Saturday, January 31, 2015
Reve enters the Manus Market from the North, the side where the herbalists and spice vendors sell their wares. The market is noisy and crowded. He’s looking for Bubba’s stall. He pushes his way down the crowded row to find it, in the middle of the aisle, on the right.
It’s empty -- just a plank of wood held up by two saw horses, surrounded by walls of flapping saffron cloth.
Reve doesn’t linger to be noticed by the curious neighbors, the other Off-Grid homesteaders, selling fragrant spices from large clear metal canisters. Reve walks on, past the button sellers, and the tinkers, deciding that he’ll trek to the Bubba’s homestead by the sea. But first, he must get rid of Lord Nightmare, and become someone else.
He smells the man he will ask to become him, long before he sees him. He turns toward the honied scent, and sniffs at the air, his nostrils flaring. He singles out the whiff of peaches, simmered with sandalwood, amber, and a whisper of myrrh. This odor is familiar to the Dream Snatcher, and the memories it brings are not unkind,
He’d attended SUL festivals, held at the interior’s molten lakes. When the tides are low, the pools fill waist deep in warm water. Arctic runoff meets lava flow in a roaring hiss, and a cavern of steam. The several lakes are lumped with lava rock islands, and the SUL scent swirls freely into the lapping water, making its intoxication subtle and euphoric.
Reve has a good nose for scents, most demons do. He also knows the SUL to be a race of madmen, and of oracles.
Reve scans the market for the SUL he smells. His eyes travel over the rows of brightly colored stalls in front of him, until he reaches the livestock end, where at last he sees the eyeless man, leaning over a corral of goats.
“Yes, why not?” Teloh says, even before Reve taps his shoulder.
“I’m ready for a journey.” The SUL man says, looking up from beneath the wide brim of his hat, to look Reve in the eye with his own, if he had any.
Reve scrutinizes the face of this SUL. How like the human they are, and yet not, he considers. Theres’ a smooth patch of translucent skin over the hollows, where eye sockets might have been, leaving an enormous forehead. A skim coat of green mud is dried all over Teloh’s face, as protection from the sun. Only the lack of eyes, his sweet scent, and the strange tangle of hair, seems inhuman.
The SUL all resemble one another, with full lips, square jaws, long necks, a variety of hair colors, all in a tangle of tools and adornment dreaded down their backs.
Teloh wears a wide-brimmed Off-gridder hat, which he pulls down low, hiding his lack of eyes. He smiles wide, as if he’s hearing Reve’s thoughts. His teeth are like perfect kernels of white corn. The green dirt on his face flakes when he smiles, like a skin-disease.
Yes, this man will do, Reve thinks. He’s the right size, and he has the right attitude.
“Push me, pull you.” Teloh says, and he pulls the brim of his hat down even lower.
“Maybe she’s over there.” The eyeless man says provocatively, pointing in every direction imaginable with both of his arms at once.
“What?” Reve asks.
He remembers that the gases have an impact on the SUL State of being. The things they say could be nonsense, or they could be foretelling, but few of them can verify which is which.
The SUL are not welcome by the Night Mare in Winkin City. They’re too delusional, too apt to spout their dreams. Dreams leave a trace, possibility free floating, anyone might catch them. The Night Mare likes a good oracle, however, so she tolerates the SUL underground, and sparingly nomadic in the desert lands of the right.
“Where has she gone?” Teloh asks sadly.
“I don’t know.” Reve replies, his thoughts as always on Mina.
“Hope is a waking dream.” Teloh says, and he chuckles again.
“You must dare to do it.” The madman says, and he sputters a stifled laugh.
“Do what?” Reve asks.
“Dream, my friend, dare to dream. Fantasies once were, you know, free? Set her free, my lord.” He attempts a jig, dancing his way into paroxysms of laughter.
Reve watches the SUL man, now wearing his black hide uniform and the Off-gridder hat pulled down low, as he heads down that away and over there, by way of the interstellar screen, chattering nonsense, or brilliance, as he goes. Reve’s given Teloh a handful of credit and an open visa.
“Dare to dream.” Reve mutters to himself. “Why not?”
Wearing Teloh’s clothes, and a skim coat of green mud across his face and arms, Reve stocks up on provisions for his journey through the left lands to find the Bubbas. He trades credits for a few pieces of fruit, a lump of cheese, a round of bread, and a skin of water, planning to supplement his diet from the farms and orchards he expects to find along the way.
He figures that the best place to get to know someone is where they grew up. Mina already knows the worst about him. It’s time to balance the scales.
Reve’s exiting the Market, toward the left, when a man shouts in his ear.
“I don’t like the way you look!” He says.
Reve turns to see a big-knuckled fist punching at his face. He feints left, and narrowly misses the blow.
A dream policeman, his face sweaty with last night’s drink, leers at Reve.
“I said, I don’t like you.” He repeats.
“Then let me leave this place.” Reve says to the ground.
When the officer’s fist shoots out again, Reve catches it in his hand, without raising his head. Then Lord Nightmare looks up into the dream policeman’s piggy-blue eyes, which widen in fright at Reve’s flaming copper.
The sound of water on dirt, as the policeman wets himself in fright.
“Let me leave this place in peace.” Reve whispers in a voice so cold, that it leaves a trace of frost across the terrified man’s sweating face.
The quaking policeman nods, beads of ice sliding down his forehead.
“Be a good boy and run on home now.” Reve says, a concerned parent.
The red uniformed man squirrels away through the crowd, which cleaves a path, and then closes.
Reve wraps his Off-gridder scarf across his face, as protection from the biting sand, born on a rising wind. He bows his head, and he heads left.
