This is the fourteenth 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.
Leave taking was joyous and solemn. Tu Madre’s crew had lost Heino. The Gypsies had lost Manolín’s and Antonio’s cousin Luis. But there was also the sense that, although history was unlikely to record it, a great disaster had been avoided and they had been instrumental in that. The curse that had begun when the Spaniards dug up the box had been hi-jacked by the Glyphomancer. Stopping him had short-circuited the curse as well.
Ratón shook Ormaetxea’s hand with a great depth of feeling, embraced Lorca but only nodded to Captain Stratsimir. (Too many Gypsies had paid in blood too many times for the pleasure of spiking a vampire to get chummy at this stage in the game.)
“Dios vos bendige,” said the Gypsy, with a formal kind of politeness.
Gabriel stood behind him to the left, Manolín and Antonio by his right shoulder. Together, with a small group of friends and family, they watched the crews disappear into the hold, the hold seal and the ship rise soundlessly into the air of another Granadine summer morning, holy despite the war that went on around them, holy because they had, temporarily, banished the unholy. It rose, tentatively, like the ash from a Tres Caravelas caught in the updraft of a campfire, then flitted so quickly out of sight that only the most eagle-eyed among them saw that it had accelerated, not disappeared.
The gathering broke up, to go back to the business of living, as best they could in wartime. The four friends walked down toward the Camino del Sacromonte, in the direction of La Mosca, where café, anis and tostada con tomato y ajo awaited. Gabriel began to sing a rondeñas, the mode of dawning.
There had been some discussion, prior to departure, of some if not all of Tu Madre crew remaining behind. But Stratsimir felt that in the end, the Gypsies had endured enough from the living as the Dead. No need to amplify their struggles by adding the horrifying machismo of Ormaetxea to it.
Imprisoning the crew again had been discussed, but, surprisingly to the rest of the Madrugada’s crew, Dded, Dem and Patches argued against it. Instead, it was decided that they would wear a bracelet Dded and Patches had developed and had yet to try out on a live subject. It was necessary to actuate a control each hour. If that did not happen, the bracelet would administer a shock of such a sort that the wearer would be unconscious. The bracelet would continue to administer that shock until someone came along and engaged the control again. The thinking was, they couldn’t leave them here, they couldn’t kill them, they couldn’t send them home and, recent services notwithstanding, they certainly couldn’t trust them.
The captain called a meeting in his ready room. He’d activated the translucence in the walls and, once again, the crew was speeding through space, unsupported. They each breathed a sigh of relief to be back in the stars again.
Patches, Mona, Weekiebye and Dem sat around the glossy inlaid table. Dded sat perched on the captain’s outsized globe in its brass stand and Nimue stood, gazing out into the surrounding galaxy. Stanislaus had retreated gratefully to the mess the instant they’d gotten back on board and Slim was running Snooshbangtrough over the navigational controls of the Madrugada.
Ormaetxea stood in the doorway. Behind him, Spilf’s whiskers curled into the room. Sofia stood silent and poised.
“Shall we attend, Captain?” asked Ormaetxea. Stratsimir motioned them in and they stood around the table.
“How’s the ship?” he asked the engineer.
“Ship-shape,” said Patches. “CBM intakes are good. Mags and slips are good. The temporal node is not good, however. The drag from the Tu Madre doubled the energy we needed to get here. That was the energy we would have used to return to time at the coordinates from which we left it.”
He waited as the implications sunk in. He nodded.
“We’re stuck here.”
“Can we recharge the node?” asked Dem.
“We might be able to if we knew how it worked,” said Slim, entering from the bridge. “Sorry for the delay. There were enough differences in the two ships’ controls it took a little time to explain the subtleties to Snooshbangtrough.”
“There are few frames of reference between the temporal node and a regular slip-node extension,” said Patches. Dded lifted a tentacle.
“Captain,” he said. “We have additional information. We received a message. Patches retrieved it from the com buffer. Considering the type of encryption, it’s probably from Karl.”
Stratsimir was surprised. “What is it?”
Patches cleared his throat. “It’s a set of coordinates.”
“Alright,” said Mona. “To what?”
“To when,” said Patches. It’s nine-point coordinate. Point of origin.”
“Now,” said Dem. “It’s the coordinates to the P.O.O. Now.”
“Looks like the weasel was holding back,” said Slim.
The captain thought. “Maybe.”
“What does this mean?” asked Sofia. Who wants us to go to Origin? Which is impossible, anyway. And why?”
“It’s not impossible,” said Dem, shaking his head. “We did it.”
