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Mrs Nicholas (Clementine) Orenhauser-Crowell

Dromo Presvisa 27

Maroussi, Athens, Hellas

 

Mrs Clement (Irene) Orenhauser

97328 Chambers Road

Eugene, Oregon, USA

 

Dearest Mama,

 

I am sorry this reply is not as prompt as you are accustomed to receiving from me; Clement was sick with the flu last week, and the week before the Diplomatic community in Athens was in an uproar because of the tragic events in Germany in the previous week.

I am grieved to hear of Daddy’s illness. All of the family here in Athens send best wishes, and hope for his recovery.

Your letter rec’d on November the 8th is on my desk and I will endeavor to reply to your queries in order. I am, sad to say, unable to answer all of your questions: some answers I do not have, and others I may not give you.

I can tell you nothing of Uncle Richard’s location or movements, for the former reason. ‘Orenhauser’ seems to be an acceptable name among the Nazis—‘Aryan’ enough, whatever that means—and the Nazis are those he has been consorting with. Needless to say, he has not contacted us here, nor in Geneva. He is, as Daddy would say, “dead to me”.

He’ll be dead for real if Nicholas sees him wearing that uniform.

I am giving away no secrets to answer your second question. Nicholas estimates that war is indeed inevitable, perhaps as soon as next summer. The annexations of Austria and Czechoslovakia seemed calculated to bring the rest of Europe into conflict with the Reich. Nicholas thinks that Hitler’s next big move will be at either Switzerland or Poland, with Denmark as an outside chance. In any event, England and France seem unlikely to sit on their hands again.

And no, I have no idea what the Greek Government will do in the event of a Europe-wide war. I suspect that King Yeorgos (George, you would say) is leaning towards neutrality, but I don’t have any evidence for that.

If Nicholas knows, it is something he has chosen not to speak of.

We are all working on languages. I have become very accustomed to the Swiss version of French; Eleanor has become very fluent in Greek, and I can plug along in that language. No, I can’t actually read Greek with any fluency, but I can speak a bit and understand more.

Eleanor and I have taken up the study of German. I don’t like the language, but considering the circumstances, with the family spending so much time in Geneva, it is useful to understand the things people say in cafés and on the streets. At least a quarter of the conversations in Geneva are in German. That includes the Swiss version of German, which is...different, shall we say.

As for an escape plan, in the event of disaster: yes. We have several. I shan’t (for obvious reasons) detail any of them here. But whatever our plans, events are likely to make them redundant: “No plan survives contact with the enemy,” as Eleanor is wont to quote.

The near future? We are due in London before the New Year, as Nicholas has been placed on King George VI’s Honors List...yes, he is to be dubbed a knight. Please don’t make any fuss about that, I have already registered my objections. I can see why this is happening and I understand the reasons that Nicholas must accept. I sigh, but he is correct.

If you wish to visit us again, I think that after the New Year but before spring would be best. Then we will be here in Athens; I would not wish to see you in Geneva, with Nicholas’ predictions in mind.

I enclose more photographs of the family here in Athens, and one of Nicholas speaking on the floor of the Assembly of the League of Nations. Is he not an imposing figure?

We shall eagerly await news about your travel plans; give daddy a kiss for me, and let him know that we are fervently praying for his recovery.

 

All my love Mama,

Clementine

 

Eleanor snorted: “Praying? Fervently?”

“I know, sweetheart, but it’s the least she expects. And the least I can do, really: to white lie about it, since she’s become so devout lately.”

“Yes, I suppose that’s true. And it’s the easiest on us as a family, as well. Even if...” She trailed off, shaking her head.

“...Having become aware of the immensity of the Multiverse certainly puts all of Scripture into doubt,” added Clementine.

“Clem...that’s a bit understated.”

“All right, all of human Scripture is the insane maunderings of Bronze Age Nomads, or worse. But take care not to even hint at that opinion in public. Bad enough that your surname is a bit Jewish-sounding; let your Atheism be known, and we‘ll have no end of trouble.

“I know, I’d never let on.” Eleanor changed the subject: “Has Nicholas spoken to you about travel plans?”

Clementine shrugged: “We are wavering between ship and train. The train is winning out, what with our customary Christmas Eve party and all; we’d have to leave the day after Christmas to arrive in London on the 30th...and have Nicky’s birthday celebration on the train.”

“Hmm. There really is no way to be certain of arriving in time by boat, is there?”

“I’m afraid not. We’ll surely have a sleeper car on the train, though.”

“Oh, I know...but sex on shipboard just has a nostalgic feel for me.”

Clementine sat on Eleanor’s lap: “The letter I can post tomorrow...”

After several kisses Eleanor stood up, lifting Clementine off her feet.

“Ellie! What are you...oh. Oh!”

 

“Are you going through with this?” Clementine had made no secret of her dislike for the idea.

Nicholas made a face: “We’ve been over this. It would be out of character for the man I am pretending to be to refuse.” He grinned then: “It will give me a small advantage in future negotiations with the German ruling class, to be Sir Nicholas of England and not merely an Ambassador of the King of Greece.”

Eleanor said: “Yeorgos Basileos of Greece has no objection to this knighting, Clem. And it will be...”

“I know,” Clementine interrupted: “I promise to behave when we are called into the King’s presence... but it’s 1938, for goodness’ sake. What does it mean to be made a knight in this day and age?”

A fellow in the uniform of the King’s Own Guards stepped to Nicholas’ side: “Mr Crowell, His Majesty will see you now.”

Nicholas offered his arm to Clementine, who took it gracefully, and they entered the small but elaborately appointed room where George VI held court.

“Your Majesty,” said the guard, in a stentorian voice: “Mr Nicholas Crowell, with Mrs Crowell, and Miss Eleanor Greenlaw.”

“We command them to approach Us.”

Clementine nodded to the King as they approached; Eleanor sketched a quick and graceful curtsy, as she was a subject of the Crown.

When Nicholas knelt before the King, Clementine felt a thrill, unwilling though she was to curtsy or bow before a monarch. She stood still, her hand on Nicholas’ shoulder as the two men spoke to one another.

“Mr...erm.” The King consulted a card handed to him by his assistant: “Mr Nicholas Crowell, of Hellas: We are right well pleased with your service to Us, and to all of Europe, in your role as our cousin of Greece’s Ambassador to the League of Nations. In recognition of this, and in hope of encouraging your continued service in the cause of peace, We are minded to admit you to an honorary membership in the Order of the British Empire as a Knight Commander of that Order.”

“As I am sure Your Majesty is aware, I am a citizen of Hellas. My first duty is to the government of his Majesty George II of Greece. That said...”

The King spoke then, smoothly entering the opening that Nicholas had left him: “We understand fully. You are, however, also a British citizen...I believe?”

“I am, Majesty.”

“As an honorary Knight of Our realm, you would not be meant to swear fealty to Us, and neither We, nor any successor, would ever ask you to compromise your loyalty to Our cousin.” The King reached to his right, taking an ornate sword from a sheath held by a lackey: “Will you then accept this honor from Our hand?”

Nicholas said: “I will, Your Majesty”

“Will you now swear to be a good and true Knight, from this day forward, until death take you or the world end?”

“I swear it.”

“Then I dub thee Sir Nicholas, Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire.” said the King, laying the sword on Nicholas’ shoulder. His Majesty winked at Clementine as he set the sword on the other shoulder—Clementine moved her hand in time for the sword to touch—and then on Nicholas’ head.

The King returned the sword to its sheath, then laid an elaborate sash over Nicholas’ right shoulder.

“Rise Sir Nicholas,” said the King: “Rise and go with God, and may your labors be fruitful, and your life happy.”

“I thank Your Majesty,” Nicholas bowed as he stepped backwards towards the door. A servant bowed to Nicholas as the family exited the room, and then followed them out.

“Here, Sir, is your honor,’ he said, handing Nicholas a document calligraphed and illuminated on parchment.

Nicholas glanced at it briefly and  said: “Oh, thank you.”

“We must get back to the hotel, and prepare for tonight’s Ball,” said Clementine.

“And you must read those cables from Geneva,” said Eleanor: “One of them is flagged as from Herr Oster.”

“Gods above and below,” muttered Nicholas. He turned and spoke to the servant: “Thank you for your service in seeing that I got this...” He waved the parchment absently, already worried by the news.

The servant bowed at their retreating backs, as Clementine smiled over her shoulder at him. She noted his stunned expression, and briefly regretted such levity: ‘It is not fair to unleash that much sexual energy at a boy...a boy who surely has no way to process it.’ She put the incident out of mind, being as concerned to hear Oster’s report as the other two were.

 

“Where is Papa today?” Nicolette asked. At not-quite-six years old, she had the peremptory tone of her maternal grandmother, and a six-year-old’s insistence on knowing everything.

“I told you yesterday, sweetie, he had to go to Bern for a meeting.”

“Why?”

“Because the gentlemen and lady that he needed to meet could not come to Geneva.”

“Why couldn’t they?”

Eleanor intervened: “For grown-up reasons, dear.”

Nicolette’s expression made it plain that she did not think that a satisfactory answer: “You never tell me anything.”

“We tell you quite a lot, as you know.” Eleanor’s expression made plain her amusement: “What we don’t do is tell you everything; often because we don’t know the answers, sometimes because we judge you too young for some information.”

“Humph,” said Nicolette, knowing that answer for an evasion. She also knew that it was the end of the matter, for the time being.

“Eat your croissant, Nicky.” Clementine finished her own pastry, and then sipped at the tea: “Perfect,” she said. Three-year-old Clement gazed silently at his own brunch, frowning.

‘He is silent more often than not, not at all like Nicky,’ thought Clementine.

Eleanor said: “Our waiter is pointing at you, Clem.” She spoke in an off-hand way, not wanting to disturb the children, especially not Clement, who had finally begun to eat.

Clementine didn’t look behind herself: “Pointing me out to someone?” She opened her handbag and touched the handle of her Colt.

Eleanor nodded, just a bit: “To a man in a neat but out of fashion suit, with a very pink day cravat...and a badge, which he is displaying to said waiter.” She put her hand under the flap of the man’s suit jacket that she wore, finding the handle of her own revolver.

Clementine kept the pistol grip in hand, badge or no: ‘It’s a measure of how tense things have become in Geneva that I carry the thing about in daytime,’ she mused. ‘Let’s just see how things go...”

The gentleman made a wide turn, so that they could both see him as he approached.

He bowed slightly to Eleanor, as he would to a man; he bowed lower before Clementine: “I beg your pardon, Milady...are you Ambassador Sir Nicholas’ wife? Mrs Clementine Crowell?”

“I am, as you perfectly well know. And?”

“I am Anton Samuel; I am working with the City Police. If I may prevail upon you, I have an errand to dispatch. I will not detain you long, perhaps twenty minutes...If you will?”

She nodded, slowly: “You need my assistance, then? In what form?”

Mr Samuel glanced sidelong at the children; he drew out a small notebook and jotted something in it, then turned the note so she could see it; it read: ‘A body to identify, if you can.’

Clementine made sure that Eleanor had also seen the note, then rose: “Certainly, I will do what I can, since my husband is unavailable.”

She kissed the children, Nicky first, and left Eleanor to deal with them for the time being. She could hear Nicky’s questions and Eleanor’s replies as the policeman escorted her out of the café:

“Where is Momma going?”

“To the Police Station, I imagine.”

“Why?”

“That policeman wants her to look at something, and answer questions.”

“Why?”

“Because your father is in Bern, and your mother’s job is to...”

The sound faded away as they exited the café. A cab awaited them. 

They arrived at the central police station, a building made of white stone. After some formalities, which included establishing her identity beyond doubt, Samuel led her along a hallway to an elevator. They descended into the basement of the place. Samuel then escorted her into a frigid room with corpses on tables and a dignified medical examiner in charge.

That worthy led them to a table and drew back the sheet covering a woman’s body.

Clementine drew a deep breath and closed her eyes for a moment.

“Milady?” the policeman prompted.

She set aside her irritation at the title: ‘These circumstances are tragic, quite so; no need to make this officer’s day any more difficult.’

She swallowed. The scone she’d eaten a few minutes before went back down her throat.

“Yes, Officer. I recognize her, though I don’t know her name…her real name.”

“Ah,” he said, bowing his head: “Could you tell me how you knew her, and what you do know about her?”

She sighed. The policeman immediately took her arm: “Allow me to escort you to an office, Milady.”

“Please do.”

He led her back to the elevator. After going up several floors, they entered into a warm and welcoming room, apparently the office of a high-ranking police official. To her surprise, after seating her, her escort went around the desk and sat in the chair behind it.

The man’s shabby suit and extravagant cravat clashed with their surroundings. She sat up straighter, frowning a little: “To whom do I have the pleasure of speaking, sir?”

“I am with the SND. Pardon me: you would say Strategic Intelligence Service. I am…liaison. To the local police.”

“I see.”

“The deceased?” he asked.

“She introduced herself to me as ‘Marie’. She said she represented the FAUD in Germany. The anarchist labor union...”

The gentleman’s expression showed that he knew the organization. He spoke in German then, saying something like: “I will be dipped in mustard.”

She suppressed her reaction. ‘He must not have known she was in town. A serious lapse, for counterespionage…’

He said: “A passerby found her body in a drainage ditch near the river…”

“In the condition in which she now is?”

“Even so.”

Silence ensued. Clementine knew without further discussion that the Nazis had murdered ‘Marie’. ‘By the condition of the body, they took their time about it, too.’

“Milady…”

“Call me Madam Crowell, s’il vous plaît.”

He raised his chin, and an eyebrow: “Of course. Madam Crowell, you conceive I am sure that this is a bit of an embarrassment.”

“Of course.”

“Of course?”

“Certainly. You did not know that the anarchists of Germany had an operative in Geneva. Now you realize that the Nazis have an operative of whose identity you are unaware, and one with a distinctly sadistic streak. These revelations must be of great concern to you.”

“You deduced this? Of course you did. May I prevail upon you, madam…?”

“Sir?”

“I hope that you will be kind enough to not speak of this incident for the time being…”

She smiled sweetly, and devastatingly: “I will, of course, tell my husband. Miss Marie was an acquaintance of his, and....a source of intelligence.”

He sighed: “I must rely upon Sir Nicholas’ reputation as a close-mouthed man for my comfort. Fortunately…”

“Yes, he is that,” said Clementine. “May I return to my companion and our children? I have been away rather longer than you promised.”

“I will escort you back to the café myself.”

