Notice that the characters developed below do not all have the same amount of development.
Physical: wavy brown hair; short and thin – a small guy
Prime Motivation: to protect Wren
Personality: likes art, animals, nature; dislikes any interference with his affairs – a private person
History: Tremmenation occasionally comes unexpectedly, and it did in Mical’s case. Mical’s Eldar had found him climbing trees on two occasions, but she didn’t think much of it: he had climbed trees before, and it wasn’t his time yet. The body, in this case, had overwhelmed the mind. Mical has the back-to-nature ideal. His cottage is full of animals, especially Maxine, a boxer.
“Mical’s OK,” Wren assured him. “I’ve known him for years.”
“All your life?” Thomas asked.
“No – we didn’t go to grade school together. He was born on the Big Island and lived there until tremmenation. When Mical came out of tremmenation,” she told Thomas, “Scantini was there, telling him that everyone else on the island was dead. Since that day, he’s lived in the little cottage behind Scantini’s house, right next to the woods.”
“I’ll tell you something,” Thomas said. “Mical may have grown up on the Big Island, but he isn’t native to the Green Islands at all. The Captains found him as a baby, adrift in a small boat. Ever since then, the Captains have kept a real close eye on him. They have some interest. That’s why I said to be careful.”
Physical & Personality: Wren’s short, straight hair wagged and bobbed when shook her head. Ending abruptly in a horizontal line above her shoulders, her hair dropped in lines as straight as her shapeless, short figure - straight lines to the ground. This immature-appearing form was spared large facial features – the baby doll eyes and thick pouty lips. Her eyes instead were small, intense, inquisitive; her mouth a thin line of silent dissatisfaction, barely restraining impetuous interior pressures to explode.
Prime Motivation: To get off the home island, see the world, and not be trapped at home all her life.
History: she has been in trouble with the law and is (in fact) on probation as the story begins.
Doulettile, Lt. Scott
Physical: big loopy blond curls; strong and well-built
Prime Motivation: to make a name for himself in the Captains
Personality: sometimes too forceful, may sometimes bully
History: Doulettile was an intern as a Captains cadet; Doulettile was a bodyguard to the Griever of the Green Islands.
Physical: Mical Anderson and Wren Wrickler knew him as the town’s librarian, a tall, knobby, skinny fellow. He walked with his head bent slightly forward, and his huge bushy eyebrows curved away from his face like longhorns. He was a deep scholar, having attended the Academy many years ago. He continued his studies in semi-retirement while running the Bedford Village Library. Mical Anderson studied and worked there under his eye, where neither Wren nor Mical tried to get away with anything.
History: In addition, Major Lieutenant Edward Scantini was one of the leading commanders of the Widge War. He owed a life-debt to one of the Widge Guides of Albion, of the family of Bloomkeeper. After the war, the Guides were unable to return home since many Widge, even those that abhorred the Regime, came to see the Guides only as traitors. Even the softshells (there was one in the House of Alexander) turned to scorn them. Although under the exile of Newton, Edward Scantini came to plead for his friend’s amnesty in the Hall of Five Hundred Statues in New Warrick. Admiral Holliston, the senior commander that chose not to go into exile, vouched for him. He received not only amnesty for Bloomkeeper, but also received permission to return himself, and remained banished only from the Isle of New Warrick. Aurelius Alexander gave this decree.
The Captains recalled him to duty during the Rebellion of 1219 and became Commander of the Regula Corleonis during the Rebellion of 1219.
Physical: He habitually wore a floppy hat with an impractically short bill. His eyebrows had not yet grown beyond the frame of his face.
Prime Motivation: be cool, be hip, be stylin’.
Personality: Behind the round lenses of his spectacles, his eyes were alternately angry and dreamy, his most important characteristics. He is angry at perceived wrongs, and dreams of a better world. However, he is not prepared to engage in the bloody revolution that his comrades plan and execute. He sometimes played Mac Beth to Bernadette’s Lady Mac Beth. Fein to catch onto new fads and styles.
History: Thomas was from the Green Islands. Despite Wren’s rather romanticized vision of the Exodus, launching off alone in a solitary skiff, two years ago last September Thomas had been booked onto a passenger transit by his Eldar with his admission to the Academy in hand.
Physical: She was older than Wren or Mical were, almost to the age of final tremmenation. Her eyebrows had grown long, extending beyond the frame of her face, a physical sign of maturity in their folk. She was also very tall, with athletic contours and big devil-may-care eyes. The length of her hair accentuated the length of her body. The thick rippling tresses of deep dull red like russet or brick hung to the middle of her back. The red of her lips was a brighter hue, and even her eyebrows were a shade of that color.
Prime Motivation: to become a historical mover; to be at the center; to be seen as the one that righted the wrongs.
Personality: fierce, terse, cold, and efficient,. She speaks in short, sharp sentences with an intense glare at the person to whom she is speaking.
Trotter, Orson Pollman “Irk”,
Physical: a huge titanium Gao
History: Trotter was the exiled leader of a putsch in the late 1100’s. Fleeing government troops after its failure, Nathaniel Clintock rescued him; Trotter assisted this pirate in his crimes until the Revolt of 1219. He is a huge titanium-fabricated pilot, violent, with an urge to lead and control. His ship is The Damage Done.
Development: Mashing Trotsky with “trotter” (a la Animal Farm) inspired the name. The middle name results from the fact that Trotsky rode a Pullman car about Russia.
Eldar, the Paternal, superior beings symbiotic with Gao and native to the same lands
(In many Sci-Fi stories, humanity must and overcome aliens that have taken over Earth, and thus the story proves the value of the human race. What would happen if they really were superior to us? What if they learned the calculus as toddlers and lived to be eight hundred? What would our relationship to them be? Many Scifi stories also have aliens that appear beneficent at first, but prove to be sinister. How would we relate to them if they actually were beneficent?)
Ethereal Eldar draw from the aer Praisors
Island Eldar draw from the leaf-isles Gao
Boreal Eldar draw from the isles Toltau
Shoreline Eldar draw from the isle Widge
Ocean Eldar draw from the Great Ocean Beneath Mervelle
Sometimes they are analogous to parents or to angels or to elementals.
Gao The chief difference between genres of Gao is that the tools are in the wrist in Pilots, while in the Tiller genre they are heeltools. Pilots have higher manes, are much more muscular, and have much thicker and heavier tails. The Tiller are much more agile. They began as minor residents of the third Expansion and then migrated to the Fourth.
A muzzle that projects to llama-like nostrils; tusks that curl in age; eyebrows that in maturity extend beyond the face; ears of two types: standing up or drooping. They are omnivores that lean heavily toward vegetarianism.
The color of their thick healthy, fur determines their primary colors: auburn, russet, or golden honey. A Tiller’s mechanism extrudes at the crown and extends along the spine. In the High Isles, they are associated with earth tones: tawny, browns, and greens. The Captains, navy blue, gold, russet; The rebels: gold and red.
Technocrowns extrude from their Eldar’s heads. Plates are of ceramic or occasionally steel, either being a light gray – approaching white in their better state, and dusty, ashen, graphite, or even pale in their worst.
To biologically reproduce, the Gao must enter a third genre. They develop an unfinished offspring within them, more of a golem than a fetus. They must meet with another Gao that is also in the third genre and undergo the transferal that will enquicken.
Treeve, the Or The Great Treeve The Treeve of their world is like a great tree / land that exists vertically. Leave-lands occupied on top, with rock and smaller plants, but with chlorophyll producing live parts on the bottom. The light and heat in their world comes from above. Downwards is winter – colder and thinner aer. Broken free long ago, some of the leave-lands are today in slipstream orbit around the great Treeve. The tangled, inner, jungle-like areas are the home of first savages called Primevals, and then barbarians known as the Skirthmen.
Bedford of The Green Islands Home village of Wren, which lies on the leave-land of the Green Islands. See also: Gao Lands.
Expansion Every two or three thousand years, large numbers of leave-lands break free of the Great Treeve and enter a slipstream orbit. As the Great Treeve is roughly in the shape of a cylinder, the orbits of these expansion isles are in the shape of cylinders. Over long periods, these cylinders expand outward from the Treeve
Expansion (1st) Home of the Ghurkan and other folk. This expansion left the orbit of the Great Treeve and is only known through fragmentary historical documents.
Expansion (2nd) Home of the Faeron Republic. This expansion has left the orbit of the Great Treeve. It is considered to be the intellectual and spiritual founding for Third and Fourth Expansion peoples. See Also: Faeron.
Expansion (3rd) Home of Toltau, Widge, and other folk.
Expansion (4th) Occupied by Gao, Skirthmen, other folk.
Great Ocean Beneath 2000 miles below the Green Islands rolled the Great Ocean. It is out of this body grew the Great Treeve.
Green Islands, the Leaf that was home to Wren and Mical. It was also home to the Charter. See also: Gao Lands.
Nast, The. The tangled, inner, jungle-like areas of the Great Treeve, the Nast is home to filthy savages called Primevals. The Nature Cults, however, worship the Nast, the first product of the creative energy. The extremely young leaf-isles produce prodigiously but erratically – not producing a steady and constant folk like mature leaf-isles.
Outer Darkness, the – the great beyond where expanded leaves go after breaking their orbits. Folktale would have it occupied by Tzynn, dark counterparts of the Eldar. Rumor has it that Nathaniel Clintock voyaged their with his crew of pirates after the Exile of Newton.
Scorched Crown The top of the Great Treeve, near the sun
Winteroot The base of the Great Treeve and the home of the Toltau. Eporuen Retsae is the capital of Toltau lands
Gao: History: Migration to New Lands
The original Gao homeland lay in the Third Expansion. Although they were not friendly nations, Toltau and Widge warlords dominated the Third Expansion more or less cooperatively through a Byzantine system of treaties. Within the Gao people, however, there existed a strong zealotry for independence.
A group of Gao led a revolt. Although neither cleric nor clergy, all the rebels were adherents of the Devout Way. Initially, the goal of the uprising was to impel their government to fight against a local warlord. With time, the Devout expressed hopes of forcing the Widge-Toltau hegemony to recognize an independent land for Gao. This prompted the hegemony to intervene on behalf of the established government. The Devout rebellion quickly collapsed.
Daniel Banister, one of the defeated Devout rebels, left the Third Expansion with three small ships and settled in the Outer Edge of the Fourth Expansion. The three hundred Gao and almost 200 Gaolings met a harsh winter and lack of food, but they succeeded in establishing an independent settlement – and it was done without a single Eldar. There were more crossings. In time, it became an exodus.
After the settling of towns and cities, Gao of the New Lands faced a second threat. Skirthmen, violent and covetous of plunder, expanded up the coil of the expansion. To face this hazard, the settlements organized an armed force. As it consisted mostly of officers from their ships, this force was called “The Captains”. This force successfully drove the Skirthmen far beyond the Beringinold Gap, and the settlements occasionally reconvened them when pirates or other threats emerged.
One hundred and twenty years after the first landing by Daniel Banister, when the Gao had spread as far as the Beringinold Gap, they united to form a government based upon a Charter – a document aimed at inclusion, equality under the law. They formed a government featuring a governor and two advisory bodies – a Charter Advisory Board and a council or parliament.
Gao: History: The Attempt at Reclamation and Gao Independence
The proclamation of an independent nation set off an attempt by the warlords to reestablish control. Widge and Toltau agreed that they could not tolerate the possibility of a third power. After swift negotiations, they agreed that the Widge would finance, administrate, and provide the military reserves necessary to bring the New Lands under the hegemony. However, they also needed to maintain the balance of existing power. In order to counterbalance its expected gains, the Widge agreed to give up lands and power in the Third Expansion.
