CHAPTER TWENTY: When the Fecal Matter Hits the Air Conditioning Unit
Ambros and Kim approached the Downtown Athletic Club. A man in a pseudo-military uniform swept the front door open. They strolled through. He glanced at his MPS, which showed him the time in several places. ‘Nine PM on the dot, here in Eugene,’ he thought. He looked at Kim, who was holding his arm in the time-honored fashion. She grinned. Her gown was an off-the-left-shoulder stunner, slightly off-white silk with gold threads woven in. She had pearls and gold wire (provided by Aunt Clem) braided into her hair.
He looked around quickly, noting the men’s clothes: posh, even sumptuous, but pretty much all the same: white shirts with just so much ruffle to their stiff fronts, white bowties, white tailcoats, trousers with knife-sharp pleats, and every cummerbund the same shade of red and perfectly pressed and tied.
His outfit stood out in every way possible, though it was sharp. He was not, however, ruffled in any way, cummerbunded. He wore his newest kilt; its pleating was, if anything, sharper than that on the other men’s trousers. The red and black check looked good with his coloring. He wore a black jacket of Commonwealth cut, more like a vest than a tailcoat in its rectangular construction. His red Spathos’ and white Knight’s belts gleamed and the bronze buckle of the white one practically glowed from polishing. He’d chosen the linen ‘river boatman’s shirt’, and donned a shiny white silk ascot over the button placket rather than under. ‘This way I can flash this fancy stickpin, which is also a camera,’ he thought. His Free Walkers he’d polished to a high gloss; his longsword he’d strapped and cross-strapped so it sat perfectly upright and immobile, the hilts belt high, the pommel right in front of and a little below his left armpit. The brooch that secured the end of the great kilt over his right shoulder glowed like the belt buckle. He’d put his hair in the usual topknot, but it was fresh out of a tight braid and fly-away fluffy.
Ambros sat in his office at the Salon, ciphering his life.
The Commonwealth-augmented Mac G5 that he worked at pinged him. The office door stood wide, and by leaning back he could see the main entrance on the west side of the building. He leaned back.
He frowned: “That’s...oh, that’s Bradley, the guy who owns the Tae Kwon Do dojo just south of here...” He pondered: ‘I wonder what he wants. Let’s go all formal on him.’
He tapped the G5 to sleep and headed for the door.
“Come on in, sensei. What can I do for you?”
“I was just wondering how you were doing...”
Ambros said: “Let’s go back to my office. I’ll make some tea.”
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: Chiefly about Swordplay
Ambros dropped in to the courtyard at Canada Prison in the Guatemalan countryside. It was just sunrise, full light perhaps fifteen minutes away. Arrenji and Voukli appeared moments after he did. A quick glance at the other two, then Ambros Shifted into the corridor where their spycam was hanging out.
He heard a series of explosions and a rattle of gunfire from out in the yard: Voukli and Arrenji beginning their combination distraction and destruction plan for the prison proper. He looked up and down the hall; he stood alone, for the moment: “So far, so good.”
He started his part of the operation: ‘This is a simple plan. One, two, three. Hit fast, get out.’ He had his Commando sidearm out, preset for microwave projection. He fried the mundane security cameras at either end of the hallway and put the pistol away. He dropped a marker on the floor where he was standing, then ran down the corridor, counting cells.
‘Simple plan, part two,” he said, deploying his APS. “Cut my way into Jaime’s cell...’
CHAPTER THIRTEEN: Bad Guys Multiply, But One Might Turn...
...and with that essay on Deep Flanking open, he got nowhere in a big hurry.
A man entered the pub, looked around, and spotted Ambros. The fellow tipped his cap—a baseball cap with some amorphous left-ish symbolism where a team logo might ordinarily be—and nodded knowingly at Ambros.
Ambros’ hackles rose immediately, and his instincts started yelling at him: ‘Cop! Cop!’
The man nodded at him again. He groaned internally: ‘Another interruption...? Well, I am in a public place.’
He reminded himself that he’d got a lot done already, in the times between interactions: ‘New Pismo says...twenty pages, approximately 8000 words. Really? Excellent!’
He looked away, but kept the man in sight peripherally. He could see the man buying a pair of whiskies, and beginning to weave among the tables in his direction. He looked over his shoulder, confirming that his bug-out route remained clear.
He heard the sound of two shot glasses hitting the table; he looked back and found the man standing in front of him, left hand on the back of the facing chair. Ambros sent a mental command to his laptop: ‘Record this encounter’. It beeped quietly, acknowledging the command.
“Ambros Rothakis? Hector Miller,” the fellow said, holding out his hand: “Friends call me ‘Heck’.”
“Mr Miller,” said Ambros, pointedly, shaking the proffered hand.
“May I sit down? I bought you a Jameson’s...” Miller pushed the shot across the table towards Ambros.