Reve expects this journey left to be one of bright sunlight on verdant valleys, lined with fruit trees. These are his memories of the Off-grid to the Left, last visited, when, he wonders? Not since Hoda, he thinks, and memories of the fey girl step forward to meet him. Thin, frail and unhealthy was Hoda. She was raised by a breeder in the herd, who claimed to have found her inside the stone wall of the building. Hoda was sickly, neglected, and undervalued, until she pulled her gold stone.
His mother had been afraid of Hoda. She worried that she might contract some wasting disease when she ate the girl. But she ate her just the same. How long ago was that, Reve wonders?
He had loved them, all four of the Gold Stone Girls, to distraction. He’d seen only his part in the tragedies of their deaths, his passion, not their peril, until it was too late. Always, it was too late. The realization that he had not even considered saving them until it was much too late always snuck up on him, usually as his mother ate them. Yes, that was the last time he’d visited the left lands, with Hoda, he thinks with shame.
What he finds now are charred fields, and orchards billowing smoke.
By order of Nightmare law 57,475,330500463.1 (fifty-seven trillion four hundred and seventy-five billion, three hundred and thirty-million, five hundred thousand, four hundred and sixty-three, point one) all crops have been destroyed, to force a mass Off-gridder migration to the city. This is President Bob’s latest effort to boost the dwindling numbers of Winkin’s human population. Most of Winkin’s humans have left the planet, seeking safe harbor at the closest space station, where they will be housed until they can be placed on host planets by the Intergalactic Council.
Reve has seldom traveled in Blinkin by foot. He is mistaken about the distance and direction of the Off-grid to the left. So what he imagined would be a day’s journey, takes him two moons, as he criss crosses the interior the wrong way. Up and back down, to the right, and then finally left.
When Reve arrives at the Bubbas’ homestead, it’s after forty suns lean of food. He’s dull eyed, hollow cheeked, and tatter clothed. Reve appears now as what he has become, a shrunk and hungry vagrant. In truth, no one would recognize Lord Nightmare.
The road to the Bubbas’ homestead has changed too. Once mowed straight up to the gates, in a long welcoming swath, through fields of golden wheat and wildflowers. Now it zigs and zags, cut into a threatening labyrinth of tall corn, over which a wind of flames has blown, charring everything in its place.
Reve navigates the hypnotic sameness of the blackened corn maze for many days, and just as many nights. He circles the blighted torment, lost again.
Just when it feels as if he will have to admit defeat, when he will lay down and let the crows feed upon his carcass, he notices a subtle dent in the row of blackened, ladder high, corn. It looks to him as if it’s been thinned just in that patch. On closer inspection he notes a narrow path, which leads him at last to the homestead gates.
Reve pulls charred wood from off the gate posts, to find a war zone left of what must have been the homestead, his hopeful journeys end. The frail man drops to his knees, he slumps to the ground, and he sobs, watering the sooty earth with his disappointment.
Long after he stops crying, Reve rolls onto his back and he stares at the blue-grey sky. Then he hears the distant pounding of waves upon the sand, the low of cattle, and the snort of rut beasts. Then comes the sound of a female singing.
He lurches back up to sitting, and he really looks around. He sees sagging buildings, roofed in charred-sod. There’s a crippled mill-wheel out back of the tumbling shed. Reve squints at the glint of sun, glaring off a sliver view of seawater, glimpsed between the broken milk barn and the house. Then he sees chickens, clucking lazily, pecking at the grit mixed with ash for stray seed.
He hears knocking. Then he sees a bull sized man shouldering a beam, fitting it into a new notched column over the porch. There’s clanking, and Reve’s tired eyes flick toward that sound. It’s a breeder. No, that’s not the right word, but he cannot summon any other. He raises a dirty hand to scratch at the several moon’s growth on his chin, and he remembers, of course, that she would be a human female. If she’s raised Mina, he suspects she’s even more than that.
Reve watches the woman, with the greying russet mane, bang a large metal ladle against the iron pot. He imagines it bubbling its smells right into his belly. His stomach gurgles with longing.
Several dogs mill near the stone stove, under the graceful elm. The beasts are unaware of Reve, his scent so mingled with the dirt of the maze. When they do notice him, one hound pricks up his ears and lets loose a long howl, that infects his friends in a chorus of deep and scary growls. They sniff at the dirt, they grab snorts of the air. The dusty black dogs charge at the vagrant man, leaning on what use to be the gate post.
Reve sees fierce yellow eyes, and long wet teeth, which remind him, almost fondly, of his mother. Two pairs of large black paws punch his chest at once, the force knocking him backwards.
He sees wisps of clouds, covering a blue-grey sky, just before the world goes black.
Friday, January 30, 2015
The World at War
The SUL woman doesn’t see the road she travels. She avoids the ridges and mineral towers, the fissures and sinkholes, on this road under the earth, by instinct. She doesn’t notice that the rock walls are riddled with phosphorous, nor that opaque lizards skitter across a karst landscape. She can hear a stream sinking beneath the rocks on her right, and the trickle of wet that fans the opposite wall, coating it with a mossy sheen. She will never see these things as the human cave enthusiasts do, with their headlamps bouncing bright beams across all that makes no sense in such light. What she sees is home.
It’s a hard climb from the caves of SUL City to the surface, though about half as long as it once was, before the world started shrinking. Twelve hours of shinnying up through crevices named after trolls, Niffilheimr, Utgaror, and Jarnvior. Then she crawls up an over the Rim of Two Crags. Next she winches across two canyons, Ismenios, and Kholkikos, named after the dragons who once dwelt there. All this before she reaches the shore of the interior ocean, where she makes camp, before starting up the road she’s on now.
