Future History Of The HSL

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Jun 221997
 

Communiqué from
Juringen Helkarkennen, W-MR-ff2-2cf93d
Senior Supervisor, Core Border Region
Western Spiral Material Management Division

transcribed by David Artman

General Introduction

Welcome to the Human Stellar League!

Your star system has been approved for Standard Trade Status in the Human Stellar League (HSL) with all the rights and privileges that Status entails. Though your planet’s history does not record the seeding of your populace, we assure you that we have watched the progress of your colony for the past four thousand years and are now confident that you are ideologically and technologically advanced enough to resume membership in the galactic community.

Local History Adjustment Briefing

Your system’s current historical record holds the view that your race is evolved from a local fauna indigenous to the tropical latitudes of your home planet. This view is actually a confusion of the facts. Your system was originally seeded by Colony Slowboat W-373 “Ortomoshtik” which carried the template for your home planet’s entire ecosystem as well as 20,000 colonists from the Rigil System who had been genetically engineered to survive in your rather low gravity and oxygen rich atmosphere.

Unfortunately, those colonists were highly religious and were led by a traditionalist government that encouraged ‘natural’ living. The only allowed tools for written communications were inefficient data storage devices fabricated from local materials of rather less durability than the HSL-standard OptiCrystal. As a result, over the first thousand years of your colony’s expansion, historical and material management records were transcribed onto some form of plant fiber pulp using water and animal fat based inks. These records are lost today, since the colonists stopped annually uplinking through TessComm (q.v.) to report their status to the HSL. At the time, senior MMD personnel did not think much of this strange colony’s lack of communication and set a revisit by HSL officials as a very low priority. This was our error and for it we do apologize profusely.

It seems that during that first millennium, the colony divided on a number of religious points (no surprise) and splintered into isolated tribes. Within three hundred years, the Common tongue spoken throughout the HSL was lost to your ancestors as secret religious cants took primacy. When our agents finally made their rounds to your system, they found barbaric, warlike peoples scattered across the planet and nearly all of the HSL-standard technology destroyed (except, of course, your primary satellite, which is the CS Ortomoshtik). The people were in no state to be accepted into the HSL, even had they wanted to, for their oral history tradition had thoroughly corrupted the facts of Metaphysics into spiritual and god-like forces. The agents, with much regret, activated a Quarantine Beacon in far solar orbit and the HSL waited.

Most of your more recent history is correct after this period, once you sort through the pseudo-scientific theories of origin and look at the records only. Your current level of technology has sent you to your nearest in-system neighbors and you are, admirably, well on the way to finishing basic fusion tools. You have finally come full circle, reaching the intellectual point at which the Ortomoshtik’s crew first started. Your system will now be brought up to speed with the HSL Mean Technology Level and incorporated into the HSL’s political structure and material management procedures.

Your Rights as HSL Citizens

Just because you are a new system in the HSL does not mean that your local traditions are to be cast aside. In fact, the League encourages races and systems and regions to maintain their unique customs and practices. The only exceptions to these liberties are detailed later in the Political Structure and Legal System section of this communiqué; generally, these exceptions protect fellow Citizens and Unlinked Systems from exploitation and harm and will likely be no surprise to you, given your local mores as we understand them.

As a Linked System, your race is guaranteed System Representation in each of the three Executive Divisions of the HSL (q.v.). Further, each Citizen has the right of vote in Regional and System Appointments to these Divisions; every one of you will help to decide who will speak for your system in the Region and for your Region in the Executive Council.

Also, all HSL Linked Systems are provided with the plans and training necessary to attain Mean Technology Level and are given credit in the Material Management Division Bank to set up business relationships in good faith with the galaxy as a whole. As soon as your local computer networks are upgraded, your system will have full access rights to the HSL CompNet and general access to TessComm channels in your area. As with every newly Linked system, your local government has Full Right of Access to the Prime Pol for your star to use as your local government sees fit. All extra-system traffic will be barred from entering this frequency of TessSpace by the standard Prohibitions (q.v.); this barring is enforced by the League Navy in conjunction with the Watcher’s Guild. More on this will follow in later sections.

In closing, your people are considered by the Human Stellar League Executive Council to be fine examples of recovered colonists, stranded by the whims of your ancestors and left to struggle back to your original glory. Now that you have reawakened to your galactic heritage, we spread our limbs to you in offer of warmest embrace, as a father would a son thought lost to war. We welcome you and anxiously await your first contributions to The Diversity.

Mean Technology Level Briefing

Fundamentals of Metaphysics

Though your local scientists are admirably well-advanced, there are a few elements of Metaphysics which they have overlooked in their focus on material progress.

The first element is that of TessSpace or Tessaract Space, Essential Space, 3D, or “Soup”. This is basically the cohesive element of the universe, a force which binds every massive object in our dimension with every other. It generates the phenomena of gravity, light, strong & weak nuclear attraction , and the ‘phantom forces’ like centripetal force and momentum. Its composition at the third dimension is referred to as Pol—short for polarity gravity flux lines. These Pols are the noodles in the soup.

The second element is psychic force, which is the material tie to TessSpace, the link between time and space, the quasi-dimension between 4D and 3D. Certain sentient beings are capable of harnessing this force; they are called, not surprisingly, Psies.

These two elements combine to form the underpinning of our League. By using psychic force to shape and chart Essential Space, the Metaphysicians of the HSL are able to effect instantaneous travel of mass between any two massive bodies as well as communication between massive bodies. The monitoring of these channels, these Pols, between massive bodies is the responsibility of the Watcher’s Guild, an elite group of trusted Psies who also maintain communications between worlds using telepathic abilities.

Instantaneous travel is effected by TessDrives, tremendous gravity sails which pull a vessel to light speed and fire a particle cannon ahead of the ship. At that moment, the Drive Engineer will focus willpower to ‘tear’ space and drop the Drive and anything tethered behind it into TessSpace. Then, the Coordinator and Sailors join in, using their psychic abilities to both perceive the ‘progress’ of the craft and steer it along Pols between massive bodies. Psies must do this because any sentient with a lower than Level III Sensitivity can not perceive time in 3D. That is why it is called instantaneous travel. Unfortunately for those with Sen3, if one is riding Pols, one perceives time as if the distance were being covered at the speed of light. Thus, a ten light-year trip will seem to all Sen3s to take ten years, even though the Sen2 and Sen1 perceive it as being instantaneous.

Instantaneous communications uses the same technique, but with fixed solar orbit cannons and laser light communicators. It uses more power to tear and requires someone to be ready to receive on the other end with a light collector, but has the advantage of requiring only one Psi to open the link, and that Psi does not need to traverse the distance. All of CompNet is networked on the interstellar level by TessComm.

But do not let all of this lead you to believe that the HSL rests on the laurels of these two achievements. Bioengineering grants humans extraordinary abilities and immunities, cybernetics extend those abilities and can make a man invulnerable, for the right price. Further, the HSL can terraform an otherwise hostile environment to be more suited to humanity. If that is too expensive or can not be completely done, we alter humans to fit the environment, creating an ecosystem tailored to the environment of the planet to support them in their new life on the world. In fact, a combination of these techniques was done to your home world prior to sending the Ortomoshtik.

Thus, between the advancement of humanity in its day-to-day life and the transfer of data and material between the stars, the Human Stellar League Metaphysicians and Psies strive to weave a strong fabric of relations between all of humanity’s children.

Political Structure and Legal System

The Human Stellar League is divided into three political functions and three spatial sectors.

The three arms of the Executive Council are the Watcher’s Guild, the Materials Management Division, and the Metaphysicians. The Watcher’s Guild is composed of the galaxy’s most trusted Psies and is charged with enforcing the legal use of Pols and guarding against the most dangerous enemies to society. They are also charged with maintaining regulations for sanity laws and criminal reform as well as monitoring against the genetic crimes of False-Psying and Psi-Boosting. The Materials Management Division is an elected body responsible for the highest level distribution planning for the galaxy. They maintain the spacelanes as well as administer to the Navy and provide millennial planning for the course of human expansion. When there is a catastrophe, the MMD marshals resources to provide relief and/or defense for the blighted area. Finally, the Metaphysicians are the brain of the HSL. They coordinate galaxy-wide research efforts, Fringe exploration, CompNet standards, and the general advancement of human understanding and dissemination of information across the galaxy. The MPs are also in charge of the greatest of HSL endeavors: The Diversity. The Diversity is the grand museum of the galaxy, an entire region of space devoted to habitats, displays, and samples of every discovery made by mankind since the inception of the League over one billion years ago. It is for The Diversity that we live, it is our god, it is our goal, it is the raison d’étre.

The three Sectors of the HSL are as follows: Western Arm, Eastern Arm, and FrinCore. Each of these sections are, in turn, divided into scores of Regions each, and it is on the Regional level that a given stellar system of peoples is represented in the HSL. The Western and Eastern Arms are precisely what their names imply; FrinCore is a special Sector which represents the Fringe regions at the edge of the galaxy -cold and vast- and the Core regions near the Big Egg -fiery and crowded with novas. Most of the residents of the Regions in these sectors are fiercely independent -so much the better for The Diversity. Each Sector is further divided into Sub-Sectors and they into Regions. The Sub-Sectors Standard is used simply to provide a layer of representation in the HSL which addresses multi-Regional, but not necessarily Sectoral, concerns. The Sub-Sectors are, from Core to Fringe: Core Border, Wides, SpeckleVoid, and Fringe Border. The Regions are too numerous to mention here, but your home world is in the Gorht-Kythpall Region, SpeckleVoid, Western Arm.

Lastly, as a Citizen you are guaranteed certain rights and are required to respect the Prohibitions.

A Moment Of Culmination

 Fiction, Writing  Comments Off on A Moment Of Culmination
Nov 221993
 

In that moment of seizure, Hunter’s sturdy, powerful heart contracted and froze, drowned in chaos’ thick malaise.

Undaunted and chastised, Hunter Scales’s consciousness sunk penitently into that unwholesome mire, the past poised in suspension through the dissolution of his senses. ‘Curiously like the tales of life passing before one’s eyes….’ He—if enough remained of this ego to earn a gendered pronoun—marveled that introspection held any temporal sense now. Then his thoughts were drawn to wonder at the enormity of imaginative energy spent through all persons back into simian antiquity in each one’s final mind’s cinema. That he could pen but one long-pondered verse on this, his last moment’s lucidity.

That one phrase could have wrought more desecration on the charnel edifices of Modern Man than any long-fused dynamite stick he threw in his unfocussed youth.

The frames of his jumpy reel fluttered forward to jeer and accuse his unblinking, yet myopic, mind’s eye. They do not come like some burst of newsreel, captioned and accompanied by off-key, staccato ragtime trinklings. Rather, they were edited by the eternal, infernally pious director into a melodrama nearly as lampooning as the cartoon.


Like a jaunty and careless Bosco had young Scales strolled onto Yale campus; entering class of ’18, stress on ‘class.’ Gently cushioned from the suppurating carnage of Europe, while funded by his father’s arm sales to the same Five, he was at leisure to pursue what course he would—as long as it was Economics. Not to be daunted by the acquisition of a mere diploma, he had fallen ravenously to studies of the capitalist technique, keeping always an eye on industrial developments throughout the Eastern Seaboard: from noble Boston’s shipyards to flogged Charleston’s reconstruction.

 

In all though, the cruelly simple manipulations and machinations of the free market refinery interested him not one whit. Early in his education, he petitioned the Elders of the University to allow him, effectively, to ‘test out’ of his Economics degree, using the weight of his family, “so instrumental to the effort of our old friends” (as the Chancellor had remarked, referring either to the Unionists or Allies or both) and the logic that he was, after all, the third son of his father and would need little business skill to manage what inheritance would some day—”God forbid!”—be his to manage. This rational, so weak in his father’s glutted eye, washed over the Elders; he had enrolled, by semester’s end, in a hodgepodge course he dubbed “Metaphysical Studies.”


The whine of surging blood filled his senses; the Old One’s crushing vengeance had pulsed to his dissonant brain and was causing multiple strokes. To Hunter, there could be no more bitter scene than that last recollection: his vision quest for a grail beyond the bottomed Christian one—for now not the least tatter of that idyll remained to furl before his darkling sight.

 

There had been an instant, not an hour earlier, that the pure brilliance of his long-subsumed dream had pierced the leaden mantle of its perversion. Hunter had stood amid the clutter and piles of books in his sanctum, one book split open in his wide, smooth palm, and seen the text’s encryption for what it was: an ashamed misdirection, the self-conscious warning of a guilty malignance. Behind the coded Arabic lurked the greatest of dynamite, a powderkeg unconserved and riotously neglectful of spatial bounds. He glanced over its instruction fleetingly, never dwelling on a particular phrase or incantation lest the cognition loosen the forces so tautly bound in the phonics… and in himself. Yes, in that instant, he had felt again, at last, that profound disturbance with his impending intentions that had nearly frozen his arm in mid-throw a cloudy eleven years ago, outside of Tanner’s Pub, even as its hand held a sparking, pregnant stick.


Scales’s liberal but intent studies had pulled him from Yale’s polished austerity to Middlesex’s vibrant passion. There he found the right alloy of modernist angst and revolutionary fervor to fuel his first meritable works. He even shortly won a critics post on the magazine which first published his pastiche of Gothic and metaphysical poesy. His Americaness, it was hoped, would provide a needed injection of modern cosmopolitanism to the pulp. Yet Hunter fell quickly to Marxist disparagement of the very new order that he was, as Yale and entrepreneur, to propound. It was merely that, in contrast to the chance elitism of capital enterprise, the communal ideals of the enlivened radicals around the cafes struck a far more sonorous chord with his quest for universals; he more and more often was to be found in pub, cafe, or den, surrounded by like-impassioned youths and speaking with intensity of the ascendancy of the ubermenshen.

 

It was at one such congress that Scales first met Illya Regis. Their attraction followed the course of frank abandon that was so popular to the licentious energy of the subculture. Soon, however, the fine difference in their drives was to begin a corrupting effect on his Glorious Evolution; her particular deepest bent was for destruction, pure and simple, of the entire social edifice, “worn and weary in its ruts;” and as for what followed: the strongest would decide for the best. “Feudalist retro-evolution” (as was argued by one pedant of their circle) meant nothing to her overmen; they were strong through wisdom as well as daring in the face of flaming deconstruction. They would slaughter the weak out of compassion, not powerlust.

Slowly, insidiously, Illya’s twist on Neitzschean ‘progress’ burrowed into the crystalline core of Hunter’s vision of psychic evolution. His pure and disciplined method and myth of the Ancient Asians slowly was encumbered by Illya’s rarefied and dogmatic occultism. Not content to channel her spirit, she would vent it: one day in furious deliberation over some Cabalist tome, the next in delicate alchemy in the university labs where she labored to breed the perfect detonator: her own fanatic quest for a higher order of magnitude.

In time, he began to perceive more and more of the skulking dread entombed in the dead texts and was seduced closer to the aberrant rage that lurks in all who have seen the onslaught of the industrial age, that revolution of finance without conscience. Within months, it had taken little more than three pints and one rallying tirade from Scorsby—Illya’s mentor—to bring him swaggering and pregnant with bitter power to the entrance of the lawyers’ local, Tanner’s. His wind-chilled hands did not even tremble as he struck a spitting match and ignited his charge.

Yet, as he arched his back and channeled his frustration along his taunt arm, he had seen, even across the flurry-driven street, a relaxed and stately man leaning on the pub’s bar and laughing. That humanity-pervading signal of communion and peace, upstaged by his stick’s spluttering menace, called down to the so newly grown crystal of his dream’s core and froze him on the brink of infamy.


Cool waves of pain streaked down his limbs, convulsing them and forcing the surrender of their balance on the rocking sloop; Hunter began a slow-motion decent to the boat’s deck. The beast of entropy, which his focussed utterances had drawn up from the murky depths of the ocean, moved around the bow to study each twitch and flail of his dragging tumble to the deck. It sent forth tendrils of potential, tweaking his motion an inch this way, an inch that; now—this very slit second—the right foot freed from friction, lifting arduously away from the possession of gravity, the first fraction of a wind gust providing the last causal link to his impact on the salt-washed paneling. He finally lands, each ounce of his weight now transferring to his ill-positioned left arm. One of the series of gravid additions begins the fracture of both his radius and ulna; the point of searing pain is almost holy in its transcendence over the general agony of his apoplexy and subsequent strokes.

 

He felt, through the chorus and solo of his penance, a hollow, angry laughter flash from the dissolute entity as it lapped a splash of brine across the compound fracture’s torn flesh. The mirth, and Hunter’s drawn scream, cued a gel haze from which the memory of similar amusement and agony panned and resolved.


Illya had merely chuckled at Hunter’s vacant boggling over her revelation. “It’s how these times are, chuck!” she had dismissingly admonished him from across the lamp-lit table. The shadows of the pub closed around his vision, only his inspiration’s becalmed, patient expression swam amid the taunting recollections of shared ecstacy which wrestled for his chagrined attention. “How could I not ‘be’ with Scorsby? He embodies the nihilistic passions which must purge this tepid world.”

 

“And, ergo, I do not….”

“Embody…?” here one brow on her Hellenic front arched. “Not hardly. You love the middling good of the present too much.”

And she stood and strode boldly off to the last three weeks of her life.