“As to why,” said Stratsimir, turning his chair to join Nimue in regarding the deep cold precision of the starts, “why, it’s there we are to fix the shape of the universe for the first time in 5,000 years.”
“That would be one hell of a long trip,” said Ormaetxea. “And there ain’t a lot of shops along the route that’d know how to fix up a rig like this. The few people that had slips couldn’t use ‘em for more than about 10K bumps.”
“You said this was a TektaşBurnu device?” asked Sofia. Stratsimir nodded. “Why not go there and dig it up?”
“Dig up the device we currently have attached to our engines 500 years before the one attached to our engine was dug up?” asked Weekiebye with a laugh. “Why not?”
“Maybe,” said Stratsimir. “But we have something to do first.” He called up the coordinates that Patches had found in the free monitor above the surface of the table and peered at them intently. He pulled up the 3-Ds of the first volume, then carefully scanned the leaves of the second book.
“I think we need to go to Origin. In this time. We’ll worry about getting back afterward. If there is an afterward,“ he added, muttering. “If in fact we can get to Origin in the first place.“ He walked over to the sideboard and unlocked the Tantalus. “Prepare the ship for departure. Well go via Pandema. You’re dismissed.”
That night, sleep came slowly to the captain. After Nimue’s story of passing through another of the Glyphomancer’s made worlds, he was worried. He lay awake for hours it seemed, staring at the velvet lining of the coffin. Could there be more of them for the Glyphomancer to hide in, to intrude into the Created worlds? He could not have been destroyed, if Nimue was right, and she usually was. How would the destruction of his made body effect his passage through the made worlds?
Finally he drifted off to sleep and, in sleep, rose through the top of his coffin, through the skin of steel, and out into the stars again.
Particles streamed sideways like fine sands, lit by the sun. Great purplish globes with a multitude of moons turned beneath him. The voice again.
The points of a star are Nine.
He felt uncharacteristically panicky.
“You’re the Glyphomancer.”
“You’re the Glyphomancer. I won’t listen to you.”
I’m the glyptostroboides?
You’re the Glyphomancer.
What’s a “glyphomancer“?
You think me a fool!
The points of the star are Nine.
You hope to lead me into a trap.
Are there retarded vampires? Star. Nine. That’s it. Get it in your head. Now, wake!
Stratsimir sat up. He cracked his head on the coffin lid and dropped back down, rolling around in the Bulgarian soil and rubbing his head.
One of Tu Madre’s crewman, Stol Ranch, lay slumped against the inside door of the computer core. He had been purging the junked up memory of the Madrugada on Patches‘ orders. But he later told them he had got suddenly dizzy and sat down. Unbeknownst to Stol, and to everyone else, who had presumed he had died with the Dead or was unbroadcast with the unraveling of the Glyphomancer, it took the Crown Prince nearly half an hour to pull himself out of the unconscious crewman and disappear up into the vents above the core. When Patches found Stol in the morning he was still motionless and the cat had to push the door against his body to scoot him out of the way. It took one of the doctor’s stronger tonics and a couple of shocks from the neural stimulator to get him conscious again.
The captain sat in his ready room, examining the 3-Ds of the books’ leaves, all open and turning above the wired conference table. He arranged them in different ways. He pulled out the actual leaves and examined them. He ran them through every database he could think of in the hopes of translating them.
He tossed his chair back angrily and turned to the look out at the stars. He looked at the coordinates. What did Karl know? What was he trying to tell them? Was there some Resistance secret in the coordinates? Out of the corner of his eye he caught the dim glow of the 3-Ds turning in the translucent media of the ready room walls. He touched them with his hands.
Nine leaves. Nine crew. Nine coordinates. Nine are the points of the star.
Not the Glyphomancer. He wanted the books for his own purpose. He’d hardly have them travel to Origin if he wanted to take them.
The three weeks travel to Pandema were uneventful, on the surface anyway. Tu Madre’s crew was integrated nicely into the working of the ship. Dded had developed a mister that would keep Ormaetxea’s machismo from interrupting ship’s routine, either through nausea or teen dreaminess. Ormaetxea constantly barged into Stratsimir’s quarters with suggestions of capers, schemes and plans to sack various worlds. But he took no for an answer. For the time being.
Pandema at its height was a world of great beauty. Still arid but full of exotic desert plant and animal life and sparkling, coruscating rivers of mineral visible from space. It was the value of these minerals that gave the planet first its power, then its vulnerability. The planet was studded with cities and centers of learning. Great artists lived there. Great diplomats hammered out far-seeing agreements. Technologists gave it the most advanced fleet on that side of the Xix supercluster. Patches obscured the extraordinary efficiency of their slip engines and the computers before they approached orbit. They secured landing clearance and put down at a city called Lambena on the southern content. It was there they discovered “Pandema” was a later name for the planet, a post-lapsarian name. Its true name was Parcleta and it was a paradise.
