Christmas Wish

Christmas Eve and the sky was threatening to snow.

Lester admitted to himself that he should be heading home as

he turned his beat up Honda civic into the parking lot of the

local watering hole. Lester, a blue collar worker with

Chenstar Inc., often frequented this particular bar on his

way home from work and several of the regulars called hello

as he came through the door. So what if it was Christmas

Eve, he just didn’t feel like going home right away and there

was no one there anyway.

Three beers into the evening, Lester was not too happy

with his life, and Christmas Eve historically made him

particularly cantankerous. He had always felt that something

was missing in his life and this time of year typically

brought these feelings closer to the surface. He generally

blamed this empty feelings on his childhood in the orphanage.

Othertimes he blamed the feeling on his poverty. Tonight,

looking into his sixth beer, he began to speculate that rich

people did not have this problem, especially not at

Christmas. Lester spent the evening lamenting all the things

he had never owned and all the people he had never met. He

was not happy when the barkeep said last call.

Trudging through the snow on the way to his car, an idea

struck Lester. He was just going to go see how all those

rich people spent Christmas Eve. The roads weren’t very good

and he wasn’t very sober at the time, but he managed to get

to Eastside where the really huge houses were. The blatant

display of multi-colored lights on all the houses, struck him

almost physically. The longer he drove the angrier he got.

Toward midnight, Lester came upon one house that stood

out from all the rest. Every straight edge of the house was

aglow with lines of tiny white lights. He drove past the

house, but for some reason those lights stuck in Lester’s

mind and without really thinking he turned back and pulled to

the side of the road and stopped the car across the house he

had seen. He sat in the car the longest time, just looking

at the house and thinking very heavy thoughts. He wondered

how these people were spending Christmas Eve.

Inside the house Stephen Wallace, of Wallace and Sons,

was also spending Christmas Eve alone. Stephen had long

since come to the conclusion that most people only tolerated

him because he was richer than God. He had spent his life

building his company, hoping to fill a gap he felt inside.

He had never had much luck at relating to people, as his ex

would attest, and he attributed this deficiency to his

childhood in an orphanage. His therapist had told him that

he was trying to compensate for his feeling of loneliness

with the security of money. Stephen had noted, with a

certain smugness, that the therapist had no trouble accepting

payment.

Stephen had decided to spend the evening with a cup of

Earl Grey tea, in front of the fire, curled up with a good

Louis Lamour book. Having lit the fire, and donned his

favorite smoking jacket, Stephen picked up his tea service

and headed for the living room.

Still sitting in his car, his judgment more than just a

bit clouded, Lester decided to go up and look in that window

and see what these folks were up to. Without thinking about

what he was doing, he headed across the snow choked street

and across the lawn to the house.

Inside the house, Stephen rounded the alcove wall and

happened to look out the window at the same instant Lester

looked up into the window, and for a split instant each man

was convinced that they are seeing their own reflections in

the window. Stephen and Lester are twins that had been

separated at birth. This is a common practice, at the time

of their adoption, since it is easier to adopt out single

children than it is to find homes for twins.

Lester standing in the snow looked up through the window

and saw his own face in a fine robe with a tea service in his

hands and a book under his arm. Stephen saw himself in

grubby clothes standing knee deep in snow, out in the

weather.

For an electrified instant they do not know if they are

seeing some sort of twisted reflection of themselves or

someone else.

When it occurred to them that they were facing strangers

Stephen ran back the alcove where the phone was and Lester

ran across the lawn and hid behind a hemlock. Both were

peeking around the edges, not quite sure what to do. Stephen

knew that he should call the police and Lester knew that he

should run, but curiosity had them both.

Both men were curious, both were afraid and neither knew

just what to do.

Stephen tried to think of a way to talk to this man

without risk. Lester wanted to see if the man in the house

was real.

Suddenly a delivery truck careened around the corner and

swerved on the icy road to miss Lester’s car. In slow motion

the huge vehicle jumped the sidewalk and crashed against the

short brick wall that separated Stephen’s yard from the

street. With a terrible screeching of metal against stone,

the truck came to rest against Stephen’s mailbox post.

Their fear forgotten, both Stephen and Lester ran to the

wrecked truck to see if they could help the driver. Lester

reached the truck first and climbed up into the cab. He

pulled the man, slumped over the wheel, into an upright

position and tried to talk to him. There was a rivulet of

blood trickling out of the truck driver’s mouth. Lester

shouted for Stephen to go to the house and call for an

ambulance and paramedics. In the darkness, both men worked

as a team and the paramedics told them later that their

combined effort was the only thing that had saved the truck

driver’s life.

As the wrecker pulled the truck from the mail post in

the breaking light of dawn, both Lester and Stephen regarded

each other and smiled.

“Can we go inside and put my fire to good use?” Stephen

asked.

“I believe I would like that,” Lester answered.

Star Troupers

“All who love are damned
Those who love actors. . .
doubly so”

