Stark threw his umpteenth name off like an ill-fitting and outdated outfit. It was actually a name he liked. He'd miss it, as well as missing the woman who wrote or uttered that syllable to refer to that which was him. He looked out at the overcast San Francisco sky. It was as cloudy and murky as his soul...or whatever it was that he had that could be thought of as analogous to a "soul".
He had been through this similar scenario before, all of this parting-is-such-sappy-sorrow-shit. In his time on the Earth - three-thousand years or more, about five hundred of which he could "remember" - he'd had at least one host and often many more every hundred years or so. He felt no guilt. Mona, the manic-depressive loner with the most intense synaesthesia he'd played or worked with in a sape's brain in three thousand-plus years - well, she was slowly becoming more occupied with the world. She wanted to be with people - real people, that's how she put it. Stark winced...and imagined her doing all kinds of things with humans that he knew that he could do as a sentient virus in a much more superior mode. But she wasn't having any of this; she obviously had an agenda.
"But, you know about power..." she had told him, nineteen candles and electric lamps flaming in her city room. "You used to talk to me at night after you would do all of those...things...to me..." She managed a half-smile. "About how to Undermine and Overwhelm." She shook out a last cigaret and flared a too-tall Bic flame on it. "I need to mingle with them to ...you know. Plant the seeds. To take over their thinking, pattern by pattern..." Mona got out of bed, her black velvet sheet falling to the floor in folds and ripples. She was taking bites out of a red, shiny apple and crunching it with gusto between her sentences as if for punctuation effect. She walked to her stereo, took out that arousing Nitzer Ebb CD and replaced it with some 4AD music..."This Dead Mortal Dance Can Coil" or something to that effect.
She sighed and got back in her bed. He slid up beside her and rested his head of blonde-streaked hair over her smooth belly and collapsed. She started to feel maudlin, and stroked his hair, his back, his legs and arrow-prong cock.
Stark sighed, as if in unison. His kind weren't born with emotions, but tended to develop them over the hundreds of years that they lived in the minds of the sapes. And this was death - that is what all his brethren in the aethyrs told him. Once the will he had to exist in the dimension that was his plane was undermined by feeling attachments to sapes as anything other than strictly a feeding ground, he would slowly be drawn by the unrelenting forces of gravity down into the very center of the earth...but before he reached it, the buckling and breaking of the tectonics of mantle and crust would snap him, compact him, squeeze him into yet another earthquake, a blip on a seismograph, a newborn of his kind. For that was the life cycle of such creatures - the power-eaters, or the Quakeborn...an adjunct to humankind from the first days that humans walked the earth. They lived with people, side-by-side, in their very brains. Very few minds actually contain only the consciousness of their owners. Almost all sapes carry these viral parasites as well, but very, very few of the humans make contact with their mind-roommates, and those who do almost invariably cry "demonic possession!" and ran for the silly tools of crucifixes and the like to rid themselves of their counterparts.
Mona had been different. When a sape acknowledges the power-eater in a positive fashion, a reward is given to that sape that usually sates them for a lifespan - the parasite becomes instead a symbiont. In exchange for the power that they eat - a power connected with erotic arousal - the entity becomes the sape's lover, and always, always the best they'd ever had...or ever would have. Forever.
They were not vampires, his kind; nor were they ghosts. It was to be expected: the sapes knew the species existed, but how do you artistically and dramatically represent experiences in dimensions you can not even imagine, much less experience yourself? You do a crappy, half-assed job...thus the sapes have their vampires and daemons and the like. His kind had a name but no sape could pronounce or write it. "Power-eater" or "Assimilator" were the closest translations.
Stark could see how she could be lured to the solidness of humans. But the humans - sapes - were terminally unreliable, had a habit of lying about how much power they really possessed, and had, since time immemorial, a penchant for getting tangled up in emotionally sticky spiderwebs of uncertain timelines - for they had none of the time-transcendent qualities of the arguably very advanced race of virii. These qualities, and so many, many more assorted random and sundry powers made Stark, in comparison, much more substantial than any sape could ever be. But he lacked the ability to control matter. By manipulating the sapes he could have anything he wanted. But it was not the kind of control he found himself aching for more and more of the time.
Sometimes he wanted to create objects and symbols all by himself, as opposed to doing it through the hands of Mona Lythik or another host. He wanted to leave his mark on the earth. He always needed to have a host - a lover who would trade his or her hands for his gift of awesome sexuality...and his slow and masterful means of making her - or him - ache with overprolonged desire and then taking over in a single invasive manoevre. But no. It wasn't going to last. Wasn't enough for her, either.
Mona! Oh why...why...? He would have cried had he a body; Mona, however, cried enough for both.
She said goodbye to him. He kissed her goodbye with a final jolt to the spinal cord, and dispersed.
Time slashed. Space flashed. The eigenvector did something else.
The eigenvector - the Z-Axis of N-space - was for his kind much like an underground Metro train. The operative term with the eigenvector was "to slide". The "view" of the Grid - intersectors, crosshatch, point-to-line-to-cube-to-tesseract - the mathematical cities where numerals lived and alphabets worked to maintain them - could be a fascination even to the jaded Stark, who'd ridden the eigenvector fucking damn near every-when/where that it travelled to (it seemed, but couldn't ever be totally true, for infinity was beyond the reach of even his kind).
Stark went into a loop. He obsessed - for the first time in almost a year - on Malachai. And saddened from a thousand different loneliness-sensations felt by one hundred thousand sets of one hundred thousand sets of one hundred thousand [...ellipses to the exponential power of ellipses...] tinier-than-quark-sized pixel-puzzle-pieces he'd dispersed into. Somehow (an example of the utter illogic of his kind that guaranteed human beings would never even come close to understanding - and thus controlling - the Quakeborn) there existed one dimension in which his components stuck together and he remained sentient. He didn't think with neurons; he WAS thought. Above all else, this quality made him able to communicate with and seduce sapes. And control them. Control was The Prize, the Goal, the Thing To Be Had. Coincidentally, sapes prized control as well; they just weren't able to control the same things, or hold sway over them as confidently as one of Stark's viral kind. Usually.
There was no perfection to be had: by anyone...of any kind...anywhere.
They - the power-eater viruses and the humans - shared the same universe, one in which Order and Disorder thrashed in endless war-fuck-love-hate, and thus no absolute version of anything existed...not even randomness could be counted on to be disorderly. Anything could happen and it usually didn't.
Something else could, and would instead, when and where it was least predicted or expected. Usually.
"Usually" usually meant "most of the time."
Oh Malachai! Stark whispered in his ardour. Where are you? When are you? I miss you. Want you. So much. So tired of sapes. I am coming for you, Malachai. We'll be together again and start all the old plans again...
To find Malachai who could be anywhere and anywhen? It could be done. Stark's kind left tracers that could be picked up while on the eigenvector. If he could find out where Malachai had been five years ago he could get a trace from that point that would lead him, by bioelectric "vibrational scent" to where he was now.
"Where" and "now" confuse the situation as far as any human would be concerned, but Stark instinctively understood...where Malachai was now was not a where, not exactly...but the eigenvector stopped sliding and a where came to exist...and rest upon a when.
Union of the Snake
The girl, 13 or so, was not an Indian but her skin was sun-painted just as darkly as that of a Hopi. She'd been admitted to the New Mexico Institution for the Neurologically Disturbed when she was twelve or so, nobody having anything on the computer about her, no ID, nobody who spoke for her, no family to speak of. All she would say upon her admission was: I am Snake Child. My father is the Diamondback Rattlesnake.
She'd been picked up in a downtown Santa Fe pet store by police. She had been taking white mice out of a back-room cage and eating them. She'd consumed one of the mice already. There was no blood; she'd swallowed the thing whole. Alive.
It had been on a cold winter day. A time when the predators of even the arid environs sometimes had trouble finding enough to eat in the wild.
The police had whisked her unceremoniously to the first mental hospital that they could find in short notice that had any facility for dealing with a little girl whose perception of the world around her was skewed so much as to be practically nonexistent. The grey-souled white-clothed people there, taking voluminous notes and understanding virtually nothing, had not counted on her running astray from their sanctioned and sanitized so-called sanctuary. She had been incarcerated about eighteen months and had been catatonic for most of them...once a month she had a three-day mania during which her behaviour emulated that of a certain reptile - a rattlesnake, to be exact. She would wander into a roomful of people, making noises like dry cornhusks, and bite them - not with her mouth, but with her undulating, copper braceleted and coppery-brown arms, outstretching index-and-middle fingers like fangs.
Snake was crazier than a shithouse rat without a shithouse. Some days she was straitjacketed, hissing and spitting, jerking and thrashing around and making chittering noises with her mouth. None of the doctors had a workable diagnosis. The antipsychotic drugs - the phenothiazine tranqs - Thorazine and Stelazine, even the accursed Haldol - were shoveled into her, but they might just as well have been sugarpills. Snake's blood didn't metabolise them.
