Monday, April 27, 2015
Sometimes I Despair
"Don't we know someone who can control the weather?" The Man in Blue and Red asked The Man in Gray and Black, by way of small talk.
"Rainmaker?" The Man in Gray and Black offered.
"Doesn't talk to me. Also possibly jail."
"So that would be no, then." The Man in Gray and Black's voice was gravely, modulated. Out of all of them, he was the most zealous in protecting his secrets.
"You heard that voice, right? Asking me if I can bleed? People have seen me bleed. On live television." The Man in Blue and Red could sense The Man in Gray and Black's unease. Not much missed him, these days. The Man in Gray and Black's unease, the sound of the rain and how long it would last, televisions and conversations in nearby tenement blocks. A baker opening his oven on Beech street, the smell of cinnamon and caramelized sugars. Light aircraft experiencing turbulence, twenty miles out. It all filtered through. This frequently had the effect of causing The Man in Blue and Red to appear flaky, perpetually distracted.
"You made the news again," Gray changed the subject, because of course he was perfectly happy in the rain. Something changed three years ago, after that fight between Blue and his extended family leveled parts of Metropolis. He'd been active for years, but after that day...he started by rounding up his usual antagonists--then everyone else's. He deposed Kim Jong-Un, rounded up the leaders of al-Qaeda, the Lord's Resistance Army, and ISIS. He built artificial floating islands full of crops. He rebuilt crumbling, abandoned neighborhoods and turned them into free housing.
The question now asked in hushed tones in boardrooms and political offices around the country, was how long until those x-ray eyes turned on America? When you've rounded up Luthor and Kim and Kony and al-Baghdadi, how long until Cheney and Koch and Wayne?
Gray was a figurehead. He knew that Blue knew it as well. His old job at the newspaper was as an economics reporter. Gray had little idea of or interest in how his company was run or how it made his billions. All that mattered was what he could skim off the top for his personal interests. He was, as Blue, trying to make his city a better place. The head of Wayne Enterprises had intimated, "hoping you might pass it along to your friend," the question of what happens when a demigod gets fed up with petty despots and turns his eyes toward bigger fish.
They stood together, in the rain. How much good had he done? How much could he still do? And how far was too far? Gray reminded himself this had nothing to do with Wayne Enterprises holdings in South Asia. This was about free will, about choice over tyranny. As he powered up the k-ray, he even believed it.
Saturday, April 25, 2015
"We're home," the man said, and immediately felt self-conscious about having said it. He was never self-conscious in his youth, he knew that. That's what this place was: his youth personified, crystallized, trapped in amber. Here was a scorch mark from the fire fight when they were boarded. Here were scratches from when they dropped the old ionic loader, trying to get it out. There was the table where the old man sat giving history lessons, the day his life changed forever without his even knowing it.
It wasn't even a proper place, really. It was a ship. A conveyance. An old YT smuggling ship, one of literally tens of thousands built by the Blind Watchmakers, practically anonymous. He'd flown the thing for less than a decade, a third of the time he'd been a respectable politician's husband, full of good-will missions trying to patch the galaxy back together.
Those intervening years, after the fall of the Empire, felt as though a bomb had gone off in his life. A Time Bomb. An explosion of accumulated years, flashing in a bright instant so that one day he was twenty-nine laughing as he fought for his life on the Sand Pillars of Crystallion, and the next he was sixty, gone gray and slow and soft around the edges, with aches and grandchildren and a white fence around his house and a retirement plan. He toyed with the idea. It wasn't the most inconceivable thing in the world. He'd been from one side of this galaxy to the other, he'd seen a lot of strange and miraculous things. Mostly in that ship. It wasn't completely out of the question. It would certainly explain why he felt more of a connection to this dusty freighter than to all the assembled certainties of his respectable life.
The ship was in dry dock on Asteroid Indigo, a museum piece that he could never bear to see put in a museum. Likewise he couldn't have it nearby in some hangar or attached garage or something. The temptation to sit back in the pilot's chair, crack open a beer, reminisce with his companion about the moons of Delta or the Wind Pirates, would be too great. He'd never get anything done and he had a job now, putting his country back together, all very official and technical stuff.