~ Draven Chandler, Character Actor, Thespian Star Troupe Initiative

Chapter One ~ the Company

I suppose that in every story there must be a dramatic question. For Instance, ‘Can a troupe of re-purposed metamorph assassins effectively bring Central Human culture to the backwater planets of the Inner-Rim?’ Some of the auxiliary questions could be: ‘Can they do this better than the Droid Theatre troupes on Central?’, ‘Can they do this without being shot from the sky?’, ‘Can they do this without killing each other after months of ship time?’, or perhaps, “Can they do this without picking a random star and sailing off into the Vasty-Void, never to be seen again?’
Of course there was always the question of “Would it be a good idea to get these actors away from the centers of civilization? And then there were those unsubstantiated rumors that our troupe was nothing more than cadre of shape-shifting spies for Central. But I digress.
~
As we emerged from Geodesic Space the Citizens Armada of Eljera made its presence known in the form of planetary gnats swarming the IGS Parnassus, our ship.
I was allowed on the bridge to speak with the aboriginals, provided, of course, I didn’t touch anything or distract any of the crew who were engaged in the ‘important’ tasks.
Dwight Ikewater (ship’s Go-captain) was not involved with any of the important activities as we plunged toward the primary star. He leaned against the communication console while I dialed in the lead hornet in the swarm.
The ruddy face of the wing captain rezzed into view on the display. Our escort was of a stocky build with very odd hand manners, weird exaggerated mouth and lip movements, sneaky slit eyes and a mop of unkempt hair.
Dwight whispered, “It seems hygiene is something of a lost art on the Rim.”
I said, “Salutation and regards from the IGS Parnassus. We are pleased to make your acquaintance.”
“Now, just you hold back there a second, Mack.”
“Yes, I am holding.”
He seemed to be ruminating, then said, “We don’t need you here messing with our people.”
“Is there a problem?”
He said, “Yeah, we don’t want Central here.”
“OK. What do you suggest?”
“Turn around. . .”
Dwight nudged me aside and I slid out of the seat. Dwight paused a moment to be certain wing captain could see him. “Wing Captain, I need to speak with your commander.”
“Commander don’t need you. . .” and Dwight broke the link.
He called up several files and dialed two other numbers. The second one pulled in a man who looked very much like a retired Marine Corps commander, which in fact, he was.
Dwight smiled and the man on the screen did much the same. The man said, “How may I assist you?”
“Commander, it is my understanding that the Thespian Star Troupe Initiative has been negotiated with the regional government of the Eljera system. Imagine my concern when I am instructed to ‘turn around’ and go back.”
The Commander leaned closer to his pickup, “I’ve met you, haven’t I?”
“Commander, I am Dwight Ikewater, ship’s Go-captain for the IGS Parnassus.”
“Ikewater. . .? the New Gaelic Dragoons?”
“That was during the Fell Wars, sir. I served under General Marzet. I’m a pilot on civilian craft now.”
“Local color doesn’t care much for Central.”
“Sir, the Thespian Star Troupe Initiative is an NGO. They do not answer to Central. Here is Draven Chandler the alpha of the theater troupe we are transporting. He can explain it better than I.”
I slid into view, said, “Hello. We are a band of traveling actors with no political agenda. We won a grant to do Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar for the Inner-Rim and we would like to present a few shows for you before we head on to our next venue.”
“What did you do during the war?”
“Nothing sir, I am an actor.”
The Commander asked, “Metamorph?”
“Yes, not all actors are metamorphs, but all metamorphs are actors.”
“You a changeling? Show me something.”
“Don’t believe the chatter, morph-transformation takes several days and we can’t change things like our height and weight.”
“You have been briefed on local protocols?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Ikewater, I’ll reign in the hounds of war and we’ll pass approach vectors to your ship’s Stop-captain. Gentlemen, Eljera can be a nice place once you get to know it.” The screen went blank.
Anouk (ship’s Stop-captain) spoke up from her harness, “Ike? What’s the call?”
“Planet traffic control will be feeding you approach vectors in a moment.”
“Are we good, Ike?”
“Yeah, we’re going in.”
~
After the Fell Wars of 2347 it was decided that the Metamorph Assassin Corps, developed by all parties, might be reintegrated and re-purposed as actors. Hence, the Thespian Star Troupe Initiative was set up as a Non-governmental Organization and home for some very cranky metamorphs.
Shakespeare productions were often the most popular choices of our planners. To this end our trope was assigned the play Julius Caesar.
Why did it have to be the Julius Caesar? What in the Seven Heavens would a dirt-grubbing pack of Inner-Rim rubes in the Eljera system get out of one of Shakespeare’s Earth-history plays? I’ve always felt the play should have been named after my character, after all Brutus has four times as many lines as Caesar; and the central drama of the play my character’s struggle with the conflicting demands of honor, patriotism, and friendship. The Tragedy of Brutus, catchy, no?
On a totally different vector, I’ve often heard it said that nothing good ever comes from putting on the Scottish Play, but you have to love the characters. . . Of course there isn’t anything wrong with doing Brutus; what’s not to love? (Could’a been worse, could’a been Romeo and Juliet)

Chapter Two ~ the Incident in the Welcome-bay

Jennifer James (Troupe Director), Chy 9 (Alpha Droid & Stage Manager) and 01010111.0100001 (57.42, Fifty Seven Forty Two or Forty two {his nick-number}, Gaffer) and I were summoned into the Welcome-bay. The Eljera Land-captain seemed pleased to see us. As the alpha actor I was only there as a courtesy, but Forty-two, Chy and I had become friends on the voyage.
Fairly standard port protocols and lots of moderately interested local folk. . .
An overweight, light haired curmudgeon (the Elected President) surrounded by lilliputian sycophants wadded into the Welcome bay. Being a metamorph I immediately noticed the dissonance between everyone’s expression and their body language. These people were terrified.
The Bay-captain’s eyes told a tale of loss and horror within a face that sought to show happiness. Not for the first time I realized that every human living in a civilization is some kind of metamorph. Sad.
“What, ever, you, do. . . never play cards with him,” the Bay-captain interrupted my reverie.
“?”
“He’ll trump you every time and have your head if you point out the cards up his sleeve. No, he literally has cards up his sleeves. . .”
“I shall bow to your wisdom Captain. However, I’d thought Eljera to be a democracy.”
“Democracy doesn’t work if the population is too lazy and afraid to do anything to maintain it.”
“Yeah, history has a way of repeating itself. Perhaps our show might be something of a revival. . .”
And the Elected President spoke through a sound system attached to the back of one of his people, “This is the biggest crowd to meet the messengers of Central – Ever! Everybody, let’s show these guys just how – what are they doing again?” One of his circle turned the system off and there issued a short, silent, animated discussion. The President turned the system back on, “And I am so pleased that this William Shakesbaby fellow has come all this way to see how we do it on the Inner-Rim. By the way, all that stuff you heard about the problems with the gladiators on the moon of Nambia – that’s all fake. That will be all.” And the band blared out the recessional.