“That will do.”

She put her hand inside her handbag again, gently holding the pistol’s grip in her hand. As soon as she had sat down in the back seat, she drew the weapon out. She glanced at the driver, and checked all of the windows in succession. Finally she relaxed, just a bit.

Again, Mr Samuel raised an eyebrow: “I hope your husband has taught you to use that pistol properly. If you are going to be carrying it around in the City, I mean.”

“It’s best to make no assumptions, sir. My father taught me to handle arms, beginning when I was but six years old.”

“I beg your pardon...”

“You have it. Here is the café, sir. I need to take leave of you now. I must contact my husband as soon as may be.”

“Ah...Might I ask why?”

She shrugged: “It makes no difference now, but Miss Marie was meant to be meeting Nicholas in Bern...today, actually. I hope his other contacts have some news for him, and that between us we may find the thug who treated her so badly.”

 Samuel bowed his head: “I hope for the same outcome, Milady. Your pardon: Madam Crowell.”

She disembarked from the cab, and strode into the café: back straight and with a determined look upon her face.

 

Nicholas sat glowering, a shot of whiskey in hand. He held his mouth tightly, an expression that Clementine had come to know.

She smiled sadly: “Darling...if you feel that you shouldn’t say more...”

He shook his head: “It’s not that at all. Things are coming together in a very dangerous way.”

The sun was past its peak in the sky, and a breeze stirred the flowering shrubs around their patio. May had entered Athens with gentle weather and plenty of sun.

Nicholas grunted. He said: “I received a coded message from Herr Oster.”

“Your source in the Abwehr,” Clementine nodded.

“Yes. Apparently while the talks are going on to keep the peace with France and England, other, secret negotiations are occurring. Germany and the Soviets are, even now, negotiating a non-aggression pact.”

“The Nazis are publicly negotiating with the Russians,” said Clementine, frowning.

“Those talks were supposedly economic in nature,” said Eleanor.

Nicholas nodded: “Oster claims the other work is being done sub-rosa, hidden in plain sight by the economic negotiations.”

“Typical.” Eleanor had developed a distinct dislike of most diplomacy since she had come into close contact with diplomats.

“It is typical, sadly” said Nicholas. “Oster thinks the deadline is early September...and Poland is to be divided between Russia and Germany.”

“Hitler has been accusing the Poles of manufacturing mustard gas,” said Eleanor, nodding knowingly: “We ought to expect some sort of False Flag event in early September, I suppose.”

“That is very likely...” Nicholas trailed off.

He stood, tossed back the remaining liquor, and began to pace: “If this war begins, my prime mission in this Line is a complete failure. I suppose...”

“What?” Clementine asked.

“I ought to give some thought to how we can keep our family together. Since Clementine cannot easily Shift Lines.”

Clementine’s heart seemed to skip a beat, and she drew in her breath, briefly panicking. At last she said: “Do what you must, husband.”

“We will all do what we must,” said Eleanor.

“Yes,” said Nicholas.

Clementine’s expression mirrored his, bleak and pessimistic: ‘He hasn’t much hope,’ she thought, suppressing more panic: ‘I’ve seen the equations...it does not look good for us.’

She mused then on the likely outcomes of the seemingly inevitable war: “It is not much comfort to us, but our problems are but a small part of the horrors that will likely engulf all of Europe...”

“Small cold comfort indeed.” Nicholas shook his head: “But we must keep up pretenses, mustn’t we? No one else in the West knows about the talks between Ribbentrop and Molotov, so...”

“So we must pack as always and take the train to Geneva in August, as though the League of Nations will meet as usual.” Clementine rose. “In the meantime, Athens is lovely, and our children are at the guest house with my mother...”

Nicholas raised an eyebrow: “Then shall we live in the moment, while we yet may?”

“I vote yes,” said Eleanor, standing up and taking Clementine’s arm: “Give us half an hour, Nick; then you may come to our bedchamber. We’ll be very ready for you by then.”

He bowed and sat down, pulling out his watch: “I shall be as patient as possible.”

They swayed a bit as they strolled towards the patio doors.

 

Clementine flirted her way across the ballroom floor, her senses alert for the kind of conversation that would tell her something---anything---about the world of diplomacy, or the world without.

The Greek government hosted the Ball, in celebratory anticipation of the opening of the Assembly in a month. Geneva throbbed with the usual excitement, as ambassadors and bureaucrats and royalty from around the world arrived, more of them every day. Brunches and teas filled the days, and soirées of many sorts the evenings.

‘This Ball is ever so fancy,’ she thought, smoothing her skirt. The men all wore the usual tailcoats and white ties, or military dress uniforms; women competed to wear the most expensive (or revealing) gowns.

Miriam had made the gown she wore that evening: red silk, strapless and appearing to be always about to simply fall away from her bosom. ‘I would attract male attention if I wore a habit; in this gown there is hardly a man here who hasn’t looked at me with lust. A fair number of the women, as well.’

The men who approached her were mostly not useful to her; their talk was aimed at her body, planting seeds that they hoped would lead them to her bed at some future time. That they each and all knew her to be married, and with children, seemed to add spice to the flirtations, for many of the men.

‘It’s so tiresome, really...I must not show any sign of that.’ She finally found the spot she wanted, at the edge of the crowd around the Ambassador from Poland. She flirted idly with two gentlemen from Argentina, while most of her attention stayed on an exchange of views occurring behind her, between the Polish Ambassador and the wife of England’s representative.

Those two spoke in polyglot fashion, as was not unusual in Geneva. She understood the French, and had enough German to keep up with the subject at hand, which was (of course) German intentions toward Poland. Under cover of innocent small talk, the Ambassador gave the lady important intelligence on the subject, which he knew she would convey to her husband.

Neither of them apparently noticed her eavesdropping. Had they noticed, they’d know that she also would convey their words to her spouse.

She listened to that rather interesting conversation, and made polite listening noises to the gentlemen who held forth before her.

She saw her husband in conversation with George II, King of Greece.

She knew that the King had plans to take a train to Greece the next day, and she knew that he was due to meet with his military advisors very soon. In that, she sensed her husband’s hand on the tiller of the ship of state.

Nicholas made a small handsign near his watch pocket, letting her know that the conversation he engaged in was of interest to their family.

When the crowd moved and the conversations she had involved herself in ended, she made excuses to all who approached: “Pardon me, my husband calls...I beg you, speak to me about this at a later time...Sorry, I simply must...s’il vous plaîtDanke...”

She arrived at Nicholas’ side in time to hear the King say: “I insist; your services to Us warrant this title, and I will distrain you to the rank if need be.”

Nicholas bowed politely: “No need of that, Sire. I see the diplomatic necessity, and will accept your Majesty’s accolade.”

The King turned to his factotum, who stood but a step away, to one side and behind him: “You heard? Then see to it, please. When next We are in Athens and our Ambassador has joined us, We will make his lordship’s promotion official. Meantime, he is to enjoy all the privileges of his new rank...ah, Kyría Crowell! We will allow your husband to give you the news.”

“Um…” Nicholas hesitated. “His Majesty is elevating us to the Hellenic Peerage, my dear.”

“I see,” said Clementine, wry and sardonic. “Must I now become a subject of His Majesty of Greece, and abandon my American citizenship?”

“For Our part, no,” said the King. “Your title can be honorary...I know that American law forbids you such a title…” The King paused for Nicholas, who smoothly entered the gap:

“His Majesty has offered us a most excellent estate, in the countryside near Athens. In the mountains, and very defensible in a pinch…”

“I see…”

Nicholas could practically hear Clementine’s thoughts, as she calculated the necessities and the likely future of their family. “Very well. Someone should call Eleanor; the children ought by rights to be asleep by now.”

“Yes,” said Nicholas: “My assistant has gone to find the phone. I think she will have to go scout this property for us, since I---we---cannot leave Geneva at this juncture.”

“We certainly cannot.”

They paused, gazing at one another. They could hear George speaking to his assistant: “...set back the repairs at Castle Mystra by a month and put those funds to repairing the outer wall at Kírie Nikolai’s new estate...no, the times being what they are I will grant the land to him by allod...see that the papers for the transfer of title are packed with my on-voyage luggage, in the official valise...We will complete this Grant poste haste.”

The King turned to them: “You and your Lady wife are dismissed for the time being. Kírie Nikolai, see me tomorrow at ten, for a consultation about the German problem.”

“As Your Majesty desires,” said Nicholas, bowing and stepping away. Clementine bowed also, as a man would; she took Nicholas’ arm and they departed, entering the dance floor and joining the waltz in progress.

 

Nothing of global importance seemed to happen for the next week and a half: Nicholas took leave of Geneva, again, saying he had to go home to the Commonwealth and do some calculations. Clementine kissed him goodbye, lingeringly.

The children began lessons with their new tutor, a woman chosen by Nicholas and Clementine for her deep knowledge of obscure historical events, and her fluency in German.

“The children speak Greek, English, and French with great fluency, Clement astonishingly so for a three year old,” said Eleanor.

“When he deigns to speak at all,” rejoined Clementine.

Eleanor sighed: “Yes. And I suppose German is a good idea, with the world tipping the way it is.”

“Yes,” said Clementine: “And perhaps Italian, if the worst holds off long enough.”

Of course it did not. By the afternoon of August 30th, the tensions near the border between Germany and Poland had reached their tipping point.

That day Nicholas appeared from nowhere, in the dining room at the Geneva house.

Clementine looked up from her afternoon tea, a custom she had adopted from Nicholas and Eleanor’s example: “You have never dropped in to any of our domiciles in the past.”

“I didn’t want Paths marking our homes out for any other Saltarae to find. That doesn’t matter now…”

She sighed. She rose and embraced him, kissed him passionately, and asked: “How soon must we be packed?”

“No idea,” he muttered. “The League is unlikely to meet this year, nor in the foreseeable future, I expect. We may need to return to Hellas on a moment’s notice, or we may have plenty of time…”

“Well, we have emergency suitcases and even rucksacks packed, of course.” She pondered: “I’ll have Ysabet pack up anything extraneous of the children’s stuff.”

She led him to a seat: “What’s up?” she demanded.

He grimaced: “Using the equipment I have at my disposal in the Commonwealth, I’ve detected what I believe to be the false flag operation that will start the war...German soldiers in Polish uniforms are bivouacked all along the border. Ribbentrop and Molotov have signed their non-aggression pact, and Molotov left that meeting to go straight to Siberia. I believe he’s meeting the Japanese, to negotiate an end to their mutual hostilities.”

Clementine drew in a deep breath: “It starts tonight? Tomorrow?”

“Probably. Within a week, doubtless.” He looked around: “Eleanor?”

“We had a little spat, nothing serious. I believe she spent the night at your suite in the Hotel du Ville.”

“I’ll call. I want us together, tonight...”

“Of course.”

 

Nicholas started as the telephone in the parlour jangled. He glanced at the clock on the mantle: “Three AM. This has got to be it.”

He strode across the hall and picked up the handset: “Crowell.”

He stood nodding: “I understand. I’ll be at the Assembly by seven, and I’ll see you there.” He cradled the phone gently, though his fists were clenched and his expression desperate.

Clementine and Eleanor came out of the bedroom together, Eleanor in a smock-like top and men’s pajama trousers and Clementine in a nightgown. She wrapped a robe around herself as she ran to him: “Has it started?”

“I am afraid so, dear. SS troops staged a series of false flag events yesterday and last night, and the Panzerkorps are moving to the border as we speak. By the time I get to the Assembly Hall the invasion will have officially begun.”

“When will you return here, and must we be ready to leave Geneva today?” Eleanor asked.

“No hurry. The Swiss Government has already declared its neutrality, so we can wait and leave for Hellas at our leisure.”

“Oh, yes, I read that.” Eleanor took both of them by their arms: “Come to bed now, you too Nicholas. The call you feared has come, and there is no need to stay awake waiting for another.”

“Yes,” said Nicholas: “I will come to bed, and I’ll hope for sleep.”

“If none of us can sleep,” said Clementine: “Then other activities may occur to us.”

“I suppose they may. I will…”

“...do your best, I know,” said Eleanor. “Half of you is worth a half dozen lesser men, Nick.”

“Don’t think too much, not now.” said Clementine, taking his other arm: “You’ll do enough thinking later today.”

Between them they led him into the bedchamber.

 

Thirteen months followed: very busy months for Nicholas.

Busy, but depressing: between the many and various declarations of war by various countries upon one another, the declarations of neutrality, and the Axis’ rapid victories on many fronts, he was alternately overwhelmed with diplomatic paperwork and mired in melancholy.

“Why in world did Avenol ask for you in particular to aid in his rump administration?” Eleanor had little love for the Frenchman, and none at all for the tasks he assigned to Nicholas.

He shook his head: “I have no real idea. Perhaps because of rather than despite my criticisms of him on the floor of the Assembly before the outbreak of the war...I had no desire to be in Geneva for any part of 1940, and here it is October and I’m languishing here, as his Majesty seconded me to Avenol, while Greece lies under threat from Mussolini...” He shook his head.

“Nevertheless, my duties here in Geneva are coming to an end. The Palace des Nations is pretty well mothballed, the records of the League are thoroughly secured...and Avenol is due to step down and cede his meaningless position to the Irishman.”

“So it’s back to Athens, soon?” asked Clementine.

“I’ve asked the Secretary General for leave to resign my post...I would guess we could travel by the twenty-third of October at the latest.”

“A week, then.”

“Can we be ready?” asked Nicholas.

Clementine shrugged: “In a pinch we could depart tonight. We’d leave a great pile of our possessions behind, but all the papers and documents, plus sufficient clothing and emergency food, are packed and stacked ready for flight. We could carry the really crucial stuff on our backs, and walk to Athens, if need be.”

“I hope it won’t come to that,” said Nicholas.

Eleanor interceded: “We are prepared for the contingency. I will see to it that everything else is dealt with. Ysabet and Angelos will assist me: you two should concentrate on diplomacy.”

“Agreed,” said Nicholas. “You should both know: the Greek government’s...discussions...with the Italians are not going well. And there are a lot of Italian troops in the south of Albania, a far larger force than would be needed to hold the countryside.”

The women glanced at one another. “Frying pans and fires, as they say,” said Clementine.

“How in hell are we going to get back to Greece, anyway?” asked Eleanor. “If Italy is threatening to invade Hellas, and Germany owns the whole of northern Europe...”

“Two possibilities,’ said Nicholas: “We might ride the train across Vichy to Marseille, and take ship from there to Piraeus. Or we might fly...”

