Mirramarduk

It was an audacious and ambitious dream, forged by the two great Elders, Brinnalamaya and Mirramarduk. Tristramacus was against it. He predicted it would fail. He was correct.

Passaconamus had been a meticulous, dithering windbag before Oblivion, and the respite had not improved him.  Council was in emergency session, Mirramarduk was already late, and the Archivist seemed determined to make him later.

“Of course, we’ve had to act with some haste, considering the situation.  My assistants haven’t had time to unwrap and inventory all the items to make certain they have been transferred complete and intact.  So I can’t guarantee that there haven’t been errors or omissions.”

“I realize that,” Mirramarduk said, “But the transfers have been completed to the best of your knowledge, correct?”

“Yes,” Passaconamus nodded, brushing his finger over the databoard, scrolling through the items.  “Yes, I do believe everything was sent down that should have been.  Mind you, there’s been quite a fuss over it.  Entirely justifiable in my view.  Taking works of art out of the City museum and storing them in the Subcity Museum and Archives deprives the majority of the Pallideen – oh, I mean humans – from the experience of seeing and appreciating them.  We are, after all, trying to educate them and improve their minds.  I hardly think—“

“Yes, yes,” Mirramarduk cut him off, “but until this social unrest can be dealt with, we need to take precautions.  Now if you will excuse me—“

“Simply dreadful!  I tell you, I find it baffling.  Most of the little folk I’ve dealt with have been so charming, and they have been delighted to learn about our culture.  Happy to be a part of it.  Intelligent creatures, most of them, at least from my experience.  Beginning to make contributions of their own.  I just can’t understand this hostile element among them.  Saying terrible things about us, stirring up discontent, blowing things up.  Simply dreadful.”

Mirramarduk clenched his jaw.  It hadn’t baffled him.  He knew how vicious the clever apes could be.  He had warned the Council, and fortunately some of them had listened to him.  Security measures were being put into place.  If only Brinnalamaya were not so blasted naïve!  To a certain extent she was right, placing restrictions on the population did play into the rhetoric of the rebels.  But there was little other choice.  The violence was escalating.

“Yes, it’s dreadful.  And the Council is meeting in the New Hall of Ozymander even as we speak to discuss this very matter.  Now, if you will excuse me, I must go.”

“I understand.  Such a pity, things were going along so well.  The City has improved so much from what it was when I came out of Oblivion.  Of course, this generation of humans doesn’t recall what it was like back then.  I don’t imagine there are any left who do.  Their lives are so tragically short.  We are left to do the remembering for them.”

“And some of us remember all too well,” Mirramarduk muttered.

“Pardon me?” Passaconamus asked.

“Never mind.  I’ll leave you to your inventory.  There will be – Bloody balls, what was that?”

It was a deep, low, visceral concussion, felt as much as heard, followed by second, longer rumble.

“Blessed stars!” Passaconamus exclaimed, “An earth tremor?  But the Subcity is nowhere near a fault line.”

“That was no earth tremor,” Mirramarduk said, bolting out the Museum door and leaping down the wide granite stairs two at a time.  People were starting to come out of shops and residences into the street, uttering the same question that he had.  He sprinted past them, pushing Pallideen roughly out of the way, to get to the Administrative Center.

“Councilor Mirramarduk!”  It was one of the senior Pallideen administrators, and he looked extremely agitated.

“What just happened?” Mirramarduk demanded.

“We aren’t sure!  There seems to have been some kind of cave-in—“

“Cave-in?  That isn’t possible!  Where?”

“The Hall Gateway.  Communications have been disrupted.”

The little creatures were starting to crowd around him, all of them upset, none of them of any use.  He nearly sent one of them tumbling as he charged up the steps and through the tall doors of the Administration Building.  A woman was running towards him with a databoard.