Chapter Three ~ the Show Must Go On

I love opening nights.
Earlier, as I ate lunch, I watched Crew Droids 27 thru 79 and the Droid Lifters 0 thru 21 assemble our set and stages. Director Jennifer decided to set the play in ancient Rome, with togas, short swords and Roman shields, fluted columns and Latin inscriptions. Unimaginative perhaps, but solid.
The synth-wool costumes are durable and kept us actors warm and safe when we’re covered with liters of wet blood, some for over half an hour. The set was open to the sky and the nights get a bit frosty on Eljera. I welcomed the warmth though I’ll never quite get used to the texture of the cloth.
Under a clouded sky the color of an old man’s urine, the mechanical-spiders wove their filament-fibers into the most incredibility detailed Roman architecture. . . I could watched those guys for hours. There is always a kind of music in their movements.
People from all over the Eljera system had arrived and taken seats surrounding our improvised thrust stage protruding from the lower half of the Parnassus. They were eating and snoozing while waiting for the show to start. Our arrival provided them with a holiday and they appeared to be very serious in their pursuit of leisure time.
Chy 9 was whispering through the tocsin in my ear, as it is prone to do to all those in any production, “Places, actor to places. . . Cue the smart-paint. . . Holografitic arrays to full and . . . Lights. Sound? Music on my mark. . . Start.”
ACT I, SCENE I. Rome. A street. The play opened with two tribunes finding the common-folk celebrating Julius Caesar’s triumphant return after stomping Pompey. The tribunes insulted the crowd for their change in loyalty from Pompey to Caesar and promptly attempted to end the festivities, not to mention the drinking and debauchery.
The audience, several hundred common-folk in their brown work-uniforms and maybe twenty group leaders in their gray suits, laughed hard and applauded and cheered frequently as the play progressed.
ACT I, SCENE II. A public place. Draven made his entrance as Brutus. Christopher (Julius Caesar), Thompson (Mark Antony), Phaedrae 437 (Soothsayer) take the stage and we’re nailing it.
Soothsayer ignored, check.
And out of nowhere, a forty-foot-long heavy lifter carrying a platform, entered from the back of the house. The Elected President and his sycophant suck-ups dressed in full regalia were prominently displayed for all to see. Commoners and management scrambled to get out from under the massive, flat-bottomed lifter but the platform was not lowered. Instead, it was lifted to a point just above the level of the stage so that the Elected President could look down on our little drama. Those who’d fled found places in the aisles and their attention drifted back to the stage.
Professionals all, we didn’t miss a beat.
That is until the President’s sound system blared some kind of message. It took Hazen Ames (Ship’s Engineer) about twenty seconds to mess with the electronics of the President’s sound system and all messages from the house were silenced. To his credit the President sat down and the play resumed.
Actors back on marks, everyone back on script and we stabbed Caesar.
Boom! Mayhem, pandemonium and melee. . . The Hounds of Chaos ran through the audience and Forty-two lifted me bodily from the stage, used its carapace to shield me while it carried me back into the ship’s cargo hatch. I ran back to the opening as other actors were likewise dragged to safety.
Parnassus is a civilian ship so it carries no heavy armament but its defense servos could be used to drive back a contingent of unarmored aggressors. I later found out both captains had anticipated some kind of incident. They had aimed the servos into the air and when the first round of servo-cannons fired a warning shot the crowd went silent. Then the mob collectively decided that it was best to leave the area of the ship by the nearest exits.
Everyone was running every-way and the launch warning-bells only contributed to the bedlam. The Droid Lifters and the Crew Droids were cutting the connecting fibers to the set. We were about to cut free and run for the sky.
The Elected President tried to step through the hatch. “They want to kill me. You guys have to save me.” Everyone in my area simply stopped to gape at the disheveled political bully as he tried to push his way into the ship.
“You’re that Raven guy. . .”
“Draven. . .”
“You Central guys can get me out of here.”
I laughed out loud. “I’m sorry, but there is really nothing we can do.” Forty-two was holding him and was not being very gentle in the process.
“You guys, assassins, metamorphs, one of you can change to look like me and be a decoy!”
“So, let me see f I have this right. You game the political system to get elected by a mob, make a total mess of the Eljera political system and now that the mob has turned on you, you think one of us should draw them off so that you can sneak out and save your sweat-soaked skin?”
“Yeah, you Central guys are so smart. . . “
“NO.” Forty-two picked the man up so that his feet no longer had traction.
“Don’t throw me out there with that bunch of losers!”
“Mister President. . .”
“Yes?”
“I believe that your concern for your people will mandate you to leave this ship and get any of your people three hundred meters away from the blast area of this ship. Three hundred meters. . .”
“I don’t care about these stinkin losers. . .”
“Stop, just stop.” and Forty-two carried the crazy demented Elected President out the hatch and returned empty handed.
The in-ship speaker paused the launch warning-bells, then Ikewater’s voice came through, “Draven? Are we ready to Lift?”
“Go-captain we are ready here.”
“Everyone to station. Strap in folks, this might be a bumpy ride.”

finis
<<<<<<<<<<<<<<>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Dramatis Personæ of IGS Parnassus, Starship Troupe for the Julius Caesar Tour

Draven Chandler ~ Marcus Brutus
Christopher L. Irving ~ Julius Caesar
Thompson Driver ~ Mark Antony
Phaedrae 437 ~ Soothsayer
Catherine Miami ~ Portia
Anastasia Murova ~ Calpurnia – Caesar’s wife
Bella Ambra Panta ~ Portia – Brutus’ wife
Clovis Kanji ~ Cicero
Phlyn Austin ~ Cassius
Fredrick Arnold ~ Casca
Tykit Merriweather ~ Lepidus/Cinna
Aeon Orlando ~ Titinius/ Metellus Cimber/ Cinna the Poet
Zippo Leipzig ~ Lucius/Young Cato
Jon Richardson ~ Messala/ Cicero
Katy Stevens ~ Calpurnia
Droid Lifters 0 – 21 ~ Stage Crew
Jennifer James ~ Director (keeper of the Kill-codes)
Chy 9 ~ Alpha Droid & Stage Manager
01010111.0100001 ~ Gaffer (5742, Fifty seven forty two – Forty-two – nick-number)
Dwight Ikewater ~ Ship’s Go-captain
Anouk ~ Ship’s Stop-captain
Alexei Leonard ~ Ship’s Physician
Hazen Ames ~ Ship’s Engineer (agent for Central)
Crew Droids 27 – 79 ~ Crew of IGS Parnassus

The First Snow of November

Misty rain at first, painting the glowing river stones. My fingers split the clear waters, but they rejoin. The tegument of the summer’s reeds undulates in ribbons, compliant playthings of the current. I wish to be like that. Wish that I could fold and unfurl without resisting, a velvet ribbon dancing with the wind. I withdraw my hand and take a certain pleasure in its tingling.

Beyond the water-color sky, lies the home of the winds, or so I am told. There the brothers and sisters of the Sun, the Wind and Moon and Rain, call to one another in their temples of pleasure.

My brother, the shadow hawk dances within this distant dream of the autumn child. His hawk heart, running wild beyond the riverbeds of Reason, knows that there are reasons beyond Reason, knows that there are pathways beyond Number. I poke under a river stone with my walking stick.

Snow flakes fall. Tiny vampire feathers that suck the warmth from the land, from my hand. The mountain grows velvety grey in the flock of falling feather.

My heart is at rest.

Those Who Form

The clear waters of the lake form a mirror image of the shimmering scarlets and glimmering golds of the maples on the far lakeside. He always likes to walk by the lake when discussing things of import.
She reflects on the lake, reflects on the way tiny wind fairies break the sky into a mosaic of autumnal chaos and reflects on the clement day. She says, “I fear the wrong that I might do if I just let myself run wild. I am afraid of the unintended evil I might work.” She hurls a stone, skipping it further than you might expect.
He says, “For every angel created, a demon must be dealt with. This is after all, the way that balance is maintained.” He producers a York apple (her favorite) with a magician’s flair, she passes and he sequesters the apple as though it had never existed.
She says, “I want to be a good person, a creative person, creating many things of lasting beauty.”
He pulls a journal from inside his jacket and makes a big deal out of searching the pages. At last he sighs with satisfaction as he extracts, from between the pages, her schemagram, the chimera one. The creature seems to wake up when light hits it. He scratches one of its chins (he has those gloves that look like the tips have been cut off), and its purr is the rustle of dry paper. She giggles despite herself. The creature jumps off the page and runs across the lake, disappearing on the far side.
He says, “The only thing that endures is the instant that beauty strikes. This is a difficult lesson for those of us who Form.”