“Dangerous options, each of them.” Clementine bit her lips, worrying. “How well would our diplomatic status protect us?”

“On the train, completely. At sea? A Greek ship is still a neutral one, but Germany has shown some lack of regard for that status...in the air, we’d not be safe at all. It would be by far the fastest way home, though.”

They sat, not looking at one another, each buried deep in thought. They all looked up at once, and began to speak all together: “I think...” “We should go...” “...We must leave now!”

Nicholas rose, and drew them into his embrace: “Yes. We each think and feel the same way, therefore it is the right thing to do. I will arrange the train tickets, Eleanor...”

“I will supervise the final packing and Angelos will do what must be done for our security...”

Clementine said: “I will get Ysabet and the children ready and call for the motorcar...”

“Nicholas, I will want cash,” said Eleanor.

“Yes, of course: be as generous as you feel you should be with the rest of the staff.” He strode to the safe in the corner, spun the dial through its combination, and stared for a moment at the contents. After contemplating the near future, he grabbed two large stacks of banknotes, of all sorts: francs and marks and dollars and pounds. He stuffed those wads of cash into his pockets and abandoned the rest. He left the safe open as he headed for the telephone.

 

Clementine fell to her knees: “Oh, my that feels so good!”

Eleanor raised her back up: “Dry land, or at least a dock...we were definitely at sea too long.”

Nicholas came into sight, rolling their small pile of luggage on a cart. The children were riding atop the luggage, Nicky smiling and Clement frowning. Nicholas said: “Sir Michael Palairet has a car waiting for us. Ah, here’s his man...”

A uniformed figure appeared out of the mist and seized the luggage cart from Nicholas. Nicolette leaped down from her perch and Nicholas lifted Clement off with a sweep of his arm: “Let’s go. Sir Michael has news...”

Angelos looked at the car; he made a handsign to Nicholas, who nodded. Angelos jogged away, evidently taking a direct route home.

The Sir Michael's valet loaded their luggage and the chauffer opened doors and assisted the travelers with their burdens. Soon they’d joined the British Ambassador in the rather crowded passenger compartment of his car.

Palairet knocked on the glass; the driver rolled it down a bit.

“The scenic route, Walter. I must update Lord Nicholas on the situation.”

“Understood, Sir.” The glass sealed them in again.

“How much have you heard of the situation at the moment?” Sir Michael spoke in a terse fashion, worrying at his necktie.

“I know that the damned Italians attacked Hellas last fall,” said Nicholas: “We have been on the road for six months, old man, for a trip that would normally take a couple weeks at most.”

“We heard you were on the way. We feared that we’d lost you, you know.”

“You very nearly did, several times over. A month on the train line, most of which we were forced to walk, because of the bombings...then once we got aboard ship...”

Clementine said: “We steamed in circles, and back and forth across the Mediterranean several times. If it wasn’t one thing it was another!”

“U-boats?” Sir Michael asked.

Nicholas said: “Yes, among other things. Bad weather, a nasty fracas with some pirates, and stuck in various ports in North Africa, while the crew scrounged up fuel...The Nazis and Italians have looted far too much of the coal and diesel normally available...it was a nightmare.”

By that time, Nicolette and Clement had fallen deeply asleep, one on each side of Eleanor. Nicholas glanced at them, judged them safely unconscious, and said: “All right, old friend: what’s the real situation?”

Sir Michael leaned back in his seat, sighing: “October 28th last, the Italian army attacked via Albania. Our intelligence suggests that Benito expected the Bulgarians to join in, which would have spread the Greek Army pretty thin...Bulgaria never budged, though, so the Greek resistance was pretty stout. Then the King moved most of the reserves into the northwest, around Epirus, and counterattacked. A British expeditionary Force helped out there, but it was mostly your military that did the dirty work.”

“Amazing,” said Nicholas.

“Greeks got a big chunk of Albania. They didn’t get to Vlore, though, more’s the pity.

“They could have re-supplied by ship, if they had,” said Clementine.

Sir Michael raised an eyebrow: “Indeed.”

“When did the Germans get involved?”

“So far as I can tell, old Adolf didn’t want to mess around in the southern Balkans at all. He was quite happy sitting on the oil fields in Romania, which are crucial to his plans. Then Benito invades Greece, the Brits join in, and he has a potential British presence on his right flank.”

“An irritation, at least.” Clementine had her eyes closed, visualizing a map of the area.

“I can imagine. He’s a madman, you know. I watched him ranting like a maniac at Chancellor Schushnigg in Vienna...”

Clementine interceded: “How mad is he, really? He’s been extremely successful so far...militarily, I mean.”

Palairet frowned: “Your friend Herr Oster...”

Nicholas frowned: “...yes?”

“When he couldn’t reach you, he sent a message to me...he thinks the Fuhrer is contemplating an invasion of Russia.”

Clementine’s eyes opened very wide: “That would be...utterly mad.”

“Barking mad, I should say,” said Nicholas.

A moment of silence ensued. Then Sir Michael continued: “So, with the Germans lining up to attack Greece so as to save their ally Mussolini, old Benito sent in everything he could spare. I guess he hoped to move the Greek lines back a bit, to save his own face. The old bastard was there himself, you know, supervising the attack. Didn’t work. After two weeks of fighting, the Italians have backed off a bit...”

“And that’s where we are now,” said Nicholas, nodding.

“More or less. The Nazis are coming, though, sooner rather than later.” Sir Michael knocked on the window again, three times, rapidly. The limousine abruptly sped up and moved through the streets towards home.

zzambrosius_02: (Default)
  Nicholas staggered into the kitchen of the old inn, rain dripping from every place from which rain could drip, and stood in the corner by the fire. Clementine got up, put the sleeping child in her improvised bed, and began to build up the fire. He used the bootjack to remove his boots; the soaking wet stockings came off along with them.

One look at her husband and she knew that he’d once again been unsuccessful. He held out a rusted piece of iron; it might once have been a stirrup or bit, but it was not a cache of gold sovereigns.

“It really is too bad that your machines cannot distinguish between iron and gold,” she said, as she helped him out of his coverall.

“That is too true,” he agreed: “I know that our Tech Guild is working on such improvements, but I don’t think they have even a prototype as yet.”

“Ah, well. When I first discovered your technological advantage over other members of your profession, I assumed that your expeditions to collect artifacts would be easy and simple,” she smiled gently: “I was wrong. Obviously.”

He stripped off his woolen underclothes, and stood there nude, shivering. “You are not entirely wrong, love.”

She used an iron hook to rotate their wash water cauldron out of the fireplace and onto the stones of the hearth. She watched as he cleaned himself, sluicing away the mud and sweat of a day’s hard digging. She bit her lower lip, feeling her libido rise. She thought of having his sex in her mouth, of the feel of it coming into her...

She glanced over at the crib, and saw Nicolette stirring: ‘Naptime is almost past,’ she thought, postponing any actual lovemaking for the evening, after their daughter’s bedtime.

Eleanor entered the kitchen from the other direction, and shook out her furled umbrella over the sink: “I found some more jars of pickles and potted meat, and a few eggs, at a farm a mile or so away.” She opened her bag and deposited her gleanings on the table, smiling at Nicholas: “My, that’s one fine sight to see.”

He raised an eyebrow, glanced at the crib, then grinned: “Later, my loves.”

Eleanor’s eyes followed his, and she shrugged: “Later indeed.”

Nicholas finished his wash, then asked: “Do either of you need a wash?”

When they each said no, he lifted his clothing from the floor and deposited it in the wash kettle. He set to work, swishing and rinsing and wringing, and finished by hanging his clothes by the fire to dry.

 He went to the table, still nude, and held his arm over the jars one by one. Clementine knew that he had an unseen machine on his wrist, where an ordinary man might wear a watch; he removed two of the jars of meat and one of the eggs.

“These are questionable,” he said, going to the door. He set the jars outside the door, and threw the egg far into the gloaming, his muscles rippling.

Clementine found herself excited all the more, and tamped that feeling down: ‘For the nonce.’ she thought, a phrase she’d picked up from Eleanor.

Eleanor came back into the kitchen, bring pajama pants and a smoking jacket for Nicholas.

“Ah, thank you my dear,” he said, donning the clothes: “The child’s hour approaches.” He sat in the rocker, nodding and dozing, waiting for Nicolette to waken.

 

Three more fruitless days followed. On the afternoon of the fourth day, Clementine and Eleanor and Nicolette followed a muddy track through the nearby forest, Nicky clinging to Clementine’s hand and staring around in amazement.

The sun shone that day, and the wind blew warmer than it had since they’d arrived in that Line: ‘Fifth Plague Quiet Timeline,” Clementine thought. “I don’t think I even want to know the details, especially since Nicholas seems reluctant to speak of the subject.’

They heard their husband long before they saw him. He sang a work song of some kind, in that odd version of Greek that she and Eleanor were slowly learning. Eventually, following the sound, they came upon him.

The hole he stood in seemed to be but knee-deep, but it was close against the bole of a large oak tree. Nicholas wielded an axe two-handed, and chips flew madly about with every stroke. He had stripped to the waist, and sweat matted the thick hair that covered his upper body. He didn’t notice them, standing well away, near the edge of the clearing.

“Ah ha!” he cried: “Gotcha, you foul twisted rootlet!” He knelt in the mud and yanked. A piece of root about two feet long came out of the hole; he set it aside and dug beneath where it had been.

He pulled up a handful of mud, and shook it away from his body. Then he saw the three of them, and smiled: “Hello, my loves,” he said, grinning in triumph: “Look here!”

He picked up his water bottle from the ground beside the hole, uncorked it with his teeth and rinsed the handful of mud away, revealing the gleam of gold. Nicolette hopped up and down saying: “Papa! Papa!” He held the coins up, one by one, examining both sides of each. His grin grew wider.

“Good news, I take it,” said Eleanor.

“Good news indeed! We can now pack up and take leave of this place, go home and live in a civilized way again.”

Clementine sighed: “I’ll be glad of that, I admit. Even if we soon must travel again, to Geneva.”

Nicholas sighed and his expression turned calculating: “...indeed.”

Eleanor spoke: “You should tell him, now.”

“I expect he knows.”

Nicholas sat down at the edge of his excavation, his boots in the hole, and looked them over: “Oh, yes, of course. Nicky is twenty-eight months old, and weaned some two months ago. And you…”

Clementine tipped her head to one side: “...we are with child again, husband. You had a deal to do with that.”

He guffawed, then stood and made his escape from the muck in the bottom of the pit. He donned his shirt, buttoning it slowly, and then gathered axe and spade and coins and strode towards them.

He embraced Clementine and she turned her face up for a kiss. “You smell of sweat and leather and mud,” she said.

“And what do you propose to do about that?”

She tipped her head flirtatiously: “It is time for lunch, and then for Nicky’s nap...”

His smile came slowly: “At your service, Kyría.”

 

In Geneva:

 

Clementine sipped her tea. She watched Eleanor reading her mail, and sighed happily.

They sat at a table in a café not far from the Palais des Nations. Nicky smeared cheese over her face; at least some of it got into her mouth.

Eleanor growled.

Clementine looked up from cleaning her daughter’s face and raised an eyebrow, a bit alarmed.

Eleanor noticed: “Nothing to be worried about, sweetheart. Just a letter from my brother’s lawyer...”

“Oh, gods, are they still on about that?”

“I am afraid so. I shall have to re-iterate my position yet again, I suppose.”

Clementine sighed less happily: “Back to the Hotel du Ville, then. Is Nicholas due back from the meeting?”

“He is, but I should be surprised if he’s been let go yet.” Eleanor signaled the waiter, and signed the check, putting Nicholas’ name and position below her signature.

They strolled along the Grand Rue, Nicolette between them, grasping their hands tightly. ‘Not a very grand street, for all its name,’ thought Clementine: ‘...and very barren, not a tree or a park in sight, at least along this stretch.’

They arrived at the Hotel. Nicholas had leased a suite on the ground floor, for convenience’s sake; when Clementine asked at the desk for the key, the concierge informed her that Nicholas had indeed returned: “Your husband brought two gentlemen and a lady with him; they went in about an hour ago.”

“Thank you.”

She led the way along the pillared arcade, and entered the suite through the bedroom. By then Nicky had begun to fuss, so Clementine soothed and rocked her to sleep.

Eleanor appeared at the door of the chamber, and gestured for Clementine to come. She rose and gently laid the toddler down, then entered the main room, leaving the door ajar.

She found Nicholas in his accustomed seat in the center of the long side of the dining room table. Eleanor sat to his left; Clementine moved gracefully to sit at his right.

The three strangers sat at the other side of the table. The men wore suits, in the style of a year or so before, and the woman (who sat between them) had dressed as a soldier, save that her uniform bore no insignia or other identifying marks.

Nicholas gestured to his left: “This is Herr Oster, who has inside information about the German military. The lady is...”

The lady interrupted: “Call me Maria. I represent FAUD.”

“The anarcho-syndicalist trade union?” Eleanor asked wryly.

“Indeed.”

“And you?” Clementine asked.

The man sitting to the right said stiffly: “You may call me Konstantin. I represent the German Communist Party.”

“The home party or the exiles?” Eleanor inquired, clearly amused.

“I currently reside in Prague,” said Konstantin, uncomfortably.

Nicholas chortled: “He’s staying in Prague for now, too. However, he, and these other two as well, have agreed to supply me with information about what’s actually going on in Germany.”

Eleanor nodded: “Since the German withdrawal from the League, your contacts in their Foreign Service are harder to reach.”

Konstantin handed each of the women a newspaper, entitled “News From Germany” and bearing the KPD’s logo: “We have a good network in the unions, even in Maria’s.” He glanced sidelong at her; she sneered.

Konstantin continued, unruffled: “We intend to continue to publish, as long as possible, articles about the real situation in Germany.”

“And Herr Oster? I take it he’s in the German military, in spite of his civilian clothes.” Clementine smiled at him, a devastatingly brilliant smile, calculated to bring a man to his knees.

“I am,” said Oster, barely reacting to her smile: “I am a colonel in the Abwehr. ‘Military Intelligence’ you would say.”

Everyone sat silent, the other two Germans looking incredibly uncomfortable.

Finally ‘Maria’ said: “Why are you here?”

Oster took a deep breath: “There are many officers in the German military who are leery of the Nazis. I am one of them, and I am working with others. For my part I loathe Adolf Hitler, and have been hoping for his demise.”

