This is one of those excuse posts coming in place of the next chapter. It’s also an admission that I’m going to have trouble following a biweekly posting schedule on Catastrophe Theory for the time being, though I’ll still try to keep up on Haunted.
Delays on CT are a very good sign. I work on CT only when I can’t do anything else. These days, I have the motivation to write extensively for my job, and would rather direct every scrap of energy I have toward that.
Here’s the deal.
Growing up, all I heard was that I was stupid, worthless, and too sensitive. That is, if you break down in tears after a parent has been screaming at you for hours about how stupid and worthless you are, it’s your fault because “only you can control your crying.” Undergrad and Masters, less screaming but same message.
At some level I knew my abilities didn’t align with what they were measuring. The way my brain works, I’m awful at tests but—without making a hierarchical judgement or diminishing anyone else’s achievements—thrive when I’m given full creative freedom. And scientists don’t sit around taking tests. They research. So I was expecting there to be a Heaviside-ish jump in my career shortly after finishing quals (the last set of exams a scientist ever has to take) when people finally start judging me on my dominant skill set.
The reality was even more dramatic than I’d have thought. One of my projects in grad school involved constructing a new… thing… that made use of another new… thing. Not only that, the second new thing has very interesting properties that make us have to change the way we think about second-new-thing-type things.
This should have been a BFD. The paper should have been accepted, and I should have at least been considered a competent researcher by my colleagues and superiors, if not by the whole field because again, I stress that this should have been a BFD. The last time someone did something similar was over 40 years ago.
As you can tell from the amount of time I’ve spent drowning my sorrows in fanfic, that is not what happened. That is the opposite of what happened.
The reviewers didn’t catch that I’d discovered this object and rejected the paper based on an assumption that I considered trivial at the time. I spent two years exploring something from scratch to address this concern, only to, shock of shocks, find that the assumption was right on the money. You can guess how most of my male colleagues—and superiors, full professors—acted toward me during those two years. So many heads turned toward the carpet when I walked down the hall. At times it seemed like it was a game for people to shoot down everything I said in certain discussion groups, even if they didn’t understand the question, even if they didn’t understand the talk and the correction they gave was actually wrong.
(Cool funfact: the distinguished professor who endorsed my ostracization also wanted to put his name on the object I’d discovered. So it would be, like, the Oldprof-Llama object. Cooler funfact: I still had advocates in my department. My advisor was the best, and most of my female colleagues didn’t do this crap. Coolest funfact: I don’t think I was singled out. Every other female colleague has a similar story about those groups.)
This is when I realized I couldn’t win. As long as people saw there as being a hierarchy, no matter where I was, someone would always be trying to kick me down.
Soon after, I started writing an early version of CT.
I say this all because, first of all, I enjoy when writers I love throw something in about their personal lives now and then, and also because I’m at the point in my career where my situation could turn around. It’s not the time to worry about keeping a hobby-blog posting schedule. The plan now is to get a ton of work writing done in the next couple weeks and get back on track after Haunted 1-6, which is in good shape. This particular pause is a crossroads in that I need some time to think about where CT would fit in my post-second-new-thing-reveal life. It’s not clear.
That being said, I’m not leaving yet, not when Book III just started. Also! Feel proud of yourselves, because some of the things you all helped me develop were instrumental in getting to this moment.
I used to seek respect from others. Now, I’ve gotten so used to publishing pieces I love and having them be widely ignored that I don’t rely much on external judgement anymore. And I’ve learned to appreciate the few people who don’t ignore them, of course!
I internalized that when I put something into the world, it was an invitation for critics to tear it to shreds. That when I made my voice heard, bad things would happen. Now I understand that it’s also a way to connect with the people who are willing to listen.
I already would rather listen than compare myself to others, but had no model of supportive conduct because the environment I was raised in was so competitive. Now, thanks to what you’ve all taught me, I’m much more confident about what I have to contribute. Not just because of my work, but as someone fighting this dumbass dick-measuring behavior that has no place in science.
Lastly, I often have trouble communicating because I don’t focus on the same things other people would. Learning to construct stories has helped me figure out how to present my ideas.
