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Continuum – Episode Thirteen: Suspended in Time

The Story so far:

Alanee persuades Sala to take her outside the City, where they discuss Sala’s past, and Alanee remarks upon the absence of the City’s children.  The pair’s relationship deepens and there are moments when it might become more, but Alanee is unable to return Sala’s feelings. 

Ellar finds Cassix the Seer in the watchtower as he studies portents in the sky. She comments upon Hasuga’s interest in Alanee, the screens he has in his room that are dedicated to observing her.  Cassix reassures her:  whatever is in Hasuga’s head is part of the greater plan.

“What is this place?”  Ripero must shout to be heard.

Dag replies honestly:  “I don’t know.”

“You’re an aerotran pilot!  You must have seen everything , been everywhere!”

“I still don’t know.”  Dag admits.  “Although I’ve crossed these hills a lot of times everything looks so different from the ground; I don’t recall this at all.”

They stand upon a ridge overlooking the steep sides of a tree-clad valley.  To the north of them, no more than a quarter-of-a-mile away, the ground rises by a sheer granite face to a plateau, beyond which, in blue distance, the horizon is crenelated by a battlement of mountains.  From the edge of the plateau a mighty waterfall spouts, forcing out from the rock in one foaming leap to a small lake at its foot, filling their ears with its constant fury.  Four or five hundred yards south the lake narrows to a river, and the river winds in white water over rapids until it disappears into mist, for the valley runs southward as far as their eyes can see.

This place is the more remarkable because in their last three days the pair have walked through featureless hills riven of life, a moonscape of charred rock and grey ash.  It has been in so many ways an epic journey, with only Dag’s survival rations to keep them alive. 

Since the massacre on the plain they have seen no more aerotrans, but Dag’s injuries have constantly slowed them down.  The damage to his back has healed – the damage inside has not.  Sharp agonies assail him now, forcing him to stop for long periods with his whole body clenched against the pain.  Privately he knows he must find medical help quickly, or succumb.  Now comes water: now comes hope.

It is a physical change: a matter of a step; one pace from wasteland to grassland.   The contour that follows the summit of the ridge might be a pencilled line in the drawing of a child, one side coloured grey, the other green.  By commiting themselves to scramble down the sharp, grass-clad gradient Ripero and Dag cross this margin, and leave the desolation of Dometia behind them.

“This river;”  Ripero shouts over his shoulder;  for Dag’s progress is slow and he is already well ahead.  “It must be the Fass, yes?”

Dag has paused to gain breath.  “Maybe.”

“Maybe?  How ‘maybe’?  We have been crossing the Fassland Range, have we not?  We were bound to come to the river.  Yes, this is the Fass.”  Ripero affirms for his own benefit.  “So all we have to do is follow it south and we come to Ax-Pallen!  Civilisation!”

“Maybe.”  Dag repeats, half to himself.  The Fass, if he recalls correctly, is followed along the length of its course by a road – where is the road?  Nether has he any memory of the Fass falling from a high plateau in so dramatic a fashion, but then so many of his memories are confused now; like the size and scale of the area known as the Fassland Hills; which are far smaller in his recollection than the journey they have made would suggest.

“Have you thought what we will do if we manage to reach civilisation?”  He calls out.  “Whoever controls those aerotrans will have patrols there too.”

Ripero does not reply.  Perhaps he would rather not: or perhaps he is just too far ahead to hear.  Wearily, Dag hoists himself to his feet and follows.  It will be an hour before he reaches the river.

#

For a second time Alanee stands in the elevator to the palace’s nursery apartments.  She is alone.

At sunrise the bell of her summoner had dragged her from a sleep .

“Come and see me.”  The voice was instantly recognisable – after the terrors of the dungeon ‘game’ she could never forget it; “Come soon.”

She had bathed, put on the robe ‘Mother’ had provided for her, slid that annoying gold identity bracelet over her wrist and, rather nervously because she was unused to moving in the palace without escort, crossed the frosty courtyard to the Great Hall.  No-one had accosted her.  The elevator stood open, waiting.  As she stepped inside its doors closed behind her.