Sulis doesn’t notice her surroundings, not only because she has no eyes, but because her thoughts are focused on her immediate future. The skin of her forehead is furrowed above the hollows where eyes might be. A snarl of frizzy reddish hair is pulled off her face and dreaded down her back, with bits of equipment woven right into it -- tools, food, explosives. Sulis has a prominent nose, as all SUL do, a square jaw, and full lips. Her translucent skin pulses an underlay of green veins. She wears a madras shirt tucked into khaki trousers, her boots are laced to mid-calf.
Sulis has been sent by the elders of her clan. The women who put the horns on the clan chiefs, the great mothers who can also knock those horns off. Sulis is on a one way journey to Winkin City. She comes to the surface as a martyr, but first she comes as an assassin. She has been selected to take a life. She had foreseen it, but the reality is still a jolt. It is a cancer that eats at her, this killing she must do. Even now she wells with anger, her fists clinched, hot blood flushing her cheeks, at thoughts of this her fate.
Why am I always the one singled out to be different? For Sulis has found that being gifted is not always a gift.
Sulis is a feeler, sworn to heal whenever there is need. She doesn’t know why her touch takes away pain, heals sores, and open wounds. Even she wonders why she can seal cracks in bones, and cleanse impurities in blood, it just happens, and it always has. But Sulis hates to touch, or to be touched, at all. Which makes the oath of skin, a palm held firmly to her forehead, an act she finds decidedly objectionable. Yet it is what she must do, what she has sworn to do, to heal when there is need. Now she must forswear this oath, and use her gift to bind the man whose life she will end.
Sulis was a child when she first saw this war that has come upon them. A war declared by the Night Mare’s government-church against the species of the planet’s Core. Eminent domain was first used against the Batemba, and then the Efwiddle, and now at last the SUL are being forced to an offensive.
Eminent Domain, the legal way that greedy, lying, bastards commoditize the mother planet, or so the SUL have always been taught. And as always, Sulis thinks with spite, the people have no say. The governments of the surface have always done the bidding of tyrants, no matter what they’ve been called -- president, dictator, CEO.
At the very beginning of the Night Mare’s reign the people of the Core, the Efwiddle, the Batemba, and the SUL, were forced into treaties, and compelled to hand over ancient territories. Later they were corralled onto reservations. Recent legislation requires the Core dwellers to abandon their languages, in favor of the common tongue of the surface, and to cede their governments to the Night Mare’s own.
“I do all this in the sacred name of the Night Mare’s government-church.” President Bob adds as an afterthought to every public service announcement, with a slight and irreverent bob of his head.
At the beginning of his lifelong term, President Bob seemed ridiculous to the people of the Core. Wobbling under his six foot wide, self-wheeling hat, his uniform weighted in back, to counterbalance the mounds of pibbles, bibbles, and even tribbles, that adorn his breastplate.
When the Species Relocation Teams began to arrive underground, they came with a directive, one that’s proved fatal for Core dwellers. The people of the Core now take President Bob very seriously.
First he made it legal to hunt the Batemba as food. The Batemba are a slug-like race of elephant sized mineral eaters, who have lived in the Core lands far longer than there have been two legs up on the surface. The Batemba are cousins to the antique dragons. Yet, overnight they have been transformed from ancient and learned culture, to that of comestible delicacy.
The screen broadcasts do not mention that Batemba meat is in high demand by the aggressive monster lobby, or that Batemba steaks command even higher prices as export off-planet. Nor do they reveal that President Bob is the majority shareholder of the Night Mare’s only Batemba meat processing plant. Several monster ranchers recently made substantial donations to Bob’s war chest. They’ve also applied for licenses, to keep and breed the Batemba in herds.
The Batemba are incensed.
President Bob’s industry recently infringed on the Efwiddle Territory. The Efwiddle, a primordial species, composed of viscous vapors, have never been recognized as alive by any surface government, because meetings between the species are too dangerous to organize. The Effwiddle are composed of a human skin sloughing smoke. They boast a civilization, and a history, as old, and as detailed, as the Batemba.
President Bob, believing that the Efwiddle are merely a myth, ordered his monster troops to trample the rocks, which, he had been advised were incubating eggs in a licensed breeding field, for use as fuel. His troops wiped out several generations of smoke people yet to come, in sacred nurseries deeded to the Efwiddle in treaties much older than the Night Mare.
In retaliation, for this genocide, the Efwiddle, independent of their Core allies, have already declared war on Winkin City. Legions of the smoke-people have invaded several blocks of the city’s heating ducts. Leaving behind thousands of flayed monsters and humans alike, howling in their homes, and along the walkways, skinless and begging to die.
President Bob has removed all government restrictions, on everything. Now that the planet is obviously shrinking, with no known way to stop it, Bob plans to end the game with more than anyone else. All land is now valued at a premium, and he’s acquiring as much for himself, for the government, as he can.
“By order of the great and scary Night Mare all neighborhoods, and their buildings, are now repatriated.” Bob announced in chambers to the other Deciders, most of whom are directly affected by this obvious land grab.
The other scarred, white uniformed, men, for the first time ever, are all allied together. All of them are now plotting just how to be rid of toady President Bob, without enraging the Night Mare, for whom Bob now acts as sole intermediary.
The SUL watched in silence as Bob whittled away at the rights of their allies and neighbors. Then Bob signed an order authorizing the hunt and capture of SUL females, as restock for the Public Herd. A herd that’s been ravaged by the monster population of Winkin City, a powerful lobby who’s recognized its clout.
Now Sulis is sent to terminate President Bob, an order agreed to by the all the treaty nations underground, who hold him personally responsible for the shrinking of the planet.
Sulis was named after an ancient Goddess of water. It was a name brought from the surface, to the Core, by the expedition of humans, the fathers and mothers of the SUL, who pioneered and peopled the inward land, before the Great Collapse. The people of the SUL nation are the result of over a million years of interbreeding, amongst a thousand founding families. Several human ethnicities mingled into one, in the dark underground.