“Councilor!” she gasped, out of breath, “there has been an explosion somewhere near the upper exit of the Hall Tunnel.  The tunnel is completely blocked from Tristramacus’s Chamber upwards, and communications with the New Hall have been cut off.”

“Re-establish communication!” Mirramarduk snapped, continuing up the corridor.  “Find out what is going on!”

All they could give him were eyewitness reports from people who had been near the Subcity access to the Hall Tunnel at the time.  The reports were essentially all the same.  They felt and heard an immense explosion, then a loud rumble came from the Tunnel followed by a massive exhalation of dust.  There was a heartbeat as the shock passed, and then, chaos.

This excerpt goes out into the City above, where battle lines are being drawn.

Jas ran up the stairs.  People were pushing past him in a panic to get out.  Lind, the reference librarian, paused only for a moment to ask him if he knew anything, then muttered that he had to get to his family and make sure they were all right.  He ran down the stairs and out of the building.  Jas met Cal in the upper hall, going the same way he was.

“It’s the Revolution, isn’t it?” Cal asked breathlessly.

Jas nodded.  “I think the HLM blew up the New Hall of Ozymander.  There’s all these people with guns out in the street.  They came out of nowhere.”

“They’ve been planning this for months,” Cal said.  “I kept hearing things, but nobody would tell me anything for certain because they were afraid I’d report them.  Damn right I would!” he growled.

“Where are you going?” Jas asked.  “The Director’s office?”

Cal nodded.  “If it is the Revolution, the Elders are in danger.  And loyalists like us are going to be the next ones up against the wall, you can be sure of that!  We’ve gotta get out of here but fast.  What about you?”

“I don’t know,” Jas said.  “I just know I don’t want any part of a war.”

“Too late!  Come on, you might as well be on the right side.”

“But I don’t want to take sides!” Jas protested.

“You think the guys with the guns are going to let you straddle the fence?  They’ll shoot you off!  Come on!”

Jas followed.  He couldn’t understand where all the guns came from.  Or how it could have gotten so bad so suddenly.  The Director wasn’t in her office.  Cal tore off down the hall looking for her.  They finally found her standing in the front of the Library staring out the window, utterly stupefied by the chaos in the street.

“Ma’am, no offense, but are you crazy?” Cal cried, grabbing her arm.  “Get away from the window!”

“What?  What is going on?  Where are the peacekeepers?  Why are all these people running?”  Deliosia was genuinely puzzled.  She wasn’t really on top of the latest news.  She was inclined to let herself get immersed in the business of running the Library.

“It’s the Revolution, Ma’am,” Cal said.

“The Revolution?”  Her dark eyes widened.  “Blessed stars!  You mean those liberationists?  Was that the explosion I heard?”

“Yes, Ma’am, they blew up the New Hall of Ozymander.”

Her mouth fell open in shock.  It wasn’t possible!  How could they?  She turned to look out the window again, and was appalled at the sight of a human throwing a rock through a shop window.  “Why doesn’t someone stop them?” she cried.

“Please, Ma’am, get away from the window,” Cal said, tugging on her arm gently.  “They might shoot you if they see you standing there.”

“Shoot me?  Why, they wouldn’t dare–”

“It’s the Revolution, Ma’am.  No one is going to stop them.”

Still quite baffled, Deliosia nodded and went with them, fear beginning to take hold of her.  “But what is going to happen to the Library?  We just got the theses from the graduating class, and they need to be cataloged–”

“Never mind about that now.  If we go down to the loading dock we might be able to find a truck.  We can put you in the back and they won’t be able to see you.  Maybe we can get out of the City.”

“What?  Me, in the back of a truck?”

“Ma’am, please.  Try to understand.  It’s the–”

“I know, I know,” she sighed.  “It’s the Revolution.  Well, I don’t understand it, but I’ll take your word for it.”

On the way down they were joined by several others from the Library staff who were scared and had no idea what to do.

“So Lang,” Cal said, “What do you think of the HLM now?”