A century after the repulse of the Skirthmen, the Gao again marshaled a military force. When they instituted this permanent navy, they recalled the same brave name from history – The Captains.
The invasion would nominally be a Gao one. Their Admiral, a Gao named MacAlby, led the brutal and ill-fated expedition. Two reasons made the name MacAlby a curse to successive generation of Gao: First, he worked within the Third Expansion System — essentially, he fought Gao for the gain of Widge and Toltau. Second, because most Gao that stayed in the Third Expansion were reduced to conditions near slavery, and their population nearly deleted. Some of this was the result of the Admiral’s defeat.
Gao: History: The Slar-Rebellion
The slar-rebel[i] faction used semi-sentient species as slave labor.
Gao: History: The Widge War, Reasons for the War of Widge Expansion
Of course, one motivation for the Widge to expand was loss of territory to the Toltau. When the new nation put up a persistent fight, the War of Reclamation proved to be more expense than worth. At home, Toltau were rapidly moving both settlements and military settlements into lands that had long been Widge. Rumors spread rapidly that the Toltau intended to take advantage of the Widge predicament and seize even more lands. Thus, although the Widge were far more powerful than the Gao, they finally agreed to sign a treaty with the governor of the New Lands. Dreams of territorial gains, then, actually materialized as a loss for the Widge.
Another reason was internal - the move toward homogenization. Some thousand years before, in the Second Expansion, Homogenization helped achieve a certain peace in the Faeron Republic. Third Expansion peoples, who tended to look to the Faeron Republic as their model, began to think of homogenization as an inevitable sort of metamorphoses. The new Widge government gained control by inculcating the concept that homogenization promised not a metamorphosis, but the extermination of the Widge people and their replacement with an entirely new people.
Of course, others had attempted to expand their territory militarily at the expense of the other folk. The new Widge warlord, however, chose not to throw back the conquered peoples, but to exterminate them.
Gao: History: The Widge War, Effects on Gao Society
The crisis resulted in great changes in Gao society. Although both the Governor’s Council and the Charter Advisory Board originally had little power, powerful families known as the Echeloni gradually gained control of the Governor’s Council and now moved to increase its power. When the War against the Widge erupted, their controlling vote within this body allied the Gao people with the Toltau.
The war rapidly advanced the pace of Gao technology and military. The emergency actually resulted in producing the original fears of Third Expansion – a third power comparable to their own.
Gao: History: The Widge War, Admiral Newton’s Men
Although always Heroic and brave, the Captains finally had enough of Widge atrocities. They became overzealous and sometimes brutal – displaying Widge-like characteristics, sometimes pursuing Widge that had never harassed Tiller Lands. The conclusive act of violence occurred when Lieutenant Commander Nathaniel Clintock attacked Albion, a group of Widge Isles that had long resisted the Regime. Many of the Albion Widge had worked as Guides to the Captains, made necessary because artifice and natural barriers protect the Widge homelands.
Even before the war, both parties had fought to control the Captains. Adm. Newton had strong allies in the Party of the Great Treeve, but so effective was he as a war leader that the Star-Comet party did not oppose him until victory seemed assured. When Lieutenant Clintock attacked Albion, however, the Star-Comets made their move. Newton was en route to Albion when the attack occurred. While he was still in the field, they widely distributed stories accompanied with pictures of him at the site.
While Newton was busy dealing with this, a young Tiller named Julie, to whom he was devoted, took on final tremmenation after receiving what would otherwise have been a mortal wound. She became Ethereal Eldar - something greater than faerie but less than goddess. Not only did she appear and disappear like other Eldar, but she was able to give the sight necessary to end the war, since Clintock’s attacks had forced the Guides to abandon the Captains. Although able to conclude a victory, it was hollow. Adm. Newton’s love for Julie and her disappearance made his return personally meaningless, and his reputation was fixed either as a merciless killer or as an impotent commander, unable to direct and control his troops. The Admiral refused to return to the Gao Republic. With victory seemingly assured, the Governor’s Council shamefully removed him from power. He was condemned in absentia to exile, and many of his men went with him.
Gao: History: The Widge War, Scantini, Holliston, and Nathaniel Clintock
Major Lieutenant Edward Scantini, one of the leading commanders, owed a life-debt to one of the Widge Guides of Albion. After the war, the Guides were unable to return home since many Widge, even those that abhorred the Regime, came to see the Guides only as traitors. Even the softshells (there was one in the House of Alexander) turned to scorn them. Although under the exile of Newton, Edward Scantini came to plead for his friend’s amnesty in the Hall of Five Hundred Statues in New Warrick. Admiral Holliston, the senior commander that chose not to go into exile, vouched for him. He received not only amnesty for Bloomkeeper, but also received permission to return himself, and remained banished only from the Isle of New Warrick. Aurelius Alexander gave this decree.
Nathaniel Clintock, who ordered the Crimes of Albion, failed to either return or to go into exile. Instead, he became a pirate, raiding outlands of the Tiller Republic while the Captains were weak. In the late 1100’s, he rescued Orson Pollmen Trotter, a minor rebel fleeing government troops after the failure of his putsch. Trotter afterward assisted Nathaniel Clintock in further crimes, leaving his side only at the outbreak of the Revolt of 1219.
Gao: History: The Rebellion of 1219
The revolt that began in 1219 was essentially a war against the Captains, the Devout, and the Eldar. For the rebels, the Captains represented xenophobia and isolationism. They were also the wielders of true military control, and thus stood as their largest obstacle to achieving power, since through legitimate methods the rebels could not hope for anything but the weakest influence.
To the Captains, the rebels were not only a threat to stability, as they demanded removal of the Eldar, but also a threat to independence, a return to the bad old days of domination under the Third Expansion powers.
Before the outbreak of hostilities, the rebels operated in Breston Academy as a semi-legitimate organization pushing certain political and societal reforms. They remained disorganized and ineffective until Bernadette Jameson, a flamboyant and charismatic leader, fell in with Orson Pollman Trotter, the exiled pirate and former putsch leader.
Their internal activities sparked the conflict. Suspecting a stooge in their midst, they murdered a young student. When Trotter was arrested, rioting broke out on campus. With intelligence that a large number of the Captains were on shore leave, other members of the rebel inner circle murdered guards at the military port, captured numerous vessels and used them to attack the manned vessels still manned by the Captain’s Corp.
The harbormaster had roped off everything interesting by the time Wren was an adolescent longing to leave the Green Islands, but years before, when she was just a tarvi, fences keeping youngsters away from dangerous areas were few, railings on exposed docks and piers were nonexistent, and it seemed a wonderful place for kids.
With her best friend Jeri, Wren scampered across the top piers, daring each other to stand on top of the sturdy, blonde pilings. The top piers were the best, washed concrete ones shining white in the sunlight with the freshest of air and the hubbub of tourists and important visitors stepping off passenger liners from faraway leaf-isles.
On the top piers, however, they also felt the presence of authority most keenly: uniformed porters eventually told them to scram, and then Wren and Jeri descended to the older piers below. Wren and Jeri could run unsupervised and unthinking through the lower wharfs, darkened by the unending shadow of the piers overhead, stained by drip from the vessels above, their wooden pilings moldered to crumbly logs. The two tarvi kicked at the older timbers to watch the spray of chips fly out and downward to the depths of the sky.
Above them, a passenger liner still in the sunshine of the late afternoon coasted through the aer and bumped the dock. Sailors threw the lines and dockhands caught them. Jeri and Wren threw their shouts against the rusty steel plates of its hull and then caught the echoes. Laughing, they ran on their way, dodging between the sweating, unthinking bodies of Gao who unloaded crates and barrels onto the splintery wharf.
With scarcely a noise, the planking beneath them vanished. Wren spilled out amongst tumbling timbers, cast into the sky, an intense moment of limbs akimbo in silent air. The moment ended in the din and thunder of ancient timbers crashing through planking, and something slammed her misguided body and threw her down.
The resounding booms ceased. It was quiet. It seemed nothing moved. Wren sat up and knew she was hurt. Blood flowed from the side of her head, sticky, warm, and painful on the side of her head. She touched. Most of her ear moved easily away from her head. Her forearm also lay open for several inches. Blood covered her shirt.
She looked about her. She sat the broken deck of a schooner, voices were crying out, and dockworkers hustled to the scene of the collapsed pier.
Wren saw Jeri lying on smooth planks. She rested on her side. Her arms and legs angled out onto the boards. Her limbs were still.
“Jeri!” Wren yelled.
Jeri’s lips moved slightly, but her eyes didn’t open. Wren saw blood around her head, much more than her own injury gave. Jeri lifted her hand to her face. Horrified, Wren watched: from her friend’s the blood-matted hair, a gray, stony sphere rolled out onto the deck. The dockworkers stopped, looking down in dread as well. The stone globe rolled to a stop. It was five inches across, nearly the size of Jeri’s cranium. The sphere gone, Jeri’s hand fell to the deck, and Wren knew she was dead.
The dockworkers yelled for her to stop, told her she was injured, but Wren darted away, the single image of that stony ball pushing out all other sights and sounds.
She ran through the harbor town streets, through alleys, to her home almost hidden within the dark cedars at the edge of the forest. She surged through the front door, did not turn on the light. Tears streamed down her face; she ran into the hallway, into the little room at the back.
There, Moser stood.
Nearly seven feet tall, Moser turned as best she could. Her legs were so thick she seemed more a pillar or some bizarre tree, but soft golden fur grew from between her scale-like ceramic plates. Above her wide nostrils and short blunt tusks, tiny lights flared in a device protruding from the flesh of her head like a metallic and crystalline crown.
Moser’s eyes flew open as she seized the injured child. The lips of her opened mouth turned outward; Tendrils emerged from within her and enveloped the tarvi’s head, and she began absorbing. The distinction between the two blurred. Wren screamed, dug her fingers into Moser’s fur. Fingers, thin and gentle for such a large being, caressed Wren, searching for additional injuries. It felt her arm, examined the precious sphere fitted within her skull. Moser was content. They became discrete, and the tendrils withdrew. Wren was healed.
Moser held Wren in her arms until the young tarvi was sound asleep, and her sobs rocked her only slightly. Their connection healed Wren’s physical injuries, soothed her emotional wound, and buffered the painful memories. Wren would always remember the incident in its entirety, but for the immediate future, it hurt less.
After the first tremmenation, many years later, such physical bonding with Moyer was somewhat trickier. As a holdalt, Wren was much more independent both biologically and intellectually. If some serious injury threatened her, Moser would surely fuse without hesitation, but the easy, evening melding merely to enhance the emotional bond was gone. Moyer watched Wren from a greater distance now.
The body was simply stupid; everyone with any sense knew it well. The corporal self had only the smallest of organic brains, and since the stranger’s Craystone had been disengaged, neither Mical nor Wren spoke to her.
Mical gawked. The stranger was older than they were, nearly to the age of final tremmenation. Her eyebrows had grown long, extending almost beyond the frame of her face, a physical sign of maturity in their folk. She was also very tall. Mical was uncertain – had he ever seen anyone this tall? The length of her hair accentuated the length of her body. If she had been standing, thick rippling tresses of deep, dull brick red would have hung to the middle of her back. The red of her lips was a brighter hue, and even her eyebrows were a shade of that color. Her sleeping face so held him that for a moment Mical didn’t notice her arms were pulled behind her in an awkward pose. Cords bound her ankles.
He broke his gaze, looked at his friend. Wren wasn’t looking at the stranger at all. Oddly enough, she was looking at him.
Mical closed his mouth, straightened up, and stepped inside. Wren followed him.