Perhaps she simply never revealed the certain intelligence she possessed because if she did, they'd get a clue that she knew how simple it would be to leave, folding her acrobatically-contortable body into a laundry hamper, covering herself over with linen and ending up in a white truck heading to Laundryland. She crawled out while the driver was smoking a cigaret with a laundry foreman.
Snake Child was running FROM nothing, and running TO something - that hummed on her receivers. Technically - as in biologically - she had at least nine or ten sensory organs. A few were things snakes had: pit-viper-like heat-sensors, extravibratory transducers, sensitive belly nerves by which she could hear footsteps from twenty feet away. She also had two or three senses which had absolutely no name, and absolutely nothing in common with anything else alive - at least nothing that had been discovered and catalogued by science. The little girl may not have seemed to be too aware of the world around her, but she was actually much more aware of it than anyone else she came in contact with in her travels.
The Tequila Worm
Her father, in a sense, WAS a diamondback rattlesnake.
Its life-pattern had managed to hitch a ride on a sperm cell driving through semen and participate in impregnating a schitzy, dissolute woman, a 28-year old alcoholic named Jeanine Hollingsley. LSD attempted to unshackle her from the toxic stupor of Bacardi every month or two when the hippies came into town, following the Grateful Dead and spreading outdated versions of the Learyite gospel wherever they went.
The babbley, bubbley spaced-out and spaced-in Jeanine had been sharing a dusty old room at a decrepit little hole in Santa Fe called The Cannonball Motel. In this room she stayed with three boozed-up, shifty-eyed drifters, all on the outskirts of both the law and sanity.
There was an "understanding" amongst them that they'd do their best to keep her in drinks and drugs if she would keep the house clean, meaning in their parlance that she would always swallow when she gave head, and never spit. It was an arrangement that worked for her: her brain was somewhere about as far off as the moons on the dark side of Jupiter, and when performing her housecleaning services her employers were always too drunk to notice that she was too drunk to be really paying that much attention to her "work".
The day it happened, the two hoboes from Alabama were playing poker and getting smashed on tequila. Then the inevitable discussion related to the worm in the bottle occurred. It seems that it is an unwritten and unspoken law of hobos that when a bottle of tequila was the beverage to be imbibed, the discussion of the worm must carry on as if said discussion had never before taken place. That is the way of the memory spans of hoboes - trains of thought hopped onto and hopped off of again without a second look as to their eventual destination.
Ron, the hobo in the red plaid, spoke: "You're s'pozedta eat the worm arencha? Makes you trip and shit."
Usually Jeanine, especially on days such as this when she was on acid and her mind had just about dissolved, kept quiet; she saw cocoonish dark thread-auras enshrouding the faces of the three men she crashed with - especially when they were drunk, which was most of the time. And to her these spelled death in the language of acid, and would tend to disturb her trip. But she brought her head out of her clouds and very lucidly said to them, "There is mescal in the tequila-worm, but not for all who eat it. If the Mescalito wanted a word with you he'd call through the worm, or the cactus, or sometimes just the sun."
Before Jasper, the other player in the card game, had a chance to ask her what the fuck the Mescalito was and how you'd hear it call you, the door opened, then slammed shut on tortured-sounding hinges.
It was Eddie Lee. He was the undisputed head of the "household". In his left hand he held another bottle of tequila. In his right hand he held a potato sack. The big bull-rattler inside was not making a sound like a rattle. It was a whirring, almost mechanical sound, and at the same time it called up the feeling of dead cornhusks in the orange light of a drought-year sunset. The sound could make the smell of death come into your nostrils psychosomatically.
Eddie Lee told everyone it was Jeanine's turn to eat the worm.
They called her over and against her protest performed their sloppy versions of sexual intercourse on her. As was generally her practice, she simply blotted them out of her head, although under the psychedelic's influence it was not as easy as usual.
Thirteen minutes into it she went catatonic or fugued into blackout and she didn't feel a thing. Sometimes the mind knows when to give the body and soul the gift of its sustained absence. When all three of them were finished, Eddie announced that it was the rattlesnake's turn. The other two alkies winced and looked away.
They'd seen Eddie Lee kill people before...in robberies, a barfight...and one particularly brutal fagbashing that had only just recently happened, three days before. Rod and Jasper had decided together that they'd had enough of ol' Eddie Lee, and were going to split when the week's motel rent was up. Eddie called them a couple of Alabama chickenshits for not having the guts to watch. "It's the revenge of the Serpent upon the Woman!" Eddie had drunkenly howled, mocking the book of Genesis, and placed the triangular arrow of the diamondback's head in the general area where where he wanted it.
The snake began to actually move inside her of its own volition.
Somewhere...somewhere in the onion-peel-layers of her mind - blighted peels for the most part - something happened... Something happened to her that she could not remember upon waking. She did not recall one bit of the night and the tequila and the snake...and it was a good thing. But she might have found it rather interesting that the snake showed no interest in biting her. And once it discovered that the area it had been crawling into wasn't a gopher hole, it instantly withdrew and began to slip away from her and the three men. Eddie kept grabbing it from behind the head and attempting to reposition it but to no avail. Finally it got tired of being messed with. It lurched its head and neck into a lightning-fast S-curve and lashed out at Eddie Lee, who screamed, knocking the tequila bottle over and flinging the snake over his shoulder. In the pandemonium that followed, it managed to escape into a real rodent hole under the bed where it vanished from the den of human insanity that it neither wanted nor needed any part of.
The hoboes had no idea what to do about Eddie's snakebite other than knowing that you're supposed to suck the venom out of the wound. They proceeded to do this, though not with much gusto, being that neither was very fond of Eddie. Besides, he was dying fast anyway. He had already been dead for an hour by the time Jasper had finally sobered up enough to get the bright idea of calling an ambulance.
When the ambulance left the Cannonball Motel, it carried with it two bodies. One was covered head to foot in a sheet with a DOA tag tied around its big toe. The other was alive, but unconscious except for an occasional moan every so often.
The nightmare had left her slipping in and out of a catatonic coma. Every so often, Jeanine would wake up for about two minutes screaming about earthquakes and rattlesnakes and the end of the world. She stayed in the hospital for almost a year after that day, undergoing psychotherapy and counseling for her alcohol and drug problems, and the traumatic shock she'd suffered from the rape while she'd been on acid. At the end of two months there, she was to find that she had conceived from the incident. Her counselors tried to suggest to her that perhaps the option of not keeping the baby was something that she might consider, but she would not hear of it. She insisted that the child was her own and she was going to have it no matter what.
When the baby was born, it was severely underweight but appeared perfectly alive and healthy. However, the girl's body was a little bit different; she had rather elongated legs and arms, and even though she was a girl, she had the face of a boy. Jeanine didn't notice any of these things. She only knew that her baby was alive and that its cries proved a strong energy had passed from the heavens - and beyond - through her to animate her autonomic nervous system and carry her past the barrier from the pre-birth world into this one. Unfortunately, though, it was the last thing that Jeanine Hollingsley would ever know. She died in her sleep of a brain hemorrhage, very shortly after giving birth to her daughter. A doctor who had been working with the life-support systems thought he heard her whisper something like "My...look high..." He figured it had something to do with her going to heaven, and dearly hoped that was exactly where she was looking, after the plagues she'd suffered in her earth-life.
The little girl was given to adoptive parents and that was the last anyone had seen of her. If the State had not somehow lost these adoption records in the red tape filling reams of disorganised files in a dusty downtown Santa Fe office, it could have been discovered that the parents of the little girl, who had named her Miriam, lost her when she was but seven years old. She had been playing in the sand that took the place of a grass lawn in the front yard of the desert home...but five minutes later, her adoptive mother looked out to where she had been digging deep holes in the ground with a kitchen spoon, and she was missing. The record of the incident officially read "kidnapping", but there were no suspects and the case was closed, after which the girl had never been seen again.
Lushness envelops her in fire-born breeze. It whorls unfurling: grabbed - as if it were invisible frisbee-disks - by her curious hands. It is swirling around her with sweeping steep vertigo. An awakening urchin, with raving mad indigo gun-metal eyes glaring, is blaring her delight with a frothy grin. Her knotted black dreadlocks hang in the hot wind.
She has excitedly exited the civilised world. Now her inner-ear is open for tones in the rocks - the source of that familiar signal-hum blast - a familial sound of keening - an ancient spoor...these things strike her uncharted senses ever more prominently as she passes closer.
Snake Child has no mind to recall past details or make future plans. She is forever in the present - now is the only thing that is tangible to her. Now she is running, rag-tattered and skinned-kneed, to a den of rattlers in the Sangre de Christos Mountains of New Mexico. She bursts loose, and the great wailing wind spirits her off.
She stores no memories; they randomly collect in patternless tunnels in her head like the snakes gather in the holes crossing through the hillock she walks on. A stray memory shoots before her eyes - inciting a deja vu - she knows what it is to feel deja vu without knowing what to call it.