“Idiots!  Bastards!” the other man sputtered.  “No matter how worthy their goals are, this is absolutely the wrong way to go about it.  This is immoral.  Absolutely immoral!”

“I actually gave money to them!” Lis moaned.  “I can’t believe it!”

“They probably used your contribution to buy a gun.”

“Not everybody in the movement supports this action!” Lang snapped.  “We wanted to change things through legislation and peaceful negotiation!  We were vehemently opposed to resorting to violence!”

“Fat lot of good that does now,” Cal retorted.  “Come on, we’ve got to find a way to get out of the City.”

There were no vehicles at all at the loading dock.  They crept quickly and furtively through the streets, although it was not in Deliosia’s nature to be either quick or furtive.  She was quite plump.  Socializing too much with humans was frowned on, seen as not quite proper and perhaps even harmful in some subtle way.  Deliosia firmly believed that informal socializing improved relations and understanding between the two species.  The only harm she could see was the temptation to eat.  Humans did always seem to be eating, usually making food a part of their socializing.  Deliosia could never resist indulging.  The results showed.

The gunfire was getting closer.  “In here!” Lang said, opening the door to a house and hurrying them in.  Deliosia had to bend down, barely fitting through the doorway.  “Hello!  Stel?” Lang called, “Are you here?”

A woman came out of the kitchen.  “What are you doing here?” she demanded.

“Stel, it’s crazy out there,” Lang said.  “We had to get off the street–”

“You can’t stay here.  Get out.”

“But Stel, they’ve got guns and they’re shooting people, especially Elders.  Madam Deliosia is in terrible danger.  We need someplace to hide her until we can get her out of the City.”

“I really do apologize,” Deliosia started, but the woman cut her off.

“You can’t stay here.  I have young children here.  I don’t want any trouble.  You’ll have to leave.”

“We’ve got no place to go!” Cal protested.  “Please, if we could just stay until nightfall, then we’d have a better chance.”

“No!  I’m not putting my children in danger!  Get out of here, now!”

They had no choice but to leave.  Darting across the street into an alley, they heard a whirring overheard.  “Look!” Jas cried, pointing, “It’s an air transport!”  It was flying low and they barely glimpsed it between buildings before it disappeared again.  “Maybe they are looking for people who need help, like us!” Jas suggested hopefully.

“Could be,” Cal said.  “I thought I saw a Civil Authorities insignia on the side.”

“I wish there were some way of getting in touch with the authorities,” Deliosia said.  “I tried calling them on the messenger right after I heard the explosion, but it wasn’t working.”

“What we need is a radio messenger,” Cal said.

“Or maybe we just need to get to a messenger or a dacc that is farther away from where the blast was,” Jas suggested.  “It could be just that line was disrupted and others will be all right.”

“There must be a public dacc somewhere close by,” Deliosia said.

“There’s one in the cafe on the next street over,” Lang said.  “I could try to get to it.  Maybe you all should stay here with the Director.  It might be safer.”  The words were barely out of his mouth when there came the sound of an explosion and shattering glass only yards away, in the direction of the cafe.  They all jumped and Deliosia suppressed a small scream.

“Blessed stars!” she gasped.  “This is terrible!”

“So much for that idea,” Cal said.

“We can’t stay here,” Lis said.  “We’ve got to keep moving or they’re going to catch up with us.”

Lang peered cautiously around the corner.  “I don’t see anyone.  “Let’s try to make it to the park on the corner.  We can hide in the bushes.”

They bolted out of the alley and began running towards the park.  They were almost there when they heard shouts behind them.  Jas turned to look and saw the men with guns.  He stumbled against Lis and they fell.  Several more armed rebels came out of a building.

“Stop or we shoot!”

“Look!  It’s one of them!  Don’t let her get away!”

