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SALTARAE, the Paperback:

SALTARAE COVER
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Chapter Twenty: "When the Going Gets Weird, the Weird Turn Pro."

It was a clear night, with no rain in the forecast.

‘Chilly out tonight,’ Ambros thought: ‘Normal for this time of year, on a clear night, I guess.’

He stood in the Mainstage Meadow, a holographic disk of the surrounding area wrapped around his waist. He turned slowly, gazing at the terrain as replicated on the illusory 3D map. His ‘radio’ was set to receive all signals.

‘Not really a radio,’ he thought: ‘But whatever Iyelisi means by “double-ended encrypt-decrypt of entangled spatio-temporal fields in a seven-dimensional matrix”, it works just like a radio.’ A silent alarm lit up: he looked at the map and said: “I have your signal, Magistri Russalki. Talk to me.”

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Chapter Nineteeen: Headlines and Deadlines

“I suppose you are wondering why I’ve asked you all here today.” Ambros smiled, conscious of the cliché, and of the absurdity of the situation. He looked around the circle of chairs that held his guests and smiled wider: “We have several things we want to do, and we want some witnesses. So. First, this is Mack Tschangerai; for those of you who do not know him, he is the current owner of this building.” He beckoned Mack into the center of the circle, where he had set up a small table: “I am set to purchase the building from him. Donald Castle is my attorney. He has worked up the documents to fulfill my desires for today.” That being Thursday, the 25th. ‘Yesterday I was in a battle. Last night I was celebrating a victory. Today…’ He shook those thoughts away: ‘Today is today. Be here now.’

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Chapter Eighteen: Saltation and Tigers.

The next day, Sunday, Ambros came home to Rosefield Avenue in the early morning misty rain. He was pondering many things, humming a tune, feeling good. He keyed his way in through the front door, as silently as possible: at seven in the morning no one would be awake, and he didn’t want to wake them. He picked up the Sunday Sentinel off the porch and slipped out of his sweater.

He sat at the dining room table with a strong cup of tea in one hand and a gluten-free snack bar in the other. He skimmed through the local news, then started in on the front section.

“Ooo-kay,” he murmured: “That’s special,” as he stopped to read one article. ‘Zazu Johnson Questioned, Released’ read the headline.

Kim came into the dining room and asked: “What’s special?”

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Chapter Seventeen: Rituals and Meditations

The weather in Athino was, if anything, worse than in Eugene. It wasn’t raining, yet: but the clouds were rolling in, black and ugly, with touches of that gray tone that hinted at lightning and high winds. The wind was indeed gusting, and occasionally blowing really hard for a minute or more.

He’d led the women through the corridors, stopping at his locker to drop off the bag of Pismo parts, shattered case and all. ‘I’ll have to deal with that later,’ he thought, making a mental note.

They passed on. There was a somber tone to the talk and bustle, very unlike any other time he’d passed through. No laughter rang from the study areas, no smiles were in evidence anywhere. Seeing him armored, people saluted with heads bowed, or handsigned condolences to him. They entered the main Hall. Kim and Luisa gazed about in wonder; Ambros recalled his own first sight of the Hall.

They exited into the chill breeze. Arrenji awaited them in front of the building. She was in armor, too, and wore a long white cloak over all. She produced another such for Ambros, and helped him attach it to his shoulder pauldrons. “You’ll be expected to speak at the service,” she said: “Your contribution can be short, since you didn’t really know Vorrisi at all. Think of what you’d like to say. You’ll go last, just before we light the pyre.”

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Chapter Sixteen: About a Bull, Among Other Things

It was foggy and cloudy, and the sun was well past noon: “Six PM or so we’d call it at home, perhaps a little later,’ he thought. ‘Evening Bell in the Commonwealth. It’ll be dark in an hour or so, my time.’

Vountos was the first responder to Ambros’ Mayday. He had a backpack on and a satchel in his hand. He looked around and spotted Ambros, sitting in the dugout on the one uncollapsed section of bench.

“What’s the emergency?” asked Vountos.

“Look for Traces,” Ambros replied, activating his own MPS and Shifter. Voukli and Skavo dropped in. Then Arrenji appeared, looking haggard and sickly.

Vountos began cursing. He walked around the phosphorescent Trace, grumbling. He began to deploy equipment. Voukli and Skavo waved and pointed, quartering the area, and began to walk slowly over it, staring at the ground. Each of them pointed to things on the ground that they thought significant.

“Magistros Vountos,” said Skavo: “do you have markers?”

Vountos said: “In the satchel, side pocket.” Skavo pulled out a set of yellow stakes about six inches long, and handed some to Voukli. The two of them began to stick those in the ground as they walked over the field.