The SUL recognize that they are directly descended from humans, but they are not complimented by the association. The SUL consider themselves a separate and unique species, with a culture all their own. Others on the planet would agree.
The SUL were discovered after the Great Collapse. When the platelets resettled, and huge fissures were opened to the core. Water cave divers and spelunkers followed. The finding of SUL City is deemed a discovery in the lexicon of surface history. To the SUL it is considered a reintroduction, for they have always known where they were in relation to the surface.
SUL City is a mountain range of cave dwellings, sprawled above a long plateau, inside a larger cave, which is itself seven miles long and three miles wide. S.U.L., or subterranean upper life-form, is a government-church acronym, given by the Night Mare to this species of mole people. They call themselves, as all the treaty nations of the Core lands do, simply the people.
SUL habitats are food poor by surface standards. Most nutrients are gleaned from organic debris. Seeds and nuts are foraged from the caches of animals. Organic matter, flowing through on water, is caught in filters and traps, set along the rock rivulets. Salamanders, beetles, insect eggs, and spiders, are all eaten as delicacies.
The SUL food staple is a flavorless energy cake, made of cave molds liberally mixed with guano, to create a paste, which is compressed into small discs, and then dehydrated between hot rocks. The combustible air underground, a mix of organic gases, precludes the lighting of fires, so surface style cooked food is only enjoyed on caravans to the molten lakes, or to the Manus Market.
The SUL culture is mystic, and inward. Intersecting fault lines create pathways allowing ground water, and other oxygenated vapors, to rise through the domed caves as air. Methane, ethane, and ethylene, with the odor of ethylene, colorless and sweet, like a fruity perfume, permeating everything. The scent of sweet peaches emanates from the SUL themselves, so concentrated is the gas now to their makeup. According to SUL history, it was ethylene which enlightened the oracles at Delphi.
Humans exposed to this air in confined spaces, experience euphoria, out of body sensation, and amnesia. Death has occurred in some Blinkins after prolonged exposure to the air of SUL City.
The SUL navigate without eyes. Like bats and deep water cave fish, they use a refined sonar, not unlike the echolocation of whales, but without the sound. Psychic energy bounces off solid objects, which returns to the SUL mind’s eye as vivid schematics. Much as dogs reference the size of other animals in the scent of their pee.
Inside the inferior colliculus of the SUL brain, that place in humans where vision is bundled with sound, random images appear to the SUL, in flashes, like film footage. The content of these random images, is a melange of time, with no fixed date apparent. This SUL seeing is ignored as unreliable. Yet, among some of the women, as SUL females are still known, are those who see with purpose, the beyond that they see. Sulis is one of these. Feelers always are.
Sulis despises this human she is to kill, President Bob. She sickens at the seeing of him in her mind’s eye -- his chubby short-fingered hand, held flat against her forehead. For this is how Bob will take the oath of skin from her. The oath is never given, she thinks.
With controlled and accurate sight, Sulis has seen that her immediate fate will be capture.
She sees a pair of monstrous soldiers lumbering toward her along the Core Road. A hammerhead and a drillbeast have just killed two of their own compatriots, and eaten them as lunch. The evidence of the violent feast is all over their many claws. Chips of metal filings are caught between their several teeth, bloody oil slicks all eight faces, and their score of hands.
Bob’s all monster army is grown of genetic waste -- hybrids made of useless scrap metal, processed with an indiscriminate amount of eukaryotic matter. Walking blobs of metal headcheese, incubated to be slimy, strong, hungry, petroleum and blood based -- but not to think, never to think.
This pair is searching for a hole in which to nap, after their unplanned lunch, when they see the eyeless woman walking towards them, her fisted arms outstretched in the sign of surrender. They try to ignore her, to pass her by. They don’t even look down at her.
Sulis will have to persuade these soldiers to arrest her. Monsters with full bellies are not motivated civil servants.
“Credits?” She pops her tight fists open to the monsters. She opens and closes them again, many times, quickly.
The monsters startle, they look to her fists in fright.
Sulis knows, as all SUL know, that small sudden movements make monsters uncomfortable. An uncomfortable monster is a scared monster. Aggression they understand, and they are at ease countering with same, but when it comes to small things, details and such, monsters confuse easily.
She said there were credits, one monster thinks to the other, scratching his bum, the seat of his brain. The action makes a slick sucking sound. They stare into her small empty hands in confusion. Where are the credits, they wonder? What are the credits, they wonder? They’ve heard the word mentioned in association with food often enough for it to have made an impact. Then Sulis waggles her fingers, and the monsters huddle closer, fearful of the small unsettling movements.
“You – can – ex - change - me – for - credits.” She says it slowly so that they might understand more quickly.
“Swap credits - for food.” She uses hand gestures, and speaks in the condescending tone she’s heard human males use when speaking to their breeders.
Sulis flashes her hands, open and closed, several times more in quick succession, to show the monsters that she carries no weapon, and to keep them uncomfortable.
The slimy soldiers glom even closer together, the jelly and metal of their makeup slurping and clanking in fear. They wish she would just rush at them, or run away. They’d know just how to react if she did either of those things. They would snatch her up, throw her down, and stomp on her, which would make it unnecessary to think about what might be tied into her hair, (a blade, three varieties of poison, and several finger sized explosives). But these monsters are Bob’s perfect soldiers, they do not think at all.
Sulis leans back against the rock wall, her arms folded, waiting while the two monsters fight over which of their screens they will use for her transport. Then she waits a bit longer while the hammerhead muddles his memory, scratching at his bum, trying to remember how his screen works. While the drillbeast gouges at his side, drawing a bright purple ooze, and many short cries of pain. He’s trying to get his screen out of the pocket of his ill-fitting monster brown uniform.
