Perth Games Festival!

Nov. 29th, 2015 06:03 pm
alias_sqbr: (genius!)
[personal profile] alias_sqbr
And it was pretty great.

There was pretty good access, microphones for panelists and audience members asking questions, and Auslan (Australian Sign Language) interpreters, who were lovely. The Diversity in Gaming panel went very well, though I discovered I had inadvertently declared myself the leader by making notes haha. There were some clueless questions, and we got bogged down slightly in discussions of Gamergate, but everyone was polite, and my copanelists were 100% on the same page as me, even though none of us really knew each other, which was great. Also right at the start someone asked me in particular what my first game was, which was odd, but luckily the answer was "An Amstrad game called Citybomb in the later 80s, which I then reprogrammed" so I felt very unfake Geek Girl. Had a few people approach me afterwards to thank me for a good panel and ask extra questions.

My two hour exhibition slot went pretty well! I offered people SOON (finished time travel visual novel), Copper Rose (unfinished f/f vampire steampunk dating sim) and Northanger Abbey (very unfinished Jane Austen adaptation dating sim), people only chose the first two and seemed to enjoy them! Had some kids play SOON and realised it's a bit confusing if you don't remember 1993 because you weren't born yet, but they managed to get as far as the bad end and then happily took my card to download it and find the good one :) Was introduced to a woman who was very chuffed to see so many images of Perth in my game, she turned out to be the mayor which may explain her slightly offended look at me clearly having no idea who she was, oops. Handed out a bunch of business cards, had to apologise for their rustic hand crafted look since I misunderstood the ordering process and the professional ones I ordered won't be here until next week. If I go again next year will try and have a shiny banner, that definitely attracts people too.

Unfortunately I didn't get much chance to check out the other games since my train was AN HOUR LATE thanks to a mechanical problem, luckily I'd left myself an hour's grace but it would have been nice to spend that time looking at games instead of on the station twiddling my thumbs. The two I played were a blackmail themed word game, which was fun, and Bellus Mortem which is a very pretty game about fighting battles as a magic using cat that I was predictably awful at. Both are still in production, which made me feel more confident about showing people my in production games.

I didn't get to see any other panels for similar reasons, but they looked interesting. It was PACKED, but lines weren't generally so long as to be too off-putting and the wait encouraged impatient players to try less popular games (like mine!)

And then on the way home I found a cheap, open, wheelchair accessible Korean place (Took Bae Kee 2) then stumbled across the Maylands Markets where I had a quite tasty elderflower and basil iceypole. And once I got home I saw I'd made a sale of SOON! So all in all a good day.

Of course TODAY I am wiped, but I made sure not to have any plans until Tuesday. When I am getting some of this damn hair cut off!

Wanted: temporary use of 5'+ ladder

Nov. 29th, 2015 03:57 am
[syndicated profile] astoriareddit_feed

I need to paint the upper half of two walls, change a few light bulbs, and do a thorough vacuum dusting. I'm thinking about dropping $45 for a 5' step ladder from Home Depot, but thought I'd try this first. (Super has one, but is dealing with family medical stuff)

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ffmprovisr at AMIA #AVhack15

Nov. 28th, 2015 05:09 pm
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Posted by Ashley Blewer

For this year’s hackday, I brought ffmprovisr to the table. This was an app I made over a year ago that hadn’t been given enough attention, primarily due to lack of time. My fumbling pitch went something like this: “I think it’d be fun to combine and continue to build up these two projects into something better because ffmpeg continues to live on as a mysterious but necessary component of a/v archival practice. This project would be mostly R&D with some basic front-end web development skills (building forms). I feel this is a little out of the scope of hack day (and those greedy for rewards may seek refuge elsewhere) in that it’s more of a REMIX project and a mostly-hack-the-docs-with-some-coding project, but if there is interest (there was last year, for ffmprovisr) — we will build the hell outta this!”

I envisioned building on the old version of ffmprovisr, which was a guided form for building ffmpeg scripts, but on hack day I realized it was a little too heavy on the hand-holding — archivists that at least had ffmpeg installed on their computers didn’t need to click through forms and select their input and output. They could reasonably be expected to have the ability to look at a sample script and base their own script off of it. So we changed the structure from a form to a sample command line that also came with a description of what it did and a breakdown of how each command worked.

When originally pitching this idea, I thought it’d be a good “gateway drug” to capture archivists and turn them into developers, anticipating a lot of git knowledge sharing and code-writing habits. In the end, I was primarily the one pushing code (but also Rebecca Fraimow) while everyone else helped to add interesting sample scripts to our shared google doc, parsing commands pulled from the ffmpeg documentation from previous hackdays or dropping in scripts they use regularly as archivists. So the project ended up being even stronger than I imagined it would be (and helped provide the biggest lack from the existing proof-of-concept application)!

So the best part about hackday was the collabartive elements. It was great seeing collaboration happen live between BAVC employees and Reto Kromer, as well as get some in-use scripts from Catroina Schlosser from CUNY-TV and Nicole Martin from Human Rights Watch. While Eddy Colloton (MIAP) was working on a script that converts a DCP into access copies, help came in on our shared google doc from Kieren O’Leary (Irish Film Archive), participating remotely from Ireland.

We had been working on a forked branch of my original repo, but when I came home from AMIA, I did the right thing and gave ffmprovisr to the people — it now has a permanent home in the amiaopensource repo where collaboration has continued to thrive, mostly thanks to the strong support from Reto, who diligently modified the code to make it consistent and easier to read. Thanks, Reto!

P.S. super happy I went 2009-trendy-internet-tumblr-style with the name of this app because I saw tweets go out as ffmprovisor, ffmproviser, and ffmprovisr (and maybe a few other variations in between).


Nov. 28th, 2015 02:40 pm
cofax7: Cordelia Naismith is dangerous (Bujold - Cordelia)
[personal profile] cofax7
So, lots of stuff going on. Health, work, family, blah blah blah.

In the middle of all that, though, I adopted a new German Shepherd. Meet Jetta:

Read more... )

She's a rescue. Which means that she's overweight, hardly trained, barely housebroken, tennis-ball obsessed, and suffers from separation anxiety. On the other hand, she loves people, is very snuggly, and has figured out pretty quickly that every time she goes in her crate she gets a treat, so we're learning to get along.

It will take a bit longer to get her used to having her nails clipped, though...

Oh, and the name is not for the car: it's a nickname for Bridget, except the original spelling was Gette, and it would be impossible to get anyone to pronounce it right. And since she's jet black, it seemed to work.

Star Trek: Renegades!

Nov. 28th, 2015 11:03 pm
starlady: Raven on a MacBook (Default)
[personal profile] starlady
The Kickstarter for Star Trek: Renegades episodes 2 & 3 is in its final days and still needs about $46,000 to meet its goal.

The first episode is available to watch in its entirety for free on YouTube. The series, which is independent and fan-funded, takes place in the original universe approximately ten years after the events of Nemesis.

You can back the Kickstarter at a variety of levels and help make the next phase of Star Trek happen!
[syndicated profile] astoriapost_feed

Posted by admin

(left to right, Suspect #1, Suspect #1, Suspect #2, Suspect #3)

(left to right, Suspect #1, Suspect #1, Suspect #2, Suspect #3)

November 28, Staff Report

A teenager was robbed by three men after he withdraw cash from an ATM inside a Ditmars Boulevard deli/grocery earlier this month, according to police.000

The 18-year man was thrown to the ground by three men outside A-Town deli/grocery, located at 24-20 Ditmars Boulevard, on Nov. 8 shortly before 3:00 pm. The three alleged perpetrators had watched the victim make the withdrawl inside A-Town and then followed him.

The suspects grabbed his wallet from his pants pocket, which contained a credit card, debit card and $1 in cash.

The victim, who was not injured, did not lose the cash he withdrew from the ATM, since he had placed it in another pocket.

Anyone with information in regards to this incident is asked to call the NYPD’s Crime Stoppers Hotline at 800-577-TIPS.

Surveillance video is attached.

Thousands Stolen From 27th Ave ATM

Nov. 28th, 2015 08:49 pm
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Posted by admin


November 27, Staff Report

Police are searching for a suspect who broke into an ATM last month and stole thousands of dollars.

The man forcibly broke into an ATM located in front of 14-42 27th Ave. and removed $2,100, according to police.

The theft occurred on Oct. 23 at approximately 3:50 a.m., according to the NYPD.

Police released a surveillance video of the suspect and are asking anyone with any information to call 1-800-577-TIPS.

(no subject)

Nov. 28th, 2015 04:36 pm
synecdochic: torso of a man wearing jeans, hands bound with belt (Default)
[personal profile] synecdochic
Last chance on the Anniversaries; I'll be catching up the lists tonight and probably ordering tomorrow.

I link, therefore I spam

Nov. 28th, 2015 06:00 pm
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Posted by spam-spam

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.


Nov. 28th, 2015 05:44 pm
[syndicated profile] lunastationquarterly_feed

Posted by admin

Day 88

Deep in his closet, inside a box of useless trinkets and photographs he’s accumulated the last couple of months, in a boot, in a sock, he locates the laser scalpel. He goes to the mirror, where his face, his narrow nose and crooked smile, are familiar now and unthreatening and despite the fact that he still to this day cannot remember his past, he sees a person he might have been, hopes he was, and it brings him a kind of peace. It’s almost over, he thinks. Through the window, the moon shines dimly, veiled in clouds.

He pulls at the tip of his golden earlobe and slices it off, the laser sealing the wound as quickly as it’s made. He cleans up and dresses, pulls on a jacket, finds the ball and stashes it in his pocket. At the door, he presses his cheek to the cool surface, rubs his thumb over the ball’s curving seams. Quiet footsteps pad by. He waits until they pass and then steps into the hallway, a part of him missing now, decaying already in the trashcan beneath the sink.

Day 2

A man’s face looms over the bed, black hair, a curious gold-tipped ear. “This must seem quite strange,” he says and then introduces himself as Fend. The words Facilitator, Transition Team, scroll across the pocket of his green jacket.

The patient has many questions. He does not know where he is or how he got there. More importantly, he does not know who he is.

“Retrograde amnesia,” Fend explains. “Trauma to the medial temporal lobe.”

The patient touches his shaved scalp, runs his fingers around the sutures. “Is there a mirror?”

Fend has one in his lap, having anticipated the question, apparently. The patient studies his long, unfamiliar face, his smooth, youthful forehead. A faint scar encircles the crown of his head. He fingers the film of gold coating on his own left earlobe.

“It monitors your vitals,” Fend explains.

Somewhere a machine beeps. There are people in the hall, walking and in conversation. Antiseptic smells.

“What happened?”

“You were in a kind of— ” Fend begins. “A kind of a coma.”

“What happened?”

Fend inhales. “Soon enough,” he says. He puts the mirror in a drawer.

Soft sunlight permeates the room through a floor-to-ceiling window that wavers like gel.

“Are you hungry?” Fend asks.

“I don’t know,” the patient says.

“Would you like to take a walk?”

“I don’t know.”

“We’ll take this slowly,” Fend says. “But I assure you, everything will be fine.”

I don’t know, the patient thinks. I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know.

Day 3

On the patient’s lap, Fend places a tray scattered with a dozen rectangular tiles, all bearing a name. The patient studies the tiles, reads each one and searches his mind for any signs of recollection. The effort is not lost on him. “This is a test.”

Fend smiles, nods in approval. “Very good.”

The patient has tried often these last couple of days to locate his past, has ventured hundreds of times into the void of memory to confront the uninterrupted whiteness that extends beyond the present. Always, he comes up empty. After half a minute, he chooses a tile.

Fend reads it. “Williams,” he says.

“How did I do?”

“Very well. You did very well.”

Day 74

The void is there, always. Silent, unyielding. He finds himself at the edge of his psyche daily, looking into it for some sign of himself.

Day 8

Williams picks up a marble and places it into a jar. He slides a block into a square hole. He twists a screw into a bolt. He walks along a beam four inches across and six inches off the ground, heel to toe, heel to toe. Motor skills are automatic, and it’s so easy it makes him angry. When he jumps off the beam, he kicks a ball across the room.

“Excellent coordination,” Fend says.

“What next?” Williams asks.

Fend brings several balls to toss into a basket a few meters away. The balls fit into Williams’ large hand perfectly. He palms one, lobbing it with ease and accuracy.

“Well done,” Fend says, watching him.

Williams picks up another ball and studies it. It’s white, about 75 millimeters in diameter, encircled in seams of red stitching. There is a sense of something forgotten, a word or a phrase on the tip of his tongue, a notion that something more lies beyond the periphery. As he cups the ball in both hands, an idea slides toward the edge of his consciousness and then retreats. He looks to Fend.

“What is it?” Fend asks.

“There is something here.”

He goes to the window and opens it. Below, dozens of people walk the grounds of the Facility, golden earlobes twinkling in the midday sun. He aims for the side of the building next door, fifty meters away, and throws the ball as hard as he can. Cool exhilaration fizzes through his chest cavity. There is something here.

That night he dreams of geometry, of spheres, triangles and quadrilaterals, of perimeters and infinity. He dreams of green and white rushing into his mouth like wind.

Day 40

Memories are tantamount to afterimages from another life; they cannot be seen if looked at directly.

Day 9

On the first day of “Transition Group,” Williams is introduced to Ang and Resia.

Ang, whose head is fuzzed with black hair, towers over Williams by six inches, but his grip is weak. He is a nervous man, glancing now and then at the exit, as if agonizing over the time until they depart.

“Kippy, huh?” Resia elbows Williams in a friendly way. She wears a scarf around her head the same blue as her eyes.

“Sure,” Williams says. He can’t stop looking at the small gap between her front teeth.

After they’ve seated themselves in a semi-circle facing each other, Fend explains that they’re here to support each other, encourage discussion about their new lives, ask questions, give suggestions, bring up any concerns or fears.

“I have a concern,” says Resia. “I can’t remember a fucking thing.”

Williams laughs. It’s the first time he’s laughed since waking up, and for a moment, the joy rinses away the anguish. For a moment.

Day 20

Williams takes a pod into the center of the city, where structures both shimmering and dull bunch up between a mountainside and an ocean. His reflection floats across the facades of luminous buildings that cast shadows across his path. Amid the noise and chaos, he passes from sunlight into shade, turns this way and that, through the crowds of shifting colors and faces, of sights, smells and sounds that he has encountered hundreds of times, that he has never encountered; tastes and textures that he has known his whole life, that he has never known; drawn into the panorama as it converges and overlaps and then diverges once more until he has the sensation of being refracted, split apart from himself and reconnected into someone else.

And then suddenly, he is lost. He backtracks, turns down a street, then backtracks again. When asked for directions, a Bengalese street vendor answers Williams in Telugu. It is of little help. Sweat streams down between his shoulder blades as he scans the skyscrapers for a landmark, a familiar storefront. He should have paid more attention to the signs. Abruptly, he turns around and makes eye contact with a woman walking several paces behind; she stops with a look of surprise, as if caught in a trap. She is three times his age, at least, shabbily dressed, her gray hair pulled back at her neck. While she holds his eyes in hers, her expression changes to one of concern, or maybe it’s pity, and immediately he feels foolish for being lost. Faintly, she smiles and it’s then he notices the cerulean clarity of her eyes.

“May I be of assistance?” a man asks. Fend stands at Williams’ shoulder, looking calm as ever in his green jacket.

“I got turned around,” Williams says. He glances toward the woman, but she’s gone.

“Not to worry,” Fend says, pinching briefly his own gold-tipped earlobe. “We always know where you are.”

Williams follows. Once more, he looks back for the woman, but she is nowhere to be seen. The image of her lingers … a poor woman in rags, her heavy jowls, the dark crescents beneath her eyes, the look of surprise on her face. She was following him, Williams realizes.

Day 5

In the bathroom mirror, his brown eyes stare back at him from under thick eyebrows. When he turns his attention to his narrow nose and large ears, the pupils follow, all the way down to his full bottom lip. Williams grins, sticks out his tongue. Every part of him is a stranger. As he turns to urinate, so does his reflection. He feels spied upon.

Day 87

He thinks he sees Resia near the path that runs to the Children’s Hospital, so he jogs down to greet her. She is with three other women, all with cleanly shaved heads.

“I’ve been calling you,” he says.

She furrows her brow, confused. “Excuse me?”

“Resia,” he says.

The three other women look to him and then to her.

“I’m Asia,” she says, holding out a hand for the introduction.

But it’s Resia, he’s sure. Her blue eyes, her light eyelashes, her mouth, her nose, her gold-tipped ear, the gap in her front teeth. The rose she’d drawn on the inside of her forearm is gone.

Day 28

Geometric shapes chase him in dreams: rectangles, diamonds and spheres, taunting him like incorrigible children.

Day 10

In Group, they do memory exercises. These involve listening to music, tasting strong flavors, smelling various odors. Sometimes they look at images that, according to Fend, are iconic to the times in which the three of them lived, although he won’t tell them what time that is, just like he won’t tell them their real names or where they’re from. “An idea planted will not grow into a memory,” he likes to say.

On this day, Fend passes around ground coffee, oranges, garlic and rosewater.

They take turns sniffing.

Ang holds an orange in his long fingers. “There is something here,” he says, and sniffs again.

Williams thinks of the ball he now keeps in his room.

“An orange tree,” Ang says.

“Genius,” Resia whispers to Williams. Her eyelashes are so blonde, they’re nearly white.

Day 41

“Knock, knock,” Williams says.

Resia lies in bed next to him, the back of her shoulder bare and smooth. “Who’s there?”


She turns over with a smile, the edge of her mouth smudged red in yesterday’s lipstick. “Orange who?”

“Orange you glad to see me?”

She rolls her eyes. “Did Ang tell you that one?”

Day 33

Ang monopolizes the orange. “I remember a woman, not my mother, picking oranges from a tree and squeezing juice for breakfast.” He says it without looking at them.

Fend brightens. “Good, Ang.” He nods to Williams and Resia to encourage their encouragement.

Resia smiles and Williams knows she’s forcing it. Over lunch, she occasionally derides Ang for being unfriendly. “If that’s his real name,” she has said more than once.

Ang tosses the orange into the air, catches it, and then tosses it again. Williams watches him, his mind nearly remembering. He kept one of the balls with red stitching, stole it when Fend wasn’t watching. Now and then, he sits on the floor in his room, rolling it back and forth against the opposite wall. He inhales its fragrance the way he does other objects in Group. It smells, unremarkably, like leather. What is this thing to him? Why is he so obsessed? Lately he has begun carrying it in a jacket pocket, in the off chance he will remember something.

Later, on the path outside, Resia and Williams walk to the cafeteria together.

“I could pretend to remember orange juice,” she says.

“Ang isn’t pretending,” Williams says.

She stops, presses the side of her head for a few seconds. “The headaches are the worst.” The whites of her eyes have become red and pooled with tears.

“They are,” he says, though he doesn’t get them.

“What does Fend say?” She asks.

“Give it ninety days.”

“Then what?”

He smiles and puts his arm around her shoulder. “It’s going to be okay,” he tells her.