For a long while after her death by a dropped vial, war raged in the conscience and consciousness of Scales. One faction marshaled argument from his tenacious reason while another pumped his softened soul for emotion. He had given an ever-swelling part of his five years at Middlesex to her arcane and violent quest. But he had always held back on the rage; she was right about his stubborn compassion. But he had gone along with her and Scorsby’s conspiracies, sabotages, and murders. Yet he had still wrote and published his concerned admonishment and behests to the yoked masses. Nevertheless, he had always found time to risk translation of those Middle Eastern texts which exceeded Illya and Scorsby’s linguistic abilities.

“Damn all that has past!” he had screamed, grimacing tear-streaked at the pub’s smoke-darkened rafters. No one stopped the man that rose from his seat to ask him about the black smoulder in his eyes; all knew at their innocent cores that the glow was but the last light of the soul interred behind those orbs.


Raindrops eased down from the moon-marbled sky to sculpt fluted red bowls from Hunter’s pooling blood, and the ancient impatient menace which even now absorbed his tattered essence assumed a diffident air. The agony of this frustrating man could be milked no more; the genetic blessing of shock, common to these frail beings, had enshrouded his sparking nervous system. There remained now only the last bilious second or so, that insignificant summation of the closing life, the denouement of derangement and obsession.

 

The fury of all evils reclined beside the slow-settling form of his severed puppet. It had shown promise of liberation, after centuries, millennia, aeons—no difference—for the envoy of jealous entropy. Wound deliberately into impetus, it had jerked admirably along the prophesied path, in the beast’s planned cadence. Such concentration of purpose had not been seen in nineteen centuries on this planet, and the destroyer had ensnared this one soundly, much to his Nemesis’ sadness. Though a few moments of awareness had slowed the tool’s forging, the final artful influence, in that drinking hall some several eternities ago, proved the last juncture for redemption.

But no, it actually had not, and the chaos meanly parceled out an extra second of quivering breath to the dying human; it raged anew and branded the gasping spirit with its last desperate years of degeneration.


No arcane tome remained unlocked before the voracious appetite in Hunter for vengeance and validation. His first essay was to complete the fatal experiment that had claimed Illya Regis; it done, he coolly, dispassionately, utilized the compound to blast one wing of the Asylum in London. The Nazi party, a perverted phoenix rising ill-smelted from the injured ashes of German nationalism, polished the buttons of the cloak of armageddon which he had donned. His once-caring verse dispelled his audience with a pained yet vitriolic ejaculation in what became his last published editorial. He folded in upon his cold contempt and let it fester, mulching it occasionally with the vision of exploded gentlepersons or bobbies shot dead with an expensive import he order from his brother.

 

His public identity was, unfortunately, never linked to the Bombardier, hated and erratic anarchist. He was nothing but a rapidly aging curiosity to those few who would listen in the seedier pubs of the East End as he ranted of final judgement, where all but the warrior-saint would drown in their own bile. Those lads who felt the thrill of his words quiver through the feminine back of their companion would cast the occasional copper his way as recompense for necessitating their cloistered consolation.

It was his hungry bending for these coins which would send him home, not exhausted and angst-ridden, but newly fired to his study and rage, the two of which would toss him to and fro until dawn. The compounded humiliation, frustration, and obsession of his graduation into Hell’s honor role set before him, finally, one task.

In a text which possesses no English equivalent for a name, he stumbled across a reference to a ritual which would, for the truly impatient, usher in the era of the Old One, an era which would last but an instant, if time is at all to be considered, but which would release, in a cascade, every imaginative kernel with a jangling note of despair and failure, a note which would sound until Time saw fit to bother with its release and decay. In the rank mire of his ambition, Scales saw this as the Grail for which he searched, an Unholy Grail that would not deign to ally itself with one febrile morality or another but would merely clear the way for the cleanest, most just, most bitterly expedient ethic that wrest hold of the whirling oblivion. The way would be utterly open for the wronged to wrong the slavers, and the masters to cull the inefficient. The quest for this promised procedure caked the last rot on the smeared gem of the once proud Hunter’s soul; it absorbed every waking hour and the last of his father’s bequeathment.

But he did not fail; he ripped the tome from the grappling clutch of a dying Shao Lin priest.

At ten-forty-three p.m., as the winter solstice swept tearfully across Britain’s dales, Hunter Scales sailed from a private pier, aboard a stolen sloop, a stolen apocalypse on his smooth palm. The rain was light enough that it did not soil the thick pages, sheets which little resembled linen stock, had more the texture of murdered hide. By now, the misleading text’s communication was well interpreted by Hunter; he had not parted with his intellect on the same evening which he had mislaid his sanity. Their message seethed with potential and foreboding.

He stood upon the pitching deck and let the wild night surround him, caress him imploringly, as if—rightly so—it had a stake in his eminent profanation. He heard its murmured pleas, felt them echo opposite words spoken by Illya from across white down, and cursed their futility. He was lost, and no weak example of the awful might of the vital world would stay his tongue and psyche. He began the incantation even as his pocket watch chimed the proper moment, Greenwich Mean Time.

The words staggered off his tongue, trying desperately to twist into discord and fling free from the dominance granted the reader in their proper utterance. Hunter held fast to the building power, all the while a bit put off by the lack of apparent effect in the surround nature; in shouting the culminating chant, he expected some herald of the coming purgation.

But Chaos waits on no ceremony.

In front of him, where before there was only white-crowned fluid peaks, an amorphous form resolved and advance deferentially forward. Hunter’s mind reeled as his eyes realized that the form, which had seemed only man-sized, appeared so by foreshortening; its obedient advance had covered over a mile and it now loomed taller than the sloop’s mast. The water from which it vaulted seemed to abhor touching the entity, preferring to cease existence in an annihilating whirlpool around it. As to its composition, it was nothing more than the reflection of a glimmer of wan light subsumed in an inky appetite. It exuded a baleful anxiety subtly tempered by the patience of an immortal. It radiated an interrogative; with that question—not to be?—it tuned all of its force into a silent cyclone of doom shrouded in its wide volume.

And Hunter knew finally what that request meant, really and ultimately, and the pure and persistent crystal that was ever at the throne of his mind and spirit shattered in righteous denial. The ascendancy of man could not, it decried, be on the laddered ribs of its starving obsolete. True ascendancy of the son does not come with the death of the father, but with pitied solace beside his deathbed. These again proud and passionate—not just furious—exhortations pummelled the waiting swarm of chaos; it reared and drew its warhorn from its swollen, cracked lips to let it sink back to the sea.

And the Ancient One, master of all save one force in the universes, reached out with a quivering claw to encompass Hunter’s freed heart and vengefully crushed it into a messy clod, even as the collapsing muscle shook loose the sole virtue it interred.

Blood rushed from Hunter’s seizing heart, causing multiple strokes which killed him in the space of three seconds.

Union

 Criticism, Fiction, Writing  Comments Off on Union
Apr 221993
 

A Fictionalized Treatise On Modern Marriage

This is an essay comparing the treatment of marriage
in fiction by Virginia Wolfe, Bernard Shaw, and D.H.Lawrence
from within a fictional framing story in which the principle characters
of Mrs.Dalloway, Man and Superman, and Women In Love
meet at a dinner party hosted by the author’s alter ego.

“Everything must be exactly right, James, understand? These guests are very important people, all of them, and I will not have them disappointed by our hospitality.”

The man-servant nodded deferentially to his employer Carter Manart, commenting, “From what you’ve told me of them, Carter, I am certain that even our most lax attentions would be appreciated.”(1)

Manart considered this statement a moment, shrugging finally and saying, “True; the Tanners don’t really stand on ceremony much, and the Birkins are satisfied more by intellectual fare than pageantry. But the Dalloways… they are professional party-goers; and though never criticizing directly, laxness will be remembered by them.” He strode around the ancient oaken table, spot-checking its recent refinishing and shining the odd smudge in its polish.(2) James had just finished setting it with the simple, black edged crockery and smooth crystal glasses, and Carter could not help but admire the contrast between the placemats’ coarse and basic weave and the table’s solid ostentation.(3)

“How many years has this table been in our family, Jim?”(4)

“To be honest, Carter, I’ve no idea…. When my father taught me it’s maintenance,(5) he told me how it had been refurbished in his youth from a simpler style into these Victorian flourishes; see, this routing is newer as well as these corner pieces with the frills.”(6) The butler’s finger traced a chiseled flower from its pistole down to its swirling root at the table’s leg. “Kind of old-fashioned looking these days… especially with what you’ve done with this dining room.” He glanced about with one eyebrow arched, then fixed a wry look on Manart.

Carter was still staring at the table. “Yes,” he said, in regards to the its antiquity. “But I am afraid to do too much to it yet; it’s so old and… well, honorable, if you see my meaning, that I would not have it reworked when I refurbished it for fear of, I don’t know, denigrating it?”(7) He looked quizitively at James, to see if the older man understood his sense. The butler nodded knowingly and returned his attention to the rest of the room, inviting Carter, with teasing glances, to share in the observing.

“Yes, but I won’t hold back on more minor decoration; after all, the room can be bared without too much expense.”

They both surveyed the room’s decor, one admiringly, the other, amusedly.(8) The walls were a madman’s pastiche of Realist portraits of old men and women (not all necessarily old in the paintings themselves), Impressionistic luminary blurs and Surrealist distortions of landscapes. Manart’s prize side wall, across from the dining room’s wide, tall windows, caddie-cornered one of Rembrandt’s grotesques and Bruegel’s Dutch pastorals with Monet’s “Waterlillies”, Goya’s “The Third of May”, and young Salvador’s, “Persistence of Memory”.(9) Also adorning the walls were sconces modified into gas lamps around the turn of the century, then into electrics in 1920, seven years ago.(10) The room’s huge crystal chandelier had also been electrified, and was now glowing warmly, casting sparkling flashes on the walls through its yellowed rose crystal. The floor’s uneven, smooth mahogany panelling was covered in the center by an Oriental rug of, predominantly, grays and bright red, overshadowing blue and purple flourishes.(11) It was on this rug that the ancient table and its surrounding Indian rattan chairs stood.(12) The only other furnishings in the room were large downy pillows strewn before the windows and a brass bar of sorts, stocked with liquor — mostly gin and scotch — and sours; it also was a tea service on those occasions when Carter actually bothered with a formal tea, which was seldom.(13)

“And if my tastes should change next month, following the whimsy of this age,” he continued, “I am sure to keep most of the paintings, will profit on those I get rid of, and will always know Sergeant-Major Brighlington in the Colonies — he’s entrenched there, poor sod.” (14)

“Yes, well, I don’t know what your father would have thought–”

“Oh, he’d’ve hated it, of course; if only because I’d tossed out those dreadful trophies and beasts’ heads leering down and making one question the source of the dinner’s steaks.” They both laughed; Carter, more heartily. “But he was a kind enough old chap-” here Carter caught himself and glanced to see James’ still visage “-except to you, though…. Look, friend, I really am sor–“(15)

James’ mood lightened and he forced a grin. “No, Carter, don’t bother yourself, I’ve told you. It was the times….”

“Pathetic in so many ways, yes. I really am–”

“Enough. I must check on the hors-d’oeuvres and you’d better change; the guests are expected in an hour.”(16)

Carter watched James bow slightly, out of habit, and turn and walk out through the kitchen’s door, shutting it quietly behind him.

He turned and stepped toward the windows, his back to the table and prize wall, and stared out across the gardens.

The sun was dangling over the woods west of the house, about an inch away from hiding, casting a lurid orange haze on Manart’s young but wizenning face. He relished its glow and thought to himself how the sunset would thrill his sensitive guests an hour hence as it purpled the horizon and draped magic over the room. He would keep the electrics low until absolutely needed, set a close atmosphere for the night; for he wanted the truest confidence and advisement of these, his new friends. A few questions burned in him to be released from their spiraling, contentious gyres and he knew no better group to which to pose them.(17)

“So where exactly are these to be placed, Carter?” James held a small stack of cards, folded so that they would stand like little tents.

Manart snapped his right cufflink into place, shaking his wrist to get the loose jacket’s sleeve to lie. “Hell of a question, James; I’m not real certain of the etiquette of these things, or even if the guests will appreciate etiquette of this pigeon-holing sort.”(18) He took the cards from the black man’s pink palm. “I mean, there’s only the three couples, so if I put the couples side-by-side, then one couple must sit sort of at the periphery.”

“Does it really matter?”

“I don’t know; that’s why I’m so concerned about it. I would just seat them myself, but they’re all older than me, it would seem strange. And I don’t know if they would take to being seated by you — no offense, friend.”

“It would be their offense if they were so; relax, Carter.” He walked to stand beside the table, setting down a handful of flatware with a muted clatter. Pointing, he said, “Why don’t you have Mr. Tanner here,” indicating the right hand of the table’s head, “Mrs. Tanner here,” across from Jack Tanner’s seat, “then likewise boy-girl across from each other with the Birkins next down and the Dalloways furthest from the head. That way no couple is excluded, and age is the only hierarchy from the head –barring you, of course.”

Manart pondered this a moment, then said, “Fine, whatever; God I hate worrying over such niceties. I certainly hope they aren’t offended.”

James waved dismissively. “You said yourself that the Tanners were a relaxed crew; so too the Birkins. That should be a majority, so don’t worry about the Dalloways.”

Here Carter laughed aloud. “‘Don’t worry about the Dalloways’ he says! Richard’s ONLY an MP, for God’s sake…. Although, I don’t suspect he’d hold a grudge or anything of the sort. But it only takes a disapproving word to that meddlesome Bruton and she’ll have her ‘Cabinet’ dragging my shipyards through the mud in the press, no pun intended.”(19) He pulled out the flaring chair at the table’s foot and dropped heavily into it. “God I need a drink.” He turned to face James who had moved to stand near the kitchen door, behind and to the right of Carter. “Is it alright to serve a drink before the meal, James?”(20)

“Actually, one is supposed to do so; it’s called an ‘aperitif’.”

“Brilliant!” Carter exclaimed. “Be sure to; it should loosen our guests, and I know it will help me.”

Almost as if on cue, the men could hear the voice of the maid greeting someone rather loudly, probably to warn them. Manart dealt the placecards rapidly, like their gaming cousins, while James strode to the double doors to throw them wide with aplomb just as Jack Tanner and his wife Ann reached the threshold.

“Mister and Misses Jack Tanner, Mister Manart!” announced the maid to Carter, who now stood before the doors, legs planted wide (to forbear trembling) and arms spread in a gesture of welcome.

He visibly withered as Ann cursorily said, “Mister Jack Tanner and Misses Ann Whitefield-Tanner, actually, dear.”(21) There was a mischievous glimmer in her eye as she nodded to the maid, who had only the darkness of her skin to thank for hiding the flush of her embarrassment.

Carter recovered quickly, making his first mental note of the night.(22) “My apologies, madam; Margaret did not know the proper etiquette, for which I am solely to blame.” Her took her offered hand and lightly planted a kiss on its back, looking downward. “It is so good to see you again after our too-brief meeting in the Halls. You have honored the House of Manart by accepting my invitation to this informal dinner.” He bowed deeper, with flourish.

“Isn’t he cute, Jack?” Ann teased, turning to smile at her husband.(23)

Carter’s pale-skinned face did not mask his blush so well as had Margaret’s ebony.

“Oh, don’t let her addle you, Mister Manart!” Tanner heartily cried, clapping Carter on the shoulder and seizing his hand for a single, vigorous pump.(24)

“Please, feel free to call me Carter, Mister Tanner–”

“Not if you call me by my father’s name, I won’t! Jack, agreed?” His grin was infectious.

“And please call me Ann; my surname is a bit too unwieldy for friendly conversation.” Mrs. Whitefield-Tanner’s beauty struck Carter to his soul as her smile melted from wicked to confiding; her forties were treating her no worse than had her thirties or twenties.

Again Jack spoke: “And who is this” indicating James “an African! My, but you are an oddity here in the Dales; what’s your name, sir?” He extended his hand.(25)

“James, Mister Tanner,” the servant answered, clasping hands. “It is a pleasure to meet such an outspoken champion of human freedom.”

“An it is a pleasure to meet one of its inheritors,” Jack countered, beaming with a grand blend of honor and pride. “And call me Jack, alright?” He capered toward the door, leaning into the hall to holler, “Everybody call me Jack, do you hear?!” He traipsed back, his eyes laughing. “When is the aperitif served?”

“Hear, hear!” laughed Carter; and taking the Tanners one on each arm, he strolled into the room proper, gesturing for them to sit, his nervousness melted away in their warmth.

They sat side-by side on the right of the head before noticing the placards.

“Oh, apologies, good master Manart,” said Jack, holding up Ann’s (or, rather, Rupert Birkin’s) card, “we didn’t know this was formal.”

Carter blushed again, only slightly, and replied, “Well, it isn’t, really… I’m merely somewhat new to this sort of affair, and…. Oh, sit where you will!” he laughed, “I want friends here, and there are, after all, no Rolls at the podium, right?”

The Tanners laughed at the allusion to Parliament. “Good,” Jack said, “I would hate to break my long-held habits!” For he sat on the right, an odious rank for him, were this Commons.(26)

Just then there was heard footsteps in the hall, one set Margaret’s light quick tread, the other two sets mingling, but not exactly in unison.(27)

“Mister and Misses Birkin?” said the maid uncertainly, as she reached the open double doors. She stepped to one side and Ursula Birkin strode forward, side-by-side with her husband Rupert, who was looking somewhat quizzically at Margaret as he passed.(28)

Carter moved from Jack’s side, as he and Ann rose to greet the new arrivals, and with a sweep of his arm said, “Be welcome in the home of Manart,” trying his best to achieve oxymorous relaxed obeyance.(29)

“Why thank you, Mister Manart,” said Mrs. Birkin. Then, seeing the Tanners, said to Rupert, “look, dear, it’s the Tanners. Didn’t we meet in Ausberg?” This was to Ann in particular.

