Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

The most beautiful stories always start with wreckage.  –  Jack London

Lexi opened her eyes and gazed about at the wreckage.  Scratch that; she opened her right eye, because despite her effort the left seemed unable to open.  Indeed, the entire left side of her body seemed to have been damaged in the crash; her left leg seemed mostly all right, but her left arm was stiff and weak, she thought she might be deaf in her left ear, and she didn’t want to think too hard about what the left side of her head must look like.

On top of all that, she wasn’t able to get up at all, and wondered if something might be wrong with her back.  A little exploration with her right hand, however, revealed that the problem was external; she was pinned down by a steel beam across her midsection.  Carefully, gingerly, she began to inch her body backward, hoping to draw back far enough that she could eventually sit up or roll over; she made just enough progress to encourage her to continue, and after a long series of adjustments she was finally clear enough to roll up onto her right side in order to survey the situation more thoroughly.

wreckageWhat she saw did nothing to ameliorate her concerns:  the ship was an utter shambles, and there was no sign of motion from any other crew member beside herself.  She called out as best she could, but her voice sounded weak and unfamiliar to her own ear; there was no response of any kind, and after a few more tries she gave up and resumed her efforts to extricate herself from the debris without help.  Her new position allowed her to reach a cable trunk, and pulling on it allowed her to make faster progress than mere inching; soon she was clear enough to sit up, and despite the near-uselessness of her left arm she was standing up a few minutes later.

Well, it was a reasonable approximation of standing, anyhow; “leaning on a bulkhead” would be a much more accurate analysis.  But she was mostly vertical and mostly mobile, and that allowed her to move out of the storage bay in which she had been trapped; she soon found what she needed to patch up all the obvious damage to her body that her inexpert senses could locate, and then she limped up to the control deck.  That wasn’t much easier than pulling herself out of the wreckage had been; all the usual routes were blocked by jammed doors or fallen beams.  But Lexi had a resourceful nature; she eventually made her way up a service crawlway, removing a panel to come up through the deck onto the bridge.

All that had come before was the easy part; Lexi was not a member of the bridge crew and therefore had no idea how to use any of the equipment there.  But she could use a computer, so she knew she’d be able to eventually figure out how to activate the distress beacon even if the communications console proper were not functional.  Here again she met obstacles: the main computer was nothing but junk, so she had to locate a functioning pocket model with the proper files, then locate those files and read as much of them as she could understand.  With ship’s power down she had to rig up the communications console to a portable power source; given that she had never been trained to do that task and only barely understood the principles involved, it was almost a miracle that she was finally able, after considerable effort, to bring the panel to life and activate the distress beacon.  After that, it was just a matter of waiting; there wasn’t much else she could do except sleep, so she did as much of that as she could while waiting for help to arrive.


“What a damned mess!” exclaimed Commander Norton.  “Have they figured out yet how the distress beacon came on by itself after 17 days?”

“Yes, sir,” said Lieutenant Baker, “but you’re not going to believe it.”

“Try me.”

“Well, sir, the panel appears to have been manually rewired.”

“On an unmanned ship?”

“Apparently, sir, the work was done by one of the land exploration units.”

The older man glared at him.  “Don’t bullshit me, son.”

“No bullshit, sir.  Lieutenant Payne has worked extensively with the model, and she says their adaptive programming has often given rise to some pretty amazing results.  Since they’re designed to explore alien worlds alone, they need considerable ability to learn new information and skills in order to deal with unforeseen problems.  Apparently, LE-XI was able to recognize that it was the only robot to survive the crash, and consulted a portable database for instructions on getting the beacon online again.”

“That’s hard to believe, even for adaptive programming.”

“Lieutenant Payne said the same thing, sir; she said that LE-XI had demonstrated an unprecedented level of autonomous action, and she wondered if the crash might not have resulted in some serendipitous change to its brain function.  The left side of its head is bashed in pretty badly, and if it hadn’t awakened and offered a report upon our entry to the bridge, I would never have believed it was still functional.”

They had been walking up the hull for most of the conversation, and had now reached the place where the salvage mission had cut through into the bridge.  Baker’s appraisal of the robot’s condition had been generous: there was a dent in its head the size of a large man’s hand, and the sensory apparatus on that side was smashed.  Its left arm was bent so badly its left hand wasn’t far from the elbow, and its torso was in terrible shape.  But its head swiveled crookedly on its neck assembly when the commander entered, and its remaining eye focused on him when he spoke.

