Featured

Continuum – Episode Nine. Journeying

The story so far:

Following her rift with Sala, Alanee tries to conquer her loneliness in the big City and focus upon thoughts of escape, but focussing is hard.  She is offered help by a mysterious bystander called Celeris, and having been unable to contact Dag, her trans pilot friend, spends her evening in his company.

Meanwhile, Cassix the Seer has broken news of a devastating event in Dometia province to the Council,and the fear of what it may mean hangs over all in the City.

Alanee has not slept well.  Despite her experiences of the evening, she went reluctantly to bed and lay awake well into the early hours, her mind a turmoil of emotions and memories.  She is beginning to learn more about the Consensual City, and in doing so something more about herself.

Within her home village of Balkinvel there were, for all the mysteries and trappings of government rule, no doors closed to her.  The village Domo’s home would always welcome her, and Paaitas himself was approachable, if a little confused sometimes.  She would have free run of the Terminal, there were no hidden rooms, no cloistered apartments or glittering palaces there; whereas here the City’s boundaries are so many, the nobles impossibly aloof, their  rules stringent and mysterious.  But here, threaded through the gilded tapestry of lore and establishment there are strands which, in her country home, would set rumours screaming; make disgrace certain.  She remembers Shellan, her neighbour and her friend.  She remembers how they would laugh together, find jokes from their world that no-one else could see.  How, often, they might share a thought or a smile so intimately, or hug away tears, but never did that woman she had known since she was a little girl seek her lips with Sala’s passion; never would the Makar’s licentious hand, old devil that he was, have touched her as the Music Man did!

In that tragic summer when Alanee-meh her husband died; after some frantic solitary moments of grief she would prefer to forget, Alanee consigned her sexuality to unending sleep.  She locked it in a cupboard, put it from her never to be let out.  Balkinvel was a small community and a single woman of child-bearing age a threat, so she could not allow desire, could not dwell in male company.  Her friends were women, their husbands were out of bounds.

Is it this place that arouses her?  Is it Dag’s empathy, or Sala’s invitation, or the enigma of Celeris that stirs these things from their slumber?  Or was it the hand of the music man?  Last night when Celeris left her, she watched his parting with regret.  She tells herself her feelings were just those of one who needed companionship, that she liked talking to Celeris, that she would have talked on into morning.  But is this honest?  In the lonely dark she goes again and again to that locked cupboard knowing that she holds the key, and frightened of the self she might find inside.

Her summoner is insistent – a plangent tune.  When did she fall asleep?  She does not remember.  The hour on the summoner’s little window speaks of morning.  ‘Lady Ellar’ flickers in time with the rhythm of its music.

“Lady?”  Her voice is thick with sleep.  She does not know Ellar well at all.  They have met just once, in the company of the High Council.

“Alanee-mer, may I call upon you – say at ten-thirty?”

By the appointed hour Alanee has bathed and dressed in the robe Sala gave her.  To her surprise, Lady Ellar does not simply enter her apartment as Sala has done, but waits to be admitted.  This unexpected courtesy hints at the many contradictions in the Mediant:  that all the power she exerts she will not use, even when, sometimes,  necessity points the way.  But she is tall, and Alanee believes her future is clasped in the palm of her hand.  These things alone are enough to make Alanee afraid of her.

Alanee offers drinks, they are accepted.  They sit opposite one another upon the soft couches that furnish the apartment.  Is Alanee well?  Are her arrangements as she would wish?  Is she learning about the City?  Alanee replies politely and honestly, still unaware that these questions are no more than formalities, that every move she has made since she arrived here has been meticulously watched.

“Now my dear, it is time to begin unfolding the mystery.  You are about to set out upon a journey…”

Still misted with sleep, lulled by the gentle persuasion of her drink, Alanee struggles to understand: mystery?  Journey?

Ellar sees Alanee’s confusion and smiles.  “Your task , no, even that is a bad description, the life we have planned for you is not a job, in the accepted sense.  So there is no description, neither is there a schedule of work you must follow.  Instead, you will be guided through it stage by stage, experience by experience carefully and thoroughly.  You will not lack guidance.  It is…a journey; neither more nor less.”

This does nothing to improve Alanee’s understanding.  She says so.

“That will come.  This is the start point – here, this morning.  From this moment on you will be known as the Lady Alanee.  You have the status, to begin, of courtier, though for now you will live here, rather than within the Palace.  There are good reasons for that, which we need not go into now.  You will have an allowance of two thousand credits a day…”

At this Alanee is wide awake.  She sits bolt upright.  “Two thousand a day?”  In her work as assistant manager at the Balkinvel Terminus she was paid ninety credits a cycle!

“Two thousand a day, that’s right.  Now, I know you are short of money, so I made certain your first payment was lodged this morning at credmarket opening.  In addition you will enjoy clothing expenses commensurate with your position and certain special allowances.  There are details of these in your personal file.”  Ellar still wears that benevolent smile.  “I understand this is outside your experience, Lady Alanee.  You probably feel as if you have been given free run of the cherry orchard.  But please be clear on this:  in the society you will keep certain standards of etiquette and dress are mandatory.  If you are to succeed on your journey you must know them and follow them utterly.  You cannot do this alone; you will need a guide.”

“She’s told you!”

“Sala has mentioned something, yes.  We really thought you would become firm friends, you see, and Sala’s knowledge of courtly manners is second to none.”

“As upon the subject of underwear.”  Says Alanee drily.

Ellar looks mystified, or pretends to.  “I am sorry you quarrelled.  We shall have to find you someone better suited to your tastes.”  The Mediant leans forward as though she would grasp Alanee’s knee, but holds short; her hand reaching, not touching.  “There are many aspects of life here that are strange to you, Lady Alanee.  Many, I’m sure, will seem difficult or even offensive at first.  I hope as you learn you will not judge us too harshly.”

Alanee sees she is being chided.  She bridles instantly:  “I am mistaken, then?  I never considered morality a matter for judgement.”

Instead of responding immediately, Ellar lets the retort drop into a meaningful, silent eddy.   She studies Alanee with the intensity she might devote to a zoological specimen.  Then her face breaks into another smile, this time a smile of indulgence.  “Yes, possibly you are.  After all, different societies have different moralities, do they not?  Interesting, though, how passionately you feel these things.  Village life, I suppose – so straightforward, so…so…”

“Provincial?”

“Puritanical was the word I had in mind.  This is neither here nor there, I will find you someone you like better as your guide.  Now, Lady Alanee, begins the first step of your journey.  This afternoon an encounter has been arranged, in which you must take part.  You will be called for at three.”  Ellar rises to her feet.  “Thank you for the drink.”

“Wait!”  Alanee is shocked at her own boldness.  “Encounter – encounter with what?”

“Rather with whom, Lady Alanee.”

“Well whom, then?  I mean, what am I supposed to achieve in this encounter? What is supposed to happen?”

“That, my dear, we none of us know, nor is it for us to say.  That is what I meant when I described your task here as a journey.  It’s a journey for us all.”  Lady Ellar turns towards the door.  “Now I really must go.”   At the threshold she turns, as if struck by an afterthought:  “Oh, and by the bye; I believe last night you were enquiring after the pilot who brought you here, one by the name of Swenner?  I have some sorry news I’m afraid.  Master Pilot Swenner is missing, believed dead.  His aerotran crashed over the wild regions of Dometia yesterday afternoon.  The desk should have been informed.”

