"The Mark of Your Ignorance"
[Thursday, August 21, 2014 -- Month 5]
Five months had passed
since the berettafly incident,
just about to begin the sixth.
Stylet had completed
his summer classes in
Remedial Bioethics at
Loyola University, and
just started his fall classes.
Of those, Applied Bioethics
focused on a big project, and
he needed help choosing one.
So he invited Wayne and
Carissa over for lunch.
Stylet had baked a batch of
Creole chocolate chicory brownies,
with some chocolate vitamin powder
thrown in for good measure.
Carissa showed up with
muffuletta sandwiches, and
Wayne brought Big Shot sodas in
pineapple, watermelon, and peach --
hard to find outside Easy City.
They sat on the porch and enjoyed
the brief reprieve from sweltering heat,
thanks to an afternoon thunderstorm
that left the air merely warm.
The muffulettas disappeared
in minutes, leaving everyone
to linger over sticky brownies
and chilled fruit sodas.
"I've been thinking about
balance," Stylet said. "I still
want to make up for what I did."
"That's a good thing," Wayne said.
"You're making progress with it,
especially in your college classes."
"I hope so," Stylet said. "I just don't know
if I actually can. It feels like everything
is coming unglued and my whole life
is falling apart all around me."
"The mark of your ignorance is
the depth of your belief in injustice
and tragedy," Carissa said serenely.
"What the caterpillar calls the end of
the world, the Master calls the butterfly."
"Come on, Stylet, tell us what's
really eating you," Wayne said.
"School," said Stylet. "I didn't expect
to enjoy Remedial Bioethics at all, because
my previous experiences sucked. But once I
got into a class where the answers weren't
already filled in ... it was interesting."
"That's good," Wayne said. "It's
meant to be engaging so that
people will actually think about it,
not just try to coast through."
"Yeah," said Stylet. "When
my adjudicator said that I didn't
have to pass the classes, just attend
them, I planned to go through the motions.
Then I got sucked right into them, and
the Ethics Bowl was really fun."
"What did you like best?"
asked Carissa. "That might
help you through the hard part."
"Something my teacher said in
Remedial Bioethics," Stylet replied.
"We are scientists. We understand that
failure is a natural and necessary part of
the learning process. We expect to make
many mistakes on the way to success."
"That's a great observation,"
Carissa said. "I'll have to
remember it for future use."
"There's more," Stylet said.
"When we fail, we do not sit down
and ruminate on it. Instead we
acknowledge what went wrong,
analyze why and how it happened,
repair everything that can be repaired,
formulate a new plan, and then act on it."
"Okay, so far, so good," Carissa said.
"What part of that are you stuck on?"
"Formulating a new plan," Stylet said.
"I've been toying with the idea of
actually trying to finish a degree
in bioethics. I took classes that
would count toward it, at least ...
but I don't know if I can stick it out."
"You won't know unless you try,"
Carissa said. "It's worth a shot."
"Also, it doesn't matter if you need
to sit out for a little while," Wayne said.
"I managed to make it back, after all."
"The university wants to help everyone
recover from the berettafly incident,"
said Carissa. "It touched a lot of lives,
in a lot of different ways, so they're
trying to be as flexible as possible."
"Yeah, they put me right into classes
in the summer semester, didn't even
make me wait for fall," Stylet said.
"It's weird to feel ... wanted."
"If they can convince you that
legal work is better than illegal work,
then everyone wins," Carissa said.
"You get a nicer job, making safer things,
and Loyola gets credit for teaching you."
"That's one of the things I'm having
a hard time believing," Stylet said.
"Then set it aside for now," said Wayne.
"What else do you think about the program?"
"It's really good," Stylet said. "I kind of
wish they offered a concentration in
superpowers, though. They have
more than enough classes already."
"You can make a custom concentration,"
Wayne pointed out. "All you need is
a list of 9 credits on the same theme,
and approval from your advisor.
I'm sure they'd grant that."
"Yeah, probably," Stylet said.
He typed on his vidwatch, sending
a message to his academic advisor.
"If they like the idea, they might even
add it to the standard options," Wayne said.