She remembers everything she saw of the nightmare child’s apartment.  This is as well, for if she expects to be greeted by Mother at the elevator entrance she will be disappointed.  When the elevator door opens there is no-one to welcome her; the foyer is deserted, s Alanee makes her own way to the bedroom where she last saw Hasuga.  The door of that room is open.  Hasuga is there, sitting upon his bed, dressed in a suit of green and gold.

“Come in, Lady Alanee, you are welcome.  What do you think of my room?”

“Bizarre!” is Alanee’s instinctive response.  The room is sparely lit, what illumination there is entering through a window behind the bed in the form of a weak sunrise diffused by cloud.  Two chairs, the only straightforward furnishings the room has to offer, face the bed, while the walls and the ceiling are lined with large screens playing silent abstract colour patterns like seascapes, but yet seeming to impart no light to the room.  The floor has the appearance of raw steel:  Alanee cannot understand how her feet sink into it as though it were deep floor-foam.  Lemon bedclothing is strewn across the bed, which is a simple futon supported by a pedestal leg – a table swings across Hasuga’s knees from the wall behind it on what should be a reticulating arm if it did not look so much like a live snake, its head flattened and broadened into a surface upon which a small glass of liquid rests.  Beginning by the bed, a serpentine structure of bewildering complexity, in places more than a three feet high, runs by creeps and leaps across at least one-third of the floor.  Alanee has to step around it to reach either of the chairs.  Within its honeycomb frame are incorporated motors, micro-circuits, wheels, box sections and orbs whose function she cannot attempt to explain, any more than she can explain the little tableaux that appear magically within it; hologram figures of people, or models of tiny buildings. When she concentrates upon any one of these scenes, it grows in size, becomes animated:  two traders arguing in a market-place, a lonely ploughman with his horse striving against a hill, three elderly women singing a queer, tuneless song.  It is beyond explanation.

 Hasuga  waves to a chair:  “Please be comfortable Lady Alanee.”  His back is to the window so she can barely see his face.

“No games?”

He does not answer.  Her eyes are drawn back to the traders, now on the verge of blows.

“This,”  she says, indicating the honeycomb structure; “What is it?”

“It is whatever I want it to be.”

“I would guess you have a gift for stopping conversations.”  Alanee says.

He laughs – a kind of high-pitched crackling sound.

“Why am I here?”  She asks.  “Where – why – who?  There are too many questions.  I’d like some answers.”

“Life is composed of questions. Yesterday I was a child, now I am not.  That is a question.”

Alanee shakes her head impatiently.  “All right then, Sire Hasuga.  You are a mystery to me; to most, it seems.  I’m not allowed to speak of you, no-one is.  If those I have met here are aware of you, they are sworn to secrecy, but I don’t think they are aware of you.  I’m not even sure you exist for them.  If you’re some massive secret or something,I want to know why!  And I want to know what you intend doing with me?”

“Then I shall try to answer.”  Hasuga pushes his snakes-head table aside and slips forward to the edge of his bed, leaning elbows on knees as he looks at the floor, exposing the width and depth of his great head.  “This – this is what I am.  This has grown for over two thousand years, because that is my age.”  Alanee does not hide her incredulity.  “Yes, it is true. Not such a child now, am I?  Though that’s what I was, a child suspended in time, until I became so ill I had to change.

“I have lived here, eaten, slept, played games for two thousand years.  I do not know why.  Those who look after me are kind and loving, and I understand the concept of love, but can you imagine what my life is like?  I am never permitted to go outside, further than my private garden and you are right; other than the High Council, my courtier friends of the Inner Palace, the drabs who help me construct my games and now you, no-one is allowed near me.  I ask, often, believe me.  We are both prisoners, Lady Alanee.

“They brought you to me.  They bring you and as to why I am no wiser than you at first; but yesterday I began to see.  The treatment they used upon me to induce my next stage of growing is working great tricks within this (Hasuga taps his head with a long finger) and there is a lot that is new.  You are new – very new.”

Alanee is puzzled.  Can he really have no idea why she has been brought into his life – and if he doesn’t, who does?  “Who pulls the strings?”  Did she mean to say the words aloud?