“Sure, we almost crashed into one another on the south slope of Mount Something-stein; I’ll never forget what you said: ‘Destiny forces all greats into conflict’, or something like that. It is good to see you again; what a shame it took our young lobbyist friend in Commons to bring us together here.” She moved to embrace Ursula, smiling warmly at Rupert in the process.

“We’re hardly ever in Britain,” spoke Rupert, finally entering the conversation, “Europe is so full of things to experience, each day offers fifty new lives to one who would take them.”(30) He stepped forward to shake hands with Carter and Jack.

“Well, I’m glad I ran into you two at The Boar and Board last week,” replied Carter. He turned to Jack, “We had the longest talk — the three of us- about your speech at Parliament, the one on women’s suffrage, and I said, ‘So I’ve invited the Tanners to a little dinner party with the Dalloways, sort of a meeting of the camps’ and they were so delighted by the prospect that I could not help but include them, much to Margaret’s dismay — she had everything planned already.” He was babbling, but the friendly air of this group of bright minds could only loosen his excitable tongue.(31)

“Glad you did, son,” said Jack heartily, then to Rupert, “and if I may ask, sir, where do you stand on the vote — though I suspect by your deference to this fair femme that I know?”

“Oh, of course women should have the vote; they have ever been the more practical of the species,” Rupert replied sincerely, his eyes flashing at the prospect of the night of intellectual communion to come.(32)

“But they have yet to develop the experience with national issues, affairs of state.” A new voice, clear, if a bit tremulous, rang in the room.(33)

“Mister and Misses Dalloway,” said Margaret, belatedly and a bit perfunctorily. “I’ll be getting the first course ready; dinner will be served in five minutes.”

“Yes, ma’am!” said Carter smartly, saluting the maid and glowing with mirth over her obvious consternation at having her role as announcer usurped. “Welcome, Mister and Misses Dalloway.” He had tensed, but only a wee bit, at the surprise arrival and curt entrance into the debate; now, he played the perfect host.(34) “I trust you know Ann Whitefield-Tanner and Jack Tanner….”

The Dalloways nodded politely to Richard’s latest political rivals, exchanging customary murmurrings.

“And these are the Birkins,” said Carter, gesturing to Ursula and Rupert, “recent friends of mine.” Then, before any contention could get underway, he sweepingly indicated the table. “Shall we all have a seat, the aperitif is hot on the heels of the Dalloways.”

“Excellent,” said Jack, as he and Ann resumed the seats they had first occupied.

The Birkins sat across from them, Rupert at the head, laughing that his name was now ‘Ann.’ Mrs. Dalloway hitched for but a moment, finally taking her seat where her card was, beside Ursula, smiling and looking closely at her as while daintily lighting on the rattan’s motley cushion.(35) Dalloway moved to sit on her left, then noticed there was no place set there and circled the table to sit by Mrs. Whitefield-Tanner. He nodded civilly to her in sitting.

“Should be a Hell of a lot of fun tonight, Cart!” said Jack, reaching behind Ann to jovially clap Richard Dalloway on his shoulder.

Dalloway laughed politically, shaking out his linen napkin and placing it on his lap.

The first courses were consumed heartily by all, the lateness of the supper and the day’s heat having bred fierce appetites in them all. While waiting for the first entree, Jack had casually opened the discussion of suffrage which was the overt intent of Carter’s invitations of them.

As expected, the debate was heated, while remaining civil and respectful.

The Tanners, being its strongest proponents, argued the most convincingly for the vote. Jack’s combination of endearing witticisms and searing observation left the conservative Richard frequently on the defensive, a position with which he was, at least, familiar.(36) On frequent occasion, Ann would let flash some anger with Dalloway’s stubborn doubt over women’s capacities, but each time Jack calmed her with a stroking palm or redirection of the point of discussion.(37)

Ursula Birkin was, primarily, a supporter of Jack and Ann’s view, offering anecdotes from her travels which would serve to reinforce some nicety of the debate. She did, however, feel that a certain training period for women voters might be in order, if only to smooth the transition into this near-universal suffrage.(38) Rupert, meanwhile, stayed on the margins of the debate, preferring, with Clarissa Dalloway, to absorb the room and its view’s scenery.(39) At one point, he had tried to steer the conversation to the natural sublime; but this attempt had been made while Jack was marshaling a refutation of Richard, seeking it in a stewed potato, and the interruption was swept politely aside.

During this half hour of conversation and consumption, Carter had remained fairly quiet, offering only his support for suffrage –universal suffrage, a point too unwieldy to gain much interest in the heat of the smaller debate– and then reclining to watch the play of his guests. He most wanted to be assured that they were enjoying themselves, staying on friendly terms, and otherwise merely being themselves, for it was in their interaction that his true end in throwing the party was served.

As the discussion reached the impasse which it had reached for months in Parliament, he took it as his cue to open the floor for his debate. He cleared his throat, dabbed a corner of his mouth, and leaned into the group.

“Well, I can see that there is some strong difference of opinion here on this, understandable in light of our essential differences. Jack and Ann are of the radical cast — Jack in particular –, the Birkins are seemingly a bit above the issue, and our friends the Dalloways are from an older tradition of propriety and custom: something which should not too lightly be trounced.” He cast a wry look at Jack, who could not suppress a snigger, in part at Carter’s audacity, in part at his veracity.

With the debate thus closed by coming full circle, Carter continued, “But there is one point in which all of you seem to concur, one with which, lately, I have become concerned.”

The group looked to one another, trying to guess at the subject they shared, so crypticly expressed by their host.

“Why, I speak of marriage; you all agree that the institution of marriage is appropriate.”

There was a general exhalation or snort and a clamor ensued, nearly all speaking at once.(40)

“Oh, lad, you know where to push the buttons,” exclaimed Jack.(41)

“Oh, no; here we go,” sighed Ann.(42)

“It’s interesting you should say that,” mused Rupert.(43)

“There you are, dearest,” laughed Ursula to Rupert.(44)

“But of course,” puffed the Dalloways, nearly in stereo.(45)

A brief silence descended like a thunderclap on the room, everyone realizing that they were speaking over one another. Then laughter rippled around the table, and Carter said, “The reason I ask is that I’ve been involved with a delightful actress for nearly a year now, and I feel as if marriage is the next step.(46) The only rub is that I am not certain what exactly that institution is anymore, and I wish to know your opinions, being my only acquaintances who, if I may so say, are entrenched in the convention.”

“Not only may you say that,” stated Jack with gusto, “but you are most accurate in your choice of verbs.” This exclamation elicited an elbow in the ribs from Ann; she was smiling, however.

Rupert leaned forward, a penetrating look in his eyes, and replied, “But marriage need never be an ‘entrenchment’. It is possible to maintain a balance between the individuals and the union of those individuals.” He faced Carter. “You should resist with all of your soul that horrible fusion in marriage which is traditional in our heritage; a fusion which leads to such terms as ‘wedlock’.”(47)

Jack was intrigued by Rupert’s proclamation and sought deeper explanation. “You don’t feel that something is surrendered in marriage, that the forces in nature, in Life itself, which compel union forbear separate identity? Though I would like to call myself free and separate, I know full well, and accept, that a great part of my identity is tied up in this thing here.”(48) He thumbed towards Ann humorously, and had a bruise added to the one forming on his ribs. “You see? Where else but in matrimony would I tolerate the violence done on my person in just the past few moments?”

“Oh, come along, now,” countered Ursula, “you would take just such a jab from Rupert were it as good-natured and affectionate.(49) As I have come to understand Rupert’s idea of individuals in equilibrium, we enter into marriage to fulfill the individual’s purpose in being, on the one hand procreation, yet even more so self-definition.” She took Rupert’s hand.

He continued where she left off. “Yes, and via this ‘star- equilibrium’, where the two are bright and whole and held in balance by their own gravid attraction to one another, the individual’s orbit is perturbed — not in the sense of disturbed, but in that it achieves the wobble, if you will, that it is meant to have.” He sat back a bit; then his brow furrowed a bit as he saw Jack perk and anchor to his diction.

“Wobble, son; yes, you’ve got that right.” Jack chuckled and took a sip of sherry. “Wobbling like a drunken sailor down the road, leaving the sight where he was waylaid!”(50)

At this point, Clarissa spoke for the first time in some time. “But Mister Tanner, there is something to be said for the compartmentalization of home building. A married couple is partners in life, each complementing the other and helping the other overcome hurdles which would thwart the lone voyager in the world.” She looked at Ursula, almost as if for approval. Ursula faintly smiled, depth of meaning in her eyes as they held contact.(51)

Rupert softly said, “That’s certainly another way to put it.”(52)

Clarissa continued, burgeoned by the Birkins’ support. “And further, Mister Tanner, you are, after all, married yourself, to a lovely wife. How can you be so cynical about marriage then?”

Jack, rocking back with a creak of rattan, replied, “I am at the whim of the Life Force. I must succumb to its purposes and wed and mate and contribute my share of sperm to the gene pool so that Mankind may, over the generations, become the gods they are intended to be.”

Clarissa flushed at Jack’s crude statement, and Richard took this as his cue to speak up, “Listen, Tanner, this is no place for such barbarity; surely you can make your point without reference to bodily fluids.” He glanced at Clarissa to note her reaction to his defense of the women’s honors.(53)

Jack and Ann both rumbled with mirth, and he deferred to her, letting her point out, “But, Richard, you just did so yourself. And in the company of ladies and their honors!”

Richard flushed at being so caught in his own words, and the rest of the group laughed good-naturedly. Carter, nevertheless, saw that the conversation was straying into the dead ground already trod by the suffrage debate and redirected the people’s attention by saying, “But suppose, friends, that she does not turn out to be the right one? How can I be certain?”

“You can’t, really,” Ursula answered. “You have to trust what your heart tells you. If it proclaims your love for this woman resoundingly enough, that must be your guide.”

“Plus, the Life Force will let you know,” Jack added calmly. “If it has decided, you really have no choice.”

“I dare say we agree on something,” said Clarissa, somewhat surprised, “though I don’t think I would put it so mechanisticly, so inexorably.”

“But that, good Clarissa, is precisely what it is, ultimately,” Jack returned, smiling kindly, almost condescendingly. “The ends of the Universe are far stronger than one man’s aspirations or beliefs. We merely decide whether or not to fight them, fruitlessly. I, for one, know I am to lose my battle against this dove.”(54) Here he beamed at Ann, and she at him. If he had more point, it was lost in their silent communion, and Richard took the floor.

“But that choice to fight is a freedom we have. If we love our intended, we will not choose; if we do not, the din of battle will drown out Life’s pleas and arguments.”

“And leave you a wandering, lost star, shining into the void and seeing no light to answer your song.” Rupert was aglow and tears glistened in his eyes. Ursula bowed her head, but reached over to lay her hand on his forearm.(55)

“Take it from me, that is the truth.” Everyone turned to face Clarissa who had said this distantly and with faint tears in her own eyes.(56) Richard reached past his treacle to clasp her hand and whisper something the others did not hearken to hear.

Night had completely descended and the room was suffused with the steady, yellow glow of the electrics. The table was clear and Carter was lost in thought over all that he had heard from his new friends. Marriage today, it seemed, was more a partnership than it had been in his father’s day of property and possession. His love for the actress was strong, he knew; else he honestly would not have taken his precious time to concern himself with their future. He understood the demands of the Life Force as expressed by Jack. Further, he welcomed the polarity and individuality of Rupert’s star equilibrium. The idea of another helping one define oneself, rather that defining one (as with the Dalloways, specifically Clarissa) spoke to his inner need to be his own man, while ameliorating his frightening craving for union with another, a woman, a lover. That there could still be significance in the marital relationship, without self-insignificance being a result, empowered him, spoke both to the traditions of love which formed his herital core and the urge for isolation in the soul’s core.

He looked slowly at each of his guests, marveling at their love for their spouses and, in all but Richard, their truth to their selves. The couples were silent and happy. The Tanners held hands and stared into each other’s eyes; the Birkins softly touched one another’s arms and were lost in private reveries; the Dalloways still held hands across the table, Clarissa staring at her nearly empty glass and Richard looking over her shoulder at a David on the wall.

Carter cleared his throat and, as everyone broke their meditations, said, “Well, friends, I thank you whole-heartedly for you advisement on this most important concern of mine.”

“Was it of any assistance?” asked Rupert, feelingly.

“Why, yes, Rupert,” answered Carter slowly, a soft, distant smile creeping onto his face. “Yes, it was; and I would like to take this opportunity to invite you all to my wedding”—a pleased murmur danced around the table—”which should be in the fall, if my love accepts.”

“We’ll be sure to be in the country,” said Ursula, as everyone else also stated their acceptance of the invitation.

The party broke up a while later; and as the Tanners donned their coats and passed out the front door, James came up behind Carter and commented, “It will be nice to have a lady in the house again; it always seemed sort of empty without a mistress.”

“And I will be sure she is no mistress, James,” Manart responded, turning to face his friend with a loving smile.

The butler nodded and began to move toward the dining room, to straighten it up.

“By the way, James,” added Carter, “tomorrow I would like you to help me move the dining room table into the library. Then we shall go out to purchase a round table that suits the room.”

“Very good, Carter.”


Annotations

1 ) James’s familiarity represents Modernistic rejection of class distinction and is suggestive of the relationship between Jack Tanner and Henry Straker in (A).

2 ) Throughout the work, this table will be symbolizing modern marriage, the thematic thrust of this Fictionalized essay. The refinishing and smudges in the polish represent the iconoclastic redefinitions of the institution of marriage attempted by the Modernists and their vagaries thus far. In particular, Shaw struggles with these new definitions in (B).

3 ) Basic setting symbolizes Modernist retreat from ceremony and pomp in marriage, placing emphasis instead on its practical character and ends.

4 ) The answer attempt to allude to antiquity, even Adam and Eve, for mating and marriage are as old as the humanity in homo sapien.

5 ) Suggestive of the patriarchal tradition of marriage prior to Modernism.

6 ) The Victorian refurbish is from the simple, natural Romantic past; specifically the constraint (“routing”) reintroduced by the Victorians.

7 ) Suggestive of Carter Manart’s uncertainty about the character of Modernism, specifically Modern marriage, the resolving of which is to be the frame story of this essay.

8 ) The room is symbolic of Modernism as a movement in general, encapsulating its past, influences, and character in its time.

9 ) The Rembrandt suggests Europe’s post-Renaissance; Bruegel, Romanticism’s pastoral ideals; Monet, Victorianism’s hazy, idyllic optimism; Goya, the dark side of revolution and change; and the anachronistic Dali, the quest to “make it new” and, as its title suggests, the persistent remnants of the past and tradition.

10) My ‘tip-o-the-hat’ to the Industrial Revolution’s positive achievements.

11) Grey represents the ambiguous moral posture of the Modern era, especially World War I, which is symbolized by the red. Purple and blue flourishes are symbolic of the old aristocracy, being overshadowed by the middle (gray) and working (red, for the Labor party and Communism) classes. Thus, the gray and red serve a doubly symbolic purpose.

12) Suggestive both of the fascination in the Modern period with the Orient and the fact that Britain’s society (the table, in part) rested on the backs of its Colonies, especially the non- white ones of China and India.

13) More iconoclasm; today, formal tea has become almost a joke throughout most of British society.

14) Like England was becoming complicated in the Indies.

15) James is black and old Mr. Manart was too like his Southern US counterparts.

16) James is older, and this, in keeping with Modernist semi- iconoclasm, commands respect over the employer-employee relationship. See Mrs. Dalloway and Ms. Kilman’s complex ‘bidirectional hierarchy’ in (H) for a parallel of this employer deference to employee.

17) Ha! I got you! I’m not spilling all of the frame story’s surprises at once. (Editor’s Note: please forgive such levity on Mr. Artman’s part; he is quite excited about this whole thing, you understand.)

18) The iconoclastic Carter has his reservations over which edifice to ignore: class, age, rank. One must implicitly be recognized due to the hierarchical nature of a long, square table.

19) By way of background, Manart is his own lobbyist in Commons, petitioning on behalf of his inherited shipping business. This, in effect, implies that the business is not doing very well, else he would have someone do this for him.

20) Like any busy youth in this pre-depression piece, he does not know all of the social mores and procedures. It will later be revealed that this is his first formal (though informal) dinner party.

21) At this point it should be explained that in characterizing each couple, I am trying to project their relationships into the future as would be most probable based on the thematic resolutions of their particular source authors. Subsequently, the couple’s will hold more and more similar views the longer they have been married. Thus, Ann Whitefield-Tanner is, in her choice of surname, asserting the power granted her in the relationship by the Life Force as well as her own individuality. Furthermore, she has developed more of the wry, playful humor that characterized Jack Tanner in (A) and has, it will become evident, lost her tendency to lie to cast a favorable light upon herself. This honesty only further emphasizes the fact that she has been victorious in Life’s eternal struggle between means and vessel of Its culmination.

22) This mental note is, simply, that Ann has an assertive character, even after marriage: she is the first of the Tanners to speak, and her first works are playful mockery of her host’s servant.

23) Ann has learned iconoclasm from her husband in their twenty-two years of marriage, and is amused by Carter’s bombastic formalities.

24) Marriage, for Jack, has still not come to mean deference to his wife’s whimsy.

25) Jack’s interest is far from racist, as should become evident.

26) He would, of course, sit on the left of Commons with Labor. I have had old Jack elected to Parliament, and this is, in fact, where he and Carter met on formal grounds; this party is the first informal meeting of their, thus the introductions.