“So this is the robot who saved the mission?”

“Yes, sir,” said Lt. Payne. “LE-XI managed to exceed her programming remarkably.  Lexi, this is Commander Norton.”

“I’m very pleased to meet you, Commander; I hope I performed adequately.”  The robot’s voice unit had also been damaged, so that instead of the clear mezzo-soprano it was designed to produce a childlike soprano emerged.  Norton had always felt a bit silly talking to robots as though they could actually think, but in this case the illusion of personality was extremely strong.

“More than adequately, Lexi.  Your actions allowed us to recover the data and samples you and the others collected here.”  Norton ignored Payne’s ill-disguised grin; in spite of himself, he did feel gratitude and even a bit of admiration toward the damaged machine.

“And what’s more, Lexi,” Payne added excitedly, “we’re going to take you back to Earth to figure out how you did it, and maybe we can build more robots as smart as you are.  I’m going to shut you down now for the trip, is that OK?”

“Yes ma’am, whatever you say,” Lexi replied, satisfied in her way that she had pleased her makers and looking forward to the prospect of a long and restful sleep.wrecked spaceship

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Fictional Interlude: Heat

She moved softly and silently along the branch, nearly invisible amidst the foliage; when it got too narrow to support her she dropped lightly down to the next tier, barely bending the lower branch as though she weighed nearly nothing.  She stopped to sniff the air again and looked upwind, attempting to locate the source of the familiar-yet-strange odor, but she was not yet close enough; she therefore resumed her course along the branch, crossing effortlessly onto a limb of the next tree where the two intertwined.

After another half-hour of progress like this, punctuated by frequent stops to sniff the air or lie still when she heard a noise or sensed movement, she finally arrived at what her exquisitely-sensitive nose told her was her destination.  It was a clearing like many others in the jungle, but this one was occupied by the creatures she had smelled from far away, the creatures who had aroused her appetite.  But she was far too experienced a hunter to allow her hunger to cause her to act rashly; the prey were larger than she was, and she could not be sure that they could not seriously injure her.  No, far better to lie on the branch above them for a while, silently lying in wait; sooner or later one of them would wander away from the others, and then she would strike from above without warning.

As she had anticipated, her opportunity eventually came; the majority of the group was occupied with something at the far end of the clearing, leaving one not only isolated, but cut off from the view of the others by a large, low shrub.  Launching herself from the branch, she struck her quarry squarely between the shoulders, knocking him off of his feet.  His scent was confusing; though it bore a strong resemblance to that of her own kind, it was somehow different and mingled with other peculiar odors.  On top of that, his oddly-pale skin was covered with a strange layer of…hair? Hide?  that seemed not to be a part of him.  Fortunately, it was relatively fragile and easily ripped away, leaving him exposed for her purposes.  It was all over in a few minutes, and though his cries attracted the attention of the others she was gone before they could arrive, moving through the trees like a will-o-the-wisp.

Later, around the campfire, Bennings mocked Grayson’s story.  “Come on, old man, ‘fess up; you tore your khakis on that thorn bush after unwisely choosing it as a spot to relieve yourself.  Surely you don’t expect us to believe this ridiculous tale of your being raped by a wild woman!”

cat eyes


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When I published “Empathy” three years ago this month, I was confronted in the comments by the dumbfounding realization that some otherwise-intelligent people do not understand that the protagonist of a story need not be good, morally-upright or even admirable in the author’s eyes; she is merely the person the story follows, not some moral exemplar.  Marilith is a courtesan on an Earth very different from the one we know, who has used her paranormal ability to excel in her profession and climb the social ladder.  This tale takes place three years after the first, and if you haven’t read that one yet I strongly suggest you do so before embarking on this one…but do yourself a favor and skip the comments.  You’ll be glad you did.

decanterMarilith’s guest was ten minutes late, and even the aftereffects of the laudanum could not calm her agitation.  It was not the disruption to her schedule that upset her so; Prince Jamal was her only client scheduled for the day, nor were any set for the next.  The disquiet was at least partly due to the empathic focus she was struggling to maintain in the face of nearer, stronger voices, but the rest of it…

“Mistress, please,” begged her handmaiden; “let me bring you something to calm you.  I have never seen you in such a state.”

