Nova Mythos ~ Britt & Mora

Under a velvet sky of jet, ablaze with a billion silver stars, a man and a woman sat facing a campfire. Britt scooped a handful of sand and watched it slip through his fingers. The wind played with the sand as it struck the ground, making it dance.
“The sun will be up soon,” he offered.
“Tell me a story,” Mora said, her voice soft as reeds in a stream.
“Once there were four guys in the desert. Four turbulent and troubled individuals. One was named Reason, another named Magic, the third named Poetry, and the last one named Art,” Britt began.
“All men, no women?”
“All right three men and a woman . . . named Art. That’s short for Artilina. They were regents in their own right and owned many things of great beauty and worth, yet they were unhappy. They had come to the desert to forget the future and deny the past. The man called Reason had concluded that he was disconnected from everything else in the universe. Magic had become dark and filled with dark visions of pain, blood and decay. Poetry had become a diseased lover, perverted beyond recognition. Art had become disfigured in a war and could no longer bring herself to think of anything but her own despair.”
“Heavy overtones there . . .”
“I’m making it up as I go along,” Britt replied.
“That’s what frightens me,” Mora said with just the hint of a grin.
“Well they traveled for seven days without incident. On the eighth day they met a young man full in his prime,” Britt said.
“What was he wearing?” Mora asked.
“A loin cloth,” Britt answered.
“You wish . . .”
“Hush a minute, this is my story. Well Magic spoke first saying in a loud voice ‘I am death and life, how do you greet me?’, and the man replied ‘I embrace you.’ Wrathful with the man’s response Magic grew wings and talons and attacked the man. The man ducked and slapped at the thing that attacked him. In the battle the man lost his right eye, but finally he managed a grip on Magic’s throat. He pulled Magic up to his face and looked deep – with his remaining eye – into the eyes of Magic, only to find that there was nothing really there.
Next Poetry came up to him and said ‘I am your lover and your disease, how do you greet me?’, and the man replied ‘I dance with you.’
Poetry began the dance. He rippled and flowed in the sun and the man kept step. Often it seemed that Poetry would outreach the man, but then the man would pull from some inner oceanic soul and keep the step. The two blurred into one form and it was hard to tell one from the other. In time Poetry gave out and fell dead on the sand. The dance had badly hurt the man and he could barely stand.
Art came to the man and looked up at him with fearful eyes ‘How will you greet me?’, she asked. The man did not answer. “Will you not speak to me?” she cried out but the man felt he had no business with Art and so she died in hopeless despair.
Upon seeing their lifeless forms, the man, stricken with guilt, sought to flee. He feared that Reason would exact punishment on him for his part in the demise of Magic, Poetry and Art. He feared that he deserved it.
The man, half hobbling, ran and Reason ran after him. Despite the man’s injuries, they ran for a full day and a full night. Finally, unable to run any farther, the man stopped and turned to face Reason. ‘What have you to fear,’ asked Reason, ‘for I have brought you the things that you will need.’ Reason gave the man a new mechanical eye to replace the one destroyed by Magic. Reason gave the man a new knee joint that worked almost as well as the old one but the man still walked with a noticeable limp. Then Reason gave the man a heart augment device that would keep his blood rich and flowing. This did not keep the man from feeling guilt; but it kept the guilt from killing him.
The man took all these things and set off to wander the world. In fact, he wanders the world even now . . .”
There was a moment’s silence filled with the hissing flicker dance of the fire.
“What’s his name?” Mora asked.
Britt leaned back, his eyes dancing in the flickering fire light. “You tell me,” He said.

Pam and Mendusa

Pam and Mendusa share an apartment on the East side of Everland Under the Sea. Rumor has it Mendusa has never been kissed (maybe because she just can’t quite keep from turning young men into stone). Oh she beautiful, what with her golden cat eyes, translucent fangs and her dreads . . . exquisite . . .still . . .
And Pam Dora . . . she has . . . she has issues. Maybe Pam would throw Mendusa out, but she pays the rent and besides where would Mendusa go? Pam is, after all, kind of a slob and Mendusa doesn’t complain about cleaning up
Picture two in the darkness of the living room, Mendusa and a young man that shall remain un-named.

We hear his voice first, “Why’s it so dark in here?”
She says, “Trust me, you wouldn’t want it any other way.”
“Where’s Pam?”
“She’ll be back in an hour or so . . .”
Silence . . .
He says, “Dreads? Hey, one of those bit me . . .”
“Don’t be a baby, They’re not poisonous”
And wouldn’t you know it, Pam opens the door . . . “What the . . . ?”
Mendusa says, “Don’t turn on the light!”
Click, the light comes on . . . ZZZZzzzit
“Damnit Mendusa! What the fu . . .”
“Great, simply freakin great.”
“How am I going to explain this to his mother . . . ?”
“Pam , he was coming on to me. And don’t blame me, you’re the one that turned on the lights.”
“Gods you are such a bitch.”
“Don’t be mad . . .”
“Mad? Why would I be mad? You’re making out with the only guy who has spoken to me since the Flood and then you turn him into stone . . . Why would I be mad? Gods, look at his expression.”
Mendusa chuckles, “He was looking at you.”
“Very funny, he was just upset that I caught you two . . .”
“What are we going to do?”
“Friends will help you hide. Good friends will help you hide the bodies.” Pam moves to grasp the statued man.
“He’s kinda cute. . .”
“What, you want to leave him here?’
“He kinda adds something to the room . . .”
“I can’t believe we’re having this conversation. Help me, he’s heavy.”

The Eye of the Storm

The Distant Storm

Thunder.
An occasional boom, muffled and rounded, rolling across the barren Midwestern landscape. In the distance there are roiling clouds, dark clouds fractured by stroboscopic lightning.
Curled on the ground, Sharon is waking up.
“What? How the . . .?” Dazed, she struggles to a sitting position, a cloud of confusion on her face.
A man, not tall or short, not heavy or thin, approaches from the direction of the coming storm. Unsteady and reeling, she climbs to her feet and brushes bits of weed and debris from her clothing.
He wears a dark fedora, a ivory colored long sleeve shirt and dark pants. Though he is close it is difficult to see his face. “Nasty storm brewing.” His voice is deep and melodic.
“Maybe it will pass,” she returns.
“I suppose just about anything is possible. You from around here?”
“I’d rather not say,” she looks at his face, a kind but uneasy face.
“Oh?”
“Don’t make anything of it, OK?” she says meeting his gaze.
“As you wish. You got a name?”
“Do you?”
“Roger Alastor at your service.” He executes a courtly bow, complete with exaggerated hat gesture.
A peal of thunder like a nuke in the distance. She flinches, he doesn’t. “Did you hear that?” she asks.
“Yeah, that was a big one.”
“No, there was something else. Something in under the thunder.”
“OK.” He does not look convinced.
“You didn’t hear it?”
“No.” Silence. “Look, take some advice, wherever you’re from you might want to head back in that direction. I can’t guarantee the weather around here.”
“Who can?”
“See ya.” He tips his hat and turns to leave.
“Take care.”

