The nice thing about planting peppers is that once pepper plants start producing they continue to produce for the rest of the season. You don’t have to worry about trips back to Pierre’s to buy more seeds. And if you plant them all on the same day, and water them all every day, you’ll have a bounty, all on the exact same day. You can spend hours picking peppers.

I learned recently that when you put them in the bin it’s the mayor is who picks them up. He’s a nice guy. Old guy. He was actually friends with my grandfather.

I like it here. Since moving from the city, I’ve hardly even looked at a screen. I check the weather, sometimes watch a cooking show, but for the most part I’ve just been outside. Fixing up this farm I inherited. Fishing. Mining. Foraging. I even got some cows and chickens, because they looked cute and I was interested in making mayonnaise and cheese. It’s peaceful. We don’t even have a police force. We don’t even have news.

My grandfather passed away this spring. And I didn’t really know him. Not really. I’m named after him, but living in the city for so long, so far away from Vale de Rocio de Estrellas, we just didn’t have much in common to talk about. I’m still not sure why he gave me the farm, but maybe he knew that I needed an escape.

I didn’t really know what I was doing with the place in the spring, but over the summer I got much more comfortable. It has been a very good season for me.

I haven’t met too many of the townspeople yet. They seem really nice, all of them, but I didn’t move to here to make friends. I moved here for the silence. The small victories of a good harvest. And to be honest, these days I’m much more interested in upgrading to an iridium axe than learning who’s birthday is on what day. Alice likes to care about people like that. But I think I’m still trying to decompress from something. It’s a whole other world here, and something about switching contexts makes me want it to look as little as possible as the world from which I came.

Being the leader of a world class city in a time like this is very difficult. There is death everywhere. All I ever wanted during my tenure was to help my city flourish. But the challenges are relentless. It’s an endless parade of tragedies.

I spent the beginning of my career trying to create a sense of place. To really turn a village into a town into a city. To help my people live a good life. I spent time on urban planning. Organized industries into tidy zones. Fields around farmsteads. Cultural buildings along a main street.

But not anymore.

I’ve seen too many massacres to care anymore whether my houses are aligned in a neat grid. I just put them anywhere now. They’re probably all going to burn down anyway.

I’ve been forced to give up who I am. To care more for survival than order. The only way to prevent my own destruction is to destroy my enemy first. If my people even have a life to live it will only be because we built our military. What good, really, are nice neighborhoods if they’re overrun with the enemy? If battering rams knock it down, what good is our civic center? If trebuchets take down our temple, why does it matter whether it sat at the end of a well-arranged avenue?

I can sometimes hear the screams of dying women when I close my eyes at night.

I have been defeated.

In sporadic fits and bursts we have been solving a case. Surveying maps, inspecting images, and traversing time and space. Trying to piece together what transpired. How did everything go so fantastically wrong? It was a good crew. It should have been smooth sailing.

We go back to moments frozen in time: Friends playing games around a table. Colleagues working alongside each other. A look of concern. A smile. A resolve. We see mistakes, we see bravery, we see ill-timed jokes. And we see fully dimensional people who are earnest, conspiring, grieving, trying to escape. People we care about. People that had a good life, before.

In sporadic fits and bursts we review what we know. Disentangle knots so that we can know what to do with all of that life that there used to be. How do you judge their actions? What was it all worth?

Sometimes it feels like we are making quick progress. Other times it feels like we’re walking through the same scenarios again and again, trying to find something new because there is nowhere else to go.

As time goes on we understand things better. And still we feel loss. And we move on.

Sometimes we understand exactly what happened. Sometimes we can narrow things down. Sometimes we just guess, and hope to be told “Well done. Three more fates correct.”

I got a new vacuum recently. It works like magic. I can literally vacuum everything. And that is all I want to do. I can walk into a messy room, and suck up everything. Food. Drapes. Tools. Mice. Everything. Everything goes into the vacuum. And nothing can destroy it. It doesn’t need to be recharged, it doesn’t need to be emptied, I don’t have to clean out the filter, and I never have to clean hair out of it.

And when I’m done vacuuming everything is tidy. I like tidy. I like having a clean room.

Sometimes there are ghosts. Usually there are a ghosts. I am vacuuming because, it appears, magic vacuums are great for sucking up ghosts, and I need to suck up all of the ghosts because I came here with all of my friends and they are all gone now. If I suck up enough of the ghosts, I’m told I’ll probably be able to get my friends back. The small nerd who gave me this magic vacuum is sure of it.

The ghosts are really very scary. The calming peace I feel when vacuuming a room is usually always countered by the heart-racing terror of seeing the ghosts. I feel chills, every time. They move so quickly. Through solid objects. Flitter between visible and invisible. And I feel a little bit bad about sucking them up—some of them make horrible shrieks when I get them into the vacuum. But I want my friends back.

Livvy and I have been fighting lately. A lot. We never used to fight before, but she has gotten some ideas lately about things that she would like to do with other people and so we’ve been fighting. She’s always provoking me. She even tries to pick fights with me when we’re working. Middle of the workday, we’ll get into all out brawls.

And she’s so studious about it. Even when we’re not fighting with each other, she’s been reading up on how to fight. Practicing her attacks. Sparring with artificial intelligence to refine her approach. And while I have sometimes been able to fend for myself okay, it feels like I’m just smashing buttons. Relying on reflexes. Reacting, automatically.

It’s at least an escape. The time passes. And that’s most of what I’m looking for these days. Something to get engrossed in enough that time can pass before I notice that I spent all my time escaping from time itself.

I’m pretty badly damaged. I have been for a while. And I should be dead by now, I really should be. But the way this life works, you don’t die from damage. You die from getting smashed far, far away from solid ground, till you have nothing to hang on to, and you go up in a bright shout of color.