“Get food! Especially fruit,” Stanislaus called out to Weekiebye and Slim as they coffeed up prior to disembarking.
“Not coming, Stan?” asked Weekiebye.
“With an opportunity to cold-clean the ovens?” He shook his head.
The port was small but busy. They landed in one of six plats arranged in a circle on the top of a low rise. They traveled down a walkway between other landing circles, walking beside one of the supply arterials. They stopped on a rise surrounded by a half-circle of open-fronted bars. They toasted with tall glasses of cold, fermented juice that was remarkably reinvigorating and breathed in the live air. From their seats at the rough wooden bar they could see out across the small long valley the city sat in. Opposite them were the salmon-streaked sandy stone towers that would later be used by the Arrušap, the College of the Exegetes. The Palace’s tall tower, studded with silvered glass windows, was the building in which they had been, and would be, received by Ardanafravartish.
They continued down the busy walkway. From a ridge on their right, a cool, wide channel brought water into the city. All around it, from immense marble planters, set into the sides of the aqueducts, flowers poured and cascaded, as luminously green as Baltic grass fields, thought Stratsimir; as blue as the Ostracan broccoli barrens, thought Patches; as p as squirt-stain is pond, thought Dded.
The ramp dipped pronouncedly at the end and debouched them into a broad square with newer, sharp-edged buildings and a thin church with a bell tower around which a multitude of birds flashed like dust in gust of wind. This was the city proper, a warren of small streets and alleyways ranged through pinkish stucco buildings with small rounded windows and studded with squares, parks and other public spaces.
They stopped for another drink, under shade trees, cleverly braided together into a living roof. They asked and were told the square where farmers and greengrocers plied their trade, across the canal where it cut across the southern end of the city.
The people of pre-plague Pandema were on the short side, slightly pinkish bronze in their hairless skin, with fine, mobile seven-fingered hands and beautiful irises that ranged from sand-white to sandstone mauve, flecked with brass and gold. Their language was highly inflected and tonal, making a drink order sound like a sonnet. But the Xix Chinook they spoke for trade was close enough to Fornaxian that they were able to puzzle through.
The high road leading from the Plaza of the Moons (in deference to the planet’s host of small satellites) to the Plaza of the Suns (in honor of its small, bright binary, which did nothing more to the captain than cause an occasional storm of tiny pink sparks to flash across his skin) was a broad processional causeway, flanked by statued niches. Its religious nature did not inhibit the city’s inhabitants and visitors from using it for the more workaday purposes of transporting goods and people from one place to another.
The Plaza of the Suns was a mirror of the Moons, except for the high white hip gables that surmounted the surrounding buildings. Along the south side, a series of bays let into stores whose business it was to provision the city and the ships and country-dwellers that visited it.
Before the bays stood ranked series of stalls set up by the farmers and craftsmen from the surrounding areas to sell the products they grew, made or raised in the valleys, rifts and small prairies of that part of the southern continent.
Midway down the square on their left was a cluster of buildings, whose main entrance, traced in smooth white marble, like a frosting, was surmounted by a polished silver crescent, slashed crosswise with a bolt of inset glass. Mona grabbed Stratsimir’s arm and pointed.
“Weekiebye, Nimue,” he said, not taking his eye off the sign. “Go provision the ship.” He saw Lorca’s face. He had lit up, truly come to life for the first time since his escape from the firing squad. He looked like a uncurling leaf that had nudged the grains of soil apart, unwound into life and was budding, on its way to flower. He had no heart to assign him real duties. “Dem, take Lorca and just…pick up anything you see that you believe we might need and haven’t though of. We’ll meet an hour before dusk at the café in the other square. Slim, Mona, with me”
Nimue drug her heels, but eventually, after an audible look from Stratsimir, she joined the others. It was of some comfort to her that, once the Dead were gone, their connection was reestablished.
Stratsimir looked up at the sign, and down into the barred gateway.
“Looks like a university,” said Slim.
“Maybe it’s the reason they located their College here after Pandema had become the plague planet,” offered Nimue. “They already had a presence here.”
Slim peered through the bars into an open, grassy quadrangle. A building faced with black marble looked back from the far side. Above the wide stairs to the main entrance hung another sign, the estoile of the Centrifugal Order in glassy black obsidian.
“Uh-oh,” said Slim.
“Friend,” Stratsimir called out to a very tall, greenish person with long yellow hair, “what is this place, do you know?”