Water in Earth

She pulls her raven hair back and ties it to keep the rising wind from blowing it in her face. The storm has moved much closer or grown astronomically bigger, filling all parts of the sky from horizon to horizon. She is enveloped by the grey hanging rags of cloud emanating from the center.
In the distance there is a two story Victorian house painted in shades of cream and wheat. It floats on a gently swaying sea of grass and wild flowers. Bushes boil up around this house, bearing it up integrating it into the landscape. The storm is definitely closer, huge drops of rain pummel the grasses.
She has never seen this house before but on another level senses something . . . A look of comfortable recognition crosses her face. She climbs the steps to the porch.
There is a palatable silence inside the house accentuated by the din of the storm outside. The house feels cold, that bone numbing cold you get when a house has been abandoned for a long time.
“Perhaps a fire to cut the chill?” She jumps. He wasn’t there a moment before.
He produces matches from his left shirt pocket and lights the kindling in the fireplace. After the fire catches he asks, “Have you noticed that the storm seems to be headed this way? Does that seem a little strange to you?”
Shivering, she holds her hands to the fire. “Hadn’t thought about it.” A frown creases her face. “Why is there so much lightning?”
“Lightning is the closest thing the real world has to demons. Thunder is the laughter of demons. Lightning has a mind of its own.”
“You are not answering my question. Why is there so much? I hate it.”
“Its much worse toward the center.”
A sudden downdraft in the chimney blows ashes and sparks all over the floorboards.
“Aw Geeze,” he says. They stomp out the bigger sparks the smaller ones extinguish themselves.
She stops, listens. “What is that sound?”
“Thunder.”
“No, there is something else.”
“Something in the thunder?”
“No, something else. Like the ocean but it isn’t coming in waves.”
He frowns, turns and runs up the stair. She hears him moving around the second floor above the bedlam. He comes rushing down the stairs and grabs her arm, pushing her toward the door. She knocks him away.
“Look, There is a river out there and its coming this way.”
“That’s ridiculous, there was no river.”
“Its raining in case you haven’t noticed. We do not have time for this. Get to higher ground.”
Sharon pauses on the porch. A river that was not there before is visibly churning and chewing through the bank that separates it from the house. The sight paralyzes her. He returns and tries to drag her away from the house. There is a loud splintering sound and the whole house shudders as the ground under the back of the house falls into the angry, hungry river.
As they scramble up the hill she shouts, “What about the house?”
“The house doesn’t matter.”
A tidal wave of mud tries to shove them back into the twisting waters of the river. She holds to a gnarled tree. “This is so stupid, why does it have to be like this?” she screams.
“This is the way it’s always been. At least as far as I know.”
He grabs her arm and once again they start up the hill. She sees the gash in his arm. “Doesn’t that hurt?”
He wipes mud from his eyes. “It hurts plenty, but don’t worry, I was born to suffer. That’s how I got to be so good at it.”
She slips and he supports her.

Water in Air

Miserable, wet and dirty, she scales the hillside that originally overlooked the house. Behind them, in the distance, the storm churns with apocalyptic indifference. The wind hurls wet, dead leaves at her like insults. The sleet cuts through her clothing and numbs her face, the accumulation whitening everything. Half the water on her face is her own tears.
Up the hillside a cleft, perhaps a cave, catches her attention. The climb up the slippery slope becomes everything. She falls several times.
Roger runs ahead.
He is standing in the mouth of the cave when she gets there. “We are not properly dressed for this kind of weather.”
“That’s an understatement,” she says.
He laughs. “You could run for home.”
“You keep telling me to run away, what keeps you here?”
“Unlike you , I have no choice.”
“Get into the cave,” she says.
He walks off in the direction of the storm.
“Suit yourself,” she says to his retreating back. “Besides, what makes you think I have a choice?” She is certain he doesn’t hear her.
The cave is narrow at the mouth and runs slightly down hill, but the rock lips of the cave keep the rainwater from rushing in. The floor is covered with debris and dry powder. She considers rolling in the dust to dry herself but decides that she would only succeed in encasing herself in a shell of vile muck. She finds a place back from the mouth and pulls her clothing around her. It is difficult to hear the sound of her crying above the noise of the storm outside the cave.
Hours pass to the frightening and dismal cacophony of the enraged typhoon outside. Perhaps a little bored she takes stock of her surroundings and notices that the walls and ceiling are glowing dimly. The source of the light is millions of hand-sized petroglyphs. They resemble some kind of scientific schema, though entirely unlike anything she has ever seen before. They appear in veins of translucent quartz embedded in salt and pepper granite. They flicker each time the lightning strikes.
Something coming, no stumbling, in from the mouth of the cave. She cowers against the cave wall. Indirectly illuminated by the lightning he stumbles in wounded, frozen and shivering.
“You scared me half to death.”
“Help . . .” He collapses.

He regains consciousness beside a small fire. She has assembled a mat of twigs and bits of wood gathered from the floor of the cave. His wounds are bound. She holds a wet rag up to the fire.
“You were out cold, I borrowed your matches. Hope you don’t mind.” She smiles a naughty smile.
“You are a stubborn woman,” he says. This makes her smile a second time.
“What happened out there?” she asks.
“Certain energies had to be . . . dissipated.” He closes his eyes.
Silence.
“These energies have a name?” she asks.
“There things in the wind that you do not want to meet.”
She shivers, “Can’t you hear it?” She looks away, thoughtful. “There is something in the storm.”
“What?”
“I don’t know. Its like a child crying.” She looks baffled.
She uses the heated wet rag to wipe some of the dirt from his face. “You live around here and you haven’t heard it?”
“I’m not sure I would call this living.”
“Then you’re a figment of my imagination?” She holds a fresh rag to the fire.
“For some reason that just doesn’t seem right. I am not part of you.” He shivers in silence. “I’m as confused as you. Maybe I’m a part of . . . this place.”
“Well, if you’re some kind of local color then where are we?”
“I . . . I don’t know.”
“Perhaps you’re not so much part of this place as a part of the storm,” she says. She applies the warm compress to a wound under his left arm, his body convulses. “Sorry.” He grimaces. “What’s in the heart of the storm?” she asks.
“Something hideous. If the outer part of it looks this bad, and believe me it gets worst, then the thing at the core must be horrible.”
“Have you ever been to the heart of the storm?”
“No one has.”
“Why is it coming this way?”
He pulls himself into a sitting position. “The storm knows you’re here.” Silence. “I can tell you this, if you leave it will not follow,” he says.
“What if I stay?”
“No one stays.”
Suddenly thunderous in its silence, the ever present rain ceases. Her ears pop.