Ellar would not admit to the slight satisfaction she feels as she sees Alanee’s face crumple at her news.  Walking away, back into the world she knows, she has the faint sensation that she is leaving quite another world, one that Alanee has created within that apartment:  not with any accoutrement other than those that have been bestowed upon her and not with the assistance of anyone, but just by the force of her own personality, by the Habbach-forsaken freshness of that Hakaani air.  The smell of wheat-chaff is almost palpable!  She sees now what so attracts Sala to this girl:  she could be tantalised herself, if the girl was not so opinionated, even dissident, did Cassix not perceive that?  She begins to understand the Domo’s reservations; the nightmare scenario as it may be played out.  And once it begins, who may stop it?

Not you, Lady Ellar, Mediant, not you!

#

Heaven and earth are one, partnered, dancing with each other in flickering light.  Wind comes in rushes that blast anything still standing; scouring to the very bone.  It should be day.

The pod of the aerotran remains intact: that, Dag is sure, is all that saved him.  Yet the pain at the base of his spine assures him he did not escape entirely and he may not move without experiencing massive static shocks.  The carcass of his shattered vehicle moans in the excesses of the gale, crackles at every gust.  It was this tangible electric web that he could not fly through, which brought him tumbling helpless to the earth, and now it would drown him, blocking out his communicator, robbing him of instruments to such degree he does not even know which way he faces.  Slowly it will usurp his mind.  He cannot focus, cannot conjure the most basic thought.  He should escape, not sleep – yet all he wants to do is sleep.  He should try to keep breathing, but all he wishes is not to breathe……

A tree has transformed into a maniacal tumbling thing, torn from its roots, flayed into a skeleton of twigs and all but its trunk reduced to the thickness of wire.  Bowling before the storm Dag sees it coming, cannot do anything to avoid it.  The blow as it strikes the aerotran’s Pod throws him sideways, erupts his back in an agonising spasm, wakes him and at once extinguishes what light he has.  Sleep, if sleep it is, comes quickly and with mercy.

#

“Oh, sweet Lady!”  Taccata’s face positively radiates joy:  “How utterly delightful to see you again!”

Alanee accepts the kiss on her hand.  “Is she here?”

“But of course!  It is her hour…..”

“And alone?”

Taccata gives that slight assent of the head which is his manner:  “She is, my dear.  Come, now, we know our way, don’t we?”

Nevertheless he leads Alanee through the jungle of drapes and hangings, through to the place where the whole valley of the Balna forms one of the walls, to Sala languid among the cushions.  Sala who looks up to welcome her coming with solemn eyes…..

After Ellar left her Alanee retreated to her bedroom, throwing herself upon her bed.  She grieved for Dag in noisy tears which were as much for herself as they were for the man she had never really known.  She beat upon the pillows with anguished fists, she swore to the unhearing heavens; she wailed her fate to the echoing walls.  Thus for an hour, or maybe less.  Then, wearied by these exertions, she slept.  But not for long.

She awoke with a decision.  She reached for her Summoner and touched Sala’s call-button.

“Can we talk?”

The message which came back was short.  She could almost hear Sala’s clipped tones: “See you at Tocatta’s.”

And here she is.  And she has no idea what to say.

“Sit by me, Lady Alanee?”  Sala’s eyes are reproachful.  “Try this beverage, I believe you might like it.”

“Sala…”  Alanee starts to speak, then seizes up.

“I know.”  Sala’s tone consoles her.  “I know.”

“I was…you took me by surprise.  I wasn’t expecting…..”

“And I was impatient; desperate even.  Oh, I was so clumsy, Alanee-ba.  The fault is all mine!”

Alanee has come prepared to remain aloof, to keep a distance between herself and this beautiful woman:  now she is here, though, now she sees how small Sala looks, how she quivers with repressed emotion, almost at the edge of tears  – she throws her arms impulsively around her friend and hugs her.

“I’m sorry I hurt you, Sala-ba.  I’m so sorry!”  And now they are close, a breath apart.  This time it is Sala who seems uncertain, caught between desire and fear; her distress is in every fibre of the body Alanee presses to her breast.  It takes little courage, so great a step, little or none at all.  It is natural to kiss those wanting lips, to touch with tenderness; even to experience a wanting of her own.  It is a kiss brimming with awakenings.  It lingers.

Alanee whispers:  “I am so glad we are friends again:  so glad!”

They are forehead to forehead for a while, consumed with each other until the ridiculousness of the position reduces them both to laughter.  Then Sala returns the kiss, a second brief taste.

“Enough!  Now I must restrain myself!  Tell me, ba, when is this great occasion to take place?”

“You know of it?  Can you tell me what it’s about?”

“Whoa, whoa!  I know something of it.  But I cannot tell you more than you already know.  When does it happen?”

“In…..”  Alanee fumbles for her summoner:  “In….Oh Habbach!   In an hour!”

“Then we must shop!”

At the door of Alanee’s apartment stands Seil.   Seil is a large-boned woman of uncertain age who is clearly not given to patience.  By the time Sala and Alanee return she has been waiting for half an hour, and she is vexed.

“Lady Alanee this is impossible!  You have twenty minutes!  We need to prepare you!  Did not Lady Ellar acquaint you with the importance of this meeting?”

“Oh, it’s a ‘meeting’ now, is it?”  Alanee is in no mood to be outfaced; “It was an ‘encounter’, now it’s been elevated to the status of ‘meeting’.  Very well, twenty minutes.  I need ten.”  She spots the tiny package Seil holds in her left hand.  “And I’m not going to wear that.”

Seil protests, but not too insistently.  Ellar has warned her of Alanee’s aversion to the limiter.  Yet she is unprepared for Alanee herself.  Growing in confidence, the Hakaani girl feels equal to anything the City can throw at her now.  She is beginning to understand the politics of power, something Celeris has already given to her.  She knows she holds that power over Sala.  Sala wants to be her lover; and at that moment when Seil allows her to walk away without the limiter, she recognises she has status of another sort, too.

In her bedroom, alone, she prepares herself in her own way.  She has innate knowledge of her natural assets, her smooth skin, the way her bones subtly enhance the bloom of her cheeks.  The downy wildness of her hair, insubstantial as mist; her inviting body over which the thinner and much more richly gilded robe Sala has just persuaded her to buy falls in an essay of temptation.  No make-up, no enhancements.  She wears the simple sandals of her homeland on her feet, ruffles her explosion of hair, turns once before the mirror.

Radiant, Alanee frames herself in her bedroom doorway.  “Ready!”  She says brightly.  She feels herself capable of anything.

It is a mood that will not survive this journey.  The elevator she enters with Seil and Sala is small, a dark chamber with no seating, no cheerful colour or feature to augment its walls.  It goes down and down, descending through level after level – and though she misses the look of fleeting concern on Sala’s face Alanee’s heart descends with it.  When at last it stops, a cold draught seeps through its opening doors, and the grey stone-walled chamber beyond does nothing to lift her spirits.