Jas heard the gunfire start and blind panic took over.  He scrambled wildly on hands and knees for the line of shrubs.  He heard Lis screaming, heard Cal shouting in futile protest, heard the Director pleading, “Why do you want to shoot me?  What have I done–” and then she cried out and was silent.  Jas felt a bullet whine past his head as he threw himself into the bushes.  The ground disappeared beneath him.  Behind him someone shouted, “Make sure she’s dead, they don’t die easily.”  Jas felt himself rolling, his leg hit something hard, the wind was knocked out of him.  He was in a culvert.  There was a drain pipe.  His hand was cut on broken glass in the ditch.  He scrambled for the opening to the pipe and wriggled through, oblivious to the slimy surface and the stink of the foul stagnant water in the pipe.  There was a bend to the right in the pipe and he squirmed around it, pushing himself as far in as he could until the debris made it impossible to go any further.  The darkness was nearly complete in the pipe and his breath wheezed loudly in his ears.  He heard shouting from outside the pipe.

“He must have gone in here!”

The sound of gunfire was impossibly loud in the pipe, compounded with the shattering of bullets.  Shards bit into his legs.  The silence that followed might have been deafness it seemed so total.  Jas huddled in the darkness, not moving, for a very long time.

Far to the North, the news of war has not yet reached the Freefolk. They have kept themselves apart, following different dreams, growing in a very different direction than the humans of the City.

No doubt about it, just those few years away from the Valley had made her soft.  Lee Marckel labored up the trail to the Communications Center, panting and sweating in the cool autumn air.  How was she going to manage this every day, six days a week?  Stopping to catch her breath and let her heart rate come down, she grinned.  Doing this every day, six days a week, would either give her a coronary or kick her into shape.  Damn, it was good to be home!

Lee looked out across the farmlands and orchards, the woodlots and the clustered buildings, towards the river. Her father took her to the mills when she was a child so she could learn a trade.  She would spend hours just watching the gears turning the machinery.  Instead of working with her father, she followed around the mechanics, learning about the turbines and how they converted the flowing water of the river into power to drive the machinery.  It was a source of exquisite delight when she finally understood the mystery of electricity.  Everyone knew then that she was destined for the Academy.

Traveling to the City was a big deal, although not as big a deal as it used to be in the old days.  Lee’s grandmother told her about how it was when the Church still controlled the City, before the Elders came back and the Concords were signed.  You had to have special permits and follow strict rules.  In those days, it was mostly to protect the City from the Valley folk.  Now, the rules were mostly to protect the Valley folk from the City.

Lee remembered going to the Exchange with her father to submit her education application.  City people in strange and elegant clothing talked with enthusiastic animation to Valley people, who wore skeptical expressions and said little.  There were informative posters on every wall about marvelous inventions and products available from City merchants.  Most of them were things Lee had never heard of.  City salesmen were not permitted to market their wares directly, but had to go through representatives from the Valley, who evaluated the claims and the products before deciding whether to make them available in the North.

“It’s an infringement on our freedom of choice!”

Young Jak Jakrose used to grumble about it.  He wasn’t the only one, but every time it came up for a vote, an overwhelming majority elected to keep the system of representative purchasing.

“It’s a sensible arrangement,” Old Jak would lecture his son, the families sitting together in the cool of the evening after a hot day’s work.  “You ever been to the Exchange?  Make you dizzy all the stuff those City people try to sell you!  Make you crazy trying to understand it all.  Just minding my own business is challenge enough, thank you very much!”

“Still,” Lee’s mother said wistfully, refilling their glasses with chilled mint tea, “I’d be curious to know about some of it.  You hear such amazing things about life in the City.”

“Then put your name in for the Purchasing Committee,” Old Jak said.  “They got no secrets, they got no restrictions, anybody can put in for it.”

“Why can’t the salesmen come to the Valley?” Lee asked.  “Why aren’t they allowed even to talk to us?”

“Because they don’t trust us to make our own decisions,” Young Jak said with a glare of rebellion towards his father.