Day 43

In the city, Resia radiates happiness, pointing here and there at advertisements, amusing hairstyles, food carts and street musicians, as she and Williams weave in and out of the crowds, into and out of the shadows. Her hair has grown a couple of inches, and a cowlick at the hairline makes her appear impish. They come upon a fruit stand and Williams tosses an orange at her.

“Knock, knock,” he says.

She puts the fruit to her nose.

“Smells fresh.”

“No,” he says. “Who’s there?”

“Who’s where?”

She has become forgetful lately. Yesterday she couldn’t remember Fend’s name and resorted to calling him The Twit. The vendor points at the orange and says something in Telugu.

“I don’t think he wants us to touch the fruit,” Williams says, taking the orange from her and replacing it on the stand.

“What is this?” Resia asks, pointing to the vendor’s forearm. On his dark skin, dusted with work, a rose transforms from a bud to a bloom, changing from pink to deep red in the process.

“Paccabottu,” the man says. The tattoo sparkles.

“Where can I get one?” Resia asks.

Williams scans the street for a shop. There on the corner is the old woman, in her same shabby clothes, her gray hair pulled back at the neck. She stands behind a table, selling flowers.

“Wait here,” he tells Resia.

As he approaches, the woman’s blue eyes widen and Williams is surprised by their youthfulness. He notices that her left earlobe has been cut off.

“Bubby,” she whispers, then covers her mouth.

“You know me.”

“No.” She looks trapped behind her table.

“You were following me. A couple of weeks ago.”

“You’re mistaken.”

From behind him, Resia calls his name, and when he turns, he sees Fend beside her. Williams curses.

The woman glances over his shoulder at Fend and composes herself. “Buy flowers,” she says.


“You can’t come away empty-handed.” Her eyes are stern but behind them he sees something like fear. He asks for six.

She wraps them in a translucent fabric that trembles the surface of the ocean. Later, he gives them to Resia, and later still, after she’s forgotten about them, he brings the roses back to his room, where he discovers the logo for the flower shop embossed in the underside of the fabric.

Day 7

The hospital is quiet when he wakes. After a restless hour he rises and slips his feet into quiet shoes. In the halls, he turns this way and that at random, and begins to feel as if he’s getting closer to the thing he seeks, though he can’t put his finger on what exactly that thing is. He begins to touch everything he sees and repeat its name as a way to reassure himself. Chair, door, desk, wall, light, cart, sign. At the end of a hall, he pushes through the door to what he believes is the cafeteria, but instead finds himself in a small auditorium. The space is empty except for a handful of people sitting a few rows up. They’re watching a video of a surgery. In it, a doctor uses a laser to cut through the cranial bone of a young woman with white eyelashes.

Someone touches Williams at the elbow. It’s Fend. “Instructional video,” he says.

“I couldn’t sleep,” Williams says.

“This way,” Fend says.

Williams allows himself to be led out, while behind him the top of the woman’s head is removed.

Day 58

Williams has started fishing. A half-mile out, he drops the anchor and sets up his lines. The sun is already too high, and he knows he’ll be lucky to catch anything; but it’s not about the fish— although he imagines that it used to be. Now it’s merely the act of fishing, of reading the currents, of finding the spot, of bobbing on the water, of tying the lure and waiting. He could wait all day and be satisfied, and he does. He watches the lines, eats his lunch under the boat’s canopy, listens to the waves slap lazily against the hull. On the water, his existence becomes as clear and tangible as the sea air, salty on the back of his throat.

Just as he’s getting ready to head in, one of the lines stiffens and he’s up. He grabs hold of the rod and immediately the weight of the fish and the energy of its struggle send an electric charge through his body. He draws back the rod, which strains at the tip, and then lowers it, reeling the spool as fast as he can to keep out any slack that could give the fish a chance to turn its head and break free. For a half hour, the fish fights him, its life force vibrating unseen at the end of the line, twenty or thirty feet below the waterline. Suddenly, it breaks the surface, a striped bass gleaming like a sheet of chrome. He lifts it onto the boat and into his hands to remove the hook. Its eyes bulge, its gills fan wide and then close, fan wide again. Desperate.

From beneath Williams’ ribs, a notion flutters. “I know you,” he tells the fish.

He weighs it, twenty-two pounds, and then lowers it into the water, where it pauses, dazed, and then with a frantic flick of its tail, swims off.

At sea, Williams comes closer than ever, he’s sure, to his former self. The familiarity with the actions is deeper than any memory of them. He suspects the instinct goes beyond the neuron, perhaps to the level of the electron, which delivers its message to the atoms, to the molecules, the mitochondria and Golgi, which transport it to the muscles, to the bones, to the blood, so that even if the brain has forgotten, the body can remember.

Day 66

His loss of memory is not a void, really, but more like a mass too heavy to be moved away. If it had a size, it would be a lifetime.

Day 46

They watch a movie called King Kong. Resia likes it but Ang seems annoyed and Williams doesn’t blame him; he finds it ludicrous, a giant ape with affections for a woman, and so he spends much of the movie watching Ang, who fidgets with a stylus, tapping it until Resia gives him a dirty look. It isn’t until the end of the movie, when the ape climbs the skyscraper, that Ang starts to pay attention in a way that becomes a distraction, even to Williams. He paces the room and circles the projection to study it.

“Will you please sit down?” Resia says.

Ang ignores her. Even in the darkened room, his face has a brightness to it, his eyes are wide. He tips his head up to the ceiling with his mouth open like a fledgling awaiting its meal of regurgitated words.

“What is it?” Fend asks.

“The Empire State Building,” Ang says.

The ape swats at dive-bombing biplanes as if they were jungle gnats.

“There’s an observation deck on the 86th  floor,” Ang says. “I put a dime in a viewfinder and saw Central Park.” He smiles. It is the first time Williams has seen Ang smile.

Day 51

Williams wakes to Resia crying.

“There were babies,” she says.


“A room filled with incubators, one after the other.”

“You were dreaming.” He pulls her against his chest.

“At the Children’s Hospital,” she says. “It was so real.”

Day 6

“You will feel some disorientation,” Fend says.  

Day 65

When Williams and Resia arrive at Group, they find Ang singing.

I got spurs that jingle, jangle, jingle

Tracy Staedter

Nov. 28th, 2015 05:42 pm
[syndicated profile] lunastationquarterly_feed

Posted by admin

Tracy Staedter, founder of Fresh Pond Writers, is an author, editor and journalist, whose nonfiction has appeared in Earth Magazine, Astronomy, Scientific American, Technology Review, Fast Company, and Discovery News. In 1999, she authored the children’s book, Rocks and Minerals, part of the Reader’s Digest Pathfinders series. She completed one year of an MFA in Creative Writing at Goddard College before stepping over to an alternative path. You can find her blog, Text Heavy, at

The post Tracy Staedter appeared first on Luna Station Quarterly.

The Five Snowflakes

Nov. 28th, 2015 05:40 pm
[syndicated profile] lunastationquarterly_feed

Posted by admin

Deep in snow lands, a King and Queen and their daughter Katla lived in a stone castle. Katla played in ice sweeps below frozen skies. She ran with white foxes. Within the castle halls, she dwelled in tapestry gleam and fire glow. Her mother taught her to weave the tales of the frost gods into bright scenes. In the castle dusks, she hid and watched her father’s men reciting sagas. She listened for the footsteps of long-ago Kings. She thought the stars were ice worlds bright with wolf song and wind.

Outside the castle walls, she wandered in days of glacier blue and sky far. Snow dusted her deep furs. She huddled by her father’s side as his sled raced through valley plummets and mountain shadows. He taught her to steer the sled dogs. She fed them morsels from the banquets and told them the story of the Queen who fled into the ice caverns and lives there still. As Northern Lights coloured the darkness, she nestled between the dogs. She wondered if the lights were pieces of melted stars.

At the banquet table, she watched shadow shapes in the torch light. The nights smelled of snow fall. When she curled in her bed, she listened for the frost gods trekking upon frozen seas. She whispered their names to keep herself safe. In the castle deeps, her mother told her histories she would join when she grew up to become Queen. Her words seemed full of endless nights and dim jewels. Katla peered from the tower tops and tried to see the realm’s edge.

So Katla grew up among snow hush and wind song. She raced her sled in sparkling vasts and wandered wolf paths on sunlit nights. When she murmured tales of Kings and Queens, she added stories of her future reign.

One dusk, her mother gave birth to a son. Katla watched her father toast his new heir. The walls swayed with cheering and music. He told her now she would marry a prince in a far-off land. She ran from the castle and huddled with her dogs. The night billowed with Northern Lights. She begged the frost gods to turn her to fur or snow. When she crept to her bed, she dreamed the distant kingdoms were only hollows in melted ice.

On her last day in the snow lands, Katla trekked to an ice cavern with her dogs. Bright ice arched in jagged heights. She stepped inside and whispered her prayer to the frozen passageways. Her voice sounded like folded wind. She lingered in the blue chill, seeking the footprints of the gods. When she couldn’t glimpse them, she plucked five snowflakes from the air and placed them in a small box.

All night, she wept and waited for the gods to grant her wish. She watched her hands, hoping to see them turn glass-clear and cold. When the sun rose, she looked at her last Arctic dawn, and then drifted the corridors murmuring sagas among the tapestries. The halls smelled of mountain sides. She buried her face in the dogs’ fur and whispered her goodbyes. As the sled carried her across the snow plains towards her father’s ship, she clasped her box of snowflakes.

On the ship, she stood below sails and stars, watching the glaciers until they vanished from view. Then she huddled in her chambers as the ship journeyed across ocean dark and wave roar. In the night hours, she whispered the names of the mountains of her homeland. She peered into the sea and wondered if the waters had once been a kingdom carved in ice.

One day, the ship reached a warm coast. Katla clutched her box of snowflakes as a carriage hurried her through green swelter and sun spill. She looked from the window as the palace loomed nearer. Smooth turrets reached into still skies. Women in bright silks gossiped among fountains and blooms. The carriage halted. Men speaking words Katla didn’t know bowed and led her into marble halls. She felt small under the foreign King’s stare. His name was sharp in her mouth. That night, she dreamed of skies of ice falling and shattering upon the land.

Katla’s days shrivelled within the palace. Ladies unplaited her hair and dressed her in silks. She stopped smelling of fur and ice. At the banquet table, she sat with the prince she was to marry. Spices darkened the air. The shadows seemed full of places she could not name. She learned the foreign words. They tasted like burned copper. She tried to tell him of her home.

“The night skies there were the colour of melted jewels. I rode beneath them with my dogs,” she said. She ached to breathe the white winds. In her room, she took the snowflakes from the box and traced their glimmering shapes.

In the palace gardens, she sat in flower shade and longed for hail cool. The ladies’ chatter felt like splinters. They told her myths of desert spirits and she thought of her prayers to the frost gods. “On winter days in my homeland, we saw only by stars and candles,” she told the courtiers. She crept away to wander the palace corridors alone among the statues and crowns of histories that were not her own. At night, she looked at the snowflakes and whispered the stories of armies carved from ice and called to battle. The old words felt like shelter. When she slept, she dreamed of walking the ice paths she had known.

She drifted through days of sky scorch. The wind felt like sands. She wiped her tears away with her silk sleeves. When she sat at the grand table, she murmured beneath the banquet din. “In the summers, I walked in the sun at midnight.” No one heard her. She stopped talking of her home. In her room, she stared at the snowflakes and mumbled all the names she had for ice and cold. She didn’t want to lose the words. She studied her hands in the moonlight. The marks of sledding and weaving had vanished. She wondered who now raced with her dogs.

One night, she lay awake gazing at the snowflakes. When the calls of foreign birds stirred the skies, she looked at the bright dawn. She knew she’d never again see the sun rise over the ice plains. Her heart hurt. All day, she listened to the palace sounds. She thought of the five snowflakes: they were her only pieces of her home. She didn’t want to look at them again. That night, she took the box of snowflakes and crept into the gardens. She dug a hole with her hands and placed each snowflake into the ground. She covered them with soil and then dragged herself back to her room. Her tears felt cold.

As she slept, the snowflakes began to unfold through the earth. Snow shoots grew into the moonlight and stretched into trees of ice. Frozen branches glimmered over the palace roses. Clear leaves shivered and floated on the garden breezes. Ice seeds fell on the grass and grew into frost flowers. The night winds swept the seeds across the kingdom. Forests of ice trees grew upon the fields. The land became white with snow blossoms.

When Katla woke, her room was filled with white winds. She ran to her window and looked out: ice trees glistened in the dawn seep. Frost flowers bloomed. She could see her own breath. She wrapped herself in her old furs and went out into the ice.

The post The Five Snowflakes appeared first on Luna Station Quarterly.

A Funnel of Time

Nov. 28th, 2015 05:39 pm
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1. 2005

After Mari’s first electroconvulsive treatment, the shadow-woman comes to her. The shadow-woman sits on the edge of Mari’s bed, crosses her legs neatly at the ankle and leans back against the wooden foot board. Her slim water-blue skirt and jacket seem to glow against the sterile white bedspread. A matching blue pillbox hat perches on her hair. She lifts one hand, her fingers curled as if holding an invisible cigarette.

“What are you here for?” she asks.

She has a shadow-voice, clear and cool as water, with a taste of Southern air in it. Mari envies her smooth creamy skin. Her own arms look too brown, her hands chapped and worn. She washes them too much. “They have to fix my brain,” she says.

She doesn’t know how the shadow-woman got into the room. She didn’t see the door open or hear a nurse tell her she had a visitor. Besides, only her brother would come to see her. He hasn’t come back since he left her here three days ago.

The woman’s clothes and hands look blurred around the edges, outlined in a haze of light. Maybe she is an angel. Mari thinks doesn’t think angels wear hip-hugging skirts and tiny hats. The woman says, “Why do they have to fix your brain?”

Mari touches the bedspread. The texture of interwoven threads under her fingertips reminds her that the bed is firm and solid. The mattress is not, as she thought at first after the ECT, actually a cloud underneath her. It pushes up against her shoulders and hips. She says, “I have depression. Anxiety.”

Mari, you can’t live like this anymore. Don’t you see? Jaime had told her that before he brought her here. After what happened with the shower. But he doesn’t understand, Jaime, with his job, his wife, his baby. He hides behind those things as if the past never happened.

The shadow-woman says, “They brought me here too.”

Mari picks at the edge of the spread. The mattress pushes up harder and now she notices that her hips ache, and her shoulders too. At first the pain feels distant, something she remembers instead of something in the here-and-now. Slowly it intensifies. When she opens her mouth, her jaw throbs. “Why did they bring you?” she asks.

The woman smiles. “I worked too hard. My husband didn’t like it.”

Worked how? Mari wants to ask. Worked on what? By now, though, the pain makes it hard to think. She wishes she could shower. Maybe the warm water would relax her muscles. Here at the hospital, they don’t let her wash when she wants. She has to get permission from the nurse and they unlock the bathroom for her and wait outside until she finishes. Jaime insisted on that.

He explained it to the nurse at intake three days ago. She tried to drown herself in the shower. Saying it, he sounded as detached and cool as he did when he bought or sold shares of stock. He handed Mari over to the doctor as if she were a share that didn’t yield enough return anymore. Please be sure you supervise her at all times, especially when she bathes.

He didn’t understand. Mari closes her eyes and remembers the water sluicing down on her, that last day. He didn’t understand that she had not tried to drown herself. She had tried to wash herself finally clean of what the past had done to her. If you scrubbed long enough, maybe you could do it. If you closed your eyes and sat under the stream of water. If you held your breath and let the water cover you and didn’t breathe, didn’t breathe, didn’t come up for air no matter how much you wanted to, didn’t…

Mari opens her eyes. The shadow-woman still sits at the foot of the bed. She looks so bright, lit from the inside, that Mari squints to shield her eyes. The woman’s clothes are the color of water. If Mari could have stayed under that water, if she hadn’t passed out. If Jaime hadn’t found her.

She wants to ask the woman, Who are you? But her head hurts and exhaustion weighs her down like wet sand, and the water-blue skirt and jacket seem to diffuse into the sunshine that comes through the room’s single window. The woman fades until Mari can barely make out the outline of her raised hand and a last glimpse of bright hazel eyes. Then she is gone, leaving the room blank and empty.


2. 1934

After Zelda’s first convulsive treatment, a woman comes to see her. She sits on the foot of Zelda’s bed, leans back against the iron railing and draws her feet up onto the ugly mustard-colored blanket. Her clothes look like nothing Zelda has ever worn or seen a woman wear. Frayed blue dungarees, a tight-fitting black top with a V-neck that dips down to her cleavage, clunky black round-toed shoes with thick heels. She hugs her knees to her chest and Zelda sees the strong lines of muscle in her brown arms, her close-bitten nails, her brown chapped fingers.

The woman says, “Why are you here?”

Her voice is rich and low, rose-colored, with an edge of roughness like the gravelly bed of a stream. Zelda envies her strong body and healthy brown skin. She herself looks tired and wasted, her body too scrawny under the blanket, her face too lined and haggard. Even her once-sleek blond hair has turned thin and lusterless.

She doesn’t wonder where the woman came from or how she got into the room. Here at the hospital, doors clang shut behind Zelda wherever she goes, locking her in, trapping her behind iron bars. No one gets in or out without a doctor’s permission. No one came to let the strangely-dressed woman in, Zelda is almost sure of that, but after treatment she is never sure of anything and has no energy left to wonder. She says, “I’m sick. At least, they tell me so.”

The shadow-woman regards her out of dark steady eyes. She looks young, younger than Zelda, so full of life it radiates from her. Her outline glows against the sterile white wall behind her. Zelda has never believed in angels, but wonders if this woman might be one. Angels don’t wear frayed dungarees and clunky black shoes. The woman says, “Sick how?”

“They say I’m schizophrenic.”

Zelda hates convulsive treatment. The doctors inject her with some sort of medicine, she doesn’t know what, but it jars her brain and body so hard that they have to tie her down on the gurney with thick leather straps around her forehead, wrists, waist and ankles. They truss her up like a victim of the electric chair so that the drug-induced seizure won’t break her spine. They shove a cloth in her mouth so she can’t bite through her tongue. Afterward, she crawls up out of an empty gray space and struggles to remember her own name.

Now her head throbs, and the blanket, which felt weightless when the nurse brought her back to her room, seems to squeeze all the air out of her chest. The woman on the bed says, “Who says you’re schizophrenic?”

Zelda tugs the top of the blanket aside and tries to breathe. Her fingers, still red and roughened from her last round of eczema, look straw-like and fragile. She says, “The doctors. My husband.”

She worked too hard. Everyone told her so. She drove herself crazy trying to carve out her own place in the world. Scott had said she shouldn’t. He doesn’t understand, Scott, the golden boy with the world at his feet. He hides behind the accolades and alcohol, climbs up into his high place and acts as if no wife could want more than the crumbs she scoops up in his shadow. He doesn’t understand how hunger for more can turn into a white-hot whip and cut you until your soul bleeds out.

The woman on the bed says, “My brother said I was bipolar.”

Zelda doesn’t know what that means. She would like to ask, but her lips feel thick and rubbery. The woman says, “He brought me here too, for treatment. He wanted me to forget things.”