“Oh, the High Council.  I’m sure of that.” Hasuga looks up, eyes sparkling.  “I’m glad they brought you.  I’m bored with questions now.  Can we play a game?”

“Game?”

“I wouldn’t hurt you again.  I wouldn’t!”

“Alright then, in a minute.”  Alanee finds herself talking to him as she would a child.  She cannot help herself.  It has a surprising effect upon Hasuga, who draws back, looking quite alarmed.  “Before we do, one more question.  How am I ‘different’?”

“I cannot answer that now.  I can’t rationalize it, even to myself.  When I find out I will help all I can, I promise.  Now, would you like to be my Mummy?”

This sets Alanee’s mind into a complete panic.  As she stumbles to find an answer, Hasuga adds:  “It’s just a game, of course!”

“Where is your mother?”

“I don’t know – she went away this morning, or last night, or something.  She hasn’t come back.  Anyway, she isn’t really my mother; I have had countless ‘mothers’.  I’m bored with her.  I think you are going to be my next one.  I think – I don’t know – that’s the plan.  Would you love me?”

“Until you get bored with me?”  Alanee mutters acidly.  Is that really the plan?

“I don’t think I’d get bored with you very soon.  You are….”

“I know,  I’m different.”

“I was going to say you are very nice to look at.  I thought about you all last night.”

And I thought about you, Alanee responds, but not aloud.  She would keep that information to herself.  Had she any idea of the significance of the screen above Hasuga’s habbarn she might have said more.  “Let’s just play your game, and get it over with.  Now, if I am to be your Mummy, what would I do?”

“Yes!  Yes!   You are my lovely Mummy!”  The room is lighter now.  Alanee sees the artful look on Hasuga’s face.  “You could take me into the garden!  We could play soldiers in the garden!”

Alanee regards the frosty air beyond the window dubiously:  “I’m not sure that would be a good idea.  It looks a lot too cold for little boys.”  Repulsive as she finds Hasuga, she does not relish explaining to the High Council how their two thousand year old museum exhibit froze his toes off in the snow.

Hasuga’s voice undergoes instant change.  “I want to go into the garden.  I am not a little boy!”

“If it were summer that would be different.”

“Come to the window.”

Stubborn as she feels, Alanee sees no reason not to comply.  She joins Hasuga at the window.  What she sees takes her breath completely away.

Hasuga says, in that innocent child voice again:  “Do you like my garden?”

They are at the top of the palace, this Alanee knows:  yet Hasuga’s garden, and its size must exceed an acre, is almost level with his window.  It must be possible to step straight outside.  A wall surrounds it, this space, with views beyond to the Pearl Mountains and Kess-Ta-Fe, the great needle’s summit wreathed in mist.  That should be problematic enough, for by the rules Alanee knows such a big area at this height on the palace’s structure would involve massive engineering, but she scarcely dwells upon that aspect at all.  No, it is the nature of the garden which confounds her.  It is the way the weak sunlight of early spring is suddenly the glare and intensity of high summer, the way all trace of snow is gone, and in its place are fountains, grasses, jasmine, hollyhock, rose and camelia; all the flowers of all the seasons in ebullient display.  There is no roof she can see, no protection from the elements, yet she is looking upon a summer garden, and her head cannot believe what her eyes are witnessing.

“How do you do that?”  She finds her voice.

“It is part of our game.  Can we play now?”

#

Should we be wondering where High Councillor Portis can be found, on this extraordinary morning?  Should his malign presence, deep in the bowels of the Consensual City, be of concern to us? A shift is on duty here, in a large manufacturing suite that is known to only a very few – the members of the High Council, Lady Ellar, and the operatives who work and live here.

 A shift is always on duty, for the work is endless:  tired eyes straining over desks, tired fingers probing the tiny receptors they assemble, the receivers that turn Hasuga’s will into a collective will, and which whisper in the night from every pillow to every ear throughout the world.

Portis, in the company of the department’s director, is examining one such receptor.  It lies before them, dismantled, on the director’s desk.

“There can be no electronic fault?”  Portis asks again, though he knows the answer.