They walk in silence, the silence of rustling leaves and lapping waters. He eats the apple.
The westering sun explains the time and they turn back toward the transport. She says, “I’m reaching a point where I may be dangerous. I see the pathways that you spoke about when first we met, the pathways beyond number. Perhaps I take my responsibility too seriously . . .Is it ok for me to take this path?”
He says, “What? Are you running off into the woods?”
“Silly, of course not. I will be assigned soon. I will be walking the pathway of Artificer and I would like to think that I might be good at it.”
He says, “There is a terrible beauty in the way fire burns. In the way a knife cuts. In the way storms build over the oceans. For me, the real question in any tragedy is whether the actors had any real choice in the play.”
He hurls a rock and it skips out of sight. He says, “If you take this path, or if you do not, you will still be you and though there is a bitter sadness in this, it is also your greatest triumph.”
The sun has set, but the sky and his eyes still glow.
He says “Yes, it is right and proper that you seek your destiny, for it shall find you whatever you choose.”

a World Creation Table

Karl logs them into the Mox-Nix lab, a very sparse space with a World Creation Table in the middle of the room. A Kyber comes to life and greets them. Jexi walks to one of the work benches and toys with the cytometers (she’s kinda distracted), Karl and the Kyber are talking in a highly animated fashion beside portal. The Kyber relents and moves to the panel that engages the Table. The Ergon field emitters energize and the generator sounds very much like a swarm of locusts in a blender.
Karl rummages through the frig, looking for anything that might have magically appeared over the course of the last few days (it is his frige after all). He nudges her and offers the remnants of a wabe sandwich. She refuses.
He turns back to the Table. It is fully energized now, waiting. She comes up behind him.
He says, “Don’t touch me there, unless you’re serious.”
“You are everso tawdry. . .”
“I’m serious Jex, mean it or leave it alone.”
She steps away from him and closer to the Table. She says, “How can I forge a new world without destroying the old one?”
“Not sure I understand the question.”
“Is there some way to forge a new world without destroying the old one? I have no wish to destroy the world; I’m just a bit bored with its current state.”
“You are the most dangerous when you’re bored.” She shows very little appreciation for his attempt at humor. He shrugs.
The Kyber brings control-gauntlets for both of them and helps her don her pair. Ripples appear in the field as she flexes her fingers. Karl says, “Focus on the details and the under currents will take care of themselves. It is in the details that the best worlds are made.”
“If I create them and destroy them is that murder?”
“That depends.”
“I hate crap answers like that.”
He selects a world seed from the codex. Rotates it two hand widths above the table. It swells to the size of a Slag-ball while fractal subroutines add appropriate waters and land masses.
Karl says, “My studies have taken me to far an exotic places and in every one of them there is this thing called Life.”
The view zooms in so that a single oak tree fills the display field.
“Yet, no-one really knows what this ‘Life’ thing is . . . That whole particle and wave argument . . .”
The tree sprouts acorns.
“But I know one thing,” he whispers, “Life is an emergent property of the timely intermixes of matter and energy . . .and so is Death.”
The tree ages and shrivels. Barren rocks and volcanoes crop up through the vegetation. She weeps for the tree.
“You weep for the tree?”
“It was a beautiful oak . . .”
“How do you know it was an oak?”
“Acorns. Oaks all have acorns.”
“So by its fruit you know a tree?”
“Yeah.”
“OK, your turn.” He clears the table.
She lifts her hands. She says, “Are you going to get into trouble for letting me use this machine?”
“Depends on who you tell.”
“Your rivals of course.” She selects another seed from the codex. Her smile is radiant.
The seed evolves into a barren world. She discards it and tries another. This one develops a scummy layer that bathes the world in poison.
She says, “I’m doing it wrong. What is the problem?”
“You’re trying to do it with your mind and not with your heart. You have to let your hands feel as well as grasp.”
She selects another seed, pulls it into the air slowly, gently. Plasmids twine into self-replicating worms. Primitive plants rise from the land masses. She laughs.
She says, “I got this.”
“You might want to turn the tempo down a bit.”
“No, this is good. I am going to make this world perfect; no pain, no suffering. . . everything perfect.”
And everything is perfect for about a microsecond, then everything dies (horribly).
“Put it back . . . please.”
He does something interesting with his gloves and the world convolutes, twisting back and consuming itself like a virus. It turns turbid and then everything dies, again.
“You’re doing this. It not nice . . .”
“I turned it over to you.”
“Not fair, this is your machine.”
“Anyone can use this machine, but most people give up.”
“This time I’ll be more clever.”
“As you wish.”
She does something a little different and everything dies very quickly.
She says, “Shut it off, this entertains me no longer.”
“This is Art, it’s not for your entertainment, and it’s for your edification. You want to create worlds where there is no suffering but you also want worlds where there is Life. You want a top without a bottom, a Yin without a Yang. You want a wave that is a crest with no trough, a day without a night . . .”
She throws her gauntlets on the floor and storms out.
He removes his gauntlets and signals the Kyber to shut the system down.
To no-one in particular he says, “The problem when I started was I didn’t understand that the only real difference between a god and a man, is that a man knows when to quit.”

Teachers and Students

“It is said this arrow seeks your heart
But in Truth there is no aim
There is no time
There is no arrow

There is only your heart”

– unknown poet of the late 20th century

“What is this?”
“This is my version of string theory.”

– same poet

Sequence #1 – Chapter 1 – Sage & Thomblin

Sage finds Thomblin looking out one of the parapet windows on a day gone dismal grey. Her breath clouds the ancient glass as she leans against the granite stones of the wall. Her hair is raven black and seems to undulate of its own accord. Her eyes are cyan blue.
“I have a bit of lunch here if you are interested. . .”
He sets the burlap sack, which he carries, on the rough hewn oaken table. The contents shift slightly, at length settling into a stable configuration. He pats his pockets till he finds a small pack.
She does not turn to face him, but heaves a sigh not unlike a dry and tired old soul confronting Eternity.
“I see that you are bored and you must understand, I am not here to be your entertainment. That is the job of some younger scoundrel, as yet unnamed.” He fidgets until he finds a flask of something that might have been wine, once. Retrieves a sandwich from the pack, examines the contents, puts it back, and then pulls another. This process continues for some time until he is at last satisfied that the sandwich he wanted is not to be found.
He sits with flourish, peels and uncorks the lunch items, cracks his knuckles like a concert pianist preparing to play and mumbles some kind of incantation.
“Old man, why must you make such a huge production out of everything?”
“Not so old, in fact, younger than I used to be.”
“And to what do you attribute your advanced age?”
“Clean living.”
She chortles.
Sequence #2 – Chapter 1 – Tygrae Vivian