Forget things. After the injections, the seizures, Zelda forgets too many things. She finds it hard to remember how old her daughter is, whether the little girl prefers pink dresses or yellow, peach preserves or plum. Zelda used to know these things. She used to know the tastes of lemon fizz, chocolate-hazelnut bonbons, raspberry ganache. She used to know the texture of sun-warmed grass and the smell of the air after rain.

Everything blurs together now in her mind in a wash of gray. She doesn’t forget, though, the whip in her soul. She doesn’t forget the desperate need that drove her to practice ballet steps for endless hours until her muscles gave out and the strain of anxiety brought the eczema raging up on her hands and face. And she doesn’t forget Scott’s admonitions. His work. His life. His home. His wife. None of it belonged to her: not even herself.

The stranger-woman’s outline blurs still more, turning her shape into a varicolored haze of light. Her clunky shoes are vague stains on the ugly bedspread and her dark brown eyes watch Zelda. Zelda says, through a jaw almost too sore to move, “I would like to forget some things.”

The woman shakes her head. “No,” she says, in that rosy-gravelly voice. “We should remember.”

Zelda would like to ask, Who are you? She is too sore now, too tired, and the words won’t come. She lies back on her pillow in silence and watches as the woman’s outline fades. Finally Zelda can only make out the shape of strong brown arms and a last hint of dark liquid eyes. Then the woman is gone, leaving the room bare and empty.

3. 2005

The doctors wait three days and then give Mari another ECT. As they prep her for treatment, injecting her first with anesthetic, she decides the process is worse the second time. She knows she will wake up with the taste of rubber in her mouth, from the block of it they put in there after she falls asleep to stop her from cracking her teeth together. She will have sticky jelly smeared on her temples and lines on her forehead and cheeks from the oxygen mask they will put over her face. And every part of her body will ache, her head worst of all.

Jaime didn’t come to see her between treatments. After the second one, Mari lies back in her sterile bed and waits for the pain to come for her. Another three days and she will do this again. Jaime probably won’t come before the next round either, she thinks, as much as she can think anything. He’ll probably wait until she has finished them all, and then he can come and pick up the finished product. Fixed, cured, squeaky-clean.

She doesn’t know how long she manages to sleep before the headache wakes her up. The room is dark. They didn’t give her a bedside clock and she wouldn’t feel like turning her head to see it anyway, but the hall outside is so quiet that she thinks it must be sometime in the middle of the night. The only light in the room comes from the thin line of pale green under the bathroom door, from the night light by the sink. If Mari wanted to use the bathroom, she would have to press the call button beside her bed. Somebody would have to come help her.

Somebody is already here. Without surprise or fear, Mari notices the shadow-woman standing by the door. The dark doesn’t matter. Mari can make her out perfectly clearly: the same slender white hands and golden hair, the same water-blue skirt and jacket. The shadow-woman leans back against the wall and folds her arms across her chest. Her bright shape in the dim room makes Mari think of stained glass. A stained-glass woman, with her own lamp inside her.

The woman says, in that cool-water voice, “Did you forget yet?”

Mari blinks. She feels more awake than she did after the first ECT, though the treatment still left her head full of fog. She isn’t dreaming, and it’s the middle of the night. Nobody let this woman in to visit her. Mari doesn’t understand who she is or where she came from, but somehow that doesn’t worry her. She answers, “Did I forget what?”

The woman moves toward the bed. Mari can’t hear her footsteps on the linoleum floor. She sits down in the plastic-upholstered chair, leans back in it—the stiff cushions don’t creak—and crosses her legs neatly, one over the other. She has a dancer’s body, Mari thinks. Long and slender, fragile-looking but strong.

The woman says, “Someone wants you to forget something. Did you?”

Mari tries to think. She knows that if she could cut through the clouds in her head or blow them away, she would find the truth still squatting there in the dark. On top of the bedspread her fingers curl reflexively into her palm. “No,” she says. Her voice grates in her ears, like the drone of a trapped insect. “I didn’t.”

The woman nods. “What do they want you to forget?”

Mari tries to shake her head. When it hurts, she stops. “I shouldn’t,” she says. “My brother doesn’t want me to talk about it.”

It’s all over now, Mari. What’s past is past. Jaime told her those things again and again, not just after the last job fell through and she went to live with him. After she started high school, after Dad had finally gone away for good, Jaime told her it was time to shake off the things their father had done to them both. It doesn’t matter anymore. Forget about it. You have to get on with your life.

The woman says, “Why doesn’t he want you to talk about it?”

Because for Jaime the past doesn’t exist anymore. Because he erased it out of his own life so he could build something perfect instead, a world where fathers don’t use their own children’s bodies whenever and however they want, and then throw those children away like empty tubes of toothpaste. Mari says, “He has this plan, Jaime, for the way things should be. I don’t fit in.”

The shadow-woman says, “My husband had a plan too.”

Mari looks at the lovely face. The shadow-woman has smooth creamy cheeks and bright, pert lips, and those clear compelling eyes. Any man would be proud to marry her. Mari says, “Did you do what he wanted?”

The woman shakes her head, smiling. “Oh, no. He wanted to keep me quiet.”

Quiet. Yes. Mari says, “My brother thinks he can erase things. From out of my head. And then they won’t have happened.”

She is only half-aware she said it aloud. The woman leans forward. “Don’t erase them. They’re yours.”

Mari tries to shake her head again. “But they hurt.”

“Yes, they do. But they are your own.”

The woman’s hand rests on the chair’s wooden armrest. Mari looks at those slender fingers and wants to reach her own hand out to touch them. She wonders what they will feel like—warm flesh? Soft vapor? Nothing at all?—but her hand is so heavy, the muscles in her arms so weak and sore, that she can barely move.

And now the shadow-woman fades again, even as Mari tries to reach out to her. Wait, Mari wants to say, don’t go, please! She can’t speak; she is working too hard, trying to get her hand across that tiny distance. Long before her fingers find the cool hard armrest, the woman has disappeared, dissolving into the dark.

4. 1934

The second shock treatment feels worse. Zelda drags up out of it, alone in her cell of a room. For an endless while she can’t remember anything at all. She has never been anywhere else, never known anything besides these cold white walls, this ugly blanket, the dead numbness in her mind and the pain in her body. She is not even really a person. Her body holds together like a sculpture made of sand. Soon, maybe, it will crumble away.

She doesn’t know how long she lies there, looking up at the blank white ceiling, before she realizes she isn’t alone after all. Somebody is standing in the corner, beside the door with the metal grille at the top. Zelda wonders why the hospital bothered with that grille. The tiny window inset in the door is too small to let someone crawl out, even if they managed to break the thick glass with a shoe or a fist.

Without fear or surprise, without any feeling at all, Zelda turns her head to face the person in the corner. It’s the young woman in the strange clothes. Zelda recognizes her dungarees, the tight black shirt with the deeply scooped collar. She remembers the woman’s strong brown arms and dark eyes. As she thinks this, it occurs to her: she remembers.

The woman leans against the door. She is tall: the top of her head reaches the middle of the grille. Zelda wonders if her hard chapped hands, bunched into fists, could smash the glass, or maybe the heavy heel of one of those thick black shoes.

The woman says, “My name is Mari.”

Zelda remembers wanting to ask her that, last time. The woman’s voice has a lilt in it. It doesn’t sound like the South, where Zelda grew up, but somehow it brings back a dizzyingly blue summer sky, so infinitely wide that a much-smaller Zelda, tilting her head all the way back to see, wanted to fall into it and let it swallow her whole. She remembers that afternoon: the slow drone of honeybees, the sweet heavy scent of her mother’s roses, the tickle of the grass under her bare feet.

She says, “I’m Zelda.”

Her head feels clearer now, and she is sure that no one let the woman in to see her. She might be dreaming, but she doesn’t think so. Her head wouldn’t ache like this in a dream. It doesn’t worry her: in some small clear part of her mind, she thinks she knows this woman—Mari—from somewhere else, though she can’t imagine when or where. If she tries, she might think of it, though so many memories have gone.

Mari comes closer to the bed. Her footsteps make no noise in the quiet room. Zelda is sorry she has no chair to offer; no one designed this room with comfort in mind. Mari sits down on the edge of the bed. She doesn’t pull her feet up this time, but leans one hand on the mattress. She says,

“Why are they doing this to you?”

Zelda tries to think. Scott and the doctors, a legion of words. She is sick, unbalanced. Schizophrenic. Insane. They are going to fix it, but to do that, they have to wipe her slate clean. She says, “I’m not supposed to want.”

“Want what?”

Through the fog of forgetting, Zelda knows the whip in her soul has not gone. It lies there, coiled in the dark, white-hot. Scott and the doctors try everything they know, but it does not disappear.

She says, “I want something of my own.”

She can’t explain it. No one understands. It isn’t enough for her to stand at Scott’s elbow and watch him bend words to his will. She wants to catch the minutes of her life as they slip past. She wants to shape them into something real, something that belongs to no one else. Does that mean she deserves these beatings?

Mari says, “You know what? I didn’t forget.”

Yes, they had wanted to make Mari forget something too. She told Zelda so. Mari says, “They shocked me a lot. I was here a long time.”

Zelda can imagine that. She can imagine being here until the outside world ceases to exist, until the only reality left is the cloth in her mouth, the straps on her body, the hard pressure of the gurney underneath her and then the needle in her arm. She can believe someone could exist indefinitely in that gray space between oblivion and almost-remembering, almost but never quite. With every treatment, more memories disappear.

She says, “How did you keep from forgetting?”

Mari smiles. “I wrote everything down. Every time, before they took me in, I wrote it down. Afterward, I remembered.”

Wrote it where? How did she hide it? The doctors will not let Zelda work. Dancing has gone, and they don’t let her have canvas or paints either to draw the memories of the ballet studio, the strain of effort, the exhaustion and elation. A piece of paper and a pencil are small things. Would they give her that much?

She should not want it. Maybe the doctors are right, and she would be happier if the whip’s scoring heat disappeared. She says, “I shouldn’t try. It hurts.”

Mari leans closer. “Yes, you should. It’s yours.”

Her hand rests on the bedspread. Zelda looks at those strong, brown, chapped fingers and wants to reach out and touch them. She can’t imagine that she will feel anything but warm living flesh. She tries to lift one hand out from under the covers, but her arm is so weak and sore that she can barely move.

The bedspread is too heavy. Now Mari begins to fade, as Zelda struggles to free herself, begging in her mind, No, please don’t leave! She can’t speak out loud. Moving her hand takes too much effort. At last it comes free of the covers, but now Mari is only an outline, a diffuse wash of color. By the time Zelda’s worn hand reaches the air above the bedspread, the other woman’s shape has disappeared.

5. 2005

Mari was right. Jaime doesn’t come to visit her after the second ECT. The doctors wait three more days and then prep her for another treatment.

During the first two, she didn’t much care what they did to her. This time, though, as the nurse wheels her down the long white hall for anesthesia, panic wakes up in her stomach and twitches along her nerves. Could she make a break for it? Maybe she could jump off the gurney and barrel her way out of here. If she can find the doors, make it outside…

She pictures herself tearing away down the street in her hospital gown. Escapee from the loony bin. She doesn’t have any money on her; she isn’t wearing proper clothes or shoes. The police would swarm the hospital and catch her before she got two blocks. Where would she try to go, anyway? Jaime doesn’t want her back until they scrub her brain clean.

She can’t help the way her stomach clenches when the nurse pushes the gurney into the treatment room. The doctor is waiting for her, tall and faceless. “Good morning, Mari. You know how this goes. It’ll all be over soon.”

They want to take her past away. Mari hopes the doctor can’t see into her brain. If he could, he would probably want to fry it into oblivion. She is supposed to want to forget.

The doctor preps the anesthetic. The nurse stretches Mari’s arm out and swabs the inside of her elbow with alcohol. The smell makes Mari’s nostrils sting and the cold brings up goosebumps on her skin.

Someone says, “Don’t let go.”

Mari turns her head. Standing next to the doctor, right there in the sterile white room, is the shadow-woman. Zelda. Mari realizes she knows her name, but how? When did she learn it?

She—Zelda—is slim and elegant in the blue suit, as relaxed as if she has come to this room every day of her life. Neither the doctor nor the nurse seem to see her. Her golden hair glows as if she is standing in sunlight.

Mari wants to say, How? How can I not let go? They are going to force her. They will jar her brain to shake all the memories out. She doesn’t dare speak out loud.

The nurse steps back from the gurney. The doctor comes over with the syringe. “Now, count back from ten,” he reminds Mari, and reaches for her arm with the needle.

Zelda moves. Mari doesn’t see her do it, but now she is beside the gurney too. She and the doctor stand face-to-face with Mari between them. “You’ll write it,” Zelda says. “That’s what I did. Write it down and never forget.”

She reaches out. Mari feels the needle slip into her arm, but at the same time, a warm, strong hand closes around her own.

She grips those fingers with all her strength. Ten…nine…eight… The dark comes, swirling up to swallow her, but Mari holds onto Zelda’s hand and thinks of gold and water-blue.

6. 1934

The nurses come to strap Zelda to the gurney for her third treatment. “Good morning, Mrs. Fitzgerald. Is that comfortable? Too tight?” As if the word comfortable means anything to Zelda, when nothing will prevent the leather straps from digging into her body during the seizure and leaving deep red marks in her skin. She still has the marks from the last treatment. Perhaps they will never fade.

They wheel her into the treatment room, trussed up helplessly. The doctor, whom she hates, greets her. “Good morning, Mrs. Fitzgerald.” What, she wants to ask, is good about any of this? They will put the cloth in her mouth last, right before the injection, so that she has the dignity of speech as long as possible. She doesn’t care to return the doctor’s greeting.

He prepares the injection. “Now, you know the process,” he tells her, tapping the syringe with a plastic-gloved finger. “It’ll be over soon.”

His eyes are cold behind his glasses. Zelda tries not to be afraid, but here, in this white room, she can’t help it. The cold settles into her body. She cannot stop what they are about to do to her. Afterward, she will have to try to crawl up again out of that empty gray place. Sometime, maybe today, maybe another day in this endless string of them, she won’t make it back to herself.

Someone says, “Yes, you will.”

Zelda can’t turn her head. She doesn’t need to. The person who spoke steps into view, right beside the doctor at the foot of the gurney.

Mari. Dungarees, black shirt, strong brown arms. The doctor brushes past her, unseeing, holding the syringe and an alcohol swab. Zelda’s arm is strapped in position on the gurney. The doctor doesn’t have to touch her skin to swab down the inside of her elbow.

Zelda’s eyes burn with tears. She wants to say to Mari, How do you know I’ll make it back? She doesn’t dare speak out loud. These people have already condemned her as crazy. She wants to say, Soon I won’t exist anymore.

The nurse comes over to the head of the gurney, holding the cloth. Zelda smells the laundry detergent on the nurse’s uniform. “Now, ma’am, let me just put this in for you.”

Zelda wonders what would happen if she refused to open her mouth. They would inject her anyway, let her break her jaw if she wanted to be foolish, or else they would force her mouth open like you do a dog’s when it grabs something it shouldn’t.

Mari says, “You’ll make it.” She has moved, though Zelda didn’t see her do it. Now she stands at the other side of the gurney, face-to-face with the doctor with Zelda between them. She says, “You’ll write it. That’s what I did. Write it down and never forget.”

Zelda opens her mouth. The cloth slides in, pressing down on her tongue and up against the roof of her mouth. The laundry-detergent taste of it makes her want to spit, but she can’t speak or swallow.

The doctor reaches out with the needle. Zelda feels it slip into her arm, but at the same time, on her other side, a warm, strong hand closes around her own.

She grips those fingers with all her strength. The dark comes, swirling up to swallow her, but Zelda holds onto Mari’s hand and thinks of a blue sky and the scent of roses.



In the dark, two hands hold each other tight. Hold your truth.

Bodies take beatings. Through a funnel of time, two women hold each other up. The truths they carry are as elusive as water, as resilient as the tough thorn-shielded vines of roses.

One woman says to the other, Don’t let go.

The other answers, Never.


Note: the character Mari in this story is a fictional person. The representations of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald are based on biographical material (particularly Cline, Zelda Fitzgerald: Her Voice in Paradise, c. 2002).

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Traffic Circles of Old Connecticut

Nov. 28th, 2015 05:38 pm
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Tian ran until she felt her heart would burst and her legs would shatter, her little sister heavy and wailing on her back. When she chanced a quick look back for their pursuers, her left foot caught on something hard and twisted. She pitched forward onto her hands and knees, Asan tumbling off her back with a shriek.

Tian crawled to her sister, her knees sore, grass-stained and bleeding. “Are you all right?” she panted.

Asan sobbed, unhurt but frightened. Tian held her, rocking her gently and trying to remember fragments of the songs their grandmother had sung to them. But the old language hadn’t stuck in her mind; she’d grown up in the city speaking Olo instead of Zaluat, and she knew few of the words that might calm her sister.

Tian tried to stand. But when she put weight on her left foot, the ankle wrenched sickeningly to the right and she fell again.

This, she realized dimly through the fog of pain, was very bad.


“Our magic runs around circles counter-clockwise,” her mother had explained late one night. “The gift of our noble ancestors, fuck them for being dead and useless to us now.”

She was drunk; the alcohol opened her up so Tian could glimpse the woman she’d been before the city, the factory, the Kalo, and two babies had drained the life from her. “So my mother said. Back before they came she’d take me on the Round Paths all around the village. We’d walk around and around while she chanted. It was supposed to be for protection.” She spat, her spittle foaming on the floor. “Did us no good in the end. They came anyway. Took everything. Killed so many. Made the streets straight lines. They feed on us now, the Kalo. Fuck them.”

And then she closed up again, lost in the memory of her father and brothers who had died during the brief, disastrous war against the Kalo and their servants. She would only mutter, “Too straight, we’re too straight,” before she stumbled off to bed, leaving Tian wakeful and worried while she slept.

The next day she’d gone to school, where during another dull lesson on the necessity of the Kalo invasion and the foolishness of Zaluat resistance, she found herself doodling circular patterns on her desk.

She thought she felt something, then. A little spark, maybe, like a whisper out of the distant past. The fine hairs on her arms rose, and she felt as if the ground itself was giving some piece of itself to her.

A long pointer landed on her desk. “What is this?” the teacher, who was not Zaluat, demanded. “What are you doing? Outrageous!” The pointer rose and fell, Tian cried out in pain. “Clean it!”

And so Tian had been made to wash her desk while the other students, most of which had been imported from other lands under Kalo control, watched and snickered.

When she got home and handed her mother the note the teacher had given her, she flinched, expecting more punishment. But instead her mother read the note, and then gently put it down.

“Forget those things,” she said, eyes heavy and sad. “Or they will make your life hell. Do you understand?”

“But Asan—”

“Asan’s not here!” Her mother’s eyes flashed with anger. “You are. There’s nothing in the village. I sacrificed everything to keep you here, to give you a future. The past is dead and gone, buried back in that village. Now—forget!”

Tian rubbed her still-sore hand, and nodded. Forget. Forget being Zaluat. Forget the war. Be a good servant of the Kalo, just like everyone else. It was safer that way.

Her mother sighed and went to drink the cheap liquor she’d picked up after work. She didn’t say another word to Tian.