Having found the den she rests in the shade of a half-dead tree. She pulls some roots out of the soil, mashes them with a rock and licks them off her plate made out of shale. Then she coils her long body up to sleep, quiet and content, listening to the heartbeats of a hundred fanged serpents beneath her.
She has come back to the world of her ancestors.
But behind her she feels a new buzz on her tail.
I put my hands in the pockets of my Levis. A stringy streamer of hair breezes across my forehead and nose, and flutters in the desert wind like a flag that stands for the State of Autonomy. My only allegiance is to having no allegiance.
The eigenvector dropped me - no warning - in New Mexico. Immediately sought out the Greyhound station - a good place to find a body. One that was more than adequate was found within a short time... backpack-pillowed, slumbering, on a bench.
I smell him, test him with the other nameless senses. I like him. He bears the image I tend to project into the minds of my allies. This will not hurt a bit. You may just have some...dreams. I'll have you back into yourself, to wake up here on this same bench, by tomorrow. Probably. I reconvene and slip into his spleen. I am quieter than his dream.
Why here? Just another exploration of a place and a year in search of my lost ally Malachai. There were more of us, but something happened that seems to have exterminated them. I have wandered alone for hundreds of years.
We did not have gender then. We did not even have to take human bodies. I run around in a human body now to pass the time away. Being a pool of vibes without others of your kind can bring rampant boredom. I ran with Malachai, and the others - invisible waves long past gamma radiation, much higher than the highest inaudible sound and yet also deeper. It is all a question of bandwidths. The humans have an audiovisual spectrum upon which so many of their measurements of various phenomena are based. What we can do is understand things that would cross through that spectrum on a depth axis; in order to have any hope of measuring them, you'd have to diagram that spectrum on paper and then hold a ruler at an angle to it, standing on its end.
Of course, even if you were to do this, it would be a highly moot point, because then you'd have to know what kinds of energy-form-perceptions to label that ruler with, and where to put them in relation to the pre-existing audiovisual spectrum. If I wanted to, and maybe someday I will, I could make a sape physicist very, very rich and famous.
Malachai liked to take bodies even when we ran as One with the rest of us; he did it for fun, usually taking the ones that sapes call Indians. He would get them as soon as he could after the Rite-of-Passage ceremonies that happened when they were about twelve years old, which pitted their powers against pain, in order to build the adult quality of perseverance. Malachai would come here, to this desert mountain and its many small towns. There are lots of leftover Indians here, nowhere near as proud as I remember them from that glorious time when we were also thriving ourselves...but retaining a trace of a flavour of eternity in their minds. Yes. If he's anywhere, he's here.
I'll look everywhere until I find him. Sounds damned impossible from the standpoint of a sape's mind - but you never question why you can see, to give one example, that a mountain is behind a house, not next to it or in front of it. You just see it that way, automatically. We can follow one of our kind - or a sape for that matter - by unerringly following the "electrovibratory spoor" left on any of several axis lines on the Grid.
I traced him to this area of New Mexico. He was here five years ago...that much I am certain of. He will still be here, or if not I'll find another eigenvector clue - a Z-axis "shadow". We sneak up on both our kind and sapes; we track down our Strange Attractors - a lover's hide and seek of sorts. But only those sapes who have really loved - fearlessly and fiercely - would know why we sometimes come together to tear each other apart. The way we join is different than sape "love" with its many implied responsibilities. There is absolutely no contract between Strange Attractors. We just play with each other's powers...and our own.
Emotion is deadly to us - it can lead to gravity, which is the ultimate force opposed to the very force which holds us together as sentient entities. The way I've been thinking about Malachai, you'd think I was growing emotions. I fear I am...and it is very scary.
Malachai My Opposition
Long face, dark skin and long black hair I dream of my hands getting all tangled in. We roll around with each other - sometimes in male bodies and sometimes not - we have no male or female, or we have both all the time. Our essences attract at right angles - four of them at once, all perfectly 90 degrees at each point. One of the angles is impossible by human mathematics - and the interacting we do on "the tesseract plane" is incredibly pleasurable - the ultimate goal of closeness among us. The sapes would never understand it en masse; I know of a few who have. We won't ever be understood. A few people try to fathom us; they should stop wasting their time.
Malachai and I vehemently love and hate each other. When the atmospheric charge is just-so, we'll happen to disagree about something absolutely inconsequential. We'll hash it out forever - thrash meanings to bloody skeletons of definitions. My dear adversary is adept at rhetorically confusing answers. I'm better at asking the kinds of questions that he cannot answer; I'll stare him down, smile, suggest he give it up. This pisses him off - starts us messing around wrestling, laughing the wicked cackle of our kind.
Eventually, if we're in human bodies stolen or symbiotic, our battle of wits gets us hot and bothered and we do things. On this level Malachai has it over me, because of the two of us he's definitely the more physically aware. He enjoys making my ploys dissolve...as his swell to resolve...along with the rest of him. He's godlike when he finally gets that upper hand. I think my favourite part of the entire ritual is noticing - just barely, since it is such a subtle transition - how the little petty war of notions and constructs slowly transfers itself to the movements of our bodies, and then at some point, gives over completely to them and the war is left behind as we grasp each other and just start rolling, over and over. We don't always find penile insertion necessary since most of the sensations are felt prior to that act anyhow. I think when it happens, it only happens to provide a necessary denoument. The discourse and horseplay of attracted entities is hotter than any act of sexual coitus could be. So many more variants, excitements, pathways through a maze of syllogisms both false and true, logics both stunning and stupid. But still...after all that rising power growing in a mad intensity, something has to top off. It is as if an apex is an obligatory thing or we'd just go at each other forever.
Such Easy Prey
Three days of meaningless wandering on the Event Horizon. One day I gazed at two women in the checkout line of a beer-and-guns outlet. They raptly froze at once. I separated them from their money and jewelry, so that I might have supplies for the rest of my sojourn as a human boy.
By the time the victims "awakened", I was literally miles and miles away. And they only knew that they'd both experienced something incredible...and probably even forgot about the valuables.
Sexuality controls humans more efficiently than anything else, which is why we've evolved our particular abilities. These ladies had squat for brains. What they had of them they allowed human males to control...that much was obvious from what I could see while I was playing around inside of them. Not a problem. Better me than them. I let them go unharmed, even unhumiliated. Time it was to head for the mountains and look for Malachai - which is what I really should be doing.
But here I am, sitting on a sandstone outcropping in the late afternoon, smoking cigarettes (the boy's addicted to them, so it is compulsive activity) and talking to a stonehome crazy teenager. I cannot discern whether she is twelve or twenty; her age is obscured by this ageless resiliency of hers: a reptilian, spastic tranquility.
For a moment I could smell Malachai's scent; I got lightheaded. I wrote it off as more obsession added to desert heat - when I'm in some kid's body I'll do things like forget to eat and drink, for it simply is not habitual behaviour for a virus. A virus's very life - if you can call it life - is spent in the assimilation of whatever it is preying on.
This girl is distracting me too much. She's warped, and I like that. But I do not have the time to waste. Malachai could be anywhere by now.
Coiling Up Tightsprung
Her raspy voice tells of snakes here: "I feel it. Dry time after years of much rain. Mice and rats and squirrels eat green things. Snakes come for them. They wait. For now. Dry time - orange squash-colour-mustard-summer's end." She takes deep breaths of the air around the grey-green sagebrush. "That smell of death that ain't gone and died yet."
She's raising her long, slender braceletted arms up to perform trigonometry on the firmament. "Angle of the sunrays. They come out just before the sun goes red. The snakes see better in the spectra of indirect light. And so do I. Or else I'd never be able to catch one of them. I'm going to catch one. Soon. Now! They - the Elders - told me if I catch a diamondback with my bare hands, I will become a woman this year!"
She jubilantly slithers in the stickerbushes seeming unbothered by them. "It is time. This year, for sure!"
She speaks of the Crotalusians...a lost nomadic tribe of snake worshipers. Most people out there have no idea about some of the things one might find hidden in these mountains. The Crotalusians have been around since the last days of the original Native American tribes. Now they're a smattering of leftover Indians, old bikers, leftover transplanted flower children from Los Angeles or San Francisco or any number of long-gone communes that once burgeoned in-between those two cities...and a new generation of practically feral little boys and girls who have Something Else in their brainpans...in that huge section of them which the World At Large does not occupy, and probably never really did.
"Probably said that last year." I snap, just to be a prick. Something is aggravating me. I want to leave this spot. But I keep getting ideas and those lead to more ideas.
I'm one of those brats who still gets my igneous rocks off fucking with the pink-skins. And seemingly being the last virus of my kind, I've no choice anymore. That is, I have no one of my kind but Malachai, and he's been gone for so long. I could not have the kind of sexual experience with a sape that I have with other Quakeborn. This is more like a sport, or a blitzkrieg, maybe; being with Malachai is like a strategic coup, or a lesson, or a slow, slow, riotous dance.