Vivian is fishing, well; she is dragging her hook through the rippling stream. In its current unbaited state only trout seeking to end their existence will throw themselves upon such a barren hook. Well past the age of consent, this is how she gets away from her family and appears to be doing something useful.
She runs the stones along the bank of the brae, a task requiring mental concentration as she maneuvers around a recently fallen oak.
She comes around the boughs and wham, there is a fully arrayed warrior facing her with his bow drawn. She can see the silvered edge of the arrowhead that is pointed at her chest. She slips and falls trying to stop. He does not help her up, nor does he lower the bow.
She laughs. She can’t help it.
“Are you injured little cat?” His voice warms toward the end. She checks to be sure all her limbs are still attached and working. He lowers the arrow as she clearly presents no threat.
“I am no cat, sir. How shall I call you?”
“I am called Dark Captain Tygrae, do you wish assistance?” She nods in the negative.
The Dark Captain returns the arrow to its quiver, unstrings his bow and with a final test of its fatal yew, he secures it to his back. With the poise and ease of a task often done, he loosens his ebon leathers, returns the hold straps to his sgian dearg array and removes his leggings to his pack.
In a show of trust he turns and walks to the rippling brae, bends to the water and drinks a long draft. When he stands the waters sparkle as they drip from his short ginger beard.
His hands are not large but they are swift and horribly scarred. His legs are sturdy and his shoulders erect (tough he favors the right shoulder, probably an injury).
He sits on a large rock beside the waters, leaning back against the cleft in the bank. He is now invisible to any casual passers.
His voice is not unlike the rushing water behind her, “While it is never my way to tell someone what to do, I would ask that you might consider sitting a spell.” She doesn’t move. He says, “Or stand as is your want.”
He rummages through his pack without apparent concern about her. He produces a bagget of course bread which he breaks and gently hurls a half at her. She snags it before it can hit the water. Its tastes sour but very substantial.
Holding the bread in her mouth, she shimmies up a large rock, that is half in and half out of the water. He pitches a small round of white cheese at her.
From his pack he withdraws a skin of wine. “I loved a woman once . . .” (dry laugh – no humor in it), “but I was not worthy of her glance, not worthy of her concern. Oh, she wanted to know the warrior ways and there was no limit to the number of compliments she offered. She was quick and lithe but had no heart for the dance. No instinct for. . .” Tygrae sighs, lowering his food and his paring knife. “Oh yes, a Lady who would be a warrior.”
The brae fills the silence.
“It was the night of the Lute Player’s Ball. We danced. On the balcony above the founts, she asked to be my Tyro, my student. . . my protégée, such a thing is not unheard of these days.”
Vivian is a study in concentration. She tears small pieces of bread and cheese without looking at her task. She quietly stuffs them into her mouth.
“I wonder if you have heard the tale of Nimue and Merlyn?” He chews and considers, makes a sign in the air. “He loved her more than himself, taught her all that he knew and more
and when she had taken . . . everything he had to give, she put him under a rock and left him for dead.” He shifts and his leathers creek. The wind plays with the verdant forest roof.
“People often wondered at his defiance of age, wondered how he could master the energies of the unknowable without falling into chaos, wondered how he could let a slip of a girl kill him. . .” The wind goes silent, the forest is listening.
“He didn’t die. . . no, not dead yet” Roiling clouds from nowhere obscure the part of the sky that can be seen. Vast things are moving above the world. A strange wind walks the trees, is there a coming storm?
“He crawled from under the rock she had placed on him and took assessment of his life. He found that while he still loved her, he could not bear to see her again.”
The waters in the brae become restless. Vivian is no longer eating, only wide-eye watching.
He laughs and the rocks shake. There is a peal of thunder, distant, but powerful.
“He walked away. Left the court and his friends to her tender mercies and we all know how that went. . . don’t we?”
“He walked away from the only woman he had every loved. . .” The warrior becomes harder to see in the dusk of gathering clouds, appears older.
“He walked the world. . . a vacation of sorts – yes, a vacation (he laughs again, some of the edge is gone). He consorted with dragons for a time, a long time and he became a physician, a poet, an engineer and a warrior. He learned many tricks and ways, even spent some time beyond the seas. There are more than a few songs of his travels; he danced more than a few dramas to keep himself entertained.”
Vivian no longer notices the chill of the unyielding rock beneath her, no longer notices the rush of the approaching storm. All she can see are his glowing cobalt eyes in the darkness. Her continence is that of the rock she on which she perches, but her heart is wild.
He lifts his hand and everything becomes silent, the wind, the sky, the brae. He sighs and the sun returns to the world. He takes a bite of the loaf and chews it.
He lowers his hand and the sky is clear, the sun is warm and the weather clement. He spends the rest of his meal in silent contemplation.
When at length he’s done, he stands, brushes crumbs and debris from his leathers, looks up and down the road.
Walks to the rock she is on and extends his hand to Vivian. “And now little cat, do you fancy adventure?”

Sequence #3 – Chapter 1 – Martel and Carl

She’d known him for four years and seven months and nothing like this had ever happened, in fact nothing like this had ever happened to her before.
He was in the lobby, at the annual Ides of March party. He was smoozing with Jameson in shipping and Maxwell in Engineering and her. They were talking about something boring when the new kid in accounting came through the door.
She’d only recently learned to Timporshift, a technique for speeding or slowing time. To the best of her knowledge he was the only one, other than her capable of using this technique, but he and the kid both went timporial in a heartbeat. She pushed to her limit and joined them in Fast Space. She couldn’t keep up so both of them seemed to be wavering into and out of Real Space.
Then she saw what he was doing. It looked like transparent tentacles extending out of his body in all direction, not just Three Dimensional Space. And they were moving fast. The kid was growing a similar array but it was nothing compared to his and she thought, “The kid is way out classed.”
Both Carl and the kid knew it. The kid kinda surrendered and Carl didn’t attack but cease in his display. He shifted into different shapes and all of them seemed to be in the same place at different times.
Then he spoke to the kid, “Young one, you may not touch me here. Return to your tribe.”
“I carry a message.”
“Messenger? Then why come you arrayed as a warrior?”
“It was estimated that I might actually survive this way.”
“It occurred to none that this might provoke me?”
“It was estimated that everything provokes you, I merely wanted to get your attention and live long enough . . .”
“Your masters breach our agreement and if this ‘message’ is of no import then I will extract payment.”
“This is understood. Therefore let me speak. This one,” and the kid pointed directly at her, “is not of the kind. What is your intention in assisting her?”
“My business is my own.”
“Still . . .”
He was on the kid before any of them had a chance to think. His eyes were. . . there are no words for his eyes. “Young one, your masters owe me. I will remind them of this. If I decide to release you remind them that they are in no position to renegotiate this debit. As for this one, if I ever scent even a whiff of you or your kind within parsecs of her I will find your masters in person and show them the extent of their error. They will not like what happens next.”
He backed away from the kid who was visibly shaken. With his physical hand he patted the kid on the shoulder and all of them returned to Three Dimensional Space. It was rather like being on a conveyor belt that suddenly stopped.
She noticed that the kid didn’t say a word but turned and left through the door never to be seen again.
She looked at him and despised him in that moment. He had never said anything about this to her. “You did not have to protect me,” she spat.
“Technically I was dealing with old business and I must admit I might have enjoyed watching him kneel under your hand, but such amusements are reserved for another day.”
She hurled her cup into the trash and stormed out. He followed. She turned on him wondering if he would shift into something dangerous. She was afraid.
He approached her cautiously and looked sheepish. “Martel, I am sorry. I was acting purely on instinct, no one was hurt.”
“Is that some kind of excuse?”
“No, it isn’t.”
“What happens if I hurt you, are you going to do that to me?”
“No, never.”
“How can you say that?”
“Time isn’t linear . . .”
“I hate when you say shit like that!”
Silence.
She stumbles into the ladies room, crying, not even sure why she was crying. Sees herself in the mirror and notices what she has noticed before, her eyes changing color and shape. Becoming . . . Oh God, was she becoming one of them?
“I’m sorry.” He is there.
“You are not supposed to be in here.”
“I’ve always wondered what it looked like in the Ladies room . . .”
“Get out.”
“Yes, but first I make a promise. Next time one of those things comes, you can deal with it yourself. I have never considered you a lesser . . .”
“Get out,” but her voice had softened. He had gone.
To no one in particular she had asked, “Why do you care so much old man? I’m just a girl . . . just any girl,” but then she sees her own eyes again.