Arrenji walked slowly over to where Ambros sat, and he moved over to leave her room. She sat, and put her head in her hands. He remained silent: ‘Must have pulled out of that Trance or whatever, to come here.’

At length she said: “Oooh. Voukli?”

“Magistri?”

“Water?”

“Here, Magistri,” and Voukli tossed a metal bottle at them. Arrenji moved to catch it, but Ambros got it first.

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Chapter Fifteen: Athens and Alcatraz

One of the narrow mini-buses swooshed along the street. Marie looked around in wonder, as people smiled and waved, or saluted, at her and at Ambros. She waved back, tentatively at first.

They were standing in the street outside of the War Guild Command Complex in Athino. He’d Shifted her into the War Room, and led her on a brief tour of the Command Complex. It was Fifthday of the first Tenday after the Autumnal Equinox; that was the 25th of September in their Home Line.

“So,” he ventured after a while: “what do you want to do first? Tour the City? Visit Medical Guild? Or go straight to Fibers or Culinary?” He was speaking American, since she hadn’t yet gone under RNA for language learning.

She pointed: “Fibers Guild first, and by the scenic route, as a sort of beginning tour.” She’d clearly thought her intentions through: “Then Culinary, scenic route again. Once I’m signed into those two Guilds, then RNA, so I can learn the language, and only then will I ask for Medical treatment.”

“You know that, as my—Twine, they would say here—that you don’t have to ‘get a job’ before you get a Med consultation, right?”

“I know that. But I am not willing to ride your coat-tails. I have my own contribution to make to this society and culture, and I’m going to do that, and start on it before I accept any benefits.” He knew that tone: she would not be shifted from the course she was on. Anyway, he understood her position.

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Chapter Fourteen: Swordplay, a Grand Opening, and Bureaucracy.

It was the following Saturday.

Ambros Shifted into the Alcatraz Quiet. He stepped off the landing pad and walked slowly down the main hall to the rec room, where he was to meet his students. No one else was there yet, so he drew a cup of tea from the urn near the end of the bar, and sat to wait: ‘I am a little early,’ he thought.

Theodore was the first of the six to arrive; he came and sat with Ambros, silent and pensive. He was a skinny young man with a starved look to him. Ambros guessed him to be a refugee from some very ugly Line on the fringes of the civilized Multiverse.

Andrew and Micah arrived together. Micah had long since passed the basic sword test, and her loyalty to the cause was not at all in doubt. But her relationship with Andrew kept her at Alcatraz; they’d hooked up at about the time she could have moved on. Andrew was a red-head, Micah very dark-haired with pale skin. She was round and curvy; he was slim and muscular.

Vree arrived next. She was a peculiar case: Ambros got no clue about her emotions or thoughts from her exterior aspect. She was a quick study, on the verge of passing the sword test and moving on, though she’d been at Alcatraz for less than a Season. She was ordinary in every way, brown and brown, neither heavy nor thin. Except for her impassive expression and completely neutral body language, she might be from any high-school in his own Line. She was also the most unpredictable of his little group of students: sometimes plugging along, sometimes exhibiting real brilliance in the Art.

The group began to chat, and started talking about the translation of their names into Rational Hellenic, and the naming customs of the Commonwealth.

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Chapter Thirteen: Revelations, Economics, and a Mysterious Intrusion

It was the thirtieth of August, a Thursday. Patrick and Jonie had asked him to teach the kids a little about medieval Europe. It was a natural progression, since he was already their unofficial Phys Ed teacher. He’d taught the first lesson that afternoon: Charles Martel, the Battle of Tours, and Martel’s entirely uncharacteristic response to his army’s victory. He’d first had to dispel some of the rather silly myths about the fighting in the south of France that year: stupid lies about camels disliking the snow and all that, typical of the ‘history’ taught to kids in American schools. It took two hours, with a short break, but he thought it had gone well.

Jonie’s van appeared in the lot, where she left it idling and came in to get the kids. He was saying goodbye to Gustav and Allie, and preparing to lock the doors, when Kim’s jeep pulled into the parking lot. Right behind came Luisa in her truck, with Marie riding shotgun. They got out of their respective seats and marched towards the door of the Salon looking very intent.

‘Oh, man,’ he thought. ‘Here it comes.’ He ushered the family out the door and held it open for his lovers.

“Looks like it’s time for my big reveal,” he said jestingly.

“I wish you wouldn’t be so light-hearted about this. We are serious.” Marie was grim-faced and obviously angry, Luisa and Kim were both irritated and not hiding it.