“No!” snapped Marilith.  “It’s too late for that, Cynthia; he’s long overdue already, and I’ll need all my willpower for this.  I’ve done all I can do, and now all that remains is to wait.”  As if in punctuation to her sentence, the soft gong which signified a new arrival on the landing stage sounded in the antechamber.  And yet Cynthia hesitated with uncharacteristic inefficiency until her mistress ordered her to go.

The trip to the roof and back was not a long one, yet today it seemed interminable; by the time the Prince was announced, his hostess felt as though she was about to scream.  But luckily for her, the emotional communication enabled by her psychic gift was unidirectional; he had no idea of the turmoil which raged behind her penetrating purple eyes and her soft, enigmatic smile.  “Welcome back, Your Highness.  It has been too long.”

“Lies do not become you, Marilith,” he said, and a wave of panic engulfed her; did he know what she was planning?  How could he have discovered…”You would be just as happy if you never saw me again, except for the fact that you would then be cheated of the ridiculous fee I pay you.”

“Your Highness does me an injustice; surely you don’t believe I could hide such unkind thoughts without wearing them on my visage.”

He laughed, an especially unpleasant laugh even by his standards.  “You must think me a very great fool, woman; even a common whore knows how to disguise her true feelings for the men who pay her, and you are no common whore.”

“As you say, My Lord.  But if you believe this of me, perhaps you should find another courtesan more to your liking.”

He pulled her up against him, and the wave of anger and hatred which engulfed her almost drowned her doubts and fears.  “I would, if there were another fit to wash your feet,” he said in a tone which weirdly mingled resentment with admiration; “besides, you know very well I couldn’t trust anyone else.”

“So you have said, My Lord,” she said, suppressing a shudder as his right hand moved down from her waist, “but I fail to comprehend what makes me especially trustworthy.  I can sense your feelings, not the other way around.”

“You do more than just sense feelings, witch,” he spat; “they become a part of you and overwhelm your own.  I had prepared quite a dossier on you ere I approached you the first time; my advisors feel you would be incapable of violence because your victim’s terror would overwhelm you.”

“That is true, My Lord,” she whispered in his ear, “but I am not the only one here.”

weaponized nailsThough she had experienced it many times, Marilith never failed to be astonished by the incredible silence with which Cynthia could move when necessary.  And though she had been fully apprised of her attendant’s capabilities before she even purchased her, the reality was more terrifying than she could have dreamed.  Two extra pairs of arms shot forth from her gown with the speed of striking cobras; six sets of razor-sharp fingernails glinted like gems for only an instant before they were coated in blood; thirty powerful digits ripped out the princely entrails with the ease and energy of a child scattering shredded paper from the interior of an eagerly-awaited package.  And Marilith was not sure if she would ever stop screaming, much less sleep again.  She drew her ornate dagger and plunged it into her servant’s body over and over and over again; for her part Cynthia quietly accepted the attack, each wound closing instantly as though the blade had been plunged into water rather than flesh.  And when the hysterical girl finally collapsed into wracking sobs and let the blade drop from her nerveless fingers, the dispassionate handmaiden gathered her up as gently as one might handle a sleeping kitten, and bore her toward the bath after stepping through the gore that had until recently been a human being.

Once she had pressed the prepared wine to her mistress’ lips, bathed her tenderly and tucked her exhausted body into bed, Cynthia returned to scrub the carnage from the other room; she was unsurprised to find another man waiting there, surveying the scene with satisfaction.  “So it’s done?” he asked unnecessarily.

“As you see, Your Highness.  My mistress’ plan worked perfectly; she was able to remain focused on your emotions and thereby exclude Prince Jamal’s, at least until I could strike.  The kinsman who so troubled you is no more.”

“Good, very good.  And my other operatives have informed me that all of his precautions have been foiled; he will not return this time.”

“Forgive my boldness, Your Highness, but are you absolutely certain there is no chance my mistress will be implicated in this?”

“None whatever.  Once you physically clean the area with the fluids you have been provided, my people will arrive  before morning to remove the more intangible residues.  If the investigators come here at all – which I doubt – they will find nothing.”

“She has done you a great favor this evening, Mighty One.”

“I am aware of that, Cynthia, and she will be handsomely rewarded as we agreed.”

“You know that she will never be the same again.”

“Indeed she will not; her patent of nobility is already in process, and once that’s done it will be a small matter to negotiate an advantageous marriage for her.”