It is into the dungeons of the Palace they go:  through labyrinthine passages, narrow defiles, dark alleys of stone.  Though Alanee tries to remember, their path quickly confuses her.  She glances towards Sala, but her friend appears to be as mystified as she.  Seil clearly has instructions that have been imparted to no-one else.

The dim light casts their fleeting shadows on walls of stone, old, old stone worn by the passing of countless shadows.  No floor-foam here, but flags that echo to their tread.  Little heating either:  Alanee’s arms are raised with goose-bumps.  Though she calculates she must be beneath the palace at least by now there are no voices, no sounds at all inside her head.  Perhaps the cold has seeped in there, too. The further they walk, the more her skin is crawling with fear rather than cold as she begins to wonder:  Are her original convictions to be confirmed and do these people indeed intend to put her in a prison?  A thought given weight by the heavy timber doors they pass, each one the bearer of a grim, rusty lock.

“Where are we going?”  She enquires, in a hushed tone.  “I should have worn a fur.”

“No further, Lady!”  Seil’s voice is strident.

They have turned a corner in a stone corridor.  Before them is a short flight of steps, at the head of which a black, forbidding door stands ajar.

Sala protests:  “No!”  She tries to intervene for Seil is suddenly behind Alanee, heavy hands on her shoulders, thrusting her forward.  But the element of surprise is too great, and Sala is no match for her stalwart colleague.  As she stumbles against the steps the door swings wide, and Alanee smells as much as sees the grim form of a huge man in leather clothes standing there.  His great hand reaches down, taking her robe by the shoulder to hoist her bodily through – she hears the rich fabric tear as its securing clasp rips through it and she cannot suppress the scream of horror that escapes her lips.

© Frederick Anderson 2019.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.

Featured

Dream of Frogmore in the Spring Again…

This morning in UK (less so elsewhere in the world, I have to say) all the talk is of a royal fledgling leaving the nest – not just leaving it, but migrating to Canada; and I like to think of him flying with the wild geese, but I know better. The announcement that the staff of Frogmore Cottage, the Sussex’s UK home, are to be laid off confirms Harry’s intention to desert.

A stranger Royal has thrust a gaffing hook into the tightly-knit throng of the British regal family and pulled, an action not so damaging in itself, yet catastrophic in as much as it raises the ‘Royal Issue’ once again.

There is, our media declares nebulously, ‘enormous respect’ for The Queen.   There should be.  She has reigned for 67 years and she is 92 years old – she still works, if in a somewhat less strenuous role, and remains arbiter for a burgeoning family: some would say she acts as a constraint upon change that is waiting in the wings.   The burning question is relevance. 

Increasingly of late I find myself comparing the royal estates to the Vatican, each offering safe haven to a privileged few who are immured to the realities around them: poverty, social strife, political oppression, and so on.

When our present Queen finally has to give ground, her successor in the ‘male line’ will be well into his 70s.  Charles is a businessman, of a sort, certainly prudent in financial affairs.  The remit for contemporising his ever larger family will be a tough one, however, because for a lot of years the chicken has been free to run around with scant consideration for its head.

Does a twenty-first century Britain need a monarchy?  ‘They bring a lot of money into the country’ is the constantly conjured  counter to this   Yes, and they spend it as well.   Should the Commonwealth of Nations, if it has any meaning, find an entity as a trading relationship, unfettered by the stately pomp of a Queen as its head?  In an age of meticulous media scrutiny, the Royals’ capacity for finding unfortunate bedfellows, while not a recent trait, is more exposed.  A constant dribble of scandals may be titillating, but as tourist dollars go, they are less effective in that respect than the Kardashians.

The tourist dollar is, one supposes, the bottom line; until one asks exactly what it is the tourist comes to see?  If they travel in expectation of setting eyes on a Royal, they are doomed to disappointment, so is it the ceremonial, the sense of history, the buildings – none of which actually need a Royal as a focal point?

We could keep the ceremonies, the parades, if you like.  We could keep and maintain the buildings; Buckingham Place, Sandringham, Balmoral, and we could open them to the public as never before.  But we could release the assets of the Crown Estates.  1,960,000 acres of agricultural land and forest, large chunks of extremely valuable urban property, much of it in London, Ascot racecourse, Windsor Great Park – at last valuation these things together were said to be worth £14.1 billion.

Okay, I’m not a Royalist – never have been; but even I can see that a Royal line has kept UK on an even keel while all around us are listing heavily and blaming it on us.  It’s a function that has served us well for hundreds of years, and now it is very possibly time for it to step aside, or alter to a more progressive role.  I am a nationalist, passionate about my heritage and, like most of we British, resentful of those who accept our money then patronise us or dismiss us as archaic and quaint.    For this reason I lament the schism that is developing in the ruling class, because at least when they were united we knew where to throw the eggs.

NB:  It was interesting to me that the Queen, in her last reference to the Royal runaways, referred to ‘Harry and Meghan’, not the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.  So, will they be allowed to keep their titles?  If they are forced to become commoners on Vancouver Island, that will at least diminish the millions they might anticipate earning on the ‘personal appearance’ circuit.

Imagine how their popularity would suffer if their media hosts were deprived of the opportunity to interview them wearing their coronets and crowns…

Featured

Continuum Episode 8 – Celeris

The story so far:

Wth a clear notion she must escape the Consensual City, Alanee sets out into its nightlife, determined to find the aerotrans port and Dag, her friendly pilot.  She is unaware she is being watched, or of the plotting that surrounds her.In the throng on the avenues, Alanee finds her concentration ebbing.  A gift of music from a goblin creature elates her, then leaves her irresolute and alone.  A bystander, sensitive to her distress, asks if he can help her…

“Thank you.”  Alanee finds words “Could you tell me where I can find the aerotran port, please?”

The man who has introduced himself as Celeris does not hesitate.  “I can do better.  It would be an honor to guide you, Lady.”

What is it about him that disturbs her?  “You’re very kind, but I don’t want to break up your discussion.”

Celeris looks puzzled for a moment.  “No, no.”  He casts a glance over his shoulder at the assembly he has left:  “They won’t even realize I have gone, I promise you.  Come, please!”

The hand he offers seems so finely-boned and fragile Alanee is afraid to grasp it lest it crumble, but his grip is firm and surprisingly confident.  “I shall look after you.”

He leads her by avenues and gardens, away from the nightlife of the City.  He leads with a purpose, but Alanee notices that no-one greets him as he passes, or acknowledges her.  She feels almost as though she is elsewhere, afloat on a different plane.

 “And you are Lady…?”

“I’m not sure you should call me ‘Lady’.  My name is Alanee.”

Celeris stops instantly, “You are undoubtedly a lady.”  He declares.  “I am privileged to know you, Lady Alanee!”

They continue walking. “You are not from around here, are you?”

“Are you?”  She returns.

“I?   Very much so, yes – all  my life!”

“Why does no-one know you?  At least, they don’t greet you, do they?”

His eyes engage with hers, though he does not stop walking.  “I’ve noticed that, too.”  His smile is impish.  “What brings you to the City?  You are far too beautiful for this ravening horde – they can hardly be restraining themselves.”

