Friday, May 25, 2012

Blood Magic Makes the World Go Round

I fly in my Merlin2000 carpet, one of the full-bodied sleek outfits lacking a retractable bubble because these models have higher efficiency. I'm trying to assuage my guilt, but even the Merlin2000 requires the blood from three cows for my short jaunt home from the dragonport. It shouldn't matter next to the blood required for my intercontinental flight, but it does because this blood was spilled solely for me. If only fighting global warming could be done from the comfort of home.

The crystal ball in the dash crackles as a connection blooms into full image. My wife. "What's wrong?" I reach out, touch the crystal ball, feel the strong jaw behind it. Her eyes dart, evading, either hiding a lie or scared. I have a bad feeling that I don't want to know more. "I'm almost home, honey."

The crystal ball flickers. My wife disappears. Pain explodes from my fingertips and I jerk my hand from the dash, dripping blood.

"Almost home. How sweet." The face that appears in the crystal has thick scars folded over themselves into ridges that lined the man's cheeks. A sure sign of a blood priest. "My acolytes broke your house's defenses. Have your wife. You'll land if you want to see her again."

The Merlin2000 had too many blind spots. I twist until I see the black shadow of a carpet descending towards me. I punch the accelerator, dripping with blood for my fingers into the intake valve, feeding my own blood magic to Merlin, and it leaps forward.

No match for the blood priest's carpet.

The bubble's roof dents with the impact of the priest's car. I crash into the ground, digging a furrow like the scars on the man's cheek. I roll from the car, blood on my forehead where I hit the dashboard.

Dragonspies hover above me, but the four-winged cameras smaller than my finger won't save me.

The blood priest approaches. A ball of hair in his hand. "You will retract your findings."

I close my eyes. The priest was a global warming denier. The institute had predicted this would happen and had offered their bodyguards. I couldn't accept them and the additional magic and therefore warmth they'd require. "Never."

"Your wife will die. You shall see pain." He lowered the ball of hair before me, it wasn't a ball but an intricate four chambered model of the heart with the curls of hair creating aorta and veins. "You know what this is."

My heart beats rapidly. I feel it like one does in the first hours of waking when it's thick and languorous and almost heard. Yet, here it's raging fast and the heart in his hand beats in time with my own.

He squeezes it tight. The world darkens. A high-pitched yell of terror is the only sense I notice beyond the pain that suffuses me. I realize the yell is my own.

"You will recant."


"I warned you." The blood priest signals his minions through his crystalwatch.

My wife dies. Her lifeforce a blinding volcano of energy. Love binds the last minutes of her soul and then it's gone. My heart no longer hurts physically, only with loss. I look up, the bloodpriest flayed by our love.

Bloodpriests were blinded by their own scriptures. Blood magic might make the world go round, but love magic couldn't be trumped.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Garden Secretary for Chicago's 732nd District

Outside, snowdust swirls. Gramps says it's nothing like the real thing. I wouldn't know and it's hard to think Gramps had it worse than me. I seen the old flatties with their bumper crop of kids throwing snowballs and making snowmen. Can't do any of that fun stuff with the snowdust. But, the snowdust, or sulfate aerosol as the whitecoats like to call it, still keeps things from growing out there.

Growings what I've got to do. Been doing for too many hours. I shake my fingers waiting for McMahon's Blister and Callus Dissolver to work its magic. Waving my hands, I get the stink in my nose, almost as bad as the snowdust plains. Finally, I can get back to work.

Auggies flicker. I've got the overlays set to old-style green phosphor LEDs over an opaque background and S10's avatar appears with the words to the left announcing his return, swiveling his bucket-shaped head and old-time antenna. Figures S10 wouldn't return until my three-hour shift was nearly over.

S10's recharging bay is across the street in the bottom of a skyscraper. On my way, I detour past the Amazon pneumatic tube, selecting one of S10's favorite designer oils on my auggies. The can, still warm from the printers, rattles as the tube discharges my purchase.

"About time you returned." I drop S10's oil on his shelf.

One of those fake yellow smileys glows on S10's stomach display. "You missed me."

I roll my eyes. Of course, I miss him. "Lot's for you to do." I wave my hands at the skyscraper gardens growing on the sides of the buildings surrounding us. Even from this vantage point, it's obvious the leaves droop. Even with all the overtime I've been putting in, I haven't managed to maintain what S10 can achieve.

"Of course, of course."

"Your substitute AI was worthless." They always are.

"You don't begrudge me my vacation." S10 draws two pouting eyebrows over the eyes and lets the smile fade. "Contract says --"

I never could express my feelings. The robot won't be the first one to notice. I glance over my shoulders just to make sure no one is watching me. And lean over and kiss S10's helmet. "I know what the contract says. Time to get to work."

Friday, May 11, 2012

Dragonspy Rags

On the threshold to her mother's house, Rebekah swatted at the dragonspies, four-winged magical creatures relaying a constant feed into the ether. Clearing as many of them as possible from around her, she pushed the door open, getting her armload of groceries in the door, and let the door slam behind her.

Her mother's disembodied voice -- recorded incantations -- murmured in the foyer, igniting a flash of St. Elmo's lightning, jolts tickling Rebekah's skin. Even though the tickling sensation died, the musty smell only got worse. The house needed a good airing.

"Rebekah, that you? You better not have let any of those bloody spies in my house."

"Mom." She placed the groceries on the floor so she could hang her shawl. "Dragonspies won't live through your door trap."