All three of them jump in surprise when a small point of light shoots out in all directions, and a portal to the Public Herd opens to them. Each monster is certain that it has accomplished the feat, so they fight over that.
At last both monsters shove Sulis into the open portal, where naked females, of a variety of species, writhe on all the screens, which are the walls, the floors and the counters as well.
The monsters are now fighting over which of them will enter the opening first. Both squeeze into the portal at the same time. It blips to a point of light, and it’s gone, leaving sliver chunks of monster buttocks behind.
Wednesday, January 28, 2015
Chapter Two - Lord Nightmare Escapes
Reve watches the rulers of the pre-collapse broadcast from their derrick kingdoms, in the mighty oil slicked seas, surrounded by tanker flotillas. Crazed, vicious, and triumphant crusaders of the apocalypse foretold, Ulger, the last of the energy barons, along with old Sero and Reup, the Pharma Kings, control the ravaged wastelands.
Scenes of famine flicker across Verity’s screen. Humans huddle together in vine covered skyscrapers. Cities, no longer powered by the fossils that fueled, are mounded with refuse, downed hovers, broken lastics, and non-compostable zastics, piled into towers that rival the buildings in height.
It’s a postindustrial world, on the verge of a major catastrophe. A civilization no longer able to power the energy suck it created, and too far removed from the land to understand what is food.
It’s Ulger who exploded the pocket of gas, in his plan for a planet wide suicide. He blew out the side of the spinning orb from inside a hilltop of shale, jutting up out of the North Sea.
Reve wonders why he does it? To leave a mark, his personal signature on the planet? Whatever the reason, Reve watches one side of the blue orb explode. There’s a sudden gaping crater, the molten rock inside it, like larvae exposed in an unformed state. Then the hole begins to suck at the rest of the planet to fill itself. Mountains crumble, and great cantilevered rocks tumble into the mouths of the dragons, the walls of water have become, as the earth redistributes herself to survive. Whole cities are sucked inward, from fault lines that widen as they appear. Land is swallowed, chased by oceans, rushing to bandage the gaping void. Now the world is naught but a rage of waves, and all that was of man and beast, is submerged now, or, barnacle like, clinging to tomorrow’s archeology.
“There is no more, my Lord Reve, but that which is classified.” Verity says, the waves rampaging across her screen.
Reve knows that the world begins again. For when the waters ebb it is the continent of Blinkin that remains. The approved history of their world begins later, with the defeat of Alma, and not before.
“Show me Alma?” Reve commands, wondering, not for the first time, about this other.
“Alma was a hag, a harridan, a demon even more frightening then me.” Anka said, when he’d asked her.
His mother spat three times on the floor at the mention of this other’s name.
“I alone rescued the world, from the fate of Alma’s sun-filled days.” Anka instructed her son, in a voice the sound and smell of old sewers. She spat three times again.
“It was ordained that I should rule alone.”
Young Reve then lived captive in a cage next to the Night Mare’s vanity. It swung among the cobwebs, occupying a place of pride.
“But why, mother?” He’d asked the demon.
“Why not?” She replied, admiring her skeletal reflection in her vanity’s mirror.
“What if it had been ordained for Alma to rule alone? What then?” Young Reve had asked.
Anka looked at Reve, her caged and beautiful copper toned son, and she frowned.
“Then maybe you would have become her stupid son, and not mine.” Anka flicks the back of young Reve’s head, between the slats of the cage, with a talon.
“That’s not what happened.” She spat three times again.
“But if it had?” The boy demon had bravely supposed.
“If it had I would have rewritten that destiny, and the results would have been the same. You would still be calling me mummy!” Anka cawed, smacking her bony thigh with a taloned claw.
“Stop imagining, Reve, my son. You’re beginning to sound like a weaver. Not a good idea to get hooked on the junk you steal, my son. Stick to nightmares. They are so much easier to manifest. Nightmares never let you down, they always end with regret, and if you’re lucky, a puddle of body fluids.” The demon said, with a twinge of lament.
Reve wonders, for the first time, what his mother’s dreams might have been when she was young, and what she might make of them now. Now that she is so thoroughly enthrall to the dreams of others.
Lord Nightmare’s reveries are interrupted by Verity, whose screen now displays a multi-headed hydra, horrible, destructive, and devoid of personality.
“Alma, the terrible, the awful, the horrible, a monster defeated by the Night Mare early in the era post-collapse. All data in this sector is restricted. Password please?”
The screen now flashes the word “Restricted”.
Reve’s eyes narrow.
“Restricted.” Verity replies. “Password please.”
First classified and now restricted with passwords? Nothing has ever been unavailable to Reve. Except maybe Mina, and Rose. But when he stops to think about it, he’s never really wanted to know anything about the stories attached to the archeology he collects. He wonders at himself.
“Who has access to this restricted information?” He demands, as if he might find someone to blame for his own blindness.
“The Night Mare,” Verity replies, “and President Bob.”
“Bob?” Reve says, surprised by a mild jolt of jealousy.
Bob’s face flashes across the screen in an authorized tribute.
“President Bob began his career in the girl registry office. He transferred to the Dream Police as an entry level cadet, where he rose quickly through the ranks to senior officer of the Probe Department. From there he was promoted to Under Commissioner of Rogue-dreamers, and quickly assumed the job of private secretary to the Night Mare herself. His meteoric career rise has continued with his election to the office of President for life.” Verity concludes.