“I was brought, but no-one will tell me why,”  Alanee replies.   They arrive at the platform of a large door-less elevator which, its sign declares, is ‘descending’, threading their way into some free space between a small huddle of passengers who mostly wear flyers’ uniforms, similar to that sported by Dag when Alanee met him last.  There are one or two gold helmets among the crowd too, but although Alanee scans their faces, she cannot see her erstwhile pilot amongst this group.

“They’re being mysterious about it, are they?”  Celeris nods.  “The High Council are like that.  They relish a drama, a bit of mystery.  Don’t stand for it, Lady Alanee: demand to know your fate!”

“How do you know the High Council have anything to do with it?  I didn’t say that, did I?”

“Why no, you didn’t have to!  It is only by the invitation of the High Council that anyone may enter the Consensual City.  Such invitations are rare, so you must be someone quite important, I think; don’t you?”

This is not the first such challenge to leave Alanee floundering.  She does not reply.

At a warning chime the elevator slips downwards; an angled descent of about thirty degrees, through levels of various decoration and population.

At the fifth such level the aerotran deck declares itself.  Five large High Council aerotrans pose in orderly file while drabs fuss around them – one is clearly ready to leave, forcing Alanee to suppress an insane urge to run in case this should be Dag’s aerotran – in case she should miss the dark pilot whose face remains so fresh in her thoughts.

Celeris shows Alanee that she need only follow the general throng, for almost all the passengers on the elevator have disembarked here, and there is a general migration towards a suite to the right of the deck.  Once inside this unimposing area, however, most disperse:  speaking quietly among themselves they take stairs to upper levels, or filter through doors, leaving Celeris and Alanee alone in a dingy foyer with rushes for a floor and lackluster paint on its green walls.  As bland as the décor, a clerk at a scuffed wooden desk barely acknowledges their approach.

“I want to talk to an aerotran pilot!”  Alanee breaks the silence boldly.  “His name is Dag.  Could you tell him Alanee would like to see him?”

The clerk is writing something.  “Dag?  What makes you think he works here?”

“He’s an aerotran pilot!  Isn’t this where aerotran pilots work?”

The clerk gives her a sour look.  “Don’t be funny!  There are cargo pilots, and there are official pilots – oh, yeah, and there are taxi pilots.  They don’t all work from here.”

“Let us assume this one does?”  Celeris, until now content to be in the background, advances, speaking in clipped tones.  “Lady Alanee would like to speak with him.  Now.”

It is as if somewhere within dark halls of the clerk’s mental anatomy a light has been switched on.  His tone lifts a half-octave.  “He may be in.  I’ll just check for you, Lady Alanee.”

A screen on the shielded side of the desk flickers into life.  The clerk scrolls with his left hand, tracking the lines of script as they pass with his right forefinger.

“Yes.  Yes, you must mean Master Pilot Dag Swenner.  I’m afraid Master Pilot Swenner is on outward flight at the moment, Lady.  He isn’t due back until the day after tomorrow.  Would you like to send him a message?”

No, Alanee sighs, no message.  A forlorn hope, anyway, she convinces herself:  why should a man who did no more than ferry her once be the salvation she seeks?  But still, she would have liked to see him, and the thought of him out there alone makes her sad.

“I’m sorry your friend is away.”  Celeris says as they take the ascending elevator.  “A master pilot, too.  You have excellent taste in friends.”

“Well, not my friend, really.”  Alanee admits; “Just someone to talk to.”

Celeris moves so he stands directly facing her, letting her have the full force of his incisive stare.  “Talk to me.”

She demurs, “Oh, you don’t…”

“But I do!  Lady Alanee, I want to know everything about you.  Come now, indulge me!”

And so Alanee does.  Shyly at first, she tells him of her home in Balkinvel, and the warm Hakaani plains that roll like an ocean swell in the morning mist, recalling the afternoon when she was lifted from everything she loved and knew to be brought to this strange place.  At the use of the word ‘strange’ Celeris laughs (a soft sympathetic laugh) and nods approvingly.

“Strange indeed!”

“Very.  I bought this dress.  It took every credit I had.  I thought it looked good but now I’m wearing it I don’t know.  Everyone stares at me.  It’s OK, apparently, if some revolting little monstrosity publicly tries to stick his hand on my breast, yet if I show any leg I’m a harlot or something….”

“Stop, stop!”  Her companion raises his hands defensively:  “You mustn’t heed the ways of the city, Lady!  Your dress perfectly frames your beauty:  it is that they stare upon.  They are filled with regret because after seeing you they will have to go back to their wives!”

He speaks over the throng (they have returned to the humdrum of the avenue where they met) “Lady Alanee, would you do me the honor of dining with me?  There is a diner near here where the food is superb, and I would really enjoy sharing it with you.”

Alanee would politely decline, but she is quite hungry; and this oddly child-like man makes a charming companion:  so she says:  “Why thank you, Sire Celeris!  The honor would definitely be mine!”   

So, behind another green door, in another honeycomb of warm, confidential spaces and comfortable upholstery she comes to be pouring out the rest of her story.  She tells it all, or nearly all, from her interview with Cassix and Remis at the Terminal through to the moment Celeris, appeared to her out of the crowd.  She withholds only two things, the details of her interview with the High Councillors (Sala has warned her not to discuss such matters) and the reason for her quarrel with Sala.

Food has been placed before them; a sort of spicy fish steak in a sauce so intensely flavored it takes Alanee’s breath away.  As they eat Celeris listens, nodding once in a while.  When she lapses at last into silence, her story done, he asks:  “And what do you think of our city?  Apart from ‘strange’, I mean?”

“I think it is a very grand city.  If I were a city girl, I would love it.”

“But…?”

“But I’m not.”

“So this Dag, he is your means of escape?  You hope he will take you back to your home?”

Alaneee bites her lip.  Should she confess?  He seems so kind, but what if this Celeris is some high official, who will turn her in?  “No!  No, Celeris, I see that I must stay here.  Perhaps when I understand what is being asked of me, things will feel better.  For now, I just need a friend.”

Celeris reaches across the table and rests his hand on hers.  Though his touch is cool the vibrancy of his whole being pulses within it.  “Would you consider me a friend?”

Alanee thinks of the one she had hoped to reach tonight.  She cannot help comparing Dag with this enigmatic creature.  Yet he is listening well, he understands.  Sometimes it is only necessary to be there.  “You’re very sweet.  I think you’re already my friend.”

Celeris radiates delight.  The squeeze of his hand is like a static shock that sends arrows of warmth through Alanee’s whole body.  “Thank you!  I know we shall be great, great friends!”

They eat and talk, talk and eat:  and the hours pass, and evening becomes night, and in no time at all it seems that midnight is upon them.  Celeris takes Alanee’s hand to walk her home.

“How will I find you again?”  She asks, adding hurriedly:  “If you want me to find you?”

“I will show you how this is done.  Have you your summoner?”

Alanee has long forgotten the miscellany within her clutch-bag.  She rummages.

“This?”

“Yes.  It’s your link to all who know you within the city.  If I press my finger upon this pad – so – I join that happy society.  There, see?  My name upon your screen.”

