Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof

Ainadamar: Chapter Four

In Ainadamar on June 16, 2016 at 2:13 am

starry

This is the fourth chapter of my novel, “Ainadamar, or The Fountain of Tears: The First Flight of the Madrugada.” It details the adventures of a spaceship called the Madrugada, crewed by a Bulgarian space vampire, a lady barbarian, a 17th century French mountebank, a shape-shifting chef, a giant kitty, an empath, Morgan La Fey, an octopus surgeon, a cowboy, and the early 20th century Spanish Republican poet and martyr, Federico Garcia Lorca. I publish a new chapter each week. To read other chapters, click on the category Ainadamar.

Chapter Four

On Hiero Eridanus

They docked at a slip on Ring Eight, the big industrial wharf where the ships that needed repairs berthed. They had flown into the atmosphere over the Western Hemisphere of Eridanus at dawn, just when the turquoise sky was rough-plastered with whorls of salmon clouds. After docking and customs inspection, they all sat outside the ship on the catwalk, breathing real, if not pristine, air for the first time in several months. Only out under the clouds, above the city, did they realize how increasingly claustrophobic the Madrugada had become.

The captain did not go up in flame. The sunlight thing was, if not a myth, an exaggeration anyway. If you staked a vampire to the ground on a cloudless midday and denied him his Coppertone, he did tend to get a little on the Human Torchy side. But if, like the captain, you wore a cloak, you were usually alright. Vampires were risk-takers by nature. It kept the population down.

On this seam between the night and full day, anchored to the rhythm of a planet, they all felt normalcy returning, righting all their personal boats, swamped with the unexpected events of the last months. Contrary to the arguments of the grimmer sects, like the Pisces-Cetus Malthusians or the Anchorites of the Vox Potesta, beauty was a boon and balm to all creation.

They sat together passing a bottle of Ostrachan tea back and forth, legs, paws and tentacles dangling out into the air a quarter mile above Hiero, and watched the clouds turn to gold, then to the yellow of parchment and finally to white, and the day was upon them.

 

Although they had jerry-rigged repairs in the radio shadow of the South Wall, a lot of work still remained to be done to get the Madrugada functioning at the level a demanding captain expected. So, Weekiebye, the doctor and Patches headed back into the ship, Weekiebye and Ll to stand guard duty and Patches to make some headway with the rest of the repairs. They’d have to wait until the evening to get out into the famous city.

Slim, Dem and Stanislaus were charged with securing supplies, while the captain and Mona had to see a man about a horse.

Stanislaus was nervous. Although he knew that, according to Eridanan and Fornaxian law, having spent six months in the employ of another vessel, he no longer could be legally reclaimed, and that further, none of the crew would allow any harm to come to him, he was still too close to his past imprisonment to be anything but agitated to be back on Hiero. He had assumed the shape of a Maffeid solar sailor, to which people tended to give a wide berth.

Stratsimir and Mona were heading out to scout some information on their trip from an old associate of the captain, Karl the Weasel. The captain was being more secretive than usual about what he had hoped to find. But like the captain, usually anyway, the crew cared primarily about keeping moving and getting paid, so they didn’t worry unduly about it.

The Great Spiral Road ran from the outskirts of Hiero, where the huge docking towers stood in a semi-circle between the city and its surrounding plains and marshes, inward to the city center and Karagolis Square. The two groups parted company at the intersection of the Great Spiral with the Magazines. Most of the suppliers serving the port’s ships occupied warehouses that ranged along the city’s eastern edge.

Mona and Stratisimir walked the next mile of the Great Spiral in silence. It was lined, at this season, with the white and pink hexagonal bracts of Hieran dogwoods, giving the occasionally rugged street an idyllic cast. The road was one of the captain’s favorite places, lined as it was with cafes, bars, townhouses, cheap snack shops and temples, vibrant with the life of hundreds of planets and teeming with the rich and would-be rich, traders and middlemen, tire formers, mercenaries, cranks, freelance navigators, hairstylists, artists and assassins. The captain had been in and out of the great port city dozens of times in the past century.

Several times while on Hiero, he had forced himself to enter St. Eleutherius, the cathedral at the south side of Karagolis, and prayed, though he paid for it with his eyebrows and a scorched tongue. That was where he had first met Father Xón, an eight-foot tall former Bruxtran fist-fighter.

