Born to a mother like our mother before, and hers before her, and so on, generations back and up the spiral twist of the vine, we took to earth and to root when the chill came into the air, the first nip of cold any of us had known after a civilization of summer. Root was safety, root was sleep; the tender flesh of the stock and the sweet sap all we needed to sleep the long winter through.

They knew we were coming, our mothers, planned for the hope of us, though never they’d see us; when we woke again, buoyed up to the sun by the rising tide of the sap, breaking black earth, spreading delicate wings, they were long dead, centuries dead. We have already lived far past our time, cradled in slumber, and wake already gravid, brim-full of portent. Time is short, and the fundatrix yet to be born — we will not live to see her or her impossible bride.

Uprooted once, borne out of our sphere, we found food and safety in alien climes, and spread; they chased us with toads and with poisons but we spread, leaf to root, fatter and more fecund than ever before, till they despaired of us and imported the old stock to keep us at bay. Still we thrive, ground to gall, mother to daughter; daughter to mother; living well is the best revenge.


They have no childhoods, because they were made, not born, but a certain amount of socialization being deemed useful for their later life they are raised in creches with other automata, rooms noisy with the mindless chatter of seven times seventy copper-wired semi-deployed workers. Noise is an indulgence, one they will be trained away from, later; what do they need to talk about?

Their factories are silent and swift; the machines are kept quiet for the pleasure of the lone human overseer. Morning and night they are fed the same thin flavorless paste; all the nutrients necessary to maintain smooth operating, though at the cost of a certain unavoidable about of noxious offgassing.

Every so often one of them slips into the bowels of the machines, and the floor bursts into clangor. They do not mourn, because they are interchangeable; another one will issue from the creche soon enough and the work will continue. They clean the machinery of the bright fluid and move on.

Now, though: the overseer, heavy with sleep, has slipped from his high perch and fallen to the floor. He shatters, and the factory slows, stops. They gather around the spreading pool of his blood, the same clangorous red as theirs.

The factory bursts into noise, swells, grows louder, louder, a dam broken through at last.

Neap Tide

Water, and in the distance islands rising blue out of the night.

We have built a fire on the stones near the shore, from wood we bought at a gas station, out of pine wood and cedar, fragrant and damp-smelling. The younger Charlemagne has a joint for the smoking, half a thing, that he stole from his parents. He offers it round, but we are too nervous, us, so we say no and he smokes by himself. Good smell, anyway, blending with the flat brackish tide and the pop of the fire.

The ferries are passing, christmas gods restless on the surface of the water.

The older Charlemagne tells a story, about his parents, about his father and his many, many mothers. How many mothers can one person have? Always one more, he says, and shrugs; he offers to name them for us, if we like, but we have heard that trick before and want no part of it. His father is rich, so rich, with a room full of treasure and a house full of books. He is always reading something rare and wonderful, the older Charles Magnus, books full of herbs no one can find and beasts no one has seen. They are thin on plot, however, which makes them boring to hear about so we never quite listen.

The fire is dying. We kick wet stones over it and head shivering back to the car, point ourselves eastward and head up the hill.


A season of plague has come to the city and everyone who can has left for the hills and the seaside, hoping a change in air will protect them, hoping their money will serve as enough of a prophylactic.

The rest of us cling to our homes, windows sealed, doors locked, blinds closed, and drown out the roaring of the corpse fires with impromptu concerts, middling voices and terrible raised over an amateur piano or radios tuned so high the speakers crack. Shadows of beasts pass over our blinds at dawn, at noon, at twilight, and we shudder and pray for deliverance.

Fever slips past somehow, and a house cracks open, families scattering through the streets, scratching desperately at locked doors, silent windows, looking for purchase, any purchase, out of the wind, out of the smoke. The beasts catch the unlucky few still out, and in our caves we sing that much louder, waiting for the season to turn.

Missionary Work

We have been mountains rising out of the seas, the true gods of Olympus: shaggy-bearded with clouds, potent with rain. Months beyond sight or hope of land, a smooth bowl of water and air and us, moving restlessly upon the surface of the water.

We were mustered out of the navy; driven out, say. Long work to bring us all together again, a life’s work and more, to gather us onto this portless argosy that flies no flags, claims no license. They have seen us coming, up from Olympus, riggings black with sailors in stolen uniforms, spars bare and daring above the white belly of our sales; seen us coming, turned tail, and ran. They fear contagion. We bear ideals like sickness, and they run too late: already we have wormed our way into some few willing eyes, bred a few impossible thoughts, shown a different way for those daring few.

A bloody war, fought among waves the size of office towers, tangled in spirals of plastic and perfume. Hours of mutual negotiation to bring us into conflict. The guns fire once an hour throughout the night, stars ill-regarded fallen to the sea but unresigned. Every death is a new member of our crew, come home at last.