That night, Tian had paced a quiet circle around their little apartment. There was no spark this time, no energy came to her. Exhausted and heartsick, she gave up and got into the cramped bed with her snoring mother.

She wondered if her baby sister in the faraway Zaluat village would know how the magic worked.


She’d only found out about her grandmother’s death when her mother came home and told her that Asan was in town, now.

“Asan? Here? Why?” Tian asked, confused. Less than a year had passed since Tian had summoned a spark at school. The other students still made fun of her for it, and the teachers had let her know in no uncertain terms that if she ever dared try that again, they’d let the Kalo have her.

Her mother made a sour face. “Grandma died. Last month.”

Tian felt her hands ball into fists. She wanted to scream at her mother: Why didn’t you tell me?

But her mother’s eyes were heavy and tired from work, so Tian didn’t say anything. Instead, she asked, “Where is she?”

“That school. The Training Institute.” Her mother sighed. “At least she isn’t our worry now.”

That had always been her mother’s relationship with her younger daughter: moments of worry punctuating long periods of relief that she was someone else’s problem. She’d given Asan to her own mother to raise, saying that she had no money, time, or room for another little girl in their house. She’d come to the city looking for work, after all, not children. She hadn’t even known Asan’s father that well, just someone from back home she’d shared a bed with once.

Secretly, Tian wondered if she was trying to save Asan from the miseries of a city that worshiped the Kalo, forbade the Zaluat language, and taught that their ancient magic was evil. In the old village, at least, she wouldn’t feel that shock of being different, lesser. She wouldn’t want to trade away her heritage for the illusion of belonging.

But now she was in the Training Institute—where kids from the villages were brought to learn how to serve the Kalo. Tian had seen those children filing through the streets, their eyes cold and distant, singing the Kalo songs in unaccented Olo.

“She shouldn’t be there,” said Tian. “Not in that place.”

Her mother shrugged. “Where else will she go? I can’t afford to feed her.” And that was that.

As her mother stoically drank herself to sleep that night, Tian curled up in a chair and peered out the window at the grimy alleyway below.

Her sister was here. She might know the magic. She might be able to help Tian get that spark back. All Tian had to do was get her out of there.

Down in the alley below, something moved. Tian peered into the darkness, and gasped. The tall, spidery form of a Kalo slid by. Tian felt like all the light had been taken out of the world, and icy fingers brushed against her heart.

It stopped outside their apartment, and just stood there, waving the ten joints of its long fingers in complex patterns. Tian watched, fascinated.

The Kalo looked up at the window, beady eyes with malignant power. Tian sucked in a breath, heart loud in her chest. She didn’t dare move.

With a hiss that froze her bones, the Kalo turned away and moved on.

Tian exhaled, shivering. She turned back to the bed. Her mother was awake. “I felt it pass by,” her mother whispered. She made a circular sign in the air.

Tian began to cry.

Her mother held open her arms, and Tian buried herself against her mother’s chest. As she drifted off to sleep, she resolved that the Kalo would not have her sister.


It had been so easy to find Asan; the school had an hour where they did strange, synchronized exercises outdoors. Tian had learned to time it so that she could see Asan in the few moments she was out of the sight of teachers, as the youngest students in their Kalo-style headdresses filed from the lower to the upper exercise ground. The students knew it, too. They broke their silence and whispered a few Zaluat words to one another, out of the hearing of the Kalo’s servants.

Tian watched her sister go by day after day. She skipped school, skulking in the alleys near the Training School, just waiting and watching. Her plans firmed. She would free her sister. She would bring her home. She just needed time—time to warn her mother, to win her over. Time to put together the money for travel.

But one morning, the truancy officers from her own school came to the door. Her mother answered, confused and hung over. Before she could point to Tian and give the whole game away, Tian grabbed her pack and ran to the bedroom. She threw open the back window and scrambled out onto the fire escape, clattering down to the alleyway as fast as she could go.

She thought she heard her mother calling her name as she ran. She realized with dread that she wouldn’t be able to go home, now.

In a panic, she found her way to the Training School, and sat in the alley, furiously going through her options. She could go back home, turn herself in, and forget this whole plan. That would be safe. Her mother would be angry, and the teachers would never let her out of their sight again, but what else could she do?

The youngest students in their Kalo headdresses began to file past, going from the lower yard to the upper.

And there she was: Asan. Their eyes met. Tian was certain that her sister recognized her.

She threw her plans away and grabbed her. She said the Zaluat words for home and sister, those being the few words she’d thought to memorize, and Asan stopped fighting her.

There was no point in staying in the city. So Tian put Asan on her back and ran for the green spaces beyond the grime, away from the Kalo and their servants.

They’d run through the forests, then along the wide river and over the mountain. They passed through the ancient ruins of brick, asphalt and steel the ancestors had left behind. Tian paused to catch her breath.

Asan was peering around at the ruins. “The ancestors left them,” Tian explained. “They all died a long time ago, long before the Kalo came from the sky. This is what they left.”

Asan said nothing, but Tian was sure she’d understood a little of it. If only the ancestors had been alive, and their mighty cities still full, when the Kalo had come from the sky. Maybe then they wouldn’t have taken people after people to be their servants.

She heard the distant bark of dogs, and squinted back down the dusty track. Shapes straggled along it.

She inhaled sharply. They were being chased. They would be caught! She took Asan in her arms, put her back on her shoulders, and started to run again.

They ran from the broken ruins, across empty farmlands and through dense forest, until the ground reached up to twist Tian’s ankle and she fell to the forest floor in a haze of pain and panic.


“Sin ye! Sin ye!” her sister shouted, eyes wide. She looked around, then ran into the woods.

“Asan! No!” cried Tian. But then the little girl returned with a sturdy-looking piece of deadfall, long enough for Tian to use as a cane.

“B-basma,” whispered Tian through the fog of tears and pain. Thank you. She hauled herself shakily to her feet, and started forward again.

The sounds of pursuit grew ever closer. Dogs barked, men shouted, and something else seemed to hiss in anticipation.

Tian hobbled as fast as she could go, burningly aware that she was the burden now, that she was slowing them. Adrenalin pushed her forward while Asan ran back and forth in front of her.

“Sin ye!” Asan called. Hurry. Hurry.

“Go ahead! Run!” she told Asan. “Run to the village!” But her sister didn’t know the words. She hadn’t picked up enough Olo. And the Zaluat village where Asan had grown up was miles and miles away, the girl would never make it on her own.

Asan took her hand and hauled her forward. “Sin ye,” she said. “Tian, sin ye!”

The sounds grew louder behind them. They had their trail, they would overtake them soon.

They’d take Asan back to that awful training school in the city, where they’d burn away everything that she was to make her into a model subject for the Kalo invaders. She would become like Tian was now; a ghost of a person with no ancestors, no history, and no magic.

As for Tian? They’d probably just kill her. She’d stolen someone who legally belonged to the Monarch of the Kalo.

There was bright sky ahead, between the tall trees. Asan pulled her too hard, and she lost her footing. She fell across the tree line into a clearing.

Tall grass waved in the late spring breeze, and insects hummed all around her. She rolled onto her back, the smell of earth still rich in her nostrils, and saw birds wheel in the deep blue sky above.

Dogs barked, twigs snapped, and men shouted. They were almost on top of them, now. Tian sat up and gathered Asan to her, waiting for the end to come.

It was then that she noticed that the meadow they’d breached was a perfect circle.

Tian struggled to her feet and began to hop around the perimeter of the clearing, pushed by wild, desperate hope. “Come on!” she shouted to Asan. “Chant! What’s the words? The Round Paths, what’s the words?”

But her sister only looked blankly at her. Tian tried to dredge the right Zaluat words from her mind from that one time she’d gone back to the village to see her grandmother and sister. But nothing came. She couldn’t remember any of it.

She’d once been so proud that she spoke Olo without an accent, that she was so like the other girls. How she wished she could take it back, now. “The r-razza ray, what’s the chant?”

At first she was sure Asan, who still only knew bits and pieces of Olo, hadn’t understood. But then her face brightened, and she said in her high, lilting voice, “Rozyarhai!”

“Right, that,” said Tian. She made a circular motion all around, trying to explain. “This is a rozz… rozaryi! This whole clearing. Look!”

But Asan only stared at her. Tian sank to the ground, defeated, as the barking of dogs grew louder.

In the clearing, Asan was saying something.

Tian could only barely hear her over the din of the dogs. She looked into the woods, expecting to see them appear at any moment, and tried to inch backward, away from the treeline. When she looked back, Asan had vanished.

“Where are you?” she called.

Then she heard her sister say something from farther away than she’d expected. She looked frantically around and found Asan walking counter-clockwise along the perimeter of the clearing.

She was chanting.

The magic.

Heart racing, Tian stood and hobbled after her. Counter-clockwise, she thought shakily to herself. Walk the Round Path.

Call the ancient magic. Call the spark!

The dogs barked louder, and she thought she saw men moving between the trees.

And then she felt something stirring in the ground beneath her feet. The hairs rose on Tian’s arms again, just like they had long ago, and she felt the earth beneath her begin to shake.

Their pursuers emerged from the woods; a few men, and a tall, gray, spindly Kalo. It pointed at them, hissing commands in sibilant Olo, and the men moved forward.

“Ancestors!” Tian cried, hoping they could hear her if she spoke Olo. “Help us now!” Please save my sister from my mistake, she added mentally. Please!

The rumbling stopped. Tian was certain they’d deserted her.

But then the tremors returned, ten times stronger than before. The sky above darkened, and ghostly yellow-orange lights appeared in a halo all around the perimeter of the clearing. Tian hobbled her way to the center, away from the lights, the men, the dogs and the Kalo.

“Spirits of this place!” she called, terrified, into the sudden wind. “Protect us!”

Ghostly images began to streak past in front of her. She could hear them roar as they went, their forms indistinct and strange.

The men, the dogs, and the gray, spidery Kalo waited at the edge, so far unwilling to cross the boundary line. She glared at them, daring them to come into this whirlwind.

Then Tian heard an ear-piercing scream. She turned and gasped. “Asan!”

Her sister had been caught inside one of the ghostly things. She shrieked again.

“No!” cried Tian. She hopped as fast as she could, trying not to put weight on her bad ankle, trying to catch her. “Asan, no, no!”

But the ethereal contraption was too fast. It swerved around the circle, flashing lights and roaring loudly, and came back around again. Tian reached for it, trying to grab hold of her sister, but she was going too fast. She sped out of reach again.

The ghosts of this circle were becoming more solid. They had a definite shape, and tore along on four thick wheels. They were vehicles like carts, but propelled without beasts or drivers. The grass of the perimeter had become something like the cracked asphalt of the ruins.

Asan shouted something Tian didn’t understand. But she was smiling, laughing!

Tian leaned heavily on her stick, and exhaled in relief. Surely this was Zaluat magic. Surely the ancestors wouldn’t hurt Asan.

One of the men was arguing with the Kalo. It stretched out a long, too-thin arm and pointed at Tian.

Cross,” it hissed.

The man looked scared out of his wits. Tian wondered if he was part or wholly Zaluat himself, and whether he knew about circle magics. He might be from another people who had known them, too, long before the Kalo had come.

But a determined look set on the man’s face. He started forward into the perimeter—

—and was sent flying when a vehicle smacked into him. He crashed to the asphalt, and screamed as the vehicles ran over him again and again as they looped round the circle. His body was soon nothing but a bloody smear on the ground.

Another man, horrified, raised his gun and aimed. Tian shouted in alarm, and shrank down.

The man fired. But the bullet did not reach Tian. Instead, she heard the man shrieking, and looked up to see him clutching his bloody shoulder. He dropped the gun in terror, then turned and ran. The other men, along with the frantic dogs, fled after him.

Only the Kalo was left. It regarded Tian with beady, alien eyes. She shrank back from its penetrating gaze.

It growled at her, showing its fangs, and raised its long, spidery arms. A greenish glow radiated out from the tips of its clawlike fingers.

The yellow lights dimmed, and the asphalt started to turn back into grass. The vehicles slowed, and started to sink back into the ground. Asan yelped, surprised, and threw herself clear.

The Kalo made a satisfied little clicking sound in its throat, and started to walk towards her.

“No!” cried Tian. “Leave her alone!”

Girl,” said the Kalo, its voice half hiss, half growl. “Take the one you stole back to the city.

“What do you want her for?” Tian protested. “Take me instead!”

She is young,” said the Kalo. “She will grow to love us. She will be our subject. She will serve us.

The Kalo turned to look at her again, and she could see greed in those horrible eyes.

Her love will feed us.

Tian burned with fury. “Ancestors!” she called into the air. “Help me!”

Your dead cannot help you,” said the Kalo, turning away from her again. “They are nothing. Ghosts. We are stronger.

The Kalo stepped onto the grass where the pavement had been, back still toward her. Tian hobbled towards it, knowing it would kill her if she tried to stop it. She’d seen the people killed by Kalo; it would not be an easy death.

But she couldn’t stand by and let her sister be taken by the Kalo.

She stepped onto the circle. And then, suddenly, her ankle stopped throbbing—as if a dozen hands were holding it together. She hesitantly put her foot down. It held; solid.


She gathered her strength and ran at the Kalo. She swung the stout branch back, and brought it down on the Kalo’s head with everything she had.

The Kalo, surprised, staggered and fell to the ground.

At once, the light turned to yellow again and the ghostly vehicles roared out of the ground, racing around the circle.

Tian couldn’t get out of the way fast enough. She braced herself for impact as one bore down on her.

At the last second it swerved, missing her by a hair’s breadth. Tian tottered and fell over onto the grass, out of the circle.

She looked up in time to see dozens of vehicles slam into the Kalo, grinding it into the earth.


No other men or Kalo came after them.

Tian’s ankle was still purple and swollen, but not so painful now. She’d made a crude bandage from her overshirt, wrapping it tightly to keep the ankle stable. She still had to rely on her walking stick, and so they made slow progress.

Asan stuck by her side, helping her. She began to re-teach Tian all the Zaluat she had forgotten, so that the farther they got from the city, the more she felt like herself—like who she could have been, if the invaders had never set foot here.

At last they came within sight of the lake and the cliffs that Tian remembered from when she had visited the old village with her mother, long ago.

That night she sat outside the house of a distant cousin where they’d been given leave to sleep the night. Tian had managed to piece together that Asan would stay here, to be raised as a part of this family. The Kalo and their servants would hopefully overlook her. If not, there were other villages to send her to. There was a kind of freedom in being small and hard to see.

They had offered to let Tian stay, as well. But Tian had shaken her head no. There was so little here. The houses were falling apart, and there was hardly enough food to go around as it was.

But the training school was so full of children like Asan… like herself. She couldn’t allow them to come to love—and feed—the Kalo. She would find a way to bring them out of the city; she was clever, and the old magic had some strength yet. The ancestors were some use, after all.

Hers would probably not be a long life; the Kalo were strong, and she was just one Zaluat girl. But she couldn’t think of any other way that she wanted to spend it.

Tian gazed up at the full moon as sparks ignited the fire of her heart. She traced a circle counter-clockwise in the dust with her finger, around and around and around.

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Who Wants to Live Forever?

Nov. 28th, 2015 05:37 pm
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‘Who Wants to Live For Ever?’ evolved from the ending of a much longer story that was written for a competition prompt.

“Mum, are we there yet?”

As my son asks the question for the 17,810,311th time, I wish once again that my circuits would allow me to scream.

They don’t, of course. When the robots downloaded our thoughts, memories, and feelings into our android shells—“guaranteed forever (warranty invalid beyond event horizon of black holes)”—they didn’t provide a “scream” facility. Why would they? With their logic and math and inherent drive to learn, they did not understand the need for emotional release. They did not appreciate its importance.

But we should have.


It began with the early humanoid robots on Mars. Self-replicating, programmed to learn and improve, they went on to explore Jupiter’s moons, perfected plasticised metals, and solved the equations we needed to build the first interstellar spaceships. Humanity sent them out to mine planets and asteroids and they returned to offer us immortality.

The message was everywhere—on the spacewaves, the ’net, personalised hover-ads, old-fashioned billboards: “Boldly Go! Download your consciousness into a plastitanium body, and travel the universe!”

There were robots on the news, shining and precise: “We will establish registration centres in every city, for those who wish to take advantage of this infinite lifetime opportunity.”

Robots on the streets, large and loud: “Anyone who prefers to remain human will be allowed to do so. We wish only to gather recruits for our exploration of the galaxies.”

“Who wants to live forever?” they asked, and humanity—stupid, unthinking fools that we were—answered, “we do.”

Bob and I both worked for the Euro-Asian Space Agency back then. Oh, nothing high profile, not astronauts or anything glamorous; but even so, his Marketing Administrator post and my job in Astral Charting were enough to get us bumped up the waiting list. Right now, if I still cared enough to access the right memory circuits, I’d be able to recollect the feel of Bob’s skin and hair, the smell of the aftershave he wore for the dinner parties where he liked to drop our prioritised status into the small-talk: “All three of us—Ange, little Tommy, and me. They’re taking scientists and astronomers first, naturally. And their families.” There was only ever one topic of conversation back then, so the casual boasting wasn’t difficult. How those people must have loathed us, with our smug pretence that we really didn’t care about getting ahead.

How they’d be laughing now.

After all, we were supposed to be intelligent people. Why did we not give more thought to what it would mean to “scan” and not “see”, to “receive” and not “hear”? Why did it not bother us that we would never again be able to taste or smell or touch properly? Why didn’t anyone ask us about that? If we’d just taken a step back and looked at the spaces between the promises, the implications of what we were doing would surely have made us think twice. But we didn’t. It was as though the entire human race had been gripped by a fever that wiped out doubts and questions. All we saw were the positives. All we heard were the notes of the old rock tune: “Who Wants to Live Forever?”

Talk about being careful what you wish for!

“Won’t it be wonderful?” I’d gushed, as I brushed out my long, auburn hair for the last time. “Exploring the universe, making new discoveries, tracking down extraterrestrial civilisations…” I’d found a thread of unwanted silver, separated it from the red-gold it was nestled in, and gave it a tug. “Never having to worry about grey hairs.” I’d dropped the offending strand into the bin. “Or fret about getting old.” I’d shuddered, remembering poor old Grandpa in the Care Home, where the only thing he could still do for himself was breathe.

Bob’s gaze had met mine via the mirror—he’d had lovely green eyes back then, before he opted for the deep purple orbs of his android form. “You have ordered the ‘extras’ haven’t you, darling?” I asked. His memory back then! Couldn’t remember what day the bins were put out if I didn’t remind him, but I’d trusted him with the order because Tommy had managed to fall off his hover-board just before the options came through, and I’d had enough to do, coping with the hospital and the crying and the broken bones.

“Yes, dear.”

I knew he couldn’t see the point of adding hair, eyebrows and lashes to our basic humanoid models, but he hadn’t argued. After all, we had no other use for our savings—we were off to the stars!

As for Tommy, he thought it would be fun to go and look for aliens, though his excitement had climbed exponentially when he discovered that the rest of his education and more would be pre-loaded into his new database.

“You mean I won’t have to actually learn anything? I can just…access it? Like clicking on a ’net link?”