“I live here.”  Outside her door, Alanee does not want the talking to end, does not want to be alone.  Were she bolder she would invite Celeris in, just so they could talk some more; just so she is not alone…

“I’d better get to bed.  I’m sure they’ll want me early in the morning.”

“Of course.”  Celeris bows ceremoniously.  “Good night, Lady Alanee.  I have so enjoyed this evening.  I hope we will meet again very soon.”

He has taken her hand, brushed it lightly to his lips.  Alanee watches him go, striding along the avenue with a purpose that belies his stature.  Later, when she lingers at the door of sleep, trying once more to center her mind on the prospect of escape, she will realize that all the talking through the hours has been about her.  She knows nothing about Celeris at all.

#

Of the gathered High Council, only Trebec notices Portis as he enters the Council Chamber.  The florid man’s face is etched with care.

“Are we all present?”  Portis asks.

“We await Sire Calvin, I think…no!  Here he is…”  Trebec’s voice is strained.

“You know more than I, clearly – what’s amiss?”

“You will learn.”

The Council is called to order by the Domo.  Slowly, for these are men and women of advanced years, chairs around a vast polished mahogany table are occupied.  “Sire Cassix.  I believe you requested this summons?”

Cassix rises to his feet.  The Seer is not among Portis’s closer acquaintances:  to Cassix’s mind Portis always looks hungry, as though he is anticipating his next meal but knows he will have to negotiate to get it.  This evening he looks especially starved.

“I bring grave news.  Sire Carriso, I know this should have reached you first, as Councillor for Dometia, but such is the urgency I thought it best to deliver this report to the whole Council.  Please forgive me.”

Cassix draws breath, drawing his shoulders back, aware that all eyes are upon him.  “This afternoon a little after 4.00 pm I sensed a disturbance of immense size from the direction of the Kaal valley in central Dometia.   It was of such proportions I could not clearly define it at first, but upon checking, I discovered that the foundry at Takken ceased production at that time.  Shortly after, a distress call from Kaalvenbal, the principal town of the region, spoke of the River Kaal as ‘boiling’.  Subsequently, a high static electrical charge in the air began to burn the citizens of that town. Our last report, an hour ago, spoke of ‘buildings alight, people suffocating’.  Thereafter all communication ceased.  I have received no news from Kaalvenbal since then.”

A rising murmur of consternation threatens to drown Cassix’s voice.  He pauses to allow the substance of his report to sink in.

“How?”  Carriso asks, distressed:  “How has this happened?”

Cassix shakes his head.  “I cannot say.”

“You are the Seer.  If you can’t…”

Cassix’s heart goes out to the young Councillor.  “I know how you love your people, Carriso.  If I could comprehend this myself I would tell you more.  It’s completely outside my experience.”

Portis swallows hard:  “Do you have any ideas, then; any theories, Cassix?”

“Not as such.  You will recall I made reports last year regarding a disturbance in the eastern sky I have referred to as the Continuum.  There may be a connection.”

A suppressed ‘harrumph’ comes from Councillor Selech’s end of the table.  Selech heads a group Cassix calls the ‘Continuum Skeptics’.

Cassix continues; “Three days ago I became aware of a significant increase in the size and activity of the Continuum.  I mentioned this at our last gathering.  I have been diverted since then so I have not had an opportunity to check it again.”

This suggestion instigates a clamor of dissent.  The Domo raises his hand.  “Sires, let us have quiet.  Cassix, how large an area is affected by this event?”

“The only evidence so far is anecdotal:  an aerotran pilot delivering plasma supplies to Kaalvenbal called in:  he spoke emotionally of a ‘cylinder of fire without heat’ rising several thousand meters into the air.  He seemed to think its girth was at least forty miles, but…”

“But what?”

“He was overwrought, disoriented.  We lost contact with him afterward, and his aerotran does not respond to our sensors.”

“He’s dead, in other words,”  Trebec mutters.

The Domo’s fat fingers drum upon the table’s polished wood.  “Speculation avails us nothing.  We will send a second aerotran to survey the extent of this enormity.  Carriso, you must organize medical facilities; we will send the supplies and specialists the Dometians need.

“Trebec, make Braillec your base to prepare a surface expedition to the scene.”

Sire Calvin, most ancient of the Councillors, intervenes in his high, piping voice:  “Sire Domo: all this electrical activity….is it possible that for a while these citizens might be deprived of The Word?”

The Domo nods, casting a worried glance in Carisso’s direction.  The Dometian’s skin is drained of all pallor.  “Sire Trebec, maybe you should despatch a Legion from Braillec to escort your expedition, just in case?”

“NO! No, Sire!”  Carriso finds his feet, impassioned.  “You think I don’t see what you intend?”

Calvin tries to placate him:  “They are our people too, Carriso.”

For a moment no-one speaks.  Carriso, watched with pity and concern by every member of  High Council, stands motionless, then, with a sound akin to a sob, the Dometian Councillor rushes from the room.

The Domo sighs heavily:  “Gentlemen, that will be all for tonight.  We await more detail.”

Slowly, and by diminishing pools of earnest conversation, the High Council disperses.  In an antechamber, Calvin takes Cassix to one side.  He speaks quietly.

“Cassix, is it possible your thoughts add up to more than your lips divulge?”

The Seer nods.  “I am already considered eccentric by two-thirds of the Council, downright dangerous by the rest.  That does make restraint the wiser course.”

“Well, I consider you neither, so I am to be discounted.  Speak, man?”

“Very well.”

From across the room, Councillor Portis watches as Cassix and Calvin converse in low, confidential tones.  As words float between them, he sees the ancient Councillor’s parchment skin pale more than his years dictate.  When they part, he thinks he detects tears on the old man’s cheeks.

#

Nearly two thousand miles to the south and east of the Consensual City a malefic red orb of a sun is rising, glowering down upon the blackened valley of the River Kaal.  Its early glare flows across naked rock like fresh blood – the dark, arterial blood of departing life. 

No more the village, Kaal-Takken is nothing but charcoal twigs ready to topple in the first breeze:  no more the people, for they are gone – just gone.  And no more the river where the sweet Saleen swam in gentler light.  The river is dry.

#

By the habbarn where the child slumbers his Mother watches.  She gazes fondly upon his sleeping face, recalling happy hours of love and games so innocent they brought her own childhood again into her life.  And she grieves for those times, knowing they have passed.

The child is a man now, or soon to be.  His games have changed, their naive simplicity become more sinister, their nature destructive, their consequences far-reaching. 

Oh, she has missed none of the physical changes; longer face, broadening shoulders, bold, self-confident stance.  Although she may not undress him now, she is too close to him not to notice his obvious manhood, which frequently embarrasses him because he does not understand.  She would explain to him, he needs to know, yet this defensive wall growing between them somehow prevents her.

He called her ‘Mother’ tonight, not ‘Mummy’.  It was the first time.  And he would not permit her to tuck him up, or kiss his forehead as she always did.  This, she knows, is natural change:  the end of one thing, the beginning of another, but she hates it!  And when she looks into their future – her future, Hasuga’s future – she sees only fear.