As the sun grew more insistent, Stratsimir drew the hood of his cloak down over his face and pulled his cloak closer, which pained him since we was wearing an Ozwald Boteng bespoke grey and white linen suit. Mona inexplicably always seemed comfortable in her fur and chain mail bikini. Even in the chill of this early Eridanus Spring she sported no goose bumps. On a planet that welcomed both electro-gaseous races like the Andromedans and the stick-like Raszolids, they both still managed to stick out, and got their share of long glances.

At the second in-turning of the Spiral sat a complex of towers of variegated brick. This was the trade mission of the Fornax Confederacy. Although Eridanus was ruled by an hereditary monarchy, the ruling family were trade allies of the FC. The complex was patrolled by Fornaxian troopers, mostly Mellaanons from the lee-worlds of the Rhispighi star fountains. Broad, powerful people with pale skin and meaty faces, they were much brighter than they looked and they made up for relatively poor eyesight with sonar.  Mona had fought with them on a term of service with the Eighth Conflict Regiment during the border wars with the mining planets of The Large Magellanic Cloud. The planets had been held by a cadre of the Centripetal Order and the Diet had ruled in the Order’s favor. But the Fornaxians had withdrawn representation from the Diet and a substantial number of others followed them. To the Diet’s enduring surprise, the Fornax Confederacy were not to be trifled with when they were through talking.

As they passed the horseshoe arch of the main gate to the mission, a group of three men in black cloaks and maroon leather surcoats came out of the forecourt surrounded by a dozen armed guards. Stratsimir and Red Mona paused to let the group clear the gate when the figure in the lead did a double take.

“Prince Stratsimir?” asked the leader with a grin. “Well, well.”

They faced each other, Stratsimir a head taller but the stranger wider by a shoulder.

Stratsimir, bowed imperceptibly.

“Conducting business again, I see,“ he said, with a shade too much emphasis on business. The Crown Prince‘s smile faltered momentarily. His bodyguard stayed relaxed but aware. Mona dropped back from the captain a couple of paces, to allow room enough to swing if she were forced to draw.

“I understand you ran into a problem with a book collector in the Sculptor Void,” said the Crown Prince, drawing off one of his gloves. If the captain was surprised he didn’t show it.

“A book collector, Crown Prince?” said the captain, quizzically. “I don’t recall any such. Just a bandito ship. As I recall, you are somewhat renowned for your library. Well, your father’s, strictly speaking. Then after that, your uncle‘s. Though I‘m sure you can visit it whenever you wish.”

The grin left the Crown Prince’s face.

“How is the old man? Well, I trust.”

“My father is not well. Though that is hardly your business. Keep your nose in your own business while your are on my planet,” said the Crown Prince, who walked smartly away.

“Your father’s, you mean, Crown Prince,” said the captain, raising an eyebrow. The Crown Prince didn’t quite break stride but spoke over his shoulder.

“You may test the quality of your political acumen,” he said. “Tomorrow, at sunset. If you’re still on Eridanus. For now, go about your business.” He waited as Stratsimir and Mona walked away.

The tall guard with the eggplant-coloured skin stooped to whisper into the Crown Prince’s ear.

“Those two can Communicate, your highness,” he said.

The Crown Prince looked up sharply.

“What nonsense are you talking?” he said. “That’s the worst kind of childish tale-telling.”

“The ancients wrote it, sir,” he replied, eyes straight ahead. “’Once there were among us those who, having been touched by angels, could speak to one another without words.’”

“Rubbish,” repeated the Crown Prince. Still, Rhobhid was not prone to lying and he was Sensitive. The Crown Prince turned the ring he wore beneath his silk glove absently. Others would be interested.

 

Dem pushed a grav-sled full of supplies up the broad Street of the Provisioners. Slim walked behind him, to one side, and Stanislaus, who had taken the form of a Great Horned Andapaš surveyor, walked the other. The trio from the Madrugada had found everything they needed without incident and at fairly reasonable prices.

The Street of the Provisioners in the Magazines was a long one, empty-looking and lined with enormous warehouses handling everything from spare parts to armaments to crew armor and liveries. It presented to the public a series of blank blue and grey concrete fronts, punctuated with enormous roll doors and small, recessed entries.

It wasn’t the busy season, but port cities were always hives even in the down times. It was late in the afternoon, not the ideal time for banditry, but there were always a few of the smaller crews willing to take a chance. Not now though. Not a single visible sentient being in the whole of the street but them. That made Slim uneasy when he noticed it and he kept a weather eye on the few small alleys that allowed access from the nearby manufacturing districts.