Ambros shrugged: “I’ll accept that. Sit down. Do you have some business with me?” He did not touch the glass.
“I thought you might be interested in a project I’m developing...”
CHAPTER ELEVEN: ...But Not Insane
Ambros woke in his tent in the swamp. He sat up, stretching, and rolled his shoulders. He crawled out of bed.
He stood and did an abbreviated set of stretches and calisthenics, then sat on top of his sleeping bag. He assumed the position he called ‘quarter-lotus’, which was an excellent passive stretch for his legs and hips.
As he stretched, he pondered: “I was never able to reach the Full Lotus position, however hard I tried...”
He tried it again, and, somewhat to his surprise, achieved the goal: “Ahhhh!” he cried out, briefly in intense agony. He had to use his hands to pull the upper leg off of his thigh before he could unwind himself.
He sat a while, stunned: “Okay,” he said: “I’ve been exercising and stretching a lot more lately...it’s not just something I do for myself. Now it’s part of my job...”
He sat nodding, adding up all of the little changes that he’d noticed over the past five months.
‘It’s not just that I’m exercising and stretching,’ he thought: ‘The Combat Medical treatments I’ve been getting are having more and more effects as time goes on. Each treatment adds stuff, and the effects are cumulative.’
He realized what that was leading up to: “I’m not Superman, and I won’t ever be...but with that armor, that tech…”
He shook his head, dismissing the disturbing train of thought. “Enough fantasies. I got work to do.”
He knew he was putting off an important insight: “Who cares?’
He tapped his MPS alight and looked over the Calendars, separating and merging them and thinking about all of the things he had to do. A quick check showed him the time in the Commonwealth: “First bell plus fifty leptae...forty-five minutes past 7:30 AM...eight fifteen USIT time. I slept in.”
Ambros dropped in to his preferred spot in New York state, in US Imperial Line Six: at the bottom of the ridge near the former town of Peekskill. He was in his Commando armor, with all the weapons and gear the combat belt carried. He looked around, worrying.
‘Lots of snow,’ he thought: ‘It’s more than head-high in places.’ He walked between high banks of snow, where folks had shoveled and hauled it. The walls on either side alternated between layers of pure white, slowly compressed into ice at the bottom, and other strata of smoky gray. ‘Snow is normal for early December hereabouts. But this much? I don’t think so. It’ll only get worse as the year comes to an end...’ The sky was grey and threatening, the air very chilly: ‘Tech Guilds predict no summer for this Line, for at least the next year. Oh well.’
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Ambros dropped in to the War Room. He walked around the room, slowly. He listened for a bit to the person or group of people operating each machine, and asked each one a question, when it was possible.
He reached the Main Board, staffed that day by Megalos’ relief, BWG Magistri Ka’ikani. She asked: “You do this whenever you drop in now, huh?”
He shrugged: “I oughta get to know these machines, right?”
“I won’t take RNA about this, I want to save my capacity for histories and languages. I also don’t want to obsess about it. So I figure I’ll just pay attention, and learn a little every time.” He gestured at her board: “Alf Kappa Phou: what’s that?”
She raised an eyebrow: “Apoklismo Kronenskeeno Fasísitika.”
He frowned: “We’re somehow blockading the Nazi Timelines?”
“Keeping them from ‘seeing’ some fairly helpless low-tech Lines ‘nearby’.” She used handsigns to put air quotes on some words, to indicate their approximate nature.
He nodded: “Thanks...”
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CHAPTER EIGHT: Confrontations; Ambros and Skavo; Vandalism
Ambros looked around as he entered the bar: ‘The one place in Eugene that has this gluten-free so-called ‘beer’ on tap, and it has to be a sports bar?’ No matter which direction you looked, you aimed at a big-screen TV. Most of them showed a hockey game.
‘Fortunately, hockey doesn’t really hold my attention very well. Still, not how I’d prefer to spend the evening.’
He’d arranged to meet the Chief of Police at that joint, because he didn’t want to be drinking hard liquor while being interrogated.
He got a drink and tasted it; it seemed vaguely beer-like. He picked up a glass and served himself some ice water, then picked out a table. He sat with his back to a wall; the rear exit was behind and to his right, down a short hallway.
The Chief came in as he was sitting down. Chief Black had stringy brown hair and a bald spot, with a comb-over. At eight in the evening he had a Nixon-level case of five o’clock shadow. His uniform looked rumpled from a hard day’s police work.
The top cop ordered a shot of rye whiskey and hammered it back, then got another, a double. He approached Ambros looking grim and sarcastic.
“Mr Rothakis,” he said, sneering a little. “Or, should I say Mr Scharffen?”
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CHAPTER SEVEN: A Series of Lessons, Subtle and Not
They strolled down the hallway, hands brushing against one another’s sides and backs. The big towels that they’d wrapped around themselves fell away as they reached the door: “This one,” Voukli said, breathing a little harder: “Come in...”