They had expected to find excursor craft in the room, but there was only one. They both looked around the chamber: Like the floor, the ceiling and walls had all been cut from the face of the cliff. There was a workbench with a few tools and mechanical supplies, and the stranger’s Craystone, dormant, in hibernation. Neither of them touched it or attempted to reattach it. A person just didn’t handle someone else’s Craystone while they were sleeping. Neither did it seem right to stare at someone asleep, and so the two of them stood uncomfortably, not speaking to each other, knowing they were not supposed to be there at all. They turned their attention to the boat, perhaps the oldest excursor craft either of them had ever seen.
Mical spoke: “Not exactly the hidden fleet. I doubt anyone has used this one for a long time.”
Wren grimaced, hating to admit it. “No, not the boats for the expulsion.”
She walked around the little ship, perhaps twenty-five or twenty-seven feet long, examining it. “Tell me what you think,” she demanded.
Mical walked around it and looked. Scantini had taught him history, literature, the Faeron language, and how to fight, but Wren had taught him about excursor craft, and this was the teacher’s quiz.
The aft third of the craft was open, without an upper deck, but only on the left, or port side. A tiller lay over the seating, secured. A bulkhead separated the covered fore of the ship from the open aft, and he could see a closed hatchway in it. Stowed securely to the boat’s deck along its port side were its masts. At the tip of each one, two parallel metallic plates extended about nine inches, gapped about an inch and a half. Even Mical, with his academic background, knew the Wellonis plates wore away with use, but these plates showed no sign of pitting or erosion.
“Someone’s taking care of it,” he said. “The Wellonis plates are new.”
She followed him as he circled around the craft. On the transom, someone had painted the name Julie's Eyes. He looked closer. Underneath, a still older name was visible.
“It’s in Faeron,” Mical told her.
“Can you translate?”
Mical squinted and cocked his head, but age and the paint had obscured it.
“Here’s something else,” Wren said, pointing into the cockpit. Beside the compass and verti-gyro was another object, like a block of glass with several differing angles.
“What is it?” Mical asked.
Neither Mical nor Wren were alarmed that the stranger’s Craystone lay unattached. Only tarvi suffered from detachment. Holdalts like Mical disengaged it regularly, and eh knew well that without it his own body was very stupid. Early that very morning, while he watched it showering, his body hummed a droll little tune over and over: stuck in a rut. Such inane repetition annoyed the higher faculties trapped within the Craystone, set aside helplessly on a shelf, but the body was too obliviously thick to see it. Instead, it focused on the physical - the hot water splashing joyfully against the skin.
He was reduced to watching with the perception of the Craystone, its unseen eye. It portrayed accurately but without beauty. At nighttime, the body would again set the Craystone on a shelf, but to save energy, vision would shut itself down, and then he would be drifting, drifting…
The body finished showering. He watched the hands reach out toward him and pick up the Craystone, and a brief darkness came while the hands finagled it into the back of the cranium. With a sudden connection, body and Craystone were one. He saw with the splendor of the world through his organic eyes, even if it were just his bathroom. He felt the dampness of his skin. He felt breath. He loved it.
He leaned toward the mirror.
He noted that his hair was growing too long, his brows were no longer than yesterday, and that the Craystone obtruded somewhat from the back of his head. He smoothed the flaps of his scalp back over the stone until it stuck. Then he quickly dressed.
Mical had already planned to spend the morning in the forest. He might read out -of-doors – he had a novel he had started, or perhaps he would write poetry and ponderings in his little notebook while if he could find an old, comfortable tree to lean against. If it were exceptionally warm for the spring day it was, he might let a stream trickle over his feet.
He had scarcely put the milk in the refrigerator when he heard someone approaching, dashing through the forest. He swung open the screen door. Wren was at the bottom step of his porch, abruptly breaking a running pace. She leaned against his porch rail, angling her whole body into the maneuver, forcing down a grin, a grin that erupted because now Mical knew she had dashed all the way from her house, bursting with something.
He grimaced. Wren was his best friend, but sometimes her ways exacted much tolerance.
Let her be coy, he thought. She’ll out with it soon enough.
“Have a seat,” he said.
She looked archly around his front porch and flopped into a wicker chair. Her narrow, laughing eyes gave nothing away. She wagged her short, straight hair behind her neck, and Mical caught a glimpse of the marbled Craystone obtruding at the back of her head. She relaxed, laid her head slightly to one side, and flexed the blades from her wrists. “Anything exciting lately?”
He eyed her.
“I got out of work early yesterday,” he said.
She showed no reaction.
“I saw someone strange in the library.”
She righted her head, attentive. It would certainly be of only trivial interest, and yet it delayed the point at which she must tell her news. “Strange like how?”
Mical settled into the wicker seat opposite her. “I had never seen her before, and it seemed a little early in the year for summer visitors to come to the island, so I did look at her. She was sneaking around the library as if she didn’t want to be seen. At first, I thought she might be just shy, so I ignored her. A while later, I was in the aisle opposite her and she suddenly pulled out a few books – there we were face-to-face. It was unexpected for me, too, but she looked guilty – scared even. A few minutes later, Scantini told me I could go. Why, what’s with you?”
“I found the combination.”
Mical took a deep breath and suppressed a roll of the eyes.
Wren had said this before.
The previous winter, beyond the harberry fields, they had discovered a locked door hidden in the northwest cliffs.
They had been skiing, traversing again the long-explored trails of their small island. The northwest cliffs were far from the Harbortown and the excursor craft moored there. As they coasted out of a stand of tall maple, they saw the harberry field swathed deep in snow. They turned to each other and smiled.
Of course, they had been told to stay away from the cliffs, but Wren and Mical had crept up to their rocky or grassy edges at numerous points around the island. They would peer over the edges into the hazy blue-gray, where far below and hidden from their sight, they knew the World Ocean splashed at the roots of the Great Treeve. They would drop a few stones and stare, until boredom and common sense of the danger brought them back to more interesting adventures in the forests.
Still, they had never been to the edge just here. An acre of spiny, thorny harberry made the precipice at this spot inaccessible on practical grounds. Today, for the first time, they saw the tangle buried in a deep snow. They could easily cross. The two needed only a glance at the brink and a glance at each other, and they raced across the field, their skis shushing and scraping over the bowed fronds.
They reached the edge of the abyss.
What else was there to do but remove their skis and peer over? Some thirty feet down, a dock or pier extended straight out from the cliff’s side. A ladder descended from the cliff’s edge to it. Wren, the older of the pair by two years, grasped the first rung and climbed down. Mical followed as quickly as he could, but his thick gloves and the icy rungs made him cautious. At the ladder’s bottom, he stood on the little pier and stared with Wren.
The farthest piling of the dock was taller, clearly meant to function as a simple tether, a docking station for airborne craft. Atop another piling, closer to the base of the dock, a lantern, unlit, was mounted on a tall iron rod. Beneath them, angling back to the rock face, heavy wooden struts supported the short pier[ii]. They turned and looked behind them, at the stone wall covered with heavy boards. Wren’s quick eyes led her to a padlock hanging from one of the great planks. Mical peered into the cracks between the flat timbers.
“There’s a room back here,” he said, “carved out of the rock.” He grasped the padlock. “How many digits do you think?”
“Three or four,” Wren answered.
“Let’s try three.” He sat cross-legged began to methodically move through all three-digit combinations.
Wren paced. “You know what this is? You know what we’ve found?”
“No,” Mical answered, focused on the lock.
“This is the boathouse where they hide the craft for the expulsion. I know it.”
“We prefer,” Mical said, imitating the Birther’s high and powerful voice, “to call it the Exodus.”
“Whatever it’s called,” Wren said, “it’s unjust. You and every pilot on this leaf will be off to grand adventures all over, and I’ll be left here. Worse, I’ll never see you again - at least not until you’re as old as the Drayman. If we can figure out the combination, I’m going to take one of those boats out of here. I’ll get off this little leaf-isle too. We’ll meet up later, out in the Yonder; we’ll stay together.”
“If you paid more attention to your studies,” he said, “you could apply to the Academy.” He glanced at her– a face of sadness and anger. A hard flexing of the brows and a firm set to her mouth suppressed tears. He immediately regretted the remark. “It’s not like I really want to go anywhere,” he assured her. “It feels more like being kicked out.”
“But I’ve always wanted to go.” She sat. “It’s just as the Birther says, We are born to be Tillers of the soil; you are destined to be a tiller of the sky. Why do there have to be Tillers and Pilots? We’re both Gao – why can’t we be the same and stay together?”
Mical continued with the lock. Wren walked along the little pier gazing out into an open blue that was not only limitless in distance, but continued endlessly upwards and extended some two thousand miles below their home. She imagined a vast exodus from one of the great isles, with the entire year’s maturing males, now officially dubbed pilots, ritually leaving their home isle forever. In her mind, a hundred excursor craft clouded the aer like blown dandelion seeds.
Mical got to 3-5-5 before they left.
A few days later, Wren wanted to go again. She reached into her satchel and showed him a powerful lamp, identical to the ones used in the harbor. Mical frowned hard at her, but he didn’t ask her how she had acquired it. He knew better. She liked to break the rules.
They shone it through the cracks in the planks set against the cliff and what they saw only whetted her desire to get in: the hull of at least one excursor craft was clearly visible.
He got to 7-5-5 before they left.
In April, after the snows had melted, she insisted she had found the combination and led Mical on a slog through several hundred yards of harberry thorns.
At first, he had tried to carefully inveigle his way through, delicately pulling the fronds to the side with leather gloves and then stomping forward with hiking boots. It was useless. Before they had made twenty yards, the spines had scored their jeans with dozens of tiny scratches. Mical could feel his thighs bleeding. He looked back. Returning to the edge, in defeat, would double his injuries. He stared at the cliff’s edge and plowed through, determinedly, ignoring the pain.
The combination didn’t work.
He finished the three-digit possibilities, they returned in defeat, and both of them were in trouble when they arrived home late.
Since then, Wren had spent a great deal of time hanging around the Sanctuary of the Birther, hoping to come across the combination to the lock. For some reason, she had always been convinced it would be there. The announcement that she now had found it put Mical in a quandary. He knew there would be little else she would think or talk about until they tried it. Neither could he offer any other plan of excitement.
“Where did you find it?”
“In her personal wardrobe. It just lay there on a little shelf.”
Mical gave it a hesitant credence. “OK, it might be the one.”
He gave up. “Ready,” he answered.
They quickly left the village, ascended from the wet forests of cedar up into the birch and maples of the hill land.
“You know,” he started in, “we can’t actually take an excursor unless the pilot has left the Craystone sphere in it – and what’s the chance of that?”
Wren merely hmmed. She didn’t like facts that ran counter to her plans and desires.
The captive, however, was something they couldn’t have foreseen. After Mical hit the top of the ladder, he began to run, not waiting for Wren bolting close to fear, toward home and away from the unknown tiller tied in the boathouse.
“Mical, stop,” Wren called again. “We have to help her.”
Mical was moving so swiftly down the path that Wren had difficulty keeping up. Mical slowed to a walk, looked about, sat on tree roots.
“We have to help her,” Wren repeated.
Mical caught his breath.
“Then why are you tryin’ to make such time back to town? Not `cause you’re gonna be late for lunch.”
She walked around him, sat down nearby, tried a calmer approach.
“Ya know,” she said soothingly, “we probably won’t have to touch her Craystone; we’ll just cut her loose and she’ll get up an’ do it herself. It’ll be the first thing that’ll happen.”
Wren watched him stare off into the forest. She pretended for a moment to look into the trees as well. She didn’t have the patience.
“Well?” She blurted. “What then? What’s the problem?”
“When we first found the boathouse, we thought it was the island’s secret stash for the Expulsion. Still think so?”
Wren shrugged. “No.”
Wren looked down, and then to the side. Finally, her gaze snapped back to Mical’s face. “You’re thinking this is smugglers or pirates or something.”