Suddenly, Stanislaus stopped, made a motion for the others to do the same and went into a half-crouch, sniffing the air. At the same time, on instinct, or perhaps it was the small sound of grit turning under a boot heal, Slim spun around, Colts out in a blur. Two men in the fitted leather armor of an Olgive pirate sect, stepped out of the alley. How had they done that? That alley had been clear. Two more men, similarly dressed, stepped out of the recess between two buildings at the top of the street. Stan’s claws thickened and grew sharper.

The pirates carried ion crops, designed to inflect maximum pain while inflicting minimal permanent injury. A lash from a crop would put you out of commission if it hit you in the chest and cancel out the use of any limb it struck for some time.

Dem banged the sled’s safety with his fist, dropping it with a puff of dust onto the street’s fitted stone blocks. Slim knocked his own hat off for a cleaner view and started firing his revolvers in a figure-eight pattern, centered on each of the pirates at the rear. Stanislaus leapt like a cat, coming down on the chest of the pirate nearest the alcove. In a blur, he slashed a half dozen times with claw and horn at his opponent’s chest, flaying the leather cuirass. A hairline on the pirate’s chest beaded blood and he passed out.

Dem charged straight up the street, changing to an angry red-streaked grey to match the street. The charge chambers on his flat-plasms sparked in the street’s enduring crepuscular gloom as he fired relentlessly at the second pirate. A blast hit its target, flashing across the second pirate’s chest and shoulder. The air filled with the disconcerting smell of burnt flesh and fur. As he went down he caught Dem around the right leg with his crop, dropping him to the ground. He clutched the affected appendage and rolled in pain. Stan leapt up off his pirate to help but Dem waved him away.

“Help Slim!” he cried, turning his face into the street and trying to breathe through the pain. Stanislaus ran, his haunches expanding as he did so, and leapt again, clearing the sled. Slim had put one of the pirates out of commission, but the other had thrown a shuriken that had caught him in the upper arm. The pirate had thrown his weight back to slash down at Slim with his crop as Stan descended. He roared like a lion and transformed into a knot of pig iron the size of a footlocker. When he landed, what remained of the pirate oozed out from beneath him.

Dem limped back to the sled and reactivated the gravity balance. It hummed to life and rose a foot and a half off the ground.

“Stanislaus, well done,” he said. “Please pick up Slim very carefully and put him on the sled. Don’t jounce his arm.” As Stan carried Slim, he nodded weakly to Dem. Dem saw the shuriken closer. It was fashioned of black, volcanic glass, in the shape of an eight-pointed estoile, a star of four straight and four wavy rays, converging on a central hub. Dem stooped to dig through the clothing of the fallen pirates. Nothing in their pockets. Nothing that could be considered personal property. Nonetheless, there was more there than what met the eye. He struggled with one of the pirate’s tight gloves, pulling it off and throwing it into one of the small drainage gutters that ran on both sides of the street. He turned the pirate‘s hand over. He wore a ring, also an estoile. He twisted it off, wrapped it in a handkerchief in case it was poisoned, and dropped it in his pocket.

 

 

Eridanus was a small planet and its days were short and bright. As dusk came, Stratsimir pulled back the hood of his cloak and shook out his hair, closing his pale eyelids against the light of the paler moon and the cool white starlight. He breathed in deeply and exhaled. He liked the night. He had spent the day, along with Mona, prowling obscure book shops and dingy bars. Whatever reading material he was seeking, and Mona forbore asking, he did not find. But at the Red Lantern he ran into an acquaintance, an elderly Loxháp navigator, from days before the Madrugada.

“Cryqll’é!” He slipped in like a shadow onto the banquet the navigator occupied against the back wall of the bar. “My old friend.”

“Damnation, you sneaky vampire bastard! Almost killed me. I’m old, you bloodless freak. Almost gave me a heart attack.”

Mona sat down opposite them.

The Loxháp’s antennae perked up, then sagged again as he looked at the captain.

“Has it come to this?,” Stratsimir asked. “Do you sweep up nights here?”

“Shut your blasphemous mouth, you obscenity.” He looked at Mona and smiled. “Honey, would you mind getting an old man a drink?” She smiled and turned to gesture to the bartender, who brought three blood gins. They drank for a moment in silence. Cryqll’é looked at the captain out of the corner of his eye. His antennae quivered.

“You remember that payroll caravan getting hit over starside of Virgo 9 couple years back?” The captain nodded. “You know the phlogiston harvesters had this syndicate, infiltrated by the Centripetal Order. Well, Dealo and Meep and me and the boys, we didn’t think that was right. They took three-quarters of that payroll in fees, commissions, advances and all other kind of fiction. So we took it back for ‘em..”