“Sure, I know,” he said, setting his tall, segmented pack down on the stones and running a webbed hand through his hair. “It’s the Monastery and College of the Nine Fires. Most respected institution of learning in the system. Nephew’s attending in the Spring. They teach and they ordain in the Nine Orders and the two moieties. Nephew’s going in for zoology and at least be a lay-brother of the Fourth Fire.”
“What’s that? We’re not from around here,” said Slim.
“You must not be. Fourth Fire is the centrifugal element of the Creator, that which brings together. He’ll be qualified to conduct the minor mass, Davidic moiety. Plus, he’ll be an engineer, help solve germ problems, help people have health.”
They thanked him and he smiled, hefted his pack and moved on into the crowd.
“I feel the need for religion,” said the captain, and reached for the bell pull.
Of all the crew, Dded and Patches got the most attention. A man-sized cat walking alternately on two legs and four, and switching his flamboyant tail, and a giant octopus, clacking his beak merrily and laughing as he rolled along, were cause for great interest among the curious Pandemans. The Ostrachans and the Echelld had not developed slip drives by this point and the Pandemans and their neighbors had yet to make it to that remote system in that distant supercluster.
The crew had split up, with Dded and Patches going after osmotic cloth for the filtering system and cultures to grow for the doctor’s antibiotic cultures. It took over three hours due to the constant pressing of drinks into paws and tentacles.
A gaggle of gecko-like students danced across the big brick sidewall of the library and out onto the lawn of the quad to mix with a group of tall, blue-robed Mellaanon proctors. They laughed and walked together, disappearing into a pointed archway opposite. Stratsimir, Slim and Mona walked on without any predetermined destination or goal. A couple of Davidic monks, a Hyrtussian and a Bashlebeg, stood, head together, quietly arguing and stabbing at the Holy Book with long fingers beside the wide shallow fountain of crystal that stood in the center of the open space. Groups of students representing the 11 colleges, the Nine Fires, both moieties, 5 genders and scores of species, walked, milled, yelled and gestured as classes let out. In short, the everyday activities of an important university went on the round them.
Slim stopped short. It took a moment before Mona and Stratsimir realized.
“What’s wrong, Slim?” asked Mona.
“It’s mathematical,” Slim said. “The buildings, I mean. And…the way they’re laid out.” Once he said it, Mona realized that she’d been feeling something she hadn’t articulated to herself. The place had felt more…real than most places, and less commonplace.
“Everything,” continued Slim. “The ornamentation around the windows, the vents, the roof peaks, the trees and shrubbery. The relationship of every element to its like and each type of thing to the whole. What we call the ‘Golden Mean.’” He pointed up at the windows under the library’s eaves. “1, 2, 5, 7, 12, 19. Do you see it?”
They did. The design would have been miraculous under any circumstances. But it wasn’t a pattern built at once.
“The college is centuries old,” said Stratsimir. “The buildings are different ages, the…plants were put in at different times. How?”
“The Exegetes did not retain this arrangement,” said Mona.
They walked through a cool passageway of pale yellow marble and into a gravel-paved square. As they passed a round tholos, chalky-white and thatched in the brushy reddish reeds of the river’s wetlands, three figures strode toward them purposefully. One, a tall Parcletan with bronze skin, wore the white-blue robe of an Exegete, not very different from those of Ardanafravartish. Around her neck, like her successor, she wore the silver sigil with the bisecting ray of tiny blue gems. She was accompanied by two men, one a Borealan in mannish robes, the other a shorter but well-built young man, with gleaming black, shoulder-length hair, who wore tall red-laced books and a sky-blue chlamys.
“It is imperative that you come with us,” said the Exegete. “We know who you are.”
Slim’s hand went to his Colt. Just as quickly, the young man shook his head and looked down at his hand. He raised it slightly from where it rested, clasped over his other forearm. A gamma-blade was sandwiched in between.
“We mean no harm,” said the Borean. “I am T’a-t’a-’ung-a. This is our Exegete, Yazatåŋhō, and this is Malazgirt, her chiliarch. There are things you should know. Please. Come with us, quietly and quickly. We believe we do not have much time.” He turned and led the way down the plaza, the gravel splashing softly beneath his slippers. The Exegete walked opposite Stratsimir and Slim and Malazgirt followed, each keeping a weather eye on the other.
The chiliarch opened a narrow door in a featureless wall of grey granite flecked with pink. The door had meshed perfectly with the rest of the wall and anyone who did not know of its existence would never have thought to look for it. It was narrow enough that Stratsimir had to turn sideways to pass through it and Mona had to hold her sword to keep it from banging against the gritty walls of the tunnel.