Reve watches President Bob give his morning report on the screen. The rat-man is greeting his public on a walkway. He’s surrounded by a guard of hard shelled monsters. There’s a small electrode in the palm of his gloved hand. He’s shaking the appendages of monster constituents along the walkway, but only the ones in tan uniforms. His handshake administers a lethal shock. The monsters drop down in foaming seizures.
“Government cutbacks in action.” Bob says from a ratty smile, directly into the pap camera eyes.
“Tan uniformed monsters are today’s fast food. Watch your government’s credit saving in action. Isn’t this an efficient, cheaper, way to feed the monster patrols that keep our walkways safe, for you?” Bob points a finger at the pap.
“Enough, Verity.” Reve says, repulsed by Bob. He’ll deal with the rat-man another time. First things first, escape the city, rescue Rose, and find Mina. Then they’ll topple his mother, and Bob will just come tumbling down as a consequence. Yes, why not, maybe it will be that easy.
A niggling thought forces Reve back to his recent reverie, back to those early memories of his boyhood in the cage. There was something in what his mother said in her talk of Alma, something that has always troubled him. Something filed away to be examined on a day just like today. What was it? He riffles through the details of this memory, and then it comes to him, it pings his brain with clarity.
“You’re beginning to sound like a weaver.” That’s what his mother had said.
It was a curious phrase, pregnant with undiscovered meaning. He thought then that a weaver must refer to his absent father, the North wind. A being his mother normally referred to only in blustering torrents of outrage. A weaver must be a bad thing, he’d supposed. But now, he wonders, if she’d meant it about Alma.
“What’s a weaver?” He asks Verity.
“Weaver. A person who makes fabric from threads, or baskets from dried plant leaves. Also a finch-like songbird of tropical origin, related to sparrows. The builders of elaborately woven nests. Family Ploceidae: several genera.” Images of woven cloth, baskets, and nest building birds, appear on Verity’s screen.
Reve furrows his brow. None of this is the meaning he’s looking for. Then a thought pops into his head. Just a random what if.
“What is the relationship between the Night Mare and the Weaver?”
“That information is classified.” Verity says, and the word “Warning”, flashes on her blue screen in red.
“Alert! Access to the Building Climber, set on local, has been granted to President Bob. Estimated time of arrival - two thousand seven hundred and thirty-four turns of the sweep hand. He’s climbing his way up.” Verity says.
The screen shows white uniformed Bob, in the building climber, wearing a big white hat and fiddling with his bibbles. He’s surrounded by a hard-shell monster guard. A phalanx of dream probes rises with him, on the outside of the climber.
“Excellent!” Reve says with a diabolic gleam in his copper eyes. He crosses back to his desk and he swipes his hand once over the screens. The hovering files dissolve into motes of dust. The blue light fades, leaving only the faint silhouette of the huddled Drifters. The alarm is weak sounding, the column of light is now grey.
Reve closes the flap over his pack. It seals itself, and shrinks to the size of a small cube, which he shoves into a utility compartment on the calf of his boot.
He surveys his home, the dark mounds of history lurking all around him. Then he turns toward the screen, determined to make a mark of his own.
“Manus Market please, Verity.” He says. “But not too close.”
A red rock expanse appears on Verity’s screen, the bustling tent stall world of the Manus Market visible in the distant background. A waft of wind blows the scent of exotic spices, and slow roasting meats, through the open portal. Reve can hear the far off cries of the hawkers.
“Glognu! Fresh glognu!”
He glances back behind him, to where his blackboard stands. Though he cannot see it in the gloom of his rooms, it’s image is burned upon the retina of his mind. The phrase, written by Rose in Binamic slang, is the thing that informs his present resolve.
To Off-grid, is what it says.
“To Off-grid, Rose.” Reve offers the room. “Perhaps I’ll find you there. I will find you.” He brings a fist to his heart.
“It’s time to make my own mark on this planet. Goodbye, Mother.” He says.
He wonders if he’ll ever see this place again, and who he might be when and if that happens.
“You’re in charge now, Verity.” Reve says to the dark of the room.
“Affirmative.” The screen replies.
He climbs into the image on the screen, and out onto the red rock landscape of the Off-grid to the Left. He reaches back through the portal opening, and he drops his prayerscreen to the floor.
When last seen, Reve is walking towards the colorful tents of the Manus Market, fluttering on the near horizon. Then the portal blips to a point of light, and it’s gone. The framed image of a castle on a stormy night, is all that remains.
Red uniformed policemen find the last traces of Lord Nightmare many moons hence, on a small asteroid mining colony, established in the yesterday, and run by yubas and dreads. President Bob’s patrols interrogate the machines, whose memory banks contain grainy recordings of a lean and muscular man, wearing a black-hide uniform, and an Off-gridder hat pulled down low. From there Lord Nightmare is seen to bounce out into unknown space. No one will follow him there.
Tuesday, January 27, 2015
The Rogue’s File
A puff of yellow smoke, a lightening flash, a sizzle, pop, crack, and then a boom!
A cloud of disjointed words and blurred images burst into the column of blue screen light that surrounds Reve. He’s inside his stone colonnade, housed on the top floor of his seven thousand seven hundred and seventy-seven floor private museum, dedicated to the archeology of the planet.
He’s hunkered over a desktop of screens, perched on two orange eyed gryphons, the size of hellhounds. The long stone room, with mullioned windows along the ramparts, is filled with the artifacts of other times.
Reve is under house arrest, but only because he’s been too busy searching for this particular file to make his escape.
He squints, devilishly handsome, in the fog of effigies around him. Random words and misty images, drift into clumps. He’s trying to make sense of them. He has only a few seconds to break the code on this file, labeled Rogue Dreamer, before it self combusts. A screen drone has already reported the security breach to President Bob, but Reve plans to be long gone before anyone arrives to ask questions.