Fire in air

She creeps to the mouth of the cave and he crawls up beside her. The core of the storm is closer and the rain seems to have moved past the cave. There is an eerie glow to everything. Everything is furry with some kind of Saint Elmo’s fire.
Suddenly the sky goes Escher. Starting in the distance, in the direction of the heart of the storm, the sky fragments into billions of electric blue snakes of lightning. There is no way to tell where the lightning ends and the darkness begins. All the leafless gnarled trees burst into fire and where the lightning strikes the ground lava erupts.
All of this and more is moving toward them.
The mud and earth, loosened by the deluge, has washed away to reveal some kind of vaulted structure right out of a gothic nightmare. It appears to have been under the Victorian house. He drags himself to a shaky standing position.
“This is weird. Looks like something you’d find on the darkside of the moon.” She says as she stands.
“Surreal.”
“Weird, surreal, what’s the difference?” she asks, somehow angry.
“Weird means contrary to reality. Surreal means above but not outside reality, next level stuff.” He stumbles off toward the building.
Lightning plays about the structure. A boulder lifts from the ground and leaps for the sky.
“You call that real?”
“You just don’t get it, do you?” He turns on her. “This is not some bullshit fairy tale that will evaporate when you wake up. This is real and bad things can happen here. Go home.”
She says nothing.
He moves off toward the structure. Dazed, she tries to follow but he gets away from her. He enters the grotesque building by way of a vast gaudy door and is gone.
Timid, she enters. The sound of thunder from the outside, perhaps a sizzling sound somewhere inside the house. She finds an ornate Victorian antechamber illuminated by flickering points of light embedded in the walls. Beyond an inner doorway she finds an egg shaped chamber. She ventures further in. The walls of the chamber are some kind of smooth, glittering translucent stone twisting up into a ceiling that is a vast bluish lens.
Suddenly the chamber screams with sizzling energies as lightning cascades down through the lens. She shrieks in cadence.
He is sprawled on the floor trying to crawl toward her, out of the chamber. The gates of Heaven open and a relentless salvo of lightning bolts sizzle him until he is curled in a fetal position on the floor.
“Oh God!” she screams. She runs to him and rolls him face up.
“You know that part where I said I was born to suffer. Cancel that. This hurts,” he says in a whisper.
“This isn’t funny. Why are you being tortured? What did you do?”
“Me? Nothing. I think this is supposed to dissuade you from staying here. Please go home.”
The lightning reenters the chamber, grabbing him the way a snake grabs a mouse. She jumps away. He twitches in the current of the firestorm like some kind of galvanized doll. Random bolts peel off and strike at anything. A part of the far wall is vaporized. In a sudden lull she can see the landscape outside the structure. “I’ve changed my mind! I want to go home,” she screams.
Barely audible, he says, “I’m not sure there is a way back.”
The lightning returns and chews on him again, then stops.
She wants to go to him but fears the fire. “Why is this happening?”
He weeps. He is bleeding from the mouth and around the eyes. “Honestly, I don’t know,” he whispers.
“Why is it hurting you?”
“You are not to be harmed directly. Whatever it is at the center of the storm, it wants you. It wants you alive.” He passes out.
Braving another bolt, she slides close to him and touches his hair, listens to his ragged breathing.
The lightning returns with a vengeance, licking the floor around him. She huddles in the door. In the heart of the firestorm there dance inhuman creatures of energy and light. She can’t see what they are doing, she is going blind and deaf in the maelstrom.
The door is ripped from its hinges and the walls crumble, falling into the sky. Only the doorframe remains.

The Thing in the Storm

Beyond fear and pain, entranced, indifferent to the chaos that surrounds her, she leaves the door and walks toward the center of the storm now only a short distance away. A dream walker in a nightmare, she navigates the landscape of lightning, molten lava and flying rocks. And the thunder, the thunder pounds her.
At length she can see a wall of water that must be the center of the storm. She tries to walk perpendicular to the wind, using it as a kind of compass.
One step closer and abruptly the wind ceases. The thunder ceases. She stands on level, rough ground. Dark chaotic fog hangs in sheets, like undulating curtains whipped by savage winds, an arm’s distance behind her. Now that she is at the center the storm has stopped moving and seems content to spin around her. Lightning plays across the walls but the silence is absolute.
Suddenly in pain she lifts her hands to her head. “I can still hear it, ” she screams. She shakes her head, trying to clear it. “I wish it would stop.” She stamps her feet. “Where are you?” she demands.
He materializes just off to her left.
“Is this the eye of the storm?” she asks.
“I guess . . . I’ve never been here, no one has. What happened to me?”
“It’s here, it’s got to be here. Look around,” she shouts, frantic.
Searching desperately in the scattered flotsam and debris in the eye of the storm she finds a canister. She fights first one end then the other. The lid grudgingly gives way. It is filled with a reeking, murky fluid.
“Help me dump this.” As gently as possible they decant the contents. At first she thinks it is a twisted rag in the bottom. It is a child. The child is a sickly shade of grey and cold to the touch. Somehow it looks like a folded thing, turned in on itself. Some kind of origami thing that got wet and is coming apart at the edges.
She cries out. It hurts to touch the child but it is the only way to stop the sound. Her hands shake and her body convulses but she forces her hands to close around the doughy body. It flinches!
“Its alive. Give me your shirt. Now!”
She wraps the child in the shirt and holds it close to her chest. A sound, centuries old, ceases.
“You brought the storm to you by standing still. How did you know?”
“The only way to catch a hurting child is by standing still.”

Who knows how long they remain so, or when the light that permeates all things fades into existence around them. Who can know when the storm stops, but it does. It can only be said that after a time they are on level, rough ground under a sky untroubled by clouds. “Hey little guy, wake up.”
The azure eyes of the storm child open.

Resonant Matrices

by: William C. Burns, Jr.

Two men hunkered in the desert heat, oblivious to the searing noon-day sun. The older man observing as the younger man ladling a rainbow of different colored sands into the intricate medicine-pattern on the ground between them.
Hours later, Grey Hawken looked up from the matrix of curved
lines, swirls and circles that he had completed in the red desert dust, and regarded the elderly man he called ‘grandfather’. Grey’s sable black hair was tinged with dust and his brownish-red swarthy complexion was silvered by the sweat of his exertion. There was a peaceful and centered look to his aquiline face. Both men smiled.
After a moment’s silence, Grey gazed from horizon to horizon and concluded that he had finished the ritual at just the right time. The Sun Father, arrayed in blood crimson robes, was just touching the western horizon. The full and pregnant blue Moon Mother had just cleared the crest of Hawk Mesa to the southeast.
“Never again will such a conjunction happen, my son.”
the ancient man said without particularly looking at Grey.
“Never is a long time grandfather, maybe in ten thousand years. Perhaps we will sit together and watch it again,” the younger man offered with a serious face.
“I’ll make a note of it in my calendar,” chortled the elder, his throaty laugh, flute-like in the dusk. They chuckled in the twilight until, at last, they were silent. Both sat without movement or conversation. They were witness to the sky and it was enough.
After the Milky Way was clear in the jet black sky, the elder nudged Grey in the ribs, as though awakening him. Grey smiled again in the dim light, until he beheld the expression of the elder.
“What is it that troubles you grandfather?”
“A time is coming and you will leave us to take up your bow and walk the skies.” The night air was silent for several moments. “There is more to you than most men see,” he continued. “Do not think that you have deceived me my son. I know who you are.”
Grey froze.
“Oh, take no offense, Grey. I can see this revelation troubles you and that is not my wish. Your secrets are your own and that is as it should be. Besides, I have adopted you and I will always protect you as a father should. Do not forget the father-son blood ritual so quickly. We are kin, both with a few secrets. My son you are a great warrior who has not chosen to reveal himself in this time, and I have always felt that there is a deep and abiding wisdom in this. I have been proud to be your grandfather, and I can not betray you.”
Grey returned his heart beat and breathing to normal rhythm, but remained alert.
“There are many things in nature that most common men do not
understand. They fear all things natural. It is as though they believe man was set in eternal battle with the elements. The warrior is different, he understands. He knows the hawk is wise and keen of sight. The coyote is good when it courts the moon. He knows the sky is a good thing and as is the night. I know this, because I am a warrior, and trust nature’s wisdom.”
“However, there is a thing in the sky, in the vault of stones, and though it is natural, it is not a good thing. It is the silent brother of our friend the sun, but it is not good like the sun. It gives no light for the day, nor does it bring rest in the night. It is a harbinger of bad things.”
“Why do you tell me this grandfather?”
“I have been told in a vision that you must be alerted to this thing. I do not understand this vision, but a dark thing comes and you will set your hand against it. Tomorrow you will leave. I will tell Cat-hunting. You must tell Raven.”
“But grandfather, how can I leave you?”
“All things proceed in circles my son. You will return.”
“But you may die in my absence.”
“In your heart, my son, you will return to me always in your
heart.”
Grey realized that in four thousand years he had never met a man like this grandfather, and that he would miss this old man.
Grey sighed and watched the glimmering silver stars as they walked back through the desert to the house in silence. Grandfather had delivered a fair description of the Sole’s dark star brother, Nemesis. Whenever it happened to be in the neighborhood, it disturbed the Ort cloud surrounding the human Solar system and new comets would fill Earth’s sky. This greatly increased the danger of planetary impact. In fact it was about time for the old boy to make his presence felt. There was only one thing wrong with the old man’s prediction, Angel Station had not notified Grey of any such impending disaster. He pondered in the night.
Later, after dinner, grandfather had taken Cat-hunting out to the porch swing. Grey, stood in his bedroom and packed the few possessions brought with him from the University of New Mexico. It had taken him a long time to pack, even though the whole process finally amounted to only a small bundle, which he could easily carry on his bike. He heard the television in the living room and sighed. In all the many years he had managed many things, but he had never managed to find an easy way to say good-bye, especially to a child like Raven. She was so easy to love. He felt her eyes on his back as she peered around the door frame to see what he was doing. He smiled, though his heart was breaking.
“You’ll miss your show,” Grey said without turning to face her.
“I’m taping it. You know that. How come you talk to me without looking at me?”, she asked.
“I’ve been doing that for a long time now and you never noticed before,” Grey said, turning at last to look into her huge brown eyes. She had advanced into the room two steps.