“None.”  The director shakes his head.  “It is perfect.  Not only is it functioning as it should, but it is the most powerful model we have the capability to make.  Respectfully, High Councillor, if you tried it for more than a couple of nights it would send you mad.  This is a long road, you see, with this woman:  ever since she was a child:  five inspections, five replacements, each a little more powerful than its predecessor, the results always negative.  She is genuinely impervious to mind control.”

“And this was the one you took from her house at the end of last cycle?”

“When the house was demolished, yes.  We suspected a materials failure – heat is always an issue you see, with so much power – but no: it was working perfectly well when we took it out – as you see it now.”

“There is no alternative explanation?”

“None, Sire Portis.”

The High Councillor says nothing, though he has words enough to say.  For he knows there may yet be one explanation, if he can countenance it.  Safe in his apartment he might voice it, over and over to himself, just as he will admit, in his own confidence, to the rising disquiet he feels.  His City, the whole of his finely balanced world is at stake and this woman is suddenly at the hub of power, in the presence of a pubescent Hasuga; partnered by Hasuga – in league with Hasuga?  Although Cassix may have performed the service, by whose will other than Hasuga’s can she be here; and now she is, is there no button he or anyone can press that will constrain her?  The rebellious youth and the experienced, manipulative woman; together, what might they not do to the world?  He makes a private resolve, a very personal one, concerning this.  He will not, must not let it happen!  His limiter screams at him, but he cannot turn off that thought.  It will be with him until he can depose the woman, and he may not have too long to devise the means.

#

Still as stone, the hind watches.  For half of an hour now the curious animal with two legs has lain inert, its hooves – or are they paws? – motionless, its strange salty odour strong on the wind.  Her inquisitiveness has brought her ever closer, stepping down through the trees towards the river that is, after all, her regular drinking place.  As always on this journey she is poised for flight, for there are enemies in these forests that would kill her if they could.  This animal, though, does not number among those she recognises as predators and it seems that it is injured – she senses pain.  Perhaps, after all, it cannot move?

Dag sees the deer’s decision, each faltering step towards the water.  Just two paces more and it will be within range of his weapon – another five for a certain shot.  It is a pitiful little thing, this pistol from his emergency kit with just energy enough for one shot, but he hopes it will be enough.  He aims with exaggerated care, tilting the small stub-barrel in its resting place upon his forearm, waiting.  The deer moves soundlessly, descending towards him without so much as the disturbance of a twig.

Soon, very soon.

The click of the safety is unavoidable – so quiet it is veiled entirely by the merest rustle of branches in a waft of breeze – or so Dag thinks.  Yet the deer hears it.  Spring and run – hiss and crack: Dag looses off a desperate shot, but the wild thing has gone, its dappled hide vanishing into the sun-splashed undergrowth.  Despairing, the aerotran pilot sees his last hope of sustenance go with it.  For the first time in his struggle for survival, he is moved to tears.

A day has elapsed since he and Ripero discovered the river basin.  In that time they have travelled perhaps a dozen miles, following the torrent downstream as it winds between slopes of deep forest.   Progress has been slow, not just because of Dag’s injuries, but because there are no tracks – no evidence that human beings have ever reached this place.  This morning, after a night of troubled sleep, Dag has woken to reality.  The agony in his stomach and side is such that he cannot rise to his feet.  His best effort is to roll sideways enough so he can urinate, and this produces almost pure blood.

It is clear Dag can go no further, so the survivors’ best hope is for Ripero to go on alone, to bring help as soon as he finds it.  An hour after sunrise Dag watched the tall figure of the young man who once rescued him receding along the river’s edge until he disappeared from view.  He knows he will never see Ripero again.

© Frederick Anderson 2020.  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.

Continuum – Episode Three War Games

The story so far:

Living in a world where tastes and actions, even thoughts, are tightly controlled, Alanee lives in constant fear of being punished for her non-compliance; so it is no surprise when High Councillors from the City arrive at her village to censure her.  An aerotran, a flying machine used by the Council, has arrived to take her away.