Sequence #1 – Chapter 2 – Sage & Thomblin – On the Outside

Thomblin watched the old man as he poured over maps, charts and schematics, wondered if he had ever been a young man. He kinda smelled like a man. . .
She checked her leggings, had he hesitated for the smallest fraction of a second? The beard was so frustrating. It hid most nuances of his expression. What would he look like without the beard?
Sage rapped the table with one of the tomes he held. He was prone to such actions when her attention strayed.
She said, “Why don’t we go outside? Continue your discussion on Dark Energy in the light of day?”
“Every time we go outside. . .”
“The air is fresh out there. . .”
“The air in here is perfectly. . .”
“I promise, promise on my heart, I will at least feign attention on this most boring subject, if we go into the garden.”
“I promised that I would show you the Disciplines and the Arts. You are the one that asked me to teach you.”
“And I will attend your brilliant dissertations concerning all your complex magics when we are under an open sky.”
“Oh, very well, you’ll ignore me either way, so we might as well venture out a bit.”
Sequence #2 – Chapter 2 – Tygrae and Vivian – The Archery Lesson in the Garden

How could she know exactly what he meant? He was prone to such wild expectations.
Vivian pulls on the archer’s glove and pulled the quiver and the other archery gear onto her shoulder. At moments like this she wished he’d gone ahead and shot her when first they met.
But no, he had dragged her to a covenant house. Set her up as his tyro, his new tyro. Everyone looked at her funny. Everyone knew Tygrae and no one knew her.
Why had she agreed to this? She was no warrior.
The sky above the archery range is warming with the crimson and gold spirit of a new day. He is there waiting for her. He is holding the arrow he fashioned last night. The blade of the head is sharp enough to bend light. It glistens in the first rays of the sun. Sharp on one end, beautiful in the hand but it can cut.
Everything he said to her was a poem, an arrow, but now he stands in silence as she strings the double curved bow of Artemis. He had shown her the way of making a perfect arrow, now he hands it to her. She just wants to hold it, look at it, and keep it.
She’s hoping he’ll tell her to sequester it in her quiver, to draw out another lesser arrow.
He indicates this one.
She notches the lovely, ebon shafted arrow, hoping he’s only fooling,
“Draw.”
She tries to focus on the familiar feel of tension as the muscles in her shoulder and back slide.
` “Release!” he shouts
And before she can aim, before she can think, before her mind can stop her, she lets fly the arrow, and its sooooo beautiful as it arcs away, only complete in this perfect motion.
“It must be released before it can be truly appreciated. See how it catches the morning sun, see how it arcs.”
“You are so careless.” she shouts. “I have no idea where it’s going. How will I find it now that it’s gone?”
“Look in your hand,” he says.
And there is another arrow. She has no idea how it got there. It’s somehow different and yet, as strangely beautiful as the first.
“This isn’t funny.” she says.
His eyes are deadly earnest. “It’s not meant to be.”
She notches the new arrow, takes aim on his chest . . .
Silent, he doesn’t flinch.
The arrow pierces his right shoulder barely missing the top of his lung and nipping the top of his right shoulder blade.
His expression is enigmatic. “I didn’t say release!”
“You knew I would!”
“Come here and pull this thing out. No, not back out. You’ll have to pull it in the direction it was going. Break the feather end off first! Ouch! Now pu l l l l l l. . . Don’t stop, pull!”
“You knew I would! Speak to me. Speak to me!”
“That hurt.”
“What can I do?”
“In my kit there is a vile of clear liquid and clean cotton patches. Yes, now soak your hands and the patches in the liquid. Don’t be afraid to spill it. Split the patches. Put one on the hole in the front and one on the bac . k k k. k,. k .k .k ! Damn that hurts.”
“Hold still”
“Why, so you can shoot me again?”
“Are you going to die?”
“Not at the moment, but the day is young.”

Sequence #4 – Chapter 1 – Two Children under an Open Sky

She has in her short life achieved the truest form of Love, the Love that asks no return.
And now she uses every aspect of herself to save him.
She builds a fire in the twilight, a dry pyre consuming her offering of incense wood, becoming a river of twinkling crimson spark salmon cascading into the sky. She builds a fire in twilight under a sky gone crimson.
She struggles to move his supine form to an energy Lagrange point near the fire’s ring of stones. When, at last, all blood is drained from the sunset, when the sky is black velvet strewn with diamond chips, when silence has become the voice of the night creatures, she snuggles in under his listless arms.
When she can worry no more, she falls into the open arms of the Lady of the Night, Nyx. She sleeps.
The arms of Nyx close around her as she opens her heart, opens her mind to a possibility she’d rather not consider. How can she heal him, when she cannot heal herself?
Her sadness falls like rain, quenching this dry and desert place. After a time her rain tears cascade to the sea, increasing the depth of the oceans. In the manner of her people she does not hold her grief behind clenched teeth. Her’s is the lamentation worthy of a saint and he is the one she yearns for with all her heart
In her dream sky he becomes the focus of her sigh, the need of her cry. He becomes her every thought.
In a time after Time, in a place beyond all Space, she learns the sound within all the world. She falters at first but with the trust of a child she learns the dance. Every second becomes a lifetime as she drubs the drums of her feet, beats the staccato of the Dance that changes things with poise and grace.
Because she doesn’t know it’s impossible, she unlocks her every joint, stretches every fiber in perfect form, exceeds herself until every movement, every nuance, becomes a metaphor, an alter where she offers her prayer to the Universe.
She becomes a stroboscopic flicker, committing the blasphemy of bending Cause and Effect, her movements exceeding the cradle of Time and Space without question, pause or consideration of the consequences, the cost to herself.
She becomes the daughter of Nyx. She becomes the night and she covers the land seeking his smell, his spore. Seeking him in his injury.
Finding him at last in the heart of the Mountains, she congeals by his side and he is howling mad with the parasites of infection.
She isn’t even aware that something inside her is changing, mutating . . .into . . . How do you say what can’t be said . . .? Her hands are becoming, something . . . There’s something about her hands. Her hands are becoming anti~parasites. And within her grows a need. She wants to touch the parasites. She feels the correctness in this.
The first soul parasite she touches withers and dies. She touches another and another and . . .
She extends her hands, for now she had many, like a Hindu goddess, hands in all directions. She caresses all the parts of his mind, body and soul. Where her hands touch him a healing begins.
Beside a fire that has gone out, under a sky pinking with a new sun, his ragged breathing is soothed.
His heart has found a path to true healing and she relinquishes the Night.
Sequence #3 – Chapter 2 – Martel and Carl – On the Question of Trackers