The little green navigator laughed. The lines around his eyes said he’d done that with some regularity, for a very long time. He took a drink.

“And kept a bit for yourselves?” said the captain.

“Hell, yes. That was a dangerous gig that was. The C.O. all over it? Hell. But see, I gave a third of my get to Father Xón. You remember him. He threw your ass bodily out of Saint Eleutherius once.” The Loxháp laughed soundlessly, shaking his shoulders. “Ach, aim sorey laddie, I loav ye with all me hert, but yir scarin’ me parrrishinirs!” He laughed again. The captain laughed with him and Mona saw a man who wasn’t just Captain Stratsimir, not even “Johnny.”

“God bless you, you blood sucking so-and-so,” said Cryqll’é. “Your heart’s always been in the right place, even though it don’t beat. Anyway, I gave a third to Xón…” He looked around, then lowered his voice. “And another third to the Resistance.”

“What resistance?” asked Stratsimir, puzzled.

“You know what the Centripetal Order’s been doing?”

“Sure,” said the captain. “Stirring up trouble in the peripheral worlds.”

“More than that,” said Cryqll’é. “They’re the Diet.” The Diet controlled several hundreds of worlds directly and again that number through clientage. Ruling from Morning, in the Virgo Supercluster, they were a factor in the interplanetary politics of every world from Triangulum to the Bootes Void.

“What are you saying? They’ve infiltrated the Diet?”

“No,” said the navigator emphatically. “It’s way past that. Has been for years. They are the Diet. The Diet belongs to them. They control it now.”

“Old friend, how is that possible?” asked Stratsimir. “The Centripetal Order is a fringe group. Sometimes using, sometimes used. But never a power in themselves.”

“Not any more,” said Cryqll’é, shaking his head. “The Resistance is the only thing that opposes them besides the Fornax Confederacy. And the Confederacy still thinks in terms of planetopolitics.” He drank in silence. Looking up, he forced a smile. “What has brought you to Hiero Eridanus, Stratsimir? Not to talk politics with an old comrade, surely.”

Stratsimir looked out into the bar, then down into his drink.

“I have to find Karl the Weasel.”

 

The Weasel’s office was at the end of a corridor of which it might be said it was in harmony with traditional gangster aesthetics across the universe. It was an unskilled homage to the elegance and restraint of an eastern potentate. The deep pile runner was a red and yellow “Swirling Yam” pattern, the wainscoting was rose and the hallway was lit by brass gas sconces in the shape of the two dozen most popular female (or female-ish) species of the Pleasure Planets of the Dialaphous Bracket. As they approached, the two oversized doors slid silently inward.

Karl the Weasel sat behind an enormous desk of polished onyx. Behind him the tall windows were thrown open to the evening lights of Hiero. Two stiff chairs sat before the desk on a small blue-edged carpet and to either side facing out stood two heavily-armed Stattis mercenaries. Karl himself was an eštot, a stoat-like species from the Milky Way. No one called him Karl the Weasel to his face. Twice.

Unlike most “organized crime” figures, Karl did not traffic in drugs, or arms, or any of the other more common vices. Karl was an informerchant. And he was the best. Karl trusted more in technology and less in people than did most in his line of business, which may explain why he was more successful in it than his competitors. He owned server farms on 18 worlds, which also served as a front for his real business, since not all the information he sold was legally accessible. He had made his bones years ago with Inficryp, the only encryption system never hacked, not even by the Hackers College on Felmas Prime. Stratsimir had shared with him an encryption patch jerry-rigged by Patches, Dem and Slim only a week before the quadrennial million-credit HCFP College Prize. The target that year was Inficryp. The “Mad Patch” contributed to the surprising robustness of the aging system and kept it safe, and because of that, he owed the captain a favor. And he was a person who would rather you owed him a favor.

The captain took a seat without invitation and smiled at the Weasel. Red Mona stood behind him and to the right, her sword hand free, eyeing the mercenaries.

“That’s a fine figure of a woman you have there, Captain. Or so I presume,” said Karl.

“She led the storming of Storemare Fortress. From the front.”

“Ah,” said Karl.

“Red Mona is my first officer.” Karl nodded and pointed to the unoccupied seat. Mona sat, carefully moving her sword aside.

“Still have that damned cat on board?” asked Karl. He flipped open a tiger’s eye box on the desk and fished out a cigar, motioned to the captain and Mona, who declined. He lit the cigar from a silver lighter buried in a chunk of the same glossy black rock as the table.