Meanwhile, in the City, child supremo Hasuga is about to embark upon a game of war, one which will have tragic consequences if the Lady Ellar cannot prevent it…

The elevator doors slide open, admitting Hasuga and Lady Ellar to the games theatre at the heart of the City’s Inner Sanctum.  This is an oval, echoing space, an amphitheater some two hundred feet long, with raised terraces around its sides for spectators.  A few interested individuals are already gathering, for word that Hasuga is about to play one of his epic games spreads fast, and to be invited to participate would mean preferment at court.  Forethought has reminded many to bring cushions, because the seating is hard, and rugs because the theatre is cold.  Around grey stone walls hang flags representing all the nations of the land, and below them the brightly coloured pennants of their principalities, stirring gently in the circulating air.  Some fifty feet overhead a vaulted ceiling supported by stone arches is criss-crossed with stout wooden beams, from which hang the ropes that will support any scenery Hasuga demands.

Mother stands alone in the arena, calling orders to a court servant precariously straddling one of those beams.  He is ‘spotting’ a series of ropes, lowering them until their ends dangle no more than six inches above the floor. They will support tall, painted screens or ‘flats’ representing (with uncanny accuracy, considering Hasuga has never been there) the mountain backcloth to Braillec City’s high fortress.   Before them will hang cut-outs of townhouses and streets, and before those, tiers of light synthetic bricks to simulate the City’s defensive wall.  All this will be achieved in the few hours since Hasuga first announced his ‘game’; such is the dexterity his demands can induce.

It is the force of this will that draws Ellar into the whirlpool of his enthusiasm, impeding her powers of logical thought, although, if the slaughter of thousands in the real city of Braillec is to be averted, she must find some way to stop this game.  Mother, who has seen her enter with Hasuga, comes to greet her beloved child, but he gives her little attention.  He runs gleefully to supervise the erection of his scenery, leaving the two women together.

On first appearances Mother is a warm, ample woman with apple cheeks and eyes that over-brim with the love of her calling; ‘Mother’ to Hasuga.  Her heart is completely his: it allows no space for doubt, though she and Ellar have identical immunity implants to help them handle the immensity of Hasuga’s mind.  Ellar knows her opposition to this game will not be shared.  Ellar also knows there is another side to Mother; passionate, jealous, and obsessive.

“Greetings Ellar-mer.  Is it not all quite splendid?”

“Absolutely magnificent!   You will play, of course?”

“Oh yes!  My sweet boy wants me to be a general! He is quite determined.  I am to lead the Proteian attack force.  Such valiant warriors!”

“See now, your parents come from Braillec, do they not?”

Mother does not answer, only smiles.

“Do they live there still?”  Ellar’s head is so ruled by the intrusion of Hasuga’s mental control she may barely ask the question.  Is this in itself a blasphemy?  It is a line she has trodden so many times she no longer knows.  Again, Mother gives no answer, but Ellar does not miss that tiny twitching at the corner of her eye.  Mother is aware that this childish play within the Sanctum walls will be played out for real five thousand miles west of here, in the homeland that was once hers.  Hundreds, perhaps thousands, will die.  Her parents may well number among the dead.

“Hasuga, Sire.”  Ellar calls out.  “Who is to be the general of your army?”

“Mummy, of course!”  Hasuga calls back.  “I am her commander, Ellar-mer.”

“And me?  What would you like me to be?”

“Oh, you must defend the city!”

“So am I a general too?”

The painted screens are raised. Palace servants, drabs wearing the special burgundy and gold insignia on their epaulettes rush about, erecting walls, producing wooden weapons, swords and shields, while Hasuga supervises the building of a siege engine.  Within a frenetic hour a very passable facsimile of the real City of Braillec stands across the width of the arena.  By now the terraces are packed with expectant courtiers but Hasuga will not pick his armies yet:  no, first he must strut around his creation, seeking anything inconsistent with his dream.  He picks here, points there: this gate should have a window, these stones a whiter hue.  Then, when he is satisfied, only those servants or drabs needed to clear the ‘dead’ are permitted to remain.  He stands upon a wooden balustrade to select his armies.

“Mummy, this one is your lieutenant.  Use him well.”

“Ellar-mer, take these.”