Tonight the fear shall not be hers alone.  It will waft like a contagion through the splendid avenues, the trysting alleys, the tall trees and waters of the park.  Its insidiousness will seep into the greatest minds of the City, and the least suspecting; for all will succumb to that first shred of doubt.  Something a thousand miles away has served them notice, and it must not be ignored.

© Frederick Anderson 2019.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.

Featured

The Empty Nest …

Frogmore Cottage (Wikipedia commons)

Well, it looks like Prinny and Megs are likely to become the latest in UK’s very distinguished list of emigrants to favour the New World over the old; which induces me to wonder why?  Of all things Canada is, warmer isn’t.  And, I mean, bears, darlings!  They have bears – not nice, cosy, bovine tuberculosis-ridden badgers, or attractive dustbin-raiding urban foxes, but real, live bears.  Bear with attitude, bears that don’t just upset your trash, they lay claim to it.  They brook no argument, don’t bears.

It is true, domestically speaking, that Harry and Meghan will be taking up residence in an indoor environment that is temperature controlled, as opposed to one in which control of any kind is a constant battle.  To the virgin resident of a stately English pile like Frogmore (Cottage?) there can be a refreshing romance to an east wind that appears undaunted by the interruption of glass and blows so noisily through the TV room, but the gloss must wear thin, after a time.   There is no consolation, eventually, in acknowledging that this is the origin of the legendary British stiff upper lip – and the British stiff neck, and the arthritic hip, and that greatest of all national attributes, concealed alcoholism.

They leave behind two distressed grandparents – Frau Lizabet and Phil the Greek, at a critical time, a move in which I’m convinced Meghan’s showbusiness friends, with their penchant for the over-dramatic, must have had a say.  Personally, as long as she avoided French chauffeurs and the Holborn underpass, I think she would be all right.

The nub of this move, seemingly, is Harry’s desire to protect his wife…

“Harry, we’re moving!”

“Yes, dear.”

“NOW, Harry!”

“Yes, dear.”

…from racism and the ravages of the British Press.  We do have this thing about racism in UK, to a point at which most restaurant menus now exclude chicken and no-one is allowed to make a joke about Muslims.  “This Imam walked into a bar…”   See?    There’s a black van at the end of my street already…  Now maybe I’ve missed something, but I’ve never read, or heard a racist attack on Meghan.  Granted, the UK sports a small racist sub-class, and there are some people who would find racism in a church raffle; nevertheless, generally, the UK is one of the most racially tolerant nations in the world, so the royal couple may be missing something there.

The Press, though, is another matter:  newspapers in UK do not report news, they support opinions, usually those of their millionaire owners.  The government-sponsored media run whichever cause they espouse at a particular time mercilessly to ground, and having reduced it to grovelling in its den they harass it perpetually, never once allowing it to get free.

Spurious, biased, debased, puerile, vengeful …think of your own adjective.  And some of those rabid teeth found their way to assault Ms Markle, of that there can be no doubt.

So maybe Prinny and Megs are right to sever as many links as they can from the Royal whipping post.  I find it quite exciting – two upper-tier Royals wanting to support themselves; two members of the nobility the common tax-payer no longer has to finance.   I think they should take up farming – their father is quite expert in that department, and there’s nothing like growing your own to develop character.  Meghan and turnips, a marriage made in heaven!

Good luck to them!  I’d like to believe there is a hostelry somewhere at which our Greater and Gooder exports share conviviality:   Lewis Hamilton shoulder to shoulder with Reg Dwight, Sean Connery entertaining Sir Cliff Richard with an Irish joke or two,  Michael Caine insisting Daniel Day Lewis should only blow the bloody doors off…and in walks Harry Windsor, Duke of Sussex, shaking his collection box…

© Frederick Anderson 2019.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.

Eventide, from the Hode’s Hill Series

Reblogged from Coldhandboyack: I’ve long been a fan of Mae Clair’s work, and this book is the one of the series I’m waiting to read. The post says it all!

Entertaining Stories

Mae Clair is one of my favorite people. She’s a partner over at Story Empire and one hell of an author. She’s here today to tell us about Eventide, which wraps up her Hode’s Hill Series.

I would appreciate it, and I know Mae would, if you would use those sharing buttons at the end of her guest post.

Hi, Craig. Thanks for hosting me today with my new supernatural suspense/mystery release. Eventide is the last book in my Hode’s Hill mystery series. As in the first two novels, Cusp of Night and End of Day, I’ve chosen to use dual timelines with dual mysteries that converge at the end. 

It’s challenging writing a book with more than one timeline. In essence, the author has to plot two separate stories, balancing two separate sets of characters, then…

View original post 932 more words

Continuum – Episode Seven Music Man

The story so far:   Far away from the City, a mysterious force, which will become described as a ‘wall’ takes the life of a Dometian peasant girl in front of her intended, a boy called Ripero.

Meanwhile, Alanee is questioned by the High Council, again perplexed by her immunity to their control.  Later, Alanee’s mentor Sala expresses an interest in her that implies much more than friendship.  When Alanee rejects her advances, Sala storms out.   Disgusted and a little afraid, Alanee decides she must escape the City…

Alanee has no idea how long she has been sleeping.  After Sala’s angry departure she lay upon her bed for hours, trying to plan a means of escape.  At some time those plans must have been interrupted by sleep, for now her brain is so fogged she can think of nothing clearly. Her head aches, her stomach cries for food.

Beyond the window wall of her living room, the palace is bathed in a gentle rose pink which speaks of approaching sunset.  A day – she has slept for a day?  Never in her life has she slept so long! 

She surveys herself in the mirror.  A gaunt, sleep-feathered face returns her stare.  A black fleck upon her shoulder reminds her the strange ant-like thing she had taped there the day before is still there.  The tape has gone, yet the little device sticks to her skin; the tiny wires cling.  With a hand-mirror she sees how determinedly they have buried themselves into her flesh!  Panicking, she rushes to her kitchen, pulls a knife from her drawer, tries to slither its blade beneath the body of the device, only to find its grip is too tight – what is more, as she works to prise it loose, she feels certain it begins to dig deeper, almost as though it were a real ant, intent upon burrowing into her.  Angry now, she grabs a larger, heavier knife and uses the blunt side to swipe at the thing, sending it across the kitchen to land somewhere on the floor.  Blood streams from her shoulder:  she staunches the flow with a cloth from her sink, and surveys the damage.  Her shoulder is punctured with a tiny hole which courses blood, and two of the fine metal tendrils remain in her skin, prompting a further ten minutes of probing with tweezers.

“Habbach!  What manner of demon was that?”  She demands out loud, of no-one in particular.

When at last her blood-flow has ceased, Alanee dresses the wound.  Some time is required to find the minuscule invader and when she does discover it behind a waste-bin she will not touch it with her fingers, but picks it up with the tweezers instead.  Close investigation reveals nothing.  It does look slightly broken, but there is no explanation for its apparent tenacity.  She throws it disgustedly into the sink and witnesses its satisfying little flash of electro-static protest as she flushes it away.