“Yes,” said Stratsimir. “And not a rodent on board since.” Stratsimir watched as the eštot tensed up, eliciting an extra measure of attentiveness by the mercenaries and a commensurate alertness on the part of Mona. But Karl exhaled and the tension left the room.

“I owe you. I presume that’s why you’re here. What is it you want?”

“I want you to tell me about a book.”

“Yes. I’d heard you’d gotten into the book trade. Competitive, I understand.”

“If my information is correct it is a book of lead leaves, arranged in two volumes,” said the captain, watching Karl intently.

“Gentlemen,” the Weasel said to his guards, “considering it doesn’t look like Miss Mona intends to chop me to pieces, why don’t you wait outside.” One of the mercenaries bent down and whispered something into his ear. “Ah. Madam. If you wouldn’t mind, my guards would be more comfortable if you would allow them to safeguard your sword.”

Mona started to object but Stratsimir made a gesture.

“Why don’t we have Mona put her sword in the umbrella stand by the door,” said the captain, motioning to a stand in the shape of a nilgila hoof. Karl looked at the mercenary, who nodded and moved to take her sword. She laughed a low, brief laugh.

“It might be best were Mona to see to her own weapon,” the captain told the guard. Karl nodded and they left the room while Mona unbuckled her scabbard and set the sword into the stand. She walked to the window and looked out over the large city, still very much awake out in the dark. She could smell the sweetness of the myriad of blue çirip flowers wafting in on a light breeze from the northern marshes.

Karl passed his paw across an actuator in the desktop, compelling a paper-thin screen to rise from it and the hidden lights of a photic keyboard to appear. He typed and read, typed and read some more. Mona took her seat again and watched him. What she and the captain could see from the back of the screen meant little to either of them. Code no doubt, thought the captain. Karl passed his paw twice again across the actuator. The screen receded back into the desktop and the keyboard disappeared. He leaned back in his chair and looked up at the ceiling, night blue marble inlaid with gold in the shape of the Milky Way. He sighed and swiveled his chair toward the open window. The sound of traffic and shouting voices rose on the soft Spring air. He spun back around and leaned forward onto the desk.

“How much do you know about the Centripetal Order?” he asked the captain.

“The Centripetal Order?” He looked at Mona. “Twice in one day. Not much. The basics. A radical religious group with an extreme dedication to universal order.”

“The philosophical foundation of the group is much more complex than that,” said Karl. “They are radical beyond radical. Monomaniacs. Literally. Bringing the universe together under a single authority is only the most outward physical manifestations of their beliefs. And it is only an intermediary step in a very ambitious plan, one which is already well-advanced.”

“The end of which is what?” asked Red Mona.

“Very good,” said Karl, nodding. “The exact question. The end result of the vision they have avowed is the ‘restoration’ of the universe to its original state. Physically.”

“Oh, come now, Karl,” said Stratsimir, with unwonted impatience. “What does that mean? And how does it differ from the nostalgia for a pre-lapsarian innocence shared by most religious philosophies?”

“Because these evil maniacs can do it! They are unfettered by doubt, look you, possess some truly staggering if radioactive intellects and have political and financial power many orders of magnitude greater than most planetary federations. The entropy in the universe is increasing. It has been for a very long time. Eventually, the universe in an eon or two, will fall to pieces. But that is too long. They are impatient types. So, the Order has begun installing e-mag lenses on worlds in a strategic path across a score of galaxies. When enough of these are installed and activated, the fields generated by the lenses will force enough planets and other celestial bodies together to create a tipping point. A singularity so massive it will feed itself from the materials of the entire universe. They don’t need to collapse all of creation, captain, just enough of it to trigger permanent entropy. Then, the universe will in fact, technically, be ‘restored,’ compressed into a single point, the ultimate pre-lapsarian state, prior even to being.”

“That is quite mad of course,” said the captain. “They would perish along with everything else.”

“Still don’t get it? They have bigger fish to fry than ‘mere existence,’” said the Weasel. “These are True Believers.”

“Still, this will take an immense amount of time,” said the captain. Karl nodded again.

“They think it will take over a thousand years. But to them, that is infinitely preferable to tens of millions of years.”

“What does any of this have to do with this book of . . . the book the captain is concerned with?” asked Mona.