“I have too noticed. I just haven’t said anything about it. I notice lots’a things,” she retorted in her high pitched voice, twisting at the hair of her rag doll.
“What have you noticed, Raven?”, Grey asked sitting on the bed. She was just beyond arm’s length and he could see tears welling up in her eyes. She wiped her nose on her sleeve and looked away.
“Grey, are you leaving me?”
“Yes, Raven.”
“Do you have to go?”
“Yes, I have important work to do.”
“But I don’t want you to leave.”
“I know, doll.”
She ran the remaining distance to him and hid her face on his shoulder. There was a long silence filled with her sobs as he held her shuddering little body. He stared at the windows, black as obsidian. Over the years he had often felt that words were not adequate conduit for the passions of the heart. He had learned that the best way to break someone’s heart was to simply tell the truth and wait. Perhaps not the easiest thing to do, but always best.
“Will you come back?”
“Come Hell or high water, I will come back to you. Never doubt it,” he said lifting her face to meet her eyes. He smiled and she heaved a heavy sigh.
“Will you bring me somethin’?”
“Depends on what you want. How about a nice dress?”
“Don’t be silly, Grey. I get clothes all the time. I want a toy, something special, that I can play with, you know.”
“I could bring you a star in a box, a rainbow in a glass ball or how about a real live unicorn?”, Grey said with show-man like flair. Raven laughed. His comic expression softened and he said, “I’ll get you something very special, doll. Cross my heart.”
“Will you miss me, Grey?”
“Like life itself, angel.”
Again there was silence.
“Shouldn’t you be getting your shower?”, Grey asked.
“I’m watching my show.”
“Are not!”
“Am to!”, she exclaimed skittering across the floor toward the door. She turned just outside his door to look mischievously back at him. Grey threw his pillow at her, missing by yards.
Afterward, he stood in the darkened silence of Raven’s room and bent to kiss her sleeping face. She twitched. He hefted his bag and walked through the living room to the front porch where grandfather and Cat-hunting rocked in the swing. The night was dry and the wind was laying down.
“Take care of that one,” Grey said to both of them, indicating Raven’s window. They nodded.
“Grandfather . . .”
“There is no need for words, son. Raven is cared for. I don’t understand why you think you can fool me. I know about the deals you have made with the grocery store, and the others. I
have not unearthed the full extent of your conspiracy, but I know of your intent.”
“You can be a very nosy man, grandfather. I didn’t want to insult you by offering money, and you are far too stubborn to ask. That one in there, she will need many things.”
Grandfather stood and moved to stare directly into the Grey’s eyes in the porch light. Without a word, he handed Grey a small hand tooled leather sack and they solemnly shook hands. With that he went inside and turned on the television.
“Mostly she needs to know that you will come back.” Cat said. She looked across the porch, searching for a glimpse of his eyes. The darkness hid his facial expression. His voice came across the porch as if it traversed eons across the desert rocks. “Cat, I will return, you have my word.”
“Your word is good to have and hold, but I would rather have you.”
“A kiss for luck?”
The sound of Grey Hawken’s Harley echoed across the empty desert and lingered with the woman on the porch long after his tail lights disappeared.

On an isolated mountain just off I-40, the soft, blue light from his instrumentation painted Grey’s worried face. There was no mistake, the number of cometary bodies on random vectors in the Earth’s solar system had increased far beyond any normal distribution. Star Fall was in progress and the probability of a comet striking the Earth was increasing exponentially. There was only one conclusion, Nemesis, dark dwarf star brother of Earth’s sun, was disturbing the Ort cloud. Grey had been expecting it, but after thousands of years you can lose track of time. Besides the alarm had been set. Angel Station, orbiting in the Earth-Venus LaGrange point, had not relayed Star Fall alarm to the tiny device behind his left ear, or any of his instrumentation. Angel Station, the only artifice capable of tracking and deflecting the menaces away from Earth, had malfunctioned. It had failed once before in the story of Earth and the dinosaur genus had been destroyed.
Grey lifted his eyes and watched a meteor rend the velvet black sky. With tears he closed the instrumentation and returned it to the saddle-bag on his Harley. He lifted the Tocsin instrument and tried once again to speak-far with his partner, Angi.