The corridor ended in a space in back of the ornate Davidic side-altar. They were in the Central Cathedral. The granite wall they passed through, the back wall, the altar and the back of the carven stalls of the choir formed a secret room where they stood. Two figures stepped out from behind the tapestry that covered the back wall. They were both clad in black, one in trousers and jacket, with a sword buckled on at the waist, and the other in robes. They didn’t take two steps before the one had the barrel of one of Slim’s Colt buried in his neck and the other’s felt the cold line of the captain’s cinqueada.
“No,” said Yazatåŋhō, matter-of-factly. “They are friends.”
“They’re members of the Centrifugal Order,” Stratsimir hissed, pulling the obsidian estoile symbol from the monk‘s breast. A thread of red had formed on the Order monk’s neck beneath Stratsimir’s blade. The monk’s guard froze with his own blade only half out of the scabbard. A red point glinted in Stratsimir’s eyes and his senses, smell, taste, grew as sight and hearing dimmed. He could feel the pulse of the monk from the small spikes of scent in the air.
“Their moiety is Essauic, but they serve the Creator the same as we do, and they are party to the prophecy,” said T’a-t’a-’ung-a. He stepped between them and forced their weapons slowly down. “Trust them, if you trust us.”
Slim holstered his pistol loosely as Stratsimir resheathed the cinqueada in his boot, though pointedly neglected to close the strap across the top. They stepped back.
“What prophecy?” asked Mona
The Exegete centered herself with a deep breath.
“All religions tend toward hierarchy,” she said to general nodding. “Religion is the gleaning of eternal sacral realities and the experimentation with those truths in this mutable, lived life of ours. With time, even the most genuine explorations of the Divine Will can become compromised. The change that is inherent in this flux of a world, this word within time, can be frightening and disorienting to some, who mistake the unchanging Creator with the changeable worlds, who forget that the mutability is the Created Worlds’ strength and is the reason for the awareness of those such as us.”
“Why tell us?” asked Slim. “We’re not theologians.”
“As to that, I am not so sure. But it has a bearing on your situation. Right now, the Holy Disciplines of both David and Essau are going through that change. To many of the members of both sects the threat to the appearance of the truths they have identified seem more important than the truths themselves. This has led us all to decisions that will have, we believe, negative effects on the universe. But groups in each – we gathered here are representatives of them – have arisen to counter those decisions and keep alive the original teachings. Our progenitors have provided us with several texts and a number of, for lack of a better word, “prophecies,” to guide us in our work.”
The Exegete nodded and her chili arch and the monk’s guard each grabbed an edge of the tapestry, which was really two tapestries strung together on a wire bolted into the wall, and pulled them apart.
There were verses incised into the wall. Deeply cut, their edges were nonetheless slightly blurred. It was not a new inscription.
Time turned round to see itself
And in Parcleta’s shining mirror
Fixed again its future form
The living guarantor of years
The Grower’s seeds have all been torn
From the animated weft
From ending all beginning’s born
Though we beginners end bereft
Let the fountain of Her tears
Fall to earth when Nine are squared.
“There are two problems with prophecy,” said the Order monk. “The nature of the revelation is rarely clear cut. How could it be, a finite being given a glimpse into the infinite? The other is the need to keep the prophecy in the hands, or minds, of those who will put it to good use. Still, we believe we have some sense of what it means.”
“Nine, Johnny,” said Mona.
“You’ve seen Nine?” asked the Exegete.
Stratsimir regarded her, then shrugged. “We’ve seen Nine.”
“In this case, we thought Nine was…you, your group,” said the Exegete.
“We have a crew of Nine,” Slim nodded. The Davidic and Essauic group looked at one another. Relief shone in their faces.
“You are to repair the damage that the very decisions I mentioned will cause in the future.”
“The ‘tears’ I confess we cannot make sense of,” said T’a-t’a-’ung-a. “It seems to be referring to the outcome of these decisions but, and we’ve had arguments about this, I feel it refers to something specific.”
“It does…” began the captain.
Stratsimir shook his head. “There is no reason to speculate. If I’m right, there’s nothing you can do. If I’m wrong, it would be damaging to talk about it.”
A quickly, furtive rap in a pattern of threes sounded from the other side of the choir. The chiliarchs, the monk’s guard and the Mad’s crew went automatically to weapons. The Order monk held up one hand and waved them away as T’a-t’a-’ung-a knelt and took a thin leaf of vellum that was being worked underneath the wood, where it met the smooth stone of the floor. He read it, then looked at the captain.
“Your crewmates have been taken.”
Image from the Voynich Manuscript from Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library via Wikimedia Commons