“Thank you, Your Highness.”  Before she rose from the deep bow, the lifelike image had faded from view.  And as she began the arduous process of cleaning, Cynthia thought to herself that though it might be disrespectful, she was very glad indeed that she was not human.

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As is the generation of leaves, so is that of humanity.
The wind scatters the leaves on the ground, but the live timber
Burgeons with leaves again in the season of spring returning.

–  Homer, Iliad (VI, 146-149)

I honestly didn’t think I had another story of Aella in me, at least not this year (if you don’t know who she is, I suggest you first read “A Decent Boldness“, “A Haughty Spirit”, “Glorious Gifts“ and “Wise To Resolve“, in that order).  But as I pondered what I would write instead, I happened to look up from my desk and lo and behold, there she was across the room from me – sitting on the divan, leaning on her sword with her cloak of honor about her shoulders, and dripping rain from the storms of centuries upon my rug.  “Stop dallying, girl,” she said to me, “hasten thou to write down my story for all who have ears to hear.”  When I indignantly replied that I was no girl but a full-grown woman of as many years as she, the reply came, “I lived and died over five thousand years before thy mother’s mother was born, thou soft-handed tart, and no daughter of Pandora with as few scars as thou hast would be counted as a grown woman amongst my people.”  Far be it from me to argue with an ancestor who had come so far to pay me a visit, so here is her story just as she told it to me, minus the outlandish profanity.

Eurynome teach these young girls their manners!Etruscan bronze of a mounted Amazon, c 500 BCE

Oh, they pretend to be deferential enough; it’s all “honored one” and “general” and “good dame” out loud, but I see the impatience in their eyes and the half-hidden smiles as I strap on my sword, don my cloak and place my helm upon my head.  I can almost hear their thoughts; they believe that no matter what my prowess in directing troops may be, I am too old and battle-weary to make good account of myself in personal combat any longer.  But that is because they are too wet behind the ears to understand that age and wisdom will always overcome youth and strength, and one day perhaps I’ll have to show them by knocking one flat on her pretty face.

And what’s so important about this reception, anyway?  It’s not as though I haven’t met a hundred merchants seeking to trade in our land since I was appointed Keeper of the Port.  And it’s not as though this is anything other than a mere formality; a captain who couldn’t present the proper papers or other tokens of good faith would already have been turned away without an important official  having to go out in the rain.  It’s just a lot of damned foolish ceremony; give me a good honest battle any day, and Hecate take all this rigamarole.  Well, at least I have a chariot with an awning, while my impatient bodyguard are forced to sit on horseback exposed to the weather; age and rank do carry some privileges, after all, though the price be aching joints and poor sleep.  And at least the road to the wharf is paved, so there is no chance of my conveyance becoming stuck and delaying my return home in time for luncheon.

Mycenaean womanHow now, what’s this?  The ship bears the painted sails of Crete, whence none have come since before the last war made our waters more dangerous than they cared to brave.  Dare I hope this ship will bear a letter from my dearest friend Phaedra, whose face I have not seen since before my young attendants were born?  Would that it were so!  To read her words and hold in my hand papyrus that she had sealed with her own would be the next best thing to kissing her again and feeling my heart lifted by the sound of her voice.  Already I can see the multicolored skirts of a Cretan woman, standing on the quay beside a tall young man; perhaps she bears the letter I have longed to see for so many years.  As I approach I see that she is hooded against the rain, and bears a bundle beneath her cloak; perhaps it contains precious papyri that she cannot risk getting wet?

Now my chariot stops, and I hear a hubbub among the guards; it seems that the young man has specifically asked to meet me, by name rather than by my title of office.  By all the goddesses, can I dare hope?  Though I have never laid eyes upon him before, his visage is familiar, and though he wears the clothing of a man of Crete, he speaks haltingly in the Amazon tongue as one might who had not used it in many years.  And when the guards announce my arrival, his face beams and his voice breaks with emotion as he calls me his mother.  Some of the bystanders laugh, others seem shocked or even offended; for no Amazon claims her sons after she hands them over to their Scythian sires, and no Scythian man would be foolish enough to expect his Amazon mother to acknowledge him.  But all of their voices grow silent as I step forward to embrace him, and the soft rain from Heaven disguises the tears upon my cheeks as he introduces his wife and places my infant granddaughter in my arms.