“Because the City salesmen can’t be trusted, that’s why,” Old Jak said.  “They’d have us all wired up to the Glass in no time, dangling glittery stuff in front of us making us want to buy junk we don’t need and can’t afford.”

Lee’s little brother Hal was lying on the grass in front of the porch watching the stars wink on in the darkening sky.  He rolled over.  “What’s ‘the Glass?’”

“It’s like the messenger up to the Communications Center,” Lee’s father said.  “In the City, they have them practically in every home, I guess.  You get the news, information, and entertainments.  Like stories, or music, or competitions.”

“It sounds great,” Hal said.

“It’s a curse and a swindle,” Old Jak said.  “Instead of sitting together and talking like this, drinking tea and tasting the summer night coming in, feeling the world settling down around us and whittling our minds sharp with conversation, City folks huddle and stare at ghosts on a screen for hours, no more aware of the world around them than a chick in an egg.”

“But the point is,” Young Jak said, “we should decide for ourselves.  We should have that right.”

“It’s a good system,” Lee’s father said.  “The folks on the Committee study all the problems as well as the benefits of the products and technologies the City salesmen offer.  They discuss them with the Council.  They invest the time and the energy, so we don’t have to.  We can get on with our lives.”

“Still,” Lee’s mother said, sitting with her hands folded, watching a drop navigating its way down through the beading moisture on the side of the tea pitcher, “It might be nice to at least see.”

When the Elder Race was revived out of Oblivion, the past awakened with them. Caravaggius came up out of the forgotten darkness to grip Mirramarduk by the throat. Born into the present, Galamandria knows nothing of him, and searches the Museum for clues. She finds horror.

It took Galamandria some time to find the gallery she was looking for in the maze of corridors and rooms.  The Museum was huge and very complicated.  She walked through galleries of Telemanicus masterpieces and gorgeously verdant Angelaya landscapes.  Turning a corner she was suddenly confronted with a vast canvas which reached from floor to ceiling.  It startled her unpleasantly, as it no doubt was intended to.  Then, her attention captured, the canvas held her prisoner.  Emerging from the dusk colors of a cavern, a lithe figure crept onto a twilight lawn.  A multitude of intricately rendered forest life stretched upwards.  In a clearing lit by the warm tones of a setting sun a family played happily with several lambs while a graceful white stag stood guard at the forest’s edge, its head turned towards them benevolently.  Shadows seemed to creep menacingly from every corner.  The plate at the bottom of the frame read: “Return of Dracomaya,” referring to the figure emerging from the cavern.  Her aura set her dark body and clothing in relief.  On her face was an expression of malicious expectation.  An ornate dagger was strapped to her thigh and her hand rested on a pouch which according to legend would be filled with magic dust able to create all manner of havoc.  The devotion to detail made the image seem almost photographic.  The atmosphere created by the colors was like that of a dream about to turn into a nightmare.  In the corner was the pale signature of Caravaggius.

When Galamandria was finally able to take her eyes from the canvas she looked past it into the gallery beyond.  The room was dark, full of strange shapes and eerie glittering reflections.  She found the light and turned it on.  Here, too, works from above had been hastily rescued and deposited without any order.  She pulled the shroud from a work in glass, abstract coils twisted upon themselves like a ball of snakes.  As she walked around it the light refracting through the glass made it seem to writhe.  Suspended from the ceiling was a jagged work in metal, a bird of prey with wings outstretched, beak open, talons reaching.  But there was something ambiguous about it.  The more she looked at it, the more she couldn’t decide if the bird were descending on its prey or startling backwards defensively from some unseen threat.  As she walked through the gallery she began to understand why Caravaggius had the reputation he did.  Each piece was technically flawless, painstakingly rendered with intense detail.  Each was multiply pregnant with ambivalent meaning, disturbing in some way.  Even the simple portrait of a young male was far from straightforward; there was an unsettling maturity to his penetrating gaze which belied the innocence of his smile.  He held something in his hands which could not quite be identified, and which demanded speculation because of its hidden and suggestive nature.