“Know anyone else taking hostages?”
Wren said nothing. She hated to give credence to any such idea. She knew how they had found him alone on the Big Island.
They walked in silence, until they arrived at the crest of the hill overlooking their village. They paused. Below, the noonday sun was shining on old houses, picket fences, low stone walls, and flower-rich yards. Beyond, in the harbor, a few excursor lay moored to the dock or tethered to buoys. In the distance, the Big Island stood in sharp silhouette, the only island lucid in the haze.
“We’ll be late for lunch,” Mical said.
“And I’ll have to do garden chores this afternoon. I’ll slip out the window after dark.”
“I’ll be waiting for you here.”
As he spoke the words, the Star-Comet suddenly appeared. He wasn’t sure if Wren had seen its ghostly appearance against the azure sky. He knew Wren claimed not to pay attention to the old omens. She’s probably right, he thought.
A group of shouting little tarvi ran past him. He smiled at their laughter, their playing, and the stony hemispheres jutting from the backs of their skulls.
Wren began her gardening duties. The Tiller taught their young the skills of planting, weeding, landscaping, and of building trellises, rock walls, and fencing. The desire to garden and the love of both flowers and fresh vegetables and fruits, however, was innate. Their connection to the earth provided the basis of their symbiosis to the Eldar, in addition to their value as companions.
She had barely worked fifteen minutes; her gaze drifted off to the Yonder. She stopped all pretense of labor and leaned on her shovel. Several nearby leave-lands were visible in the sky. Their brighter patches appeared almost white; their darker portions were indistinguishable from the blue in which they floated. Farther in the distance, the Great Treeve stood tall and dark, an immense center around which all the islands orbited – many of them observable, but all of them out of reach for a young Tiller from a small, outlying leaf.
“No need to be staring off at distant lands on far-away leaves. They’re no better off than we are.”
She turned to see the owner of the voice that jarred her from her reverie. It was a neighbor, an old Pilot returned to the old home-leaf after years of service elsewhere. He was a small fellow, head bald on the top and shorn on the sides, exaggerating the size of his bristly moustache. He drove the dray wagon, and most people simply called him the Drayman. Wren looked down to the earth.
“You might be thankful, too,” he continued. “Many a scattered whistle-stop might envy Bedford. We got a famous name. The Charter of our whole people was writ up right here in this town. We got a special relationship with the capitol. Many of the founders themselfs came right from this little leaf.”
“True enough,” Wren answered solemnly, quietly. True enough, but somehow these historical aspects failed to add any thrill to the young Gao’s life.
The old pontificator pulled his tauser from inside his jacket. He was careful not to touch its bulb, which he left wrapped in soft cloth, but only its stem, a foot long and narrow as a pencil. With his thumbnail, he flipped open the metal lid of the socket imbedded in his upper jaw. As quickly as it was exposed, he snapped the tauser’s stem into it. Then he pulled the cloth cover off the tauser’s bulb, revealing a jade-like ceramic sphere about two inches across.
The old Gao leaned back against his dray wagon and let out a sigh. For a moment, a low luminescence appeared briefly around the bulb, but with subdued sounds of tiny wheels whirling within it, the bulb plunged into a tiny cloud of darkness. Wren pulled her tauser from a leather satchel, snapped it into her mouth socket, and a similar darkness appeared around its nether end. The tauser, a necessity to the biomechanical Gao, generated a tame and tiny vortex to suck in the energy necessary to power their Craystones.
“Still – if I had been cast titanium,” Wren attempted, “or if I had been fabricated on one of the larger leave-lands… Not trapped on such a rustic and plain leaf as Green Island…”
“Aye, titanium’s fine, but yor heeltools and wristblades are good steel, keen enough for any farm on any outlying estate.”
Wren looked at her heeltools, flexed them, saw the blades slide in and out. Yes, good steel - like her pocket watch or her bicycle.
“Ya might as well wish that either of us had been fabricated precious-metal,” the drayman countered, “and then we might have been in the lap of luxury with a powerful echelon Eldar.”
“You mean constrained to life of a pampered lap-pet,” said a new voice.
They both turned to look.
“Thomas!” Wren cried. “You’re back!”
The Drayman was less enthusiastic. He flexed his lips around the stem of his tauser. “Ah never envied lap-pets,” he said stoutly.
He didn’t like to retreat in the face of this lad whose eyebrows had not yet grown beyond the frame of his face. He stood now and eyed the holdalt up and down. Despite Wren’s rather romanticized vision of the Exodus, launching off alone in a solitary skiff, two years ago last September Thomas had been booked onto a passenger transit by his Eldar with his admission to the Academy in hand. Wren looked Thomas over as well, for it was easy to see that changes had occurred on New Warrick – Thomas was wearing an open collar, baring his upper chest. Even his collarbone stood out.
“All them short-browed pilots up in New Warrick dressing like little tarvi and she-Tiller?”
Behind the round lenses of Thomas’s spectacles, a revolution occurred, and his narrow-set dreamy eyes were overthrown by angry ones. He reached up and adjusted the impractically short visor of his low, flat cap. “And many of them wearing an earring,” he said with determination. “The world is changing. And you’ll find many more radical changes coming down from New Warrick. Not only is the world outside changing, but the Green Islands will have to change too.”
Two Tiller, happening by on the road, heard raised voices. They nonchalantly leaned their elbows on the rocky wall, snapped their tausers into their mouths, and stopped to listen to the exchange.
The Drayman tightened up his bottom lip until it disappeared under his moustache altogether. “Styles on New Warrick come and go like the wind,” he said. “But what do you think will happen when a Tiller dresses and talks like that in the real world? A Tiller would ruin his symbiosis, that’s what! And then he’ll be put out for good. And what’ll he do then? Harmph! The stray life is no life for a Gao.”
“Stray!” Thomas spat. “I can hardly imagine there are folks so provincial that they still use that backward epithet! What you call stray, I call free!”
The Drayman raised his finger for his retort, but it never came. They both saw the slow-moving and enormous form of the Birther herself coming to join their little assemblage.
One of the two ranking Eldar on their leaf-isle, she would have become the hub of attention even if other Eldar had been present. Thomas and the Drayman dropped their argument instantly. She moved ponderously, and her appearance on the skirts of the village was rare. Wren wondered how her huge form had lumbered this far out of town.
She looked upward to the Birther’s face, probably five feet above her own. The Birther smiled down at her through square plastic frames of her eyeglasses with slightly smeared lenses. The Eldar pulled a tauser from her faded teal corduroy jacket. Its bulb was cut jade, Wren noted, not molded ceramic like her own cheap one. With a thickened, yellowed thumbnail, the Birther opened the cover of her tauser socket. Her tusk, too, had yellowed and curled back toward her ear, but the fur that grew from between her plates was honey-colored, silky, and clean. Wren knew that the Birther was older than other Eldar of her island, but her ceramic plates of armor, growing organically from her body, were shiny and without the chips and other blemishes of true old age.
“How good,” she cried, “how delightful it is to live all together as sisters and brothers![iii]”
Each of the five Tiller welcomed the Great Eldar.
“And how is the island?” one of them ventured.
All of the other Tiller, Thomas excepted, nodded and encouraged a report on the health of their little leaf, for surely it was always suffering from some minor ailment or another.
“Well,” the Birther began, “it’s all going pretty well. Incantations of the orbital gyro-receipts have fluctuadknots, but there’s a crew on it. And there’s always yllis generation.”
One of them piped up: “That’s like the Wellonis plates of an excursor craft,” he told the others.
“Yes,” the Birther assured him, “it’s sort of like that.”
This provincial Tiller pretending to follow the great Eldar was too much for Thomas, and he stepped away, urging Wren to follow.
Wren nodded to the others, signifying she was leaving, and they each brought their thumbs to their chests and then brought the other hand up so that the palms touched. The palm position signified we are together. Wren looked from each to each, as custom demanded, but when she looked to Thomas, she saw him crossing his arms, scowling, and shaking his head, refusing to join in the traditional display of politeness.
As they stepped away, she could hear the Drayman telling his old joke for the umpteenth time – “I guess it’s time for me to bring Bob around an’ get to work – Bob: that stands for Beast Of Burden! Har! Har! Har!”
Wren and Thomas walked in silence for a while, the late afternoon’s heat radiating up from the gravel road.
“I wasn’t just happening by today,” Thomas said. “I was hoping to see you, to tell you something.”
“And what would that be?”
“You need to be careful with the company you’re keeping.”
She scowled at him. “You mean Mical?’
“Why – because Mical lives in a small cabin, alone? It’s not unheard of, you know. After all, on a little island like ours, there are only so many Eldar, and new Gao are born every other year.”
Wren, like other Gao her age, lived with her symbiont Eldar. Eldar-Gao population, however, didn’t always remain evenly matched.
“No, no,” Thomas said. “It’s perfectly acceptable for an older Gao to function as symbiont. In fact, I’m all for it.”
Wren felt a little victory. She hated it when people talked about Mical as though he was different, as though he were a stray.
The older Gao in Mical’s case was the town’s librarian, a tall, knobby, skinny fellow named Scantini. He walked with his head bent slightly forward, and his huge bushy eyebrows curved away from his face like inverted longhorns. He was a deep scholar, having attended the Academy many years ago. Now in semi-retirement, he continued his studies while running the village library. Mical studied and worked there under his eye, where neither Wren nor Mical tried to get away with anything.
“Mical’s OK,” Wren assured him. “I’ve known him for years.”
“All your life?”
“No – we didn’t go to grade school together. He was born on the Big Island and lived there until tremmenation.”
The Big Island – naturally the largest of the Green Islands – lay opposite their harbor. It provided Bedford with easy access to timber, pottery clay, farm crops, and even a little metal. A few scattered families lived on the Big Island, procuring these resources. The town council of Bedford had long ago forbid any harvesting of raw materials on Green Island itself, and this preserved the little isle with the harbor for the town.
“When Mical came out of tremmenation,” she told Thomas, “Scantini was there, tellin’ him that everyone else on the island was dead. Since that day, he’s lived in the little cottage behind Scantini’s house, right next to the woods.”
That was why Mical had so little trouble sneaking out for occasional night escapades. He continued to have less trouble than Wren because he kept the night escapades occasional, which Wren failed to do.
“It was pirates that done it,” Wren continued, “killed everyone on the Big Island, I mean.”
“No one told us outright, but we could figure it out. The pirates have become bolder and more dangerous since the government leashed in the Captains.”
“Leashed in the Captains? Oh, you’re just repeating that. Admit it – you’ve heard people around here say that.”
“Sure. Everyone says that.”
“So if the government gave more power to the Captains, there wouldn’t be so many problems, like pirates?”
Wren looked sharply at him, but didn’t answer. His tone clearly disclosed his opinion.
“Let me assure you – everyone does not say that. If you go to the Academy, you will discover many people there would not trust Scantini once they found out he had been in the Captains – and they would be very cautious around someone the Captains had raised.
“And what’s so wrong with the Captains?” demanded Wren. “Who drove back the Widge when we were invaded?”
“Oh Wren, you’re such a country mouse! The Captains didn’t just drive out the Widge, they became just like the Widge – spiteful and brutal.”
“I don’t believe it.”
“It’s true. After they drove the Widge off Tiller lands, they continued far into their home territory, beyond any necessity, burning and killing on islands that had weren’t even involved with the invasion. Don’t take my word for it: Get to the library and look up everything you can about Admiral Newton.”
They walked on in silence until they reached Wren’s house, and Thomas stopped for a moment in front of her on the sidewalk.
“This Scantini guy’s not the noble and heroic figure you would like to believe,” warned Thomas. “And keep in the back of your mind that Mical was raised by a violent, militaristic group; much of his mindset has been formed by them. You might not be able to trust him in a pinch.”