Time, now, to take a breath.  Her stomach reminds her once more of the necessity for food, and, obligingly, it seems someone has loaded her kitchen worktop with a fresh supply of batter for xuss-bread and tsakal leaves, together with a small platter of meats. There is also a neatly-wrapped package.   Of her two needs, hunger is more pressing than escape, so while griddling some xuss batter Alanee occupies her time, by opening the package to discover a wad of two thousand credits inside!

Two thousand credits!  Comfortably a thousand credits more money than she has ever seen in one place!   The shock is physical.  She takes her food and the package of money into her living room and slumps upon a chair, staring at it.  Is this really meant for her?  She pours herself a draught of the yellow liquor that has become her favorite drink, sipping it slowly as her head clears, letting an escape plan form once more in her mind.  The money will be useful: a browse through the bazaars will help her to work her way across the City without arousing suspicion.  Her aim, she decides, must be to find Dag, the aerotrans pilot who brought her here, and who, she is sure, she can persuade to fly her out.

Her shift is bloodied:  in her bedroom she removes it, arranging the courtier’s robe about herself then, with a wad of credits safe in her clutch-bag, quits her apartment for the wide thoroughfares of the City.

Alanee is unaware she has been watched by Councillor Portis and Lady Ellar on screens in the Mediant’s office,  Screens which have blanked, as they do each time Alanee leaves her apartment.  The street cameras will follow her now.  Ellar remarks upon Portis’s obsession with vigilance.  “She is very alluring, don’t you find?”

Portis grunts.  His enjoyment of the female form is no more than is natural, in his opinion, but he is aware of the jibes that are aimed at him.  “Very.”  He assures her.  “But we have heavier considerations:  how do we proceed now she has rejected the limiter?  Nothing will induce her to wear it again.”

“Perhaps she won’t need it?  If she does she will beg to put it on.”  Ellar rises from her chair.  “Now I have wounded egos to soothe.  Who, Sire, would be a Mediant?”

“I take it you refer to Sala-mer?  She was not a good choice, Lady Ellar.”  Portis may speak frankly.   They are alone in the room.

“Their quarrel?  It was an inevitable result.  Sala is of a…”  Ellar chooses her words… “of a passionate nature.  Yet she is a true friend.”

“Surely there are other type-matches?  Someone less partial to laskali, perhaps?”

Ellar considers: “Seil-mer, maybe?”  She smiles.  “Sala is not a devoted laska.  She has preferences in either direction.”

“You seem reconciled to the little storm we witnessed yesterday?  How so?  Did you not notice the Domo’s reaction?  Lady Ellar, he was not amused.  Of all who sit in upon this decision, the Domo must be the most convinced.  He already harbors doubt – today’s conference was not easy.”

“Really?”  Ellar has wondered why Portis has chosen to catch her alone.  For all his proclivities, it seems unlikely he is drawn here entirely by voyeurism.  “Well, Sire, I cannot be privy to the affairs of High Council.  The Domo will make the right decision I’m sure.  It’s his duty to question and his right to be afraid.

“As for Sala, a good mediator must be more than just a guide:  she must become a friend, a confidant, and yes, if necessary, a lover.  She must have the acumen to achieve this as quickly as is asked.  You think she moved too fast, I do not.   Sala has great gifts, Sire.  Trust her.”

Portis has a habit of avoiding eye contact when he speaks, but although this irritates Ellar she does not let it blind her to the significance of his words.  So when he stares at the blank screens she listens intently.  “Have you considered, Lady, where you stand in this matter?  Where might be the safest place?”

Ellar has, but she is not about to divulge those thoughts.  “I stand with the will of High Council, Sire.”

“Come now, Lady, you are versed enough in politics to know the High Council is not of one will.  There are those who dissent; always.  There are those who would advance themselves by one means, those who favor another….”

“Sire Portis, you take me where I would not wish to go.  My work is to interpret the decisions of the whole Council, not the whims of individuals.”

Portis challenges her.  “Is it?  This is meant kindly, Lady Ellar.  Do not take it ill.  Your handling of the Braillec affair, though skillful, has been questioned.”

Ellar knows it.  “I had no time to consult the High Council:  I did consult one of its members.”

“In the eyes of some you controverted Sire Hasuga’s will.  In the eyes of some that is blasphemy.”

“I averted a war.”

“Yes.  Woman, do you not hear what you say?  Your use of the word ‘I’ betrays you!”  Portis grasps her shoulders; he is looking directly at her now.  “You altered Hasuga’s will by a trick, by cunning, and that is blasphemy.  His will must not be changed.  If he wishes a war, a war must happen.  Whatever you do, and I say this as a friend, do not use those words again – to anyone, do you see?”

For all her self-possession, Ellar is affected.  “Yes Sire.  Though please understand I was following a High Councillor’s instruction.”

“What were your words; ‘My work is to interpret the decisions of the whole Council, not the whim of individuals’?.  Great Seer though he is, Cassix does not have the confidence of the whole Council, especially certain members whose relatives await preferment.  Now you have given them ammunition, and a further worry.  Those who do not thoroughly believe in this young woman mention your curious ability to ignore a limiter.”

“Indeed?  Do they?”  Ellar flares.  “And these doubting Councillors, do they like to see their people dying by thousands in an adolescent game?  Have they never thought what the effect would have been on Mother when her family was murdered?  I did not ignore the limiter, Sire, I merely resisted it a little.  As I often do – I have to.”

“The Mother is devoted to her cause.  She would not have thought of it.  That is the function of a limiter.  You instilled that thought, you vied with a system that has served us throughout the whole of our history.   That is a crime, Lady Ellar!”

Though she seethes inside, Ellar understands Portis’s argument.  She speaks levelly:  “The limiter has been with us for all of history too, has it not?  I have faith in it.  It allowed me just as much latitude as I needed, no more.  Either your judgment has to accept that, or concede that my work has no value.  Hasuga becomes increasingly impulsive and he no longer waits for meetings of High Council.  I consulted whoever I could find – in this case it was Cassix.  Perhaps the Council needs to dwell upon this.  I certainly am.”

Sire Portis nods.   His gaze is again focussed upon the darkened screens.    “Very well; I return to my fellow Councillor’s issues, then.  You have faith in your limiter.  We all share its defense.  But this new woman – this chit – won’t even wear one!”

As he wanders back towards his apartment Portis contemplates Ellar’s arguments.  He knows how capricious the newly pubescent Hasuga can be:  it is as if the chrysalis of childhood he bore for so long had become a prison, and Portis fears more than he will admit how strong Hasuga’s wings of youth will become once they are stretched and dried.  The Mediant’s task, so difficult now, may become untenable in generations to come.  How many war games will there be – must he decimate the population before his wisdom has grown?  Yet even to permit these questions in his own head is a blasphemy, is it not?  The word of the child is incontrovertible – the Third Principle.  Which is why the Inner Council, by bringing the woman Alanee  to the Consensual City, are themselves acting blasphemously.  She will not wear the limiter, and the deeply, deeply disturbing argument he must now face is the question whether she should wear it!

“We set ourselves upon a furious ride.”  The Domo had said in Council that morning.  Portis begins to believe he is right.

The High Councillor’s summoner buzzes at his hip.  “Sire, you are summoned to Council.”  Valtor the Convenor intones.  “Sire Cassix has called an emergency session.”