The robot at the registration centre had answered, its faux-mouth moving as it spoke. “On the contrary, there will be much to learn, young man. Your database will contain only those facts that are already known. The universe contains much that is not known. To explore is to learn.”

It told us about our android shells, with their touch-sensitive sensors and scanners; about our family spaceship where we would not need air, gravity or sustenance; about how interesting it would be to float in the atmospheres of gas giants, or skim the coronas of suns. It explained the “hibernation” mode, which we could switch to while we crossed the interstellar voids, and how to uplink to and download from Information Central, where every byte of accumulated knowledge would be stored.

It told us everything we wanted to know. But we didn’t ask it—or ourselves—the right questions.

Which is why I’m explaining to Tommy for the 17,810,311th time that we can never get “there”, for we have no specific “there” to travel to. But Tommy will ask the question again in a few thousand years’ time. For, although he can calculate pi to a million decimal places, and tell you the gravitational dynamics of the binary stars we’re currently orbiting, his thought patterns will always be nine years old. He can learn, but never grow; accumulate data but never truly develop. That incessant chatter he’d have grown out of and the persistent questions he already knows the answers to if only he would take a moment to access his databanks, along with the silly jokes and pranks that are part of growing up—they’re all still with him. He can’t physically mature, so his consciousness can’t either, and the jokes—as well as our patience—wore out a long time ago. We actually left him switched to “standby” for a few millennia, made some star-stops without waking him, but then we felt guilty, as illogical as that was, and we missed him. His absence made Bob and me realise how little we had left to say to each other.

“Shouldn’t we wake Dad? He’d like the way the molecules combine in the infrared spectrum.” Tommy points at the display panel that stretches halfway around our ship’s semi-circular control room, then floats across to the matte-black touch-tile beside it and slides a finger to zoom the picture. Tendrils of solar gases spiral from the small blue star toward the larger yellow star that is consuming it. They’ll destroy each other eventually, just like the stars in the last binary system we visited a hundred thousand years ago. And the one before that…and the one before…

Did I ever think this was interesting? Beautiful, even?

Galloping Galaxies, even the aliens we’ve encountered have been boring. Gas-guzzling jellyfish with the brain capacity of a Terran cuttlefish, some sentient mosses, and a rock-burrowing worm. Before the Information Centre went silent ten million years ago, it had available reports of other intelligent life out beyond the Fornax constellation, but by the time we got there, the suns had gone nova and there was no one left to talk to.

Poor Bob, I suppose it’s not his fault that I got tired of the constant complaining, the literally endless blame game—“You said you’d ordered all the extras! And when did you last clean out the engine pods?”—“You got hair, didn’t you? What’s an eyebrow or two matter? And why can’t you clear the fuel waste?”

I unplugged his power supply from the main stardrive about ten hibernations ago, before he could do it to me, and woke Tommy instead.

Giving up on the idea of waking his father, Tommy pushes off from the wall and floats diagonally across the room to activate the sensors on the Communications board. Nothing. Only the hum of the stars and the static hiss that is a universal constant. “No messages. Again.” His mechanical shoulders move up and down, and I read it as a shrug. Is he disappointed? Or simply unsurprised? There’s so little body language to assess that even after so many millennia I can’t gauge his thoughts or feelings unless he tells me what they are. And what child ever does that?

The other androids, who followed us into this nightmare moved out of range or fell silent thousands of years ago. We’ve kept sending messages, more in hope than expectation that we’ll ever get a reply. In an ever-expanding universe, the chances of our finding anyone else of earth origin are infinitesimal.

“I’m bored,” says Tommy, and once again I wish I had the ability to scream.

“Why don’t you run an analysis of the particle streams?” I suggest. “If they’re suitable, you could go out and surf the solar winds for a while.”

Another mechanical shrug. “It’s no fun anymore. Anyway, I can always just access a recording.”

“Well, then, do that if you’d rather.”

“Can’t be bothered. I know what happens.”

So do I. We’ve seen every type of star a hundred times, visited and logged millions of planets, seen everything this universe has to offer us. What else is there to experience? Where else can we go?

Who wants to live forever?

Not me. I haven’t wanted that for a long time. If only I’d had logic circuits before we decided to become more than human. Or less than human…

The notion is illogical, and I delete it.

“We’ll move on, Tommy,” I tell him. “Come and hibernate. It’s a long way to the next destination.”

There is no animation in his android features, but his blond fringe floats forward as his head tilts back to look up at me, and his bio-mechanical hand automatically pushes it back in an unmistakeably human gesture. I’m glad Bob at least managed to order the hair.

As we glide through the corridor to the hibernation pods, I access my memory of how Tommy looked on the morning we went to sign up for this–the way his freckles stood out against his pale skin, the broad grin creasing his face—and I reach out a hand to brush against the plastitanium shell his consciousness now inhabits. The sensation of touch is there, just as the robots promised, but there is no warmth, no pleasure in it, and I pull my hand away. As I strap him into his pod, he chatters on like any child looking forward to another adventure. “Where are we going, Mum? Edge of the universe? Andromeda-Milky remnants? Maybe we can find a star going supernova? I like watching those.” He places his hands together for a moment, then pulls them quickly apart. “Bam!”

The corners of my redundant mouth turn up in a facsimile smile. “We’re going to journey’s end, Tommy,” I tell him. “We’ll finally be ‘there’.”

His face literally lights up as his surface electrodes register his excitement. “Wow! When? Is it far? Will the robots be there?”

“I don’t know what’s there, Tommy. It will be a surprise. But the sooner you switch to ‘standby’, the sooner we can find out. Okay?”


The artificial muscles in my back hum as I bend to give Tommy a kiss that neither of us can truly feel, and I automatically recheck his straps to make sure he’s properly secured. When Tommy’s hibernation light engages, I float back to the control room to set our destination and to take a last look at the system we’re leaving. The human part of me remembers how it felt to be awed by the beauty of the twin suns, while my robot circuits continue to analyse the orbits of both stars and the gas giant planet that wobbles perilously between them. Like warring parents fighting over a child, my human side thinks. Maybe not so beautiful after all.

It’s time to go. Disconnecting the ship’s fail-safe is a minor problem, readily overcome by a little applied mathematics in one of my sub-routines.

Setting the coordinates is easy: zero-zero-zero. Galactic centre. The middle of a supermassive black hole. A new adventure with no guarantees.

Strapping myself into the pilot’s seat, I analyse my circuits. They are at optimum levels for the first time in centuries.

Time to start the engines.

The post Who Wants to Live Forever? appeared first on Luna Station Quarterly.

On Aerdwen Green

Nov. 28th, 2015 05:36 pm
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They picked their way from rock to rock across the river. Sometimes Enzi had to stretch her legs as far as they could go to reach the next one. Ahead she heard a gasp and a splash. Mistress Beldaria had lost her footing and tumbled into the current.

Young Master Ylder threw himself into the water and drew her back from danger. He carried her to shore, dripping and laughing.

“What an adventure!” Mistress Beldaria exclaimed.

Enzi would not have minded being lifted from the water to be carried in Ylder’s strong arms. She would not have minded if Ylder gazed at her the way he gazed at her mistress. Not at all. When she reached the shore, Enzi helped her mistress, behind a screen of bushes, out of her sopping clothes and into something dry.

Two days ago when I fell into a river, Enzi thought, lacing the lady’s bodice, I’d slogged my way onward in soggy skirts. No rescue for me. Mertin sniggered and said I looked like a frog. Sardus harped at me for an hour about trying to look presentable.

She was covered in scabs and mosquito bites and would never again, not ever, complain about bath time. She would have given everything she owned—if she’d owned anything—for a hot bath and a soft bed.

At least the lady’s dunking had forced the party to stop for the day. Red lines furrowed Enzi’s palms from the handles of the bag she carried, her back bent under the weight of a pack. She was strong for her age, but she was still only thirteen.

The quest had sounded grand when the messenger came to the manse and announced Great-King Bardo’s search for the Chalice of Plenty, lost in his great-grandfather’s day when Great-King Donnil had demanded an end to superstition. Talismans and offerings to the spirits, anything once called magic, had been forbidden; he denounced such idolatry as foolish falderal. Over the years magical items once held dear in every household, from the smallest cottage to the grandest castle, went missing. Stowed away unused for so long, no one had noticed they were gone, not till now, when Great-King Bardo put two and two together and decided he needed to restore the most important one of all, the Chalice of Plenty.

The Wasting and the Waning had followed soon after the ban. The Wasting meant cows bearing fewer calves, mares failing to foal, crops yielding less and less. The Waning swept through every village and almost every home, making some folks weak, others sick, still more barren; some it claimed to a horrible vacantness.

Yes, Great-King Bardo said, the land needed the Chalice back, that would fix all (though he kept the ban on things the smallfolk once relied on). He requested every House to send its Master to seek it. Even House Dilvan, though the Master had died six years ago of the Quick-Wane—three days of twitching and vomiting and worse that Enzi had had to help clean up. The Mistress his wife had died two years later of the Slow-Wane—years of pale listlessness until she became her own ghost, first a walking one and then a bedded one and then naught but a body clothed in incense at the graveyard and a portrait on the wall. Beldaria, the Mistress that was now, only sixteen and with no brothers, should have passed the quest by. Few Houses had agreed to go. But Enzi’s Mistress had insisted.

“No woman beats me with bow and arrow, and many men are not my equal,” she’d boasted. “And a fairer horsewoman you’ll ne’er see.”

Fat lot of good that had done her. They’d had to set the horses loose before they hiked the first mountain, two days in. That is, the gentry had had horses. The servants hadn’t even had mules.

Of all the Eastfolk, only four Masters had come with them. They’d visited every village, demanded entrance to every manse—even the small-king’s castle. They searched libraries and cellars, hay lofts and treasure-stores. No trace of the chalice.

Enzi and the other servants sat near the riverbank, a distance from the campfire. They’d each had a chunk of bread and a wizened apple (the plumper ones had gone to the gentry). Now they waited for the lords and lady to finish their dinner; the servants would share what was left over. Ylder, Master Marrash, an older lord with a kingly manner, and Master Jivaine, who was youngish but too pocked and unpleasant for any girl to sigh after, had gone hunting. Master Marrash shot a partridge. Master Jivaine’s Chenton had made a stew out of it, seasoned with all kinds of things he’d plucked along the way—rough as he talked, the huge man turned out to be a magician at the cauldron. Its scent was a torture to those who hadn’t supped yet. While she waited, Enzi dug in the mud with a stick. She scooped up a few handfuls and began patting them into a shape.

That bit there looked like a muzzle. Doggish. So it was a dog. She molded the clump till it had four legs, a body, a tail. She narrowed the snout. It reminded her of Ranger, one of Beldaria’s hunting hounds, the friendliest one; Enzi often stole scraps for him. She scratched in two eyes. A doggish smile. A nose. Pulled up triangles to serve for pricked-up ears. She paused a moment to wave away a cloud of midges.

“Here, girl, look at yourself,” Sardus chided. “You’re covered in muck. How’re you going to put the Mistress to bed with hands like those?”

“Almost done,” Enzi said. She put the little dog down in the mud beside her. Wished she could have told it, “Good Ranger,” but she knew they’d laugh at her. She went to the river to wash off her hands but had to step in the muddy shore to get there and back. Now clay caked her feet.

Sardus tsked when he saw her. Beldaria’s other servant made it his business to make sure Enzi didn’t shame House Dilvan.

“How’d you do that?” Mertin pointed at the figure of Ranger.

“Don’t know. I’m good with my hands.” Not to boast, but it was true. She wished maybe sometimes someone else would notice.

“Here now,” Chenton said. He scowled at the mud-hound as if he thought it would bite. “You shouldn’t be making those.”

“Why ever not?” Enzi said. “I make them all the time. Used to make my own dolls from twists of wool and scraps of cloth. I had no mam to make ‘em for me.” She didn’t expect any sympathy; the realm overflowed with orphans.

“That there’s against the law,” Chenton huffed, his face going red. “That there’s a clay-mare.”

“Don’t be silly. It’s not even a horse, it’s just a dog. It doesn’t do anything,” Enzi insisted.

“Tell her it’s forbidden.” Chenton poked Sardus in the shoulder. The thin man was pushed backwards. He righted himself and aimed a scowl at Enzi.

“He’s right, you shouldn’t. No matter that you don’t mean it to be a clay-mare.” Sardus stood up and stomped the figure under his boot. It was nothing now.

“Aw,” Mertin said. “You squashed the little dog. It were a clever thing.” That was the first time Mertin had ever said anything nice to Enzi. She flashed him a quick smile of gratitude.

“Chenton!” Master Jivaine called. “We’re done!”

The servants clambered to their feet. Enzi smoothed her skirts; after twelve days on the road in the same garb, its hem now muddy, this was a hopeless gesture. The servants strolled to the campsite, pretending they didn’t want to run and gulp down their long-awaited dinner.

Chenton ladled their bowls half-full of stew. He scraped the cauldron clean. They returned to their spot by the river to eat.

“Enzi, come braid my hair,” her mistress commanded.

She put down the spoon without even a taste and tried not to let disappointment, let alone annoyance, show.

Beldaria posed on a log by the fire. She had undone her wet hair and sat idly combing through it with her long, white fingers. The firelight danced through the chestnut curls, weaving them with red and gold light.

“It’s mostly dry now. Bind it loosely so it will be comfortable when I lie down.”

Enzi brought her lady’s comb and finished the job Beldaria had begun. Standing behind her mistress, she wondered, was she too haloed in golden firelight? She parted the lady’s hair into five sections and began weaving. She forgot Beldaria and the quest and her mosquito bites and gave herself up to the pattern the hair seemed to want to make, something that whispered of rivers and woods and firelight and cricket-song and rest. She tied off the ends with her lady’s ribbons.

“Enchanting,” Master Kassen husked.

Enzi had forgotten the men. They gawped and gaped at her Mistress as if they’d never seen so lovely a sight.

Beldaria had the grace to blush. “My girl has a talent for doing my hair just right. I could wear this to a ball and not feel under-coiffed and yet I can assure you, it will not hamper my sleeping.”

It was Enzi’s turn to blush, but the lords turned their attention to her for only an eye-blink.

“It is surely not the coiffure but the wearer that is beautiful,” Master Marrash said. Ylder nodded, his pink lips half-open in an “ooh.”

Enzi curtseyed to her Mistress and returned to her cold stew. It still tasted good. By the time she’d finished washing the cauldron and all the bowls and spoons, to the quiet sound of the others’ scattered conversations, night had fallen. She removed her lady’s bedroll from her pack and helped her onto it.

“Goodnight, Mistress.” She settled the blanket about Beldaria’s shoulders.


Enzi took less time preparing her own bed. She had no bedroll to stow beneath her, just a cloak to pull over herself as the evening chill came on. The bag, thinner now with naught but her mistress’ clothing in it, served as her pillow.


A few hours of walking next morning brought them to another mountain.

“Not in Eastrealm any longer,” Master Marrash said as they ascended. “Mount Dirrow marks our passage into the Midlands. Now we make our way to the capital and see if Westfolk and Northfolk have met with any success. Just a few more villages and Houses to go before we get there.”

“I do hope we’re the ones to find the Chalice,” Master Jivaine said, screwing up his long nose in displeasure. “It seems an awful lot of trouble to have gone through, traipsing about the wilderness, if we don’t.”

“Nor any recompense for our efforts,” grumbled Master Kassen. Skinny old penny-pincher, Enzi thought; bet he’d be the first to run from danger.

“Worse yet, we haven’t had to do any fighting,” Mistress Beldaria complained. “My sword languishes at the bottom of my pack” (the one strapped to Enzi’s back). “Where’s the glory in this quest?”

No glory came in the next few hours of trudging down the mountainside either. The mountain disgorged them into yet another forest. But soon the questors followed a path, which turned into a road. Thank the gods, Enzi thought, we’re heading somewhere. Somewheres have food, fresh food, not just stale bread and withered apples.

Sure enough, they spotted the encouraging sign of smoke.

They stumbled across a small collection of cottages, cheerfully painted in different colors. Some had designs painted on and around the doors, no two alike, vines and wheels and swirling stars and suns. The thatched roofs were more than orderly; each had its own intricate weaving. So pretty! For a brief instant, before she could call back the renegade thought, it came to Enzi how sweet it might be to live in such a place, with a cozy cottage of your own, your own field to work instead of chasing after folks—especially a headstrong mistress like Beldaria. Enzi pictured herself painting the designs of her own choosing on her very own door. Maybe a family… She shook away the silly notion.

But something felt odd. It took Enzi a moment to figure out what. There was no one in sight, not a soul crossing the road, tending a garden, gossiping over laundry. Not even a child. Could they all be working their fields or shut up inside their houses?

“Someone must be here,” Lord Marrash said, as if in answer to her thought; “they would not have left their fires burning.”

An odd feeling prickled the back of Enzi’s scalp. What if some mischief had been done in this village, the inhabitants all killed? Or what if some mischief was intended by the villagers against strangers?

At the next bend in the road, they came upon the village green. It was filled with people, all turned and facing the road on which the travelers walked. Master Ylder positioned himself in front of Beldaria, as if to shield her. The crowd burst into cheers.

“Welcome! Welcome to Aerdwen!” they cried.

Lord Marrash stepped forward a few paces. Enzi felt relief. The sight of his proud bearing, the gray hairs barely vanquishing the black in his well-groomed hair and beard, would certainly give ill-wishers pause. His hand went to the hilt of his sword; his muscled arm looked as if it well knew how to wield it.

A tall man pushed himself forward from the crowd. He had straight brown hair that fell to his shoulders in a womanly fashion and wore long robes, striped white and red. Eastfolk lords only wore robes for special occasions; this man looked like no lord and his robes were simple linen, not velvets.

He held out his oversized hands in a gesture of greeting. “Welcome, travelers!”

“We come in the name of Great-King Bardo,” Lord Marrash announced. “We are questors—”

“We know who you are,” the big man said. He smiled graciously. In every other manse and village, the Masters and the townsfolk became annoyed or affronted when the questors demanded they rifle through their homes and stores. Despite the fact that all would benefit from the recovery of the Chalice, no one had bid them welcome before. Midlanders were different from Eastfolk, Enzi reasoned, or else their small-King had a higher regard for Great-King Bardo.

“I am Vennidan.” The tall man swept very low in a graceful bow. “And this is Nella.” His arm swept outward in another perfect gesture.

The plump, dark-skinned woman had curly hair that tumbled down her shoulders. An Eastern woman would have bound it tight to tame it; Enzi liked it as it was. She too wore loose linen robes, a light purple color with turquoise leaves embroidered on the wide sleeves.

“In honor of your arrival, we will arrange a feast,” Nella said. Turquoise stones dangled from her ears, bobbling as she spoke.

Master Marrash removed his hand from his sword. His shoulders relaxed. “We would be most grateful,” he said. Enzi sighed with relief.

Nella ushered them forward. The crowd parted to admit them.

In the middle of the green stood two tables festooned with greens, benches pulled before them. Vennidan clapped his big hands and several villagers went scurrying off. The rest seated themselves on the grass, facing the questors.