27) The first allusion to star equilibrium is their nearly synchronized treads.

28) Not having been present for her previous introductory faux pas, Rupert wonders at the uncertainty Margaret evinces in their introduction.

29) As will soon be show, like the Tanners, the Birkins are recent acquaintances of Carter’s, and he is struggling to maintain a balance between the party’s informality and the reverence he feels is due to his seniors and unintimate friends.

30) The Birkin’s have remained true to their desire to break all connections with society and have been traveling in Europe the past seven years, since their union. Note also that Ursula asserts herself first. This is not an example of her sensual dominance, but rather merely indicates that she is not behind (in the sense of subservient) her husband. And unless they are to speak in unison, one of them must open his or her mouth first.

31) Here I should note that I do not, in this draft, intend to explore their opinions on women’s suffrage. Rather, this was the issue of the day and I feel it is the most appropriate one which would draw these diverse people together. It, thus, is a device more than a theme.

32) This echoes Rupert’s passion for the intellectual as portrayed in (E).

33) The only remotely respectable conservative argument.

34) This parallels Peter Walsh’s accusation of Clarissa Dalloway’s perfectionism in (H).

35) My crude, ignorant efforts at suggesting the homoerotic impulses to be found in Clarissa and which are emphasized by Jane Marcus in (L).

36) I am presuming that the obviously greater wit written into Jack’s character has proved quite difficult for Richard in Parliament.

37) This is not his dominance, but rather his matrimonial ability to sooth fruitless wrath, something I imagine he has had to do often when bringing her to Parliament’s highly formal halls.

38) In this dichotomy between the Dalloways and the Tanners, the Birkins are naturally assuming a middle ground, as would be appropriate for their rather distant association of late with Britain and its issues. Further, as the intellectuals of the group, they must seek the harmonious compromises, the balances which can satisfy both sides… much like their marriage arrangement.

39) Conversely, a middle ground can be found by leaving the field of battle all together….

40) What follows (while also being reminiscent of Churchill’s dialogging) is a succinct summary of the characters’ general attitudes towards the subject of marriage. While not exactly a thesis statement, the passage is a tone-setter.

41) Mating is Jack’s favorite subject in (A).

42) See the last lines of (A): “Talking!”

43) Ever the intellectual’s introductory statement.

44) An acknowledgment of Rupert’s ‘authority’ on this complex point. She has, I am assuming, come to his camp on the issue of star equilibrium while, in keeping with that idea, maintaining her individual self; later, she, too, will have her say on the subject, as is meet.

45) A good score for this stereo statement would be Fiddler on the Roof’s “Tradition.”

46) That actress is the first non-tonal hint at my Shavian leanings in the character of Carter, my analog.

47) A blending of nearly verbatim quotes from (E) and (G).

48) “Thing” is in part a jocular statement, and in part an expression of the embodiment of the female drive in woman, a drive which is the spawn of the Life Force.

49) Ursula is, now that they are married, no stranger to Rupert’s desire for a union with the other, a semi-homoerotic interaction with another man.

50) A jocular expression of the deterministic qualities of the Life Force’s press into mating.

51) I am really trying for homoerotic overtones here; be gentle in your mockery of their crudity. Woolf made Mrs. Dalloway into a woman with a bright memory of a past female love, and I am merely trying to show how an older woman can anchor this glimmer of the past in the present, giving it a new lease on life, if you will.

52) Birkin is not quite satisfied with this practical expression of his more idealistic belief in equilibrium, one which would not necessarily involve complementation, but more likely, reflection.

53) Note how it took an offense to draw Richard into this intellectual debate; he is no powerhouse of thought, but he will be riled by a affront to his conservative ideals of propriety and honor. The next sentence parallels his ‘love for effect’ which he practices in (H) with the surprise roses.

54) This note is here just because I had to toot my use of contrast between the metaphor of battle and the reference to dove of peace. Clever, eh? (Editor’s Note: Once again, I am force to make an apology for Mr. Artman’s levity….)

55) Suggestive of Rupert’s continuing pain over the loss of Gerald and also of Ursula acceptance of his need for the Other.

56) Clarissa shares Rupert’s sentiment for a lost other.


Bibliography

Bernard Shaw

  • Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman. 1903
  • “Preface to Getting Married”, 1908 (Ayot St. Lawrence Edition of The Collected Works of Bernard Shaw)
  • St. John Ervine, Bernard Shaw: His Life, Work and Friends. Morrow & Co.: New York, 1956.
  • Anthony S. Abbott, Shaw and Christianity. Seabury Press: New York, 1965

David Herbert Lawrence

  • D.H. Lawrence, Women in Love. 1920, 1922
  • David Cavitch, D.H. Lawrence and the New World. Oxford University Press: New York, 1969
  • Mark Spilka, The love ethic of D.H. Lawrence. Indiana University Press: Bloomington & London, 1955 (1966)

Virginia Woolf

  • Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway. 1925
  • Jean Guiguet (transl. Jean Stewart), Virginia Woolf and Her Works. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich: New York & London, 1962
  • Hermione Lee, The Novels of Virginia Woolf. Holmes and Meier: New York, 1977
  • Jane Marcus, Virginia Woolf and the Languages of Patriarchy. Indiana University Press: Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1987

Isolation Of The Builder

 Fiction, Writing  Comments Off on Isolation Of The Builder
Mar 221993
 

There are few men in the galaxy for whom life is an exhilarating surprise, a merciful relief.

One of these few was Technician Thrace Soleman (ID# Astro.A159FC6B) as his ship, the Willie Mays, reentered normal space. Though living all his life in space—tesseracting hither and yon, withstanding gravities from nil to seven times Sol.Earth norm—he had always held his breath right before breaching essential space due to an almost unconscious foreboding that, for some reason, this tess—out of all the hundreds occurring at the same moment throughout the Milky Way, out of all the millions having occurred in the past—would go wrong.

He was, put simply, glad that sense experience had resumed; and he exhaled noisily, a grin teasing one corner of his mouth.

Technically, from his perspective the trip had taken no time as he was not psychically sensitive; there was no real (i.e. four-dimensional) interruption in his life. Yet, the Willie Mays had just completed an 8700 lightyear journey away from the edge of the Milky Way. Reclined on his cot, Soleman was staring through one section of the ship’s hull which had been left transparent; it revealed nothing but a few specks of light to the “north” of the ship and a slight glow of the Milky Way bleeding from the down side. So where is the rock?

Thrace extended the foot-hand of a wiry leg towards the cot above him and, grabbing its sideboard, swung himself into an upright position. He, with a startled yell, kept swinging up, around and back down onto the upper bunk. Only his mercurial flexibility and reflexes anchored his other foot to the bunkframe, preventing him from rebounding off its netting and back around into his cot again. His green hair swirled about his face in mockery of Great Newton.

“Where’s spin, for Its sake!” he bellowed into the intercom. He was accustomed to three gravities of spin when in a holding pattern. Stupid of me, really. After all, the view outside is obviously standing still.

There had been no reply from the pilots.

“Hai, Coordinator!” he called to the ship’s supervisor, Illyana Melder (ID# Astro.A15933C4). “C’mon, Illie, we couldn’t’ve lost you, Vrandium-mind.” The tight shades of worry began creeping onto his square, lined face.

Coordinator Melder was reputed as having the strongest will of any ship coordinator in the Human Stellar League. She had logged over five hundred tesseracts and had lived at least seventeen thousand years of subjective time during those breaches. Admittedly, at times she seemed distant and cold to others; those among them who were pilots understood perfectly. Nevertheless, the cyber-media had sensationalized her achievements by nicknaming her after the hardest metal known to Third Epoch human science; a metal which reflects all warmth cast at it.

There was still no reply.

Oh, man, after all those years, to snap now! Of course, this is probably the most uninvolved tess she’d ever made. Sailing one gravitational curve would’ve gotten pretty damned boring, I bet. Wait a minute! I’m already thinking in past tense, give them a chance. And them it was, for no one had responded to his hail; not the coordinator, neither of the sailors, and not the engine manager. If none of them were responding then most likely something had gone very wrong in tess-space. They were all psychically linked, as well as linked cybernetically with psychic circuits to the tessdrive, prior to breaching; little problems could become quite big with this intimacy. But, no. Nothing could have taken them all out.

And yet, there was no reply at all.

Anxiously, Thrace thumbed open the iris door and floated into the corridor outside the crew’s quarters. The rounded, functionally decorated hallway ran “eastward” to the commissary and “westward” to the recreation facilities and gymnasium. Across from Soleman were the labs, but there would be no one in them as there were but five people, including himself, on the ship. A short way westward, half of the hall split into a laddered chute running vertically through the ship. Leaping up to grab a rung on the ceiling, he pulled himself, foot over hand, towards the chute, bounding and covering the thirty meters like a fleeing rabbit. He arced upward and yanked himself bridge-ward, travelling so quickly that the floor-iris into the room above barely got out of his way. He soared into the control room, bending and flipping to grab the ceiling and absorb his momentum in his legs.

The clash of opposites in the room numbed his senses; it was not for several seconds that he truly perceived the carnage.

The ceiling was mostly transparent, but let in only a milky glow, there being no stars above it within a few million light years; this haze blended soothingly with the bridge’s lighting. The room’s graceful symmetry and efficiency starkly contrasted with the obvious tragedy that, with the quiet, cruel air of broken assurances, had occurred here. The simple room’s metal walls held only dark panes of acrylic in various sizes: either scanners or viewing screens. Furnishings were sparse at the moment; there were only four couches extruding from the floor which hid a plethora of other possible furnishings. The coordinator’s couch was central, just north of the vertical axis of the ship. South of the axis was the couch from which the engine manager manipulated the delicately massive tesseract drive in its starts, millisecond bursts, decade-long calibrations, and soul-wrenching stops. Finally, to the east and west of the axis, close to the room’s walls, lay the two sailors’ couches. They were the most gruesome to behold.

Three quarters of a body was reclined on each of the plastic and foam couches. Where the remaining quarter, the heads and necks, should have been, there were only large, brown, viscous stains and white shards stuck into the chairs. The globular gel smoked slightly and the charcoal smell of burnt synthsteaks filled the room. The occupants of the other two couches seemed whole in the dim cyan light emitted by the phosphorescent tracklights on the walls. They were, however, sprawled like two discarded rag dolls and their eyes were wide and burnt black, their faces frozen in agonized caricatures of laughter.

A scream would have found its way out of Thrace’s mouth had his jaw not been reflexively clenched against the rising bile in his throat. Instead, only a strangled grunt echoed in the silent chamber. He stared, wide-eyed and unbelieving, instinctual fear and repulsion at the scene causing the pores of his skin to dilate (but not to sweat, that was engineered out of his race eons ago). Perversely, the only clear thought to come to his mind was Hope that doesn’t get into the steering circuits; I can’t fix psywires. A futile hope for someone incapable of piloting tess-space.

He was finally broken out of his shock by a soft pinging noise and a sharp pain in his right cheek. He grabbed at the spot and found a small bit of bone stuck there. Shit, there’s shards ricocheting all over this room. Better get some gravity going to settle it and clean up. He did not consider the irrationality of the idea of cleaning so soon after witnessing such horror; it was something he could do in a situation over which, he was beginning to realize, he had next to no control. He pushed off towards the south of the room and gripped a rung embedded there. The stickiness of it surprised him, and he fought hard not to consider the reason it was so. He pressed his hand to the acrylic pane set in the aluminum wall… and nothing happened. He used the arm of his jumper to wipe the pane clean and tried again.

Still nothing happened.

Panic hit. the systems burned im a dead man oh jenny oh it oh shit what am i gonna do no power no food nothing dead It went on for some time, waves of fear and loss, regrets, images in his mind, their contrast fuzzed by retrospection, forgotten intentions, and confused underpinings. His Youth and all of its freedom, irresponsibilities and passions. That older brunette who had shown him the sweet benefits of Maturation. The years he spent as Student, deciding on his lifework. The implant surgery to allow him to interface with ComputerSpace, the reflex wires that gave him control over peripheral devices. Years of study in cyber-school and space school. His spouse and her funny laugh and arousing accent. His boy, oh, his young Zephyr, just one standard year from Maturation and school. His friends among the Astros as well as landborns. He thought of all of these things and others in the few minutes he spent feverishly jamming his hand against the palmscanner. As he slid off the crest of emotion into a trough of numb despair, some reason returned to him and he looked at the tracklights in the room.

He giggled with relief; a suppressed laugh filled with gasps and breaks. The power was not gone. Rather, he was too excited for the security scanner. A little measure against hijacking: the scanner would not verify someone’s scan, even if they were in the “approved” register, unless his or her pulse rate was at a median level. This conditional kept severed hands, frightened hands, and manic hands from being of any use for gaining entry to the ship’s computer system.

Smiling shakily, Thrace intoned his mantra for a while until he could feel his muscles relax and his heartbeat soften and slow. He touched the pane again and was answered by a faint click as a section of wall slid away. In the alcove behind the panel, a coiled cord ending in a fiberoptic male connector hung on a hook much like a pay telephone cradle. Upon removing the cable from the cradle, a rounded chair inflated up from the floor behind him. He dropped into it, a faint whisper reminding him that it had a pinhole leak somewhere. He relaxed and inserted the cable’s plug into the jack behind his ear.

The stained, glowing wall before him faded to be replaced by a small city sprawled out below him. From his “aerial” vantage he could see that most of the ship’s systems were automatically functioning and doing so quite normally. He gave these systems—life support, reactor dampening, gene monitoring, biot growing—only the most cursory inspection. They were critical to his immediate survival, but not the most important functions of the Willie Mays from Soleman’s perspective. He soared above the towering sub-directory icons, across the mainframe, until he reached a cityblock-sized red icon, in the shape of an umbrella, vaulting an apparent kilometer above the “ground.” He landed at its base and touched it.

It ceased to be. In its place was a meter-high question mark: the universal iconic symbol for “System not present — Error.”

“Willie!” cried Thrace; “what happened to the tess-sail manual control system? I need spin and a tess-comm link to HSL.”

A computer-imaged persona of an android in a baseball uniform appeared before him, its hands behind its back.

“That system has been deemed useless. I was going to remove the icon, but security monitoring on the system delayed me. Someone with a hand like yours but not a temper like yours was repeatedly requesting access.”

Thrace’s head began to practice Forthanik’s Ballet for 0.5 g in D min. Somewhere above his right temple he could swear he heard a blood vessel pop, even though that would be impossible in Compspace. “Why was the control system deemed useless, Willie?” he asked in a trembling voice that seemed to want to hide in his mouth, not actually ask that too-important question.

“Because the drive no longer exists, Technician Soleman.”

The computer, of course, had absolutely no idea what had happened during the tess; it was not psychic either. There were, however, a number of cyberlectures on the subject of tesseract emergencies. In one of them, Soleman learned that several daring experiments had been conducted during the tessdrive’s conception in the Tenth Eon, First Epoch, which involved planned detonations of the drive during a breech and while tessing. Nothing was ever learned: the earlier tessdrives were not sailed, but shot “ballistically,” to their destinations; most of the scientists gave up searching the fifty lightyear test area after the first ten years of doing so. The most widely agreed upon theory was that there was a 84.78% chance that the whole ship would be destroyed with it, in spite of the 400 kilometers separating the drive from the ship, and a 13.46% chance that the ship would never again enter 4D space. In a way, then, Thrace was lucky to be alive. Great. Just fabulous for me, he had thought after learning that gem of information. Soleman also discovered a space opera simsense which depicted a group of colonists isolated by the unlikely loss of sanity by all the piloting psychics of their vessel. It was typically, if not subtly, thrilling and he could not resist making love to the (typically) stunning heroine, as consolation, during one of her more touching strophes of angst. He never bothered to figure out who he actually was trying to console; what did it matter? For that few hours, they had been the only reality, and they needed the closeness to hold back the hungry vacuum waiting patiently outside.

He realized halfway through the second week of travel under the Willie Mays’ fusion drive that he simply did not have ten thousand years to spare trying to get into the Milky Way’s shipping lanes. For the past sixteen days he had been idling about the recreation room, working out occasionally on the zero gee machines to keep fit WHY?, experimenting with the more esoteric selections on the ship’s meal synthesizer WHAT’S testicles???, scanning the documentary and technical files of the computer Why isn’t there a passage on Growing Tesseract Drives out of Matter Reclaimation Biots, or Genetically Breaching Essential Space?, and experiencing way too much simsense. On this second week, however, he awoke on Sixday with the dire paralysis of apathy. He felt cold, in spite of the life-support. He had been dreaming of his spouse and was hoping that the stark ship’s ceiling was the dream instead.

Jenny and he had been walking through the Yorkshire Dales on Sol.Earth, exploring Middleheim Castle. They climbed to the top of the southern tower and stared over the green, forested waves of the surrounding country, devoid of any other signs of man (Sol.Earth had been discovered as sentient and almost immediately declared a Refuge World). Holding each other against the chill wind, whispering insued: sweet sentiments he could not now recall, craved to recall because he wished they were true, prayed he had broken past his unpsychic genetics, had communed with his only love one last time.

He did not rise from his bunk for several hours, and then only to plug into the lavatory. His blood began flowing from this activity, and other activities began to seem appropriate. A wide grin and furrowed brow smeared his face into a cruel visage.