But, in addition to adding to my repertoire of means to control matter, and aiding in my study of the keys to manipulation of tools and solid objects, my hypnotic seduction of sapes does have its own arousal value.
Controlling living matter, which supposedly has its own so-called will, is undeniably the most satisfying to control - turns their Will into Won't right away. In our own little way we bring about the nonviolent destruction of humankind. Destruction's gonna happen to this lot anyway, sooner or later. It might as well be slow and painless. It could certainly be worse.
When there were more of us, we had a Plan - we were going to make the world ours. We had it all worked out. Then one day I was alone. For five hundred years or more and no idea why.
Jump to New York City in the 1940's - it was D-Day - I remember that - and I found Malachai in an alley, preying on a street-hustler. Malachai, of all that could have survived - my lover, my antagonist! He dropped his prey the moment he sensed me - poor kid probably figured on Malachai being a figment induced by a drug OD. We pondered the fate of the others in abject wonder - how inwardly helpless it made us feel. Then, for treasured months...we instigated pleasures indescribable. We didn't bother with sapes at all, except for the Days of Bad Pranks.
We spent all our time invisibly entwined around and driven deep inside of each other. We made love - and war, such as it is - without taking bodies...and that is absolutely impossible to describe with language. We conjoined to form the Great Paradox: being as we were the quintessence of pure violent aggression against one another while simultaneously we blended into sweet love Union.
The two of us possessed, together, the depraved urges of one thousand human serial killers. The fact that we could control the urges - that is where the magic was. Of course...though...we did not always control them. Either way, it was miraculous. And then he vanished again. No trace, no warning.
Circumstance metes out pain in proportion to our deepest pleasures. It is those who are most capable of intensely loving life that are most susceptible to its terrors of loneliness and fear and death. Especially those who are Quakeborn, and can be literally dissolved if they feel just one degree of attachment too strongly.
Rattling Her Brain
The sky is so red: some goddess must be menstruating, or has cut the throat of a rival god. The wild child shimmers impetuously. The scales on her boots, belt and chest-plate begin to throw off little rainbows.
Stark looks at her - she does not freeze immediately but begins to respond in a few more moments - lighting two red fires with the sun inside her eyeballs. Stark averts his gaze. He has to get away from her or else he'll be compelled to take her. Over the urge to control, he has no control; just another blasted paradox. The idea of raiding the red sphere beneath her navel becomes irrepressible.
Glances lingered seconds too long to escape. Standing between the sun and Snake Child now, haughtiness floods him, tangible as blood. Snake Child sees something of the Rattler in his way . His limbs are sinewy like snakes are. Streaming hair, white-hot and flying around his face, strands fading to orangey-red...like the sky on high.
Sweat soaks some of the wild curlicues, makes them fuse into ropy reptilian masses. He knows she sees him that way. He makes her do that. That was the crux of the power: find the One Desire of the target and make the target's vision see it where desired.
Where desired...and when. Now. The sky so red it looks Martian.
His breath becomes audibly heavier - so loaded with pheromone it could knock out insects and small animals - even some weaker humans, as he has found. Stark is living breathing irony: he can kill with lifeforce. There is never any escape from him. He makes sure no one ever wants any. Smiling now, pouting his lips and staring out of the corners of imperious eyes, he decides maybe it might be good to forget about Malachai for a while.
The Lashing Strike
I'm a spastic mess of paradox and sweat. I want to put it to you right here, now. My sense of discipline removes that from the question. I know how to wait, fix on the perfect moment. Your squirming and your squealing reveal that you can feel me.
You are aware of me in terms of crisscrossing. Like the shadow-stripes of stick-bare trees - naked as I'm making you. Pulling off the limitations to exploration...and then, exploring. Centuries of doing this... and everyone is different, exploration still revealing new discoveries. I feel you everywhere; finding the cracks in the resistance, touching them, pulling you over me, peeling off snakeskins.
A flash of blonde-reddishness attacks you. I flip my head to hair-lash you. You do the same to me, and we fall to the sand and grasses, laughing. Rolling down a hill I clench you tight to my smooth chest and clamp down, grinding you into the sand without mercy - your every move in my influence now.
You're aggressively cute - gritting your teeth and hissing. Flashing your head - hair and eyes swishing side to side. My hand lies upon your rushing heart. My own control I'll lose in minutes, paradoxically gaining it at the same time. From you, of course - from taking yours.
You say: No way, no one tells YOU what to do. Go limp, shut your eyes and feign sudden death. I don't think so. Sudden whirling of limbs and unexpected strength - you break free and run across the dry, endless fields of tall wind-wavy grasses. Well...two can play that game...but my part of the chase lies in not chasing you. I'll see how long you can hold out against these nonchalantly nudging emanations I've already begun to fuck you with.
Oh explosive Chaos that would rip the perfect alignments of Control! I pull you back. You slowly return to me parting the grass-sea with your body. I wait until you step into my periphery before I shall slowly, with silent deliberation, reach out my arms and enfold you. Lean down and kiss your ear. Futile resistance tickles me. I tickle you.
I constrict you. The king snake overcomes the rattler. Go ahead and deny me now. Just try to even think about it. Chaotic one, do your worst to me. Do your best. We'll see.
Your resistance is faltering. I alter you by way of my arbitration. I can rule over you by gently brushing your navel. I could crush you with my eyes...within an inch of your precious life, then laugh like a jackal when I crush that inch with a deftly aimed brainstorm. You are falling into the power now. I can tell, for my hands feel your slackening. I hear a whine emanate from you. You are thrashing, but not fighting me now - you fall with me again into the grasses and the sand - the place where parents tell their children not to play because there may be snakes down there.
Rise up chest to chest and eye to eye...then fall tangled again. Like the rattlers doing their combat-dance. Be still as I align my aim... matters of position make so much difference. Any last words before you won't know if what you say will be your words? You're speechless. I jam my finger in your mouth very softly. Now unfold to me as I slide the awesome power up inside you.
You are coming of age in an electrical storm. Lightning-jags touch curvy wet swirls- a tickling attitude leaps to my mouth to laugh. Your face matter-of-factly expresses a shoulder-shrug and you say: Every man thinks he will be the emperor of this nation. And none ever are. Okay, I say, holding you firmly to the earth...I will show you some of the mysterious aspects of power: golden imperialists we are, reigning these lands called ourselves. I throw one last slashing of my hair at you and it knots in your dusty snakelike dreads.
I yank my head up and bear the rest down.
Hook onto and reel in
I have made you aquiesce.
Down in the clamour and rising dust clouds - sweet tyranny of me inside your mind.
I act as though it were nothing at all. I nonchalantly slip the phalanx of the forces emanating from me into that well-oiled place of paradox - so cold and yet so hot. I am ultimately tender - ultimately not. Discreet annihilation under the fury of this scimitar. Your sigh provokes me into mad action. I ram you head-on so fast that it's all just a blur...My voice tickles you like showerwater - virgin pubic dew.
Without warning your final failsafe barrier is breached - Alarming wailing...air raid siren screams "Evacuate!" - too late . Little thing whose void-of-course surrounds the rude fact of my power. You feed my rush. I am ready to symbolically destroy you. I lick your lips and teeth. They glisten red in the sun that's going black. Are you ready to be destroyed?
Narcissistic mania flips into seizure. Poor little power-casualty. Kiss me goodbye. Lightning rod gone haywire in your belly. Sparks of unstatic electricity in your frizzed-up hair. Screaming, I clench your wrist with one hand and make a fist with the other and spit wantonness in your face and all over.
Automatic biologic rapidfire fusillade - everything I am is pouring out - everything! I can't shut it off. Can't stop now. I cannot! I'm collapsing, I'm contracting. I am draining out - My God what have you done to me?
The irony: I feed on you - yet I am now outwitted by my own spasmodic release. You are indeed part of me but I am not in control. I cannot move. You have turned my lightning to liquid and your bottom lips drink it all up while your facial lips hum sweetly.
You are full of the force which tightened me.
Last thing he heard before he passed out was her laughter and the sound of a snake rattling...the girl running away, carrying the prize of the diamondback that has found its way to her - right after he did. Her totem and omen - her passage-rite symbol. Its curves blend with her sinuous form.
He slept until the eastern line greyed the night with a slight tint of light...then jerked awake suddenly to drumming coming through the ground...drumming, and more rattlings. The Crotalusians - her guardian tribe! They have come to protect her from danger.
Oh no, Oh God...The drifter boy's body! He needed to get out of it and fast. The tribe had its Elders and Shamans, adepts in working in other dimensions - so rare! Some could stop a virus in its tracks with words and wind. He respected these men greatly, but now was not the time to pay respects. They could throw circles, prevent his dispersion.