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Even boredom has its crises.  –  Mason Cooley

two-faced womanClementine was dreadfully bored.  Once in school she had been punished because, chafing at the incredibly slow pace of a reading lesson, she had forged far ahead of the rest of the class; when it was her turn to read aloud she had no idea where the others were.  Even at eight years old she had bristled at the absurdity of being chastised for excellence, and resolved to learn to split her focus between whatever she was supposed to be doing and what she really wanted to do.  And after many years of practice, she had succeeded to a degree few others could manage; when at work, she carried out her tasks so well and so efficiently that nobody ever imagined that something else entirely unrelated might be going on behind her china-blue eyes.  She had become so good at it, in fact, that her inner mind actually needed something else to do while her outer mind was occupied.

Hence today’s boredom; though she enjoyed her job, there were some parts of it that were repetitious.  And if she had nothing else to think about during those times, she might very well fall asleep.  Yet try as she might, she just couldn’t think of anything else to do.  She had already ordered her schedule for the rest of the day, planned dinner and made a grocery list; after that she had decided on a color of paint for her house, composed a stern letter to the contractor who had left a large pile of building materials in her back yard, and made a mental note to call her little sister.  And that was all she could think of, despite the fact that there were still 45 minutes left before she was done.

She considered the possibility of trying to finish a song she had been working on, but even her admirably-organized mind couldn’t manage that well without a guitar to strum on; besides, the might start humming or singing aloud, and that would obviously betray the fact that her focus on the work at hand was something less than total.  Similar objections applied to practicing her shibari knots, and the idea of doing anything at all about her ballroom dancing lessons was wholly ridiculous.  The very fact that it had crossed her mind in the first place was a bad sign; she must already be experiencing a kind of boredom-induced mental lapse.

What if, she thought, I focused both of my channels on the same thing?  Maybe I’d be able to do it that much better and twice as efficiently!  But it was no use; after 10 minutes of futile introspection she could not escape the conclusion that her current task didn’t even use the full resources of one of her cognitive channels, much less both.  No, it was just hopeless; she just had to give up, and almost surrendered to the urge of throwing her hands up into the air in a gesture of exasperation.  There was a clock in sight, but as it was a digital one she couldn’t even play mental games with the hands; she just had to watch as the minutes crawled by with aching slowness. Twenty-five minutes left.




semaphore womanTwenty-one, and Clementine’s inner mind realized that her outer one was frantically trying to get its attention, like a woman performing semaphore motions while jumping up and down.  And it slowly dawned on her that while she had been fascinated by the clock, her client had gotten up and left the room, and she had absolutely no idea where he had gone.  The confusion didn’t last long; he soon stepped back into the room, drying his hair with a towel, and smiled at her.  “That was amazing!” he said.

“Amazing?” she echoed stupidly.  “What makes you say that?”

“I’ve never seen a woman come like that before!  Once you stopped moaning and bucking, you just sort of went all limp and your eyes glazed over, as though you were hypnotized or something.  It was so hot!”

“Oh, yeah, well, I think you deserve the credit for that,” she lied.  “I mean, I don’t climax like that all the time; I just got lost in the moment.”  Well, at least that part wasn’t a lie.  “Hey, don’t include that in your review, OK?  I don’t want the other gents to feel bad if I don’t react that way with them.”

“Of course, of course,” he beamed, as he opened his wallet and fished out an extra hundred for her.  “But I sure hope you react that way with me again!”

“Oh yes, I think that’s probably likely,” she said, putting on her prettiest smile before she even reached for her robe.  Behind her eyes, inner Clementine was already trying to take credit for the performance; she’d have to sit her down as soon as the client left and patiently explain that it was a team effort, in preparation for a brainstorming session dedicated to working out how to do the same thing regularly and predictably.  And afterward, she’d task inner Clementine with working out what to do with the increased income.