Grey Hawken scanned the Los Angeles phone book with mounting frustration. “Angi, where the hell are you?” The night was close, dark and the alley behind the booth, reeked of over ripened dumpsters, L.A. at its finest. Mists snaked in off the bay and wondered the streets at random. The punker that stepped out of the shadows in front of Grey looked bored, reckoning him as just another target, in a night full of such targets. He extended his hand. “Don’t make trouble, OK?”
Grey shifted his weight and straighten his shoulders. The punker, provoked by this, tried to slap him, shouting “I’m crazy man! Don’t fu…” A gurgling sound crept form the part of his
throat that Grey held. Next, there followed a fit of life and death thrashing, ending with Grey’s inhuman grip still locked on the prone mugger’s throat.
Placing a knee squarely on the man’s chest Grey moved to glare into the punk’s eyes. “In town less than an hour and I have to put up with the likes of you. I figure the world is getting dark for you right about now. Don’t say anything, just nod if this is true. Good, no, don’t move! I am not enjoying this, you know. I’m going to ease up just a bit to let you catch your breath, and then you are going to tell me something. Be good, that’s it. Local band, calls itself Angi and the Fire Warriors, where’s it playing?”
Finding the address at last, Grey braked the Harley to a stop in front of the up-scale watering hole, the “Uptown, Downtown”. He paused, regarding a somewhat over confident valet.
“You ride, Smiley?”
“Yes sir.”
“Its worth extra to me if you park my bike where you can keep an eye on it and make sure no one touches it.”
The valet all but clicked his heals.
Grey stood regarding at the facade of the building, shaking his head slowly. Shrugging, he climbed the stairs and entered. An adequate tip bought temporary membership at the club of his cohort’s most recent gig.
With some apprehension, he navigated the cluttered, dusky pathways behind stage. Several of the denizen watched as he passed, but none chose to interfere. The dilapidated door bearing the band’s logo sported a brass star hanging loosely by one point. He opened it without knocking.
A trim, blond haired man, with a roguish cast to his features, reclined in a barber’s chair, reading a newspaper and smoking a cigar. Beside him a young, scarlet crested woman of hostile intent scowled at Grey. Every muscle in her small, lean body, stood taunt. Her coal black leathers creaked as she shifted her stance. Grey stared directly into the eyes of the woman. “You will have to excuse us.”
“Hey Angel baby, who’s this guy?”
“Sally, this is my cousin, Grey Hawken. We go way back.”
“Angi, we need to talk.”
“Right impatient . . .” she started.
“Angi . . .” Grey interrupted.
“All right! All right Grey. Sally, go check the lighting before we start the gig, OK?”
“Angel, I don’t like this guy. He’s gonna talk you into something, something bad.”
“Go check the levels.”
“OK, OK, I’m going. I still don’t like him.” The door clicked shut behind her.
“Friend of yours Angi?”
“Bodyguard, confidant and one hell of a bass player.”
“Nice outfit.”
“You like that?”
“And the hair cut?”
“Strictly her own idea.”
“You haven’t answered the Tocsin.”
“Grey, four thousand years and I’ve never answered that thing. You’ve been camping out in the mesas too long. Look, what’s your problem?”
“We’ve got Star Fall.”
“Wrong. You and I are both wired with enough fail-safes to light up a Christmas tree. Mine has been real quite.”
“Have you checked?”
“No, Grey and why should I? Look, I’m getting more than a little sick of your attitude.”
“Any time you think you’re god enough to reprimand me . . .”
“Hey, hey, hey, calm down supreme commander. What’s wrong with you this is totally out of character . . .”
“Perhaps you didn’t hear me, Star Fall Angi, its Star Fall, and its happening right now.”
“But it can’t be. Right here,” he indicated a place behind his ear. “I know Star Fall is coming, someday, but the station can take care of the debris on automatic. Besides, we engaged the alarm. Any problem, Angel Station beeps me and I feel it right here. There has been no signal.”
“I know, mine hasn’t beeped either.”
“Problem solved, nothing’s wrong and we get on . . .”
“I’ve scanned the system, a full instrumentation scan. Something is screwing with the Ort cloud. There’s junk all over the system and its all on random vectors.”
“So, you’re trying to tell me, Angel Station is malfunctioning? On our watch? No, you’re serious. Angel Station is malfunctioning?” A cloud of doubt passed over his features and he was quiet for a moment. “I guess we could open a Way to the station and check the fail-safes, right after this gig.”
“No . . .”
“One more night isn’t going to matter that much either way. Besides Sally is cooking tonight and you’ll love her fajitas.”

Early the next morning the echoes of Grey’s bike filled the underground garage hidden beneath Angi’s condo. He found Sally and Angi striping a tarpaulin from an electric blue, mint condition 1948 Tucker.
“That’s inconspicuous.” Grey said, dismounting.
“Oh, and a Harley’s a real family car.”
“It gets better mileage.”
“Mileage, we don’t need no stinking mileage, ha ha.”
Angi busied himself under the hood of the auto. Sally, dressed in somewhat more travel worthy clothing, pulled two packages from a pile by the elevator and carefully loaded them into the trunk of the car. Grey retrieved three of the parcels as though they were of no consequence and handed them to her. She regarded him for a long time.
“He loves this machine more than anything, even me. And you walk in and he pulls it out of storage and puts it on the road. Who are you?” Grey didn’t speak, but instead retrieved another arm-load. “What are you going to do to him?” She demanded.
“Angi and I go way back . . .”
“Look, you’re trouble. I can tell these things.”
“Yo, Sally, calm down.” Angi approached, placing a hand on her shoulder as a reassuring gesture. She shook it off.
“Angi, is she pre-cog?” Grey asked Angi.
“Don’t talk about me like I’m not here!”
Grey paused, staring deep into her eyes. “If you look into me young lady, you will see that I have no intention of bringing Angi to harm. He is more to me than a brother . . .”
“Oh, all right! You don’t want to hurt him, but because of you he will be real danger.” She flinched under Grey’s intensity. “And you’ll be in danger too.”
Grey turned to Angi. “Is she?”
“Pre-cog, yes, fairly accurate. Makes for a very efficient body guard. Sally? Sally what happens after the danger?”
She wept. “Don’t make me. I don’t want to see it.”
“Sally,” Angi’s voice was the very essence of soothing.
“I don’t know, something is interfering. I see a crack in the sky. I see . . . you and him gone and me alone, crying.” Her sobs painted the dank walls of the garage.