She came to an alcove displaying a picture done in acrylics entitled, “Self Portrait With Immortals.”  It was an opulent party scene with the artist in the center foreground surrounded by figures dressed in extravagant costume, some chatting gaily, others sampling culinary delights piled high on trays or sipping wine from crystal flutes.  Galamandria stared, chilled.  The faces were rotting skulls with dull, brittle hair.  Bony hands reached and gesticulated.  The artist stood with his head slightly bowed and his arm spread wide as if making an introduction.  He gazed back at the viewer with a bitterly cynical smirk, the only living being among corpses.  The image was particularly hideous under the present circumstances.

Galamandria turned away, sickened, and stumbled over several canvases stacked up against the base of a black marble statue of a male nude. One fell over and she bent to pick it up.  She caught her breath.  It was a spectral image done in muted tones, the unearthly and erotic figure of a slender male, turned away, a robe draped loosely over one shoulder.  He held a mirror in one hand and gazed into it fondly.  The reflection was softened, indistinct except for the eyes, which were beautifully, piercingly clear.  Although the head was turned just enough and the reflection made just vague enough to obscure the identity of the ethereal being, Galamandria knew who he was.  She knew with absolute certainty.

“Mirramarduk,” she murmured aloud.

God envisioned as the sublime perfection of beauty makes the creation of art an act of religious devotion. There could be no more passionate a zealot than Caravaggius. Therein lies the warping of the glass.

As Mirramarduk got into the lift and keyed the control, a hand reached out to stop the door from closing, and the sight of it nearly stopped Mirramarduk’s heart.

Caravaggius slipped in, allowing the door to close behind him.  He keyed the lift to pause.  “Mirro, we must talk.”

“I have an urgent meeting to attend!” Mirramarduk snapped, reaching over to reactivate the control.  The artist’s hand stopped him.

“Don’t play this game with me, Mirro,” Caravaggius said.  “We must talk.  Now.”

“There is nothing to talk about!  I’ve got a briefing with Tristramacus, and it won’t wait for you to pitch your little fit, so get out of the way!”

“I will not let them do this to you,” Caravaggius said, holding his hand tightly, stepping closer.  Mirramarduk retreated, his back against the wall of the lift.  The air between them shimmered with energy.

“Let go of me!”

“No, Mirro.  Not this time.  Not with so much at stake.  I will not let them do this to you.  These cursed females, fawning, stroking, blinding you, robbing you of your virile powers!”

“You’re the one who does the fawning and blinding!” Mirramarduk hissed.  “Sinking your teeth into me and whispering your poison into my ears!  I won’t let you do it this time, do you hear me?”

“I was there when you needed me!  I was there to give you strength, to—“

“To take over and control me!  You got to me when I was at my weakest, when I was vulnerable, just like you always do!  Oh, you know how to work me, don’t you?”

“I know when you need me most and I know what you need.  It is true, Mirro.  I know you better than anyone.  We are meant for each other.  That is why you always come back.”

“Not this time!” Mirramarduk snapped.  “It is over, my friend!  And you had better learn to accept it!  It’s over between us, and that’s the end of it!”

Caravaggius smiled with patronizing patience.  “You have said that so many times.  When will you learn your lesson?  You always come back to me because I give you what you need, what, deep down, you want most.  Why do you keep denying this?  Why must you insist on denying who you are?”  He reached up his other hand to touch Mirramarduk’s cheek.

“Stop it!”  Mirramarduk jerked away.  “Let go of me!”

“Oh, no, Mirro.  I will not let you go.  This is a time of crisis, and I shall see to it that you rise to meet it.  I see the changes that time has wrought on you.  You have grown harder, stronger.  I see you ready at last to seize the glorious role of leadership that you were born to.  I see you at last with the remorseless courage to do what must be done!”