He had no reason to keep fit, so he threw the zero-gee trainer through the commissary, laughing loudly, echoingly; there were only twenty-one varieties of synthmeats from which to choose, so he jacked into the computer and launched a File Burn program at the synthesizer’s master program (it did the best job it could defending against its Prime Priority User’s wrath). There was no one to impress with his knowledge of Pre-Diaspora politics, so he set the technical files to teaching the simsense’s Drama sub-system how to do quadruple integrations, thereby generating fierce trinary debates throughout the ship’s Compnet. Finally, he had experience every It-damned simsense in the entire database and at least half of their plot variants and, quite literally, thought he was still in simsense half of the time he was doing something else on the ship. Earlier that week he had once tried to ‘stop program run’ while sitting in the commissary, throughly bored, in front of a bowl of some horrid concoction from the meal synth’s Traditional Menu called “grits.”

The next week he spent pacing the ship, staring through its now totally transparent hull. He had felt, at first, a dizzying sensation of shrinking when he had first cleared the hull to view his new domain. The Milky Way was SO far away; it looked like egg on the vast pan of the universe: an egg which he would never again taste thanks to some mysterious, capricious whim of fate. He felt minuscule… then realized that he was. The coffin-like atmosphere of an opaqued hull had been worse, however.

During these uneventful days he spoke to many people; only one, his wife, ever spoke back, and that was towards the end of the week. He raged first at Illyana for failing in her duty. She must’ve zoned during the tess and steered the sailors off the polarity-rhythm into some freaky wavelengths, the dumb bitch with her snotty ways and her too perfect lips and the way she insists on announcing every bloody minute for a half hour before tessing… Then, of course, it was the sailors, Uthor and something-with-a-P, who had zoned and failed to avoid some quirky perturbation Vrandium-mind had ordered evaded. Next, Manager Hurdles (ID# Astro.A1596115) had clearly failed to keep the drive in harmony and had fried them all in the backlash.

“And what about the fucking League with their half-assed regulations and shoddy inspection teams?” he inquired loudly of the first bowl of food he had synthed in four days, failing to recall the hassles that the Mays’ crew had gone through to con their way into this mission.

Fringe.BB20 was the first Grade G congealment to be spotted escaping Mother Milky’s possessive pull. Until then, only the occasional Sol.Mercury-sized mother lodes were intercepted in the really cold depths of space to be reclaimed by humanity. This body they had been going to intercept would have fetched them at least 20,000 stresshours apiece for only three months of crystal harvesting with the massive robotic drills and the microscopic biots. Then a small fusion-fission charge to send it back to the galaxy to be retrieved in a millennium or so, and the crew would have tessed back, retired, and done some pleasure touring of their workplace, the Milky Way. All that privilege: up in smoke. IT-DAMNED, BEAST-BRAINED…. Several long-haul teams had bid for the mission and the qualifying criteria had been intense. The Willie Mays Mining Cooperative was so very, damned lucky it was driving Thrace very, damned mad.

Then came the Solution. It took only a few feverish, ecstatic seconds to conceive and fifty-six days to effect. It was, after all, an ambitious project—if “ambitious” can describe the dreams of a doomed man.

The first thing Technician Thrace had to accomplish was to negotiate peace in Compspace between the Technosupremacists and the Aesthetics Liberation Faction, who had escalated the conflict he had initiated in his malicious, feeble vengeance a week earlier. The technical files had achieved the upper-hand with their knowledge of the Compnet’s systems, but the Dramatic files were passionately holding their own. He felt like a fool when he jacked in as a peace-keeping force. He spent several days untangling the various attack programs binding the two systems and disarming databombs. Fortunately, with peace declared, the two file systems were more than willing to provide what help they could in this task.

The next month was spent designing and building a robot which would automatically build and install additional memory to the computer. He also redesigned the food synthesizer. He cleared the majority of its database, leaving only the core formulas for synthesizing what he called the “Tree of Life Elixir,” a serum of fundamental proteins, enzymes, carbohydrates, and polyunsaturated fats. Then, Soleman modified the dispenser so that the bland syrup would be slowly and steadily drip-fed through a IV. Perfect! With the germ and biot banks to draw on, and their synthing capabilities, there should be about a hundred years of this stuff… more than enough, most likely.

The final two weeks were spent almost entirely in Compspace. He toured every alley and sewer, each database and slave node, wreaking nothingness on every inessential system. Lighting… Let there be NO light! That’s good. Fusion drive: slow burn; open all accesses to reserves. Should be a few thousand years of operation. Climate control: bridge only; seal remainder of ship. Laser distress beacon: ah, what the Hole, On. All this simsense shit: GET THEE BEHIND ME! Ooh, that’s very good. Auxiliary file systems: Good night, sweet prints. All except computer maintenance files for the robot.

Then, finally, it was finished, and with the end of frenetic activity returned morose passivity. Thrace sat on the bridge, reconsidering. There was a slim chance that the inevitable search team would stumble upon him before the ten year MIA period was over (tradition, from the early days of “spit-tessing”). 8700 lightyears is not all that much. Shit.

He spoke a soft prayer of farewell to whomever happened to be listening. The IV went into his arm with a slightly painful jab, and Thrace snickered over the irony that his last real sensation was one of pain. The eight weeks of isolation had inured him to stimuli, but somehow this faint prick seemed to wash swells of tension and melancholy up his arm and through his floating body. He thought once more of Jennifer and Zephyr and hoped they would have fun with his insurance/pension. Concluding with a particularly blurry-eyed sentiment of Love, he wished Homo Stellari a fruitful being. Then Technician Thrace Soleman jacked into Compspace.

It was dark, quiet, odorless, empty. The systems which were to be saved—life support, Tree of Life, the robotic chipper, fundamentals—hid themselves behind a masking program so sophisticated even its designer stood little chance of unveiling its secret wards. All extraneous systems were not. It was a Void… save for the One, Thrace. The One floated without buoyant support, perceived Nothing, felt the effluent of thirty-nine Standard Years of emotion swirling inside. The extensive memory crystals were limited (but growing) yet infinite, lacking a measure save the One. And cloistering, so crowded with nothing but the One. And piss-boring, lonesome. The One meditated a moment, reached out…

And It spoke a Word.

Cynwal’s Confession

 Fiction, Writing  Comments Off on Cynwal’s Confession
Dec 121989
 

I come to thee, these twenty years past, seeking that which thou denied me upon my first—and only, I might add—visit to this shrine. Now wait! Hold thy tongue, though passionately it may wish to counter my words. Thou must listen long and well to my tale before casting down thy righteous decree. Thou must know well my life, painful in its snail’s-tread span, so that thy reason may know emotion and thy god’s true light might uncloud thy scripture-veiled eyes.

I was once a simpler man, and happy without the weight of these jewels and furs. A smith in the town, I passed my days with honest work and spent my nights comforted by my good wife, so fair in her youth. Twin sons did she give me, and no finer babes were there to be found in all of Exeter. Though at times they proved burdensome—and what children, at two winters old, do not?—my Elryna always tended to them when I was hard at work. Ours was the most full of homes, though none of thy opulent company would feel so upon viewing its humble trappings.

Have care to pay attention now, thou whom I hear squirming and sighing with impatience behind thy curtain. My house, whole in spirit, was Fated to suffer turmoil even in the height of its peace and happiness.

It was on a clouded day, just after harvest celebrations, that the Fates did strike my home with their blindly omniscient will. I did toil heavily over a shirt of mail when into my empty house—Elryna had taken her sons to thy new church for mass—came a woman of the Earl’s court. I knew her to be thus, not solely by the fineness of her bearing and of the jewels lying splendid upon her bosom, but more by the retainers which she lacked but seemed to expect as she left the door open behind her. My eyes and loins did then ally against my heart in violent quarrel; I was convinced that she was the fairest dove ever to grace my vision, even more so than my sole love. The lady spoke unto me, commanding that I forge a weapon most fine that she could present to her master. When I tried to ask of her what death-giver would be preferred, I could not command my voice: it was the first of my possessions she would steal away. She, however, knew that which she desired, and upon imparting the measures of a footman’s pole axe, did glide from my home to return to her high place.

It is here that the telling becomes hard, for my shame does wish to beat back my anger and send me from this chamber. But today’s victory will be mine and my family’s, not the Worm’s, whose malicious hand stirs the brine now drowning my once-loving home. Yea, the battle will be won, but perhaps not, I fear, without thine aid.

The woman returned a fortnight later seeking her order. I had finished the arm and was polishing the blue of its blade when she entered my front room. The dampness of the dusk had done no injustice to her comeliness, and her eyes seemed to shine with an inner light—a light of virtue I ignorantly surmised. The lady closed the door to the waning light outside; the furnace’s ruddy glow encompassed her as she moved to stand over me. She complimented fully my labors, all the while seeming to invite my gaze and to stoke my desire. Yes, “white” father, my desire; forgotten were the vows I shared with my once again, almost conveniently, absent wife. I found myself enraptured by the beauty’s voice, in awe of her features. Likewise did she appreciate my virtues, for she then spoke of my appeal to her. Like a boy was I upon hearing of her favor, so excited was my passion. I found myself reaching for her, and, to my surprise, she did not withdraw, but instead gave her body into my arms. My mind whirling in a gray cloud, we retired to the back room and, in my family’s bed, did commit ourselves to damning caresses.

Here can I almost see thy disapproval through the confessional screen, can feel thy righteousness swell through this soft closet’s dark air to lash me; to damn me as thou did when I first came to the poorer beginnings of this now majestic House. Ah! Do I hear a denial from thee? Yes, now thou seem, by thy protest, to recall. My voice hearkens chimes of memory from the depths of thy past. And now! Now, thou try to justify thy youthful posturing, to polish it over like an ill-forged blade. Be silent! Wait. There is more to be said and heard.

Though my mind and heart did revolt against the act to which I had fallen, my flesh could find no complaint. The lady’s touch burned with a penetrating flame; her kisses marked my skin like bites; her bites drew blood. Yet, not once in this arousing, painful deed did I cry “hold, enough!” for I was hers, I realized, from the moment I took her. Somewhere in the depths of my spirit, a fear took hold, a fear of the consequences of such an act. It brushed me like chill winds of gathering thunderheads, whispering promises of disaster. Passion’s voice was the louder, however; and I, vanquished, swore fealty to its command.

Afterwards, she slept, but my thoughts would not grant me such solace—though solace has sleep not been since that fateful evening. Sorrow beat back the now spent passion and established its rule over my humour. I bade the woman awaken and hie from my dwelling and she did so, but not without first speaking of a “bargain.” She promised her return and the value of her favor, then made off with the pole axe—and something more, I fear—into the night.

Tormented was I for the three days until my love Elryna’s return. She came home smiling, but lost the fair expression upon viewing mine. She, full of unwarranted love for me, asked of my pain. Before reason could stay my tongue with its deceptive bonds, I found myself pouring the events of that night out to her. It was then, holy man, that I came to know the value of the woman of my house. No words of condemnation or anger did come from her trembling lips, only solace, understanding, and concern. She comforted my wretched, valueless self, holding me in her arms while I spewed forth the blasphemous details of my sin.

It was at the close of my hateful tale that wrath finally found a home in Elryna’s heart. Upon hearing of the woman’s promised bargain, she immediately crossed herself, as was her recently found faith, and ordered me here to her church, thy once simple shrine. She had been told of thy Nemisis’s underhanded tactics by which man is stolen; she feared for my soul. Here do I command thee to pay the utmost regard to detail, for it was thy ears to which I tried to confess my sin, to stay the Worm’s attack.

Thou had been recently commissioned to our county to smear thy faith about the land. Thou had built a small hall of worship to which not a few of the first gods’ people had been lured. It was at my wife’s urgent behest that I, twenty winters ago, did step into thy fledgling church to confess my deed. Thou, with conceit spawned of thy swaggering youth, did usher me into a similar room as this and, separated from me as you are now, bade me ask for thy god’s forgiveness. Unfortunately, my youth found me likewise no great stranger to vainglory, and I boastfully declared that I sought no pity from thy false god, that it could offer me nothing, that I was here only to comfort my wife’s faith.

Thy pride, smitten, ordered me then out of thy booth and thy hall, damning me to thine Hell. Angered, I stormed out; I swore never to return to such a hollow hall, but to remain in the fulfilling temples of Odin All-Father and his spawn.

I could not, however, return home with the tale of such rejection, so I conjured one of forgiveness and repentance for the woman I so deeply loved. The lie fell favorably upon her ears, and we did return to a life I thought would once again be complete in its security.

Yet, four days later, the lady of the court returned to my smithy, this time bearing a royal edict. Though her presence was not welcomed, the flowery writing upon the parchment was, for it commanded me unto the Earl’s court. The lady—how I now abhor such a reference being used for her person—told of the Earl’s pleasure with my workmanship and promised great wealth for further efforts. Elryna’s gaze in my direction told me of her dislike for the woman, but the room about her and the two boys within it bespoke of the need for the offer. I found myself agreeing to the summons while within I shrank away from the harsh, but silent, disapproval of my love. The woman, with the honor and decency of a common whore, then told me that repayment for this debt would no longer be so simple, or so satisfying. She then, smiling wickedly, turned and left me, my wife, and the growing rift between us alone with our sons in the small room.

From there, my life seemed to improve greatly, despite the ill feelings of my love. The Earl, much to my honor, gave unto me the position of Master Armourer of the Court. In my first audience, he imparted his overwhelming satisfaction with my abilities, then did shower me with robes, treasures, and properties befitting my promotion. Forgotten was the home in which I had earned the new-found glory; I saw a much greater home in which to raise my boys, in which to hold close my family. Lost was the love our simpler dwelling had held, for we moved to reside within the Earl’s hall, to sit about his table. Immediately, the duties of my office consumed my time with the appetite of a giant; less and less frequently did I find occasion to play with my sons or bed my wife. The years, busily filled, slid past like quicksilver.

I spent every light hour—and many a dark one—toiling in the Earl’s smithy. I had forty underlings aiding me and following my command; I did what I could to arm the castle’s forces. My sons, coming too quickly into manhood, chose to follow such a soldier’s course. Our county was, fortunately, graced with peace during their squirehoods, and they, being gifted fighters, were knighted and given trainer’s positions long before the Bellow Downs War which consumed so many lowly troops’ lives. I had, for these several years, seen little of my fair seductress, as her “duties” kept her in the upper chambers of the keep. Not until my boys had found their seats at the Earl’s table did she return to begin collecting her horrid fees. I knew nothing of her underhanded time-passings until my son Herstorn presented her to me as his bride.

I, at first, failed to recall her face, though its image hearkened cold and painful ripples of faint memory. I remember well my befuddlement upon recognition: she had not changed, not aged a moon since our night together! I looked to my wife, who had taken leave of her constant prayers for the announcement, as was her duty. She was deathly pale, her eyes locked with the eyes of the only woman she had ever seen fit to dub “demon.” Herstorn seemed truly happy, though, and I felt little good would be done to our already loosely bound family if I were to drag the past up from its murky grave.

My son’s glad grins of joy were, however, soon to melt into grimaces of despair. A year ago, the horn of bloody conflict called him to the eastern border to suppress an unruly lord and his serf troops; and, of course, that witch could not bear the chill of a lone bed. She, with her now usual, evil scheming, chose to turn her devices upon my other son, Garret. He, as vulnerable to her spell as his frail father, slipped into the woman’s web. Herstorn’s triumphant and glorious return from battle was to his own brother bedding his wife.

Woefully, my dear wife has had her spirit broken by this echo of painful history. Her health has failed; she was stricken with a frightful fever a month ago and still battles it this very day. Further, my boys have drawn blade against one another. The demon stokes their anger purposefully and carefully; neither now calls the other “brother,” only “enemy.” Even now, I am certain they are planning their challenges, waiting for the most advantageous time to draw the gauntlet. This only further sickens my poor love. In all of this strife, I can bring no light. No words soothe the swollen passions of my sons; no comfort heals the wounds in my clan.

Now, a score of years has passed since the day that first brought all of this misery with its dawn. Now thou shalt learn why I come to thee again, why I belie my ages-old oath. Understand, holy man, that I come to make a deal, to strike a bargain, through thee, with that unsympathetic lord of thine. I step ever closer to the grave; my body is nearly crushed by the weight of the guilt I’ve been forced, by thy wrath and pride, to bear. Thou did force me away from the arms of your god to which I had, unwittingly, fled. Now, forsaken by my gods as I, ignorantly, did forsake them with my first visit here, I seek to offer my soul to your god in exchange for the healing of the bloody shreds of my family. I offer all that I am to him so that he may see it as favorable to strike the hateful woman from my twins’ minds and hearts and end the cursed fraternal battle. Without thy prayers and thy god’s sword, she will plague my life—what little there remains of it—as she has since that fated night.

And thus do I beseech thee to come to my family’s rescue, to correct thy past injustice and negotiate this divine treaty, so that those I love may be freed of the pain which is my doing. It matters not that I shall become a slave to thy god; he would, I wager, make a finer master than the Demon who now holds lordship over my spirit.

Thou sit behind thy rich veil in silence, pondering all I have said and all that I have begged. Then, with a righteous arrogance that has not matured, but swelled like aging timber with the passing of the seasons, thou say unto me, “Get thee from my confessional, heathen! The Lord makes no ‘deals’ with pagans who commit adultery with a woman of Satan! Go forth to thy damnation, succubus-lover; and may thy tainted sons soon join thee in Hell.”

And, with such admonishments rending my hope to tatters, you slam closed your screen… to hide.

Very well, false believer, false father, empty soul. If thy callous lord has no bench about his table for the wretched, then I know of another with whom I can strike my “bargain.” Thy rule book professes that he never refuses that which I offer. I shall go to my damnation; and despite thy heinous, spiteful wishes, I shall remain there alone.