It was one of those quiet moments when things can be discussed at leisure. Carl had a cup of Yerba Mate and Martel had a bottle of pre-manufactured green tea extract.
Carl had found the window and appeared to be doing nothing but looking out across the campus grounds.
“What’s a tracker?” Martel asked out of the blue. Carl physically jumped, never a good sign.
He shot her a sideways glance, “A tracker is a person or thing of unknown origin. They show up at random points in space or time.”
“What do they do?”
“Where did you hear about trackers in the first place?”
“It was a note on the dash of your car. . .”
“Damn, I have got . . .”
“None the less . . .”
“OK, you will probably need this information sooner or later. A tracker can be used to track certain individuals . . . don’t interrupt. . . track certain individuals of some small talent. When trackers are human they are typically in the process of going mad. In their distress they generate parna spikes like those bombs they used to use for submarines. . .”
“You mean depth charges?”
“Yeah, they drop bombs where they think a submarine might be. When they go off any sub unfortunate enough to be too close is either destroyed or detected. Trackers are like parna bombs. When they spike any ‘sensitive’ in the area is affected.”
“You said parna spikes were bad.”
“They are. Parna spikes can go up any number of levels and they are very distasteful.”
“How does a tracker do that?”
“I would rather not talk . . . OK, the tracker is sacrificed. Anything parna spiking will eventually be driven mad. Nothing can generate spikes and no go mad, it has to happen.”
“But we use parna all the time?”
“First, we are using it only in moderation with a great deal of self discipline.”
“Speak for yourself.”
“WE, are using parna only in moderation with a great deal of self discipline. Why do you think I have introduced you to the concepts of Life Force interplay so slowly?”
“I just figured that I was a particularly slow apprentice.”
“Again with the self image . . .”
“Are trackers dangerous?”
“Not particularly, just really annoying, but that’s not the question is it?”
“No, the question is why there are trackers?”
“I honestly don’t know.”
“Is someone or something using the tracker?”
“Again, don’t know.”
“OK, this just isn’t going well; you have admitted twice that you don’t know something. Can you stop a tracker?”
“Yes, but that might be a bad idea. It’s almost impossible to see who’s holding the leash.”
“Great. So what should we do with a tracker?”
“Let it do what it does and lay low. Whatever you do, don’t react.”
“What happens if you react?”
“You’ll have to take the tracker out.”
“That’s a little melodramatic, don’t you think?”
“Once one of them has your scent, they are relentless.”
“This ever happen to you?”
“No.”
“How do you know? It did happen, didn’t it?”
“This is not open for discussion.” His face had become closed. She knew she would get no more information on this subject.

Sequence #2 – Chapter 3 – Tygrae and Vivian – The Art of Letting Someone Go

Tygrae lifts his ebon travel leathers, engages the safeties, and checks all the weapon arrays, both hidden and showing.
Her entry into the room is a study in silence.
He signals that he knows she is there with a slight shift of his stance, much the same way he would shift his position to defend against an assassin’s stealth attack (the difference being, she would very likely leave unscathed).
“Tygrae . . .”
“She speaks . . . I am honored. Such an honor.”
“Don’t be like that. Why are you behaving in this fashion?”
He slides his gear into place, turns to face her head on, a move seldom attempted among their kind, among the warrior poets. The tension level in the room skyrockets.
“Tygrae. . .why?”
“I love you. I wanted you to love me.”
“Is this what happened to the other woman warrior? The one before you found me beside the stream?”
“I love you. I wanted you to love me.”
“I love you as a mentor. Your wisdom rises above us like a mountain above the plains.”
“You love me as Nimue loved Merlin. Seeking to learn all my spore, but withholding yourself.”
“It’s creepy when you talk like that.”
Silence.
He moves to pick up his travel pack
She moves to block him, more by strategy than physically blocking him. He counters with a move she has never seen. He says, “I didn’t teach you everything I know.”
“Then teach me.”
“I love you. I love you as a man loves a woman. Now, show yourself to be more than a child. Stand aside.”
“Why are you going there? A man your age . . .might not . . .”
“I am retasked as a seeker and seekers go to the Far Places.”
“I am not fooled; this is of your own asking. Why did you volunteer?”
“I knew I would go when I was promoted from guardian class. Yes, before we had even met.”
“So, you wanted me to love you knowing you were going to the Far Places””
“I have walked the Loop and I have seen my suffering there. From you I wanted a reason to live, to continue living.”
“You wanted me to love you knowing you were going to leave””
“I only asked a token. Not your sex, nor your vows, but you could not even give me the token of your affection.”
“You want . . .”
“From you I want nothing, except passage from this room.”
“Don’t go.”
He moves toward the door and she yields. The creek of his leathers follows him out of the room. Silence pours in from the Void to fill the spaces he leaves behind.