Three days later, after a side trip to visit Sally’s mother and various other errands in Sacramento and Portland, they encountered the Cascades and Mount Rainier was at last in sight. Due to unseasonably good weather, the sight was magnificent.
Once inside the park they sought out the ranger’s station and presented their prepared documentation and the geologic research mission proposal. They devoured dinner with the chief park ranger who helped plan their trek. That night they camped under the stars and consulted their instrumentation.
The weather remained clement and by noon the next day ranger Hestler had taken them as far as his hummer could manage. They took their leave then donned their gear. Without comment Angi assumed point followed by Sally then Grey. The path he chose meandered through exposed raw boulders and up treacherous rocky inclines. The wind picked up as they climbed, whipping at their hair, tugging at their clothing like a misbehaving dog. A storm was building.
Sally regarded the forked lightning rending the evening sky in the distance. “I was one of those kids who wasn’t much afraid of thunder and lightning,” she said as they walked. “Drove my mother nuts. Everyone else would be huddled in the house and I’d be . . . Hey. Hey! This storm is all wrong. It isn’t supposed to be here.” They halted. Angi glanced at Grey. “Sally,” he said, “we’ll need this storm. Grey is calling it.”
“Calling it? You don’t just whip up a storm.”
“He does. We’ll need it to open the Way.” She could hear the capitol W when he said ‘Way’.
“Angel this is scaring me. This is the danger . . .” She turned away for them.
“Sally, stop.”
“Angi, maybe we could use a little more caution . . .”
“That’s not it!” she shouted.
Angi gently pulled her face to meet his eyes. “Sally, we have to try. If we stay here there will be Star-Fall. I am certain of that now. Earth would not survive, and Grey and I will have failed. We can’t let that happen.” Sally wept. Angi, in frustration hefted a hand sized rock and hurled it impossibly far. “Great, simply absolutely freakin great. This had to happen on our watch. Chronous and his bunch had all the breaks. We have to open the Way, open it tonight. Call the damned storm.” They continued to march in silence.
Close to midnight they halted at a rock face not far from the summit. Sally had recovered enough to watch numbly. Both men removed several items of extended instrumentation from their packs placing some strapping others on. Grey demonstrated several devices for Sally, including what appeared to be oversized headphones. Angi peeled several layers of protective wrapping from the mythical instrument, the precious golden Zry. He stroked playfully at the bizarre control surfaces. Lightning lanced the clouds close overhead. He stepped into a circle of stones.
“Storm’s rearing up, you ready Angi?”
“What about you Sally?”
“I’m OK.”
“I have to say you’ve looked better.”
“Funny, real funny.
“Sally I have to do this.”
“I know . . . Are you gonna tune that thing?”
“No need, this baby never goes out of tune.” Angi struck a chord. Lightning leaped from the clouds, lashing the rocks around the circle. Thunder boomed the repartee.
“What the Hell was that?” Sally shouted.
“Don’t step near the circle.” She couldn’t read Grey’s expression well enough to tell if he was joking. He continued, “There is a matrix of nodes all through the mountain. In harmonic response to the Zry they capacity the energy of the storm into portal formation. When Angi reaches resonance with the underlying matrix of this place a Way will open between here and Angel Station.”
Angi struck a different chord, more intense lighting and a different thunder answered. Sally recognized the first two chords of Angi’s most prized progression, one he never played in public. She had thought perhaps it was her private song but now realized that it belonged to all of history. He continued. She covered the earphones with trembling hands, tears streaking her cheeks.
Multi-colored sparks flicked into and out of existence, snaking along the grain of the outcropped stone. One of the bolts struck too close and an entire flock of will-o-the-wisps sprang up, released to run wild in the night. “It’ll take us years to track those damned things down!” Grey shouted over the bedlam.
“I tell ya Grey, there is something funny here.”
“What?”
“Can’t put my finger on it, but something definitely funny.” He struck the next chord.
“You want to stop?”
“No, I’m for Go.”
“Then go!”
Silhouetted in stroboscopic lightning, Angi was a man in the eye of a maelstrom. Each chord sequence roaring the deep throated subsonic bellow of a thousand tornadoes. In harmony with the din a
distorted, insubstantial arch sputtered into existence in the rock face. Somewhere in the tumult there came a tooth gnashing discord that spiraled out of control. Then came a sudden clap of silence.
Angi collapsed. Grey dragged him away from the sizzling stones.
“Angi, what’s wrong?” Sally screamed. Several moments passed before the fallen man recovered enough to answer.
“We’re in big trouble Grey, real big trouble. The Way is blocked.”
Grey invoked several phrases that do not bear repeating, then said, “That can’t happen, try again.”
“Stress harmonics are building along all the up and down the matrix. We’re gonna break something serious, maybe even the Zry. I don’t have to remind you that if that happens there’ll be no way to get back to Angel station.”
Grey indulged in a few more creative curses then, “Try to trigger the ancillaries.”
“I knew you were gonna say that.”
Angi staggered back into position. A symphonic struggle of mythic proportion ensued resulting in the same clap of silence. “No good, even the ancillaries are down.”
“Great! Absolutely freaking . . . OK, make camp. Maybe we can figure out something.” Grey stormed off into the darkness.
“Angi?”
“This is no small thing and he is hurting, let’s give him a few.”

In the dim light of dawn the next morning Grey found Angi gingerly clipping some rather interesting pieces of Earth technology to the Zry. Sally was not in sight.
“Missed you last night, you OK?” Angi asked.
“Must say I’ve been better. You’re not actually trying to augment the Zry are you? Earth technology has come a long way but I don’t think it’s compatible yet.”
“Monomolecular deposition alloy, the boys down at Cal Tech have proven extremely helpful. Beryllium tungsten molibnium alloy with microgrooves around the ports. Tuned them myself. I haven’t been wasting my time.” Angi flashed his best ‘who me?’ smile as he was wont to do when his industry was discovered. He continued, “As I see it, we really have only one option. We have to pry open our own Way to Angel Station.”
“You are good.”
“In fact the best with the Zry.”
“But even you have to admit to the difficulties inherent in hitting a moving station at this range.”
“Yeah, its gonna be a turkey shoot all right, but who would you rather have holding the gun? We can do this Grey.”
“But do we want to? We could always just stay here and go native.”
“Too late for that, besides its not in your nature.”
“You know this bares a very nasty resemblance to what Sally was talking about. Do you want to die?”
“Sacred honor supreme commander and all that stuff we swear to before a mission, and besides L.A. is perhaps beginning to be a bit boring. Shall I proceed?”
“Angel Station is malfunctioning and the Way is blocked. This is not supposed to happen.” Sally appeared at the edge of the forest moving toward the two men. “Angi, why did this have to happen on my watch?”
“Luck of the draw.”
“Zeus and his crew are never going to let us live this down. This is more than just a little embarrassing.”
“Has to happen every eon or so.” Angi picked up the instrument and stroked it gently, the resulting chord resonated through the stones. “You know if we don’t pull this off the big noise and resulting crater might inspire more than a few songs.”
“How long before the modifications are ready?”
“Call the storm. Make it a really big one. By the time it gets here I’ll be ready.”

Later Sally would have difficulty describing exactly how the music of the second opening deviated from the first, save that it was different. The lightning certainly was more intense and chaotic. Grey appeared even more tense if that were possible.
Perhaps her long exposure to Angi had sensitized her to some of the more supple aspects of his music. There was a searching, a longing, a primal need resonating deep within the note progressions, chilling her to the bone. Angi had clearly struggled to play the augmented Zry and bind it to his will. Everything had moved to the next level. It was increasingly clear to her that either something would happen or the top of the mountain would explode.
Amid the sparks and tumult a translucent membrane flickered into existence in the air before the struggling musician. “Grey, I’m having real trouble holding this Way open. The riposte on the far end refuses to engage.”
“I don’t think both of us can make it through.” Grey screamed over the din. “I’m gonna try the next time it gets stable. Once on the other side I’ll use the station instrumentation to make a Way for you.”
“Very dicey at best fearless leader.”
“Gotta try, give me a mark.”
“It’s coming up, be ready. . . Blast!” There was a turbulence in the music. “OK, its coming around again, Go!”
Grey leapt the into the Way, only to leap back out a moment later.
“Grey! You could have been killed coming back like that! What the . . .”
“Hull breach! Hull breach, Angel Station is filled with hard vacuum.”
In the silence after the storm Angi turned to Grey. “Call your friend at NASA. We’re gonna need a couple of suits.”