He’d dropped a number of hints their way, including his book of alt-History stories and his essay on 12th-13th Century Hellas. In addition, he’d been increasingly frank about the dangerous nature of the situation. ‘Looks like they have finally had it,’ he thought: ‘and that’s what I’ve been awaiting.’

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CHAPTER TWELVE: A Walk in the Park, A Walk in the Dark, and then a Ghost Story or Two

“Back to Neutral!” Ambros exclaimed: “Check your stances!”

All six students, plus Jonie, followed the directions. Jonie asked: “Explain what you mean by neutral, again, please.”

“Sure. Neutral is a number of things all at once: ‘sword neutral’ means take a position or Posta where you can attack and defend without moving first; if we were practicing with shields, then shield neutral would be similar, right? Then neutral means also, ‘balanced in your stance’, front to back and side-to-side; and also balanced mentally between attack and defense. Ladies, check your stances. You need to be a little wider than the guys, remember?”

“The simple version of all that is: take a Posta, a stance and guard, that you’ve seen in the books I’ve lent to you.” He smiled: “Now check your measure, everyone. If you are in range, cut!” The clatter of shinai and the occasional hit on helm or body rang across the room. He watched and listened, alert for teachable moments, but he intervened in this ‘open sparring’ segment of the class only when he saw such chances.

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CHAPTER ELEVEN: Eh, What’s Up, Doc?

Ambros sat, teetering on the edge of a straight-backed chair, his hands still behind him. He’d been awake since seven or so on Wednesday morning. “It has to be nearly 5 AM on Thursday,” he said, loudly. Maybe someone would hear him, now that the graveyard shift was over and day-shift cops would be in the building.

“Okay,” he said, a little less loudly: “I need to pee, and I need sleep. I’ll get neither while I’m bound like this.” The need to piss was becoming urgent. He set to work, lying down on the floor, working his bound hands downward. It was trick they’d all practiced, in his affinity group: “Get your hands in front of you, at any cost. Even cuffed, you’re better off that way.”

It took a while, but he knew he could do it. He kept the pressure on: push, rest, push. Finally he was there, pushing his legs between his arms, and then slumping in exhaustion.

Not for long, though: “Piss. Piss, piss.” He wasn’t cussing; he was obsessing. He dragged himself over to the trashcan and lifted the hem of his kilt.

“Aahh,” he said. He sat back on the floor, relieved.

He looked at his wrists: he was bound with a plain zip-tie. “Like one you’d use to gather up wires or something.” It was tight enough to be digging in to his skin and chafing his wrists badly. He shrugged: the plastic was thicker and tougher than he’d hoped, but the solution was the same. “Chew, gnaw, bite,” he said, unhappily. He began the job, jawing away at the plastic.

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CHAPTER TEN: WAR! WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING…

Mr. Rothakis lay on the hard concrete floor, his cheek abraded and oozing blood, a puddle of drool around his mouth. He was trying hard to figure out what had just happened: there was a singularity of some sort in his mind, a place that his memory just skipped over.

‘Let’s see,’ he thought, slowly: ‘Monday…I looked at buildings with Mack and Bill, then did some yard work…and then went over to Allie and Gustav’s and started them on basic stances and guards. On Tuesday I got furniture and…and an old desktop computer and printer for the office in my new sword studio.

'Then I did yard work and also went and shopped for shinai at the Planetary Market; and also for hockey gloves and other bits of sports armor at second-hand shops.’ He groaned and tried to turn over, but found that something was impeding his movements. ‘Bleah. On Wednesday I used my new printer to make a little 8x11 sign for the door…’ He remembered that clearly. The sign said, in letters just large enough to see from the street corner across the parking lot:


SALON SPATHENA

And in smaller letters beneath:

AMBROS ROTHAKIS, SPATHOS.
European Martial Arts

‘OK, Thursday…that’s today. Right, I opened the doors at ten AM and started a lesson. Allie and Gustav were here and so were the shinai boys. Um, Mark, Randy, Andy, Robert. Right.’ He attempted to roll over again, realized that his hands were pinned behind his back. Handcuffed!

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CHAPTER NINE: Here and There, But Not Everywhere.

Ambros Rothakis sat in a comfy chair in a café in Athino, the Athens of the Prime Commonwealth Timeline. His tea was hot, his belly was full, and his mind was clear and calm. The re-vamped Pismo was humming very quietly on the table next to him, doing a search for some data on one of the Objectivist Timelines. He was doing a sitting meditation, thinking: ‘Calm,’ on the inward breath, and: ‘Relax,’ on the exhale.