This file will confirm it, he thinks, his suspicion that if Rose is not the Gold Stone Girl, the Rogue dreamer must be. It’s the only way it all makes sense. It explains the feelings he’s had ever since he met her, the confidence that anything is possible.
He can remember the buoyant feelings he had with the other dreamers, with Sada, Lida, Uda, and little Hoda, but never before has he felt so joyful. No, that’s not the word, but he’s not exactly sure what the feeling is. Perhaps it’s because he’s never felt quite this way before, driven to do something that has meaning. Never has he known anyone as unpredictable as this Rogue. What she might be like, a dreamer not raised in his mother’s system, is impossible for him to imagine.
Waves of emotion roll over him when he remembers being with her, this girl of his dreams. He hardens at the memory of mating with her, of their mutual satisfaction. His heart kicks at his ribs, and his stomach drops, the way it does when he reenters Blinkin’s atmosphere from space, or when he rides the building climber outside, set on express, none of it equal to the power he felt bringing the Rogue to fulfillment. He’d never done that before, given a female pleasure. All the other Gold Stone girls had been broken, and the breeders were all cut.
A dreamer, not raised by his mother, is a wondrous and mysterious creature, he’s decided. She’s all he’s been able to think about, she’s what fuels his every move. He wants to be worthy of her, though he’s not quite sure what is meant by the word. Thoughts of the rogue, as his match, as a contest, drive him on. He feels, for the first time in hundreds of thousands of cycles, he feels, yes, hopeful.
If she’s the one, then what cannot they accomplish together? Maybe, he thinks, as treason daily recasts itself as activism, just maybe, they can topple his mother, and dream another way. Together, he and this rogue, they might do anything. They might save the world and remake it anew.
Reve has no idea that these plans he’s making for the future are rudimentary dreams. He just knows that the more he believes his ideas are possible, the more possible they seem.
It’s taken Reve several suns, and much sucking up, to regain his mother’s confidence, and even now their meetings are only cordial. The Night Mare is wrapped up in her web of dreams, slung in a miasma of Drifter scent. She gives him face time, now and then, usually on the screens. Exchanges in which she offers him slurred and random responses, to conversations they’re not having. Reve can see that his mother’s a mess, and that her inability to command the ship, means that the whole world’s in for a wreck.
The Drifters tell him that she’s demented. He wonders what that means.
Aging has been illegal in Winkin City, until just recently. Now the Night Mare’s age, she will admit to one million thirty, is the new twenty, by official decree. Skin wrinkling has become the latest craze. Reve’s mother is now referring to herself as the Dream Weaver, as a marketing ploy, for her new line of synthetic dreams. Pastel pulp, guaranteed to blow your mind. Now, instead of the daily med patch, soap opera plastic dreaming is required. Humans fled the city in droves once they’d tried them. The ones who didn’t make it out, are now all addicted to sugar coated nightmares, too deluded to care what happens in the everyday.
Everything in Winkin City is changing more rapidly than the planet is shrinking. President Bob has assumed the helm, as Decider in Chief, and he’s already begun a new war.
The lazy thoughtless way to stimulate a sluggish economy, Reve thinks with ire.
To finance this offensive effort, Bob’s changing a million year demographic, and he’s letting the monster lobby rise. As a result, the food chain is shifting, and the humans left dreaming in Winkin City, may soon lose their legislative struggle, not to be reclassified as meat.
Reve swipes an impatient hand through the file’s information. Stacks of words shift places in the air around him. He fans another section, and a swarm of words turns upside down. Still there’s no clarity to the narrative. Reve’s searching for a pattern, for a key to make meaning out of the raw data, hanging in the air around him. Breaking this code is all that keeps him from knowing everything that there is to know about the Rogue dreamer.
Soon, Reve thinks, he’ll know her name. He considers this thought with a smile. Something that happens now whenever Reve thinks of the Rogue dreamer. He’s been imagining scenarios of their next meeting. He sees himself holding the Rogue in his arms, and mating with her, unhurried, and without an audience. He doesn’t imagine intimate conversations. Nor does he understand that shared decision making, means that she has a say. All of these things will occur to him the hard way, but for the moment, his vision of true love is mostly physical.
“What is your name?” He says aloud.
He pushes the sections of random words around, this way, and then that, puzzling the anagrams to be found, the task seeming insurmountable. Which are the right words to choose? Then suddenly, Bob, ratty-Bob, pops into Lord Nightmare’s head.
Lazy and mean spirited, are the words to best describe him, Reve thinks. Bob calls himself, a man of ideas, but in reality,
“He’s a blamer and a credit whore,” Reve mutters, of his mother’s new second in command.
Then Reve notices that Bob logged this file himself. This is a file Bob didn’t trust to someone else.
Reve ponders this, and the key to unlocking the file comes to him with crystal clarity. Bob would have taken the easiest way out. Rats are lazy. They make shortcuts. At least that’s been Reve’s experience of rats. There have always been rodents scurrying around his mother.
He swipes at the words midair, till the end is now a beginning. The file explodes open around him, silently, in a plume of bright white light. The words and effigies order themselves into a visual story, slow moving, chronological.
He sees the rogue huddled at the base of the rickety Bridge of Tears, and then again at the screen, on the border of the breederhood, her face spattered in blood. He stops the action, by reaching out to tap an image of the Rogue in the girl registry office, alongside two Off-gridders and, Bob, he notes with surprise.
“Mina.” Reve says her name aloud, and over dozens of times in succession, now that he’s learned it. Even the sound of it makes him smile.
Reve lingers over an aerial image of the Bubbas’ homestead in the Off-grid. He reads Bob’s notes on the best ways to attack it. He pulls three-dimensional footage of Bubba and Dee-Dee towards him, searching for clues to Mina in their faces.