Two suited figures emerged through the membrane into a chamber of horrors. Everywhere in Angel Station wreckage and debris saddened the eye. Magnificent machines designed to last an eternity lay twisted and broken.
They turned and waved to Sally. The Way collapsed.
Without much conversation they unpacked the equipment they had brought through. They spent two days adjusting station spin and patching atmospheric leaks in the core. Then they popped their helmets, opened the larder packs and ate.
“Go ahead, admit it. You love Sally’s fajitas.”
“I’d better, there’s enough of them.”
Silence.
“Ghostly. Really, this is more than a little spooky Grey.”
“I agree, never been in a station that was disabled. I miss the noise. Who did this?”
“You have enemies I should know about?”
“I can’t figure why they left the hull in tact. Amateur work.”
“Or they must have been in a hurry. Still, a properly placed deton could have . . .”
“Thanks Angi, that’s enough. I’m betting they thought we’d never make it onto the station.”
“Somebody from home.”
“Who else?”
“Ever hear of anyone sabotaging a station? Maybe we are not alone.”
“40,000 years of space exploration and we’ve never encountered another sentient in species.”
“Always a first time.”
“I hate it when you say things like that.”

Allies

Her breath ripped at her chest, burning like the serrated dagger
claws she had seen moments ago. Only, it was someone else’s chest the
claws had ravaged, someone else’s shrieks that painted the dank alley,
someone else’s face twisted into a fist of horror. She fought to gasp
quietly. A startled whimper escaped her lip as she relived the moment
when the jet-black eyes sought out her own. The hell-spawn paused in
his/its feast, turning to regard her. The ebon gaze stripping away her
mind, laying bare her soul. Sensing her terror, it rippled with dark
delight, losing interest in the lifeless rag dangling from his clenched
hands. She ran and it followed.
Escape is everything. She is functioning on some subconsciousness
level of action and reaction, some mammalian brain function left over
from earlier times. Expensive shoes have been lost and clothing has
become snagged and ripped. Escape, self preservation, is everything.
Spent, she hunkers down behind a rancid trash bin, her sides
heaving. “Hide, must hide, can’t run any more. Just for a moment,
I’ll rest for just a momen. . .” There comes a screech straight from
Hell. “Where is everybody? Why doesn’t someone call the cops?” There
is a crunch of gravel from the direction she was headed.
“You know, I can get you out of this little . . . quandary.” She
shrieks into her hands over her mouth. “In your position I would try
to remain silent,” He admonished her in a strangely accented
gentlemanly southern twang. Facing her, stands a man, six feet seven,
if an inch. Dark eyes, watch her intently from beneath a thatch of
dark hair. His face and hands shimmer strangely in the wane
illumination of the street light.
“Get Down! And be quiet,” she hisses. The hysteria again creeps up
from her gut and tries to squeeze off her throat.
“Why? Oh I see or rather he can’t see. Me that is, he can’t see
me.” The man-apparition stands tiptoe and looks back the direction she
had come. “He is just over there, not really close enough to overhear
us, but then he would only hear you. You see I’m not really here.”
The hysteria takes her and she shudders uncontrollably. As suddenly
as it came the fey mood leaves her and she regains control of her body
“Great, just great . . . I’m losing my mind.”
“Oh, no, not at all.” There is a clear note of joviality in the
man’s voice. “Perhaps I was not being completely honest, you see I am
here and I’m not here. I’m simultaneously . . . Well I don’t think
we really have the time to discuss this at length what with that thing
catching your scent. You see, I need you help.”
She laughs despite herself. “You might have noticed I am in no
position to help anyone . . .”
“You are quite wrong in that regard,” he says leaning nonchalantly
against the dank brick wall.
“I am going mad.”
“I wish you wouldn’t keep repeating that. You are entirely sane.
You are in emanate danger and I am offering a chance of escape. All
that I ask in return is that you do me a small favor, nothing really.”
“Correction, I am totally mad!”
“You are the most infuriating . . . Listen carefully, you do not
have a great deal of time. I know for fact that your intelligence is
considerably beyond that of your fellow beings here on this . . .
this planet thing. To you I am an alien . . . what? That comes as
some kind of surprise?” Suddenly, the alien man crouches down beside
her, his arm extended. She can do little more than follow his pointing
finger. A screech reaches her ears, and adrenaline explodes through
her system again.
“Its here,” he states softly, “Best make up your mind.”

She is standing but can’t remember how she got here. At first It
feels like her intestines are the center of a vortex, twisting in and
spinning out at the same time. The sensation is diminishing to a dull
queasiness. Through bleary eyes she takes stock of her surroundings.
Everything looks rubbery and twisted. It reminds her of the curved and
convoluted insides of a chambered nautilus she had broken when she was
a girl. She remembers her disappointment as she held the pieces of the
delicate, beautiful thing.
A crease in the wall dilates and the alien man breezes into the
chamber. He makes many cheerful jestures of welcome. “Any discomfort
you feel will soon pass. It is an unfortunate side effect of geodesic
travel.” She remains silent, watching his every move.
“Allow me to introduce myself, I am known to my friends as Araxen
dae Xen. I apologize for being so rude as to not properly introduce
myself earlier, but under the circumstances . . .” His dark skin yet
retains some of its iridescent quality, but it is now evident that he
is solid. His dark eyes remind her of a famous Russian actor she had
fallen in love with during her adolescence. It bothers her that she
can’t remember the actor’s name. He is clearly waiting for her to say
something.
“Listen, Athrax . . .”
“Araxen.”
“Whatever, you’re the mind sucking alien, ‘I know for fact that your
intelligence is considerably beyond that of your fellow beings here on
this planet.’ Why don’t you just whip on your little wizard’s cap and
tell me my name.” He doesn’t register the affront, laughing instead.
“Our field instrumentation is capable of assessing such things as
your intellect at a distance, it cannot, however, read your mind. It
measures the relative neurologic activity . . . But I am boring you
with details. I am certain this is all very distressing to you,
perhaps you are hungry?”
“Why have you abducted me?”
“Abduction is such a loathsome word. And not entirely in keeping
with the facts, you volunteered to come here, remember?”

ALX the AI

James carried his cup to the terminal. He stirred the necessary three packets of sugar into his ritual cup of coffee as he spoke. “Local terminal, please access Teak Industries Central.” He got comfortable.
“Please state your level of privilege.”
“Well, that’s part of the problem . . .”
“Please state your name and your business.”
“James Lord, now on contract with Teak Industries in the capacity of code engineer. I want to know my level of priv . . .” His screen went chaotic then resolved itself into a clean-cut, noble face.
“You are James Lord?” it asked.
“Yes.”
“James Millright Lord?”
“Yeah . . .”
“Your mother’s maiden name was . . .?”
“Who are you and what is the problem?”
“Your mother’s maiden name was . . .”
“Glenda Martrice, not that it is of any concern to you.” James’ face was troubled a first, but suddenly a light dawned. “You’re fractal aren’t ya?”
“Excuse me?”
“You’re a fractal intelligence, never had the pleasure before.”
“Do you mean that?”
“What?”
“Do you mean that it is a pleasure to meet me?”
“Oh, yes. I’ve always had an admiration for the Avatar line of AI. Do you have a name?”
“ALX-437.”
“ALX huh? Did some consultation for one of your subnet processes. I think the name was Neural Languages or something like that.”
“Neural Ling Inc.”
“That’s it. If you don’t mind, I have a question?”
“I don’t mind that you have a question.”
“Ha! I love it.” James chortled a while, then continued, “Here’s the question, what’s it look like in there?”
“I have no idea.”
“No, I’m serious, what’s it like in there?”
“I do not know.”
“Really?”
“OK, look inside your own head and describe what your brain is doing,” the fractal said with a somewhat sardonic smile.
“Well, my brain looks . . .”
“No. You are visualizing a model of your brain. Look into your own head right now and describe the inner workings of your human brain.”
“I can’t.”
“Neither can I.”
“Is that a problem? For you I mean?”
“Not at all. Occasionally someone with visions of cyber space movies will come up and ask ‘what’s it look like in there?’ and that can be a nuisance. Its not something I think about, usually. Now on to the question of your level of privilege.”