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This is the curse of our age, even the strangest aberrations are no cure for boredom.  –  Stendahl

Nearly everything that had ever gone wrong in Ned’s life was due to the fact that he was so easily bored.  He rarely finished a book or continued watching a television series past the third or fourth episode; whenever he went out to eat he preferred to go to different places each time; he never kept a car for more than a year.  Even wives and girlfriends were replaced as soon as Ned began to tire of them, and eventually he couldn’t even be bothered with relationships any more.  So it was perhaps inevitable that he start hiring escorts.

clonemaidensAt first, Ned felt that he’d never grow bored with “the hobby”; he could see as many beautiful women as he liked, as often as he liked, without any major effort at all.  He figured if he never repeated a girl he would find it exciting for many years.  Eventually, though, the women all began to blend together in his mind, and one seemed like another.  For a while he sought out the quirkiest, least-conventional providers he could; the more uneven their reviews, the more the tattoos and piercings, the more outrageous their drama, the more he liked them.  Then they, too, began to fill him with ennui, and he moved on to fetish providers, dominatrices and every other kinky type he could find.  Ned’s sexual orientation was basically vanilla, though, so that couldn’t last long; he just couldn’t justify spending so much money on women who wouldn’t even spread their legs for him.  Then he tried street girls and amateurish-seeming Backpage denizens; they soon became just as blah as all the others.  Aside from the occasional robbery attempt, freakout or other surprise, whores in general simply weren’t interesting to him any longer.

It was the paying that created the boredom, he figured; he knew that as long as he paid her fee, any prostitute he hired would put out.  There just wasn’t any unpredictability in it, and few surprises, and since being able to predict what will happen next is the very essence of boredom, Ned decided paying to play was no longer acceptable to him.  Picking up regular women was a lot more fun; he was never sure what combination of smooth talk, presents, alcohol, drugs, lies or outright coercion would work to get any of them in bed, nor what would happen when he got them there.  And if he was really lucky, something unpredictable or even dangerous night happen, thereby providing the thrills he craved.

So it was that one night, Ned found himself in a crappy dive in a strange city, hunting his usual game; he had become quite practiced at sizing up his quarry, and so he was deeply intrigued when a woman he couldn’t quite read nonetheless succumbed to his charms and invited him back to her place.  On the way there, the conversation turned to the opposite sex, and Ned (who, truth be told, had imbibed more than was strictly prudent) blurted out how bored he was with women in general:  “They’re so damned predictable, all of ’em the same.  Now you, see, you’re different; you’ve clearly got class, yet you were in that low-class place.  You’re too smart to fall for any lines and too beautiful to go for a guy like me, yet here we are together.  Other women rarely surprise me, but you?  You’re full of surprises.”

“So you like surprises?” she asked quietly, her voice almost drowned out by the hiss of the rain and the blop-blop-blop-blop of the windshield wipers.

“Oh, yeah, I mean what’s life without surprises?  I even like the unpleasant ones in a way, because at least they alleviate the same-old same-old.”

“Yes, I understand.  Well, I’m glad you find me surprising; I think I can promise you at least one more big surprise tonight.”

“Now you’ve got me even more curious.  Care to give me a hint?”

“We’re here; I’ll show you in a few minutes.”  The house was another surprise; it wasn’t quite a mansion but it was still fairly large, and situated on a rather expansive piece of property for being so close to town.  The garage was under the house, and she took his wet things before they even went in; when he turned to go up the stairs she stopped him and pointed instead to another door on the same level.  “I want to show you my playroom.”

bourbonNed felt a bit disappointed; her playroom?  Probably a kink dungeon, in other words.  Ah, well, might as well go through with it, he thought; he was already here, and at least it hadn’t cost him anything.  It had been a while since he’d done anything like this, and maybe she had an interesting twist on it.  Besides, she was offering him a glass of high-quality bourbon from what appeared to be a very well-stocked bar, and that made up for at least a little disappointment.

“When you’re ready, we can go in,” she said with a quiet smile.

“No time like the present.”

“Oh, good, I was hoping you’d say that.  Close your eyes and let me lead you in, and don’t open them until I tell you to, OK?”

“Sure, baby, whatever you say.”

He did sneak a peek, but it hardly mattered; the room she had led him into was pitch-black.  But it was only a moment before she said, “Open your eyes,” and flicked on the light.  The place wasn’t quite what Ned expected; it looked less like a sex den and more like an abattoir, replete with stainless-steel surfaces and bloody knives, and a partially-butchered carcass that Ned did not like the look of at all.

The last word he ever heard was, “Surprise!”

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Time travels in divers paces with divers persons.  –  William Shakespeare, As You Like It (III,ii)

The two of them lay as still as a statue in bed, their white limbs entwined so extensively that they seemed to have been carved by a master from a single block of marble.  Nearby lay one of their cats, equally still, another statue placed as an accent beside the larger subject.  Even had their position not advertised their last activity before sleep, the various objects on the nightstand and the cast-aside clothes on the floor would have; not that they would’ve been ashamed of that, even if they had been aware of my presence.  The only motion in the room beside my own was that of the ceiling fan above them, and that was only barely perceptible.