“Don’t you think you’re making a big deal out of this? I mean, just because he lives behind the guy’s house, I can’t trust him?”
“I’ll tell you something. Mical may have grown up on the Big Island, but he isn’t native to the Green Islands at all. The Captains found him as a baby, adrift in a small boat. Ever since then, the Captains have kept a real close eye on him. They have some interest. That’s why I said to be careful.”
Wren folded her arms. “Mical is my friend.”
“I hope so,” Thomas said, and he left Wren pondering the outside world on the pavement in front of her house.
Windows high along the central apse of the Library spilled sunlight onto the pale blue and white of its walls. Below this high ceiling, the tables and easy chairs stood strewn with books and papers. In the darker wings where Mical worked stacking and sorting, stood the shelves, unoccupied. Mical was the only one at a table. Scantini came and sat next to him and set down a heavy earthenware mug of coffee.
“Dr. Ormond will be here in a few days,” Scantini said. “He’ll have a few questions for you beyond the usual scholastic grilling.”
Mical nodded. Dr. Ormond had been coming to visit him as long as he could remember. When Mical had lived on the Big Island, the overweight psychologist and educator would come and quiz him every quarter. They were mostly academic questions, and Mical understood that someone besides Scantini would check up on his progress. Occasionally, Dr. Ormond, continually pushing black spectacles back up his sweaty nose, asked questions dealing with his development. Only once was it personal. It seemed an afterthought, but perhaps it was calculated. As Dr. Ormond was walking out, he stopped, turned, and looked at Mical: “Do you ever wonder why you study while the other tarvi are out playing?”
Mical actually knew few other tarvi; the woody island was thinly populated. Mical paused, looked for clues in the two faces. “No.” Then quickly, he added, “They study too.”
Dr. Ormond nodded. “You study more.”
“Then it must be because I can.”
Dr. Ormond and Scantini seemed satisfied with this answer, and Dr. Ormond left for another quarter. After a few years, he came only in spring and autumn, and finally just once a year.
“This year,” Scantini told him, “may be his final visit. He’ll want to know about your plans – whether you’ll apprentice with the nautical merchants, apply for the Academy, or even request cadet’s service with the Captains.”
Mical was somewhat surprised – he in the service of the Captains? He hadn’t really considered it. Why couldn’t he just tell him what he wanted? He wanted to return to the Big Island to farm it. The main crop would be something commonsensical: hardy, in demand, and fit for soil and climate. Of course, there would be plenty of room for a variety of animals and a country house surrounded by delphinium, glads, and foxglove. He had added the front porch along the width of his present cottage anticipating that shady country home on Big Island.
“Your knowledge of the Faeron language is rare,” Scantini continued. “You should have no trouble being accepted in biological sciences. I know you have interest in invertebrate studies. Your learning in history and literature is also excellent. But your geometry skills put you in good stead for a midshipman’s berth anywhere – even one of the great ships of the Captains. Dr. Ormond knows this. I thought I would tell you now, so you would have some time to think about it.”
Mical stammered out a “Thank you,” and Scantini left, going about his other duties. Thankful, however, Mical was not. To him, it had always seemed that, unexpressed, lying behind his whole life, were expectations. No one ever told what it was that was expected, but it was always there in the way they held their eyes, and the tone of their words: They sure expected something. The words themselves today portrayed a choice, but the underlying meaning was not an offered freedom, a menu of options. It was another blind expectation, with those above him waiting expectantly to see his selection, and to silently judge.
He had often wondered if they were all waiting to see the results of his second tremmenation. He shoved those thoughts aside. They would lead him nowhere. He could not deduce what of the myriad forms they might foresee, nor what response they might have to any of these result.
Outside, high above, Mical could just make out a skorrah wheeling on the wind like a far-away eagle; he wondered who was out riding. He didn’t want to have to go home after work, so he had packed his dinner in a brown paper sack. He bicycled toward the forest, to the ridge where he would meet Wren.
Mical climbed the long sloping asphalt lane in front of the West Bluff homes. It was quiet, high above the busy harbor and the noise of the town. Up here, he was the only one on the road. People of the West Bluff seldom walked or rode bicycles; they called for servants to bring them carriages. The most powerful and rich characters of the Green Islands lived on the bluffs east and west of Bedford’s Harbortown. Off-island rich folk owned a few of them summer residences. Although Bluffers came down to the Harbortown to shop and meet their boats, they formed a borough unto themselves and seldom mixed with the other citizens of Bedford. Mical found their houses still and silent behind hedges and wrought-iron gates.
By the time he reached their rendezvous, the sun was setting. He sat on the same trees where he and Wren separated that noon, and where he had stashed a long staff. He sat thinking about the Leek tree, the only point he could see to gaining access to an excursor craft.
A Leek tree was not a tree at all, but a kind of bizarre invertebrate. Growing up, both Wren and he knew that one grew on a tiny islet, not far away, one of the Green Islands. They heard as well the stories describing how a Leek Tree could affect a Gao. Mical was hooked on the idea of going to see it. Neither of them made any mention of trying it, but they both wanted to see it. Wren had laughed earlier, when Mical said if they found the combination, he would demand to go see it before she ran off on her great adventures.
Now it all was different. This was not just the joy ride he desired, nor Wren’s longed-for escape from a dull and ordinary life. Now they had a mission. The sound of the bells resounded from the village below, calling everyone to the sacred glen. Scantini might very well look for him. He didn’t like it. He had a sense of disquiet about the whole affair. He felt sorry for the stranger, but he certainly didn’t want to go.
He pulled the staff out from under the bushes, and wheeled his bicycle back into the shadowy underbrush. He had decided not to take his bicycle any farther that evening. He had tactical reasons. A person laying in ambush can unexpectedly jump up and knock over a bicyclist; there is little stealth with its noise; and the only weapon practical on a bicycle would be a sheathed knife or a staff, and the latter would have to be carried across the back, not at the ready.
He had read about firearms in books, but he had never seen one, nor had Mical ever seen a sword, which was usually a stray weapon. He though, wasn’t so sheltered he didn’t carry this blade to quickly convert his staff to spear. It wasn’t legal, but Mical consoled himself that the tip was only a short, thrusting tip, not one of the long, slashing ones.
Soon the sun was disappearing.
He watched and listened to the open expanse before him, the far-away noises and distant lights from the harbor, the muffled voices behind the windows the neighborhood below. The streetlights came on. Bats flit around, trying to home in on the tiny radio signals of small insects. As he stared dully over the darkening scene, a sudden scampering through the dry leaves behind him made him jump.
He stood and turned. The noise he had heard amongst the leaves was probably a gray squirrel, or some bird. Here in the upland forest, more wildlife was scurrying beneath the smooth-barked maples, beech, and white birch. Beneath the cedars below the hill, the forest floor was usually dark and quiet. It was a squirrel, he told himself again, but he continued to stare off into the wood.
With the growing darkness, his depth perception gradually decreased: he could see to the next rise; then, just to the trees beyond the big lichen-covered rock; finally, the shadows of the trees obscured all the wood and the path seemed nothing but a swath of gray. The Star-Comet, visible earlier in the daytime sky, had gone. He felt a hesitancy to turn his back on the forest and leave the forest path leading up to his blind side.
His intellect told him that this was his home, his own forests he had tramped in since tremmenation. It forest on the hill was mature: the trees tall with few branches below twenty feet, giving the image of a colonnade. The undergrowth here was shallow: trillium that bloomed so white in the spring, trout lily, and false Solomon’s seal. in response to these common-day sights, now hidden from view, Mical’s organic brain, the root cellar of his existence, began to feed his mind imaginings of what could be in the unseen darkness around him.
The local Foundational had occasionally arrested Reds and Blues, stray gangs, on the Green Islands. These rogues preyed on innocent Gao, murdering for whatever plunder they could seize, and they were skilled in fighting, carrying weapons without concern for their legality or seizure by Eldar.
The higher intellect carried in his Craystone made a compromise: knowing this was old familiar ground, he would sit and be comfortable; knowing his primitive consciousness was sometimes more alert, he faced the forest.
He sat, content in this compromise, until an abrupt and rapid scuff scuff scuff stamped into the dry leaves of the pitch black. Mical stood. He snapped the tip onto his staff, held it outward toward the darkness. He peered, knowing he would see nothing. He could not help but visualize that the staccato sounds were the sharp points of giant crab-like legs, scuttling the enormous spider-like body of a Widge through the forest[iv]. He forced himself to breath in regular, slow rhythm, as Scantini had taught him during martial arts workouts.
His Craystone again took control of the fear. Reason told him there had never been Widge here. Even during the war, when the dark, spidery beings had haunted the forests of many isles, they had not made it to the Green Islands.
Still, he had heard talk over the past years of the Widge attempting revenge upon the Gao. Mical peered into the brush on either side of the path, searching for the slight glow of Widge eyes.
When the noise came, it was behind him, on the side of city and harbor. Quiet steps ascending the path told him that Wren had arrived. Mical put down his staff and hid the tip, steering clear of Wren’s taunts.
A black rottweiler sat calmly, watching him. Wren’s footsteps continued to climb the leafy lane, and when she was almost in sight, the dog rose up and silently padded away.
How long had he been there?
“What are you looking like that for?” Wren asked.
“Oh,” Mical answered, “I was just looking at a dog and I wondered where he came from. I thought I knew every one on the island.” He turned, picked up his staff. “I was wondering when you would get here,” he continued. “It was getting really boring waiting.”
They entered the forest together, leaving behind the dim glow of the streetlights below.
Wren brought a lantern, and as soon as they were out of sight of the village, they lit it. They moved quickly through the forest to the cliff, only slightly aware that their path through the harberries was becoming more evident.
Inside the boathouse, Mical watched her cut the stranger’s fetters.
The body rolled over and looked unthinkingly around. Then, as Wren had predicted, it saw its Craystone on the bench, stood, and stepped directly to it. In a moment, it had reattached its Craystone, and the two saw the life come into the tall stranger’s eyes.
She looked them up and down. Wren, unexpectedly conscious of her shapeless, short form, looked back up at her.
The stranger was tall, with athletic contours and big devil-may-care eyes. Wren’s figure dropped in straight lines to the ground. Wren could admit that the stranger’s large facial features looked good on her, but assured herself that the baby doll eyes and thick pouty lips wouldn’t compliment her the immaturity suggested by her own build. Wren’s eyes were instead small, intense, inquisitive; her mouth thin and barely restraining impetuous interior pressures to explode. She watched the tall, powerful Tiller – the Tiller that had traveled so far from her home.
Mical stood beside her, tracking the stranger’s movements, analyzing her intent. The tall Gao, on the other hand, had only briefly examined the two before dismissing them as potential threats. She then visually ignored them and began a quick evaluation of the objects in the room. Like a tropical fish darting through a reef of things to see, the stranger’s gaze turned this way and that, her head trailing a flowering spray of brick red wavy hair.
Finally, the stranger returned her attention to the two Gao watching her.
“My name is Bernadette Jameson.[v] Thank you for freeing me.”
“Who did this to you? And why?”
“This was done to me because of my work with the rebellion.”
Wren looked sharply. “You know of the rebellion!”[vi]
Bernadette sauntered, “Girl, we are the rebellion. But now I need to escape and to contact my comrades.”
She looked over the single excursor craft there. Like the two youngsters earlier in the day, she took interest in the strange, angled glass shape in the cockpit.
“There is some strange artifice here, a craft beyond the norm. Still, it has no stony globe; its last pilot has removed it. I cannot escape with it; it will not take me anywhere.”
“Do you think the Captains left it here?”
She made a quick scoffing huff. “The Captains – the only artifice they have is forcefully pried from research of the Academy, or else it is obtained through black market dealings with the Widge. No, this is some apparatus out of the deep past.”