Ellar watches Mother adjust to her role as general with a certain grim amusement.  Accustomed as the woman must be to Hasuga’s ‘games’ (and they are many), wars produce her least convincing performances.  Her ample bosom ill befits a tight breastplate, and her elaborately coiffured hair looks ridiculous in a helmet.  Those chubby fingers clasped about a wooden sword, competing with each other for space upon the hilt, grip it as though she is about to slice a loaf of bread.  She paces, obviously intending to look purposeful, but more resembles a matron indulging in a seaside paddle.  Nevertheless, her mind is utterly overtaken, so that in her head she is the epitome of a great soldier.

Ellar’s side is intended to lose:  all the fittest and youngest courtiers, eager to prove their prowess are assigned to Mother; they are given more weapons and are greater in number.  Those picked to defend the city feel piqued, sensing they are least in their young Sire’s favor.  At the end of the process Ellar is left with no more than a dozen dejected and aging troops, cynical retainers for the most part, whilst Mother has better than twenty.

Hasuga’s devouring mind surges over Ellar’s thoughts, feeding in his battle plan, showing her the details of her army’s defeat.  They will brook no delay – the game has begun.

The depression that Ellar feels concerning her side’s certain fate helps her to curb Hasuga’s implanted strategies for just a little while.  As he leaves the theatre floor to ascend to his ‘throne’ (a chair from his suite has been brought for him to use while he oversees his game) she summons up what fragments of mental strength her immunity chip provides.  As soon as she can trust her voice she calls up to him:

“Sire Hasuga, we face overwhelming odds but we will fight our hardest and best for our great city.  So I am remembered, may I pick my general’s name?”

Already deep in his part, Hasuga turns with raised wooden sword.  “It shall be so.  Choose, great general!”

“Thank you Sire, I shall.  History shall know me as General Ollamar!”  Later Ellar may profoundly regret this move, but for now her own mind can do no more.  Disguising inner mental collapse as best she can she raises her sword to seek the acclaim of her troops, who respond rather less enthusiastically than she would like.  They are anticipating a bruising experience, for even wooden swords can inflict a wound or two.

“Very well.  You are the valiant General Ollamar, and you shall not sell your life cheaply.”  Hasuga perches himself on his chair, eyes eager, leaning forward for the best view of the fray.  “Mummy, the city is tired and starving.  Begin your attack!”

Mother harangues her small army, doing her best to fulfil the images fed to her by Hasuga’s mind.  But all is not well.  Her speech does not reach its second sentence (“My brave soldiers, I lead you forth this day to certain victory and great slaughter…”) before her voice gutters and her whole body seems to freeze.  She stands with her gaze fixed upon the floor.  Yet there are no mutterings from within the ranks.  Everyone shares Hasuga’s expectation of victory.

“Not very good, Mummy!”  Her darling boy is unimpressed.

From the other side of her ‘city wall’  Ellar feels Mother’s pain as wave after wave of incitement emanates from Hasuga.  She is expected to lead the assault, but it seems she will not or cannot go on.   She raises quivering fingers to her temples as the demands from her darling ‘little boy’ scream in her head.  Her army waits expectantly.  All eyes are focussed upon her.  She staggers for a moment, kept erect by nothing but Hasuga’s insistence, then she crumples to the floor.

“Mummy!”  Instantly, the spell is broken,  Hasuga is on his feet and running to his beloved parent’s side.  “Mummy, whatever is wrong?”  He is distraught: his game, the others who surround him quite forgotten.  Only his Mother’s distress concerns him.  He weeps for her, wails piteously with her head supported on his arm, showering kisses on her pale cheeks.

Ellar, completely released from her role in the game, moves quickly.  She summons a doctor, motions for space to be created around Mother’s inert form.

“Oh, Ellar-mer, is Mummy dead?  Is my Mummy dead?”  Hasuga is inconsolable.  “What have I done?  What have I done?”

Ellar frowns.  “No, I do not think that Mummy has died.  But war games are dangerous, Sire Hasuga.  People do die, you see?”

“Yes, yes I see.  But I never thought they would be dangerous to my Mummy!”