“Blast him!  What is it this time?”

#

Beyond its residential corridors the Consensual City at night is a sparkling pool with ripples of light and sound that flicker and dash so brilliantly Alanee is at first quite afraid.  She weaves her way through the groups of rowdy, laughing people who gather in the colonnades about the Great Square, or converse in twos and threes around doors of opalescent blue, the color, as Sala has already informed her, of nightspots – places where entertainment happens.  Extra alleyways seem to have opened up, reinventing the bland, relentless walls of the day, links between avenues shrouded in diffuse light of blue, peach, or amber.  Those who gather in these seem closer to one another, almost intimate:  but for all the vital pulse of the place, there appear to be few devoted pairings.  Many such as she walk alone, or drift from group to group.  Women walk with women, men with men.  There is a fluidity with which she might easily join, were she not so timid.

Alanee’s inhibitions are compounded by her mode of dress, for now night has fallen all formality is forgotten.  The young wear form-fitting styles in myriad shapes and colors; some flirtatious, some seductive, some quite formidably beautiful.  The more gifted girls wear tabards reminiscent of her country clothes, though expensively immodest.  Men are similarly extravagant in close-cut one-piece garments, while their elders, bedecked in robes or suits of matching hue look benevolently on, commune and mix freely, often seeming to vie playfully with one another.

There are no children: the hour is not too late – where are the children?

“Music, Lady?”

Alanee is unprepared.  This odd creature has come upon her in a crowd: singled her out, it seems.  He (is it a ‘he’?)  has exaggerated limbs that weave a peculiar, angular dance, a starved scaly body clad loosely in a shift and a wart-disfigured brown face, upon which all features are implanted on a single plane so his eyes are without sockets, his nose completely flat and wide, and his mouth as lipless as it is formless, working around his words like a thin snake wrapping itself about a rock.  Alanee gets ready to run.

“Nay, nay!”  There is a strange intoxication in that high voice that steadies her nerves.  “You should not fear me!”  The big eyes scrutinize her.  “Now I think of it, though, I have not met you before, Lady.  Are you new to the City my dear?”

To her alarm, Alanee feels those thin scaly fingers on her arm.  Yet she does not push them away – why?  Instead, she finds herself glancing guiltily about her, for in her own village acceptance of such familiar behavior without invitation would bring disgrace.  But no-one spares her, or her curious companion, a second look.

“You are sad!  So, so so sad!  Oh, my child!  Do you know I am three hundred years old?”

For the life of her she can think of no reply.

“Yes three hundred.  I have been sad lots of times, yes?”  This seems to amuse the creature immeasurably, for he flails his free arm around at everyone in the avenue and blares out:  “Sad a thousand, thousand times!  Suicidal!  Habbach I wish I was fucking dead!  But then…”  His voice drops to a conspiratorial whisper:  “I am fucking dead – have been for two hundred years!”  He shakes with mirth.  “Lucky – yes?”

“Yes.”  Alanee fervently wishes he would go away.  She wonders at whose expense that virility was lost.  Are there more of these, these things, in the City?

“One of a kind, my dear.”  Has he read her mind?  “Besides, I never could work out which side I was on!”

Before she can stop it the hand is moving, probing towards a much more intimate destination.  Outraged, she slaps it away and her eyes fly about her for help.  It seems, though, that this too has gone unnoticed.

“Don’t be offended child;” The creature croons, in that same hypnotic note.  “You are in the Consensual City, not at home in your village.  We behave more freely here.  This you will learn.”  He has resumed his odd, twitching dance.  “You are sad, my dear.  I have something to give you.  Take this from me.”  Again the hand is quick.  Before Alanee can brush it aside it has touched her temple on her left side – the imprint of three dry fingers.

“Remember me!  Seek me out if you are sad again.  I shall be your music man!”  With this, the music man’s dancing limbs whirl into rapid departure.  In seconds he has vanished in the crowds.  Oddly, as Alanee thinks, she is almost moved to try and follow him.

She is mystified, but there is nothing for it but to walk on, feeling much as before, with her destination of the aerotrans port firmly in her mind, yet with the impression of those three fingers on her head, almost as if they had not left her.  When she reaches to touch them, though, there is nothing; no indent of her skin, no physical evidence of the warmth she feels.  From nowhere and scarcely audible at first, music begins, a soft, inveigling melody that is in her and around her – a sweet, mysterious song that pours over her like a tincture of roses; with it, a scent so subtle and indefinable that her mind is emptied of all but the mystery of its presence.

Now it is much louder, so she stares around at passers-by, sure they must hear it too, wondering how they can avoid exhibiting the same stupid smile she has on her face.  But no, this music is entirely for her.   As she walks she finds herself wanting to dance:  little involuntary skips enter her pace, she even twirls – this time to the amusement of a pair of middle-aged men.  She hears their sotto-voce ‘Music Man’ as they pass.

Where was she going, now?  Alanee can’t remember; neither  knows nor cares.  The sounds in her head are so utterly her master that when at last the song has faded, it is as much by chance as anything that she finds herself outside the red and pink-lit door of an emporium specifically for women’s clothing.  She tries it, enters it with the lightest of hearts, alarming the proprietor with an impromptu dance.

“I want evening clothes!”

Some half an hour later she emerges, in a mood of illogical optimism and a short, short dress of glittering silver cut almost to her waist at the back.

“And not a credit left to my name!”  She admits to herself cheerfully, swinging the large incongruous bag that holds her robe dangerously.

All at once the delirium of her music is gone; the incessant mill-race of people and the grand proportions of the avenue close in on her.  Women with high-born looks stare disdainfully in passing; men show a kind of interest that she feels rather than sees.  The dress is a mistake – a mistake!  Suddenly afraid that exposure of so much flesh is considered vulgar in this foreign place, Alanee’s color rises.  Her discomfiture does not go unseen.

“Your pardon, Lady.  You look a little lost?”  The voice is hesitant, suppressing a nervous squeak.  “I wonder are you….I mean, may I …help?”

A deferential figure has detached from an indifferently-dressed group of both sexes engrossed in conversation at the far side of the avenue.  The other members of his group scarcely seem to notice him leave, and pay Alanee no attention at all.

“You look lost.”  The man repeats.  He is shorter than Alanee by almost half a head, pale-skinned and fair, hair as fine as powder flopping lifelessly over his high, domed forehead in a fringe.  His features are small, his chin delicate and pointed, a face altogether feminine in appearance but entirely redeemed by his eyes; black, flashing coals set in snow-clear whites that might have their own light-source, they seem so bright.  A blue tunic drapes his body.  His bare arms are slender, his feet so tiny they almost defy the act of balance.

“I am Celeris, at your service, Lady.  You seem distressed.  May I help?”

© Frederick Anderson 2019.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.

Pardon My Blog!

In my determination to make some New Year changes and in the process of renewing my blog site I got quite carried away, and failed to learn the lesson of history – that WordPress has a unique capacity to ignore instructions, so the appearance is a bit haphazard at present.

So sorry, everyone. Posts will appear as normal and I am sure my blood pressure will be back to 180 over 130 soon. Please don’t abandon me – I need your love and support at this dreadful time!