“But what have you done about it?” Maria sneered again.

Herr Oster did not rise to the bait: “I have done what I can. For now, I am providing information to Mr Crowell here. I believe him to be a sincere advocate for peace. I, and many of the officers I am in contact with, believe that if Germany begins a war in Europe, that we are bound to lose. The Abwehr will work to prevent any such war from beginning.”

Another silence ensued. They read the various reports that their guests had provided, with Nicholas occasionally making notes in the margins.

Finally Nicholas said: “Gentlemen, madam: I have introduced my wife and our companion to you so that you will know them, and they you. If necessary you may pass papers or microfilm to them, and feel certain that it will reach me. In a pinch, you may confide in them...I rely upon you to do so in no way that draws the attention of the Nazis to them.”

Oster nodded: “But better not to contact them, lest they come under suspicion of having such secrets to hide.”

“Exactly.” Nicholas frowned: “How do we arrange your departure?”

“I will leave first,” Oster said: “I will examine the lobby and the streets hereabouts for surveillance. Whatever I find, I will ring this room from the lobby: one ring for ‘all’s clear’ and two for ‘prepare to evade tails’.” Oster’s English was very precise, and he enunciated each word very carefully, almost prissily.

‘I don’t think he’d be so prissy in a fight,’ thought Clementine.

“Very well. Let’s have a drink, then you can go.” Nicholas signed to Angelos, who poured the drinks.

‘He knows what each of them likes,’ thought Clementine: ‘They noticed that...should give them pause for thought.’

She drew a deep breath and sorted mentally through subjects suitable for talk, under such circumstances. She said: “How are preparations for the Olympics going, Mr. Oster?”

 

Deep beneath a Quiet Paris:

 

“Place Denfert-Rochereau,” said Clementine, staring at the street sign: “Is this not our destination?”

“It is. Are you certain you want to continue, my love?” Nicholas was doubtful.

“Don’t deny me a chance for some adventure, Nicholas. Soon I shall be too great with child to go with you upon these expeditions.” She patted her belly, now slightly swollen. “Besides, I never visited the Catacombs when Ellie and I were in Paris. She didn’t want to go, thinking them too...morbid, I suppose one would say.”

They stood in the street while Nicholas used his machinery to scout the way. Clementine could see the building that housed the entrance to the tunnels below; it stood just adjacent to a church or something, built of white limestone.

The entrance lay within a building painted all over with a greenish paint, so dark as to verge upon black. Broken glass windows gaped in the front and sides of the squat construction, and the door hung by its lower hinge, at an angle to the doorway. Both buildings had ivy and clematis coverings, the roofs invisible within mats of vegetation. Weeds grew through every crack in the pavements around them, and many houses lay collapsed and buried in bramble and fallen trees.

Nicholas gestured to her: “This will get us where I need to go...there are no collapsed ceilings or undermined floors between here and our goal, so it should be a mere walk in the park.”

She made a face: “If your park includes very steep stairways and human remains stacked like cordwood on all sides, then yes.” Their previous attempts to reach the crypt Nicholas sought had been unpleasant.

“You may wait here if you wish,” he reminded her: “I, however, must proceed. I promised that manuscript to Professor Terrou, and I’d not enjoy the interview if I failed to bring it back to him.”

She followed warily, stepping each time in his footprints. She held the hem of his jacket, keeping him to a slow pace: “This works better,” she said: “We raise far less dust at this speed, and we are not in a hurry.”

“I suppose not,” he said, slowing.

They reached the bottom of the stairs, and walked along through ankle-deep dust for a few paces. She sneezed, and Nicholas coughed.

“I’ve had enough of this,” he said. He picked up a handful of the offending filth and touched it to his Shifter. He made signs with his hands while speaking words in his own tongue, Rational Hellenic. The majority of the dust vanished, with a hissing sound like a snake or possum.

She smiled, relieved: “Where did you send it?”

“Just to the streets above us.” He shrugged: “I will send it back when we are through with our errand.”

“Really? Why, I wonder…”

“Ah, well...there is little chance of multiplying Timelines while we are working in a Quiet Line like this one, but there is no sense taking chances, either. Even small changes made in a Line like this can bleed over into more populous parts of the Multiverse. I am here to purloin a long-lost copy of Aristotle’s Treatise on Comedy. I needn’t leave any tracks behind, or any clues to a future archaeologist...doubtless one descended from gerbils or raccoons, there being few other semi-sentient creatures wandering about the wilderness.”

She forbore to ask what occurrences had left this particular Line Quiet. Nicholas’ explanations of the disasters that had afflicted the other places he’d taken her…

‘They leave me,, very often, depressed and hopeless.’ She followed him along the passage, gazing with awe at the hundreds, no, thousands of skeletons that lined the hall: each in a niche in the wall, often with scraps of rich clothing or the remains of bibles or other books laid upon their sternums. She spotted one such niche, with tiny bones and children’s toys within: two skulls, the earthly remains of twins, perhaps, and not more than ten years old…

She sobbed, caught her breath, turned her back, brushed away her tears: ‘I know that such things happen…’

The vision haunted her as they walked on, descending several stairwells into deeper darkness. Nicholas shone a torch about.

‘I am no longer surprised by the machines and tools that my husband has, or I oughtn’t be. That is a very bright light, though.’

At length he stopped before a larger than normal niche. The body within, if one still lay there, was within a stone sarcophagus, the lid cracked and tipped on end.

“Damnation,” Nicholas said, mildly. “I hope this doesn’t mean that someone beat me to this…”

“Oh, my…”

He lifted the remains of the cover off of the coffin and laid them carefully aside. He leaned into the niche, and said, triumphantly: “It’s here!”

“Oh, good!”

He moved backwards, carefully: “It is very fragile.” He set it on the floor and sat down beside it. “I must determine whether it is complete, or not.”

He turned it carefully over, and opened the back cover, careful to do no harm to the binding. He lifted the back page free of its neighbor, just enough to read whatever might be inscribed upon it: “Finis!”

“It is complete, then?”

“It is. We can go home now, but slowly and carefully, for this is a treasure indeed.” He put the book into a padded box that he’d carried in a bag at his side, and they began the walk back to ground level.

 A trip to Istanbul, not Constantinople

Nicholas stood on the back patio of the house in Athens. He sniffed the air, heavy with rain and redolent with the odor of mold and leaves returning to the soil. Eleanor opened the French doors and came out of the house onto the patio.

She wore men’s trousers and a safari coat, tailored to fit her body. On her belt she carried a pistol, a match for the one that Nicholas carried, a large caliber Smith and Wesson. Overall, she wore a light cloth coat, which hid the pistol from casual sight. She had a small knapsack, and a steel canteen.

“Clementine decided not to come along? I can’t blame her…” Nicholas fretted.

“This second pregnancy is being harder on her than the first. She’s been ten percent larger than she was when carrying Nicky, at every stage.”

Nicholas nodded: “I am sure it is exhausting. Do you have the camera I gave you? We must bring back pictures of our trip, at the least.”

“I have it,” said Eleanor: “Let’s get going, I want to scout that museum before suppertime.”

“Step close…”

They dropped into a cul-de-sac off a main street in Istanbul; it was late afternoon there. Nicholas led the way out of the narrow lane he’d Saltated them into. They strolled around the streets, taking in the sights and shooting photographs of the various buildings and landmarks. The ruins of the Blachernae Palace stood here and there, mostly built over since 1453. They stopped to take photos of the remains of the walls, only visible from what used to be the courtyard.

Nicholas took Eleanor’s arm and led her round about; her sense of distance and direction had improved since she’d begun to travel; she realized that they’d circled round the building that sat tightly against the ruined wall.

“There,” he said.

Eleanor replied: “That building?”

Nicholas nodded: “Look, a café there across the plaza. Let us have an early lunch, and then I will take steps to see what sort of obstacles lie in our path.”

“I am amenable.”

The waiter came and went, and a light meal arrived. They ate companionably, seeming to those watching them more like siblings than lovers. Few people could clearly see them, of course: they had requested a table in the darkest of corners.

She caught him looking at her, and smiled a little: “I see that look.”

“And what does it say to you?”

She laughed: “You wonder about my feelings for you. We haven’t spoken of this, for the reason that we didn’t want to test each other too hard. Until now...”

“Shall we then test each other, now? Shall we ask and answer, and face the hard facts forthrightly?”

“It seems as good a time as any. So...” She paused, examining him; knowing a courageous man when she saw one, she spoke frankly: “I have never been fond of the embraces of men.”

He nodded: “But during your year in Europe, with Clementine, you...”

“I rode many...not all, but many...of her lovers to the climax of my own pleasure.” She narrowed her eyes, studying him closely: “None of them were more to me than ambulatory dildos.”

Nicholas laughed, appreciating the image. Eleanor nodded, satisfied.

“I don’t doubt that I too was nothing more to you, at first anyway.”

“For the first four nights of our tryst, certainly. Things began to change when I saw how devoted Clem was becoming to you.”

“She enjoyed my lovemaking, that is surely true...” Nicholas mused.

“She more than enjoyed it. What impressed me was how manfully you labored to ensure her pleasure. That, sir, is a great deal of the reason that she fell in love with you.”

“I appreciate...”

“I am not finished...” She waited a moment and then said: “Clem is a very self-aware woman, for somebody her age. She knows very well that her submissive tendencies, when having sex, come from the pressures that her parents put upon her. She had to be, always, the ‘good little girl’, the perfect student, the ideal debutant. At every minute of every day. She accomplished all of that, but at a cost.”

“And that cost was?”

“She dominated her peers, being more intelligent and physically developed than any of them. Her teachers, her father, and especially her mother, all demanded that she be perfect. She dominated each situation that the adults in her life put her into, by attaining that perfection, or at least a simulacrum of it.”

‘I think I see where you are going...”

“I’m sure you do. When Clem and I fell into bed together...”

Nicholas waited.

In a moment, Eleanor continued: “It was such a relief to her that I could accept her submission, as utter and complete as it was, and yet not judge her. She and I are peers, Nick. The way I dominate our sex life does not carry over into the rest of our relationship.”

“I had noticed.”

“I never doubted that you had. And I dominate you as well, when the three of us are in bed together...that also does not carry over into the rest of our life together.”

After a thoughtful silence, Nicholas said: “If, as it seems, you are warning me not to let my sexual dominance of Clem carry over into our life...our shared life, with you in it as an equal...”

She raised her chin, that smooth, short motion that meant ‘yes’ in Greece. She sipped the remains of her tea: “We can let it go at that, then.”

“Very well. And thank you.”

“For?”

“For calling me Nick.”

She said: “You’re welcome. Now, about this little burglary we are going to engage in: explain to me what, how, and why.”

“Very well...the Byzantine Museum in Athens has, as one of its prize collections, a set of coins comprising nearly all of the Emperors of Constantinople.”

“I take it that the ‘nearly’ is the key to our goal.”

“It is. The Museo will pay, I am told, ten thousand pounds to the finder of any one of the missing coins, and a hundred thousand bonus to anyone who can complete their collection. As a result of researches I have done in my own Timeline and others, I have reason to believe that at least some of the byzants that Athens lacks were, at one time at least, in a deep subterranean room of Blachernae Palace...one of the oldest treasuries of the Emperors. Long forgotten, but maybe still there.

“I have another reason, non mercenary, for my desire to find these coins...”

“I am all ears.”

“I hope to find a coin of Leo the First, who is allegedly a distant ancestor of my family.

“That building,” he gestured, “shares a part of its basement wall with the room I believe holds our quarry.

“If we can get into the basement, we ought to have no trouble reaching the room I want to visit, clandestinely. No trouble other than a wall of heavy stones, that is.”

“You have a technological solution to the wall, I assume.”

“You’d call it technological, I suppose. I would call it brute force; a plasma sword is (or can be) an elegant weapon, but it can also shear though a stone wall fairly easily.”

“I’ll take your word for it. And I guess I’ll see it in action, soon enough.”

“Tonight, if I can find a way in this afternoon.” He drew forth from a pocket a small cube of bakelite, or so it seemed to be.

Eleanor watched with interest as Nicholas manipulated the cube. He glanced casually over his shoulders, one side and then the other, and then began unfolding the cube until he had a flat surface about ten inches square, and a tenth of an inch thick, if that.

He touched his left wrist to the corner of the bakelite square and a three-dimensional map of the building in question arose from the plastic.

She watched, fascinated, as he made arcane hand signs at the invisible machine upon his wrist. The room they sought to access lit up, and the room in the basement of the nearby building also. “Excellent!” he said. He made more gestures and then removed a small item from his pocket.

“Looks a bit like one of those pyramidal dice that certain nomad tribes play with,” said Eleanor.

“It is a homing device,” said Nicholas. He reached beneath the table they were sitting at; Eleanor heard the device snap as it attached itself to the bottom of the tabletop.

“When you are ready, we may continue our tour of the City.”

 

“This way,” Nicholas whispered. After Saltating into the café—well after midnight but nowhere near dawn—he’d led Eleanor down a flight of stairs in the rear of the building. They passed in near silence along a narrow tunnel that went under the plaza and toward their goal.

The passage was smelly and stuffy, and Eleanor found herself short of breath. Nicholas coughed, and said: “Bad air down here. Put this over your face, love.”

She did as he commanded; the tissue-thin cloth clung to her nose and mouth, terrifying her for a moment.

“Is that better?”

She breathed deeply, finding that was indeed: “Yes...”

They clambered over obstacles and avoided one pit in the floor. Nicholas wielded a torch of some sort, which mostly barely lit their way. She knew it could shine with an unnatural brightness, if such were needed.

“We’ll have to climb up, here,” he said, doing so. She followed, glad of his hand and the strength in his shoulders as he aided her.

“Is this it?” she asked, as they faced a wall of rough-cut blocks.

“Should be,” he said: “Stand right here, if you please.” He set the torch up as a lantern and drew out of his coat pocket an object, something like a runner’s baton, but smoothed into curves and appearing to have odd controls built in.

She stared in fascination as he moved those controls: a slide, a switch, and a turn of the base, like using a doorknob.

A “sword blade” appeared, a shining black blade that hurt her eyes to look at. He took a step back and slashed carefully at the wall in front of him, so that the mortar hissed and cried, and cracked and melted. He then used his Shifter to remove two of the stones, creating an opening in the wall.

Nicholas lifted the lamp and peered through: “I see gold, and other lovely things,” he said, stepping through the broken wall: “Beware, some bits are still hot...”