I had to stand for what seemed a long while to me, staring at it in order to be sure it was moving at all.  Observing it was no more the point of my trespass into the room than voyeuristically spying on my housemates was; it’s just that I have not yet had this power long enough to have become jaded with it.  Things like the sight of two beautiful women frozen in embrace, or a fan’s blades moving so slowly that to a casual glance they seem motionless, are still so strange and fascinating to me that I can’t help but stop and take them in.  I also find myself tiptoeing in such situations, despite the fact that it’s completely unnecessary; any sound I made would be so momentary and so highly-pitched it would be a wonder if they heard it at all.

clock closeupCrossing the room took a few seconds to my perception, but how much time was it really?  I can’t be exactly sure, except that I can fit several minutes of activity between two ticks of a clock.  Where the power came from, or where it will lead me, I have no idea; all I know is that a short course of meditation allows me to access this accelerated state, and that I have no trouble maintaining it for as long as I like.  There do seem to be some limits on the power; for example, it’s very difficult to move large objects while I exist between tick and tock.  And that’s why I was passing through the lovers’ room this morning:  I knew their window would be open against the late springtime heat, and their door would be ajar from one or the other of them visiting the bathroom during the night.

Kitty #2 was on the windowsill, glassy eyes fixed on an equally-motionless bird suspended in midair nearby.  She presented no obstacle; I simply slipped past her onto the fire escape and then made my way spider-like down the wall.  There was no other way to get to the ground; I had discovered the hard way that gravity worked no more quickly on me than it did on the bird or any other object, so if I tried to jump down I would simply hang there in space until I decided to move back into normal time.  But the roughness of the brick wall was enough for me to pull myself down with, and I could go up as easily as down for the same reason.

The street below was already busy even at this hour, but that made little difference to me; the cars were as motionless as everything else, so I could move in any direction I liked, right down the middle of the street if I wanted to, without regard for traffic.  My destination was miles away, but I had no choice other than walking it; pedaling a bicycle, as I had discovered earlier, is utterly exhausting when accelerated.  No matter; I’m a strong walker, and to achieve today’s goal I would’ve been willing to walk clear across the city if need be.  Furthermore, I’ve done this every day for several weeks now, except for the days when the rain created a curtain of suspended droplets that’s almost as hard to move through as if I were walking underwater.  I know the route well, and have already discovered several shortcuts unavailable to those who can be seen by others.

Over a high brick wall lay my final destination; it was no harder to climb than the wall outside my own place, despite the spikes on top.  And then down into the courtyard, and into my hiding place in the shed.  I took the time to make myself comfortable, knowing I might have a relatively long wait in real time; my quarry did not visit here every morning, but when he did he always left around the same time.  And less than an hour ago, the remote camera I concealed here earlier this week had already alerted me to his presence.  There’s no way I could have possibly made it here in time moving at normal speed, and no way I could’ve entered the walled garden without attracting attention even if I did; but for one with my talents, both were child’s play.

camera lensComing back into normal time, I set up the digital camera to record the Great Man’s departure from his mistress’ home; it seemed like forever before he left, though it was probably no more than twenty minutes at the outside.  I started recording as soon as I heard the door open, and the champion of Family Values and sworn enemy of whores obligingly made my mission a success by giving his lady friend a passionate kiss on the threshold.  My excitement made it difficult to achieve the meditative state necessary to going back into accelerated time, but I managed it soon enough; I then returned the way I had come, over the wall and across the miles and into the alley behind my own home, scaling the wall in blatant disregard for the feeble efforts of gravity to pull me back down to the pavement.  The cat must have lost interest in the goings-on outside at some point in the last half-hour, because she was no longer on the sill; the lovers, however, were still exactly where I had left them, though one had thrown a proprietary hand over the other’s nipple as if to conceal it from the unconsciously-sensed intruder in the room.

Kissing their still, silent faces was the one deviation I allowed myself from strict propriety before slipping out, unseen and unheard; I then returned to my room, returned to normal time and connected the cable so my computer could download the footage while I returned to bed.  It was still absurdly early for us, and I was tired from both the exertion and the excitement; but more importantly, I wanted my brain to be well-rested when I sat down to draft the blackmail letter.


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