Gnosis

That slow sick spread of certainty: he has spent weeks, months, both evading and cinching the net ever tighter. The streets are dark with crematory smoke, greasy with ash. Those who can, leave; run for the cleaner air of the hills, the safety of the monasteries. Those who must stay bar their doors, cover their heads and eyes with ruby glass, tattoo gargoyles and demons on their arms against sickness.

Superstitious nonsense.

He has forged his chains himself, from brutal logic: cause and effect in terrible array. He has studied charts and stars, the movement of mice across the temple steps, the simple tests of cards and books. He has worn his eyes ragged in the lab. No. The signs are clear. He is cause and generation of this plague; it is his sin, his crime, that grips the city, that runs red and joyous through the shuttered houses and the empty streets.

And now?

He climbs the five thousand steps from the water to the cliff top and looks out and down at his city, Albion, Albion on the winedark sea. He has bled and suffered for its glory, fought against the seeping corruption eating at its bones, dosed its worm-raddled heart with bitter tonic. Weeping, gnashing his teeth, he turns his face to the white line of the desert and flees.

Foundation

The work of generations, setting bones, curing warts, delivering babies. They don’t get much call for war-work, but every spring and summer the men drain off to the east and return lighter a limb, shorter an eye, aching in joints broken and reset in haste; these too need tending. Half of what Jillian knows is useless garbage, an indecipherable bit of success scrawled in the margins of the little Red Book; words have shifted, since then, or men, or climate, assuming it ever worked at all.

It’s a dark night with the rain coming down and she’s up late writing the day down in her logbook by the watery light of the coals when the knock comes and the door opens hard on its heels, spilling rain and a man all over her floor. “God save us all,” she growls, and levers herself over to see what the devil has brought her.

It’s a well-made shape he’s taken this time, barring the scarring and the blood all over his front. “Well, let’s see what you’ve got,” she tells him, and humps his leaking corpus over to the side bed redolent with rosemary and ivy. Underneath the wreck of his clothes he’s a marvel in ruin, a shipwrecked statue, his belly torn open down to the fork. Jillian looks up and his eyes are open, but milky. “You’re bound to die, son,” she tells him, but he either doesn’t hear her or doesn’t care.

She does what she can, but it won’t be enough.

Morning finds her asleep in her chair, arms black to the elbow with dried blood and pine tar. She pries gummy eyes apart to find him standing over her, numinous with health. It hurts to look at him, and when he speaks, it’s a tall tree in her ear. He passes, and the day is empty for his going. The side bed is pierced through with blue flowers of new-grown rosemary, black berries of ivy.

It’s A Lost Life Not Lived As You Wish

with apologies to George Cosbuc

The war has come to the city of delicate spires. Shells have fallen among the ancient libraries, shattered the marmoreal dignity of the Street of Statues; blood has stained the drought-stricken grasses of the city parks. The Ladies have put down their crystal cups and taken up arms—the muzzles of their guns peep between every wrought-iron railing, and each carries a knife of glass hidden in her sleeve. This is their city; have they not died for centuries in its construction?

Who to trust, though, when every returning soldier is a métoikos? Sign and countersign are useless here. The Gentlemen wear themselves out in rooms choked with tobacco smoke, blunt their canny fingers against enigmatic keyboards, but to no end. They are two tribes now; one that stayed, and one that went. Their grandchildren speak a foreign tongue.

They are pushed back, and pushed back, until at last all they hold is an airfield, and a city brutal with smoke, colonized with flames. They, ladies and gentlemen both, load one final plane, and fly north until the fuel runs out. The earth arcs up toward their windows, gravid with new beginnings, riddled with history.

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.