She followed him into the treasury, her heart pounding.

He stepped carefully, avoiding areas of the floor where centuries of dust mounded over objects fallen long ago from the shelves around the walls.

She watched him as he explored those shelves, and the piles upon the floor, a manic grin upon his face. He made notes in an ordinary sketchbook, marking where each stack of coins lay, and the dates and mint marks on the coins, where visible.

When he had documented the entire site, he carefully sifted through several of the heaps of ancient money, pulling several byzants out and pocketing them.

He held one up, showing her: “Leo!” he said in a triumphant whisper.

She leaned down: “So he is.”

He sighed: “I could spend months here, examining each of these coins...perhaps someday I shall. But now, we’d best be gone. I must replace the stones and disguise our temporary doorway.

She stood aside again as he manipulated invisible fields projected by his machinery.

He stood back, looking critically at he wall: “Considering that this room is very seldom visited, and never well-lit...that will do.” He gestured her close to him and said: “Back to our hotel!”

He Shifted them.

zzambrosius_02: (Default)
you may want to read or re-read this first: https://zzambrosius-02.dreamwidth.org/67433.html

Mrs Nicholas (Clementine) Orenhauser-Crowell

Dromo Presvisa 27

Maroussi, Athens, Hellas

 

Mrs Clement (Irene) Orenhauser

97328 Chambers Road

Eugene, Oregon, USA

 

Dearest Mama,

 

I am quite well, thank you very much; I hope you are the same, and Daddy also. Eleanor sends her love, and my husband Nicholas his regards.

I will endeavor to answer the questions in the order that you asked them in your letter, rec’d here yesterday, the 4th of May 1934.

You may come to visit your granddaughter at your leisure; Nicolette is just over four months old, and healthy as any baby I’ve ever met. Nicholas has commissioned a guesthouse to be constructed on our property, near the main residence. It should be habitable by July 1st, so any arrival after that time will be quite suitable.

You have calculated correctly: I was with child at the time of my marriage. What of that? Nicolette’s fortunes will be what they will be; the world is an uncertain place. Nonetheless, by our marriage Nicholas has acknowledged his paternity, and he has no lack of wealth. I am in mourning black, from your news of Grandmama’s death, but the fact that the family chequebook is now in Daddy’s hands causes me not the slightest trepidation. Need I say more?

As for the circumstances of Nicholas’ birth and family, those are not yet clear to me. Eleanor and I will doubtless have a ‘showdown’ with him soon (as Daddy would say). I trust my husband implicitly. He is, as you know, a diplomat, and parts of that business he might be required by the Greek Government to hold close. He makes a good deal of his income from the trade in antiquities, which means that he has sources and sites that he will not reveal to anyone. It is no great wonder, therefore, that he is close-mouthed about his affairs.

The photographs that you saw of the wedding reception, as published in the London Times, I have not myself seen. Among the things I do know about Nicholas is that he attended Oxford. I find it unsurprising that London gossips would find his marriage newsworthy.

The gentleman you inquired about was acting as Best Man for Nicholas; his name is Mr Mikaelos Atheninos, and I know not much more than that about him. And (as far as I could tell) it was a real sword.

Nicholas’ age...he is, according to his Greek documents, forty-five years old. He appears to be that. He has confessed that he is actually somewhat older, how much so I do not yet know. Whatever his age he is very vigorous, in all of the ways that matter to a young wife. Does that satisfy your curiosity? I could provide more details, but I don’t suppose I will.

I have enclosed several photographs taken of our family by Nicholas’ man Angelos. He has a good eye for composition, does he not?

Give Daddy my love, and do please let us know your travel plans, so that our chauffeur Stavros can meet you at Piraeus.

 

All my love,

Clementine

 

“Sassy,” said Eleanor, handing the letter back: “I never noticed you being so tart around your mother.”

Clementine smiled sweetly, moving Nicolette from one breast to the other: “I am in a new and different position now. She can no longer dominate me.”

Eleanor nodded, looking on mother and child with affection: “You are your own person now, a ‘wife and mother’. Your husband…”

“Our husband, sweetheart,” Clementine interrupted.

“Our husband,” Eleanor accepted the correction: “Nicholas seems perfectly capable of supporting us in a manner at least as luxurious as that to which you were accustomed.”

“Indeed. I suspect that he has sources of wealth that he has not yet revealed to us. We will need to have that ‘showdown’ pretty soon, don’t you think?”

“Forthwith,” Eleanor said, nodding. “I have arranged for us to confront him on the subject on Friday, when he returns from his latest trip.”

“Ahead of me, as always, love. Well, I’d best get this letter into its envelope…”

Angelos appeared in the doorway of the nursery, bowing slightly. Eleanor grinned mischievously. They exchanged some handsigns. Eleanor had quickly picked up the rudiments of the sign language that Nicholas and his servant used between themselves; Clementine had only begun: ‘Ellie is so much better at languages… she is already speaking Greek as fluently as I do French.’

Eleanor said: “Thank you, Angelos. The afternoon post is delayed, Clemmy. Angelos is going into town in a few minutes, and will post the letter for you at the main Post Office.”  

 “That’s excellent,” said Clementine. She finished addressing the envelope and placed the letter and some photos into it. She sealed it with Nicholas’ stamp, smiling a little as she did so.

Angelos took the letter, bowed slightly, and vanished.

“He acts that part so very well, Clem. Don’t you think?”

Clem nodded: “Exceptionally well. I wonder who he really is, and where he is from?”

Eleanor shrugged: “Nicky is asleep. You should be, too.”

“Yes. I’ll nod off here in a moment. Unless…”

“If you are amenable, our bedchamber awaits.”

“For you, my love, always…”

 

“Suppose,” said Clementine acerbically: “Suppose that we do indeed need to know the details of your life: your true age, where your money comes from, where you are from, originally…

Eleanor took up the narrative: “...and how it is that you come and go so mysteriously.”

Nicholas sighed: “Yes. Suppose we assume that. I have been reticent…”

Clementine interrupted: “That will not stand any longer. I will not stand for it, any longer.” Nicolette, as though sensing the tension in the room, began to fuss. Clementine rocked her, murmuring endearments.

Nicholas looked at Clementine, peeved: “I was saying: I have been reticent because the truth is, in the context of this Timeline, entirely unbelievable. And the only way to make you believe it is to tell all, and show all, and that ‘all’ is likely to be more than a little bit upsetting. Nevertheless, you are correct, the time has come.”

“First, my true age. I am, as of last Friday, one hundred and sixty years old.”

He waited. The women glanced at one another, and then stared at him.

He stepped behind his desk: “You do not protest? Does this not seem incredible to you?”

Clementine smiled, very slightly but very wryly: “Well, you had to be at least eighty…”

He returned the smile, wider but no less wry: “Did I really?”

“Of course,” said Eleanor: “Recall, I am an attorney. I have a number of detectives among my circle of associates.

“So, you attended Oxford, by your own admission. The date of your matriculation you always avoided saying, but I found it out. You completed the program in History there in 1875, at the apparent age of, oh, perhaps twenty-five.”

“You breezed through your undergraduate studies in a fashion that made even your most conservative professors doubt your youth and seeming inexperience,” said Clementine: “We have been extremely suspicious since we read your thesis. It has more than a few clues to indicate that there is something exceedingly strange about you…”

Eleanor agreed: “All of the ‘alternative outcomes’ that you wrote about…”

Nicholas shrugged: “Well, if you will accept my true age without, as the saying goes, batting an eye, I suppose…” He waved his hands in a peculiar way, almost like a stage conjuror, and his entire desktop lit up.

Both women sat bolt upright, and Clementine gasped.

The flat surface, the typewriter, the other items on the desk: all vanished. In their place, a three-dimensional image of Athens, but a very peculiar Athens, appeared.

“You asked several times about the black boxes that sit at the corners of this desk, and I evaded your questions. This is one of their functions: a holographic generator, tied to my home…’country’ by arcane means. Arcane, that is, by the standards of this Timeline.”

“You used that word twice already,” said Eleanor, warily: “Do you really mean to say…?”

“Yes. Other versions of reality do indeed exist. I am a native of one of them: ‘The Hellenic Commonwealth and Polity’ is the name of my home ‘country’, in a Timeline commonly referred to as ‘Commonwealth Prime’.”

After a moment, Nicholas said: “I see that I have indeed impressed you. Come, look closely at this version of Athens: Athino, as we call it.”

They marveled at the detail visible, especially when Nicholas moved the point of view closer to show them various buildings: “A large part of the city was reconstructed by our ancestors, beginning early in the Thirteenth Century, as this Timeline measures things.”

“At the time of the Fourth Crusade, then?” Eleanor asked.

“Indeed; that war was the precipitating factor in splitting off the Commonwealth Line from the Timeline that led to this world.”

“Continue,” said Clementine, her skepticism returning.

Nicholas heard the caution in her voice. He said: “I understand your reluctance to believe. I have prepared a demonstration that will banish your doubts forever.”

Eleanor glanced at Clementine, then turned to Nicholas with narrowed eyes: “What preparations should we make?”

“None are necessary, beyond perhaps fetching some sunhats. Miriam will keep a close eye on our daughter, and we will not be away from home for very long.”

“Shall we meet out front?” Clementine asked.

“No,” said Nicholas: “On the back patio will be better, I think.”

“If we need sunhats, then we likely also need sturdier footwear,” said Eleanor, taking Clementine by the arm: “Let us prepare ourselves…?”

“For a short journey,” said Nicholas, smiling knowingly.

 

They gathered at the appointed place less than a quarter-hour later.

Nicholas had strapped a pistol to his waist, beneath his coat. In addition, he had an object in his hand: something cylindrical, not very large, and matte black like the machinery on his desk.

He opened wide his arms, and said: “Come close to me, my loves; the machine we will use has a limited range…”

When they had snuggled up to him, he said: “This item we call a Shifter. It will take us to another world…Keenafthono!”

Before Clementine or Eleanor could protest or comment at all, as if the strange word had been an abracadabra, the world around them changed dramatically. Eleanor drew her breath in, audibly, and Clementine cried out, as they each suffered a slight dizziness. Clementine clung to Nicholas, gasping, until her vertigo passed.

They stood on a hill above the City of Athino. It was recognizably Athens, but clearly not their home.

“We can’t stay here long,” said Nicholas: “Your mere presence is slightly destabilizing to the this area of the Multiverse.”

“Why?” Eleanor tipped her head to one side, staring. “Look, Clem, that’s the Temple of Zeus. And the Parthenon, and the…”

“Those buildings were never contemporaneous in your Line,” said Nicholas.

“I know,” said Eleanor: “That large building, north of the Acropolis...I don’t recognize it.”

“The Library of Athens.” Nicholas twitched and shook his head: “We must go. I wanted you to see this, so you’d know that the display in my Library is not an illusion. But I’m getting nervous…draw close, ladies.”

They stood very close together again, and Nicholas held the Shifter between them.

 

Clementine opened her eyes, letting the dizziness wash away. She found herself in a darkened space, sitting down, with Eleanor’s hand on her shoulder.

“Are you all right?” Eleanor asked, concerned.

“I think so. What happened?”

“You fainted, my love. Nicholas has gone for some water.”

“Oh.” After a moment, she said: “You know, when I despaired over the places we hadn’t traveled to yet, thinking my pregnancy would put our Grand Tour to an end...”

Eleanor shrugged: “I said I expected that we would still travel a good bit, especially since you were marrying a diplomat and archaeologist...but I had no idea we would travel to places such as this.”

Nicholas came in through a doorway at the far end of a long hall and strode to them, a canteen in hand.

“Oh, thank you, darling. I don’t know what came over me.”

“I do,” said Nicholas, reluctantly: “Some people react very poorly to the sort of inter-Timeline travel we’ve been doing. You are evidently one of those people.”

“Oh. What is to be done?”

He shrugged: “We are here now, so I think we should explore the area, as I’d intended. Then, when you are sufficiently recovered, we will Saltate back to our own patio. That should be easier on you, for a couple of reasons.”

“Really?” Eleanor asked: “What reasons?”

“Well, first she will be returning to her own Home Line. That almost always...resolves any destabilization in the Multiverse and in the person affected. And, since the Commonwealth Line is not involved, our final Jump today will not be anywhere nearly as dizzying.”

“I will take your word for that,” said Clementine, essaying to stand. “I should like to know where we are, and why you brought us here, to this particular place.”

Eleanor helped Clementine to her feet. Nicholas took her arm and assisted her along the hallway.

“We are in Mesopotamia, in a Quiet Line. I brought you here so that you could see how I gather the artifacts that established my first fortune in your Home Line.”

“What does it mean, a ‘Quiet Line’?”

He sighed: “It is a Line where all, or nearly all life is extinct.”

He led them up some stone stairs and into a plaza outside the temple where they had sheltered. The wind screamed across the desolate landscape, an empty plain of rocks and sand.

Clementine shuddered. Somehow she could feel the truth of Nicholas’ statement: “There really is nothing alive…”

“Very little, anywhere on this version of the earth,” said Nicholas. “Some bacteria, mostly shed from my skin and clothing, and strange animals that live on the ocean floor, far from land.”

“And you come to this horrible place why? To gather artifacts?”

“Yes,” he said: “I have found that museums and wealthy collectors will pay high prices for well-preserved pieces. Here, no one has looted, or bombed, or damaged anything since the fall of the First Persian Empire, in 330 BC. Follow me, please.”

He led them round about and eventually into a hall similar to the one they’d dropped into. “Since I’m here,” he said, “I will pick up a couple of things I set aside on my last visit.”

He opened a stone casket about the size of a jewelry box and pulled a couple of stone statues out. He stood the sculptures on top of the box and said: “Viola!”

Each piece stood about ten inches high, and showed a woman, nude to the waist, arms raised, with writhing snakes in each hand.

“One almost never finds these with their serpents intact, in most Lines. In this Line, a global disaster brought everything to a standstill, shortly after the fall of Persia.”

“The nature of that disaster?” Eleanor stared at him, impassively.

He said, after a moment’s hesitation: “A plague, one that had a truly devastating effect upon most living things. The nature of that plague would be hard to explain without a long lecture about the chemical nature of heredity, which your Line has not yet discovered.”

The women looked at one another, puzzled.

“The chemical nature of heredity…” Eleanor mused. “Hmm.”

“Indeed,” said Nicholas: “Hmm.”

Clementine frowned: “Can we go home now? I am feeling...sad, and fearful.”