Master Marrash led the way to the first table, extending his arm for Mistress Beldaria to take, as if they attended a dance at a great house. Beldaria gave him a tiny curtsy and the crowd an indulgent smile. But, Enzi noticed, she held her outside arm away from her side, so the sunlight would glint off the dagger at her hip. Master Ylder quickly fell into step behind them, making sure he would sit beside the lady. Enzi scowled as Master Kassen rushed to be next. Of course he would not wish to find himself relegated to a lesser place. The remaining masters seated themselves at the second table. Enzi stood and waited, like the other servants.

“The feast is for all the questors,” Nella said.

The gentry made no objections, though Master Jivaine emitted a small grunt of disapproval. Ah, but it felt good to sit! Enzi placed the pack between her legs, the bag behind her. She rolled her neck and shoulders to ease her tired muscles.

Villagers appeared, bearing bowls laden with fruit, cheese and breads. Other servers came by with pear-wood goblets and pitchers of water and wine. Enzi gulped her water down at once. The goblet felt satin-smooth; her hand enjoyed tracing the whorls of color on the round bowl. She popped several grapes into her mouth; she’d never seen any so fat and purple, glistening with dew. The questors went quiet, busy at their meal. The people of Aerdwen chatted amongst themselves, sitting at leisure as if at a picnic, though they did not eat. Servers returned bearing platters of chicken and vegetables roasted in herbs.

Eventually even Chenton licked his fingers and splayed his greasy hands across his expanded belly as if to congratulate it on its spectacular feat of consumption.

“We’d like to provide some entertainment for you.” Vennidan smiled broadly. “It’s the custom in Aerdwen for guests to become part of that entertainment—it will unfold especially for you.” He clapped his hands, signaling for some of the villagers to run off again. These were all children, Enzi noted, all of them a few years younger than she.

Master Marrash sat up straighter, knowing all eyes were on their party. Beldaria leaned forward on her elbows, her eyes bright with amusement. Only Master Kassen scowled, his bushy white eyebrows peaking up. The old skinflint’s probably worried they’re going to ask him for payment, Enzi thought.

The children returned carrying cloth-covered baskets. They stood in an admirably straight line. At Vennidan’s command, they lifted the cloths.

Inside the basket were toys!

“I will ask each of you to select the carved figure you like the most and tell us why. It does not matter if one of your companions selects the one you would have picked—or even if you all pick the same one. Just pick the object you favor most. Our subsequent entertainment will rely on your choice.”

Mistress Beldaria clapped her hands. “What a lovely game!” she declared. Enzi thought so, too.

“We will go from left to right, if that pleases your lordships? My lady?” Vennidan asked.

The gentry nodded their accord.

Master Marrash rose from the table. “May I?” He gestured towards the baskets, taking one step closer.

“By all means,” Nella said. “You may touch them, if you like; even pick them up.”

The lord strolled down the line. There were twelve baskets. He paused a while at one but examined them all. He picked up the lion but soon put it down, returning to his original favorite. It was a bear, standing on its hind legs. It suits him, Enzi thought; muscular, with an intelligent face. The master held the bear aloft.

“Excellent!” Nella exclaimed. “And your reason?”

“The bear is a noble animal,” Master Marrash answered, “and strong.”

Vennidan set the bear on the table before Master Marrash’s place.

“Mistress?” Rella invited Enzi’s lady.

“I recognize mine at once,” Beldaria said. She jumped from her bench and brought a figurine to her table. It was a cat licking its paw. “It’s the most charming.”

“How so?” Vennidan elicited.

“She has dainty features. And how sweetly intent she is at her task.”

Vennidan nodded to Master Ylder.

Like Master Marrash, he walked down the line of basket-holders deliberating. He took a moment to tousle the head of the littlest girl, who blushed and gave him a shy smile. He came back to the next but last figure: a dog. Enzi did not care much for it. She thought it even more crudely made than her poor little mud-Ranger.

Ylder held the white and brown spotted hound delicately between two fingers, and set it beside the lady’s cat, as if it were chasing it. “I choose the hound. Renowned for its faithfulness.” He turned to Beldaria, as if the comment were meant just for her. Such fa-di-la gentry gallantry, Enzi thought.

Master Kassen didn’t wait for an invitation. He dwelt a long time on one figure, then stared an equally long time at another. He paced between the two, deciding. The first was a buffalo, the largest of the carvings—a good two feet tall and at least four times larger than Beldaria’s cat. It was a rough block, with childish slashings to indicate fur, barely incised at all; the horns stuck out unevenly. Why on earth would anyone choose that? Enzi wondered. His second choice was an elephant. It bore an empty howdah on its back, bright blue spangled with yellow stars. Red and green blankets spilled down its back. But Enzi didn’t care for this one either; the legs were unshaped rectangles, without indentations or even paint to indicate the toenails. Ah, Enzi thought; he’s trying to determine the costliest one and can’t decide between the biggest or the gaudiest. She wrinkled her nose.

Kassen held up the buffalo. “There.”

“And your reason?” Nella prompted.

“It’s—”. Of course he couldn’t say it was because he thought it worth the most. “Uh—what exceeds a buffalo in power, I ask you?” He sat down, banging the buffalo onto the table with a challenging glare.

Master Jivaine strolled between the children, fingering his stubbly chin. He looked behind him at the animals arranged on the table. “We may select an animal that’s already been chosen?” he asked.

“Certainly,” Vennidan said.

Jivaine sauntered up to Master Marrash. He stretched out his hand—withdrew it quickly—then snatched up the bear. “The bear is a fiercesome beast.” He returned to his place, positioning the bear before him. “There we have it.” Master Jivaine smacked his hands together.

“But the others haven’t chosen,” Nella said.

“The others?” Jivaine glanced down his nose at the third table. “They are only servants.”

“True,” Vennidan said, “the quest was not their choice. Even so, they are a part of it. Its dangers are theirs as well as yours; its rewards will be theirs too.”

Master Kassen hmphed. Enzi peered forward to see her lady’s reaction. Beldaria only smiled, as if amused at the servants’ inclusion.

Sardus rose, straightening his tunic with a quick, efficient gesture. Head held high, as if this game were something important and his part in it essential, he looked into the baskets, hands folded behind his back. The color rising in his cheeks, he peered at each of the figures chosen by the gentry. He did not meet the masters’ eyes, nor the lady’s. He took his time perusing the figures. He came back at last to the baskets. With a wry smile he picked the goat. Enzi had liked that one, too. It had a neat beard nicely carved, and a sense of dignity that belied its goatishness.

“And why?” Nella asked.

“There’s nothing foolish about it,” he answered. “It looks like it’d know how to get things done.”

“We can choose one that’s already been picked?” Chenton bellowed, not waiting to be asked. Enzi knew he meant, were the servants allowed to take away a figure already picked by the gentry. It seemed a cheeky thing to do.

“Aye,” Vennidan answered.

Chenton lumbered up to Master Kassen and snatched away the buffalo. He set it in front of his place, folding his hands as if daring someone to take it away. “A beast you can rely on. He won’t take any nonsense.”

Mertin took the longest. He circled from basket to basket, then glanced nervously at the table of the gentry, then circled the baskets again.

“Come, boy, we don’t have till the end of time,” Master Jivaine chided.

Mertin paused before Chenton’s buffalo, but lost his nerve. The boy chose the elephant. “All the others are plain; this one’s got nice colors,” he said. A greasy sweat broke out over his pimpled face.

Enzi’s turn at last. Amongst those the others had picked, the bear and the goat were the only ones worth considering. But no. She examined the baskets. A lark with outspread wings caught her interest. It had an exuberant shape that felt right. It would have been pretty tied on a bit of string and hung somewhere. But when she tested it on a table, it wobbled on its round breast. The lion had a suitably menacing expression but its mane looked too staid. In the end she picked the one she’d liked best all along: the zebra. She brought it back to her place.

“Why did you pick that one?” Vennidan asked.

“It was the best,” she answered simply. Surely no one wished to hear her opinion.

“Best how?” Nella prompted.

“It seems twitchy, like it just took a minute to rest before it gallops off. The face looks full of mischief. The stripes aren’t straight lines, but flow and—I don’t know, kind of dance.”

Vennidan and Nella smiled broadly.

“We must make our entertainment ready,” the tall man said. “We will return soon. Rest, or speak with some of our villagers; the people of Aerdwen are eager to meet you.”

If only Beldaria would nap. But no, the Mistress rose and spoke to some of the women, fingering their hair. It was tempting to curl up in the shade of the nearest tree but Enzi kept a watchful eye, in case she was needed. Master Kassen and Master Jivaine stretched themselves out in a shady spot, quietly talking. Master Ylder joined the lady. Soon the pair was leading a group of children in a dance, holding hands with them and going round and round in a boisterous ring. Did Beldaria never tire?

From time to time, various villagers slipped away. Presumably they were part of the mysterious entertainment.

Somewhere a horn sounded. Vennidan rode into sight driving a green caravan, its interior concealed by bright blue curtains. A pair of ponies led it, their blue bridles spangled with shining brasses.

“Once upon a time.” Vennidan jumped to the ground. “There was a bear.”

Out from behind the curtains came a masked man. The questors laughed. The man lumbered down the steps just like a bear, for all he still wore his blacksmith’s apron. The mask looked familiar; it was a leather counterpart to the carved bear Master Marrash had chosen.

A story unfolded, with different masked characters emerging from the wagon, bearing masks of the animals chosen by the questors. The qualities of the toys were mimicked in the masks, but exaggerated. The buffalo mask was a truly ugly thing. Its actor played an ugly role in the little drama, poking other animals with its horns until they dropped. A lithe-limbed man wore the goat-mask, its beard a mannerly fringe of yarn that hung down his chin. The man managed to be sprightly yet dignified, the beard barely wiggling with his energetic movements. The story was a silly mess, not like a proper tale. But the longer Enzi watched, the more she liked it. It made sense, even though it made no sense.

What did that mean? she wondered.

The sense wasn’t in the words. It was in—what? In the way the words fit together, that was it. The words felt right with each other, even when they were meaningless. The actors said their rhymes like they were speaking songs without the tunes. Even the way they moved felt right. They were making patterns. That’s a diamond. That’s a rosette, the word bubbled up in Enzi’s mind. The goat approached the cat; the bear crossed to the elephant. Each player grasped a partner’s outstretched hands and walked in circles while they spoke. Enzi thought of spinning wheels; their hands were the hubs. She felt a kind of song rising up in her ribcage, though she couldn’t really hear it, could form neither words nor melody. Not an actual song but a counter-current. It didn’t make sense but she felt a sense of satisfaction in the feeling. Did the other questors feel it too? No. Their expressions hadn’t changed. They smiled with mild amusement—not the excitement she felt surging. This under-song, these patterns of words, rhythm, steps, meant something. Something important. Why were they deaf to it?

The zebra will come next, Enzi thought, even before the curtains stirred. The last actor to emerge from behind the curtains sported the zebra mask. The zebra’s buxom body wore Nella’s lavender skirts; her turquoise earrings bounced as she bounded down the steps and became the elephant’s partner.

The ousted bear positioned himself at the center of the moving figures. He was the hub of all the wheels that made a greater wheel, Enzi saw; the stillness at the center of movement. “Who will weave for the rose and the oak?” he asked. “Who will braid for the ant and the dove?”

Enzi scooted to the edge of her seat. She knew the answer to the question, this question that made no sense! And she knew it was the part of the zebra to answer.

“I will weave for the rose and the oak,” the zebra said, joining the bear. “I will braid for the ant and the dove. I will build for masters and folk. I will build with light and love.”

The zebra circled the others, stopping before the questors. Her hands stretched forth, palms outward. “I will shape the waves and the breeze.”

Enzi’s lips moved with hers.

“I will shape the stars in the night.”

The zebra held out her hands to Enzi in invitation. Enzi rose. She spoke the words she knew followed.

“I will shape the fields and the seas,” they said together. Enzi took Nella’s hands. They moved into the center of the grassy stage, became the hub of the wheel. “I will shape the morning light.”

The other players formed new patterns around Enzi and Nella. They clapped a rhythm with their hands, no longer speaking. Enzi’s feet knew the rhythm, moved in pace with it, back and forth in place, as Nella removed the zebra mask and tied it onto Enzi’s face. When the ribbons were tied, flowing down Enzi’s back like a black and white braided zebra tail, the clapping stopped.

Enzi alone spoke the rest. “I will play what must be played; I will sing the needed song. I will make what must be made; I will build to right what’s wrong.”

The players froze in their patterns.

Enzi felt like a broken clock that’d been repaired, its gears stopping now but just in the rest between one second and the next.

On Aerdwen Green, a hush possessed the audience. The villagers did not clap, though clearly the show was done. Mistress Beldaria frowned. Master Marrash placed his hand once more on the hilt of his sword, though he did not stand or speak.

Enzi removed the zebra mask. She handed it apologetically to Nella.

Vennidan stepped forward. “Masters, Mistress. This girl belongs here.”

Enzi’s lady rose. She did not yet protest. Master Ylder rose beside her.

“This girl belongs to Mistress Beldaria,” he said.

“Are there slaves now in Remalee?” Nella said sharply. “One person cannot own another.”

“She is free to go,” Beldaria said, flipping her hand out nonchalantly. But she grimaced at the betrayal.

“Mistress, here is where I wish to stay,” Enzi said. “My work is here.”

“How on earth can you make such a claim?” Master Jivaine argued, his mustache twitching. “After nothing more than a—a—I cannot even call it a play, as it made absolutely no sense! A silly game to amuse children.”

“No mere game,” Vennidan said, removing his mask. The hound’s face dangled from its string as he talked. He perched on Mistress Beldaria’s bench, facing the questors. “We are what’s left of the Makers. Only Making can undo the Waste and the Wane. The Chalice was a great Making, and its return will help. But it’s not merely the banned objects themselves that have power—it’s the creating of them.”

“There have been Makers all along,” Nella said, “some in whom the power for Making is strong, as in this girl, and others in whom the power exists but in a weaker state. It was always thus but now so few remember what it means and what to do with it. You, sir,” she turned to Sardus, “and you,” she addressed Lord Marrash, “have slight traces of the power. This girl has the knack for Making; she knew the best-wrought figure from the rest, she knew the Maker’s rhyme without prompting. She can help repair the realm. She must stay here with us.”

To Enzi’s shock, Mertin stumbled to his feet. “She made a little dog. I saw ‘er. It were a right pretty thing. She should go if she wants to.” His face red as a rose, he collapsed back to his seat, not making eye contact with anyone, least of all his master.

“I do want to!” Enzi said. “I—feel—it’s right. I know it.” She hit her chest on the word “know.” Could she make them understand, now that she understood? “And I know this, too.” She gulped. How to make them believe her? Before today she had been like a music box, an inert thing; the players on Aerdwen Green had turned the key. “You will find the Chalice. Master Marrash and Sardus will make it happen, and you too, my lady, for there’s a glimmer of Making in you as well.”

Beldaria lost the twist to her mouth.

“Your abilities with sword and bow and horse—your Makings are of a different nature. Even Chenton has traces, him with his herbs and his way with the stewpot.”

“But these magics are against the law!” Chenton shouted. “We should drag you—all of you!—before Great-King Bardo. See you imprisoned!”

Vennidan leaned forward till he was eye-to-eye with Master Marrash. “You must not let that be,” he said quietly. “You must tell the king to let the Makings come back. The clay-mares and the dawn-rhymes and the hearth shrines. The corn dollies offered to the Lady of the Fields and the whisper-braids. Tell him. For the good of all. Folk who have forgot the ways of Making must come here, to Aerdwen, to learn.”

The questors always heeded Master Marrash. They turned to him now, expecting him to know the right thing to do. Honorable, responsible, capable Master Marrash would never go along with nonsense, let alone treason. Enzi wondered if that was a different kind of Making—the ability to lead.

“I—do not know why I should trust you, but I feel I should,” the Master said. “Enzi, did you know these rhymes before today? Answer truthfully, girl.”

“No, sir.”

“Then how could you speak them at the same time as these villagers?”

“I do not know, sir.” Enzi hoped he could detect her honesty. “I only know I knew the words. Just as I knew the zebra was the best-made toy. I have a way with making things that no one ever taught me. I’d like to believe it’s usefuller than prettying a lady’s hair—begging pardon, Mistress. I know it’s so, just like I know sun rises east and sets west. The sun knows his part in the dance, and we must help the realm remember hers.”

Master Marrash nodded his head. “So,” he declared.

The questors, minus Enzi, would do as they had planned before, look for the Chalice and head for the court. Only now they would also speak to the king about restoring the Makers.

The travelers would leave at first light. They were assigned rooms in the homes of different hosts. Enzi would stay with Nella, for the first time not at her mistress’ side. But before the night wore out, a knock came at Beldaria’s door.

“Mistress, may I braid your hair this one last time?” Enzi asked. She hoped Beldaria would not refuse her touch.

The lady leaned forward on her elbows, her loosened hair flowing about her pillow in a river of curls. She had already combed it herself.

“Please, Enzi,” she requested softly.

Enzi parted the hair into six sections. This time she knew she worked a Making. The pattern spoke of a good night’s sleep, an easy journey and enough charm to persuade a king.

The post On Aerdwen Green appeared first on Luna Station Quarterly.

The Scarlet Cloak

Nov. 28th, 2015 05:35 pm
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This story first appeared in The Crimson Pact Volume 3 anthology. Ed. Paul Genesse. Alliteration Ink. March 20, 2012.

I didn’t mean to become a murderer, not really. I did imagine them dying over and over—I used to pray for it every night before I went to bed. Tom Miller’s face was pitted like a walnut shell and I wished it would crack open. Jeff Hunter used to pull my hair, just because he liked the sound of my screaming. When I refused to scream, they’d both try it, to see if they could make me cry eventually. I never did, not even when each had fistfuls of orange hair. There were also the twins, Mark and Nate, who liked to kick—I prayed every day I would stop feeling anything, or that the four of them would drop dead. I never thought that wish would come true.

It happened just after I came home from the academy. I don’t think there was anyone in town who thought I’d gone because I loved the idea of being one of the first female constables. I think they all knew I’d done it so I could come home and arrest all four of them. Especially Tom, for when he beat me and unbuckled his belt behind the woodshed. He might have gone all the way, if the innkeeper’s apprentice hadn’t heard me yell and come out shouting. Our town was very small and everyone knew my carrot-orange hair was the boys’ favorite target. Nobody did anything about it. I thought it wasn’t so much that the innkeeper’s lad, Benjamin, was kindly to me. I’m sure his master just didn’t want something like that to happen in his yard. Tom got away with a few scratches and no punishment. So I made punishment my job.

When I came back to town, I knew I’d catch them doing something vile and finally put them in the gaol, where they belonged. My first day in uniform, high black collar, specially tailored coat with a shiny silver crest, was only the beginning. The governor herself stood on the balcony of Central Hall and granted us all her blessing—the first mixed class of men and women, the first female constables going out to the scattered settlements. I should have been proud, but all I could think about was how, at last, the ones who deserved it would get what was coming to them.

I was right, but wrong about how it would happen.