Oh shame! The beautiful smooth-chested, fire-haired boy whose body he'd borrowed would be attacked as a threat and thrown into the snakes to die of hemorrhage. Stark abhorred thinking of this. Slipped furtively out of the youth's ear as he yawned awake - like slipping out of a window.
Stark dispersed. He felt sorry for the boy. He'd been quite close after all. Stood between time and space, on the exact right angle.
The roar of the eigenvector approached.
The tribe - a lost one, undocumented by the anthropologists - would gather around the fire that night each year, assembling together there with Snake Woman and Lightning Man in the circle's centre to tell the tale of how Lightning Man led Snake Child from the Insane Lands to the Diamondback's Den...and changed her from child to woman with his own Fire Snake. His pale yet darkened skin and sun-coloured hair matched her own. The boy had joined them after waking up from a wet dream. Opened his eyes, having no idea where he was, to find the same woman from the dream standing over him holding the biggest fucking rattler he'd ever seen - and dropping that huge, thick, madly coiling serpent on his naked chest. Boiling like water over fire.
And that was the exact moment Stark had dispersed, shocking the snake with the invisible flash. The diamondback stiffened like driftwood and there were sparks...and then the baffled and tingling creature had slithered away. The shamans had watched, awed. This proved the boy was favoured by the gods of the serpents, so they let him join the tribe. Snake Woman was offered by the Crotalusians to him as his mate. Stunned and shaken he accepted. His other life offered few choices, and none particularly appealed to him.
They named him Lightning Man, and gave him a tent with that intense dark girl. He would never forget that dream he had been in that crazy evening...in which he'd seen that same girl...hell, he'd done more than just see her! He remembered how he'd made it with her, and all the while was some demon god of ...what was it? Something like controlled confusion. But that didn't begin to explain it. Sometimes he even traced memories of the seductive grin and self-pleased laugh of the god or devil or whatever it was he had become, and found he could emulate them when conditions of various sorts were properly aligned.
In many more years to come Lightning Man would become the Crotalusian chieftain, carrying the most sacred of serpents and torches. Not what he'd expected years ago when he got on that Greyhound in LA, not running TO somewhere, but FROM somewhere. But anything can happen and it usually doesn't - something else ends up happening instead.
Snake Woman's true lover forgot her quickly. He occupied no space, no time that one could know...riding the eigenvector all alone.
His kind could be so tricky. Maybe the virus, the one with the darkhaired ethos, just wanted to remind Stark that his entertainment of delusions of invincibility could be entertaining indeed...but he must never forget that he was most definitely not invincible.
The shrewd Malachai could see that...as he slipped out of the body of the feral Snake Woman just as the tribe arrived to investigate. All they would see was a strange boy, the deflowered and empowered woman and the biggest goddam diamondback rattlesnake ever before seen by the snake's own fan club...there on that Christ-bloody mountain.
Malachai had learned many things in his adventure. Many years ago he came here to study order and disorder in relative isolation. He had chanced upon an Indian boy, hot and beautiful as the desert itself. Malachai was smitten.
Of course his games of charisma worked on him and Malachai taught Fire Flower - named for his face's deep colour - about the preponderance of power, and about its panoply of levels and kinds and measurements. And then, to Fire Flower's ingenuous thrill, about how to use that power. In return, Fire Flower taught Malachai the ways of the reptiles of the area, especially the rattlers. Their movements defined the lives of the other living things there in amazing ways; Malachai quickly learned to commune with them and earn their trust, for the snakes could see the power-eaters much more clearly than the sapes could.
Which was fortunate for Malachai, as the Elders found him one fateful autumn afternoon with Fire Flower, locked in a love-tension hold, writhing in mad mock-evil arrogance on a sacred burial mountain. They rendered a penalty unto the strange one, this Malachai - death in the snakepit. Of course, he did not die - even though the lost human vessel he was riding at the time did. Fire Flower found himself abject...in such travail that he had jumped into the pit himself.
The snakes don't treat their worshipers differently from the rest in most instances. But one of the huge buzzing vipers did not strike the boy. It had a new master, that one big rattler.
That rattler fathered many more generations of rattlers in the century that followed...one of which was later captured by a drunk sicko named Eddie Lee who used it in a very unnatural act. Malachai flew out of the snake and into a just conceived foetus. And this is why Snake Child had such serpentine ways. She was not part snake by DNA - it was by Malachai's ageless spirit, who'd lived in the body of a snake just prior.
Irony captures us all with glee at one time or another.
Stark had been with his beloved Malachai the whole time. And it was that damned clever dark one Malachai who won control - again. Always the trickster...he'd learned to cloak his electrons, so that Stark couldn't get a perfect fix on his coordinates.
Stark, alone and scared and lost in space, time and a hundred other dimensions was about to get an incredible surprise when Malachai reached out in formless-form to touch his oldest friend and last of his own race.
He lurked right behind Stark on the axis of the eigenvector as it made that sound-beyond-hearing - moving spacelessly, inexorably, towards another indeterminate destination.
(c) Demi Monde, 16 March 1994
For Xanque, who was always there.
The polished arms of the Grid worked silently removing weeds from the almost perfect lawn of Haven. The robotic tendrils sprayed a light coat of agent DX31 to kill the rhizomes left behind by the invading plant. A helpful carpet bug scuttled by, ignoring the harmless spray. A readout above read: THREAT REMOVED.
On the bright green lawn cavorted three figures, two female, one male, two interchangable pairs, who coupled, wrestled and played without fear of the robot arm. The Haven had been built by their ancient ancestors, to maximize the bliss of their existance. They had nothing to fear, for the Grid maintained a stasis of absolute perfection.
A horned stag beetle broke through the lawn, another invader from outside.
The Grid detected it immediately and shot an invisible beam of light through the insects head. The tendril removed the charred carcass with polite dexterity. A readout above read: THREAT REMOVED.
One of the three dwellers, a female, watched the beetle disappear. It was a common sight and of no real interest -- except that the lawn bore a round hole, from which poked a small piece of metal. The female approached it carefully, fascinated by the imperfection of the crater. Any second the Grid would send a repair tendril to replant and regrow the grass.
But nothing came. The dweller, ignored by the others who were engaged in an oral coupling, touched the metal scrap. It moved under her finger. She poked it again. The shiny silver object was cool on her skin.
Without conscious thought, the female picked up the scrap, turned it over and over in her hand. She wondered what it was. Then she smiled. What she could with such a tool! She could dig in the turf, scrape bark from the perfectly groomed oleander trees, kill beetles, and a hundred other things. All with this odd little metal stick...
The Grid flashed once. An unseeable beam of energy shot down from above, piercing the dweller's head below the scalp. Blood gushed from the hole between her eyes. She fell over the hole in the lawn, dropping the metal fragment.
The repair unit arrived, belated by a large gash in the outer dome which had suffered a meteorite shower. The tendril could now fix the hole, which it did, removing the scrap of flooring and hauling away the dead woman.
A readout above read: THREAT REMOVED.
She soon felt much better. Sunny thoughts splintered the bizarre apparitions that only a while ago she thrashed at trying to fend off.
She leaned her head back now and stretched her swan-like neck soaking up the titillating humus of the pool. Her body felt warm and rich. The phantoms of the dream ebbed with the flow of dawn.
Somba Evans did not know about it, that it was the same dream every time: short and tall scuffed pylons that extruded from the soil with swelling tops, bipeds that ingested solids...
She was fully awake when Somba rose, dressed, and went outside to farm the plots, collect the sap and cover up the cells. It was the end of perihelion, but daylight was still too harsh for the sensitive neurophyte cells.
Georgiana drew herself out of the pool and settled on its pulpy edge. She leaned over her reflection and tidied the dripping, shoulder-length strands of black, serpentine hair. The eyes, she regarded, had not tinted notably. Somba's irides were more perky. They gleamed emeralds in the morning, and at dusk acquiesced to pool-green. How lucky, a mate with such innovative eyes. Yet, tales were around of blue, even brown eyes.
She perused over her cheeks, a smidgen of azure upon pallid green cheekbones. The fine contours of her dainty nose accentuated the flare of the nostrils. Below these, two gossamer-thin ridges led to a delicate upper lip and a slightly fuller lower one. Her chin jutted petite, recherche.
A silly notion piqued her. She brought her little finger up and sucked and feigned the chewing motion in her dream. A kindling charge swirled up her spine. The cheeks blushed cyan and the plumb line of down below her navel-less tummy tingled.
"Oh, Green - !" she gasped.
Chagrined she sprang up and donned her one piece cellular suit. She wandered into the laboratory disturbed by her frivolous experimenting.
When Somba came back there was the smell of sap dew in his suit. He handed her the vessel of chloroplasma and newcells.
"How did you sleep?" he asked.
She took it, and turned away. She did not want him to see her preoccupied, "Very well," she said.