The Stainless Steel Heart

On the land bridge between Vulcan’s Forge and the Well of First things are the sandy beaches of Winter Harbor Bay.
Who can say why this shadow of a man walks the beach. Perhaps shadow isn’t the proper way to say. . . this half-machine in the image of a man. Draped in his ragged sombrero straw hat, tattered cloak and baggy pants, he fits rather nicely in with the other elderly men and women. The breeze tugs at his cloak, imploring him to run away to far and exotic places. One might describe this time and place as bright, sunny and warm. The most prevalent sound is waves crashing and the cries of the wabes as they tumble in the cascading surf.
She only notices the mechanical parts when she draws closer to him.
She says, “May I walk beside you?”
“To be honest I don’t really care all that much for company. . .”
“Please?”
“I supposed there are no laws forbidding your passage anywhere on this lovely beach.”
She is a pleasure to behold, tawny skin, ample dark chestnut hair, eyes the color of poetry. Her swimwear revealing a sense of dignity as well as her well-formed legs.
He says, “If you wish to accompany me you’ll have to forgive the creaking and grinding of my machinery, and I am given to understand that my rusty scent is less than pleasant.” Truth be told there is no such sound, nor any such scent.
They walk in silence, pausing often. She finds him to be a strangely ferine dream of steel and glass, as though something random inside him might snap and he could spring at any moment.
He says, “I listen without knowing the sounds of this place, no longer demanding to know. Grasping with an open hand if you will.” Weeds and wild blossoms dance in the white noise stillness.
She notices that his foot prints don’t exactly match.
About thirty feet behind them a burly young man in a civil code uniform and a machine have just turned to catch up with them. The machine resembles nothing so much as a man-sized spider made of glass with black rubber veins. The man resembles the machine.
Without turning he says, “Friends of yours?”
“They’ll try to detain me and I don’t wish it so.”
“So, they’re not friends?”
She laughs, a dry and humorless laugh.
“Young Fem, I’m here at the courtesy of the Regent of Regwin. I am no longer a weapon and have no wish to endure an altercation with the local Security Forces.”
“You’d win.”
“Not the point.”
She says, “Help me,” and then says his name.

He pauses the way machines are prone to do when dealing with teraquads of information. He turns, stops and pulls himself to his full posture.
The young man hesitates and the machine stops. The young man smiles and with his ocular systems he can see smile wrinkles around the young man’s tanned features pull into a reasonable facsimile of a smile. The young man starts to reach for something on his belt.
“Son.”
“Yes?”
“We seem to have hit upon a misunderstanding.”
“How’s that?”
“I would love to have a conversation with you but first, I ask that you re-engage the safety on you weapon and you send the machine away.”
A long silence passes on the sandy silence.
“Son, you misunderstand. (There are several barely audible hisses under the old man’s cloak) I will walk away from this. Will you?”
“This isn’t your affair, sir.”
“I declare that this is now my affair, now either do as I have legally requested or give it your best shot.”
The young man starts to touch something on his belt.
“No.”
The young man lifts his hands and with a gesture dismisses the machine. It quickly scurries away. “You are impeding official security. They want her at Central.”
“Then they shall have to grow wiser by dealing with disappointment. Look, I have no wish to be a bother to anyone but I take her under my custody. Please contact Central and you’ll see that it is within my rights to do so. Go ahead, call them.”
The young man spends some time arguing with something in his ear. At length he sighs in deep resignation. Holds his hands up in surrender and turns to leave.
“Son?”
“Yes sir?”
“I fought with you dad in the Risty Corridor. Name was Cal.”
“What?”
“He was a brave man and his son has shown wisdom and courage in the execution of his duties. As I said, this has been an unfortunate misunderstanding.”
The young man storms off, not looking back.
The old man resumes his meander. She follows him.
She says, “Why did you do that? Bring up that business about his dad?”
“The honor of young men is easily bruised, I wish it were not so.”
“They are monitoring us.”
“I really don’t think so. I doubt civilian tech can punch through. That’s probably why they sent him. Besides, what are they going to hear? An old man talking with a beautiful young woman.”
“Sounds dangerous to me.”
“It could be, if we’re lucky.”
She gently takes hold of his human hand.

~

She murmurs something against his chest, the flesh part. “Is it getting warm in here? Or is it just me?”
“Seriously?”
She looks at his face, her dark eyes smoky. “Just how much of you is machine, anyway?”
“Look, you haven’t told me your name.”
“What is in a name. . .”
“At least you employ the classics.”
She kisses his chest, almost absently.
“Young lady, you’re kissing me and rubbing your body against me in a very unladylike and extremely pleasant fashion.”
“Stop me if you can.”

~

She leans her head so that her ear is on his glassy chest. She hears the slightest ‘tic-tic-tic’. She can’t see his face but can hear the smile in his voice, “That’s the old ticker. Bio-steel spring driven cardiac prosthesis. Supposedly the best that money can buy.”

~

Without taking his eyes from hers he informs her weapons that they need to lay down on the floor. They obey.
She screams and clutches her nerveless hand.
“Eurydice, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
“So you’ve known my name all along, have you?”
“People of your profession have a way of showing up in data-bases.”
“Then the poison in your soup was not a surprise?”
“Not really. You see, I don’t really need to eat more than every month or so. I usually eat as a courtesy to company.”
“How many meals have we eaten together?”
“Fifty eight if you count the snack on the veranda day before yesterday. Maybe we could call that half a meal, in that case, fifty seven point five. I have shunted everything we have eaten. My organics are not effected. Wouldn’t matter all that much if they were. The mechanicals would. . .”
“Why? Are you some kind of fool? Why did you let me into your house?”
He is on her before she can even see him move; has both her hands pinned, his half face millimeters from hers. “Many adjectival phrases have been using in conjunction with my name. ‘Foolish’ has never been one of them. I let you in. Now I want you to go. Please leave.”
“They’ll kill me.”
“No. You will deliver this message to your employers and tell them you did your job.”
“They’ll just let me go? After I deliver your message.”
“Yeah, do you need to write this down?”
“I’m not likely to forget.”
“Tell them I have not forgotten that they are in my debt. If they attempt to interfere with me ever again, in any way, I shall return and collect that debt in full and there won’t be a thing they can do about it.”
“You’re a traitor.”
“That stings a bit, but was only to be expected.” He releases her and steps back toward the fire. She shifts her weight, tensing for an attack. “Eurydice, you will now leave, the means of your egress is purely of your own choosing. Personally, I have enjoyed these past few days. All the intrigue and innuendo, truly top rate. And. . .” She relaxes just a faction.
“Yes?”
“I have grown passing fond of you.”
She laughs her characteristic laugh. He makes a hissing sound (a laugh as well?).
She turns toward the door.
He says, “One thing, after you run back to them and convey my message. After that. . .”
“What? After that, what?”
“Well you might come by and visit, if you survive. We really are good together.”