I think about that night often now. I’d been home just three days, long enough for Milford’s constable to wonder what he was going to do with a female trainee, besides assign her to kitten rescue. It was after hours, and I ached to prove myself. I knew the gang of them was drinking at the inn. I went in there knowing it wouldn’t take much to rile them, to get them to fight me. I’d had two years of constabulary training by the Governor’s Hand himself—I knew how to handle myself, or so I thought. And, anyway, they’d get it for assaulting an officer of the realm. If they tried, I’d lock them up. I counted on liquid bravery, but not how far it would carry us.

As soon as I walked in there were catcalls. “Come and search me, darlin’, there’s something unlawful in my breeches,” “I have some ideas for your fetters, Constable Burke.” Then Tom, “Came back for more, eh? I can’t blame you.” He’d told everyone in town we’d done it behind the woodshed, and only the innkeeper’s lad and myself knew the truth. I ordered a drink. Tom and his cronies kept it up. I got in Tom’s face and told him to back off. Then he balled his fist in my hair and tried to kiss me while the others laughed. People started to clear out of the inn.

I kneed Tom in the balls. While he was bent over, cursing, Mark and Nate took my arms. Jeff laughed so hard he pissed himself. Tom spit in my face and yanked at my jacket, sending silver buttons bouncing across the floor.

“Hold her still, lads. I’ll show you she’s carrot on more than just her head.”

I kicked and clawed but they were too strong. Their laughter rang in my ears.

The innkeeper’s lad, whom they’d ignored, knocked Tom hard with the club kept behind the counter. There was a scuffle between them, and Jeff cheered Tom on. I struggled, but Mark and Nate held me tight while Jeff, still laughing, punched me in the face. The innkeeper joined in the fight and I, dazed, dropped to the floor. I found myself in a sideways world, table legs and black boots, my cheek pressed into the sawdust, staring at a dark shape in the corner who watched us all, unblinking. I heard the shrill notes of a constable whistle and someone dragged me out into the street by the arms. The lot of us were fettered and hauled off to the gaol.

Constable Stanhope dressed me down for “asking for trouble.” I told him it was those boys who were asking for it. I got reprimanded for my cheek and was off assignment for a week.

“Stay home, Sarah. Take some time to rest and think,” he said.

Ma and Da were quiet about the whole thing, like it hadn’t happened. They’d never approved of me being a constable, didn’t even come to graduation. Da said it was unnatural for a woman to take jobs from men, who had kids to feed. He wanted me to marry someone and be safe and happy. Cared for.

I told him there wasn’t anyone in the whole world who could make me happy. The next day I learned I was wrong.

I was in the market. Ma wanted me to stay home for the shame of my lumpy face. I wanted the whole town to see what the boys had done. I wandered through the familiar sights and smells of the market, the same old stalls cobbled on top of carts and leaning against buildings, where folk sold salted meat and onions. Children chased each other around because no one felt like watching or reprimanding them. The smell of roast chicken mingled with apple tarts and dried sage was enough to make anyone feel like they were with kith and kin. But it felt like another place where I had to walk on the outside of things. People averted their eyes from my face, except for one man.

He was tall and wore a top hat and a long ragged coat. He watched me—blue eyes glinted from deep sockets. His face was lined like it had either seen a lot of sun or many more years than the rest of him. He moved with grace, arms and legs stick-thin.

“What ails you, girl?” His voice was like a dog’s whine of warning—high and made the back of my neck prickle.

“That’s Constable Burke to you, sir.”

He took off his hat and bowed. I don’t know why, but I was reminded of a spider folding itself in to die. “Constable, then. What gave you such pretty black eyes?”

“Not a what, a who.”

“Of course.” He smiled at me apologetically; he was missing both front teeth. “Who, then?”

“Those who don’t know what’s good for them.” I looked for a way to step around him, but he blocked the aisle. I’d have had to push by him. But, for some reason, I didn’t want him to touch me.

“So they’ve been punished, then?”

I ignored the question. Jeff was still at the gaol, but Tom, Mark, and Nate hadn’t even been brought in or questioned.

“I see. Not punished.”

“What’s it to you?”

“Do you want your revenge, Constable?” He held out a dirty package.

“I’m not buying anything today.” I started to push past him.

He shoved the parcel into my hands. The paper tore, showing red. “A gift.”

I didn’t like that glimpse of red. It made me want to know what it was. Maybe there really was a constable instinct inside me somewhere, or maybe the rage that lived in my soul knew this was how it would get fed. I shifted the package in my hands and it tore open further. It was cloth.

“What is this?”

“It’s a cloak. So you can get what you want,” his whine dropped like a stone down a well.

“And what’s that?”

“I was in the tavern that night. I saw. This will give them what they have coming.”

He was the kind of man mothers warn children to stay away from—the kind I’d have questioned if I were still on assignment. I knew I should tell him to keep what he was peddling and go on about my day, but there was a lure in his voice I couldn’t dismiss. For all his strangeness, I stepped closer and lowered my voice. “What do you mean? How do you know?”

He smiled, but his grin wasn’t humor. It was cold. “I’ve used it for my own purposes. Now it’s time to pass it on.”

My stomach flopped over. I studied his creased face, then the bundle in my hands.

He seemed to see something in my expression, because he nodded. “Never put it on where others can see you. You must wear it every night to make it your instrument. When you have achieved your goal, you must find another and pass it on, for it has more work to do. I will be watching.”

I listened, but I didn’t really hear. I saw Tom twisting on the ground in agony. God help me, I liked the image.

The man stepped back and tipped his hat to me, and all I did was nod, put the bundle under my arm, and walk away.

I put the cloak on that night. The cloth was stiff and crackled when I pulled it from the package, like it had been soaked in some thick liquid and dried without being wrung out. I slipped it on and fastened it across my shoulders. The fashion was old, it didn’t have the extra rain guard that cloaks of today have across the shoulders. Hats were in fashion now, not hoods, and this cloak had a deep one. My head and face disappeared into darkness when I pulled it up. The clasp was a black claw, the grasping fingers of a raven. It felt heavier than anything I had ever worn, but with the weight came determination.

I snuck out of my bedroom window that night, silent as a hungry wolf, and eased the shutters open gently so I didn’t wake my parents. There was a broken shovel handle behind the neighbor’s house and I snatched it up. Sneaking through the settlement at night isn’t easy—everyone has dogs. I was careful as I stole through the sleeping town, but the only dog I saw backed away with his tail between his legs, a thin whine curling from his bared teeth.

A small voice inside me said I should be worried by that dog’s reaction, but I ignored it and made for the mill, hoping Tom was there. It wasn’t far, and the forest was between the town and the mill down-river. Lights still shone in the side building where the miller sometimes spent the night during harvest. I crept to the window and peered through the cracks in the shutters. Tom sat at the table. He had a black eye and nursed a bottle. He was alone. Rage was an ache in my gut.

I crept back into the woods and picked up small river stones. The undergrowth smelled like the river, dead fish and rotting waterweeds. I turned the stones over and over in my hands. They were worn smooth; tumbling through life for however many centuries had knocked off all the rough edges. Maybe that’s what happens to us all, we go on tumbling through life until nothing touches us anymore and we feel nothing. Not me. Not yet. Fire gnawed at my insides. I had plenty of edges.

I threw a stone through the window on the first try. It bounced off the table right in front of Tom—his head jerked up. I ducked lower in the bushes, my heart pounded against my ribs, but everything else around me was silent. I didn’t notice it at the time, but not even insects sang that night.

Another stone. Tom stood and lumbered over to the window.

“Throw another and you’ll wish you hadn’t, boy.” A sloppy grin split his pockmarked face. I realized he thought I was one of his friends, pulling a prank. I cocked my arm, took aim, and the next stone bounced off his forehead with a dull thud.

He swore loudly and rubbed the red mark I’d given him.

“That’s it, you’re in for it now.”

He came out of the mill house like an angry bull and stomped down the path, eyes piggy and mean. I slithered down to my belly, the shovel-handle tight in my hands.

He rooted around in the bushes and cussed for some time before he walked close enough. I stuck the handle between his ankles and twisted. He went down hard on his side and his belly jiggled with the impact. I stuck him hard on the shoulder and he tried to roll away from me, but I was on him. I pressed his face into the mud and dug my knee into his back.

“I came back for more, Tom. And I want it all,” I told him. Then I put my hands around his thick neck and started to squeeze.

He fought me, kicked, and almost bucked me off. My hands sank into the warm flesh of his neck, as though it were bread dough, and I felt the ridges of his bones, his Adam’s apple, and the air sputtering through.

He started to convulse as though I were bleeding him, not choking him. Then I realized there was blood. He was red all over. It oozed between my fingers, buried deep in his neck. Blood seeped out of his scalp, dripped down his hair. It soaked up through his tunic, his trousers and painted us both scarlet. I tried to tear my hands away, but they came with hunks of meat and badly-shaved patches of pockmarked skin. I meant to wipe it off but instead I brought my fingers to my mouth and shoved the meat inside. It was hot, still steaming, and dripping with fat.

It was the most delicious thing I’d ever tasted. It soothed the burn inside me. I ripped off more, and aborted screams whistled through the hole in his neck, until he gurgled and was silent. Then I flipped him over and tore into the mound of skin and organs before me.

When it was over, there was nothing left of him. I’d eaten even the bones, felt them crack like nutshells between my teeth. The only thing that remained of Tom were shreds of clothing. It was an easy thing to wrap them around a rock and toss them into the fast-moving river. One of the benefits to being a constable, I guess. I know how to cover my tracks.

I went to the mill and found a torch to light. I expected I’d be a mess, that I’d have to hide my clothes and bathe in the freezing river, but there wasn’t a spot on me. The cloak clung like a second skin—not a drop of blood to be found on my hands or clothes. From what I could tell from my reflection in the rain barrel, there wasn’t even blood on my mouth. I went to where I’d done Tom—there was no blood in the mud, only a little spattered across the leaves. When I swept the cloak over them, it drank those away too.

I felt numb, like my head was floating somewhere above my body. There was nothing left of Tom. It was as though he never existed, which had, in fact, been my earliest wish. I undid my buckle. My stomach, where I’d devoured him, was flat. The cloak did feel heavier, but it was nothing I couldn’t carry.

The bottle Tom had been drinking sat at the table alone, his chair still pushed out. There was something unfinished about it. I pushed the chair in, but it still bothered me. I picked up the bottle and saw marks from Tom’s lips on the rim. My face, lumpy and pale, looked back at me, even more distorted by the curving sides. My eyes looked like deep holes. I didn’t like it, so I broke the bottle against the table. Then I had to sweep up all the shards and chuck them out the window, or there’d be awkward questions. I don’t remember what I was thinking as I swept, the water pouring over the mill drowned everything else out. I left the door open. No one would be surprised that Tom had gotten drunk. If they found his shoes downstream, they’d assume he’d fallen in and drowned.

I stole home through the woods and climbed back in my window. I took the cloak off, folded it, and put it under my bed. I slept soundly but my dreams throbbed with distorted images of a face with dark holes for eyes.

The next day I thought about Jeff, Mark, and Nate . . . and I planned. Again I walked through the market proudly, my head held high. The bruises were fading. No one talked about Tom’s disappearance because his absence hadn’t been noticed yet. I thought about who was next. Mark and Nate were brothers—woodsmen. They were never apart and they almost always had axes nearby. I remembered Jeff’s laughing face, him pissing himself.

It was an easy matter to learn where Jeff was—he’d sat in the gaol all night before Constable Stanhope released him. It was no secret he’d left on a hunt the next day; probably hoping memories would fade while he was away. He couldn’t be far—a horse kicked him when we were kids and he had walked with a limp since. I knew I could catch him, he always hunted the same spots, but I packed a bag for several days just in case he changed his habit. I bundled the cloak in brown paper on the very top. I was the hunter now.

“Where are you going?” Ma caught me when I was getting a pouch of nuts from the cupboard.

“Nowhere.” I stepped away without meeting her eyes and made for the door.

“Sarah. Wait.”

“Why should I?” I pulled the straps of the pack up and adjusted it across my spine.

“We must discuss what to do.”

“What to do about what?”

Mother patted down her hair, black and tightly bound under a modest white cap. Straightened the collar on her white and blue gingham dress. “This problem.”

“And what problem would that be?” My words were short. Clipped. I knew she meant the brawl at the tavern and how I flaunted my bruises, but I wanted to hear her say it.

“This behavior does not befit a lady.”

“Neither does what they did, Ma. What do you have to say to that?” I knew she didn’t have an answer—she never had.

She looked at me then, her eyes were sharp. “You are so hard, daughter. How did you get so hard?”

I shrugged.

She kept talking. “You cannot force others to act the way you want them to. You may only command your own self. Your best self.”

“Don’t you see, Mother?” I opened the door and called back over my shoulder. “This is my best self. Ask yourself, who are you?” I walked out.

Her words seemed to follow me through the town. Was I still myself? How much of me killed Tom, and how much was the cloak? Was this justice? I still thought it was, even though it wasn’t even close to what I’d been taught at the academy. My justice didn’t follow the rules. It simply was.

“All right, Sarah?” A soft voice stopped me when I went by. The innkeeper’s apprentice leaned on his broom.

“Fine.” I groped for his name. “Benjamin.”

“Come in for some soup?”

I shook my head. “There’s something I have to do.”

He nodded. I’d never noticed before, but he had green eyes. I felt a sudden urgency to get to the woods.

“Bye,” I said awkwardly, and marched past before he finished waving.

I headed for the tree line and I thought about silly things like how brightly white Benjamin’s apron was, how domestic and safe that well-swept porch was. I was distracted and on edge. All that went away once I put on the cloak, as soon as I was away from town. The forest was quiet, nothing moved nor buzzed as I slunk through the trees, red hood drawn low over my face, and my feet found familiar paths. I didn’t think it odd at the time that the scarlet cloak never caught on a thorn or briar. I glided through the trees and shrubs as though they were passersby on the street. I found Jeff’s old fire before too long, right where I knew it would be. It was a scuffed smudge on the forest floor, just as I intended to do with him.

I walked through the forest all day. Nothing disturbed my hunt and I didn’t wear out or become tired. It was as if the forest were my natural environment, and I the hunter. I was strong and fast. I found him just before dawn.

My best self, indeed. This was my best self. I pulled him from his tent as easy as shucking a bean from the pod. The first hunk of flesh I tore from him were his balls, as I’d wanted to do with Tom. Then the cloak and I drank him down while he screamed.

I left the campsite as undisturbed as I could. The cloak wiped away the blood and it was even heavier, but I was strong enough to carry it. I bundled Jeff’s clothes close to me. I searched around until I found a bear’s lair. I walked in, bold as anything, though I felt the bear inside, a huddled presence. She shrank back from me and I scattered the shreds of his clothes before her. If anyone ever found them, they’d assume poetic justice—the hunted got the hunter. Was that really so far from the truth?

I took the cloak off and shoved it in my pack, though I really didn’t feel like taking it off and folding it. I felt like it was hiding me from unwelcome eyes. I packed it up anyway. I had a peaceful walk back in the darkness and was in the village just after sunrise. Father and Mother were at the table when I came in.

“Where were you?” Ma asked.

“Nowhere. Walking.” I loosened the straps on my pack. Both parents looked somehow smaller.

Da reached for another bun. “Miller’s son’s missing. You know anything about that?”

“Why would I?”

He shrugged. Chewed. Mother watched me beneath hooded eyes. I went back to my room. I felt naked not wearing the cloak. I took it out and wrapped myself in it and thought about sunlight in the trees. I sat without moving and watched the sun stripe into my room, morning, afternoon, then set. Then darkness. I thought about nothing but the weight of it. That night I slept with the cloak on. My dreams were strange and twisted. Bears growled in darkness. A drum beat itself under my still hands. Spiders climbed through hair.

The next day the whole town discussed Tom’s disappearance. Any number of voices speculated on what had become of him, where he’d gone. Constable Stanhope must have interviewed everyone in town before he came to me. He found me at the inn, where I was enjoying an ale, courtesy of Benjamin. I didn’t know Benjamin played the pianoforte—but he’d struck up a tune when I came in. He stopped when the constable joined us.

“Here now, Sarah.” Stanhope slid next to me at the bar. Benjamin poured him a pint.

“You know anything about Tom going missing?”

“Why would I?” I sipped.

The constable dipped his mustaches in the ale’s foam and drank deeply. “You’re saying you don’t.”

“Can’t say I keep tabs on his comings and goings.” I said. “You calling me back on duty? Then I’ll care.”

He grunted into his mug. “All right then. You hear anything, you tell us.”

I sipped. He lingered, waited for me to speak again. I didn’t.

Finally he left.

“Another, Sarah?” Benjamin slid a fresh one over the counter. I realized he’d grown into a man while I was at the academy. His knuckles were scabbed from the fight in the inn. I realized I was carrying out justice for both of us.

“Sure.” I took what he offered and drank deep, savoring my memories of Tom and Jeff’s deaths. Only two left now.

Mark and Nate were woodsmen who spent their days stocking logs for winter. They’d be out in the woods until sundown, when they went to the inn to drink. If I had a chance, it would be while they were out away from town. Time to go home and get ready—and avoid my parents’ questions. I slid my stool back and made my way to the door.

“I’ll finish that song if you want?” Benjamin asked.

“I have something I’ve got to do.” I left him holding the empty mug.

I was on my way home, humming a half-remembered tune, when I heard a shout, men’s voices raised in alarm. It was Mark and Nate in the street, holding Jeff’s torn and stained clothes, other villagers coming to see what the fuss was about. Constable Stanhope appeared. I slunk close to the wall and leaned into the shadows. I carried the cloak with me at all times now, but I didn’t put it on. I kept my hand on it so I was ready if I needed it.

“We went to meet Jeff at his campsite and didn’t find him. So we went looking. We found these lying in the forest.” Mark spoke very fast. Nate’s face was pale.

Maybe they found them in the bear’s den and brought them back. Or maybe the bear chucked them out. Either way, Constable Stanhope now knew two men were missing, Tom and Jeff, at least one of which was killed violently. Both missing not long after a scuffle with me.

I’m not dumb. I knew it was time to make myself scarce.

I worked my way around the edge of the crowd and ran into someone I didn’t expect to see again, at least not so soon—the man with the top hat and the spidery limbs.

“How are you, dear?” He stepped toward me and I backed up. We were in a narrow alley between buildings.

“Fine, thank you. Excuse me—“ I tried to edge past him but he filled in the space with one of his long legs.

“Yes, and, the cloak—“

“Things are fine. Two down.” I was angry at being delayed—it made me reckless with my words.

“Good. You must keep it fed.”

“No worries there.” I managed to squeeze past, but I asked, “What happens if I’m seen?”

He smiled a gap-tooth grin. “Bad things.”

“What kind of bad things?”

“Skin will look after skin.”

I didn’t know what to say to that. “And if I don’t keep it fed?”

He smiled in a way that was wholly unsettling. “See that you do.”

Then he turned away and walked down the alley, smaller and smaller until he turned the corner.

I headed for home. I’d have to be careful when and where I killed Mark and Nate, and I’d have to leave this town not long after. Then I’d need to find another way to feed the cloak, but I didn’t bother puzzling that one out yet. I’d think of something when the time came.