Somba then ambled to the ancient hard-stuff counter and sat on an equally old and scarred stool. He commenced checking the tendrils leading to the terminal before him. Georgiana watched as his elegant hands gently rippled over them, running the length of the pasty-green synapses down to the half-buried cell beneath the counter. He patted the neurophyte and it noticeably bloated to his touch.
"Things look fine on our side," he said.
She responded with a wide grin exposing tender, baby gums.
"You've got the cutest smile in all of Cloverfarm," he said, then switched the terminal on.
The turtle-sized cell below gave a visible kick and burrowed deeper into the soil by flattening its hump allowing dirt around it to fall and cover it completely.
Georgiana could picture the cell's fibrous piths boring deeper into the earth, absorbing minerals and converting their neutral charges into ionized elements by stripping electrons and depositing them on the complex root-grid.
Somba got up. "Have a try at the old fossil," he said, indicating to the machine. "Just a reminder, no one must know."
"I promise," she said in earnest.
Her round eyes got bigger with so much conviction in them. He put his arms around her. "Tonight, in pool, I'll want more than a promise," his words came out lisping.
"That too..." she could hardly articulate from her own lisp, and felt herself dilating. She resorted to silently nodding her consent and participation.
Somba then left for the day and Georgiana felt a wisp of emptiness. But it was only a momentary thing.
While Somba in the day's course consulted at several data archive centers spread throughout Cloverfarm and overspilling beyond into Marshgardens, Georgiana's job was to separate the 'soup' he collected each morning by centrifuging it. The newcells accumulated at the bottom of the container, while the chloroplasma remained on top. After separation, the flee-looking phytogenic cells were dumped onto petri dishes layered with chloroplasma and sifted soil of high nutrient derivation.
She would watch over the cultures and replenish the nutrients, till three weeks later the ochres showed. The yellowish-green cells went into stasis conglomerates deep within the freezing caves of Marshgardens where light could not get to them. Their transport there and later their fabrication and construction cultivation was not her responsibility. Hers was only to keep records of quantity and ochre, and to segregate the yellowish-greens from the reddish-greens.
As complacent as the y-gs were, their counterparts, the r-gs, effervesced with uneasiness and activity, at times to the point of mischief. At infant stage, the venturous r-gs would quiver with unrest, and some managed - to Georgiana's professional disconcert - to move by a centimeter or more on the mud-layered petris. A scientific improbability since they lacked muscle tissue. Their teensy, watch-spring tendrils served no other purpose than to absorb and catalyze nutriment. Yet, in the years she had been observing them not once had she caught glimpse of the slightest of spacial displacement at its transpiring.
The lit terminal flickered and flashed as though calling to her to take rompt notice of it.
It was noon by the time she finished her alotted work. She centrifuged all of the sap Somba had brought in. She placed the newcells in the dishes, used 124 in all, discarded the dead or damaged ones, and emptied the fresh pure chloroplasma in their sleeping pool. As she did her eyes remained glued on the swaying flux the falling sap stirred. The new batch worked itself around transforming the pool into clear green glass. Ready for the night, she thought, anticipating, and pulled her eyes away from its twinkling lure.
Returning to the laboratory she threw a professional glance over the petris arrayed on a shelf grown out of the homogeneous wall, and sat in front of the terminal's monitor. She had turned it off after Somba left. Now she prepared to reactivate it. Only one other time had she felt this way: when she had mistakenly touched the tips of an r-g's hind genitalia tendrils instead of the forward boring pair. It had happened a couple of seasons ago. She would never forget the blinding surge that had rendered her unconscious till Somba came and lowered her into the sleeping pool. Of course the charge expelled was not lethal and defensively triggered by the adult male cell, but enough was there to transpose all the stars in the night sky within her field of vision. It taught her that privacy was a cosmic appanage.
The knot in her belly was still there when she flipped the switch and caught sight of the twitch the buried cell gave below. The console brightened and symbols, ignoring her presence, raced through multiple changes on the bright green of the screen.
Georgiana did not wait for them to stop. She was familiar with microprocessors from her early apprentice years at Cloverfarm Academy and the Genetics Model Simulation courses. She would have to rely heavily now on the theory that had been taught to, or rather drilled into, her. As her fingers ran over the keyboard, familiar patterns, notes and comments appeared.
"Not mulation," she felt annoyed at herself, "mutation kinesis manifestation types - Execute." She whispered and spoke to the empty room and the machine, while her long thin appendages tried to reacquire their old dexterity. Text rendered with biogenetic diagrams made its way before her. Then:
For unabridged supplements consult the Main Stores Databank of Marshgardens.
"Anything worthwhile you have to get from Marshgardens," she remonstrated in a tug-o-war with the computer.
Meanwhile, a vestige of disquiet piqued her. It wasn't so much that Somba smuggled the antiquated, bulky terminal into their abode, which he'd return in a day or two after she had a go at it. And it wasn't her recurring dream either, or the strange-looking brutal bipeds in it that defied any explanation mottling her efforts to be rid of it once and for all.
It was more immediate; somehow connected with the old artifact she faced. A sniped, possibly a clue given by the scurrying information before her, may have caused her agitation. But time nagged.
She would not have indefinite access to the terminal. So, Georgiana shrugged off the pricking from inside and set to work. She evoked the supplements from Marshgarden's Main Stores concerning recorded responses of r-g newcells. When the index came up she went over it thoroughly, double-checking each entry.
"Mobility, mobility...," she mumbled to herself. After a long stretch of time, "Nothing." Eight more indices had similar negative results.
The buried cell next to her feet gave a shudder as it adapted to a new, this time concave, shape to allow more soil to trickle around its surfaces insulating it further from encompassing aridity. Georgiana glanced down and with the side of her foot pushed more dirt over it. The cell seemed content and became once more still as though nothing else mattered but its job at hand, breaking down complex molecular chains into simple anions and cations. Georgiana knew that the process was no more demanding to the ensconced neurophyte than that of an amble to a biped.
She resumed to the ninth index. But in its place, a blinking monitor sounded with sharp, shrilling protests. Georgiana stiffened. She instinctively jabbed several keys all at once responding to quieten the machine down.
The machine did. The penetrating shriek cut off. The blinking screen now flashed a chain of nonsensical alphanumerics, and next to them a yes/no option.
She drew in a deep breath. The sudden commotion started her. A thin wet layer brooded on her forehead and neck. For an instant she had feared of having been discovered.
She lingered a while, and punched 'yes'. The screen went blank and half a dozen tiny indicators played havoc with her sight, flickering intense needle-thin lights. She held her breath. The timeworn computer intermittently hummed and whirred as it searched, retrieving - "What?"
It dawned on her. The alphanumerics she stumbled on were not just gibberish, but an upload code. This primitive generation computers did not carry limiters, narrow-band filters, to suppress all but the job-at-hand program parameters. They had no discretion capabilities, so all that reached them was processed unchecked.
The console finally lit up. At the four corners of the screen the word CLASSIFIED flashed in bold letters. Then:
Main Core Index
Hydroponics Hybrid Assessments
Date: 2000 AD + 346 PVS (HUO)
A list of topics followed, the last being a glossary.
The cross-references for each topic were endless. They ran on page after page. On the twenty-fourth she spotted something resembling her query:
J. K. Pietroff and L. P. Ellingsworth
Discursive Essay on Effecting Plant Kinesis
Date: 2000 AD + 402 PVS (HUO)
She went through the introduction her brows not stopping an interactive dance to every other line.
...the tropism from pygmy ferns to giant redwoods. Closer study disclosed that at its infancy, a seedling has been noted to relocate itself to as far as a meter from its original planting site in search of more suited surroundings...
When she was through she looked up fern and redwood in the glossary. The first was a very small quasi-version of the second, while the second - she cowered - grew straight out of the soil to sky-scraping heights.
The dream came to taunt her once again.
"It's true then." It relieved and jarred her. But when did these colossi live?
: In the year of our Lord.
"What year is that?" she heard herself ask.
: Post Vivarium Syndrome
This rang a bell. But it was still too distant to make any practical sense.
The paper made references to three other documents. She alluded to the first:
Date: 2000 AD + 409 PVS (HUO)
...Population drain is rapid. Marginal success, however, reaps unpredictable as yet rewards. The melon-size monocell, among other things, is capable of converting chemicals in the soil to widely adaptable, cheep and unlimited low-voltage emf. Similarly it can transmit and receive transient electrical data through soil strata...
The excitement now turned her cheeks to sapphire. She understood most of this.
"A-n-i-m-a-l," she keyed in.
: 1. Living being capable of feeling and voluntary motion.
: 2. Lower animal as distinguished from man.
: 1. Adult male.
: 2. Mankind.
: 3. Human being.
"A hu-ing!" she hissed grimacing.
The sight of 'it' instinctively repelled her - and, yes, 'it' did have hard bare bones in its jaws to crush and chew. She examined the diagram again and scanned over the information.
"Green Chloro!" surprised still when she thought she could not be. "It does assimilate raw nourishment through its oral cavity!" The pores on her started to swell and more droplets of sap gathered on her skin.
