An Eye Without A Tongue

White-faced and clammy, Markfeet bites down on her lip, clenches her toes, digs fingernails into her palms to stay silent. She can barely breathe in the heavy veil, barely move in the thick purple robe. Do nothing, say nothing, they had laid on her like a curse. You are here as an observer and nothing more.

The trappings are bullshit, she knows, designed to impress the rubes, but the blood is real enough. There’s a kid tied to a chair under the only electric light in the room, and each of the academy graduates takes turns cutting their arms and throwing the free-flowing blood into the kid’s face. His eyes are rolled back in his head, whether from drugs or deprivation or frenzy, she couldn’t say, but there’s a palpable charge in the air, lightning before a storm.

Getting jumped out was bloodier, but less fraught, and she’s already regretting her choice. One gang for another, it had seemed at the time, but she loathes her fellow trainees, loathes the blue code of silence they pressed into her lips, despises the thick smell of blood and the veil. This time next year, she thinks, half-dread, half excitement, and winces as another splash of blood hits the kid right in the eyes.

His eyes flicker but do not blink. The line sways forward.

Counting Bridges in Königsberg

for Isabel

Gangly, mathematical Sheila walks to clear her head, not fast or well, but persistently, a determined awkward shuffle that covers any amount of ground eventually. She’s got a map in her rooms of the city with each road she’s walked traced in red; it’s a dead heat whether she’ll span the city or finish her dissertation first.

There are three main forks of the river in Albion, tumbledown Albion at the bottom of the cliffs where the underground river ate the chalk to nothing to get itself more room for its wedding to the winedark sea, and the Student’s Quarter lies on a vague shape of land between two forks, too broad to be called an island. She pauses at the top of the Terpene Bridge and looks south; Green territory that way is flagged by bundles of rosemary, sage, and cannabis that hang from the wrought iron gates that block each doorway.

She could be feared—going into town is always a risk, the students are not best beloved—but she is awkward and innocuous and ragged and no one has bothered her yet. She fills her lungs with the moist air of the river, the oppressive heat of the summer, squints east at the sea, west at the cliffs, names the seventy-two Lords of Hell and the thirteen planets that rule them, and descends.

Pay What Is Due

Someone’s gorgeous son has had his throat slit, and Markfeet glowers down at his body in disapproval.

“Cause of death seems relatively straightforward,” Forensics notes dryly, and she grunts. Blood has soaked through the mattress and pooled on the pine planks of the floor. That was how he’d been found: blood dripping from the ceiling into the apartment below.

“Real quiet feller,” says the landlord. “Kept himself to himself. Paid on time, very nice and tidy.”

“He have any regular visitors? Friends, lovers, priest or lawyers?”

Landlord sucks his teeth. “Nooooo, no one I ever met. Did his own cleaning, even. Lived like a monk, far as I saw. Seemed like a waste? Figured he was a poet or one of those Attic fellers. Sworn to what’s her name, the sickle one. Celibate, or— whsht—you know. Castrato.”

Markfeets hikes her eyebrows, looks over at Forensics who has started stripping the corpse. Forensics shakes his head, no. “If he was, he hadn’t found time yet. Doesn’t mean he wasn’t though; lots of ’em don’t go under the knife these days.”

The Body is a Feudal State

“Dig deep,” she hisses at Markfeet. “You gotta get it all out.”

Markfeet’s sweating and cold, the tips of her fingers and ears numb with tension. It went bad, this one, real bad. Hoodoo was out with the twitches and half the gang was sunk in the river running below Maplewood, the lucky ones floating face down. Her arms are red with blood to the elbow, most of it sticky and drying with Tip’s blood a bright new flag laid on top of it.

“Damn it, focus, you sorry son of a bitch,” Tip snaps, and Markfeet tries, she tries hard, but her eyes are bedeviled something fierce, she has to keep shaking her head to make the world a place of things and not ideas. She bites her canker sores hard, until her mouth floods with blood and lemon; the bullet pops out at last.

“Shit,” she says, and Tip goes ash-white when he sees it, a real mean piece of work, chuckling malevolently with a full charge of meaning. “You’re gonna lose an arm, fasure.”

Tip kicks out, sends her flying backward into the bricks, overturns the place like a hurricane. “Fuck! Fuck!” The world goes senseless for a long second and Tip is gone when it settles down again, the bullet gone with her.

Sheila of the Plains

Sheila pushes the fur from her mathematician’s mind. It keeps recurring, soft and purring, vibrant, headless, and alive, an impossible luxury: the blanket that hugs you back! She hums the jingle to herself while she struggles with a proof.

Later, only temporarily broken, she goes for a walk in the building’s garden. Dark night outside and winter, but in here is endless summer, tropical heat, jungle humidity. Gemtoned birds flash from tree to tree, passing through and beyond the walls she can touch but can’t see. Her spine and ankles crack and pop. Standing hurts, but stretching is a luxury and an indulgence; she turns her face to the antipodal sun and lets it ease muscles cramped with worry.

Walking back she passes others climbing the white railings to the third floor. She has never dared, having no head for heights. Once, lonely, scared, she rose hand over foot to the bottom of the lower balcony, but visions of a short fall and the hard crack of the tiles against her skull drove her shaking down again. They hallo her and she waves back, silent but friendly. They understand.

Dawn finds her still working, eyes sandy, brain cloudy, still butting against logic’s iron gate. She will sleep at her desk later, for a scant hour; maybe that will help.