Fifth Bell rang over the City. He slipped out of his partial trance and into thought and movement again. The echoes of the Bell held his attention: ‘That would make it about 1:30 in my Home Line,’ he thought. ‘Saturday, the 28th of July, 2007; here, it is Seventhday of the Fourth tenday after the Summer Solstice, Year of the Commonwealth 800.’ He grinned.

He’d left Eugene, Oregon for the Commonwealth seven days before, on Saturday. He’d arrived in Athino in a state of shock, upset by his dream of the night before. He’d proceeded to get slightly drunk, and had stayed that way all day.

The contrast between then and now was startling: he looked confident, knowing even. He had the wry grin and sardonic pose of the Sacred Band operative well and truly knocked. The five days after his drunken ramble had been illuminating, as well as sobering. ‘Yeah,’ he thought, ‘interesting times, as the Chinese would call ’em. I landed here just as a debate began about how to fight the war against l’Iriquois. Defense, Offense, Isolation—that is the question.

‘Probably not coincidentally, the Authoritarian Timeline Coalition seems to be altering their strategy and tactics, as well.’ After two centuries of stalemate, both sides were getting antsy. The ATLs apparent tropism towards conquest was driving them to seek new strategies. The people of the various Commonwealth Coalition Timelines were growing tired of continual war, and a defensive fight was not likely to put an end to the attacks of the Authoritarians.

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CHAPTER EIGHT: VIOLENCE AND REFLECTION

Mr. Rothakis sat in the staging area next to the gigantic landing pad in the third basement of the Command Complex in Athino, Prime Commonwealth Timeline. It was Eighthday, Friday in his Line. Voukli was laid out on the floor near him, her eyes closed, hands folded on the scales of her breastplate. Arrenji stood near a machine of some kind, over near the wall. Her face bore the distracted expression of someone listening to communications audible only to her. ‘Likely that’s exactly what she’s doing,’ he thought.

He pondered his last few days: he’d trained as hard as his rejuvenating body had allowed him to. He’d spent time in the Alcatraz Quiet Timeline, mostly tutoring Dan’l. (“Watch the other guy’s hands, the sword moves too fast for the eye to follow! Keep your feet moving, don’t be a static target! Stay balanced, stay neutral! Turn your hips, tighten your gut! Are you in range? Then cut, cut, cut!”) It was fun seeing Dan’l improve, and even more fun when he started winning practice bouts. ‘Next week,’ Ambros thought, ‘I’ll start him on buckler work. I mean, early next tenday.’

He was teaching a lot of the same lessons to the shinai boys, the ones he’d met at the Fair. He’d been with them just the previous afternoon, Thursday in his Line. They were eager for information; it was hard to keep up with their queries. He ended up telling them: “Just slow down. Footwork is more important than you realize. Practice slow, learn fast, as we say in the SCA.”

‘If I live through the next few hours,’ he mused, ‘I should look up the local SCA branch. I’d enjoy a little rattan sword play.’

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CHAPTER SEVEN: ONE MORE NIGHT, & THE END OF THE FAIR

It was just getting dark when he ‘beamed in’ to the spot near Daredevil Palace. He stood absolutely still for a moment, orienting himself and listening for movements. The usual dizziness passed over him; he barely reacted. He could hear a familiar voice nearby: Pudgy Man, the Security guy, was passing on the path.

‘Wouldn’t do for him to see me come out of this wild area.’ He waited until that voice faded away, then took a different route out of the forbidden space. He slipped out onto the road. He looked at his watch and saw that it was half past nine. He had an hour and a half before his promised arrival at the booth. He took a deep breath, smelled the amazing variety of food on offer, (along with a bewildering number of other aromas) and decided to get some supper.

He found a place that offered corn tortillas, made into burritos and tostadas and the like. After ascertaining that there was no wheat or other glutinous stuff in any of the food there, he ordered a good dinner, with extra salsa. As he was tucking into that, Allie came running up and sat down with a plop on the bench across from him.

“Hi!” she said.

“Hi, back atcha.”

After sitting silent for a moment, while he ate steadily, she said: “The card you gave my mom says you practice swordfighting.”

“I do. Why do you ask?”

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CHAPTER SIX: ALCATRAZ, AND A WALK IN THE CITY

The ‘landing pad’ at Alcatraz was no different than the one in the War Room. Once out of the room where it was kept, there was little or no similarity to the Complex in the Commonwealth Line. It was Alcatraz, a prison he had seen many times on television. There were concrete and brick walls, cells, workshops, common areas. Cream or prison green paint peeled from the walls of cinder block or pale tan bricks. In a few places Commonwealth slogans were graffitoed on the walls. Abstract landscape-like compositions were painted on other surfaces, and a few portraits graced the area around the landing pad itself.