She turned to them. “Will you continue to help me? “
“There is a native to these islands, a comrade of mine that brought me here.”
“Thomas Haynin,” Wren stated.
It was the first thing that surprised Bernadette that night.
“If you could contact him; tell him what has happened.”
“Yes,” Wren said quickly.
“But not tonight,” Mical added. “It’s late already, and we might be missed.”
“Then I thank you for the help you have given already. Get yourselves home quietly and without detection. This will give me a couple additional hours to make good my escape.”
They nodded again and she leapt out the doorway. Wren and Mical moved swiftly to stay with her, but in the moments that it took them to move to the dock outside, Bernadette was already at the top of the ladder, flipping herself over its top in a graceful maneuver.
Then she was gone. It was quiet, and neither of them wanted to speak, to break the stillness.
“It all seems so anticlimactic,” Wren finally stated.
Mical looked at her, wondering what she had expected.
They nodded again and she leapt out the doorway. Wren and Mical moved swiftly to stay with her, but in the moments that it took them to move to the dock outside, Bernadette was already far below them, climbing lithely down the cliff-face. She slowed as she reached the midpoint, where the gravity became indeterminate, then she released her grip, turned nimbly and leapt headfirst downward – upward to her. Wren and Mical watched her soles and buttocks until she reached the lip of the ledge and pulled herself over it, onto the underside of their leaf-isle, onto the Sogrom Darkside.
She was gone. It was quiet, and neither of them wanted to speak, to break the stillness.
“It all seems so anticlimactic,” Wren finally stated.
Mical looked at her, wondering what she had expected.
The following day, it was hard for Mical to stay awake during his studies at the library.
“You were out late last night,” Scantini noted.
“I was with Wren,” he answered truthfully.
“With Wren?” It was a plea for more information.
“We were talking.”
“Oh?” Scantini smiled. “What about?”
“Well, we both have wanted to see the Leek Tree.”
“The Leek tree –hmmm.”
It was not altogether a surprise. Mical had shown interest in strange invertebrates and the Leek was an odd one indeed. “I myself have not seen one in years, although I know the islet of which you are speaking. When Wren comes, you may tell her that we will go after lunchtime. The weather looks good.”
“She’s stopping by to pick me up for the ceremony of the birthing and the tremmenation.”
“And here she is,” Scantini said cheerfully.
Wren, slogging in the door, gave a sullen smile.
“Get along then,” Scantini laughed.
They walked through the streets of Bedford. Along the harbor, two streets – Main Street and Marketplace – were preserved in the atmosphere of the day when the Charter was signed two hundred years before. In a month or so, tourists would be crowding these brick-paved avenues malling through little shops selling fine art and rubber snakes, fashionable clothes and paperweights emblazoned Bedford, Green Isles. Its quaint atmosphere was achieved not only by the red begonia baskets hanging from every old-styled lamppost, but also by what was missing: all communication and power cables were buried, and the skyline was uncluttered by either dish and wire antennae, or by the eyesore of Wellonis poles. Without consciously noticing these details, the tourists would pay up for their rides in horse carriages fabricated in the old-fashioned style – between their shoulders stacks choked out the cindery coal smoke, and steam blew from their nostrils.
Past these two streets were the houses of ordinary folk. Most were small business owners. There were a few local professionals. Along the street stood their homes of wood, and a few were of brick. Some had fenced in yards for the tarvi, but all had gardens. Farther up the road were the apartments filled with dock laborers, hotel workers, cash register jockeys. Squeezed between and behind them were the oldest buildings, wooden cottages, mostly with peeling-paint siding and some with the asphalt shingles that failed to imitate brick even at a distance. The long-time inhabitants of the leaf lived here, those “Born and Raised” on the island. White paint peeled from around the windows of their enclosed porches. Wren didn’t look at any of them. Instead, she stared at the sidewalks, old, cracked and heaved by tree roots. They strolled toward the hill, and as they did, other townsfolk joined them. Wren said little.
The group formed a procession, and atop the ridge, they turned onto the Birthing Avenue, toward the east side of the leaf isle. As they arrived, they settled onto the heathery depression, a natural amphitheater. They faced a natural bow of stone given the humble and unimaginative name of Arch Rock. The formation stood on the verge of the east cliffs; beyond it and through it was a view out onto the aer, unobstructed by either the busy harbor or other Green Islands.
Mical scanned the assemblage: on one side sat Scantini, the Drayman, Arnold the Harbormaster, James the storekeeper, the two bankers, Eldar of tarvi, and all the rich or influential folk. On the other, stood the ordinary townsfolk, the bakers and confectioners, teachers, and dockworkers. He realized that he had unconsciously taken a position just between the two groups.
Both the Birther and the Griever sat before the flock assembled there. The Deacon stood made his way to the front, standing so that Arch Rock behind him would frame the view of him. The day had produced a plane of cloud just beneath the island
The Deacon gave the Griever his formal introduction: “People of Bedford, this is our day of emergence, the birthing day. To open the ceremony, we invite our Griever, keeper of the rulebook, our leaf’s judge, and officiator of funerals.”
The Deacon stood aside and gave the Griever his place.
Mical seldom saw the Griever, who kept himself in his sanctuary, in the upland forest, beneath a tall projection of rock. Today, he boldly stepped before the congregation. A big nose and deep-set, beady eyes marked the long face. His head was nearly bald of hair, and the technocrown, still a sparkling artifice, protruded directly from his knobby skin. His body’s ceramic armor barely covered the gnarly neck, but, as with the rest of his body’s plating, he kept it polished bright. He raised his crooked, knotty, long fingers to his mouth and cleared his throat, and then opened the ceremony with a blessing:
May the Core and the Source show kindness and bless us
May the face of the Core and the Source shine upon us.
May the lands of the Treeve acknowledge the way of right,
And all folk perceive the power to save.[vii]
Then he withdrew.
The Deacon stood again. With a broad sweep of the arm toward the Birther, he gave her formal introduction in the same manner of the small town ceremony: “The Birther, master of the port, and the keeper of keys, mayor of the Green Islands, the giver and keeper of civilization.”
The Birther was much more at home in front of a crowd, in fact in socializations of any sort. As she talked, Mical’s mind wandered, but when she went to the door in the island, he watched intently. He always did.
Two upright stones lay in the side of the hill with a lintel stone across their tops. Within this doorway was a small space, neither of stone nor of earth. It was of some smooth surface, perhaps an unfamiliar ceramic, immaculately clean. The Birther had timed the ceremony precisely and approached slowly, even slower than her large form demanded. She held her arms out before her, palms upward. The interior space beyond the door in the island began to glow. Then she stepped beneath the lintel. The crowd was still. Onto her hands formed the body of a tiny Gao, a newborn tarvi.
She turned and brought it to the table where her assistant Eldar stood waiting. The Birther laid the infant down and the Eldar wrapped, stroked, and busied themselves with it. The Birther, however, turned immediately back to the door in the island to receive a second. After she had received the fifth child, the space beyond the door stayed dim, and the islanders knew it was over.
The Birther began reciting the blessing for the newborn even as her Eldar assistants continued to administer their nurturing care to them:
Put your trust in the Core and the Source and do right,
Make your home in this land and live securely
Make the Core and the Source your joy
And you will have your heart’s desire. [viii]
Mical felt a poke in his ribs. Wren poked him again before he could respond. He saw her almost rolling her eyes in boredom; the fine words making no deep impression.
“Let’s get out of here,” she whispered “Come on, before she starts assigning the batch to the female Eldar.”
Bored, repelled, hungry, unable to go home, they wandered out toward the berry fields. They were taking the long way around, by the north tip of the island. There was no hurry: the berry fields now had little attraction, except the berries. Without a Stony Sphere, the excursor craft was useless, and only a pilot could obtain a sphere.
The north path wandered along the funeral bluffs. Wren recalled Jeri’s funeral long ago. Perhaps the ceremony just attended brought it to her mind. They had wrapped Jeri in white cloth and placed her stiffly upright at the edge of the cliff. The Griever spoke, and at the end of the ceremony, the congregation watched in silence as the white form tipped backward and fell to the Nether.
Just ahead was the juncture of three paths: one from the funeral bluffs, one led to town, and the other to Arch Rock. As they approached, they heard the sound of someone smacking wood against wood. They nodded to each other, left the path, and slowly circled toward the sound. Above the source of the noise, they dropped to their bellies and scooted toward the edge of a tussock.
Below them was Scott Doutlettile, a pilot who had bullied them both on more than one occasion. He stood in the path practicing moves with his staff, occasionally taking his frustrations out on a nearby sapling.
“What? Has he gone crazy?”
“Sh!” Wren said. “Look! Here comes the local Foundationals.”
Mical turned and saw Scantini and the Drayman hurrying along the path from the birthing ceremony. Scott was clearly expecting them. Scantini nodded at Scott, and Scott hid himself on the opposite side of the path. The Drayman and Scantini stood idly, took out their tausers, talked quietly in a nonchalant manner. Wren and Mical watched in silence.
In a moment, Thomas Haynin sauntered along.
Mical quickly realized that Scantini and the Drayman had both positioned themselves facing the route from which Thomas appeared: they had known he was coming.
Thomas came to a halt, his eyes shifted uneasily from one oldster to the other.
“Well, Thomas,” Scantini began, “been away from the old home ground for a few years, haven’t you?”
The conversation muted, mumbled along, and Mical had difficulty following most of it. He quietly turned onto his back and began to relax.
“Ha!” Thomas scoffed. “Those of the Great Isle aren’t so superstitious as to fall for such fairy tales.”
“Fairy tales?” The Drayman’s clear eyes were piercing the air in the direction of Thomas; Wren could see his bushy moustache moving. “You been to city – what of the Steeple? Do you deny your own eyes?”
“The Steeple is a natural edifice. The world of the Great Treeve has many wonders, but to imagine supernatural explanations for them just because we don’t understand them...”
Wren poked Mical in the ribs.
“Help me hear what they’re saying!” Wren whispered.
“It’s just Yonder stuff. It doesn’t concern us.”
Disgusted, Wren turned her attention back to the exchange.
“And what of the Praisors?” the Drayman demanded.
“What of them?” Thomas demanded in turn. “One might as well ask what of the floaters.”
“Floaters!” Here the Drayman had to turn to Scantini. “He compares the golden Praisors to those cud-chewing bags of hydrogen! Ah, if only I could see again their wings shining like crystals!”
“Prettier I’ll give you,” Thomas said, “but I see no evidence of any smarts. An objective observer of their behavior would not notice many differences. You’ll find few enough on New Warrick that would include them in the list of intellectual beings. That’s for the Devout. Others would be wise to subdue their arguments.”
“We have Devout on this here island,” the Drayman protested, “and good people too.”
“Hollison, sir,” Scantini said, “easy now.”
Mical turned back to Wren. “They don’t appear to be enjoying each other’s company much,”
“It’s almost as if each side were waiting for the other to leave.” Wren answered. “I hate the way he talks to Thomas as though he’s still a tarvi, as though he still had a Stony Sphere stickin’ out of the back of his head.”
“If only he did have one. We could probably get him to fly that excursor out of here.”
Wren rose abruptly. “You’re right! The Stony Balls – what happens to them?”
“I suppose,” Mical said, eyeing his companion as she became excited again, “that the pilots just keep hold of them.”
“No, I mean the tarvi’s – what happens to the tarvi’s stony spheres?”
She started walking away from the Pilots arguing in the path. Thomas got up to follow her. As soon as they were out of earshot, Wren continued.
“Right now, there’s a bunch of tarvi undergoing tremmenation. What happens to their Stony Spheres?”
“I don’t know. I can hardly remember mine.”