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Ambros walked along the berm next to the south branch of the ‘Amazon Canal’, which in reality was a ditch. Amazon Creek had its headwaters in the southeast hills of Eugene; before the City dug the ditch, the Creek had passed through the south central part of town, resulting in flooding every winter.
“The Amazon Canal diverts water from Amazon Creek to Fern Ridge Reservoir, out near the Country Fair site.” He contemplated the geography; he nodded, continuing to speak aloud: “I guess it’s more accurate to say that the Fair is out near the Reservoir.” The ‘absolute location’ power that he had gained with his first RNA treatment in the Commonwealth kicked in, and he could see a three-d map of the area.
He held that image in his mind, and continued along the raised berm, seeking the best spot for his camp.
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It was quite a large and lively group of them who descended on Café Xenosenos later that day: Danilos and Ambros had initiated the gathering, to discuss their various educational and propaganda activities, in the Lines where they were or had been resident. Skavo arrived shortly after they did; Arrenji and Voukli appeared soon. Two other BWG reps had come along with Danilos. They stayed silent for most of the meeting, but they recorded everything, using laptops and flying cameras. The Postal Guild rep from the previous day’s meeting was there: Voukli introduced her as Magistri Prazini.
Ambros reflected on her name: ‘Prasina is the word ‘green’ as an adjective. I’m guessing Prazini is a nickname, from her eyes and hair.’ Prazini from
Postal had very bright green eyes and iridescent green hair.
“I’m not sure we have any dye in my Line that would create such an amazing hair color,” he said, smiling at her.
“We don’t have any dye that would do this, either. Nothing that would leave the hair unburned. I had a genetic modification.”
“Oh,” he said, taken aback.
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“Saturday practice, rattan swords and armor, fun and games...” he murmured.
The essay had nearly written itself. ‘Often happens when I’m on a rant,’ he thought. ‘Now I need to edit it so as not to insult anyone unnecessarily.’
He pulled into the parking lot at a city park in nearby Springfield. He stepped out and stretched, groaning. ‘I always knew that staying in shape after age fifty was going to mean a lot of sore muscles and aching joints. Even with Commonwealth medical science that’s true, apparently.’ He knew, though, that he was in better shape than a fifty plus year old man should expect to be.
He looked around, wondering at the greater activity at this practice, compared to previous one he’d attended. The high overcast lit the scene in muted colors, save for the bright heraldry on some of the combatant’s shields and surcotes.
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Ambros left Seventh Avenue at the end of the pavement and hiked along the raised berm next to the canal: “This northern fork of the so-called ‘Amazon’ ain’t much. Just a glorified drainage ditch.’ It was straight as an arrow and not landscaped at all.
He knew that the southern branch, on the other side of 11th Avenue, was more winding and scenic and ‘wild’. The bike trail wound along that part of the ditch. He’d even seen river otters in there.
He walked very slowly up to the edge of the encampment. He stood quietly, his hands deliberately shoved deep into his coat pockets. He carried a beat-up rucksack that he’d got from Jerry Mallory. It was breezy and there was a mist in the air.
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Ambros Shifted into his usual drop-in spot in Veneta. He slipped the Shifter, which resembled a hockey puck in size and color, into the left thigh pocket of his cargo pants. He began to walk.
Veneta, Oregon is a small town about twenty miles west of Eugene. Ambros had been using a café in the town as a retreat for writing and research ever since he’d become a citizen of the Commonwealth. That, and he’d had to spend time spying on the local populace in the weeks leading up to the Mainstage Operation.
As it happened, he was cogitating on that sequence of events as he approached the café: ‘I suppose it wasn’t a coincidence that so many of the events of the past few months circled around the Country Fair site. It’s an obvious crossing spot for Timeline explorers. During the Fair even their oddest eccentricities are liable to go unnoticed. Or at least not remarked upon…Of course, I noticed. Hmmm.’
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Does this Prologue contain enough 'recap' to remind readers of the main events detailed in the previous book, and draw them in to the new one?
Prologue: November First, 2007: the Immediate Aftermath of the Events at Mainstage Meadow.
He rolled over, still mostly asleep. He stared befuddled at the ceiling: an unfamiliar ceiling, all gigantic wooden beams and smooth plaster. He had no idea where he was, nor the slightest recollection of how he’d got there.
‘What the hell…?’ For a moment he thought he was at an SCA event, the indoor sort, where a Viscount might rate a fancy room in an old hunting lodge or some such. His head throbbed, and he felt a little dizzy, as if from overindulgence in booze and not enough sleep. That certainly sounded SCAdian!
He looked to his left and saw a woman: not even half his age, blond and lovely, with a heart-shaped face, plump lips, and a bit of the roman in her nose. He thought: ‘What have you been up to, Carlo?’ He stopped, biting his lip.
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