Sequence #1 – Chapter 3 – Sage & Thomblin – the Circus of Heaven Incident

The day is slightly over-cast and humid, very humid. The Sage carries a folded dragon parasol and an orange. Thomblin literally dances across the wet grass of the manicured lawn. Her pull-over shirt shimmers with translucent rainbows, a light in the greyness.
A commotion by the East-gate catches her attention.
Some kind of massive animal is trying to get through the gate. The guards and tenants are trying to help it into the courtyard.
Sage laughs, actually laughs. Thomblin looks. . . wary. “OK old man, what is that thing?”
“It’s one of the animals in the Circus of Heaven. An elphfulum if I guess correctly, never really seen one myself.”
“It looks all furry and it’s so big and smelly. I don’t like it. Let’s go back. . .”
“Pish and Posh to boot, let’s go see what’s going on.”
“You knew this was going to happen, you knew these things were coming.”
“As I remember it was your idea to come outside, you said “Why don’t we go outside?””
“And now I want. . .”
“Look! Seraphim and cherubs.”
“They are all golden, I like silver myself.”
“The seven Dragons of Regwin and the golden Stallions of Far Calabria, oh, and a Unicorn.”
“Ha, you can never ride one of them.”
A fanfare rings out and, as if on cue, the sun breaks through the clouds. The Parade of Heaven labors across the grounds and the first of the beasts are exiting through the West-gate.
A cloud whale, trailing pure white streamers of vapor, drifts above the mêlée, circled by domesticated wind sharks.
“Thomblin, they are leaving, this must have been a parade to get our attention, a kind of advertisement to get us to come to the show. I hope they have caramel floss, I love caramel. . .”
“I’m glad it’s going.” She interrupts.
The Sage turns and sees her for the first time since they noticed the parade, his expression strangely confused. Her expression, enigmatic.
“Why do you choose to be this way?”
“This is crap, I want to know about the important things, I want to know about Love.”
“The Circus of heaven is more fun.”
A long silence ensues.
She walks toward the South-gate. He follows.
“Old man. . .”
“Stop calling me ‘old man’. I, at least, am young enough at heart to want to go to the circus.”
“Tell me of Love.”
“No.”
“Tell me of Love.”
“Let’s go back inside.”
“Tell me of Love. I want to know.”
“No, no you really don’t.”
“Surely you were in love once. . .”
“Far worse than that, I am in love now.”
She smiles and pirouettes. “Tell me, tell me old man.”
“Stop calling me. . . “
“You are in love? With who?”
“This is none of your concern. . . I want to tell her, but she doesn’t want to know.”
“She doesn’t know? Who is it? Who do you love?’
He turns away and sits on the grass. She moves quietly to face him, a suppressed smile on her features.
He says, “I don’t like you, please go away.”
“So, it’s a love that is wrong?”
“Yes.”
“You’re afraid.”
“Very much.”
“You should just tell her.”
“No.”
“You should hold her hand and tell her.”
He takes her hand. She looks confused.
He says, “She is younger than me.”
“That shouldn’t matter, not if you love her.”
He says, “You look at love as some kind of enlightened commerce, an exchange of vows and fluids. “There is more under heaven than is provided for in your philosophy. . .”
“Who is it?”
“It is. . . it is you. There, I’ve said it.”
Her expression is not unlike one she would wear while watching a diseased homeless commoner hawking up a chunk of lung. She withdraws her hand and wipes it on her leggings.
She calls him a pervert, calls him a sick old man, and vows that she has never felt so cheapened in her life.
He leaves, his movement a study in sadness as he walks toward the West-gate, following the Circus.

Two days later, she walks through rain that falls in sheets, through chance dancing ghosts on windswept on midnight streets.
She wants to find the Sage to tell him that he was wrong. That love can only occur between a young woman and her young man, the one, the only one for. Wanted to tell him that love has to have a future, where the lovers enjoy each other’s company forever.
She finds the Circus Grounds. She stamps across the wet dank grass only to see that the show is over. It is packing and will be gone by first light.
She enters and approaches a small man in carnival dress. He says that he has not seen the Sage, says that she should go back into town and ask for him there.
She grabs another carnie and he tells her to go.
She grabs a woman who must be a performer. The woman tells her to go home, to forsake her quest, but something about the woman makes her sure that the Sage is here. She insists and they woman tells her to wait here.
Directly the woman returns and hands her a slip of paper, then leaves without another word.
The note reads, “My dear Thomblin, I have joined the Circus. They took me on despite my total lack of anything resembling talent, must have been my recounting of our little drama. So now I am the cotton candy man making spun sugar topiaries for an awed audience of tender brats. I wish you well and farewell, Chyfrin the Sage of E’rhothous- Ra”
She finds the carnies somehow less friendly. When she asks again for him they just laugh and laugh.

Sequence #3 – Chapter 3 – Martel and Carl – the Cosmic Wheel

Martel doesn’t like knowing.
Doesn’t like standing in front of the massive picture window and watching as the World spins on the silent lathes of its cosmic axis.
Doesn’t like the way she now sees trees as dirt fountains and the way the sky gathers parna as it recedes beyond the horizon.
She was not happier when she was just drifting through life, but she was at least ignorant of her naïveté.
He had stood, over there, just outside the garden gate, his face shifting and fading into and out of real Time/Space. He had taken on a glow that was clear even in the full light of day and. . . And he was holding out his hand. The air crackled with St. Elmo’s fire and she could just make out his voice. He had called her, pleaded with her to go, to go with him.
And suddenly the world went lucent, and there was a thunderclap! And he was gone.
He was gone.

Sequence #4 – finis – Children Alone

She could never give herself wholly, could never yield her whole body, her heart, her soul, the way that children do, holding a small flower in their hands, saying, “Take this, and love me. Please love me.”
She held herself back, hiding away the tender part. She became her own dragon, damsel and the tower in one.
Empty, she feels so empty. No longer lithe and limber, no longer filled with naïveté, the primal energy of simplicity.
She sold her Heart for silence.

Chen Lei

Chen Lei shuffles across the doorstep into his house. He surprises his daughter, Chen Xi .
“How is your mother?”
“Sir, she is still quite ill.”
“I have come home to care for her . . .”
“Sir . . . a man of your standing must not do such . . .”
“Gentle one, any man who would fault me for caring for my wife when she is ill is not worthy of consideration.”
Chen Xi embraces her father and they exchange chi for a long time. “Sir, you are wise.”
“None of it. When was the last batch of medicine brewed?’
“Moments ago, it is still fresh and charged with content. I was preparing to feed her when you arrived.”
“You have spent too much time in this house, as you are a worthy daughter. Go to the market and get the ingredients for dinner. Avoid Gen Gaou, he always charges too much for vegetables.”
“Sir, I would stay here . . .”
“No more of this. I am here to care for your mother, as she has cared for me. Obey he in this. Go to the market, but change into some spring trappings.”
“Sir?”
“On the way here I saw that young man . . what is his name?”
“Sir. I am embarrassed . . .”
“Young one, the present is always a gift and the future is only a promise. We must always prepare for the promise of the future. You are the future little one. Now go.”
Chen Xi shuffled out of the room. Chen Lei straighten his clothing, gathered the medicine into a tureen and stepped into the bed room.
“Hello, is my wife Ping here?”
“Husband, you are home early . . . I must fix you something to eat.”
“Yes, about that, I require that you eat . . .”
“Oh no, where is Xi?”
“She obeys her father in all things and is at the market gathering the ingredients for dinner.”
“She should . . .”
“About this eating thing you mentioned, please eat some of this.”
“Husband . . .”
“I am a man of some honor, am I not?”
“Yes, you are a good and noble man.”
“I am a good provider for this family, am I not?”
“I am honored above others . . .”
“And are my wishes to be ignored?”
“No sir.”
“Then please, Ping, please eat your medicine and care for yourself. You can not serve me and not serve yourself.”
“Husband . . .”
“Woman, you make me absent from court and the others will be talking. Let me help to heal you so that I may get back to my difficult job of service to the king and to the empire. I can not focus on the matters of state when I am silly with worry about you.”
She lifts her hand and brushes his hair the way she did when they were young. She sits up and takes the tureen. Knocks away his hand when he tries to feed her and starts to feed herself. “You are a stubborn old fool.”
“Madam. you might be correct. In matters concerning you my logic is often flawed.”