Nicholas drew out his Shifter: “We can start home immediately.” He set two small cones, each about the size of a votive candle to either side of the statuettes. He then did something with the Shifter, eyeballing it and making arcane signs at it. The two little statues vanished with a puff of dust and a muffled pop. The cones went along, seemingly.

He gathered the two of them in an embrace: “I am going to separate the geographic and Timeline Shifts, for the sake of Clem. First we’ll Jump to Athens in this Line, and then directly from there to our own. Ready...?”

“Ready.”  “I am.”

Nicholas Shifted them.

 

“Home again,” said Clementine.

Miriam met them as they entered the house from the back patio; Clementine took the baby and cradled her as they climbed the curving staircase to the Library. It struck Eleanor that Miriam had been not at all surprised to see them suddenly on the patio: ‘It implies that she is in on Nicholas’ odd means of travel...’

When Nicolette yelled, Clementine opened her dress and put the child to nurse.

Eleanor went to the liquor cabinet, poured a glass of sherry for Clementine, and a shot of scotch for herself. She regarded Nicholas critically.

At length she asked: “Why are you here?” Before he could speak she said: “I am not asking a rhetorical question, nor a philosophical one.”

“I understand. My...my ‘job’ here, among others, is to prevent, if possible…” He had a distant look in his eyes, as though he were not really seeing them: “...if at all possible, this Timeline’s likely descent into worldwide war, and perhaps it becoming Quiet.”

Clementine’s eyes went quite wide: “Is that likely, really?”

Nicholas shook himself, and went to sit by her side on the sofa: “It is always possible; this fellow Hitler…he makes things much more precarious.”

“He is such an idiot…” Eleanor began: “...such an evil, bigoted man.”

“Yes. But he is also the leader of a powerful nation, and one that has been persecuted by its neighbors. There is a great resentment among young and middle-aged Germans over the terms of the Treaty of Versailles…I’d have stopped the French from imposing the punitive clauses in the treaty, if I could have done. Since Germany and Japan withdrew from the League of Nations...”

Clementine nodded: “My father said, back when the Great War had newly ended, that the French were going to cause big trouble with their attitude.”

A silence ensued.

Eleanor said: “What are your other jobs?”

“Eh?”

“You said that peace in our Line is a job ‘among others’; I should like to know what the other jobs are.”

“Ah.” Nicholas walked round behind the desk and gestured above it, again as if conjuring: “Come here and look at this.”

They stood on either side of him, as the surface of the desk wavered and then showed a three-dimensional tangle of colored threads.

“It’s like a mad tapestry woven by blind surrealists,” said Eleanor.

Clementine snorted in amusement. She and Eleanor had gone to a Surrealist exhibition in Paris. Clementine found the works opaque and, in some cases, disturbing. Eleanor thought they were all quite amusing.

Nicholas said: “It represents the approximate state of the Multiverse in this particular...quadrant. Not the right word, actually, but the real situation is not amenable to linguistic description.” He waved a hand again: “Here are some of the mathematics.”

They stared for a while.

“Clem?” Eleanor touched her shoulder: “Are you well? ”

“Yes, I am...quite recovered. It’s just that, these equations, they are…” She shook her head: “Very outré. Bizarre!”

“Indeed.” Nicholas watched as she passed a hand over the Five-dimensional matrix, with its oddly laid-out numbers and letters. “Does this make any sense to you?”

“In some ways.”

“Clementine is good at mathematics,” said Eleanor: “Intuitively, even when dealing with new concepts.”

Clementine walked around the desk, stopping to look from different angles at the display. She pointed at one section of the three dimensional ‘tapestry’: “Timelines diverge, then? They split into two or more, each a little different?”

“Yes. Another of my tasks, that. To…”

“Yes of course,” Clementine interrupted: “You must keep things from going...madly, badly wrong!”

Nicholas smiled, wanly: “Yes. We seek to reduce human suffering, in all of the worlds. Timelines rarely diverge when things are going well…Even our enemies try not to multiply the Timelines unnecessarily.”

“Our enemies?” Eleanor asked.

“I will tell you all, bit by bit,” Nicholas grimaced: “But, yes: as this Line is dealing with the Axis and the threat of a catastrophic war, the Commonwealth and its relatives and allies among the Lines are fighting against an authoritarian threat.”

Eleanor frowned: “I see. So we will try to keep this Timeline whole, and at peace, and you will leave mysteriously for your own home Timeline when you must, for various reasons. But Clem and I...”

“...Can probably not visit there, I am afraid. I, however, must occasionally go there, to study what consequences have occurred as a result of my actions. I am mostly a benign presence here...”

Clementine frowned: “Except...Oh!” She pointed mutely at part of the displayed equations.

“Yes,” said Nicholas, amused: “Quantum rebatement, the techs call it. My presence in this Line is a potential disruption, though I have been cautious. I have not yet caused the Line to splinter…” He waved his hand across the insubstantial tapestry of colored threads: “...and oddly, your pregnancy and our marriage have settled that a bit. I’m a little more like a native of this Line, now.

Eleanor frowned: “I can see how that would work. Now let’s talk about what we are going to do about the uncertain and rather frightening situation this world...this Timeline...is in.”

Nicholas shrugged: “I have received this telegram,” he said, diffidently. “I am inclined to accept the offer.” He handed the flimsy sheet to Clementine.

She pursed her lips: “We should have to move to Geneva, at least part-time, if you are to be the Ambassador again.

“Indeed,” said Eleanor.

“I took the liberty, the last time I was there, of purchasing a large house on a small plot of land near the City.” Nicholas sighed: “The complexities of diplomacy in a Line like this, in a money economy enslaved to the idea of Exchange, are beyond daunting. But I have some experience, and I am a known quantity. The League of Nations will welcome my return, and I will be well-placed to do...whatever needs to be done. Whatever can be done”

Nicolette fussed; Clementine sat down and began to pat her back, eliciting a massive belch. Clementine cleaned up the mess; the baby’s eyes slowly closed, and she slept.

Clementine caught Eleanor’s eye, and they nodded simultaneously. Eleanor touched Nicholas’ shoulder and said, gently: “What is your real name, Nicholas?”

He drew in a deep breath, then said: “I will tell you, but I must warn you that there is some risk in it.”

Eleanor raised an eyebrow.

“Sometimes small things affect the Multiverse in unexpected ways,” he explained: “But I agree, I must tell you. I am Nikodemos ‘the Latest’ Athininos.” He absent-mindedly made the Commonwealth handsign that placed the scare quotes around his cognomen. Then he smiled: “Master in the Thinker’s Guild of Athino, Master in the Black Warrior Guild, Athens chapter, in the Hellenic Commonwealth, Master in the Sacred Band of the same Polis and Commonwealth; I am unranked in the Mathematics Deme, but I spend a lot of time there…” They watched as a very slight ripple, as it were a wave in a stream, passed over the tapestry upon the desk.

“Guild? Deme?” Clementine was amused and curious.

“Yes,” said Nicholas: “How do people who want no money and who bridle at the giving and taking of commands and the existence of vertical hierarchy actually organize a society?”

“Economics, politics, culture.” Eleanor narrowed her eyes: “How indeed?”

“Our ancestors organized around the three things that nearly everyone had: Polis, Guild, and Deme. Polis is where you live; everyone over the age of twelve is an equal citizen of the Polis they inhabit.

“Guilds organize the necessary labor of our society. Nearly everyone has at least one Guild affiliation; some people have several, or even many. The Demes organize—when any organization is seen to be necessary—the things that people do when they are not ‘at work’: hobbies, religion, political leanings…I could give you a book that explains the history of my Line, and sets these institutions in their natural habitat.”

“Please do that, and soon.” Clementine handed the baby to Eleanor, and then rose, more upright than usual with her chin held high: “If I am to be the Ambassador’s wife, I must look the part. I must be perfect in the role. I have preparations to make.”

“Indeed,” said Nicholas: “What do you conceive will be your role?”

Clementine smiled widely: “I must tread lightly, speak firmly, and hear everything that women say when there are no men about.” She turned thoughtful: “I must make myself immune to the cruelty of gossips, but hear all that they say.” She frowned: “I suppose I will be subjected to flirtation from men I have no interest in, and I must seem amenable, and mine such men for what information they may have.” She sighed: “I shall be the hostess, and the organizer of such afternoon teas and evening soirees as your post demands that you host…”

“No,” said Eleanor: “I shall be the organizer, and I shall make certain that every party goes off perfectly. I am best-suited to that job; you will not concern yourself.” She turned to Nicholas: “I will also hire, train and oversee the servants at our House in Geneva. You will not concern yourself with that. Angelos will come with you, of course. Stavros and Miriam will keep the house here.”

“There will be many details to work out…” mused Nicholas, unnecessarily.

“Yes,” said Clementine: “I shall want to know when the next session of the Assembly is due, and how soon we must travel...But right now I must consult with Miriam about dressmakers in Athens. I shall need more formal wear, and I’d best get at least some of it made before we travel…” She strode towards the Library door.

 

At a Dig in a Quiet Kent:

 

Nicolette toddled across the dusty floor at an astonishing speed, waving a stick of kindling and squealing wildly. Clementine scampered in pursuit of her daughter, puffing a little as she chased her down.

Eleanor worked assiduously at one corner of the room, digging with an old whisk-broom at the cinders and ashes that had accumulated there. “Men seem able to adapt to the most appalling levels of filth when they are in the throes of their occupations.”

Nicholas entered the kitchen, carrying an enormous armload of firewood, most of which he fed directly into the blaze in the fireplace. “Archaeologists rarely have the budget to bring a housekeeper along; as a solo archy, I have come to accept that I will live in somewhat vile conditions when I’m on a dig.” He grinned: “Wait till I start the real digging, and you see what becomes of my coveralls.”

Eleanor swept the rest of the small room speedily, with efficient strokes of the broom that left nothing at all on the varnished wooden planks of the floor: “Now that we are here, perhaps you’ll explain a bit more clearly what it is we are seeking.”

 “Yes,” said Clementine: “Why this place in particular?”

“The ‘King and Queen’ public house in East Malling, Kent,” said Nicholas, mischievously.

“Precisely.” Clementine gave up trying to restrain Nicolette. The child shrieked as she ran along, waving her arms enthusiastically. She fetched up against a table leg and stared at the grain of the wood, up close, for a few seconds. Then she sat down abruptly and began to gurgle: “Ma ma ma ma ma…”

The adults, who had watched as though hypnotized, returned to their conversation. Nicholas said: “We ought to visit this place in our own Line, one day. It’s really quite a nice little pub, with quite a history…”

“Yes, its history is undoubtedly the reason for our visit here in a Quiet Line.” Clementine had long ceased to be amused by her husband’s mysteries. “What I want to know is what exactly you—we—are here looking for.”

Nicholas brushed the bits of bark and fir needles and splinters from the front of his boiled-wool coat and said: “I am here to dig around the area near this pub to see if I can find some coins…”

“Go on,” said Clementine.

He shrugged: “The pub’s been here since 1537, in your Line’s calendar. The second publican died mysteriously, supposedly after stealing some coins from the church nearby...and if I can find those long lost coins, I know a collector who will pay handsomely for them.”

“What sort of coins?” Eleanor asked. “My father was a collector, and I have some interest in such things.”

“These would be English gold Sovereigns minted between April and June of 1483…” Nicholas waited to see if the ladies would get the reference.

Clementine frowned, seeming to calculate; then she sprang up and ran to catch Nicolette before she could get out through a hastily repaired, and hence not very secure, window. Nicolette protested such interference with a howl, but soon became distracted by some bugs crawling across the hearth.

Meanwhile Eleanor had slapped her knee and guffawed.

Nicholas said: “You were raised here in England, were you not?’

“I was; not too far from here, actually. Ha’ant yew ‘eard that in m’ accent? Y’awld dabster, and from some awld alleycumfee, too.”

Clementine stared in amazement: “Ellie! I never heard such expressions from you!”

“No, and you likely won’t again. English school drove that accent deep inside of me, and America nearly entirely buried my English accent, as well. Anyway, gold sovereigns minted in those months would be in the name of Edward V, he who was never crowned. Correct?”

“So it is said. In your Line there are a few museum pieces, all with very minor alterations from Edward IV’s coinage. The ones I’m seeking would have come from a then newly engraved die, with the boy king’s face instead of his father’s.”

“I see,” said Clementine: “You know...the very existence of such a coin says something about Richard III, don’t you think?”

“It would,” said Eleanor: “But what? The partisans of Henry VII will never admit any evidence, however convincing to you or me, that puts their narrative of the Wars of the Roses in doubt.”

“I suppose not…”

“Anyway, I’d best get upstairs and clean the bedchamber. I’ll call down to you when I’m ready to make the bed.”

“I’ll listen for your call.” Clementine blew Eleanor a kiss, then ran off after the child.

Nicholas settled down with drawings of the village as it was in 1500 and blueprints of the public house from the time of its most recent remodeling, 1901. He set a matte black disk on the floor and signed at it, producing a 3D image of the area as it existed presently, and whistled a tune. Then: “Anomalous metals,” he commanded: “Up to six ells deep.”

Clementine smiled, watching him work while rocking their daughter to sleep.

 

SARAYI

Sep. 1st, 2017 05:30 pm
zzambrosius_02: (Default)
1300 + words into the other project! A very productive day! 
zzambrosius_02: (Default)
It's gratifying when an entire incident, 1500+ words, falls out of my head onto the page. 

SARAYI

Aug. 1st, 2017 06:02 pm
zzambrosius_02: (Default)
I hadn't been writing much lately, July was "that" sort of month. Mosty read-throughs and notes and similar chores...Today I got going. Not the thing I thought I was going to write, the chapter is way out of sequence, but hey: that's what came to me. Plus, the best way I've found to get moving is to put the characters to work, get _them_ moving. So: Horses, weapons, armor, a routine patrol...an unexpected complication...and Saráyi gets a chance to show her quality. Four pages, 1363 words, and the chapter is parked facing downhill. A good day! 

NEW STORY!

Jul. 21st, 2017 11:24 am
zzambrosius_02: (Default)
 

Strange Times at the Oregon Country Fair

 

A short story by A.M.Brosius

 

They dropped in to the Fair site in the wild area near Daredevil Palace. With his Shifter still active, Ambros Rothakis could see hundreds of overlapped Traces, the spoor of Commonwealthers visiting the Fair over the years. He sent a mental command to the Shifter, shutting it down. It bore a distinct resemblance to a hockey puck, though it was fractionally lighter. He stowed it in a patch pocket on the front of his kilt.