“The tremmenation! We’ve got to go see it!”
Mical stopped in his tracks. “What for?”
Sometimes the symbiotic Eldar and a few others stayed to watch the first few wrappings of the metamorphosing tarvi, but it took hours to wrap, and then nothing would happen for days. “It will be boring,” Mical summarized.
“But what happens to the Stony Ball?” Wren repeated. “The metamorphosis is a biology. The globe is artifice.”
Mical shrugged. “So?”
“Sooo the stony ball doesn’t go through the a of biology type of change. The Birther must take it back. That’s where the excursor balls come from. They are taken from tarvi.”
“Oh no – that can’t be right. A tarvi separated from its sphere will die.”
“Maybe not during tremmenation. Yours is gone; mine is gone. Either way, there has to be a supply of these things. Somehow, they get enough to pilot all these ships.
“What if they take globes from the older tarvi during tremmenation and give them to the new tarvi just arrived? The leaf-isle gives the new batch, and an older batch changes; they always happen together.”
Wren stopped, rubbed her hand over her mouth. “No – it can’t be. The numbers aren’t the same. The number of tarvi in the old batch would always have to equal the new, and they don’t.” Wren brightened. “There is a supply of Stony Spheres,” she said. “If the Birther can procure babies from the island, then the Griever can get it to make the spheres! Mical! I know where to get a sphere!”
“You can’t be serious. We can’t get into the Griever’s Sanctuary. He’s always in there.”
“Not always,” Wren said with a sly grin. “Right now he’s overseeing a Tremmenation. I’ll bet he’s got dozens in there! We’ll snag one and… and I’ll be outta here!”
This is almost too outrageous to imagine – that the two would try to slip into the Griever’s Sanctuary.
“It’s now or never,” Wren said grimly. “We know where there is an excursor. I think I know where they keep the globes. And we know Scott Doutlettile isn’t guarding the place.”
Two statues of hounds stood on each side of the doorway to the sanctuary of the Griever, symbolizing companionship and protection. Under the peak of the portico was a frieze depicting a skorrah. The building itself was unimpressive, made of brick and white stone. Wrens eyes focused on single guard, younger than Scott Doutlettile standing before the doorway with a friendly look on his face.
Smiling, Wren approached him. The guard was someone new – an off-islander who wouldn’t know her name. If she could drive him off, obtain the sphere, and escape before he brought reinforcements, she would have a couple of hours before they realized the who, what, and where.
The only question now was the lone guards’ skill level, and initial signs were good: he could clearly see someone approaching with staff in hand, and yet he did not hold his own in the ready stance. Worse, he had left the highly defensible position between the hound statues.
Still smiling, Wren brought a sweeping arc from high over her left shoulder toward the pilot’s head, deadly in power and aim, but slow enough to invite a parry if he would step aside. He did so. She followed with blinding rounds to his ribs, the flurry of the rod’s sweeps keeping him in retreat. She turned the heel of the staff into a direct jab and knocked him onto his back. His recovery was slower than expected, a roll-and-stand rather than a facing recovery. The boy guard flexed his wristblades – a deadly but useless gesticulation. He could not get close enough to her to escalate this to a mortal conflict. She laughed and drove at him again, whirling the staff and landing another jab to his ribs, forcing him into flight. She so overmatched him that seeking backup was his only, shameful option.
Wren stepped inside the male sanctuary. Mical followed her.
At first, it was dark. Their eyes could see almost nothing.
“You should come too. You should leave the Green Islands forever.”
“You’re forgetting,” Mical said, “this escape from the boring home isle is your plan. I don’t long for the great adventure. I like it here. I wish I could stay.”
Their eyes adjusted slowly, and they saw a long hall. Lining its sides were cabinets and small doors leading off into the left and right.
“Figure it out, Mical! Who did you think was using that little boathouse?”
“Pirates or smugglers or something. It’s the only thing that makes sense. They had a hostage.”
“But why did she say she was being held? Where did I get the combination?”
Mical was silent for a moment. “You think that our local Foundationals are in league with pirates and smugglers?”
“Scantini, the Drayman, the Griever – maybe even the Birther.” Wren stopped. At the end of the hallway, directly opposite the entrance, was a curtain. She strode out toward it. Mical reached to the cabinetry that lined the walls. Each of the drawers held a stony ball.
“Here they are. Hey, Wren.” He looked up to find she was no longer there. He wasn’t about to touch one, but knew they should get out as soon as possible.
She stood at the end of the passage, holding the curtain aside. He stepped to her side. Behind the curtain was an alcove with a small shelf; on the shelf sat a sphere on a stand. Wren stood mesmerized by it, and in a moment, Mical understood why. This sphere was golden.
As they watched, the ball opened and a beam of dim light crept from the Golden Sphere toward them. Mical took a step back. The ray stopped. At its far end, a picture began to take shape. The image was of an excursor craft.
“It’s a prognostication device,” Wren said.
“A giver of forbidden knowledge. You ask it, and it will show you. Like this: where is Thomas Haynin?”
The projection changed, showing Thomas and Bernadette walking through the forest.
“They’re heading for the boathouse!” Wren said.
“They’re going to take the excursor craft,” Mical answered.
Wren reached for the Golden Sphere. Mical grabbed her hands.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m taking it.”
“What! Don’t be an idiot. There’s a whole passageway full of stony spheres. They’ll notice this one missing right away. We don’t even know if this will work with an excursor craft.”
“Let’s find out.”
Wren seized the Golden Sphere and bolted for the door.
Wren’s hands and feet moved quickly on the rungs mounted in the stone wall, but even before she reached the bottom, she knew that something was wrong: the doors below stood open.
She stood on the dock, gaping open-jawed. The lock was broken. The boat was gone.
She collapsed onto the dock. This was the second setback in two days.
Mical didn’t know what to say. “I expect that Bernadette has fled the Green Islands forever with it. I’m sorry. Sorry you’re stuck here.”
“I’m going to be in so much trouble. I won’t be going anywhere for a long, long time.”
“Going somewhere!” Mical cried. “I forgot! We’re supposed to be meeting Scantini after lunch!”
“What for?” Wren said without raising her head from her knees.
“He’s going to take us to see the Leek Tree.”
Wren didn’t answer immediately, but lifted her eyes to the wide expanse of aer.
An idea erupted in her mind; eagerness and loathing alike rose to meet it: this very afternoon, perhaps before her theft and assault were discovered, she would have access to an excursor craft. Scantini would have no fear that she would steal the boat If on that tiny islet she were to need to return to it – for a forgotten hat, perhaps. Scantini wouldn’t suspect because he would have pocketed the boat’s Stony Sphere when they beached on the islet.
Her possession of the Golden Ball could still win her freedom, but she knew that she couldn’t abandon Mical and Scantini on some miserable little leaf when no one knew they were.
“I’ll have to tell Moyer,” she found herself saying. “She’s going to need to know where we are.”
The harbor was like home to Wren. Above their heads the wind eels sang Beez, beez, beez, their bodies long and snow-white, with a lower ragged edge of ashen gray. As they sang, changing colors pulsed through them in the wind. Further, above them, what initially appeared to be clouds floating by were actually floaters. As it was spring, the floaters were migrating from the high isles to the damp, cool, lowlands: leaf-isles orbiting just above the spray of the World Ocean beneath all. They had grazed those dry islands of the sun, and as the winter ended, the sacks upon their backs filled with hydrogen and the creatures stepped over the sides of their islands. Wren looked down over the edge of the parapet into the azure blue abyss. The sky above and beyond the harbor was a bright blue; the aer within Bedford Harbor a slightly paler hue, where it was under the power of the Eldar’s artifice. Had young Jeri not hit the deck of the schooner, she probably would have lived; likewise the dockworkers labored over the open air with little fear – the skill of the Eldar would not let them fall beyond the harbor.
Mical and Wren watched travelers and cargo craft setting off from the harbor. Each ship’s Tritaineous rigging surrounded the craft in a web, running from the masts above and below, to port and to starboard, and to the bowsprit and sternsprit before and behind. This rigging created a web designed to catch the power of the Wellonis flow.
Wren watched as a sleek wooden excursor craft left its pier. The crew scurried on its deck to extend the port mast. The other masts were fixed in larger craft – above, below, fore and aft – but because boats docked on their port side, the horizontal port mast needed to be swung to aft, or raised aloft, or even pulled through the hull to the starboard, depending on the design of the craft.
The lighter ships pulled out, coasting horizontally into the sky, until they reached the invisible boundary - the limit of the artifice of the Eldar. Beyond the neighborhood of Leaveland’s influence, smaller ships then seemed to catch the Wellonis breeze and angle off, gliding, the Wellonis plates becoming bright flares.
Great cyborg beasts towed the larger, heavier ships in and out of harbor. Astride their backs sat the steersman, leading the craft around grav-eddies. As these approached the boundary, they would drop sharply away, then either catching themselves and gliding upon the aer or perhaps disappearing beneath the leave-land altogether.
They turned and saw Scantini coming down the boardwalk toward them. He wore a satchel upon his back, and the wide strap across his chest, and it reminded Wren of the commendation sashes the Captains wore on special days.
In the trail of the old Gao, the guards at the harbor immediately admitted them onto the dock. He led the two holdalts to a sleek twenty-foot excursor of polished cedar. The forward two-thirds was covered, behind which was an open cockpit. A bulkhead separated the two; a small hatchway joined them. Scantini helped them aboard and then, with one foot on the craft and one on the dock, he pushed the boat away from the pier.
He sat, pulled a stony sphere from his coat, and inserted it into its recess beside the compass and gyro. A small ship, they quickly swung the port mast into place. Wren looked aloft. At the tips of each mast, the air around the Wellonis plates began to glow; they knew they craft would soon begin to move.
The craft wobbled slightly, and Mical looked downward into the nether brink. The little ship picked up speed, and both Scantini and Wren smiled. She had never seen the harbor light so close. Its beacon shone on her bedroom window every night and could see its little rock floating at the harbor’s mouth, but today they skimmed past close enough to see that the rock was scabbed with lichen and the corrosive guano of wind eels. They left the harbor, the ship dipped, and then with Scantini at the helm, it angled off into the open aer. Mical grabbed at the rails.
Wren’s smile disappeared. The isle of the Leek tree was beyond the Big Island, which lay directly opposite the harbor, but Scantini had begun a turn leading sharply around to the west of the island, circling the shoreline. Their course led toward the West Bluff, Stonebrook Manors, the skorrah stables, and the cliffs below the harberry field.
“Where are we going?” She asked.
Scantini seemed not to notice her concern. “It’s a wonderful day for a jaunt,” he said. “Let’s circumnavigate the island before we head out.” He smiled at them both and Wren was completely uncertain whether this was said at face value or not.
She sat back in her chair. She could do nothing else. She wasn’t much in the mood for sightseeing; her stomach felt empty and ill; yet, she couldn’t help but watch the shoreline go by.
The rich homes of the West Bluffs passed by, and then the scattered manors of the Stonebrook forest followed. The deep folds of hilly ravines marked a turning point in the island’s geography, a curve around which lay the uninhabited North Woods.
Wren saw the pale color of the concave cliffs and she reflexively sat up. The dock looked even shorter from the excursor craft. She involuntarily held her breath as they came close enough to see the door, accusingly open. Scantini’s peered intensely at it, eyes narrowing, upper lip forming an expression between a sneer and horror. He maneuvered in along the cliff, now dwarfing the craft. He stood.
Daylight flooded the boathouse, exposing its emptiness to the sky.
Wren uneasily shifted her gaze from the dock to Scantini. He let the glide of the excursor slow as he released the tiller. His fingertips slowly touched his brow.
