human feelings. Over the course of the game, she comes to understand friendship and develop true, meaningful relationships with the people whom she had been alienated from her entire existence. She expresses her new-found feelings and then suddenly and unexpectedly (SPOILER) the character to whom she is enamored dies. This song is very much about how she processes this grief - something I try really hard to avoid, I think.

I think about Aigis a lot. I relate to this fictional android in several ways which emphasize why this song is so powerful in unsealing what I have buried deep inside. It explains why I can put this song on whenever I need some relief from the emotional pressure building up. As a robot, Aigis's lifespan is fairly indefinite. For her, this encounter with the characters of the game is probably only going to be a mere instant of her existence, but definitely the most meaningful time of her life. She forges a friendship that would teach her what it meant to actually be alive, and to be human. Then, that friendship abruptly disappears in an instant and Aigis makes the choice to live on and carry those memories of him forever (hence the name "Memories of You"). She could shut off her emotions and go back to being just a robot, or shut down completely and withdraw from living in a technical sense, but she makes the choice to go forward because of what her friend taught her about being alive. This choice to carry the memories forward is pretty similar to how I feel about my son, Rhys, who only existed for 6 weeks but changed my life forever. It was like a drop of water in the ocean of life experiences - six weeks out of 35 years seems so inconsequential. He never said a single word. We only made eye contact a few times. This tiny thing that existed in the blink of an eye had the power to change things forever.

I used to think I was a lucky person. It's silly really. I was walking around this planet thinking that I was someone who never really had bad things happen to him. The older I got the more bad things actually started happening, but I just clung to this mentality that I wasn't the type of guy that had truly bad things happen. I had friends who would witness me go through some pretty awful situations and wonder how I held my resolve, how I remained so calm and cool and collected about everything. When Rhys died, that perception of myself as a lucky person completely shattered. It was a few years ago, now, and for the most part the pain is just a dull ache instead of crippling stabs into my chest cavity - but the pain still exists. It's still in there in full, terrible form. There is such a tremendous amount of pain waiting to be unleashed by something as simple as a song about a robot and her dying friend - and it can hurt like the day it happened if I let it grow. It feels like I am now marked by this pain, that my soul is torn so deep that it defines me. In one terrible night, I transformed from that casual, friendly person who could bounce back from anything in stride. I was dismantled and crushed and replaced by a person who now knows he isn't lucky. He knows terrible things have happened and can happen again at any moment.

This weekend a new baby is going to be born. I've spent nine months hiding from it, pretending it's not real, trying not to look at ultrasound pictures or feel the kicks. I needed to pretend it wasn't happening, because I can't handle it. I have to handle it and I will handle it, but my emotions, my anxieties, my endurance is not ready for this challenge. I'm terrified. If anything bad happens again, I don't know how I will survive. This is true of my other two surviving children, as well, but they're already here. The risk of losing them in some sudden accident is already real and prevalent. I've been coping with that for years. I won't even get started about what I go through when leaving them with other people, or sending them on field trips. But it's not nearly the same as having another newborn - another precious, fragile, tiny life living in my house. Another defenseless human being that my wife and I are charged with taking care of.

That's not all and this is why I need Aigis tonight. I'm not ready to let go of Rhys. My rational brain realizes that I don't have to "let him go" and that he'll "always be here." I know that I'll never forget him, but I'm so tremendously scared that I will. I think I always have been. We didn't have enough time together. I can't remember the way he sounded. I can't remember the way he smelled. I remember how he made me feel - I mean, how happy I was to be around him and how wonderful it felt to hold him close, but that's the best I can muster. I don't want him to disappear forever. I don't want him to be buried so deep in my heart that I never let him out. I don't want to replace him with a new baby. I know he won't be. I get it. I tell myself a million times in the last two years, but it doesn't matter what my brain says will be true compared to how I actually feel. I fear the evanescence of my son every passing day. Sometimes it's so real and brutal and painful that I feel like he just died yesterday, but most times I feel like he was just a pleasant dream I had once and the longer I'm awake the less I'll be able to recall it.

Aigis chooses to live. She could shut down. She could go to sleep or simply reboot. She could erase her memories and her feelings, but because of what she learned and how she developed she comes to understand the value of life and living. She chooses to keep going and hold on to the memory. I chose this as well, but my memories degrade faster than a computer. I carry his memory with me as one of the very, very few people who even knew him in his brief existence. That burden is oppressive sometimes and what if I fail? What if some day I can't find the way he made me feel? What if I can't remember how he looked or how soft his skin was? Who will remember him if I don't? What if my new son terrifies me? What if I'm too afraid he'll die so I don't allow myself to get too attached? I know all this is stupid, because I've always fallen deeply in love with my children the instant we met face-to-face, but that scares me almost as much. How defenseless will I be if something bad happens again?

I'm so scared.

(originally written May 2, 2015)

Rhys (Aug 17, 2012 - Sept 27, 2012)