He looked his companion over and thought: ‘It’s a Giant Ant, for all practical purposes. Oh, there are a lot of small differences...and big ones, too; like the Squid sticking out of the top of its head.’

He knew as well that the creature had an internal skeleton as well as its chitinous carapace. ‘...and the cyborg aspect, don’t forget that part. Most of its memory is in the mechanical-biological computer set in its thorax.’

Two metallic tentacles dangled from the silvery rectangular panel set into its carapace. Occasionally these waved around, often in sync with the antennae on the “Ant” part’s head.

‘The machine stores memory and works logically. The Squid feels emotion—exactly what sort is hard to say— and provides motivation. The actual Ant part is more or less a biological bicycle. And these three organisms have been a commensal and collective intelligence for at least several million years.’

He spoke aloud: “This is gonna be a riot. I hope not actually...”

“Rrrr-iot.” The Ant part rotated its head back and forth in that odd way they had: “Thisss isss ‘a metaphor’?

“Yes.” It was hard not to think of the thing as the Ant, even though the ant part was by far the least sentient of the three bits.

The Ant hissed again: “Ssss. For research purposes this-unit has submitted to this...” It rattled the chain attached to a collar around its “neck”.

“Yes,” said Ambros: “You want to know more about humans? This is one aspect of human society. A festival, where some societal norms are absent or reversed, as a contrast to ordinary life. The collar and chain will make you look like an ‘ambiance performer’ rather than a dangerous and unpredictable alien life-form.”

“This-unit is intensely curious. Let us proceed.”

Ambros led the way out of the drop-in site, careful to disturb the vegetation as little as possible. The Ant seemed to understand that: it stepped as carefully as he did. As they approached the edge of the path, the Squid part of the organism shrank to an alarmingly small size, all of its tentacles tucked within itself and its cowl drawn down almost within the Ant’s carapace.

They appeared out of the shrubbery without any warning to the crowd. As people became aware of them a hush fell over the area.

‘That’s an almost eerie thing,’ thought Ambros: ‘It’s never really quiet anywhere on the Fair site during the day.’

His companion’s head swiveled back and forth and its antennae waved and twitched as it sampled the air and listened to the sounds of far-off voices and music. It took up almost the whole of the Upper River Loop as it moved across a narrow bridge and up a slope towards the Eight. Ambros stopped their progress as soon as he got to a wide enough spot on the path.

The crowd nearby was focused to a person on the spectacle of a bearded, longhaired, top-knotted man in a psychedelic kilt, white cloth belt, and long open vest crocheted out of fine white yarn, leading an eight-foot-tall Giant Ant on a chain.

The Ant rose onto its rear legs and waved the front ones about: “Hello humans. Z-z-t.”

The crowd exploded in cheers and applause. The Ant slowly settled back onto all sixes and squatted to the ground.

Ambros grinned and led the Ant onward through the tree-shaded paths and into a larger open space along the edge of the Eight.

The crowd followed; they gathered round, inching closer bit by bit.

A woman in a fairy dress with a feathery wand asked: “Is that a puppet? I mean, an...an automaton? Or is there a person inside it?”

“That’s a good question,” Ambros replied, truthfully. He continued in the same vein: “It’s a person, of sorts.”

“What’s its name?” asked a little boy of six or so.

Ambros pursed his lips: ‘It calls itself ‘This-Unit’ most of the time. I usually call it ‘You-Unit’, but I sometimes call it Bruce just for fun.”

“May we call it Bruce?” asked a girl, about the same age as the boy.

“Ask it.”

The girl reached out tentatively and touched the Ant’s palps: “May we call you Bruce?”

The Ant rose up a little, so that its front legs were free of the ground, and said: “This is satisfactory.” It leaned forward and let its palps range over the girl’s face, which caused her to laugh. After a moment, its mandibles spread wide and clicked, locked in the open position. Ambros sighed, relieved.

The other kids giggled. More children gathered around, since there seemed to be no danger. Parents hung back, allowing the kids room for exploration.

The Ant turned its head towards Ambros: “This is immature human? Of which sort?”

“Ask.”

“I’m a girl, obviously!” the child preempted.

“That is not obvious to...sssBruce-unit.”

Ambros stared at the Ant, astonished: “You never called yourself  Bruce.”

“Immature human asked ‘May we’. Immature humans may.”

“Children,” said Ambros: “Or kids, more informally.”

“Data filed. Children. Kids. Girls...”

“And boys. Sometimes, though rarely, both or neither. When in doubt wait for the child to say.”

“Understood. Humans are fascinating.”

“I know,” said Ambros: “After all, that’s why you are here. Look about you...”

The creature swiveled its head: “Thezzse humans in zzshelters...” It waved its front legs

“Booths,” said Ambros, understanding what the Ant found puzzling.

“Booths...these they have in the Commonwealth, yesss? For distribution of goods and foodstuffs, this-unit recalls.”

“Indeed. Like a Thenoma Plataeo in the Commmonwealth, this festival functions as a craft fair, in part. This is a money economy, though. Things work differently as a result. Do you see how?”

“Mmzzss. We do. Our-unit...our collective judgement finds each of thezsse systems unnecessarily complex.”

“Yes, I suppose you would.”

Some people had wandered off by then; apparently comparative economics was not as amusing as their earlier interaction.

“Show this-unit more things...other aspects of this festival.”

Ambros nodded: “Can you hear the music? Let’s go dancing.”

“What is ‘dancing’?”

The remaining kids laughed uproariously at that question, and their parents laughed a bit, too. Then all the children began to dance, hopping and wriggling and saying: “Like this! Listen to the music!”

The pulsing bass of a reggae band carried from Mainstage to where they were hanging out.

The Ant twitched and its limbs moved rhythmically. Then it said: “Is it wise for this unit to...jump...like that?”

Ambros said: “Maybe not. I’ve seen you jump. Can you hop just a little bit? As in a few centimeters off the ground?”

“SssBruce-unit will try...” The creature flexed its legs and seemed to ponder. It jumped about six feet in the air; the kids leapt away, in some dismay. The Ant pulled its legs in tight so as not to land on any children. Then it stood to all sixes and said: “This-unit will practice in less crowded conditions. Immature humans are each separate intelligences...sssyes?”

“Indeed, they are. Best to do them no harm, under any circumstances.” Ambros gazed sternly at the Ant, which got its attention.

“This-unit comprehends.”

Ambros led the Ant along. A man slapped Ambros on the back, saying: “That’s an amazing performance, dude. You gotta leave out the middle part, though...”

The Ant rose partway and Ambros said: “Chill.” They’d arranged code words for certain aspects of human behavior. Ambros had explained: “Humans often engage in ritualized violence. ‘Chill’ means I am not in danger, however it may appear to you-unit.”

Eventually they reached Sally’s Alley and approached the stage.

The stage was built in the same rustic style as the booths, though of much sturdier materials. The foundation of the construction looked to be enormous logs, cut into pillars and set so as to uphold the stage. The band played a slow reggae beat; the musicians and singers all wore dreadlocks, and performed in various states of undress. 

“Is this too loud for your sensory apparatus?” Ambros inquired.

“This-unit hasss already adjusted.” It waved its antennae at the stage, and its metal tentacles echoed the movement: “D-dreadlocksss?”

Ambros shook his head vehemently: “Not the same meaning here in this Line. Those people have no connection to Eleni Leontari. Or Arrenji-unit.”

“None?”

“None whatsoever.”

The Ant seemed disappointed, though Ambros wasn’t sure how he could tell.

“Okay,” said Ambros: “So, ‘dancing’ consists of rhythmic movements of nearly any sort, sometimes prearranged between two or more partners, sometimes improvised on the spot.”

“This-unit has accessed ‘Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary’ via your ‘Webz’. This-unit does not know how to begin...dancing.”

Ambros grinned: “I recommend that you begin by bending your limbs and straightening them, in time to the music.” Ambros demonstrated; The Ant made shift to imitate him, though six segmented legs made the movement quite odd by human standards. People nearby stared, and tried not to stare, and by various means displayed their curiosity. The Ant seemed not to notice.

“Now try lifting one or two feet from the ground...remain in time with the music...”

“How isss thisss?”

“You are definitely dancing. Never seen anything like it, but it is dancing.

A cloud passed across the sky, blocking the sun briefly. Ambros looked around the horizon, frowning; a chilly breeze passed through Mainstage Meadow, and then dispersed, leaving the temperature somewhat lower in its wake.

A group of children, of both genders and several ages, came twirling along, dressed in full-circle tie-dye skirts that floated out around them as they spun. They laughed and squealed as they changed course; they circled the Ant and Ambros twice before twirling away again.

Ant asked: “Should This-unit spin also?”

“If you do, make sure your limbs do not contact any humans...”

“Understood. This-unit’s visual field is...you would say 345 degrees. This-unit could spin safely...zzzz-but perhaps We will not.”

Ambros nodded: “The better part of valor, and all.”

“This-unit does not understand...”

“Hmm. Maybe some other time would be better to explain the concept of ‘Valor’.”

“This-unit concedes. The definition in ‘Webster’s’ is...ssszz-ridiculous?”

“I can’t argue with that statement.”

 Ambros danced for a while. The Ant did its best, but soon squatted down in the position that meant: “No aggressive intent”.

“Would you like to do something else?” Ambros asked.

“Yess.”

“We could go down East Thirteenth, look at the various crafts on display...we will have to approach the stage closer, then go into the shade on the left.”

“This-unit agrees.” The Ant stood, but stayed on six legs.

The two of them passed along a row of food vendors on their left, weaving between groups of people: some separated by age or gender, some wildly mixed. At least five percent of those they passed wore some sort of outlandish outfit. The Ant stood out even among them.

One man stopped them: dressed as a policeman and walking on short stilts that lifted him head and shoulders above most of the crowd, he spoke mock-officiously: “Do you have a license for that Ant?”

“Chill,” Ambros whispered. Then he replied to the ‘officer’: “For Bruce? He doesn’t need a license, he’s a Free Ant.”

“I see. Well, go about your business then,” the fellow said. As Ambros and Bruce went past, the not-cop said: “That’s the most convincing insect costume I’ve ever seen. Unless it’s a robot...”

Ambros laughed: “Technically a cyborg, actually.” He noticed the guy staring at them as they proceeded. Not-cop frowned, seemingly nonplussed.

They passed a pushcart selling ice cream bars. A girl of about ten years approached, holding a half-eaten chocolate covered treat. She said: “Would you like some ice cream, Bruce?”

Ambros shook his head: ‘Of course, every kid on site knows the Ant’s name by now.’

Bruce hesitated: “Bruce-unit is not scheduled to take nourishment this...zzcycle. But...we will tassste it.”

The girl held the stick high, and the Ant carefully abstracted a dollop of sweet from the end. It touched the stuff with its palps, quivering in reaction.

‘Not sure how I know a shudder of pleasure from any other sort...’ thought Ambros.

The Ant slowly placed the ice cream in its mouth; its mandibles worked, though there was nothing to bite.

It legs straightened, and it shook all over. The girl giggled and other people laughed as well.

Some adults frowned and became more alert.

“You okay, Bruce?” asked Ambros.

“O-o-o-kayyy. That is very high-energy food. Must pauzsse...and control this-unit’s reaction.”

“Got it.” Ambros gently moved the crowd back a bit, saying: “I think Bruce could use a little space, folks.”

Ambros spotted Jake From Security, whom he had met the previous year; Jake watched them intently, occasionally speaking into his radio.

Thunder growled and rumbled. A moment later the sky lit up with lightning off to the west, and very shortly another peal of thunder rolled over them.

People looked to the west in alarm. One woman said: “This wasn’t in the forecast...”

“Precipitation will lassst approximately one of your hours, then dissipate,” Bruce-unit declared: “Many low-lying paths will flood. This Meadow is safe...”

Several people stared openly at the Ant, clearly wondering.

One woman said what many of them were thinking: “How could that thing possibly be a costume or a robot?”

Rain began to fall. Many people scattered in search of shelter; others danced and reveled in the shower, which slowly developed into a downpour.

Ambros said: “Y’know Bruce, I think we better get out of Dodge.”

“Ambros-unit’s reference is obscure. But This-unit comprehends the meaning.”

Ambros led the way back towards the traditional drop-in and jump-out point. He kept his head high, grinning at anyone who stared at them. The rain sluiced from the Ant’s carapace; Ambros soon found himself soaked to the skin.

The Ant suddenly halted, touching Ambros’ shoulder with a foreleg. The machine in the Ant’s chest beeped loudly, forcibly reminding Ambros that the ‘Ant’ was not the sentient part of the organism. The machine said: “Unit-Ambros: this path is flooded ahead.”

“You mean Upper River Loop?”

“Correct designation.”

“How bad?”

“This-unit would not risk stepping in the flow...”

“Right. Let’s head back via East Thirteenth, we’ll send you home from the woody end near our booth.”

They sped up their pace; as they passed Jake, Ambros said: “I guess there’s some bad flooding near Daredevil Palace, Jake. Maybe you should call that in, huh?”

Jake paused, indecisive, then began talking into his radio: “...flooding at URL reported to me by passerby...check on it...barricade...”

Jake’s voice faded as they proceeded to East Thirteenth.

They moved along as fast as Ambros could walk; he slowed the alien down with murmured code words whenever it went too fast for him: “I don’t want to be running. That would just draw attention. And I desperately want to avoid further attention.”

“This-unit agrees. Too many of the humans now doubt that We are a robot or a costume.”

It did not surprise him at all that Jessica, also from Security Crew, picked them up as they passed Community Village. She began to tail them.

Many places along the hard clay path had pools of water, sometimes reaching from one side of the way to the other. Where the pools did not reach the footing was treacherous, and people slipped and slid as they moved about.

The Ant ignored the pools and ponds that blocked the way, striding straight through them. Ambros followed, still holding the end of the chain: ‘Now my boots are soaked through as well.’ He thought.

Suddenly Jessica passed them, at a trot. Her radio squawked at her and she sped up, running and slipping as she went.

Ambros and the Ant soon caught her up: she stood by the side of the road, yelling into her radio as thunder drowned out all the voices nearby.

The wind kicked up again, and it began to rain harder yet.

Nearly everyone standing about was looking up, shading their eyes from the rain. After a moment, Ambros looked up too. Among the leafy branches tossing in the freshened gale, he could see what had to be a child, clinging to one of the larger boughs.