“You see the viciousness and cruelty that three thousand years of madness bred in me!  That is not who I am!  That is not who I want to be!”

“But it is your destiny.  Deep down you know it is true.  The future of our race depends on you.  Don’t let these females emasculate you.  Don’t let their weak, effeminate illusions beguile you.  Their talk of bovine virtue will rob you of your destiny and doom our race.  They will castrate you, they will put a collar on your virility and domesticate you for their own use!”

“You would rather have your own collar on me, wouldn’t you?” Mirramarduk retorted.

Caravaggius assumed a sad, reproachful expression of wounded devotion.  “You know that is not true.  I have never sought to dominate you.  I have always been your servant, your true friend.  If ever I used any sort of coercion on you it was only to persuade you to act for your own good.  You can be so foolish sometimes, so easily distracted by a pretty face, by swaying hips and an outstretched palm.  I want only to keep you true to yourself and to your destiny.”

“Who are you to decide what my destiny is?” Mirramarduk shouted.

“Why, it is self-evident!  You yourself recognized it long ago.  You saw clearly and had no illusions about yourself.  You had nothing but contempt for the herd virtues of honesty and obedience.  You celebrated the flesh instead of denying it.  And your flesh is the very embodiment of the divine!  You are a god, Mirro!  You are divinity, pure power and beauty made flesh!  The laws of the herd do not apply to you–”

“You are insane!”

“It is the truth!  I see it clearly as only one such as myself could.  I appreciate your divinity, celebrate who you are and what you represent.  You know the truth I speak, Mirramarduk.  It has brought you back to me inevitably time after time.”

“No more and never again!  I told you, I have pledged commitment to Galamandria—“

“Bah!  The empty pantomime of their rituals of commitment cannot displace the depth of the bond that holds our souls together.  I shall not allow you to be seduced away from me, not this time.  You are too rare, too precious, too important.  You are the living manifestation of the archetype of our race, all that is sacred.  You cannot abdicate your destiny, Mirro.  You cannot choose to abandon your role in this world.  You are the source, the channel, the means that the divine fire enters the world, and I am your partner, I, the artist, who can direct these sacred energies, these sparks of creation and make them manifest in the world.  We are united, inextricably, by the parts we play in this great, hallowed ritual.”

Mirramarduk stared at him.  “You are mad.  Utterly mad.”

“Not I, it is you who have lost your reason, you who have lost your way.  But I am ever faithful to you.  I shall find a way to bring you back, to save you from this folly.”

He was so close, his body pressed up against Mirramarduk, the erotic tension of his energies tingling every receptor in Mirramarduk’s skin through his clothing, stirring an unwilling response.  How could he fight something so powerful, so overwhelming?

With everything he had.

Dr. Apollodoria has been ordered to work on the final solution to the human problem. A simple biological weapon; synthetic automatic death. But a matter of life distracts her.

Dr. Apollodoria stood in the laboratory alone.  Just as glad to be alone.  Humans made her feel uneasy.  They had always made her feel uneasy even before this.  She had never quite adjusted to the idea of animals being treated like people.  Not that she thought it was wrong; the little creatures had demonstrated their ability, and Apollodoria agreed absolutely with the moral principle behind granting them equality.  It was just, well, they were different and Apollodoria wasn’t quite sure how to interact with them.

But one couldn’t run a laboratory with just one person, and there were no other people to be spared for it, so she had to rely on human assistants.  They were reasonably reliable, competent when properly trained, and some of them surprised her with their aptitude for science.  With careful evaluation to weed out the ones who weren’t so bright, she was able to keep things going quite efficiently.

There were some projects that could not be left to humans, though, and this horrid assignment from the Councilor was one of them.  So she waited until the little folk had left for their resting cycle, then sat down at the computer and brought up the file.  She scrolled through, projected a couple of images to examine, then closed it up again.  She knew exactly what to do.  The biological specimens she needed to work with were in deep stasis and just needed to be fetched and revived.  It was a simple matter to use viral vectors to replace the mRNA.  It would just be a matter of cultivating the select colony of organisms until she had just the type she needed.