Mother emerged from her workroom, fists on her hips, a dusting of fairy dust giving her black locks a gray cast. She approached. Her eyes narrowed. Between thumb and forefinger she grabbed a dragonspy out of Rebekah's hair. The magic had fled from the creature leaving a dry corpse that turned to dust between her fingers.

"My supplies?"

"Yes, mother." Rebekah hefted the bag of groceries and rolled her eyes. "I'm too old to be running all your errands. You need to get out."

"I'm not letting those bloody spies know anything about me. Besides. Did you see what they captured about you. Come here." Mother led the way back to her workroom. A magepaper sprawled over the top of her worktable. The back of Rebekah's head showed in a full-page spread, her lips puckered as she leaned forward towards a boy. "Who is it that?"

"Mother, he's just a friend." She placed the groceries on a bench. "If you didn't subscribe to those rags, there'd be fewer of your hated dragonspies out there."

Friday, May 4, 2012

Gremlins in the Machine

Two scant figures, not much taller than ten-year-olds, scampered outside Hallervord's Druckerei. If one had paid them attention, one would have noticed the stubble on their chins, the wizened crevices scarring their cheeks, and the bulbous bloodshot nose that drooped over their mouth like the belly of a pregnant lady. But those who walked past the print shop gave the figures no mind.

The passersby had lost their sense of wonder to the daily toll of everyday. Instead of remembering tales of Robin Goodfellow or the fantastic fairytales their nurse maids had used to try to encourage good behavior, they let the soft chatter of work carry on dead conversations. The few who did look around, like a man winking at a lady clutching the bag holding her new ballgown, didn't notice the youths.

Those who passed didn't realize they were older than the wind nor did they notice them creep into an alley. Pukje, that merry wanderer of the night, climbed onto the shoulders of Hob, his head just peeking over the edge of the windowsill. Inside Hallervord's Druckerei, dull brown light shone through windows smeared with ink and dust that provided no more than a hint of the tympan stretched taut beneath platen filled with lead, tin, and antimony alloyed type.

Pukje felt a whisper of power from the press. A whisper of the words stealing his natural immortality transferring it to the wooden words on dead paper. Pukje leaned backwards, falling away from the sill when his foot slipped off Hob's back.

"Is this the right place?" Hob asked.

"Don't matter." Pukje sidled towards a side door. His fingers trembled and he magicked an iron key into existence. Sweat ran down his brow and even his nose had paled to a dull gray.

"Course it matters. If they aren't publishing the brothers' lies, it's not going to save Titania."

"Hob, you're so naïve. It doesn't matter whether this druckerei is the right one or not. If we do find the right one, Wilhelm will just find another printer willing to accept his coin."

"But each printed copy --"

"I know," Pukje said. "Shut up. We're wasting time."

The side door creaked open. A gentleman emerged wearing a ruffled shirt that rolled over the edges of his unbuttoned overcoat, squeezed tight over his frail bones. He withdrew a pipe from his pocket and orange flames lit the tobacco. The door thumped behind him.

Pukje balanced on his tip toes. "Herr Hallervord --"

Hob thumped Pukje knocking him off his tip toes and stumbling over a stack of wooden pallets. His foot got stuck.

Hob whispered, "You'll scare him. We're not supposed to know his name."

"Scare me?" Hallervord's voice rumbled. "Well, I'll say. You don't look quite natural. Since when did Robin Goodfellow and," Hallervord stared hard at Hob, but shook his head, "and whoever you might be start caring about pesky mortals?"

Pukje preened, his thumbs tucked underneath his suspenders, and without looking, yanked his foot out of the pallets.

"We are not merry wanderers," Hob said. "We're just two children who need to get inside. Could you open the door and most importantly invite us in."

"You look a little older than children."

"Never mind that. We've just got an odd disease. We're really good workers."

"I don't need more laborers."

Pukje took two long steps towards Hob and jumped on his back, climbing onto his shoulders and then balancing there, blowing a handful of dust into Hallervord's face. "You could replace two of your workers with us and we'll work for free."

Hob backed away from the man, causing Pukje to teeter and roll to the ground. Hob shook his head at his brother. "Stop that. The dust will hurt him."

"So. If Titania dies, I don't care about any mortal."

"He hasn't opened the door yet."

The pipe slipped out of Hallervord's hands. His heart froze, the last twitch of his hand opening the door a crack.

"See. I told you not to use the dust. His heart is too old to experience wonder."

"But, I got the door open."

Hob tentatively extended a finger towards the open door but jerked it back and shouted with pain. "We haven't been invited in yet."

A boy came to the door. His fingers twitching. "Who's out there? Herr Hallervord?"

Pukje kicked the old man. A wiggle of the fingers sent the dead druckerei owner rolling into a corner of the alley where wisps of fog hid the body.

"If you wouldn't mind, could you invite us wee folk in?"

"I suppose it couldn't hurt. Come on in. You haven't seen Herr Hallervord have you?"

As soon as the boy said the words of invitation, Pukje and Hob streaked past him, towards the printing press. They swung on the windlass, cutting the lines, releasing the weights and leading the platen crashed against the table and break the tray underneath.

Too bad youth no longer believed. Or, perhaps that is a good thing for Titania.

Hob grabbed a pamphlet, twisting in his grasp, squinting at the typeface. "This is no fairy tale."

"I told you we'd have to break all the presses." Pukje wiped the dust off his clothes. "We should head to the next one. We're going to have a busy night."