They’re Off-gridders! Reve thinks with mounting excitement. That explains Mina’s forthrightness, she was raised in the Off-grid. There’s not much tolerance for bullshit in the Off-grid. Either you can survive there, or you die, he thinks, as one who’s certain he could accomplish the thing with ease.
Unlike most in Winkin City, where the Off-grid is reviled by even the walkway sweepers, Reve has always held a deep fascination for all things Off-grid. That rugged wild frontier, where a man is tested by the planet, and not his mother, to survive.
Now that the file is open, Reve’s disappointed by its lack of content. There’s very little by way of official screen captures of Mina, or her family. What footage there is was all gathered by the paps, on the day Mina was registered, and in quarantine, after her Surrender. It’s much less information than would be available on any citizen, who lived their life in Winkin City.
Reve waves the Surrender footage to him. He watches Mina pace the quarantine hall. He’s wondering what she’s thinking when she examines the walls and the floors? He watches her intake interview with Mike, and he notices how the aged civil servant smiles at her. Then she’s laughing with paps, and speaking their language, something he thought only Frederick took the time to do.
Then Reve sees himself, mating with Mina on the psychophant’s ledge. He feels a sudden pit in his stomach. He doesn’t know what to call this fire in his belly, so he snarls instead. Then he claws the images right out of the official record, sparks flying, security lights flashing, warning bells clanging.
“This was private!” Reve shouts.
He’s mated with so many on the screens without concern, but this, he thinks, this time with Mina was different, it was special. He wonders why it matters. Maybe, he thinks, it’s how vulnerable he was.
Reve wafts the image of Mina’s face closer, heedless of the alarms, the bells and whistles, sounding all around him now. He examines her; the mass of black curls, the soft roses in golden brown cheeks, her almond shaped eyes, amber dipped in stardust. He draws his finger from the rosebud mouth, down to the dimple in her chin. He smiles, wishing he knew her better, wishing he hadn’t wasted so much time. He kisses the image gently on the lips.
“I don’t know the words.”
He doesn’t know the words, I’m sorry, because he’s never used them.
“I’m guilty.” He says instead, and he knows this to be true, even though it’s not quite what he meant to say. He’s thinking of the last time he spoke to her, and dream junkie is what he called her. It was not a nice thing to say.
“I want to be different.” He says to the images looping around him.
He’s been horrific all of his life. What it might mean to be other than that, he’s not really sure. But even this small thought of the change he will attempt, rallies in him a never before felt vigor, and a renewed interest in life.
He plans to leave the city, and to forgo all of his power. He plans to sever himself from his mother completely, and to live as a human in the Off-grid.
That it will be a wandering in the desert, while the planet exacts her penance from him, he does not anticipate, but walkabout he will.
Reve is about to close the file of Mina’s quarantine, when he sees Frederick Bogeyman sitting on her quarantine hall bed, at its end.
“What are you doing with my rogue?” He asks the image of Frederick, who’s chatting with Mina, a cigar in his filthy hand.
The primal animal in Reve rises with a growl.
“Are they flirting?” He asks himself.
Then the action jumps forward, to Mina surrounded by dream probes. Small cuts are slashed across her face, the screen walls are open to the walkways. Mina drops to her knees, succumbing to the hum of the probes, and then she smiles, and unexpectedly vanishes.
Now he sees Mina, her back sucked to a wet cliff face, arms wide, a storm howling all around her. She’s spotlit in probe light. Without warning she dives off the cliff, and she plummets into the mist.
“Did she just jump into the Mists of Disbelief?” Reve asks himself astounded.
The air around Reve heaves and bristles. The action pulls him from his open mouthed shock, back to his own plan of escape. The darkness shuffles again, and he remembers the guard of Drifters huddled at the edge of the light around him.
These Drifters have been disabled. Vials of dream mist have been self-ravaged into all of their necks, and orange goo is leaking. These Drifters are all so deep in dream that they may never return. Concentrated dreams stolen from the Night Mare, by Rose, expressly for Reve to use in this way, to buy him time for an escape.
Reve puzzles Rose’s loyalty, for he knows with certainty that he’s done nothing to deserve it. All that’s about to change. He’s determined to become a different demon, one who’s held to a moral code. He’s not quite sure what that means, nor how difficult it might be when tested, but he’s determined to give it a real go.
Reve wriggles through the Drifter circle, a tall wall of mildewed towels. The dreaming beasts cluck, they shuffle in absent circles, and then squijal back into the dream circle again.
Reve crosses to the far side of the room with purpose, the bells and sirens weakening as he goes. He stops at the wall, at the canvas of an ancient castle on a stormy night, slung low upon it.
“Verity.” Reve says, and the castle becomes a swirl of brilliant colors.
“What is the Gold Stone Girl?” Reve asks the screen, wondering why it’s never occurred to him to ask her about it before.
An official image of Rose appears on the screen. Verity’s sultry voice supplies the narrative.
“Rose is the fifth, in the era post Alma.” The screen goes silent, and the image of a sullen Rose stares at him from the wall.
“Yes, but what else?” He asks. “Why do we single the girl out? Why does my mother eat her?’
“All else is classified.” Verity replies.
“Classified?” He asks confused.
“Classified.” She repeats.
Reve slumps into a nearby throne, made of hide tied to bone, and he pouts.
“Loser,” Verity says.
“What?” Reve asks in outrage and surprise. “You’re the one without the information. I thought you knew everything.”
“It’s not that I don’t know, it’s that I can’t tell you. You disappoint me, Reve. There’s always a way around a classification.” Verity says.
“Oh cut it out, and just tell me!” He mopes.
“Think, numbskull,” Verity says.
“Show me the pre-collapse.” He commands.
Verity’s screen swirls toward the past.