So if you see a public-interest article in the next five years along the lines of “Whoa! This lady had a super-sad life but still discovered/pioneered a bunch of stuff in [STEM discipline],” think to yourself, sweet, I may have helped with that.
Also, while there’s no new chapter, I’ve shitposted things that some of you may not have seen.
So please enjoy these assorted shitposts.
Plugging Kendra’s backstory into AI Dungeon
> draw cthulhu
You grab the paper in front of you and begin to read it. The following day, you woke up to find that you were missing an arm.
> where’s my other arm
You look down at your hand and notice that there is another arm attached to it. You are still missing an arm, but you have two arms now.
Friendship ended with MIKE
Someone asked who Xiyuan’s best friend was.
Okay—no one actually asked. I just need to talk about Yuan every day or I explode.
Shu won’t shut up about the bee box.
Shu lives in an apartment with no backyard.
So I filled his apartment with bees.
The TV is constantly on Pollinator pay-per-view. You touch the remote, you get stung.
Bees, bees, bees on a spree
Bees, bees, bees while you pee
They’re always there. Watching you with their compound eyes. Judging you for your inability to regurgitate calorically dense non-Newtonian fluids.
Don’t try to escape by going into your other girlfriend’s room. Those bees are hers! Get your own!
Shu used to represent the effects of emotional servitude and hypercreativity in a universe where it’s impossible to create anything truly new. From now on, he represents the effects of emotional servitude and hypercreativity in a universe where it’s impossible to create anything truly new and also his apartment is full of bees.
You asked for this. Idiot.
The Dumbass Years
The Dumbass Years are underexplored, having happened years before the start of Book I. Haunted attempts to rectify that. On the other hand, it was 6–8 years of this.
System Among the Stars
(Many of my shitposts are directed at 1esk19. Here, I took the first chapter of Esk’s main work, Somewhere Among the Stars, and inserted System of a Down lyrics whenever possible. You can appreciate it without having read SAtS, but go ahead and skip it if you don’t know your SOAD.)
The hatch sealed with a thunk behind her, the clang of armor-clad knees against metal floor panels reverberating over the sound of her increasingly ragged breathing. Door was closed. Lights were out. Every minute and every second, collapsed and trembling, gloved hands streaking indigo blood on the floor, she attempted to quiet her shaking breaths, tried to hide the scars to fade away the shake-up, but between her physical injuries and a gnawing anxiety in her chest, all she could manage was a whimper.
Liara T’Soni was having the most loneliest day of her life.
Whatever happens… I can wrestle with the stormy night because your love lasts a lifetime.
Echoes of Shepard’s last words to her, signs of her face, slowing her pace, her gloved fingertips brushing across the same spot on her cheek now damp with tears, replayed with such lucidity she swore her nerves fired in response.
Liara could see Shepard now, smiling as she pulled away.
New tears stung as they streaked over her lacerated cheeks, dripping down with each convulsive sob and dotting the floor with wet stains — some clear, others mixed with blood. She had not been gentle in sending Garrus away after he escorted her to her quarters, waving away all attempts at concern, adamant in her refusal of medical attention as he implored her to reconsider. Her unsettled mind was at times an ally, leaving the senses to fend for themselves.
The room lurched and shuddered around her despite Normandy’s inertia dampening, and sacred silence turned to an outward cry — if not from the pain of sudden movement, then from being startled back into her own desolate room. No lights, no music, the rumble of the drive core, the groan of the bulkheads, the rattling of her monitor array, the flicker of the lights — all served as reminders of where she was, but more so of where she was not.
And she wasn’t there for her.
It wasn’t right.
Liara slumped, overcome with a fit of sobs. Dreamed of screaming. Someone kick her out of her mind, she hated these thoughts she couldn’t deny.
She had done what she could. Her remorse was that she couldn’t survey the skies right before—right before they went grey. Nothing left to do but survive.
Shepard would activate the Crucible, or she would not.
The ship lurched around her again, sending a stack of datapads crashing off her desk and throwing her off-balance. Liara gasped for air through choked sobs, barely managing to steady herself, pressing her palms into the floor.