The ground floor cells were all converted into offices and storage facilities, and the locker room was as he’d seen it on the tube. The lockers were stuffed with suits of training armor made of linen and leather, and there were racks of shinai-like swords and other simulated weapons made of reeds and leather and glue.

Voukli handed him a jumpsuit like the one she was wearing; evidently this was standard training garb. He stripped out of his street clothes; Voukli stopped him before he could don the garment: “Oh, hey, Versingos, the little troll from Med Guild, he sent you this. It should fit perfectly.” She handed him a protective cup. It was made, it seemed, of the same dark blue-black ceramic as the scale armor. As he held it in his hand, it changed shape, and again as he put it up against his skin. It seemed to mold itself to his parts, and stayed in place without any support. He shrugged: ‘Not that weird, considering all the other stuff I’ve seen.’

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CHAPTER FIVE: NIGHT AND MORNING. FUN AND GAMES.

When Ambros opened his eyes the room was dark. Then a holographic image sprang up around him, and he was bombarded by images. It seemed as though there was a man on each side of him, one lecturing him about history and the other about the grammar and syntax of Modern Rational Hellenic. After a while a woman appeared in front of him: she began making hand signals in time with the Language teacher, while History Guy droned on. Gradually the lectures shifted to Hellenic: whenever Ambros showed any sign of puzzlement, the program shifted back and cleared up the mystery. The walls were covered with charts and photos, constantly changing. He drifted into a half-awake state, and the program sped up, like an old phonograph set one speed too fast.

For a while it seemed to him that only fragments were getting through: “…as with the First Nikodemos, the early death of Eleni Leontari or Nikos Messeninos dooms a Commonwealth Line to failure…Modern Rational Hellenic has necessarily a larger set of roots than the Early or Classical version…the Year of the Commonwealth 542 (AD 1749) was a momentous time, since the first of the ancient Timeline Gates was discovered then...the grammar is only slightly more complex than before, since…fortunately, we had mastered the technology of the Gates and invented the Shifter before we made contact with Prime ATL…not wormholes exactly, but functionally similar...”

He realized that huge amounts of information were being burned into his brain: what he consciously heard were like potsherds on the surface of his mind. The woman doing handsigns stepped to one side and a man who looked vaguely Hindu appeared. He spoke Hellenic with an accent; even as Ambros realized that, the Language Man faded away. While History Professor continued to gas, Hindu Guy began to explain the science of Hellenic Physics, as applied to Timelines, Shifters, Saltation, and on and on.

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“I’m in.” The voice in his head was screaming imprecations at him, but he shut it up again: ‘Whaddaya wanna do, go back to preaching to the choir and getting beat up by neo-Nazis?’

She waved her hand and he found himself free to move. He took a couple steps just because he could.

“Good,” she said: “Stay here for a minute or two, okay?”

He saluted like a Boy Scout: “At your service, Magistri.”

She grinned wryly. “If we weren’t probably about to die, that would be really hilarious,” she said. “I’ll be right back.”

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CHAPTER 3: A NIGHT AT THE FAIR…AND THE NEXT DAY

Luisa and Ambros said very little to one another as they processed about, checking out various places. The Fair at night was a different experience, almost a different place. It was as though the people were channeling a gentler and saner world, and the land itself was aiding and abetting them. The paths were no longer choked with people, but there were still a large enough number to create crowds, and occasionally, traffic jams.

Luisa seemed to have an established route, and accustomed haunts where she was known and expected. She also seemed to know a large number of the people they were walking among or passing by, based on the constant passing interactions she engaged in.

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He turned right out of the front of the booth. The place was thick with humanity, including every sort of hippie. Some of them had tee shirts that indicated their status as Staff, on various Crews.

Also wearing staff shirts were a selection of teenagers, whose shirts bore the extra designation ‘Teen Crew’. These kids were dressed in many ways, as Goths, hippies, punks, grungers: every counter-cultural variation of the previous fifty years was represented among them. There was even a boy whose chino pants, DA haircut and goatee seemed to reference the Beats. He imagined Ginsburg attending the Fair and snickered.

He also noticed a few people of all ages, but mostly young, who wore the Fauxhawk style hair he’d noted earlier, and some had fake (or even, in a few cases, real) horsetails attached to their belts.

Hippies without Staff shirts were mostly bombed, stoned, drunk, or tripping, in various degrees. This was in spite of the constant reminders that the fair was to be drug-free. The Marks were mostly sober, with an occasional happy drunk mixed in. The vibe was nonetheless remarkably mellow.

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