The Missing Link

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Apr 221989
 

Preparations were fully underway now. The Kodash clan had accepted the Challenge; and, finally, the conflict over the plains to the setting sun would be resolved. Too much blood had been spent, many hunters lost on both sides. There seemed no way to achieve peace other than the Challenge. The members of both clans detested each other; fighting broke out whenever they came across one another. Though the dispute centered around the rich hunting grounds, the animosity had grow such that each claimed superiority and, therefore, sovereignty over the other. But the battles never seemed to resolve anything. Neither clan was willing to submit. The Challenge was the only way one clan could be called “rulers.”

The head of the Unganah clan –the one with whom the Kodash warred– was intently involved in his preparatory responsibilities. The bulky Neanderthal the Unganahs called Krec was, studiously and with great care, just finishing his third mastodon shank. He was just now beginning to eye the fourth one, recently brought in by four of the clan’s females. Normally, Krec would never eat more than three of the tremendous cuts of meat, but the Challenge called for extreme measures. The only way to outlive the Kodash bastard was to outeat him. Preparation was everything.

Outside of Krec’s cave, other Unganahs were hard at work with easier, but equally important, duties. Several females were hurriedly sewing specially cured, water-proof padding into Krec’s skins. The clan’s shaman was buzzing around them, watching over their progress and bestowing the proper charms and wards upon the outfit with his dervish prancing. In a secluded grove of trees, Krec’s first mate was carefully weaving what would serve as his arm bindings once the Challenge began, an honor his other mates envied but understood to be hers by right. By the river, Krec’s son-by-first-mate was consumed with hollowing a sapling’s trunk: Krec’s drinking tube within the Challenge cave.

It was the last day before the Challenge began, and all who worked to prepare for it did so with a fervor. By sundown, all was ready. Krec was laying, bloated, on his sleeping mat, trying not to think about the six, maybe seven, tremendous shanks he had just dispatched. He mulled over his chances of winning the Challenge. He had certainly eaten all he could and, although the Kodashs’ ruler was a big creature, he would never outdo Krec’s preparations. The Challenge victory was assured.

The sun leered over the surrounding hills, intently contemplating the westerly mountains: its resting place after the coming day’s trek. The only life in its field of vision was a small, busy member of the rodent family and several large members of the Neanderthal family. Two families, actually, for the group atop the shining knoll represented the two parties who had escorted their chiefs to the ritual cave of the Challenge.

The psychological games of the Challenge had already begun, as each leader strove to look the most… nourished, for lack of a kinder term. The padding in each creature’s “garments” added, of course, to the desired effect; and, knowing this, the two gargantuan mammals stood before one another and tried to guess the real bulk hidden beneath their skins. The added warmth from the pads was secondary to this important first stage of any Challenge. As primitive as they were, each leader knew that confidence was crucial, and the more obese one looked, the better one’s edge was over one’s opponent. As the parties who escorted their chieftains were looking edgily at each behemoth, making their own predictions, the signal to fully commence the Challenge sounded.

Krec’s stomach growled.

His emissaries began tying his arms back with the binding his first mate had fashioned; the Unganah’s escorts followed suit. Krec’s men were worried, for the longer it took the challenging leader’s stomach to show signs of renewed interest in eating, the more psyched-out his opponent became. It had been an extremely short time since the group had gathered; for a growl to have occurred so soon was a bad omen for the Kodash. Nevertheless, there was no honorable way, nor reason, to turn back. Krec would not have if he could; the conflicts between his clan and the Kodash had to end. The Challenge was the end-all.

The decent down the steep natural chimney into the ritual cave was tedious, but each leader made it down unaided: another psych game. It was well understood that the eventual victor would have to make it back up; so if either had failed to get down unaided, he could count on not making it up, and subsequently not living. Having avoided such an unnerving prelude, both chiefs and their parties were somewhat encouraged by the successes.

A small fire was laboriously built, for the sun had not crept high enough into the still bleeding sky to cast much light into the chamber. When the tinder finally caught with a flare, Krec realized he was mere inches from falling into a small, silent stream running through the center of the chamber. Wishing to quickly begin the main part of the Challenge, he somewhat sluggishly, with a rumbling of the surrounding rock, dropped to a seated position, his back against a basalt outcropping and his knees pulled as close to his chest as possible. About three feet. The Kodash chief did likewise, thudding down opposite and across the stream from Krec. The two others who had been chosen to descend with their respective chiefs now placed the fashioned drinking tubes upon the knees of the two furry masses. One end of each tube dipped into the slowly moving stream. The other ends, once the tubes were steadied with nearby rocks, rested within easy stretching distance of the seated giants’ mouths. The two escorts double-checked the bindings, and after parting expressions of homage to their leaders, began the accent out of the cave. Above, there could be heard the beginnings of a quarrel between the others. The Challenge would end that habit soon enough. The two chieftains locked eyes and each began waiting for the other to die.

Four days had passed, and both creatures had begun to feel the first wrenching pangs of hunger. These represented the beginning of the end and caused the first bits of fear to pick their way into the minds of the two combatants. He who survived the longest, won. It was as simple as that. In a sense. Surviving the Challenge also required escaping, without the aid of hands, from the cave that had become, after a lunar month or more, the tomb of the loser. Few accomplished this. Fewer still made it back to their clan. Still less survived the shock of renourishment. To live to enjoy the fruits of a successful Challenge was the mark of a truly strong individual. All of these facts sifted around in Krec’s mind. Slowly, yes; but with sullen weight. He was certain that the Kodash pig’s excuse for a mind was mulling over the same things.

Suddenly, something inexcusable happened. Krec felt his stomach begin to churn, and, before he could think of any way to stifle it, a long, low, thunderous grumble sounded from his midsection. Krec felt his face flush; letting such an obvious sign of hunger be revealed filled him with shame. He reluctantly looked to the face of his opponent, knowing that a triumphant grimace would be smeared all over it. He made eye contact and tried, for the other beast’s benefit, to look unconcerned. Krec was staggered with surprise when he saw an obvious look of sympathy and understanding on the chieftain’s face. The Kodash leader signed, with his face, that the feeling of hunger was mutual. Krec realized after a few stupefied moments that his mouth was hanging open. He quickly snapped it shut and averted his stare from the sympathetic visage that faced him.

Between the spells of sleep and semi-consciousness that Krec experienced over the next ten days, he drank and pondered the Kodash’s reaction to his cataclysmic churnings. He chose to regard it as a sign of his enemy’s weakness. He could not, however, convince a quiet, pestering voice in his mind of this. It argued that he should, in some way, return the gesture. This feeling he was able to keep at bay when awake, but his dreams were plagued with images of he and the Kodash scum hunting and eating together as clan. Of course, even these loathsome dreams were preferred to the other dreams.

Krec had just awakened with a start from one of these other dreams in a frigid sweat. This time it had been slightly different. Before, he had dreamed of being in this same cave, in this same situation, except his opponent was his first born son. Each time, the dream would end with his son slumping forward and face down into the stream, dead. Then, in the dream, Krec felt himself stand and cry out in a scream of joy and victory and… anguish. This pattern repeated for several sleeps, unvaried, until tonight. In this dream his opponent had been his first mate.

Krec looked over to his opponent’s slumped form; the dim moonlight made him see, in brief flashes, the image of his mate. Try as he might, he could not exorcise it. He stared for a long time at his mate’s body, which had now fully resolved, and slowly but surely began see something wrong with it. He suddenly realized the problem. His mate’s drinking tube had fallen off her knees and into the sluggish stream. With a shudder, Krec saw his female’s image waver and be replaced by the Kodash’s grim features. The Kodash was looking at him with a face filled with sadness and yet accented with a grim determination. Then Krec realized that the image of the tube in the stream had not disappeared with his mate’s. The Kodash’s drinking tube lay about one foot from Krec’s right leg, wedged against a stone in the water. His opponent feet stretched out over the stream, seeking purchase on the wet wood. The tube then, with slow, lethal leisure, shifted slightly and came to rest entirely out of reach of the Kodash’s straining limbs.

It was over.

The tube had drifted across the water to a spot thoroughly inaccessible to the starving, weakened Kodash; his only solace was that, for him, the torture of the Challenge would now be quickly resolved. Both creatures stared at the oversized straw as it undulated to the rhythm of the slow current. Krec felt an elation. As a smile began to spread across his haggard face, he looked towards his adversary. His gaze fell upon the deflated looking Kodash and he began to see a change come over the beast. He saw it slowly and deliberately shrink in bulk, withering away as the dehydration set in. Creepingly and yet impossibly quickly, Krec watched the fetid mask of death spread across the features of the slumped figure. Just as his flesh started to turn to dust, the Kodash looked up into Krec’s eyes. The sole emotions which shimmered across the cadaverous, nearly skeletal, face were sorrow… and pity.

Krec’s confused eyes blinked in surprise without the aid of his numbed brain. This reflexive action was sufficient to disperse the hallucination, but the sad sympathy still hung on his opponent hollow visage.

Sympathy?! Krec’s mind reeled at the presumptuous prospect of it. His response was one which he typically favored when backed into this familiar state of uncertainty; he went on the defensive. He summoned, for his opponent, the most full expression of elation his uncomfortable features could muster. The result: he looked somewhat pleased. His opponent’s pity seemed to almost swell on his features. Not to be so easily daunted, Krec attempted a scream of victory. An unenthusiastic, almost nervous, cry issued forth from his lips. His opponent regarded him with the same look for a moment longer and then tried to rise in an effort to retrieve the tube. Then, with a final look of defeat, the Kodash seemed to realize that, even were he make it to a standing position, there was no way, with bound arms, to properly reposition the vital device once he reached it.

It was over.

For the rest of the day and half of the ensuing evening, Krec mulled over all that he had seen. Actually, he mostly considered the Kodash’s eyes for that time; his hallucinations were too much for his feeble intellect to comprehend. He failed to fully understand the meaning behind the obvious sympathy in them… if anything, his opponent should feel sorry for himself.

It was as the first glow of dawn began seeping through the natural chimney that Krec understood the significance of the beast’s emotion. He began to feel ashamed and dishonored. He realized that, of the two seated in this cave, he was the more beastly. The sanctity of the Challenge allowed for victory on one condition: starvation. He was the “scum” for trying to revel in his opponent’s misfortune. No wonder the Kodash viewed him with such pity.

Krec could not take it. He quickly positioned his feet over the rocking tube and then, lifting with one foot and pivoting it while the other braced the tube, he carefully rested it on the other Neanderthal’s knees. This motion woke the dozing creature; and it looked at the tube and then at the man seated across from it. Krec stared back into the man’s eyes… and smiled.

The two men began waiting again. It was all they could do. It was all the beasts in their clans would accept.

The Leaf

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Feb 051989
 

The sun had not even risen, and yet already the work bosses were gently awakening the harvesters with their batons. Pere was roused from his deep slumber by the shouts of the bosses and the grunts of his fellow pickers; but he remained motionless, gathering his energy. An almost casual blow from one of the bosses was his cue to open his eyes. He groaned concilatorily. The boss hammered him with the standard morning greeting.

“Get up! Heavy harvest today!”

There was usually a “heavy harvest” during the rainy season, of course; but the bosses always felt that this motivating comment stimulated work. So, subsequently, regardless of the night’s ripening of the Q’jall plants, each day (each boss, actually) promised a “heavy harvest.”

Pere rose from his grass tick and pulled on his jerkin. It reeked of Q’jall juices and sweat, but break day was four days away, so he tried to ignore the smell. A couple of the harvesters had already left for their morning meal; others were still struggling on their mats to resist gravity. Fortunately for the latter, the bosses had a blow or two to offer for added motivation. Pere’s back was beginning to cramp, and this only added to his hurry. He bolted out of the quarters and into the dawn.

Nearly one-third of the blue dwarf sun was above the horizon, and with its hazy glow came a flush of heat. The day was not even begun and already the temperature hovered around 110 degrees. Pere found the warmth pleasing, but then realized the high temperatures it forecasted. He was surprised at the dryness of the air and, looking up through the porch’s woven awning, saw only a few patchy cirrus clouds. This bothered him. Without the cooling rains, harvesting under the 160 degree sun at mid-day would be awful. He thanked Primar that his skin had purpled quickly this season.

He jogged across the dusty yard between the harvester’s quarters and the mess hall. His feet smarted initially, but he soon felt their tar glands ooze out enough of the sticky substance to cool them. As he burst past the mess hall’s hanging mat for a door, his nose was assailed with the scent of
charred flesh and mildew. Half of the plantation’s harvesters were seated at long wooden tables gorging themselves on what appeared to be a paste made of ground swervahs grain and fried strips of grastuh meat.

Pere understood their rush and hurried into the line of men waiting to be served. The food today seemed fairly good, but that was not what impelled him. It was what the master gave the harvesters after they arrived at the fields that he most wanted. The leaf. The line inched along, but eventually he would have it.

Pere waited impatiently and finally was given his food. He dropped into the nearest seat and began to gobble it. Within minutes, the tray lacked any trace of the “morning’s delight,” as the bosses put it. Pere leapt up and moved to drop his tray in the barrel of water at the door and get to the Q’jall fields.

When he arrived, panting, at the harvester’s stopping place the night before, Pere saw others already fighting for position in line to get their leaves and begin picking. The field master stood on the back of the huge Hover-carrier, the vehicle whose four Galactic ton bed the harvesters would have to try to fill. Beside the master sat an enticing pile of Q’jall leaves. Pere stared hungrily at the pile as he moved into line. He could almost taste the sour juice. He could feel the familiar tingles in his mouth….

His back broke his trance with a preliminary little jolt of spasming. Pere anxiously surveyed the line. Nearly all of his group of pickers had arrived; soon his torturous wait would end.

As if cued by Pere’s cravings, the master passed the top leaf to the first man in line. The man jammed it into his mouth and began chewing vigorously. The master struck the man with his energy prod, barking, “Not so fast, warth! If you collapse out there, don’t plan on getting back up!” The man obligingly began the accepted, bovine chewing taught by the masters. He was, however, already beginning to smile, and he seem to be moving jerkily as he shouldered his pick-sack and walked into the fields. One by one, each harvester was handed a leaf, and he would head for the fields chewing the precious plant.

At about half way through the stack of leaves, Pere stepped up to face the master and be given his leaf. The master started to hand it to him, but then stopped, much to Pere’s disappointment, and stared at him.

“Ah, yes…Pere,” said the tall, pressure-suited man. “I shouldn’t even give you this, what with all the extra leaf you ate yesterday!” Pere froze, terrified. He had thought that his pilfering had gone unnoticed. He cringed, apologetically, praying to Primar that he not be denied his leaf. “If I catch you stealing Q’jall today, I will see that you are cut off from future rations. You would not like that, would you, Pere?”

“No, field master,” Pere squeaked. His stomach and back tightened more, as if to emphasize his response.

“Then don’t do it, warth!” the master bellowed, tossing Pere’s leaf to the ground. Pere stooped down, retrieved it, and placed it in his mouth. The flood of sour juices nearly gagged him, but they quickly numbed his taste buds. He walked, chewing, into the huge waving field of Q’jall, and the near magical effects of the leaf began to come.

 

Despite the dryness of the previous night and morning, there was a good harvest on the plants after all. The plants were covered with large, dark red leaves and fluffy yellow flowers. The masters panted only the flowers and the darkest of the leaves. These were the most valuable off-world. Although Pere knew that purchasers of the Q’jall rarely chewed the stuff like the harvesters, he was not certain of how the powerful drug was ingested. He had heard rumors that off-worlders stuck patches soaked in some extract of the plant on their skin, but he would never try that. Pickers were warned to wear gloves when working, and he could only assume that was to avoid skin contact with the juice. This, actually, he knew was the reason, because once a friend of his had died from picking all day without gloves on. How his friend had lost them, he could only guess.

Pere began to pick his row of Q’jall, pondering the nature of the plant, just as his leaf began to say hello to him. He chewed and chewed, picking flowers and choice leaves as he went. Soon, he realized he was speeding up his motions. Typical. He picked faster and faster, pausing only to drink from his water bottle. His hands started to blur, but he knew his speed had peaked. He had been a harvester for many years; he knew his pace. The leaf could be thanked for the blur, which was slowly getting longer and longer. Within an hour after starting, he was an eighth or so of the way through his row and he could see the complete path his hands took from plant to bag and back to plant.

The sun was bearing down hard now, and the temperature had risen to about 120. Pere, however, was oblivious to the heat… and to the building clouds. He had become a picking machine; his actions were lightning quick and sure. He had fallen into rhythm and his mind began to float on the Q’jall. He thought of his parents.

They died in the wars over this planet between the Atatians and the Rumares. They had wanted to leave the planet and were saving up to do so when the wars broke out. Pere remembered the looks of terror on their faces as the Atatians, garbed in their strange pressure suits and armed with concussion rifles, marched into his home village, pulverizing its inhabitant’s bodies with their brutal blasts. Pere brushed the chilling image aside as he glanced at an ulooloo bird flying overhead. He saw it as a spacer streaking to some distant galaxy with his leaves. He hated the ulooloo. The leaves he picked were his, damn it! Those warths off-world should come down here and pick their own, if they wanted it so bad! He reached out and plucked a deep red, almost purple, leaf and, looking hurriedly around, defiantly stuffed it into his mouth to join the gummy leaf already there.

He began picking again, gnawing on the new leaf. He swallowed frequently, impatient for the next rush. He was not kept waiting long. The field seemed to swim about him in the wind. The sky darkened as clouds built, yet Pere saw everything become brighter. The blood color of the leaves seemed to leap off of them and the yellow flowers all developed faces. The faces regarded him, grinning sardonically.