"That's how they got some of the others,
like the interfaith and secular ones."
"I wondered about that," Stylet said.
"I counted, and they have enough for
a minor too, even a good start toward
a major. They'd just need someone
to add a few basic classes, and then
a capstone for the major. Almost all
of the classes I'd list as options are
upper-level or graduate ones."
Carissa chuckled. "Well,
superpowers aren't simple."
"Nothing in my life is simple
anymore," Stylet muttered.
"We'll help you straighten it out,"
Wayne said. "Three heads
are better than one, right?"
"Says the man who never sat
on a committee," Carissa said.
"Okay, you got me there," Wayne said.
"Stylet, what else is throwing you?"
"Applied Bioethics," Stylet admitted.
"I have a big decision to make,
and ... I can't. I seriously can't."
"Oh, I get it," Wayne said,
his eyebrows going up. "You
don't trust your judgment."
"I can't," Stylet repeated.
His voice broke on the word.
"Then we'll help you," Carissa said.
"Talk us through the choice ahead of you."
"The first day was basically orientation,
then on the second we brainstormed
ideas for our projects," Stylet said.
"Friday we have to narrow it down
and present two or three pitches to
the professor for feasibility feedback,
then Monday we make our final choices,
which will set the number credits we earn."
"That sounds like a good start," said Wayne.
"Did you run short on inspiration, or what?"
Stylet shook his head. "Quite the opposite.
I started with one idea, something I have
considered before but never worked up
because nobody ever wanted to fund it.
My classmates added a few, some of them
pretty cool. Then the professor said that
Easy City wanted to commission me for
something, and it could count for class."
"Ah. I can see why that would rattle you,"
Carissa said, patting him on the shoulder.
"How could they possibly want me to make
something for them?" Stylet squeaked.
"I ruined everything in this city."
"Not quite everything, Stylet,"
said Carissa. "I think people
want something to smooth over
the memories and start fresh."
Stylet tilted his hands as if
weighing the different ideas.
"I don't know, maybe?"
"I'd like to hear about
your ideas," Wayne said.
"Do you have concept sketches,
descriptions, anything like that?"
"Yeah, let me grab my binder,"
Stylet said. For some things,
he liked to work on paper.
He went into the cottage
and came back with it,
spreading it on the table.
"The first idea that I
had was to resurrect
the giant ground sloth,"
Stylet said, turning
to the relevant page.
"What on Earth for?"
Carissa said, staring at it.
"Because it's so sad," Stylet said.
"I look at the hedge apples and
the honeylocusts -- nothing eats
their fruit now, it just lies there and
rots. They miss the mammoths
and the giant sloths. When I see
them, it makes me want to cry."
"Wow, that's deep," Carissa said.
"I take it back about the sloths."
"It's not just trees, either," Stylet said.
"There are whole parts of the ecosystem
we've never even seen, because they
died out before we were born."
"Like what?" Carissa said.
"I read this study about frogs living
in elephant footprints," Stylet said.
"It made me think about extinct giants
here -- what did they do that's missing?
They knocked holes in the forests, ate
huge seeds and fruits, and left piles of
manure everywhere. We can guess, but
we can't know how the ecosystem has
changed now that they're all gone."
"Okay, that is sad," Carissa said.
"We must be missing a lot here."
"Yeah, and I read another study about
the animals of the La Brea tarpits,"
Wayne said, eagerly leaning forward.
"The saber-toothed cats hunted in forests,
the dire wolves on the plains, but they both
specialized in giant prey. When the sloths
and all died out, their predators couldn't
adapt to smaller prey. But animals like
wolves and cougars did, so they survived."
Stylet grinned at him. "I know a guy
up in central Minnesota who runs
a mechanical mammoth project.
He drives this thing through about
five hundred acres of forest, stomping
holes in the ground, ripping out trees,
moving all the big fruits and seeds around,
and dumping loads of elephant dung.
I always wanted to visit and see ...
a glimpse of what used to be."
"So you want to fix it because
it's sad?" Carissa guessed.
"Well, that and the guilt,"
Stylet said. "I'm a human,
and even if other factors drove
the extinctions, humans probably
contributed. So we should fix that."