His immediate instinct was to climb after the kid. He looked at the tree and said: “How the bleep did the kid even get up there? There are no side branches for thirty feet!”

“I don’t know how he got up there!” cried a woman standing right next to Ambros: “He has really strong hands! He’s always climbing things!”

Lightning struck a tree less than a hundred yards deep in the woody area nearby. That tree splintered and briefly caught fire, until the downpour snuffed it out. Thunder rolled over them and they felt the shockwave hit them; the ground shook.

The woman screamed and buried her face in her hands.

“Bruce-unit could rescue this child,” said the Ant. “We can summon aid...”

Ambros put his own hand over his face, as the wind howled louder yet and the tree swayed and creaked in the blast. He nodded:

“Do it. Whatever you have in mind. Do it.”

The Ant didn’t trouble to unfasten the chain from around its neck: it just used its mandibles to snap it off short and tossed the broken end to Ambros: “M-m-move these humans back!”

Ambros complied: “Move back a bit please, come on, folks, give the Ant room for whatever it wants to do...”

Two other Ants appeared. Several people screamed.

“That blows our cover...” Ambros shook his head, but continued with crowd control: “... keep back, please...Bruce has a plan...”

Jessica joined him in calming and moving the growing crowd back.

The other two Ants were smaller than ‘Bruce’, one of them significantly so; that smallest one had a distinctly brownish tone to its carapace, and a smaller abdomen.

The Brown Ant scuttled over to the tree and went up like any ordinary sized ant would. The middle sized Ant followed. Bruce went towards the bole of the tree, picking Ambros up with the pincer on one middle leg: “Unit-Ambrose must stand here!”

“Whatever you say, Bruce.”

The Ant climbed until it was a good four feet above Ambros’ head. Then the child shrieked, and all the adults nearby ran towards the base of the tree, trying to see what was going on.

The kid cried out again, then came into the sight of those on the ground. The Brown Ant, now oriented head down, held the kid’s belt in one pincer and passed him to the middle Ant, which creature passed him from one pincer to another until it could pass the child to Bruce, and hence to Ambros where he stood on the ground nearby.

Ambros held the child firmly by the waist, looked into his eyes, and asked: “You okay, kid?”

The boy burst into fresh tears. Ambros yielded the child to his mother, who began alternately scolding and kissing and hugging and ranting.

Bruce turned itself round on the tree trunk, so that it, too, clung to the tree head down. The fashion in which Bruce did that made it clear to all that Bruce was neither a robot nor a costumed human.

“This-unit should ‘Get out of Dodge’. Yes?”

“You and the horse you rode in on.”

The Ants vanished one by one, with the whooshing sound that their exits from a Timeline always made. Most of the people roundabout were concentrated on the rescued child, and heard nothing over wind, rain, and thunder.    

But Jessica From Security happened to be looking right at Bruce as the creature faded from sight, until it was simply gone.

Ambros caught Jessica’s eye: “To report or not to report. That’s the question, right?”

She stared bleakly at him. She shook her head: “No way I can make anyone believe this...” she waved her hands: “...no matter how many witnesses I have.”

Thunder grumbled to the east of them.

“Well then,” he said: “I guess I’ll just go on about my own affairs.” After a moment he said: “Dry clothes. That’ll be first...”

He walked away as the wind died and the rain passed to drizzle.

zzambrosius_02: (Default)

You know what I think is funny? I mean, really, REALLY funny? Hilarious, even?

A newly "elected" POTUS chose an agent of a foreign gov't (I'd go so far as to say "A Russian Spy") as his National Security Advisor. Think about that.

For someone with my political positions, that's...just wonderful. By which I mean: a cause for great wonder and amazement. Not to mention hilarity. 

If I were to write that into a novel or story...it would only work in an obvious farce.

And no one in the media (as far as I've seen or heard) has even mentioned that. Perhaps they don't dare. 
zzambrosius_02: (Default)
 https://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/false-promise-universal-basic-income-andy-stern-ruger-bregman?utm_source=Dissent+Newsletter&utm_campaign=9f7bafcc00-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_04_13&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_a1e9be80de-9f7bafcc00-101953589

Alyssa Battistoni is a PhD candidate in political science at Yale University and an editor at Jacobin magazine.
zzambrosius_02: (Default)

Hmmm...Marian and I were loading our groceries at Gross Out when a man on a bicycle cruised by. He stared for a second and then shouted in a sarcastic voice: "Ah, yes, Islam, forcing nine-year-old girls to marry forty-year-old men on penalty of death for mumble mumble years!"

I looked up from loading, and stared at him. He was thirty-ish with short brown hair and a scruffy beard. I looked around, puzzled. No obviously Muslim folks anywhere in the lot. I turned my puzzled (Quizzical, Bemused?) expression in his direction.

I gotta admit, my puzzled stare is frequently interpreted as threatening by other people. Anyway, he took one good look at me and pedaled away as fast as his little tootsies would go. 

I was wearing a hat that looks a bit like that hat customarily worn by the former President of Afghanistan, so maybe he took me for a refugee or immigrant.

But...Marian was there, and she didn't even have a hat on, much less a headscarf or anything more modest. So that hat, all by itself, apparently convinced Mr. Ignoramus that I was a muslim. 

Honestly, folks, if you're gonna be a bigot and shout it out to the world, at least know your stuff. Willful ignorance is nobody's bliss.

 
zzambrosius_02: (Default)

Epilogue: Some By Dint...

Ambros dropped in to the Country Fair site in the Alcatraz Quiet Line. He had his tent, salvaged from his camp in the Swamp, and a pack full of food and drink. He walked slowly along the muddy or flooded trails, until he found an elevated booth, with what must have been a sleeping room well above ground level. He climbed slowly up, shoving his tent before him and following, grimly.

He set up his camp, laid out his sleeping bag and made himself a meal. While eating it, he contemplated: “I’m here, I told everyone, to get away from things for a while. I need some alone time, and a bit of deep meditation. Bloody PTSD. Fucking Squids.” He thought about what he’d said to the Ant when he’d upbraided it: “…raped my brainstem.”

“Yeah. This is probably something like how a rape victim feels. Can’t get the feelings out of my mind, little things set me off. Always lookin’ around for a damn Gate to pop up. Lose track of what I’m saying.

“I was good as long as I was busy. Armored up, with weapons in hand…Now everything feels scattered; I feel like I’m flailing around, and I’ve certainly seen some personal failures lately.

“Time to assess my strengths and weaknesses, and by extension the strengths and weaknesses of my side in the War. Probably spend a deal of time crying my eyes out, as they say. We’re gonna start, though...with a little trip.”

He extracted the little lump of mushroom sporoid he’d carried around for years. ‘It’s marvelously potent stuff, a mind-blowingly powerful hallucinogen, but the effects last only a couple-three hours. Or a day and a night, if I take enough. I better do that.

“Been about ten years since I took a trip into my subconscious, and I could sure use some insight about now. Fungus, don’t fail me this time...”

With his pocketknife, he carved away a hunk of the stuff. He’d got it so long ago that he couldn’t recall the date, from a fellow named Steinetz, a mycologist of some renown. In the thirty-some years since, he’d tripped on tiny bits of it about eight times: ‘About eight? I should check my journals, once I’m home again.’

He rubbed the sliver between his fingers to break down the fibrous mass a bit, rolled it into a pill, and downed it with a drink from his canteen.

He crawled into the tent and then into the sleeping bag. He wrapped a silk scarf around his ankles, and put his hands in the patch pockets on his thighs, maneuvering the velcro partway closed, so he couldn’t pull his hands out without concentrated effort. He closed his eyes.

He waited for the stuff to take effect. He felt himself drifting, and slowly fell asleep.

 


 
He could not tell whether he woke or not. He could not ascertain whether his eyes stood open or stayed closed. He seemed to float, in a sea or atmosphere of red.

 
zzambrosius_02: (Default)

So..."SALTAROS: Shadows and Light" is nearly all posted; only the Epilogue remains. That will lead readers directly into the third and final book in the series. No title for that one yet. What is to be done? In partial order, since #10 is ongoing, and short stories happen when they will:

1. Re-read SALTARAE/SALTAROS. Make notes into the Chapter outline for Book Three. Probably expand Chapter Five of SALTAROS with some food-porn and Chapter Sixteen for other reasons. (Correct any remaining typos on the way)

2. Format for paperback publication.

3. Upload paperback; slow read on editing copy; make final changes; publish paperback.

4. Arrange for "Novel Release Party" at local pub.

5. e-book formatting, first for Lulu, then for Am*azon.

6. Publish e-books.

7. Finish writing "SARÁYI: a Story of Ambition" Repeat above steps for that book. (This book is about 1/3 written.) Finish early 2018?

8. Write and serialize Book Three in Saltarae/Saltaros series. Work concurrently on "PYRKAGAE: the World in Flames" which will be the fifth and final book in the "13th Century Series" (That book has a partial chapter outline and I know the end.)

9. "A Separate Reality" and "Waiting for the Revolution" are projects that I will work on as time and inclination allow. I refuse to set a deadline on either one. Also occasional short stories. (I should decide what to do about that novella I wrote about Clementine and Eleanor and Nicholas. (If Tor fails to actually call for manuscripts, that is...))

10. GET OFF MY ASS and sell these damn books, cause they're good books and entertaining and more people ought to enjoy them and also think about the polemics that I hide in plain sight in every damn one of them...

SO! 

Gotta go. See ya! 
zzambrosius_02: (Default)
 

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.

 

 

 

 

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CHAPTER NINETEEN: Various Ceremonies, and that Hearing

 

Ambros pulled his socks on, and then donned a pair of Commonwealth-issue harness boots. He checked himself in the mirror: All in dark green and gray camo, black boots, and a dark green balaclava.

He reflected on his appearance: “Better. Not good. But Better. A mostly good night’s sleep helps some.”

Kim came out of the women’s room into the main hall of his Salon, similarly dressed.

“Ready?” she asked.

“I’d better be. Don’t want to be late.”

It was the Eve of Winter Solstice; it would be a day of unpleasant errands, he knew, to be followed by the Ceremony of Darkness and Light in Athino.

Ambros drew Kim close and got out his Shifter. He concentrated on the spot he’d scouted earlier that morning, and then Saltated the two of them up into the south hills of Eugene.

“This way,” he whispered, taking her hand. He led her down a little ways, on a seldom-used path near the cemetery.

He stopped. She stayed behind him, waiting.

“Right here,” he said, still whispering.

“Okay.”

They waited; he scanned the scene with his binoculars. He could see, about forty yards away, the gravediggers making their final preparations for the graveside service.

 

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 CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: Blood and Boom and Bugs  

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.”

“Sounds good.”

 

 

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Ladies and Gentlemen and those between and "out there": On Sunday you may read CHAPTER EIGHTEEN of "SALTAROS: Shadows and Light". Same Fire sign, same Fire station: on my blog at DreamWidth! Stuff is happening fast, now. 

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: Blood and Boom and Bugs
In which Ambros answers sensei Bradley’s questions; sees Hannah D’Angelo arrested; has a confrontation with some Posse C remnants; pays off his mortgage; detects and avoids a dangerous situation; has a talk with Magistri Gennasi, with satisfactory results; agrees to attend the meeting that so many people want him at; sees Zazu blow ‘Hector’s’ cover, destroying the agent’s career; posts his essay on Deep Flanking to the Kyklo; takes heart at the slight stir caused by his family’s e-zine; and has a deeply disturbing confrontation with Giant Ant/Squids.

 
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Too Long; Who Will Read:
We sit in a metaphorical theater
compelled by circumstance and the will of our "betters" to watch the sh*tshow they perform.
There are exits from the pit, lit with the fading candlelight of past ideals.
Most of those are "False Gates":
Liberalism
alcoholism
'Leftism'
Leninism
Conservatism
Fascism
multifarious Religions and other addictions of various kinds.
The true exit lies within
and among us;
but who believes we can turn from the squalid play that is meant to distract us?
Who believes that we can educate ourselves,
discuss our ideas and differences,
reach some consensus about the future?
If we did, could we organize and collectively bring down the walls that surround and imprison us?
Could we turn from the Spectacle and live in the world again, authentically?
Could we drive the 1% from power, absorb them and become them,
and live our Daily Lives as free people,
encumbered only by our assembled and creative Will?
Is there any hope of this?

As long as I can still say it,
and imagine it,
there is a sliver of hope.

BUT every person who exits by a false gate comes back to the theater sooner or later
diminishing that sliver of hope by a bit.
I read the work of thoughtful, knowledgable people and
then I express my opinions and write my novels and stories;
and I hope.

A Fool's hope, perhaps, but it is still there.
 
 
 
 
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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...’

 

 

 

 

 

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CHAPTER SIXTEEN: Run in Circles, Scream and Shout

 

Kim said: “I’m ready, I guess.”

“You guess?”

“Yeah, I love seeing Sarah and Aspen and the Aunties but Eddie makes me crazy.”

Ambros grinned: “Well, thanks for getting me off the hook. I don’t need crazy in my life right now, thanks.”

“You’re welcome. But with the Jeep in the shop, I still need a ride.”

“Happy to oblige.”

He took the main streets until he got to Greenbrier Road where he turned south and began to negotiate the first winding stretch of pavement.

Kim was chattering happily. He smiled and made listening sounds as he flicked on the headlights and wipers.

A large truck shot past them, engine growling. From the corner of his eye he got the slightest impression of green and white; he gritted his teeth, thinking: ‘Uh-oh.’

Another truck, perhaps a bit smaller, roared up behind them, then slowed down and tailgated.

Ambros had become fairly familiar with Greenbrier Road in the past few months, and he knew there was a fork up ahead. He spoke quietly but firmly, interrupting Kim: “Check your seat belt, bend forward at the waist and duck your head down as far as possible. Hands over the back of your head...”

She stared at him eyes wide and he said simply: “Do it.”

 

 

 

 

  

 
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CHAPTER SIXTEEN of "SALTAROS: Shadows and Light" will post on SUNDAY!

CHAPTER SIXTEEN: Run in Circles, Scream and Shout
In Which Posse Comitatus makes another attempt on our hero’s life, again endangering Kim; John Masters gets some comeuppance; Ambros visits a nasty Timeline in pursuit of rare old coins, then goes to New York to sell them; finds a replacement pickup truck, and has a pleasantly adventurous afternoon; visits Samuel B’s and creates the usual stir when he expresses his true opinions; and receives news of an unpleasant sort, from two sources. 

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