“So, think you can handle more, huh, warth?” one of the faces asked.

“I did yesterday,” Pere replied obstinately.

“Oh, right! Weren’t you the one that field master Domery was yelling at about that? My brothers,” the flower said to the other faces, “perhaps we should call field master Domery and tell him.”

“N-no! Please!” Pere begged, but the flowers had already begun hailing Domery. They alternated between yelling for the master to come and jeering accusations at him. He snatched them off the plant in an effort to silence them. Their dying screams echoed in his head.

“Great Primar, but you’re a brute!”

Pere looked to the voice’s origin, but saw only a mouse, seated at the base of a Q’jall stalk knitting three-toed socks. It looked at him pityingly.

“I’m supposed to,” Pere responded, but the mouse said nothing; it just kept knitting. “Damned fool mouse,” he muttered and resumed picking. The flowers had quit yelling and simply cowered, frightened. Pere laughed to himself as he viciously plucked them. “This’ll teach you to try to get me in trouble. You’re mine for the taking,” he said venomously. As he reached out to pluck the next leaf, he noticed something wrong with his glove. He distractedly picked a couple of flowers, then looked down at the glove’s palm in which they lay. He realized that it had lost the look of grastuh hide and now resembled steely pressure suit gloves. Puzzled, he glanced at the flowers’ now cadaverous faces. They resembled… no, they were his mother and father’s faces.

Horrified, Pere stuffed the buds into his sack. When he withdrew his hand, his glove was its normal, brown, stained self. The flowers on the plants had resumed their normal appearances as well.

“Strong Q’jall,” Pere muttered to himself. His hands began their streaking ministrations once more.

 

As quickly as the sun crossed the sky, Pere moved along his row. The building clouds had threatened to break earlier, but now, with two hours until dusk, were firmly blanketing the sky. Around mid-day, Pere had decided to curb a slight hunger with a small portion of Q’jall. Now, as the wind picked up and shook the plants to life, he could feel a building oppression in the air. The Q’jall’s waltz seemed to sway towards him, threatening to absorb him into their midst. Then, the plants relaxed their assault on Pere and began to bow, rhythmically, towards the sun. Pere ceased trying to pick the now frantic plants and turned to face the object of their supplication. The sun’s glow through the clouds seemed to grow in size, and the winds from it swelled further.

Quite suddenly then, the sun blinked out, the winds died, and an inch of rain dropped. Pere mimicked the Q’jall in squatting to the ground beneath the heavens’ aquatic onslaught. He cowered in fear for several moments before the memory of his task found its way back into his consciousness

Pere rose to a half-stand and resumed his methodical pickings. He went but a few meters down his row before he stumbled over something and fell into the thickening mud. He pushed himself up onto his elbows and peered back, nearly blinded by water, to regard what tripped him. It appeared to be a large purple foot. Not large, but colossal, in fact. As his gaze traced up the purple leg connected to the foot, his vision blurred for a moment. Then, a hazy ray of sunlight found a hole in the blanketing clouds, and his eyes snapped back into precise focus. He realized to what the Q’jall were bowing. He found himself regarding Primar.

The towering figure had to be Primar, so regal was his bearing, so mightily he stood gazing down at the smaller Rumare. Pere could only stare back, dumbfounded. The Q’jall, now, so ruled his psyche that he no longer acknowledged its presence. For him, he was now seeing his god. He quickly responded by dropping flat to the ground. He bowed, fearing to meet Primar’s stare.

“Why do you grovel before me so?” Pere nearly swooned. The High One spoke to him! Him! A lowly harvester. “Well…?”

“I…I fear your visit forebodes ill omen, High Primar,” Pere responded.

“When has the presence of Primar forecast thus? I am of your people. I come for you.”

“No…not to take me away!” Pere shook with fear and felt a frosty hand grip his stomach.

“Not FOR you; in your favor, Pere. I have been here for your people, our people, for eons. I have seen our planet’s plight. I know your suffering, I feel it. It should end.”

“Will you destroy the Atatians?”

“Feel you not the emptiness about you?” Pere noticed that, despite the rain and wind, the fields seemed remarkably still. He rose to his full height to look over the Q’jall. He saw no one. No Atatians or harvesters.

“Have you sent them away?” Pere felt his face flush with joy. His heart raced in excitement. He, for the first time in so many years, felt the burden of laboring for the Atatians lifted. He had almost forgotten, or grown to accept, the harshness of his conditions until, in retrospect, he now viewed their basic cruelty from the lofty height of freedom. The Rumare were once again a free people. The full weight of this realization buoyed Pere’s emotions even higher. He began to shout praises to Primar as the smiling god faded from view.

The Q’jall then, predictably, dropped Pere. He was asleep before he hit the ground.

 

A pain. A pain… in his side. That is what pulled Pere from the depths of the dreamworld. In his dreams, he roamed the fields, talking and dancing with other Rumare. He felt elated and content. Even though he knew it was a dream, he was assured—by Primar himself, no less!—that his dream life was a reflection of his long forgotten, but newly regained, way of life. He eagerly awaited the next day, but was content with the sleep. That is why the pain in his side was such a bother. More than a bother, now, for the next pulse from the master’s energy prod was of a far greater voltage. Pere convulsed upward into a nearly seated position, arms flailing about for purchase and eyes bugging.

Over Pere stood field master Domery and three lesser bosses. Domery glared down at him.

“Well, now, Pere… You seem to have fallen asleep,” the master’s hollow, echoing voice stated from within his pressure suit. “Have you any particular explanation for your slumber, warth? Up too late last night?”

“N… no, uh, field master,” Pere groggily stuttered. “Uh, I mean ‘yes,’ field master.” Pere waited for the inevitable.

“LIES! ALL LIES!” the field master screamed, fogging his helmet’s visor. “You’ve been in the Q’jall, eating stock! Holper,” he beckoned one of the waiting bosses, “He is to be restricted from any more leaf and kept in the watched fields. If there are any more transgressions…,” and here Domery savored Pere’s anxiety before continuing, “…have him dig himself a grave and kill him.” With a flourish, Domery spun on his heels and stepped onto his Hoverboard. The boss named Holper manacled Pere and began leading him out of the fields as Domery soared away.

Pere was put into an individual cell not even large enough in which to lie flat. He was told, as Holper turned the latch to his door, to expect no evening meal as further punishment. He could, however, look forward to “morning’s delight” before beginning work in the guarded fields. Oh, and without any Q’jall. As the light in the hall switched off, Pere slumped into a ball in the corner—and center—of his room and waited for the back pains to come. If he was lucky, they would wait until morning.

Affidavit Of The Defendant

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Jan 151989
 

Affidavit – Criminal Court of Oslo, Norway

The following testimony of Richard Straffborn, accused of murder in the first degree,
in the case of Norway vs Straffborn, case number CC-113/092189
is hereby given freely, under oath, on this the Nineteenth of September, 1989.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, though I realize that my future—nay, my very life—rests upon the proceedings there today in your esteemed courtroom, I fear that I will be unable to attend the trial on my behalf. To step out of the confining safety of these hard bars would mean my certain destruction, as you may soon understand if you will keep open minds and read this testimony with unprejudiced eyes. The tale I have to tell of the events of July 19, 1987 is one of dark history and the folly of the naive. Much, though, leads up to the crescendo for which I must bear witness; the recounting of it all is crucial for your understanding.

On May 5, 1987, the archaeological book concerning Ardurst Castle was reopened by an student of Norwegian history named Josh Sturguild. It seems the boy, in his curious studies of the more arcane and mysterious pages of this land’s past, uncovered references to the ancient owner of the keep, Anathor the Outcast, in those yellowed records. The information he uncovered told of the expulsion from court suffered by Anathor, once a powerful and respected advisor to the thirteenth century King of Norway, Olag. It was here, however, that the name Anathor disappears from the annals of time… until about forty years ago. If you will recall, Ardurst Castle was discovered, in ruins, in 1946. A fisherman out of Belivack noticed the main tower of the structure peeking over the crest of a cliff along the shore of northwest Norway, near the Russian border. Though the scientific community was in as much disarray as every other element of society following the second World War, a team was dispatched by the NAC—the Norwegian Archaeological Community—to set up a dig there.

As a purely inquisitive venture, the dig was a striking success. The existence of such an isolated, yet strong and obviously self-sufficient, miniature fiefdom surprised the NAC’s team. To enumerate the many finds would require, essentially, rewriting the 127-page report which the team eventually submitted to the NAC after “completing” their study. Suffice it to say that the centuries-dead owner was a learned, just, and intelligent man. His name, they discovered, was Anathor: a personality unheard of until Sturguild’s hapless discovery.

Josh was one of my students at Middlesex at the time of his findings. Knowing that I hold a profound interest in Mideval history, he came to me to tell of the connection Anathor had with the old Norwegian court. A great connection it was, too; Anathor’s past and therefore Castle Ardurst’s prenatal history was a grand curiosity among scholars of such musty things. Needless to say, my imagination was sparked by the boy’s report. Unfortunately, being still a fledgling in matters of comprehensive research, he failed to reveal the whole story behind Anathor, or, more specifically, Anathor’s expulsion from Olag’s court. It, therefore, took me nearly a week of tedious cross-analysis and historical backtracking to procure the complete history. It seems that Anathor was involved in experimentation with mystic or magical forces which Olag could not accept or comprehend. His departure was not the expulsion of a counselor fallen from favour, but rather the banishment of a feared “warlock.”

I am not certain at what point I was enchanted by the mystery and intriguing implications of my study. I only know that, once finished with it, my resolve to journey to Norway to conduct my own research on site was adamant. I hurriedly contacted my friends Doctors Kierkegard Brozney and Henreich Dovensh and, having told them of my findings, asked them to travel from their respective countries to meet me at the closed site. They agreed to the importance of further investigation—Henreich especially—and we arranged for Kierkegard to travel from Poland to meet Henreich and myself there in ten days, on May 22. I, myself, traveled then to West Germany to join forces with Dr. Dovensh. Together, we journeyed by train, auto, and foot until at last, on May 23, we stood on a bluff locked in perpetual conflict with the Arctic Sea and overlooked Ardurst Castle.

The weathered keep stood upon a craggy, broken cliff nestled in a wide, south-facing notch. My heart leapt immediately; the cracked, brown photos from the Forties’ dig had done little to exhibit the exquisite architecture and ingenious design of the fortress. The rock notch’s north wall defended the rear of the castle, thus explaining the lack of defensive emphasis back there, while the steepness of the slope leading up to the fore provided certain security from the rush of hordes. Viewing this awesome spectacle, I could little comprehend the archaeological evidence I had read, as well as obvious visual evidence, that the place had been besieged and over-run.

“I wonder at the magnitude of the army which brought down that place,” I commented to my German companion as we descended down to the ridge joining our bluff with the cliffs. He did not immediately reply, though, as he was lost in distant thoughts, his gaze locked upon the keep. I knew not to bother him further, for the many years of friendship we shared taught me to recognize this, his far-staring, glassy scrutiny. You see, Dr. Henreich Dovensh was, aside from being a noted Euro-Slavic historian, a great sage in arcane matters. He exhibited unparalleled prowess in parapsychological and paranormal comprehension and ability. You may scoff… but I knew him. He was gifted in ways of which the average man merely dreams. It was for this reason that I had invited him to join us, considering the curious facts of Anathor’s past. I felt he might notice evidence of the mystical before a historian or a linguist.

In time, we reached the base of the slope which vaulted up to the bailey and moat of the structure. From this nearer vantage, the cracks rending the exterior walls resembled great slashes in the hard stone.

“Those cracks, there, Henreich… Something is strange about them.”

My friend returned from his mental “wanderings” and looked towards me with a curious expression on his face.

“Why do you say that?”

“Well,” I replied, “if the place was besieged as the NAC dig supposedly revealed, wouldn’t the cracks cleave inward?”

“That is your field, friend. I could not say.”

“Yes… yes…. Well, these cracks appear to yield outward, and directly from the ground. How could this be? Or, rather, how could this have gone unmentioned by the NAC?”

“Why don’t we head up and check it out ourselves? I’m anxious to see Kierkegard, anyway.”

We began the wearisome trudge up the rise, our feet skittering and sliding out from beneath us with each step. Before too long, we gained the top and stood beneath the tall, dark, basalt walls and parapets. Even in the failing light of coming evening, the walls’ rifts revealed themselves to be protruding both out and inward and beginning at ground level.

“If I did not know better,” I proclaimed, “I would swear that these cracks were seismic in origin.”

“What, precisely, is your ‘better’ knowledge? Forty year old reports from rushed Norwegian geologists?”

The truth of Donvensh’s statements was, as usual, incorrigible. The NAC team had been hard-pressed to wrap up the dig, though for what reason, no text could say.

“But no fault lines lie along this coast.”

“At least, no tectonic fault lines…,” Henreich replied cryptically before lapsing into another trance-like silence. Shrugging, I reached into my pack for a lamp, but found I did need it. A yellow glow slipped around the edge of the fallen front gate to bathe the two of us in light.

“Always a day late, Richard. Never a pound short, though, eh?”

The glare of the lamp flashed into my eyes, blinding me, though I needed no vision to recognize the man behind it.

“Kierkegard!” I cried, striding toward him. “I must beg your apology, noble Pole, for I fear that our rental gave us a bit of trouble in Grathnow. We would have—”

“Offer no excuse, mate,” he interrupted, “the spare day has not been an idle one for me! I’ve something quite interesting to show you, come morning. For now, though, enter, enter. I’ve set up camp in the courtyard; some bean stew is burning as we speak.” He ushered me past the gate, then turned back to Henreich, who was staring, apparently unseeing, at the ground before the walls. “You also, old friend. Leave your augury to come sit by the stove. I’ve need of your special advice this evening.”

Starting as one frightened out of a deep sleep by a nightmare’s terror, Henreich looked, wide-eyed, at Brozney.

“Uh, yes… of… of course,” he answered. Then, a smile smoothed his previously drawn and worried visage. “Although I worry about your infamous bean stew.”

Later, reclining comfortably about a small fire and enjoying the aftertaste of the heavy dinner, our talk turned from the cheerful banter of reunited friends to the solemn discussion of professionals.

“Kierkegard, tell me of your findings,” I opened. “Are they anything new?”

“‘Are they anything new?’ Hah! You’d better believe they’re new. I don’t know how the NACs missed it—maybe they were too busy poking about for bright gold or antique blade—but at the rear of the main tower,” he pointed over his shoulder to the black cylinder jutting up against the dim sky, “I noticed some interesting runes written in an old Norwegian script.”

“What did they say?” asked Henreich, a curious glint in his eye.

“Essentially they were the equivalent of an ‘Authorized Personnel Only’ sign. What was so confusing about them was that they rested over a mound of rubble: fallen masonry from higher up the tower. Anyway, I spent all of today moving it out, and you’ll never guess what I found.”

A stillness had crept over the courtyard; not even the once-ceaseless howl of the offshore wind echoed through the area. I shifted uncomfortably, wanting the Pole to continue his narrative, yet inexplicably afraid to break the silence to encourage him. The others seemed to be equally affected by the foreboding quiet, and it was only after a long moment that Kierkegard resumed, in a hushed murmur, his story.

“There is a doorway, still locked, there. I’ll need your expertise to get it open,” he said, looking to me. The strange dread again brushed my heart. I shrank away, inside, from the request.

Then, feeling quite silly at being spooked by the Pole, I loudly proclaimed, “Certainly, certainly! We tackle it first thing in the morning.” I then, with much bluster and pomp, commenced curling up in my sleeping bag. “Good night, lads!” I said, looking at each. Kierkegard smiled and nodded, but when I looked to Henreich, I met only that piercing gaze of his, the one that feels like it is boring into one’s very soul. I glanced away after being momentarily transfixed by the depth of his eyes, the purity of their blue. “G’night, Dr. Dovensh,” I mumbled.

“Try to sleep well, Richard,” he whispered.

For a time, the camp was quiet; then, comfortingly, the wind’s cry returned, filling the dark vessel of silence. The other two spoke softly for a bit about the evolution of the dialect used in this area of Norway, but after a brief, pensive lull in the discussion, Kierkegard skipped to a different subject.

“You know something of the nature of dreams, don’t you?” he asked Henreich.

“Something about some types of dreams, though I don’t want to hear the sordid details of your latest REM romance.”

The Polish linguist laughed hollowly; it failed in the air, dropping to a nervous chuckle and finally dying in a long pause. “No… no, it’s nothing that… good, I fear. You see, Henri, I had a pretty bad… uh, I guess, nightmare last night.”

“Why do you ‘guess’ it was a nightmare?”

“It seemed so… real… or surreal. It was simply unlike any dream I’ve had in my life. The intensity….”

There was a long pause during which, though my back was to the men and the fire, I was certain that Kierkegard was under one of the Guru’s piercing stares.

“What happened?” the German eventually muttered.

“Well, it’s not quite clear to me. All that I remember is terror… and pain… searing, frigid pain. And I couldn’t wake up, Henri! I was… trapped… doomed. I was helpless.”

Throughout this discourse, Kierkegard’s voice had developed a tremble, and the closing “helpless” came out as a squeak, his voice cracking. A thrill ran down my spine; I empathized with the Pole; I chilled at the imagining of anything which could so shake the unflappable, ever-jovial Brozney.

I heard then a rustle from where Henreich sat and heard him say, in a intoned, uninflected voice, “It is no more; it is not real. Sleep.”