He sighed. "There's so much we can't."
"Okay, so those are arguments for
the giant ground sloth," Carissa said.
She didn't question whether he could do it.
"What else have you got on the drawing board?"
"Well, Dac Kien suggested modifying crops
to survive climate change," said Stylet.
"I think he's planning to do something
with herbs himself. He's more of
a plant guy than I am. I wouldn't
mind kibbitzing, though."
"Yeah, you can assist in
projects as well as doing
your own," Wayne said.
"That's a cool feature."
"Jolene Arduengo and
Sinh Keener want to study
the feasibility of crossing
capybaras and quokkas,"
Stylet said. "They invited me
because they know I mix species."
"You do it very well," Carissa said.
"What do they have in mind for
their capybara-quokka cross?"
Stylet said. "Jolene thinks
that humans only care
about cute species --"
"She's not wrong,"
"-- so if they could make
cuter animals, then people
would care more," Stylet said.
"Considering the amount of
kitten pictures clogging up
the internet, I can't blame her,"
Wayne said with a grimace.
"Wynona Cliff and Tyrascius Black
both suggested something like
gene therapy or fertility therapy,"
Stylet added to the growing list.
"Did they know you've already done
some things like that?" Carissa asked.
"No, I think they just figured that if I
could work on berettaflies, I could
work on humans too," Stylet said.
"I'm going to decline politely. I may
still do it -- one of the lab techs I know
at St. Henriette's is having a hard time
getting pregnant -- but not on the books.
Some things should stay private."
"Well, medical and legal precedent
back you on that, but I'm surprised
your confidence is still high in
that area," Carissa replied.
"That's because I've had
consistently excellent results
there," Stylet said. "I make
some great babies."
"Not like that," Stylet said,
glaring at Wayne. "I meant
that I do it in a laboratory."
"Pax, bro, I'm just teasing you,"
Wayne said, waving his hands.
"You did set yourself up for
that one," Carissa pointed out.
"So you mentioned that Easy City
wanted to commission you?"
"Yeah, somebody leaked
pictures of my pegasi," Stylet said.
"I can see why; they're very popular.
I'd have no trouble making more."
"But ...?" Carissa said.
"It feels like cheating,"
Stylet said. "I mean, I'd do
the work to make them, but I
wouldn't be starting fresh like
all the other students. It doesn't
seem fair to take credits for that."
"So write it up as a proposal,
but note that in your pitch,"
Wayne said. "It might make
a good 1 or 2-credit class
if you need a short one."
Stylet shook his head. "I was
hoping for at least three," he said.
"I guess I can use this as a backup,
though, if the teacher hates all of
the other ideas in my proposal."
"If you're offering to help classmates,
that has a high rate of approval as long
as their projects go through," Wayne said.
"Even if you only get one for yours, add
two assists and there's your three."
"Good point," Stylet said, making
a note on the edge of several pages.
He hesitated, then turned a new page.
"This was the other request from
Easy City. They want me to make
a butterfly especially for them."
Carissa mouthed, Wow.
"That's a big request,"
Wayne said. "Would it
affect your restitution?"
"Yeah," said Stylet. "Anything
I do that produces concrete benefits
will count toward that. This class
could really reduce what I owe,
because the man-hours count
in addition to the class credit.
Basically, my adjudicator is
giving me extra credit for it."
Wayne examined the first page,
where Stylet had written down
the request and some notes on
how to ensure that art butterflies
couldn't escape into the wild and
wreak havoc like the berettaflies.
"Exotic dietary requirements?"
Wayne said, tracing the line.
"It means that they will need
a special food in order to survive,
something that doesn't exist in
the wild," Stylet said. "Even if
they got loose, they'd die quickly.
The topic of self-limiting organisms
came up in Remedial Bioethics."
Then he gave a long, low chuckle.
"What's so funny?" Carissa said.
"That also gave me the idea of
building it into creatures to make
an ongoing market," Stylet said.
"It lets me cancel a project in case
anyone misuses the material, even
after I've given the buyer the goods.
They could only buy the special food
from me, so if they broke the contract --
boom! No more unauthorized critters."