: For Human Use Only.
"Why am I looking at hu-ing records? O Somba, where are our own!"
Nauseous she drew away from the machine, got up and headed for the pool, her color sallow. Phalanges felt empty of sturdy matter and her body drained of strength. She looked down at the sap pool. To submerge in it and savour its vitality. Nourish and replenish herself for Somba. But no, she couldn't, the pool had been purged. The newsap she had emptied into it that morning had revivified it. She could not spoil it selfishly.
Reaching with her hand, she took two handfuls and washed the old sap off her face and arms. She closed her eyes and relished it. She would wait for Somba to arrive and go in then, with him. Meantime, she mustered her courage and energy to approached the green screen again.
"Chlorless hu-ings!" she declared taking her place in front of the monitor and not really understanding her moot, utter repugnance. All they were was a differently evolved life-form, all but extinct now.
But what of the Lores and Myths.
Lores from The Testaments of Chloro told of the once infested planet - scourged with poisons.
The ancient odes from the Myths bewailed over massive destruction and constant strife among the Denizens, when time was still young, fermented by their fitful and ornery propensity. Legends incanted of their breed having factions warring for complete control of the lands, vast pools called seas, and the air.
Georgiana puzzled over why anyone would contend to singly possess such overwhelming expanses. A habitat, a plot of land to grow cells on, work that rewarded your endeavours - and, the stir of simply life itself and its sharing of truths with others - were these not ample? The Denizens, she concluded, had lost control of themselves in their endeavour to control all else. And their imperfection had simulated and emulated, then equalled and exceeded their boldness and dare. A world that must have been so markedly different and wondrous such as she, and her own, had never seen had been contemptuously squandered: the trees, the animals, all of their kind.
Smidgens of fleeting images now goaded her awareness - she must have been a tender sprout then - of bipeds being shown to her and foreboding words spoken by those that were with her. Stares and fingers had pointed at the biped's oversized, blotted hands - No wonder she was distraught.
: Short thick division of the hand opposing the fingers.
She studied the diagram and raised her own slim, streamlined hand next to it. How powerfully crewed the other showed, her own slender as her wrist with no offending bulge sticking out at the side. It must have gotten exasperatingly in the way...although, with it, one could grasp things more firmly. But why? Everything around, anything needed was light and soft. Who would want to move mountains when you could grow them, and just about whatever else, with y-gs.
She looked over the ancient machine. The long bar-key for spacing was for - thumbs. The missing little helical shafts that fitted in the orifices were probably gyrated by a thumb-supported hand-tool.
These discoveries prodded her to place aside her sensitivities and dig deeper.
Her original query about r-y mobility had been generically answered: being descendants of animal-plant hybrid origins, the light newcells maintained fractional capability of mobility. Their springy infrastructures could be used to hop about in the dark of night when light did not dull their senses.
Still, at the back of her mind, there were questions unanswered. Why the maelstrom of bustling last-minute hu-ing experiments? And why no mention of her own kind?
The computer, the counter on which it rested, the stool she sat on were a legacy of artifacts shrouded in silence. Such hard-stuffs her own species could in no way tool. The hands of her own could mould and manipulate the soft y-g newcells, the building-blocks of her civilization, but never could y-gs be crafted to grow into such complex and granite-hard matrices. The very philosophy, she realized, was extraneous and anachronistic. Her sort did not need hard and intricate implements. The y-gs were yielding and malleable, suited for the fingers to ply and form; and the r-gs provided them with heat at aphelion, and through their deep root networks a means of communicating when necessary.
All nutrient substances covered by earth were to their avail through the cells' sap. Ample sap. Some of which ran into the pool directly through hidden and protected latices in the habitat's cultivated structure, while other harvested each day at dawn. Sap cleaned, nourished, removed wastes and fatigue toxins from their bodies; made the males grow fertile pollen and females gestate healthy seeds.
"How unwholesome," she shuddered, repelled by what she read. It buttressed further the reason of her antipathy - to inseminate and give birth through orifices situated next to waste excretory outlets; so far removed from the epicenter of the clean and sensuous, from the body's temple of love, the - she revered the word - Mouth. To think that such delicate and sentient organ be covered with bony stubs and used for grappling and cleaving hard-stuffs. It was like using the eyes to roll on and the ears to lift burdens with. Hard-stuffs, Georgiana settled, belonged in her world as much as primitive hu-ings.
She summoned the list of contents once more. When it emerged she sifted through it till, spent and her eyes raw, she found it.
The security classification was the highest of all so far. The computer thrummed and whizzed as it decoded the incoming data from meaningless machine pulses to legible, processed information.
She braced herself as she read.
She was well within the treatise when the screen jumped, blinked, and blanked out...blinked suddenly on again to give her another leap-frog start on the stool. But in place of text, a live image filled it.
A facsimile of a smile brought her face-to-face with two rows of bare, shiny jaw-extrusions. Quickly the hu-ing pressed lips together, as if aware of the other's discomfort.
It looked straight at her with unwavering coolness, as though it waited to be studied, expected it. The right hand - thumb and all - raked back spilling tousles of hair, then over...what must have been hair too, but on its face! Georgiana shivered, but did not avert her scrutiny of this...this relic.
"My eyes," the hu-ing's raspy voice came, "are light-blue. Your monitor does not show that." There was no trace of lisp, she noted.
She tried to imagine the face without the hair but couldn't. The shoulders were broad and the neck and arms thick with exercised muscle. She knew, from her recent endeavors, that the skin would resemble the pale sunsets of solstice. That the epidermal pigments were melanin- and not chlorophyll-based.
She now knew that their vital fluid was not purged sap-extract renewed by pore-osmosis, but a composite, a frightfully complex concoction of microzoa and plasma called blood, produced within its body not outside it. Though physically the hu-ing's general shape resembled her own, the physiology differed radically, was incompatible to any life form known to her. Hu-ings prevailed in ambience that would choke her and stiffen the body-fluids of her own kind, starve her species of light and breathable air. No wonder their few remaining habitats were hermetically sealed and beyond any phyto-sapiens' obvious reach. Yet....
Then the fact pounced on her gouging a vacuum below her feet - and she fell.
"The databank you were accessed to? It activates a subroutine that tells us whether the user is cleared or not," the hu-ing prattled. "But it takes a while.
"So...Georgiana Adamson, of the Abraham A. Adamson (God bless his soul) culture of 2000 AD + 1053 PVS, you are hereby charged of illegal possession of Commonwealth property and of unlawful ingression upon Classified material, thus besetting your person (and that of your mate) to the travails bequeathed to such contravention..."
Agog, she listened.
The hu-ing went on-and-on with dire-tone rhetoric and formal reproof, admonishing and reprimanding.
After a spell Georgiana lost herself. Heavy eyelids drooped, and she drifted into a gentle doze.
"Are you - I say, are you napping on me!"
Her head jerked violently up. She shook it and her eyes blared wide. Loss of sap, anxiety, and a deluge of apocalypses had more than drained her: they reduced her to limpid cellulose. The hu-ing's droning voice had effected the lulling pool sap languidly swaying her to slumber.
In her weariness she realised...that she no longer cared.
"You made us, and I know it, and it's no longer a secret. I won't tell Somba or anybody else, if that's what you want - but now, please let me rest," she gushed out in single breath.
"My, we do have a temper." The hu-ing said, drawn out of its platitudinous elocution.
"Well?" she grumped.
"Well?" the hu-ing echoed.
"What are you going to do?"
"Slap your hands - "
" - if we could meet, face-to-face, that is. But as you probably are aware, kinling, that can never be."
"Yes, definitely. Several centuries back your line meets mine. The databank didn't squeal on that now, did it? A strain of our family clones. I'm an Adamson, too." "Oh, Green, Greenest Chloro - "
"Crude of me," the hu-ing exhibited weariness itself. "We do look and act like savages, after all..." The hu-ing rambled on looking elsewhere. "Our hands - they're the ones that need slapping."
Georgiana, fatigue ridden, "You built and maintain the machines and equipment, and us," it was an indictment.
"Yes...and, no." He was looking at her once more, but this time the visage held little snap to it. "It's we that have made and look after the accoutrements, yes." It sucked its lip, "But, no, Lord no, you have been free and on your own since you could mind after yourselves, hundreds of years now. We haven't tampered with you or your social structure since. And never shall."
His voice now came out hoarse. "You see, you were made a step better in the evolutionary ladder. There is no disease for you. No premature death because of it. The sap sees to that. No pain when you regurgitate your tender offshoot, a little discomfort maybe. And without thumbs, your times will be more tranquil, free of industrial 'civilization' - practically cauterized life out - "
"Cauterized?" "For us, all hope is lost," the hu-ing raved on. "Living on the outside, beyond the bleak walls of the vivariums, these caves below you, is a coveted, an unreachable, dream - never to set our eye upon a Sun, a Moon, or amble beneath a jewelled sky at night.