“According to Kiras Gelhorn there exist Nine leaves, known as the Ennead, the “Nine Who Stand Before,” said Karl. “The Nine lead pages are arranged in two volumes, the volumes together, a single book. This book is called the Enchiridion. It is a key to entropy. This key would allow the Order to overcome the forces that physically resist their program. With it they could first arrest the entropy of the universe enough to borrow its energy, and then they could reverse it, catalyzing an entropic failure on a cosmic scale. Instead of taking a millennium, it would take a moment. But if someone else had it, someone who wished to stop those plans, well…” He held his paws apart, then shrugged. “So, they have two reasons to want the book: To hasten their plans, and to prevent them from being stopped.”

“And the religious authorities agree with this horrible plan?” asked Mona. Her religion was a simple one. How to talk to the gods of wood and hill, of fertility and death. Simple and direct.

“Hardly,” replied Karl. He shook his head. “No. What do all religions do?”

The captain shrugged. “Explain the universe,” he suggested.

“How?”

Stratsimir thought.

“Pass down wisdom. Effect reconciliation. Tell stories.”

“And what do stories have? What constitutes a story?”

Mona stirred. Hers was a family of storytellers from a people who told stories.

“A beginning, a middle and an end,” she said.

“A beginning, a middle and an end,” agreed Karl the Weasel. “To religionists, the universe is a story told by the Creator. And scripture, that’s an exegesis of that story. Every religion is teleological, either explicitly or implicitly. The universe is a story and must be told to its end. And the Divinity alone tells that story.”

“Those distance-learning courses finally paying off?” asked Stratsimir, with a faint grin.

“Laugh away, vampire. I’m an Initiate Brother in the Grass Fraternity, in the Davidic moiety. A sinner, sure. But a believer in a just and merciful Divinity, who put us here in the universe both to listen to and to catalyze its story.”

That sat silently together, each digesting his or her own part in the “story.” Below on the street far below a siren shifted pitch as the vehicle it belonged to crossed an invisible line in the darkness. Karl the Weasel closed his eyes, touched his paws together and breathed. He mumbled a few words under his breath and looked at Strasimir and Mona. He made a decision.

“Do you have this book?” he asked Stratsimir.

The captain looked in the information merchant’s eyes. He pushed past them, through a sparkling gate of gold-wire light. To Mona’s surprise, she found her self looking in as well, through the captain’s eyes. They fell past the Weasel’s pupil’s, into the borderland of his psyche.

He slammed his fist on the desk.

“Get out of my mind, vampire! Who do you think you’re dealing with?” One of the guards looked in, hand on his gun. Karl shook his head and he withdrew. “You trust me on this, Nosferatu, or our business is done.”

Stratsimir nodded. “I have one volume of this book. At least I feel it must be the book you spoke of.” He hesitated.

“You can’t read it, you don‘t know how you came to have it. Am I right?”

Stratsimir nodded. He opened his mouth to speak and shut it again. He nodded his head again.

Karl extracted a writing velum from one of the desk drawers, wrote some figures on it and passed the glowing nib of the stylus over it. The figures gleamed, then disappeared. He started to pass the vellum and stylus both to Stratsimir and stopped.

“Any plans to dominate the universe yourself?”

Stratsimir laughed.

“You know me, Karl. I’m in it for the money.“

“Right,“ said Karl. He gave him the paper.

“Take your book here. I’ve written coordinates and a passkey you’ll need. It’s the arrušap, the College of Exegetes. They’ll be able to determine whether or not it is part of the Enchiridion. If it is, they’ll be able to protect it.”

Mona took up the stylus, passed it over the vellum and examined the figures. She looked up in shock.

“Captain, this is Pandema. The ‘mother of clouds.’ The germ planet.”

Stratsimir regarded Karl hard, with a near physical force that drove a taste of ozone into the air.

“What’s the game, Karl?”

“No game, vampire. Look closer at the coordinates, barbarian. There’s a built-in differential. The place I’m sending you is phase-variant.” He vaulted the desk and grabbed Statsimir’s lapel. “Get there yesterday, blood sucker.”

 

The Water Marshes outside Hiero Eridanus sussurated with the small sounds of small creatures, with the rising night wind in the stunted groves of pines that dotted the watery expanse and with the small waves that sloshed into reed beds. A kaleidoscope of marsh gasses lit an area outside one of the groves, scintillating waves of sapphire and coral washing across one another. Through it a diamond dusted figure walked lightly, appearing to step from one mat of reeds to another. Nimue paused before a door of light in the air. A lone owl blinked from the branch of a nearby pine.

Welcome home, daughter.

Nimue stepped over the sill and was gone with the light.

***

“Starry Night over the Rhone” by Vincent Van Gogh, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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