"That would have been very useful
with the berettaflies," Carissa said.
"That was the unanimous decision of
my classmates. Shut the barn door after
the berettaflies are out," Stylet muttered.
"But now you know how to use that
to avoid a repetition," she said.
"You learned from that class."
"I learned a lot from it, which is
why I'm considering a real degree,"
Stylet said. "I wanted more classes
in bioethics, and so far the current ones
look just as exciting as the first was."
"That's good," Wayne said. "Do you
have any design concepts, or is it
all just text notes for now?"
"I doodled up some ideas,"
Stylet admitted as he took
them out of the art folder.
The first page had a flight of
at least a dozen butterflies
in different shades of pink.
"I started with these, thinking
pink was a safe color for guns,"
Stylet said, then shook his head.
"Then I realized that it's probably
too girlie and guys wouldn't like it."
The next page showed butterflies
in blue, purple, and pale green.
"The mixed ones aren't as
gendered," Stylet said. "So that
got me thinking about blue ..."
The third page held a single butterfly,
blue barely touched by pink, with
long flowing tails behind it.
"Then I figured that was
probably too limiting, so I
tried to broaden out what
I was doing," Stylet said.
Another page had been divided
into a grid of thumbnails, each one
showing a different butterfly,
most of them multicolored.
He had gone on to do one
that was basically a viceroy with
rainbow coloring and spirals
at the tips of its forewings.
"I like this one a lot, but then
I thought it might remind people
of the berettaflies, so I tried
to come up with something
completely different," he said.
The last butterfly, drawn in
two positions, had black wings
with strong green iridescence
on top and purple iridescence
underneath, both sides marked with
large gold crescents on the rear wings.
"These are really good," Wayne said.
"Did you know Loyola has some art classes
relevant to our subject? There's a pair on
visible superpowers in Bioethics, and ...
um ... Painting for Non-art Students,
that was it, in the art department.
You could take some. You have
a great sense of aesthetics."
Stylet dipped his chin. "Thanks.
I ... haven't heard that in a while."
"Then brace yourself, because
I think you'll hear a lot more of it
on Friday when your classmates
see those sketches," Wayne replied.
"Which one is your favorite?"
"The Crescent Mascot,"
Stylet said as he touched
the edge of the last page.
"It's beautiful," Carissa said.
"Why don't you write up pitches
for the Crescent Mascot, the pegasus,
and the giant ground sloth? That'd
give your professor a nice range
of projects to consider for you."
"Don't forget to include
Dac Kien's herbs and Jolene's
capybara-quokka cross too,"
said Wayne. "Usually you get
one credit for assisting, unless
you do a lot and then it's two.
Figure three for your own work."
"So if I did my project plus two assists,
that's six," Stylet said. "Pretty good, but if I
help other people, then I'll need an assistant
of my own, and the classmates I know best
from Remedial Bioethics are the ones
I'm already planning to assist."
"That sounds very promising,"
Carissa said. "I knew that
you could work it out, Stylet."
"Promising if the professor
likes my ideas enough to approve
at least one, and a classmate likes
that well enough to help me with
the project," Stylet clarified.
"You know ..." Wayne said slowly.
"I only took the minimum 12 hours
for full-time status. I just wanted
to start back easy. There's still time
to add another class, and 13 or 14 isn't
a heavy load. I could join Applied Bioethics
and work on your project, whatever it is."
Stylet blinked. "You'd do that for me?"
"Well yeah," Wayne said. "That's
a cool class, and I really like some of
your ideas. You can spot me, too,
and make sure I don't overload."
"Yeah, okay, I know what burnout
looks like," Stylet said. "I won't
let you push yourself too far."
"Great," said Wayne. "I'll send
a message to my advisor now, and
talk it over tomorrow." He took out
his smartphone and did that.
"You'll get in," Stylet said.
"The university is expediting
everything for me. They're
bending over backwards
to make this work, so I
get whatever I need."
"So do you have a plan
now?" Carissa asked.
Stylet looked at his notes
for the various projects.
"Yeah," he said. "I think I do."
* * *
This poem is long, so the character, location, and content notes will appear separately.