"No, it's your world, Georgiana. Yours and Somba's and your children's blessed children - "
"You," she pointed an unsteady finger at the screen, "you are the Denizens, the Lores and Myths!" She was too used up to say more.
"The Fallen Angels. Yes. The sum of our greed and callousness. Fated to grope the darkness of Marshgardens' and other cavities in the bowls of Earth, to depend on those of you who know for subsistence and safety, to endlessly query through experiments for a spark of salvation among the ash.
"I'd slap your little hands, little sister - and kiss them afterwards."
The tube went blank.
Georgiana rose from the stool and waded to the opening of the door. The evening was brisk for perihelion, the artifact thermometer read a refreshing 163 degrees F.
In the distant blaze Somba waved. She waved back. She took long steps toward him letting her lungs inflate with rich carbon dioxide. Already she began to feel strong enough to jump in pool and ravish him.
Poor, poor hu-ing, her thought interloped to the homely creature, and with a sigh, "Don't ever venture outside your hole to either slap or kiss me."
I still wasn't sure why she wanted me to drive out to the house but whatever her reasons, I had to do something. The settlement I'd gotten from our divorce was all but gone and at thirty-eight, I wasn't about to go back to delivering pizzas. Hell, I'd never had a real job in my life. I'd always been able to hook up with some well to do broad and ride the 'gravy train' until it would inevitably crash and burn.
The only problem was that I let myself fall for Liz. Even after a three year stormy marriage and a bitter divorce, I still found her in all my thoughts. I knew I still loved her and would do anything for her.
As I turned my ragged 78 Chevy van onto the highway and headed South, I thought about the strange conversation we had last on the phone last night.
"Liz? Are you busy?"
"How much do you want this time? She asked with that sick voice she always used when she wanted me to beg.
"Liz, it's a real good investment." I lied.
"The return is guarenteed five to one."
"How much?" She said again, her patience wearing thin. "Thirty thousand." I said and held my breath for what seemed like an etrnity. Finally I heard her sigh in the background and knew that the money was as good as mine.
"Yes Liz." I answered in my sweetest voice.
"I want you to do something for me and I'll give you the money."
"Whatever you want Liz." I replied knowing she probably had some humiliation line up for me. But I didn't care. Thirty grand pays for a lot of embarrassment.
"Richard, I just bought a house up in Westbrook Hieghts. The address is 1406 Bluebird Lane. Can you be there before midnight tomorrow."
"Yes." I answered what she had in mind.
"I want you to stay there for three nights starting at midnight tomorrow. If you stay three nights I'll give you the money. One second less and you don't get a dime."
"That's it?" I asked, not believing what I was hearing.
"That's all there is to it. The key is under the wooden plant box on the front porch. Call me when you get there. And Richard....make sure you get there before midnight."
"I thought I heard her laughing as she hung up the phone but I didn't care. "Easy money" I almost screamed it outload and started packing my clothes.
After driving six hours straight I finally turned into Westbrook Heights and looked for the address. When I saw it I smiled at the huge three story house. "Way to go Liz." I said wondering how much she paid for such a magnificent home.
I admired the beauty of the perfectly manicured lawn for a moment then bounded up the steps amazed at my new found good fortune. I qiuckly picked up the key and unlocked the huge wooden door. When I turned on the lights I nearly lost my breath as I stood in awe of the beautifully furnished house. The place was absolutely immaculate. All the floors were covered with lush white carpet. The walls pure white with a thin blue and white mosaic border around the twelve foot cathedral ceilings. I quickly went and explored each room of the house. They all had expensive modern funishings complete with big screen televisions and built-in VCRs in every room. I found eight bedrooms, each with its own bath. A den, three living rooms, a library, and entertainment room complete with pool table and jacuzzi. Even two fully stocked wet bars. "Not too shabby Liz." I said out loud and picked up the phone.
"Richard, Darling. I've been expecting your call." She was obviously drunk but I didn't care.
"You told me to call when I got here. Well I'm here."
"What time is it?" She asked slurring.
"It's 10:30" I said looking at my watch and again wondered why I was even doing there.
"OK Richard. The rules are very simple." She said as I listened to the laughter in the background. "Starting at midnight, you can't leave the house until midnight Friday no matter what happens. Do you understand?"
"No problem." I answered thinking she'd finally lost her mind.
What could be so hard about staying here for three days?
"Well...good luck then sweetheart." She said sarcastically. "You can come Saturday and pick up your check."
"I'll see you then." I answered and hung up the phone. What the hell was she up to?
I sat down on the huge leather couch and put my feet up on the marble coffee table. This is the life for me I thought, found a baseball game on TV, then fell asleep.
At midnight every clock in the house began to chime waking suddenly. I sat and listened to the many clocks as they counted off twelv chims in pefect unison.
Three days I thought. Seventy two hours, and drifted back to sleep.
I was awakened again by the ringing of the phone. As I answered I glanced at my watch. 2:45 AM.
"Richard?" A male voice said.
"Who is this?"
"Richard get out of my house!" The man said and hung up.
I get it I thought to myself. One of Liz's friends playing games.
The next forty eight hours went by without incident. I found myself actually enjoying my stay, even spent some time in the jacuzzi while sipping a Margarita. I always kept the cordless phone close by just in case Liz or one of her friends called again. But no one did.
I was wide awake at 3:00 AM Thursday when I heard the 'thumping' on the front door.
"Who's there?" I yelled and quickly picked up my 45 and checked the clip. The door thumped again.
"I have a gun!" I said, standing a safe distance from it.
"That won't be necesary." The same male voice that I heard on the phone answered. "I just want to talk to you Richard."
Liz's friend again. I thought. OK. I'll play along. I put the gun in the back of my jeans and peered through the tiny peep-hole in the door and saw a frail looking old man standing outside wearing an expensive looking three piece black suit.
"What do you want?" I yelled through the door.
"I have to talk to Richard...It's about Liz."
"What about her?" I asked still not willing to open the door.
His words hit hard. He could have said anything. But not that. Please not that. I fell to the floor not wanting to believe it. Then a thought hit me. Amazingly my first thought was for Liz and not for the money. The money.... Yes! Of course! Thats it! The money. This was probably just one of her tricks to make me leave the house. OK I thought. I'll go along with this little game.
"Come on in." I said and opened the door. When he entered I instantly felt sad and alone. I couldn't explain it at the time but all the things that were bad in the world seemed to be standing right beside me. I shook the feeling off and asked the man to sit down.
"Micheal Black" He said and extended his hand. When I shook it pain seared through my body like a bolt of lightning.
"I'm sorry." He said. "I always forget about that."
"Who are you?" I asked starting to get afraid and angry at the same time.
"I am known throughout the world but you may call me Micheal." He sat on the sofa and smiled a dark knowing smile. I felt my stomach churn slightly.
"Would you fix me one of those Margaritas that you're so fond of?"
"How did you...?" I started to ask then realized it must all be part of Liz's plan. She probably had cameras all over the place. "Of course." I answered and made one for both of us.
The old man's expression changed to a much more serious one. "Richard....I'm sorry about Elizabeth." He pulled out a piece of parched yellow paper and handed it to me. "But there is some business that we must take care of."
I smiled weakly and took the paper. It was a simple contract stating that Elizabeth Morgan had sold her soul to Micheal Black for ten million dollars on June 6th 1988. This guy is good I thought. That was the same day that Liz inherited her Uncle's estate.
"What does all this have to do with me?" I asked continuing to play along with this charade.
"It's very simple Richard. Elizabeth's last request was to trade her soul for yours."
"Right" I said almost laughing. "She can't do that."
Micheal smiled. "Oh I'm afraid she can and did. Remember the wedding vows you made in front of God and 243 wittnesses?"
"Heart, mind, body and soul." We both said in perfect unison.
"So you see Richard...Unfortunately for you, her soul is now free and this contract means that I own yours."
"BULLSHIT!" I screamed. "I've heard enough old man. GET OUT!"
"That's fine Richard." He said getting up to leave. "But Liz never owned this house. This is my house." He smiled almost cordially. Nevertheless it sent chills down my spine. "You may stay as long as you wish. For all of eternity if you like. But when you leave...Your soul will belong to me."
As he left I heard the same laughter that I'd heard on the phone. "Crazy old bastard." I said and picked up the phone to call Liz. No answer.
I didn't sleep at all that night but decided to stay until midnight so I could get my money. I tried calling Liz all day with no success.
The hours ticked slowly by and I listened carefully as the clocks chimed off twelve midnight. I'd made it. As I opened the front door a thought occured to me. What if Micheal Black was telling the truth? Ridiculous, I thought as I looked my van waiting for me in the driveway. And let's not forget my thirty grand.
I felt a chill as I stepped out in the cool night air. But only for an instant. I was suddenly surrounded by walls of fire. I screamed in pain as my skin melted away.
(c) 1998 Steven R. Zellers