The Doctor arrives and Mother’s consciousness is regained.  Hasuga, restrained by Ellar’s gently persistent hands, is not witness to those few moments when, still mentally asleep, Mother is likewise free of his dominance and able to murmur:  “Make him stop….make him stop!”

Caring servants lift her onto a litter.  As she is borne from the hall with her distraught child dancing anxiously beside her, Mother catches Ellar’s eye.  The look she gives her is not pleasant.

In the dull hollow Hasuga’s departure has left in her brain Ellar would like to lie down herself, but there is work to be done.  She instructs the court servants to remove all evidence of their young master’s game; walls, scenery flats, wooden weapons, everything.  She knows she did not misread the glare that Mother gave her, just as she knows that by morning she may not have the power to order anything at all.  She has committed one of the more grievous crimes considered blasphemy, and she has done it very publicly.  If she is to survive, she must rely upon Mother’s understanding and her silence.  Mother must in effect play along, for if she ever lets on to Hasuga that Ellar deliberately chose Ollamar as her general’s name, she is lost.  Ollamar, you see, is Mother’s family name.  Within the game, Mother knew she was to be asked to act out with her wooden sword the slaying of her own father, an action that would be faithfully reproduced five thousand miles away by a real general with a real sword.   The sheer psychological torture might be hard to forgive, no matter how worthy the cause.

#

Alanee has never ridden in an aerotran before.  When Kalna, her husband, was flown to matches in other provinces she remained at home, so the fastest she has ever traveled is in a land transporter.  This is much, much faster.  After the initial thrust, during which she is sure a part of her insides are left behind, and despite her qualms – her terror even – at the great black hole where her future should be, Alanee’s curiosity and sense of awe begin to get the better of her.  Settling back into the comfortable hide of her seat she gazes from the window to watch her village vanish from sight, see houses and people diminish to toy-like proportions, and the Hakaan rush beneath her as though she were looking down upon a map.

The pilot has been watching this concerned figure in his passenger mirror.  He has had less attractive payloads.  “First time in one of these?”

He is rewarded.  Her pale, worried face lights up in a smile. “Yes.  You must be very skilled to drive so fast.  I’m Alanee. What’s your name?”

“Dag.  They call me Dag.”

“Do you know where I am to be taken, Dag-meh?”  Alanee studies her aspect of Dag’s reflection.  A pair of dark eyes, a smooth, coppery skin; the rest concealed by a shiny gold dome of a helmet.

“I do.  I’m not allowed to tell you, though, I’m afraid.”

“I am to be punished, you know.”

Dag eyes her reflection curiously:  “You don’t say?  Whatever for?”

Alanee settles back in the cushioned seat, drops her head.  “That’s just it.” She stares at her lap.  “I wish I understood why.  I don’t.”

“Alanee-mer,” Dag’s voice is deep and kind. “you are in a PTA, a Personal Transport Aerotran of the High Council.  My normal passengers are Proctors and Councillors.   If you were going somewhere to be punished you’d be in an ox-cart, not up here in this.  I can’t tell you where you are going, but wherever it is, it can’t be for punishment.  So if I were you, I’d start enjoying myself.”

Dag delights in delivering this explanation, observing how Alanee’s face transforms from wan to radiant in its short space.  When she smiles this way she really is a very lovely woman!  Then he reflects that he might occasionally chauffeur one other class of passenger, a courtesan.  The thought of that is more sobering.

“There are drinks in the cabinet.  Help yourself – not too much, mind; I don’t want to have to carry you out when we get there.”  In his imagination, though, he would.  He snaps his concentration back just in time to stop the aerotran from doing an unscheduled turn.  Surreptitiously he adjusts the mirror so he may see a little more:  how Alanee’s body moves as she relaxes a little and those smooth limbs stretch in unaccustomed luxury, her bare toes clasping at the thick carpet.  Dressed in simple, provincial clothes of course, not with the sophistication he is used to, but the soft, pliant warmth of her cannot be concealed; full breasts, almost fluid skin.  He allows himself to dream and nearly loses control of the aerotran again.

Beyond the windows day has turned to night.  Far, far below humanity is reduced to twinkling stars, stars that line up into streets, ring large buildings, parks or a lake.  How long have they been airborne, an hour, two hours?