The deep stasis chamber was just down the hall.  Apollodoria walked to it slowly.  The notice board by the meeting room always had a few unessential items posted on it, humorous drawings or phrases that the humans put up for amusement.  She didn’t discourage the practice, since it didn’t interfere with their productivity.  These silly little things made them laugh, kept them cheerful.  What harm could there be in that?  Oh, sure, they could be disrespectful at times, even a bit inappropriate.  Castallandrik wouldn’t approve, but fortunately he wasn’t much concerned with biological sciences and didn’t come there often.

Apollodoria stopped and stood looking at the notice board before going on to the stasis chamber.  There was a new one posted.  It was an image of that rebel leader, Hon Jermal, done up on a classification card, as if he were a newly identified variety of plant life.  A noxious invasive weed.  It was really rather well done, and included some extremely cutting criticisms couched in scientific terminology.  She smiled.  Humans could be so clever.

The deep stasis room had a distinctive odor.  It was cool and sterile.  The retrieval unit blinked in quiet readiness.  In the temporary holding chamber were several cases delivered in haste and not yet properly put away.  So much had been done in haste in the final days before the explosion.  Councilor Mirramarduk had upset and annoyed a great number of people with his insistence on pushing things, hurrying the process up, preparing for a crisis they only half-believed in.

There had been mistakes.  A container arrived from the fertility clinic of the City hospital, sent to the Subcity Biological Sciences Lab instead of to the Medical Center.  It had been put in the lab’s deep stasis room until it could be transferred, and so far, no one had gotten around to doing the paperwork.  The container had a single viable embryo in deep stasis, the names of the parents listed on the label.  The father was in commerce, the mother on the Council.  Like many females, the mother had probably had few eggs left when she emerged from Oblivion, and had decided to take no chances with natural methods.  She went to the fertility clinic and had them all removed and analyzed.  Those that were genetically sound were fertilized in vitro. One would have been implanted into her uterus, the rest put into deep stasis until another pregnancy was desired.  All neat and convenient.  Since waking from Oblivion, most females capable of having children had done something similar.  The parents yet hadn’t gotten around to using this last embryo.

It hardly seemed fair.  Apollodoria had wanted children so badly.  When she had first committed, she and her mate were both professionals deeply immersed in their occupations.  They agreed they wanted a family eventually, but not right away.  Then came the Change.  After that, it wasn’t an option.  And because she and her mate had avoided Alteration, they continued to share the passion in secret.  Unlike other females, whose furtive indulgences in the passion after the Change had been few, and celibacy had been the norm, Apollodoria continued to go through her regular cycles until they were exhausted.  She had long been post-cyclic even before she went into Oblivion.

Her mate was dead, killed in the war, one of the casualties of the explosion.  It was odd how little grief she felt for him.  They had drifted apart over the long years.  She was a scientist and he was a politician, and they had few interests in common.  Ironically, it was really just the passion that had kept them together, the guilty secret they shared, the guilty pleasure they only felt safe enjoying with each other.  After the awakening from Oblivion, with so much excitement and challenge in the new world, they saw little of each other.  She suspected he had become involved romantically with someone else, and to her surprise it didn’t bother her all that much.  What bothered her were the females around her all desperate to have children and finding ways to succeed.

Then came the container from the fertility clinic, someone’s excess good fortune while Apollodoria had none. The biological parents were almost certainly dead.

Apollodoria stood with her back to the retrieval unit, staring through the glass at the container in the holding chamber with its tiny little cluster of cells inside.  Waiting for parents who would never claim it.  Waiting for the life it would never have.

Apollodoria put her hand against the cold glass.

[return to Elder Light]

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