It must be a bomb because he could no longer see the straight line leading from the man he was then to the man he was now, or how that line deviated so far from the person he thought he would become.
On the bridge they went though the preflight check, pleased that everything worked and even more pleased that it all came back so naturally to him. There was a storm ahead, he knew that. But as the lights flared to life he couldn't help but remember standing at the Sand Pillars, blaster in his hands, laughing.
Thursday, April 23, 2015
The folly was built to look like one of the old NASA cruisers that prowled the scant distance between Earth and the Moon. Looking at it, Marco was reminded of the stories of the first sailing ships, which clung to sight of land for fear of getting lost in the blue vastness of the ocean. Mei's estate had several of these follies, each a fanciful rendition of some wrecked ship out of the past, and she delighted in the war games they played throughout the ruins.
Marco had played so many war games he had the astoundingly obtuse notion he might do well in a real one. Mainly they involved paint guns and the vast trackless desert of Mei's Ganymede estate, but still: how much daylight really stood between that and the Chalkydri invasion? At this was real life, and not VR.
Not that Marco would ever dream of telling his Grandfather this. Grandfather Cortes, who lost an eye to the birds in their assault on Galilee. Who had manned a battlesuit in the black above Io, who punched a Chalkydri war dragon with the thing so hard it spun off course and fell into the Second Great Spot. Grandfather Cortes would laugh that laugh of his if he knew how Marco spent his weekends, that long chortle that fell apart in a phlegmatic mess, as he reached for a handkerchief and wiping his eyes.
He spied a glint of something in the old cockpit, and crouched low. Mei? Chanchai? He moved deftly, silently, to the hole in the fuselage near the blasted-out engine. Whoever built this thing did a crackerjack job. Inside it was stifling. Marco flipped his helmet back on to power up the coolant, then thought the better of it. Heironymous Arcadio Cortes, the Blind Man of Io, would laugh himself to fits at this. No, he wanted that stifling, still air. It was real. A genuine thing.
He checked his weapon again, and moved toward the cockpit. Their games had played through these wrecks so many times, Marco felt as though he knew the ships by heart. Finally, finally, he would have the drop on Mei. He pictured the look on her face. She so loved that sniper position. He was giddy as he approached the porthole. Raised the rifle. Crept those last few inches.
And felt paint slap against the back of his neck.
"Gotcha," Chanchai said.
Thursday, April 2, 2015
His Imperial Countenance, Lord Thaddeus VII the Imperfect, got to hold the candle. Lord Thaddeus always got to hold the candle. That's what separates royalty from us rubes. It was true back on the Old Sod, it was true on Saturnine, with its flute trees and its Endless Migration.
The candle stirred the chalk-white quickmoss on the nearest of the flute trees, the great blue beast of the tree changing its sighing pitch ever so slightly. Legend had it the first settlers went quite mad camped next to the Singing Forest. Me, I'd been recording the sounds off and on (in my leisure time, obviously, not on Lord The Imperfect's time, oh, no, no sir) learning every hum and whistle of the Singing Forest.
There were nine of us in Lord Thaddeus' retinue, not counting His Imperial Countenance Himself. Rocket weavers, pikemen, myself the bard, and the birders, the ones who'd spent their lives studying the birds of the Endless Migration.
Saturnine's air density is much greater than that of the Old Sod. The birds here never land but once in their lives, to lay eggs and then to die. They don't even have proper feet anymore, just long tails where their feet once were, useful for scooping up prey.
Pinktailed slimwings dodged around each other in the clearing. I wanted to take out my recorder; the birds were having some kind of effect on the trees. I knew better, though. I had dreams of performing the symphony, but that's all they were. I couldn't let them metastasize into hopes, into plans. Sometimes dreams are too precious for that.
It's only the royalty that create art. They're bred for it. The best and the brightest, the most intelligent, the most beautiful. A commoner's dalliance, no one's going to sit through that. One by one the slimwings circle the nearest tree, their tongues reaching to the quickmoss furtively. The candle has done its job, drawn out something—who knows—in the moss that attracted the birds. They responded to something deep and true and unknowable within themselves. Governed, as with their unceasing flight, by instinct.
We hold these truths to be self evident.