Alanee is entranced, and Dag finds her entrancement entrancing.  “I never lose the magic.”  He says at last.

“Such a way to see a world!  I cannot imagine how anyone could dislike flying.  Oh my!  What’s that?”

Alarmed, Alanee grips the seat arms, sits rigidly upright.  A sudden upsurge of sound above the lulling hum of the motors, a palpable kick that sends her stomach to visit her hips.

“It’s nothing.  We’re climbing.”

“Habbach!  Weren’t we high enough already?”

“No.  We have to go over mountains.”  Dag grins.  She likes the little creases that form at the corners of his eyes when he does that, and she has noticed long since how he has turned the mirror so he may see more of her.  “No, I can’t tell you which mountains.  Wait and see – you’ll like them!”

The climbing continues.  “We’re going to bump about a little.  Don’t worry, we’re passing through some heavy cloud.  Incidentally, the rest-place is behind you if you want it: through that door.  But hang onto something, or you might get thrown around.”

Alanee is thankful, for the nervous hours have been troubling her, and she has felt shy about admitting her need to this very masculine stranger.  To the rear of her seat there is a space, upon one side of which is the access door, the other a further door.  The rest-place proves as sumptuous as everything else about her transport, if a little bit turbulent.  She is reluctant to leave it without sampling each of its soaps and lotions, and by the time she returns the aerotran’s ride has leveled off.

Dag notices her return.  “See – mountains!”

What she now sees draws the breath from her body.  The aerotran is flying  high, she cannot imagine how high, above the cloud-base, bathing in the silver of a bright moon.  Rising from a mist so substantial she might believe she could walk upon it are mighty granite knives, reaching up and around the aerotran on all sides, their white-edged blades a ghostly blue in the moonlight.  In all her life she has never seen such things: she has rarely traveled far from her village, certainly never further than the Hakaan, so the Southern Hills are the limit of her experience and they, beautiful though they are, cannot rival the solemn majesty of these great sentinels.

The aerotran flies alongside the higher slopes, giving Alanee a close view of snow-laden ridges and glistening ice-falls as it follows a pass between the highest peaks.

“Look ahead!”  Dag instructs her.  “This is the Kess-ta Fe, tallest in the range.  It was climbed for the first time last year.”

The line of their flight affects to take them around a corner formed by the steep slope of a minor peak.  Kess-ta Fe waits for them just beyond this turn, rising high above their heads.  And whereas every other mountain slope is picked out in tracers of white snow, this great massif is sheer, its face black and brooding.

“Kess-ta Fe: in the old language, Demon-Home.  It’s a touch less than six miles high.  Impressive, huh?”  They are passing alongside the mountain now.  “Imagine yourself climbing that, Alanee-mer!”

“Imagine wanting to.”  Alanee rejoins.  Though the atmosphere within the aerotran is rigidly controlled, she feels light-headed and she sinks back into her seat.  What is happening to her?  Where is she being taken?  Far, far from her home, this much she knows.  By the sun when the aerotran first set off, she believes she has been flying north; for how long; two, two and a half hours?  Aerotrans, she always believed, fly at prodigious speeds: it certainly seems that this one does; the foot-games her man attended were never more than an hour or so away.  What awaits her?  How is it that she has been plucked from her life in this way:  if not as punishment for wrong-doing, then for what?

“Better wake up now, Alanee-mer!”   Dag’s voice surprises her out of fog.  She does not remember sleeping.  “We’re about to dock!”

© 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.

Regrets

The Grobelys and the Wobbletobes

How sweetly they do sing

But my lobes are clothly, dear

So I don’t hear a thing.

The Flabberdoes in chorus do

Proclaim the buds of spring

But my bloobs have cloudy gone

So I can’t see it pring.

 

I wish I were a scroteish lad

An’ I were lube again

Then I’d flounce upon a branch

And durble in the rain

I’d skip and skop and flap and plop

All seasons to proclaim

And in the nurdly summerslime

I’d glubble in a drain.

And would you glubble with me love?

And would you gurgash too?

I so truly wish you would

For I would gurgash you!