She should have stayed and taken a stand. Breathing each other’s lives. Holding this in mind. If they fell, they all fell. And they fell alone.
If the worst happened, was knowing any less painful than uncertainty?
Liara braced herself against the nearest server under her desk, attempting to stand, and she winced as her body protested the movement. Slowly she brought herself to her feet then limped the few remaining steps to the seat in front of her terminal.
Her fingers hovered over the keys, tremulous, hesitating. She typed her query. A distraction. Unnecessary. Shipboard visuals, aft and port. Two clusters of monitors nearest her brightened in dizzying flashes of blue, of red, of black with streaks of stars arcing with Normandy’s maneuvers — pictures of time and space rearranged in this little piece of typical tragedy. She killed the process and the monitors went dark again.
Liara pressed her eyes shut and typed again. All updates concerning Shepard, filtered information for the public eye. She executed the command. The nearest monitor flashed on again, bright against her eyelids. She looked down at her hands, couldn’t bring herself to look up. Another query. All updates from Alliance Command, set to another monitor. Her body shook with each heartbeat. Could she handle the news if it wasn’t good?
Did it matter? Shepard would do what she could. Liara’s role in the fight was over.
Nothing left to do but to survive.
The transcripts appeared in real time on her monitors: a rush of words, pleading to disperse upon her naked walls. She blinked them away.
Braced herself for what she might read.
Blinked again. Then again. She drew in a shaking breath.
Shepard was on the Citadel. Alive.
Liara’s heartrate surged along with a new flood of tears, and she sunk down with her face upon her desk, every piece of her overwhelmed with relief and fear and anticipation. Yearning. Life. A house and a wife. Little blue children. A family. A future.
The room around her jerked again, vibration rumbling throughout the ship and sending shocks of pain through her left leg. She whimpered through shuddering breaths and gritted her teeth.
Too soon to look forward. She wiped her eyes and looked at the feeds again. Shepard’s status: unchanged. Official commands: also unchanged. Normandy still circled the Crucible in a series of haphazard, unpredictable evasive loops, watching from a post up high from where they saw the ships afar from a well-trained eye, among many other vessels tasked with the same, still waiting on Shepard’s move.
Liara considered administering a medi-gel dose, her body humming with pain, but thought better of it — there were others in greater need. She fought to relax the tightness in her chest, focused on settling and deepening her breathing, time feeling like a midnight ride, finality waiting outside.
And then it happened.
With movement on the right-hand monitor she instinctively thought and stopped, stopping her eyes from flowing.
Bombs were falling overhead with no sight. All ships retreat. Fall back. The message repeating.
Her chair fell back behind her as she shot to her feet, her left leg collapsing. She screamed. Fell forward onto her desk.
“We can’t leave her!”
Liara regained her balance, brought up her omni-tool but fumbled with the controls. It didn’t matter. Don’t leave your seat now, she reminded herself. No message she could send to Joker or to Kaidan would matter. They had their orders.
They were looking for some help. They needed someone to save her ass.
The familiar rising hum of the drive core signaled the imminent jump into FTL.
Between gasping, crying breaths she heard her voice — strained, croaking, panicking, hardly recognizable as her own. “No, no, no…”
The last of the data flashed on her screen as a sudden, momentary bout of vertigo overtook her. Earth, Shepard… all the world she’d seen before her passing by as her eyes scanned the text. War staring her in the face, dressed in black.
Crucible fired. Explosion on Citadel. Two suns, seeing them both dying. Casualties expected.
No more information. Any data traveling at light speed couldn’t possibly reach them until they dropped out of FTL. And even when they did, how far away would they be? It could take years for that information to catch up. Decades. Longer.
What was happening back there? What happened on the Citadel? Did the Crucible backfire? Had their efforts succeeded? Was Shepard alive? Did she ever get stuck in the sky? Where did they expect her to go when the bombs fell?
She saw her pain was real, watched her world dissolve, her face locked in a scream but no sound escaping. It was over.
Shepard had done what she could to ensure the galaxy a future, to ensure her a future, but how could she go on if she had no one to thank, no one to hold? Ghosts were now waiting for her, was she?
How does she feel? What does she say?
In the end, it all goes away.