Then Scantini let his gaze wander from the ravaged boathouse to the two holdalt in his craft, as though slowly becoming aware of them. For a moment, he divulged confusion with his face as he beheld the fearful looks on the faces of Mical and Wren. Then quickly Scantini narrowed his eyes, averted their gaze, gripped the tiller.
The rest of the circumnavigation was completed in near silence.
It looked just like a dead tree. True, he could not place the particular specie – it was neither elm nor oak – but it had a stout trunk and a few short branches. It stood near the precipice of the island in a small hollow of the land. Its roots dug into the rocky terrain, which swept upwards some twenty feet on either side. Over the island’s side, the quiet sky.
They sat down to observe the tree from a distance. Superficially it was disappointing, yet Mical knew that if he stepped on the creature’s roots, its darts would fly from fissures in the truck, injecting him with a drug to make him sleepy and confused and a programming virus to make him seek out a particular smell, a smell secreted by a hidden subterranean chamber. Once over this chamber, it would open and the prey would fall into the fleshy maw to be digested.
“Is it true that the Leek originates in the Third Expansion?” Wren asked.
“Probably. I’m certain that the Leek is not the offspring of any of our leave-lands. Early naturalists knew that it was associated with a small, free-roaming creature called a leek, but they did not understand the relationship. The leek is actually a part of the creature’s life cycle. When the tree is mature, the Leek-tree buds and releases the free-roaming creature, which carries its DNA sequence to a new leek tree - a flower that produces its own bee. The new tree traps it in the same chamber as the food, but since it is covered with a hormone-rich excretion, the tree does not digest it. Early naturalists thought the leek was immune.”
Wren groaned, “This is probably as far away and as exotic a place as I will ever be.”
Scantini raised eyebrows, removed the wax paper from one of the sandwiches. “Where is it that you want to go?” he asked her.
She sighed. “To go and see far away lands, to see strange things and meet people that have never heard of Bedford. Perhaps even to eat meat. Possibly to see a battle.”
“I’ve been there. I’ve lived for twelve years beyond the Beringinold Gap. I’ve eaten worse things than meat, too. And battles? In them. I was at the Battle of Broken Spears.”
“Maybe I should try to go to the Academy.”
Scantini hmmed and chewed the sandwich. “There is much good and much bad at the Academy right now.”
“Well, you know what they say: When a Gao stays on Gao, he stays Gao. When the time for tremmenation comes, I want to be somewhere else.”
"Gao is not such a bad thing to be - I came back just so I would stay Gao."
Wren looked at him in askance: “Do you believe that one becomes what one deserves?”
“With all my heart.”
Mical had been silent during this conversation. Now Scantini looked to him. “What about you? Will you take on final tremmenation?”
Mical shrugged uncomfortably. “I guess so. Someday.”
“What is it that you are hoping for from tremmenation? What is it that you long to be?”
One became what one deserved to be - but Mical didn’t know what he deserved to be. He felt that he must be headed somewhere special, to be someone special. He knew that either Widge or Toltau was clearly the wrong answer.
“Faeron,” he answered, as though his choice had been certain for years.
A shock dropped onto Scantini’s face – and Mical was left to wonder its cause.
Bernadette stood behind him. She was wearing tight leather from her heels to her bust line. Mical felt one eyebrow and the corner of his lip rise involuntarily. Of course, Mical couldn’t know whether it was actually the skin of some dead animal, but it was disgusting nonetheless. It also reeked of an almost cartoonish attempt at self-portrayal, an over-the-top put-on[ix]. Beside her, Thomas’s deep-cut neckline and earring no longer appeared so flamboyant. Behind her, almost hiding, was the young Tiller he had seen in the library. Then up strode a fourth holdalt that Mical had never seen before. Mical recognized immediately that the huge pilot was a titanium fabricant. With heavy neck and upper torso, he stood a head taller than Scantini.
“Irk,” Bernadette said, “That old Gao is a Captain.”
Irk stepped forward, screwing a blade onto the tip of his staff.
Scantini, with his wooden staff, stepped in front of Wren and Mical. Irk approached.
With swift movement, they both lunged past each other. Scantini flicked his staff toward Irk’s head, simultaneously leaping to avoid an attack to his feet and ankles. Irk ducked and they passed each other.
They turned, faced again, and Scantini held the staff defensively, his power hand in the rear, his aiming hand up front, loosely holding the staff. Irk took the direct line of attack with the spear, first targeting Scantini’s eyes. The staff shot forward and swept the spear aside. Irk then targeted the midsection. Scantini jumped and arched his back; the spear passed behind him. Before Irk could withdraw his weapon, Scantini stepped forward inside the blade’s range, to Irk’s right, dropping the staff tip as he did so in preparation for an uppercut. Too late to position for a blade attack, Irk turned the butt of the spear into the back of Scantini’s knee, but landed it onto the calf instead. Scantini’s staff came up into the titanium’s crotch, twice. Irk leaned forward slightly and Scantini swept his opponent’s heel forward. Irk went down.
In one swift movement, Scantini slid the staff from the heel along the back of Irk’s calf and under his knee, then he rotated the entire staff with both hands. Irk’s knee was forced down and his foot was levered high over his crotch. The knee tendons strained to the breaking.
Before Scantini could have the desired effect on the knee, Irk’s spear butt hit him in the solar plexus. He stumbled to the rear, but swung the staff in a full arc hammer blow, over his head, downward, thumping the ground as Irk rolled. The big holdalt regained his feet, but Scantini was now working the staff at speed, forcing Irk to duck cranium blows and dance over ankle sweeps, repeatedly on the defense. Two blows to the ribs connected and Scantini swept him to the ground again.
Bernadette gripped her staff in the ready position and advanced. Thomas hesitantly followed, his staff also in the ready. It had become three spears against one staff. Scantini flexed his wristblades in and out, hesitantly looked to the holdalts behind him.
“This is not my fight,” Wren told him. “From all I can see, you are a kidnapper.”
Irk having regained his feet, the three pushed him with staff attacks. Scantini retreated. He stumbled. Then the three rebels broke their attack. They walked away from Scantini with little more than a cursory look.
Then Mical saw why, and gasped.
A small, fleshy bag smaller than his thumb hung from his shirt; Scantini plucked it off, revealing a narrow dart.
Bernadette turned to Thomas. “Finish him.”
She and Irk stood with arms crossed, watching Thomas, as though it were a test.
He hesitated. “What for? Look at him.” Scantini stumbled again. A countenance of confusion and surprise stood on his face. “He’s already forgotten all his higher learning; he’s being reduced to the primitive now; he’ll be crawling toward the maw of the invertebrate in a few moments.”
Scantini looked suddenly, determinedly to Mical the young pet. He strained his head forward and shouted, “Hold on firmly to what you already believe!”[x]
The old Gao reached into his cloak and from some depth with him, hidden deep within the folds of his mantle. Within his half-closed fist, a golden light gleamed intensely. Then, as it expanded to fill his hand, Mical saw he held a golden sphere precisely like the one in Wren’s satchel.
He held it in both hands at his waist before him. An intense look of concentration or effort crossed his face. The sphere’s glow intensified, and then the brightness hid his hands. He fell, backward, over the precipice and was gone.
It immediately struck Mical that it he went over like a funeral fall. The sun set.
“You killed him!” he shouted.
“I killed him?” Irk laughed. “Looked to me like he just fell.”
Bernadette sneered. “What was that Captain doing here but spying on us anyway?”
“What do you mean?”
“You think that it was just coincidence that he came here, to the very isle where we were hiding out?”
“If he did plan it,” Mical scoffed, “he would have brought reinforcements, not us.”
Bernadette dismissed him: “Who can figure out what the Captains have in their heads.” She and Irk walked away some distance. Thomas moved closer to the holdalts.
“Don’t be too quick to assume that you know what’s going on here,” he said. “Scantini would have killed Irk if he could have.”
Mical and Wren looked to each other.
“That’s true…” Wren admitted.
“You should come with us,” Thomas urged them both. “It’s time that you should see what’s going on in the outside world. You should come to the Academy. ”
“I can’t go to the Academy,” Wren protested, “at least I can’t attend. My studies are just ordinary and I’m not symbiotic with an Echeloni Eldar.”
“Yes,” Thomas admitted, “the system still gives unfair advantage to the brat of an Echeloni. But there’s a group of us who are trying to change all that, who are trying to put right all the injustices of Gao society and end our dependence upon the Eldar. I am the editor of an underground newspaper there, called The Spark[xi]. You should see what we’re doing.”
“It’s time!” Bernadette called.
Thomas turned briefly to look at them upon hearing this cry. When he returned his gaze to Mical and Wren, both of them could see urgency in it. “Come with us. I will protect you.”
“Protect us?” asked Mical. “From what?”
“From…” Thomas stammered, hesitated, and then smiled. “From being left here! Scantini took your craft’s stony ball to the nether with him. We couldn’t leave you here on this miserable little island, could we?”
“That’s not what you meant. You meant Bernadette and her pet ape. A lot of gratitude she can show.”
“Her dedication to the cause transcends personal relationship,” Thomas answered. “And Irk – he’s in charge here.”
He put a hand on each of their shoulders and guided them toward the other Rebels. “Come and at least look at Irk’s craft, The Damage Done. Even though we three come from in Harbortown, I’ll wager you’ve seen nothing like it. And I’m sorry as regards to what I said about being a pet,” Thomas said to Wren. “I realize you’re still just a pet too, but you’re very young – that’s different.”
Thomas chatted along the pathway as he led the young pair to another side of the island. There, at its shore, was indeed a fine ship. Floating some eight or ten feet above the sand, a stony dart some fifty feet long shone against the indigo of the evening sky.
Wren stood in awe.
“Not like Scantini’s little wooden tub, eh?” she asked. “Look at the marks on the hull - retractable excursor masts. But this doesn’t just sail, it’s a powered craft - enclosed, armored.”
Using a small ladder, Wren climbed up to a small open aft deck. “Come on,” she said quietly to Mical. “Let’s go. We can get away from Bedford together now.”
Mical looked helplessly about. Bernadette and Irk seemed to have forgotten them; they were more concerned with a cable attached to the ship’s stern, although the other end of the cable appeared to be broken. Mical gazed away from the isle of the Leek Tree, to the hilly shapes on the horizon, to leaves of the Green Isles.
“What about the Green Isles?” he asked. “What about home?”
He looked to Thomas, and Thomas nodded. He climbed aboard.
The masts quietly extended upward, port, and, starboard. Power thrusters lifted the ship, allowing for an almost immediate extension of the keel mast. As the expanding shafts drew the network of tritaneous lines tight, an almost sub-aural hum began to travel along the complex of cables. A glow appeared at the masts’ tips and the Wellonis Breeze lifted the craft away. Power cut out, making their vessel invisible to the artifice of tracking.
As they pulled away, Mical looked back. Hanging down from the underside of the islet, he saw a long thin cable, but nothing dangled from its nether end.
[i] slar-rebel backward is, of course, spells leberrals
[ii] This scene was inspired by Painting #5 “Art Design”. Treasure Planet DVD. Disney Studios. 2002.
[iii] Psalm 133:1
[iv] The military robots from Eye Drops and Scroop from the music video included on Treasure Planet inspired the physical shapes of the Widge.
[v] Bernadine Dorhn inspired by this name (American terrorist and failed communist revolutionary of the late 60s early 70s group, the Weather Underground).
[vi] Comment made by Luke Skywalker in the first Star Wars glorifying revolution.
[vii] Psalm 67:1-2 Adapted from the New Jerusalem translation.
[viii] Psalm 37:5 & 6 Adapted from the New Jerusalem translation.
[ix] Description of clothing and attitude inspired by Collier 73 and 89
[xi] This was the name of the Communist Party’s newsletter before the 1917 Revolution.