Ma and Da weren’t anywhere in the house, which should have struck me as odd, but it didn’t. I put the cloak on and dozed, I’d need all my strength and rest before the hunt began. My throbbing dreams continued, darker, hotter than before. I could almost hear voices in them, screaming. A loud knock woke me.

“Sarah Burke. Come out of there,” said Constable Stanhope’s deep voice.

My covers were strewn across the floor, but I still had on the cloak, and it was heavier than ever. I stumbled out my bedroom door and went to the kitchen. There were torn clothes on the floor, white and blue gingham.

“Burke, come out now or we break the door down.”

I pulled the cloak tight about me, pushed my way out the window, and fell heavily in the bushes. I sank to the ground and scuttled for the woods as fast as I could go. I didn’t have anything but the cloak, no supplies. Then again, I reminded myself, did I really need anything else? It would help me get what I needed.

I wasn’t far in the trees when I heard the latch give on the door. I thought about the gingham in the kitchen. Was my mother dead? I slowly realized I wasn’t hungry, and, with the strange dreams of the night before, I couldn’t say I hadn’t eaten. I stumbled off into the woods, deeper, deeper, until the early dusk of autumn covered me over.

I wandered the woods that night, but I don’t remember it clearly. I had a waking dream that the spidery man visited me and told me about feeding and secrecy. I brushed it away.

A day passed. Two. I thought I heard someone calling my name once. I ate three deer I found nibbling on wheat at the edge of the fields. They weren’t at all filling and I felt the cloak needed more than animals to satiate it.

At the end of the third day I heard the crack of splitting wood. It came from the woods off the trade way, not far from the innkeeper’s beehives, and I walked through the white boxes carefully to be sure no one else was near. There was no buzzing, as if all the bees were clumped together, waiting. Town was far enough away that no one would hear the brothers die.

Mark and Nate were splitting logs next to their cart. Neither had tunics on, one set the wedge and the other swung the maul. They both wiped sweat from brow or chin. Three spare axes lay in the back of the wagon. I moved around until I could feel the smooth and polished handles.

Mark dropped the maul and stepped away. A jug sat at the base of the tree.

“Where is he?” He took a long drink. “I’m famished.”

“Still mooning, I’m sure,” Nate shrugged. “Stanhope told him to mind his till, but I wager he’s using the walk out here for another search.”

“He won’t find anything. We never found anything left of Tom. I’d wager it was a lucky stroke we found something of Jeff’s.” Mark shuddered.

“Whatever happened to them . . . it didn’t take her.”

“Why not? Parents gone and all.”

“Not Sarah Burke.” Nate wiped his brow with a stained handkerchief and then wrapped it around the meat of his hand.

Mark laughed. “Still sweet on her, are you? Always the hopeful one, anxious for Tom’s leavings.”

“She’d be lucky to have me twixt her legs.” He pumped the air. Both men laughed.

The first axe I threw shattered the bottle and broken crockery showered them both. Nate looked at me, face blank, open, surprised. The second axe took him in the shoulder and drove him back against the tree. Mark screamed and ran toward me, but not before another axe cut into his brother.

I put my hand into Mark’s chest when he got to me, like a ladle into gravy. I felt the ribs part. I clapped my other hand to his head, but my hold wasn’t right and I tore off his ear. Then the cloak had him screaming and bleeding all over. I dragged him to where Nate was slumped against the tree, blood pulsing from his chest, an axe at his feet. He watched, panting, and when I tore into Mark, Nate started screaming and tugged on the other axe, still in his shoulder. I must have hit bone, because he couldn’t pull it out.

I didn’t bother with him at all until after I’d eaten all the bones. He knew exactly what was coming for him when I stepped in and yanked the axe from his chest.

He made small whimpering sounds, but then he screamed just like the others. Afterward, I didn’t bother cleaning up the drips of blood. I thought about taking the cloak off, folding it up, but it felt too good not to wear it. I stood in the clearing and enjoyed the silence instead. It was over.


A quiet voice disturbed me. Benjamin had come through the trees with two red and white checked bundles in his hands. He stared at the mess of torn clothing. Spatters of blood still painted the trees and logs.

“Benjamin—“ Whatever I meant to say next, I didn’t get any further. The cloak wrapped tight against my body, constricting me. I struggled with it, tried to pull it away from my legs.

“Are you all right?” Benjamin dropped the bundles. A bottle of wine rolled out and spilled purple across the weeds.

“Stay back!” I felt the cloak pulse with hunger. I recognized its rage wasn’t my own because mine had been quenched with Nate and Mark’s deaths.

“We’ve been looking for you.”

I felt the cloak tighten around my legs and pull me forward, toward Benjamin. “Get away from me!”

“I was worried about you. I mean, you can take care of yourself, but I thought maybe—“

The cloak forced me another step toward him, then another.


He looked at me, confused. I struggled with everything I had to keep the cloak in check. He took a steep back, and a sudden burst of lust, perhaps a chase instinct, hit me. I leapt for him, my screams mixing with snarls and barks the cloak forced out of my mouth. I took him at the waist and pulled him down to the ground. I fought the cloak, but it made him bleed. I bawled both fists in his tunic and tried to push him away from me, from us. But he was slicked with red—it ran off him while he screamed, the whole while I pushed him away. Then he shuddered and stopped.

God help me. I was hungry for his flesh. The cloak was heavy on my shoulders. I tore it off and threw it to the ground. Benjamin’s body was a red mess. He was still as only the dead are still. The cloak inched toward him. I threw an axe and it sank into the mass of the cloak. A sudden pain bloomed in my back, a shadow to the pain inside. I threw another, pinning it again. Agony sliced across my ribs, and the cloak writhed. One of the axes came lose and the cloak slithered around the other.

“No, you don’t.” I told it. I trapped it with my boot and chopped it to pieces with the third axe. Each cut seared through me. The pieces tried to crawl away, toward Benjamin.

There was a lantern in the wagon, which I smashed and lit the oil. I fed the pieces of the cloak to it and the pain almost undid me. I don’t know how long I lay on the forest floor, screaming, gasping. Finally the cloak was wholly gone, consumed by fire.

That was when he came again, the stranger in the top hat.

“Is it done?”

I looked across Benjamin’s body, still a bloody mess. Then I turned on my side. I never cried when they pulled my hair. I never cried when Tom tried to rape me. I never cried when they beat me at the inn. But I cried then as if my heart were broken.

The man gathered up the smoking tatters of the cloak in his hat, bowed, and disappeared back into the forest.

When the constable eventually found me, I was still huddled on the ground. From that day till now, I can’t feel anything anywhere on my body. I’m like one of those river stones, as if all ability to feel my own skin left with the passing of the cloak. Like it, I was damaged beyond repair. They took me to the gaol. No one could explain how I’d killed Benjamin, even though they had proof of the body there. No one’s ever found my parents. If the town had been left to deal with me, I’m sure I’d have burned as a witch. The constables couldn’t prove I’d killed Tom, Jeff, Mark, or Nate, though the prosecution tried. It was the governor’s court—as one of the first female constables, I was tried and judged by the governor herself who, in her enlightened wisdom, put me in prison. Every day I look out of the dirty grey square that frames my world and count myself lucky when the occasional insect alleviates my loneliness. Some days I think I see a man in a top hat, looking back at me. Other days I think I see someone wearing a red cloak, disappearing in the mist.

The post The Scarlet Cloak appeared first on Luna Station Quarterly.

Cold Flame

Nov. 28th, 2015 05:34 pm
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Posted by admin

Out of the single candidate they had lined up for this job, I was the one who got it. A shoo-in, Director Hafferty declared, but I’m thinking it was more like shoo-away: mothballed after the boondoggle I caused in Toronto. The Agency needed someplace convenient to stick my sorry posterior, and the seed vault on Devon Island was just far enough away that they could quickly begin the process of burying my name.

I guess I’m just lucky they didn’t decide to bury my carcass instead.

This morning I woke up with a hot flash. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking—you don’t want to be privy to the daily ramblings of a menopausal woman holed up with a bunch of seeds in an ice cave in the middle of the Arctic Circle. (Or maybe you do, in which case I had better get on with writing my memoirs). No, this was no ordinary hot flash. For one, I don’t suffer from them, and for another, this came in the form of fire. Actual leaping flames, which in a building made of ice is something both dangerous and spectacular.

I could see the flames from the open doorway to my bedroom, which was weird, because the chamber has a sliding panel and I always close it at night. It’s not for security; I just can’t stand the glow of the lights coming off the computer panels. I tried to swing my legs out of bed, but they didn’t seem to respond to my brain’s command. I paused, taking a necessarily slow assessment while the fire raged on in the other room. There was a taste on my tongue that I recognized from the Toronto job, when I had been drugged and captured by what the Agency refers to as an RN, or Really Nasty. That explained a few things, but it didn’t help my situation any.

One thing about being impervious to cold: it also makes you seriously intolerant of heat. I’m not good with temperatures above 40 degrees, which is why in the real world (ie: anywhere that is not Devon Island), I wear a special cooling suit. Otherwise, I get really peevish and throw around sharp objects and words. Just ask my three ex-husbands. Too much heat—say, in the mid-seventies or more—and my organs start to do funny things. I don’t like to go there often.

I ripped a fire extinguisher from the wall and blasted the contents onto the flames. It didn’t take long to snuff out the fire: a few seconds and I was coughing up a lung from the combination of smoke fumes and retardant. My skin was flaring from the heat. I chucked the canister into a corner and squinted through the haze. I’m no arson investigator, but I’d say by the look of the charred pile of paper on the floor, I had a positive ID on my accelerant. Apparently, I would be reading my Danielle Steel novels on the tablet from now on. “Systems report!” I rasped at the control panel, and was gratified—and deeply suspicious—when I was promptly informed that all was humming along as it should.

What was I dealing with here? A hacker who could hijack the vault’s security, and a firebug, to boot. I was muddling about with sedatives in my system, not a bullet in my brain, so whoever it was, he or she didn’t appear to want me dead. As well, the fire had been small and deliberately set in the middle of the room, away from any other combustibles. This wasn’t an attempt to burn down the building with me doped up inside my bed.

Right here I must stop and beg a question: you can keep a secret, can’t you? Promise you won’t tell my employers that I didn’t think of the seeds right away. Yes, those seeds—the ones I was sworn to protect and defend with my life, the seeds that would eventually save humanity.

I bolted for the inner chamber, waving my forearm, with its implanted chip, at the scanner on the west wall. The doors slid open with a slight sigh. I stepped inside, awestruck as always by the feat of hyper-organization these rows and rows of perfectly packaged and labelled specimens represented. I couldn’t be bothered to load the dishwasher properly (is there a proper way?), and here I was living under the same roof as this marvel of precision and planning. It was like having a roommate with a personality disorder.

At first glance, nothing seemed amiss. I was never a gardener, back in the day—being a spy with a superpower doesn’t leave you much time for hobbies—but even I could recognize some of the nomenclature: Prunus, Philodendron, Anemone, Phalaenopsis, Pisum, Geranium, Brassica. I started zigzagging the aisles, running a verbal dialogue with the computer as I did so. There had been no security breach, I was informed, and nothing was missing from the inventory.

Except that wasn’t the case. My slowpoke brain took a few seconds to bring my body up to speed. I knew which seed was gone before I got to it.

A couple of years ago, one of the Rangers had found a very interesting object while rooting around the dustbowls of the planet Mars. When the cute little robot had shipped the discovery back to Earth, astronomers and botanists alike had collectively crapped their pants. It was a seed—of what plant they could only dream—and although they all were itching to get their fingers on just a yoctometer of tissue, the United States government threw it in a cryogenic box and secretly shipped it Devon Island. Here in this icy land, the seed belongs to the entire world, even though most people don’t know it. Up until now, I had been its guardian.

It appeared I might well be out of a job soon.

I knew I didn’t have time to throw on a pair of pants, or lace up my boots. I hauled out of the vault clad only in my t-shirt, panties, and a pair of flip-flops I kept for padding around indoors. I sucked in the freezing air, thrilling in the way it cleared my head almost instantly. It was snowing hard, fine dry powder that cooled my heat-pinked skin. I tore through the calf-high snowdrifts to the domed metal shed on the north side of the vault, and nearly lost my left flip-flop en route. The overhead door was unlocked—no one ever came out here except to steal seeds, anyway, so my snowmobile was safe.

Visibility was only about 100 feet but that bioenhancement work I had done a few years ago means I’m not going to need bifocals anytime soon. Ahead of me, a dark figure struggled in the snow. The thief was headed towards a dark blur on the horizon. As I got closer, I saw that his destination was an Aviator, a gas-powered ultralight not usually rated for long distances or travel over large bodies of water.

Swathed as he was against the elements, I would still recognize that (literal and figurative) ass anywhere. He knew that the game was up, and turned to greet me as I pulled towards him on the sled. I didn’t hesitate, even though I noticed he wasn’t showing a weapon. I think he was too busy laughing behind his balaclava at the sight of me. I hauled out my gun, slowed the throttle just a fraction, and shot him in the right kneecap.

I have to get one thing straight here: I don’t always act this way with my ex-boyfriends. But Richard Deane is a hard man to take down without a show of force, and he had just stolen an interplanetary treasure. And, in case you’re inclined, don’t go feeling sorry for the guy—he’ll heal up completely within a few hours. I’m not going to lie, I’m more than a little envious of that particular superpower.

Richard was down on the ice by the time I closed the gap between us. He still didn’t appear to have a weapon, which made me uneasy.

He tugged off the balaclava. “Nice to see you, Cecelia,” he said. His voice was that rich buttercream I remembered.

“I can’t say I’m as pleased,” I said, bailing off the machine. I plunged bare feet onto the snow-crusted ice field; my flip-flops were AWOL. “Where’s the seed you stole?”

His eyes held a decidedly amused expression. “Look, CeeCee, you know I’m not giving it up. But how about this? My employers are paying me a bundle to jack it—what if I gave you a cut?”

I snorted. “Do you see where we are?” I said. “Money means nothing here. And I don’t shop online—the shipping and handling costs are brutal. Besides, what kind of money are we talking about? There is no value on that seed. What it means to the human race is far greater than a bunch of numbers in a Swiss bank account. Think of it. It represents life on Mars—that’s huge. Something to hold out hope for when we’re done messing with this planet. ”

Richard laughed, but of course he wasn’t maniacal or ruthless about it. I had always loved his laugh, so warm and husky and completely encompassing. I wanted to take him back to the vault and pour us a cocktail. “The Company I work for doesn’t believe the seed is doing much good in a museum,” he said.

“Seed vault,” I corrected, even though I knew he had deliberately chosen the word to irritate me. “So what—genetic engineering? Weaponization? This is precisely why the seed is here on the island,” I said. “To keep it away from monsters.”

It was his turn to qualify my speech. “Monsters with money,” he verified. “I’m not one to quibble about ethics.”

“Obviously. How long have you been at this game, Richard?” I asked. I had all the wisdom of training and experience, but I couldn’t keep the wobble out of my voice. “The Really Nasty in Toronto—were you responsible for what happened?”

Richard had the decency to look ashamed, and it may have been genuine. “Look, CeeCee, I was only trying to protect you,” he said lamely.

I felt an angry heat wave coming over me, even though I was standing half-naked in a snowstorm. “By drugging me so you and the RN could make off with the datachips, and then swooping in like some big damn hero when I was left in that pit of vipers?” That wasn’t a figure of speech—it really had been a hole filled with exotic snakes. It had taken me six months to get over the bite from the fer de lance.

“He would have killed you,” Richard said softly. I was touched by his reply, and let him know by shooting him in the left shin.

“Ow!” he bellowed, folding down like human origami on his temporarily useless legs.

“We were partners in every sense of the word!” I screeched. No point regaining my composure at this juncture. “I trusted you! I suffered a near-death experience, a demotion, and a broken heart—and here I find out I’ve been paying the price while you waltz around as a double agent.”

Richard was clearly delighted despite the blood puddling in the legs of his ski pants. “A broken heart?” he murmured seductively. There was a lot of weight plunked heavily down between us.

“And regret,” I snapped.

“For us?” he asked hopefully.

“No, for saying shit without thinking. I don’t get visitors very often.” I waved my arms into the white ether. “So where are you taking the Aviator?”

“There’s a jet waiting for me onboard a Company icebreaker a hundred miles away.” He rattled off the co-ordinates, but I didn’t have time to memorize them because he had suddenly decided to draw the weapon I stupidly hadn’t removed from his jacket. I had been alone for so long I guess I was getting rusty; I also hadn’t counted on how strong my feelings for Richard still were. “Sorry, darling,” he whispered, then all I felt was lightning in my heart.

Not a bullet, but a CEW-times-ten, an electroshock specialty weapon ordinary police services are not permitted to carry—and he gave me a decent wallop of juice, too. My tongue instantly flipped to the roof of my mouth and I fell backwards onto the ice, gasping and clutching my chest. Richard couldn’t run, so he did the next best thing: he yanked the cryobox out of his pocket and clumsily pried it open with his gloved fingers. My head felt like someone was whisking scrambled eggs in it. “For shit’s sake, Richard, don’t you dare!” I shouted fuzzily. I knew what he was up to—I would have done it myself.

He grinned at me, ever the charmer. “One Martian artefact, down the hatch,” he said cheerfully. I groaned with the effort and launched myself at him just as he raised his hand to his lips.

The seed went flying into the snow, and we both scrabbled after it. I managed to get in a few substantial punches while we were down, and Richard finally stopped rolling beneath me. The bullets to his legs had caught up with him. “Well, that was smart, CeeCee,” he panted accusingly. “Now we’re both in deep.”

“You more than me,” I said, and cracked him a good one, right between the eyes. He shuddered and blinked out.

I thought about removing his clothes, which would have given the Agency pilots a good chuckle when they arrived for pick-up. But shooting him had been pretty heavy-handed, although not completely uncalled for. I was a woman scorned, sure, but this was not the time for vengeful jokes. It was also cruel to let him lose so much blood. I stripped down to my cami and cobbled together tourniquets for his wounds out of my t-shirt. He’d be completely healed and pacing in an Agency holding cell in a few hours.

Then I turned my attention to salvaging my career. For anyone else without vision enhancements and clothes, finding a single seed in an endless snowbank during the middle of an Arctic storm would have been time-consuming, frost-bitingly chilly, and ultimately unproductive work. But I had really sharp eyes and no quibbles with the cold. It took me an hour, but I found the little Martian kernel, and snugged it back into the cryobox. Then I hopped back onto the snowmobile, leaving Richard snoozing among the snowflakes.

I tracked straight to the computer, plunking the seed on the desk. “Home,” I ordered, and my contact immediately popped up onscreen. “Hi, Derry,” I said sweetly. “I have a problem that needs dealing with right now. Can you send a unit?”

Derry’s face wore an expression that seemed to check every box of emotions. Horror, surprise, pain, embarrassment, amusement—it was all there. It was then that I realized I was still wearing only my undies. I sighed; my semi-never psych evaluation would be fast-tracked for sure. I looked straight at the kid on the other side of the world. “What?” I asked. “This the first time you’ve seen an old lady in her knickers?”

The post Cold Flame appeared first on Luna Station Quarterly.


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