I softly rolled over to see him leaning towards Kierkegard. His right arm was outstretched, the fingertips of its hand rested lightly on the Pole’s forehead. Beneath them, Kierkegard’s eyelids had begun to droop and, within seconds, he slumped slowly sideways and lay still on his blanket. Henreich covered him, then laid down himself and, humming his mantra softly in his chest, he drifted off.

I awoke the next morning in shadow, though bright blue sky smiled over the walls. The day was no more than an hour old, meaning I had slept but six or seven hours. I, nonetheless, felt curiously refreshed—as if rousing from one of those Sunday twelve-hour sleeps—and, though I remembered the previous night’s talk, I could hearken no dream to the forefront of my mind.

Henreich was still in the same position in which he had fallen asleep, but his eyes were now open and his light gaze rested upon my rising form. The air of mystery from the previous evening was burned away like the moors’ fog, and I asked him, jokingly, about his “magic trick.”

He looked thoughtfully at me for a heartbeat or three, then asked, “Why don’t you ask Broz about that?”

I shook the snoring Pole out of his slumber, greeting him to the new day. He was slow to awaken, but once he did, his eyes shone brightly and a grand, silly smile bloomed on his face.

“Ingred came to me last night. Wonderful as ever, she was.”

Laughing, we began preparing breakfast. The darkness, the silence, and their numbing grip fled to catch their departed mother, Night.

We cooked and ate quickly, and while we were busy cleaning up the dirties, I ventured a suggestion.

“Well, what say we do a survey of the rear courtyard and towers; try to find something of interest?”

Henreich looked at me and said, “No, I think we need to look into Kierkegard’s door.”

To this day, I know not if I had forgotten about the discovery or had merely hidden it from myself. A brief revulsion at its mention, though, stirred my breakfast. Yet the sun shone now, warm upon my bald, scientific head; I cheerfully consented, and the three of us shouldered our daypacks and headed for the high wall dividing the fore and rear courtyards.

The back yard was a far worse sight to behold than the one in which we camped. Much more evidence of the raiders’ destruction was revealed by stone piles and, strangely enough, jagged crevices which broke the dirt and rock ground into four islands. The northeast tower was no more; strife and time had reduced it to boulder, rubble, and dust.

Kierkegard led us around the curve of the center tower to a large stone door recessed into the corner where the tower and east wall met.

“Here it is,” the linguist said. “Notice the writing above it? Though the message is clear enough—to one who understands it, of course—the etching seems a bit extravagant, eh? I suppose its merely the engraver’s flourish.”

“I don’t think so, Doctor,” said Henreich. His face was chiseled into stern concentration, an unnerving duplicate of the classical mask of Banquo’s ghost in theatre. He reached up to trace the swirls of the rune, but sharply retracted his hand upon touching them. “No, no. Most definitely something more. I think we should proceed with extreme caution, gentlemen. These words do not offer a shallow warning.”

“Well, whatever you think is best, Herr Doktor,” I replied, feeling more than a little exasperated by his theatrics over something so straight-forward. I stepped up to examine the lock and hinges of the portal. “It opens out, so I anticipate stairs beyond. The lock is quite amazingly preserved; must be something in the air.”

“Right, salt…,” the German mumbled with the tone I knew he reserved for children and “non-believers.”

Undaunted, though resentful of his condescension, I reached into my bag for a lockpick and screwdriver. After about fifteen minutes of fruitless struggle with the lock, I cast down the pick in disgust and, proclaiming the lock’s tumblers to be rusted, I dug into my pack for a chisel and mallet. A sigh escaped Henreich’s lips, and with an effort I suppressed the urge to lay into him and his mystical mumbo-jumbo. After a few moments of chipping at the doorjamb, I was able to break out the bolt’s slot. It was with a smug smile of success that I turned away from the effectively unlocked door to face the two men.

Henreich’s face clouded upon seeing my smile, and Kierkegard seemed suddenly quite interested in a bit of mortar protruding from the wall.

“After you, O Cautious One,” I sniggered. The German stepped up to the door and, grasping its ring, hauled it wide.

The first thing which I noticed was the stench that billowed out of the dark beyond the portal. Its fetid talons snatched out at the pit of my stomach, twisting and clawing my gut without remorse. I remember Dovensh retching and doubling over, crying out something about death. The fear which had but visited me the previous night assumed residence in my heart; and there was a moment where, had my reason not been my master, I would have turned and ran the entire route back to London.

Covering my nose with a kerchief, I stepped up abreast of Henreich and peered down into the gloom. For down it was, because beyond the thick oaken door was a spiral staircase boring into the rocky ground. The air in the stairway carried a cold moisture which, even under the late spring sun, clung uncomfortably to my skin and felt as if Death himself had wrapped his heavy cloak about me. Brozney drew an electric torch from his pack and stepped around us to shine it on the stone steps. They were smoothly chiseled, polished, and surprisingly clean.

“Hmmm, friends,” said Kierkegard. “Shall we descend?”

No was whole-heartedly my vote, but I feared embarrassment more than the unknown, so I nodded quickly. Henreich’s response was to step through the door and begin walking softly downward. Brozney followed, and I took the rear, feeling quite reluctant to leave the sun’s shining gaze for the lamp’s hazy glow.

The stairs twisted down for many steps, soon passing the line of permafrost and still winding towards Hell. Part of my mind tried to keep count of the stairs—for the record—but the building reek of decay and increasing chill smothered my attention. Each step down, I could feel, brought me closer to something unspeakable. I was about to suggest abandoning the whole thing when I noticed the echo of our steps swell and saw Dovensh step onto a level floor. I reached his side, and in the dim yellow light, I saw the chamber into which we had arrived.

It was but a short room—almost a hall—running away from the stair’s exit and ending, thirty feet away, in the most amazing set of doors which I had ever seen.

The double doors stood nearly eight feet high and seemed to be made of solid, polished steel. A brass ring was set in the center of each door, and intricate engravings coiled out from their fastenings like the serpents of Medusa’s hair. Most of the etchings appeared to be just decoration, yet some consisted of what obviously were runes. It was these features that made up the doors’ creation; more still made up their present form. Along the seam of the steel slabs there was a dried line of red wax, completely covering it. Furthermore, scrawled runes blazed in some kind of yellow paint on each door. My gaze drank in the scene of these doors in an instant then traveled right with the beam of Brozney’s torch to fall upon the cause of the room’s stench. Lying prostrate against the right wall was the remains of a man, wrapped in a purple and white robe. Henreich strode up to the body and rolled it over to expose the face.

The face was exposed… twice. First when Donvensh turned it; the second time when the head, which separated from the body, complete one roll across the floor.

Kierkegard dropped to his knees, tears dampenning his eyelids, and began mumbling some Polish prayer. Henreich stared at the corpse for a moment; I stared at him. He looked to me, a frightening, stern expression on his face. He then turned to the kneeling Brozney, placing a hand on his shoulder.

“Come, Kierkegaard, can you weep so for such an ancient death?”

Looking up with shining eyes, the Pole replied, “When unconsecrated, yes!” He cast his gaze downward again, and shrouded it with respectful eyelids. He continued his prayer, shifting at one point to Latin. I was recovering from the gruesome shock by this point; and though none too steady yet, I was intrigued by the massive doors and what untouched mysteries they so stolidly interred.

“Hey, so what have we here… other than preserved organic material? No offense Broz.”

I stepped up to the wanly shimmerring brass and picked at a hardenned rivulet of wax.

A slight shock stung my fingertip just as Dovensch bellowed, “STOP THAT NOW, RICHARD STRAFFBORN!”

I froze with surprise, whether at the shock—which I presumed to be static—or at Henreich’s harsh words, I am not sure. Then I bristled.

“Just who are you to order me around, Doktor Dovensch?” I snapped, turning on my heels.

“The one you invited to advise you on paranormal phenomena, Doctor Straffborn,” he replied calmly, if a bit coldly. “That wax is a material focus for a psionic seal on this door. You distub it and those yellow wards on the doors’ faces will have their way with your body and leave it a little, smouldering cinder slowly cooling and dampenning on this chamber floor.”

The chamber suddenly seemed quite cloistering, stifling.

“Conversely,” he continued, “if you disturb said wards, the seal will flare, heat, and weld these doors permanently closed, probably also impacting your body and ours in much the way the wards would, only incidentally.” He must have seen my apprehension, for a long, quiet, low laugh echoed from his broad chest. He was not, however, smiling.

“Well,” I retorted weakly, “I don’t know if I believe all that, Henreich. I invited you here for your knowledge of folklore”—I was lying now to save face—”but, just in case you’re right….” I stepped to one side to let Dovensch through to further inspect his hoodoo.

He peered closely, his nose inches from the wax, eyes squinting tightly. I realized, after a moment, that he had shut his eyes. He hummed quietly to himself, a rhythmic throb that seemed to amplify, though I knew it did not. It got warmer… from our body heat, no doubt.

Suddenly, Henreich stood, knuckled his eyes and behind his temples, stretched, then turned to me and said, “You may remove the wax now and begin working on the locks on the door. I’m going to get some air.” He stepped over to Brozney, who all the while had been watching the two of us as if we were playing tennis. “If you would like to come along, Kierkegaard, bring the remains as well and I will assist in their burial once I’ve rested a bit.”

Brozney nodded after glancing red-eyed at me. He seemed to be somehow apprehensive of me, perhaps because of my outburst, my strangled outburst….

To quell this, I cried, “I’ll be up once the doors are unlocked, lads! We’ll all relax a bit and have a bite, eh?” I heard the quiver in my voice, and was embarrassed.

But my collegues looked back at the stair bottom and smiled calmly at me, nodding slightly.

“Yes, Richard,” said Brozney. “But don’t be too long, alright. This place is doing more than ‘preserve organic matter.'”

Their light swam around the stairs’ centerpost, faded to brown shadows. The echo of their footsteps blended with the occassional drip of white damp, then died.

.
. [Work In Progress]
.

Signed,
Dr. Richard Straffborn

Witnessed by,
David Artman

The Cottontail Legacy: Part II

 Fiction, Writing  Comments Off on The Cottontail Legacy: Part II
Nov 221987
 

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, there was a rabbit by the name of Paul Cottontail. If you think you’ve heard the name “Cottontail” before, you probably have. The illustrious Peter Cottontail was the great rabbit who, against the warnings and instructions of his mother, infiltrated Farmer John’s garden to swipe some “easy” grub. Well, Paul Cottontail is Peter The Great’s (as he had been called) son.

Paul was always very proud of his father. However, there was one thing about him that tended to bother Paul. It seems that Dear Ol’ Dad had somewhat glorified the original story of his narrow escape from death by hoeing to the point that he’d actually subdued Farmer John with his fighting prowess and had enjoyed the garden at his leisure. This fabrication really was not so bad, but it tended to make Paul feel like he was never “his father’s son.” Every time he would meet somebody around the warren, they’d always ask, “How’s that father of yours, Paul?” never “How have YOU been, Paul?” Therefore, Paul wanted very much to be a hero himself, instead of the son of one. One day, he finally figured out how.

Paul’s basic plan was simple. He’d duck into the garden, hop about a bit to prove his bravery, then grab a carrot or some lettuce and bolt. He was lucky in that he had inside information about Farmer John’s garden from one who should know: his father. However, he had to be clever and eke information from his father without arousing his suspicions (for were Peter to know of his intentions, Paul would never be let out of his sight again). This task proved to be more difficult than Paul expected. The actual truth about his father’s actions had been so muddled in exaggerations and half truths that he was only able to glean a piddling few true facts. One was that the gate to the garden was just high enough for a slight rabbit to squeeze under, and this gate led right to the cabbage section. Also, he learned that, since his father’s escape, the farmer had acquired a dog.

Paul was unsatisfied by these few solid givens, so he decided to embark on a simple reconnaissance mission one afternoon. By ambling along the chicken-wired picket fence, he was able to discern that Farmer John’s dog was a tired, mangy old Setter who answered to the name “Fritz.” As for the space under the gate, barbed coils had been affixed to the gate bottom. He also noticed that there were some curious lumps just inside the gate and down the garden rows. Oily-smelling lumps. When there seemed to be nothing more to learn, Paul hopped home to mule over his findings. He figured that some specialized help would be needed, so he decided to take a chance and confide in his friend Guido.

Now Guido was a strange kind of rabbit. He kept to himself and had no friends other than Paul. This had something to do with his favorite hobby: Human Warfare. Paul moseyed over to his den and told Guido his plan and what he had discovered on his preliminary cruise by the garden.

“Hmmm,” Guido mused, “I don’t like the sound of this P. What about these ‘lumps?'”

“C’mon, I’ll show you,” said Paul, and they hurried to the garden gate. Night had fallen, and the gibbous moon illuminated the area fairly well. The two rabbits arrived on the scene, and Guido scrutinized the lumps as closely as possible.

“Just as I thought,” he said, “Anti-personnel, pressure- sensitive incendiaries. Mines. Are you sure you want to do this, Paul? Those things’ll blow you to the moon!”

“Yes, I want to do this. But what can I do about these mine things and the barbed wire under here,” replied Paul, pointing at the bottom of the gate.

“Well,” Guido replied, “the wire is easy. I could loan you some cutters for that. But the mines… those you’ll have to just avoid. It should be a snap. It doesn’t look nearly as tough as everyone makes it out to be!”

“Yeah, well just don’t get any ideas!”

“Oh, not me! I wouldn’t want to take even the little risk there is. By the way, what plans do you have for the pooch?”

“Oh him! He’s nothing. He’ll probably be asleep tomorrow afternoon when I do it.”

“Good… good.” And with that they returned home to bang out the final plans.

The next afternoon the area outside of the garden fence was swarming with bunnies from everywhere. It seemed that Guido had informed all of the nearby warrens of “Paul the Dauntless’s attempt on The Garden.” Tickets were only half-a-root and tee shirts were available. Guido had assumed managerial control of our contender and was now standing in the bushes by the gate, working crowd control. Off by the side of the fence stood Paul’s father and mother, looking angry and worried, respectively. Paul, however, was nowhere to be seen; but then again, the designated hour had not yet arrived.

Finally, the crowd’s buzzing, like a wave, began ceasing as Paul came strolling nonchalantly down the gate path.

He was laden with a variety of accoutrements. Over his shoulder was slung a pair of binoculars; on his back was a metal detector; and in his hands, a large pair of wire cutters. The area fell completely silent as Paul stepped up to the gate. He dropped to his knees and quietly began cutting away the barbed coils. He looked up and saw that Fritz had raised his head from his paws and fixed a bored stare upon Paul. He tried not to falter under the dog’s scrutiny as he carefully pulled away the wire. Handing the cutters to Guido, he dropped prone and surveyed the garden with the binoculars.

“C’mon, Paul,” whispered Guido urgently, “Everybody’s waiting.”

Paul looked at the rabbits hiding in the brush by the path. He noticed his father staring intently at him, his expression one of anger and great anxiety. Paul shrugged off the gnawing fear in his gut, ignoring his screaming instincts for the sake of glory, and removed the detector from his back. He slid it under the gate and wiggled after it. Fritz perked up enough to almost get up when Paul stood, took the detector in hand, put on the large earphones, and began gingerly walking toward the cabbage, swinging the detector to and fro before him. He advanced all of the way to the first vegetables with no incidents. Fritz continued to half-stand as Paul looked around and bent to pluck the first leaf.

Just as he touched the head, Fritz let out a yelp/howl, claxons began “whoop-whooping,” sirens screamed, and bells clanged. Paul spun and began to clamber and stumble back to the gate, tangling in his equipment.

The back door of Farmer John’s house banged open.

Paul scrabbled closer to the gate and the faces of his family pressed against the wire. However, just as he was about to scoot under, bars sprang up from under the ground, lining the garden’s perimeter and imprisoning Paul. He fearfully turned back toward the house just in time to see Farmer John raise his rifle and fire.

Paul’s last thoughts, as he slid into oblivion, were “Damn! I knew I should’ve packed Guido’s .45”

MORAL: Anthropomorphism is silly… especially when applied to humans.

Commando

 Fiction, Writing  Comments Off on Commando
Sep 221987
 

I sat atop the bunker, silently surveying my surroundings. Nothing moved across the battleground save a few pigeons: carrion feeding on the fallen. Not a sound was carried upon the autumn breeze, but that was not surprising; the enemy was advancing from downwind.

Finding the silence quite unnerving and realizing that I was fairly visible, I jumped down from the Dumpster into a crouch. The stick slung over my shoulder scratched my cheek, drawing blood. Yet, so intense was my pursuit, I ignored the pain and focused my attention on the slight movement at the corner of the dilapidated, burned out hovel. My enemy, most hated foe, doer of evil deeds and war criminal who must be vanquished. I gripped my machine pistol more tightly and began advancing upon the villain’s hiding place. The closer I got, the more my insides churned and swirled, the more nervously excited I became. I reached the corner of the house, raised my pistol, and dived around the corner, gun blazing.

“Bu-du-du-du-du-dang!”

I saw the fiend’s eyes widen in surprise, then narrow in anger. He raised his machine gun and fired at me as I hit the ground.

“Ba-a-a-a-a-am! Gotcha!”

“Nu-uh, I had you before you even saw me!”

“Bull, man, you missed ’cause you was jumpin’! You’re dead, stupid!”

“You’re the one’s who’s dead, you cheater!” I yelled at him. He threw down his machine gun, causing the rotting stick to break.

“If you won’t play right and die, I quit!” And with that said, my best friend stalked angrily homeward. I turned; and, with the hose nozzle that had served as my pistol hanging loosely from my hand, I walked, victorious and defeated, towards the distant light shining into the deepening dusk. Headquarters.