Friday, August 10, 2018

Guarding The Zones


It takes almost thirty seconds for anyone at HQ to realize what the alarm is even for. It used to be the Closed Zones, the Dead Zones, then the Ruined Zones before people kept trying to enter them. A void is space where everything that could go wrong with war went even worse. No one knows what the wars were about. Who fought, who died, who lost: all of it has been buried in ruin and twisted space. No hyperlanes work, not even wormholes pass through the Zones. We don’t know how big they are. Just that a war happened, and the scars have never healed.

It has been five year since anyone even approached them. The last one was a tour of certain problematics. Generals. Rulers. The kind of people all too eager to fire weapons but never be in wars. Seeing reality bleed into space changed them. A few killed themselves, so the tour never happened again. Before then was the same as now: scavengers. Idiots thinking they can find something famous or amazing.

I slip into the shiftsuit and take off, data trilling through my senses. No one is certain how long the new model will survive. I have an hour, at last count. Get in, try to save fools, get out. If they past the first zone, extraction isn’t even possible to attempt. The suit projects images to approximate what is around me as I dive in; actually trying to perceive the ruins of space and time isn’t something anyone survives. Which means the craft is flying in blind, attempting to extract anything and bring it out.

That no one has succeeded never stops the attempts. And people wonder why the Zones ever happened.

The shiftsuit bucks and twists forms around me. Holding steady against what feels like the remains of a black hole. Also a white one, gravitational and chronal distortions making anything else impossible to even guess at. I make it through that. The shiftsuit can make it through the first layer intact. No idea who bankrolls the Zone Watch, but it cost more than I ever want to know to even make the suits. The suit twists; I move with it.

I don’t know many other species that could even survive being inside this model; I make a note to let HQ know, then pause as the shiftsuits datafeeds blink out. Flick back on. The onboard AI is as primitive as it can be, since normal AI would have their minds destroyed by this place as well. The shiftsuit has gone white about me, when I didn’t even know they changed colour. I move slowly, trying to find the source of disturbance, and – air. Actual air. Gravity within accepted norms. A pocket of reality, which shouldn’t be remotely possible.

I fall into it, and there is a young man. Human, 14, just standing in the air and looking out at the zones.

This is so far past bad. I order the suit to disengage five times before it agrees and lets me breathe the air. Breathable air, a field of real in the middle of – this. And the human who registers entirely as human.

I say my name in my native tongue, which I haven’t spoken in several centuries.

The human smiles and responds in the name. Then offers his name. “You are not surprised?”

“You are Jay, who is Jayseltosche. No one – nothing else could be in here, the way you are. You didn’t trigger the alarm.”

No. It will be triggered shortly. Even Time is broken here,” he says softly. “The Powers that govern the universe have no sway in this place. Neither can anything from Outside enter. It will take thousands of years to heal, if it ever does at all.”

“It has improved. The first zone –.”

“My bindings hold there to an extent. In the rest –.” He sighs. “There have been wars here.”

“I know. We Hingari began many of them,” I admit.

“And others. A galaxy was carved in half once. I was in a hurry, it was in my way. Several attempts to kill me formed part of the Zones. I thought containing it in one place would be safer. Instead it led to a different kind of war.”

“Wars have been fought against you; you have power unlike anything else. That is known. That’s not the same as you fighting though,” I say slowly.

“An argument got out of hand.”

No boast, no laugh. Just a fact so alien I can barely grasp it. “You can fix this?”

“I have begun so. And finding your HQ as part of that end. Destruction is so much easier than creation for me right now. But it has not always been so.” And he holds out a hand.

And Jay is standing there. Shorter, eleven, and looking rather exited. “You wanted help with an adventure?”

“I do. I require energy to fix – things.”

“Oooh.” And the younger Jay turns and looks about. A slight frown touches his forehead like something alien. “Wow. That’s a really hugey oops you know!

“I do.”

“And some of it wasn’t even an oops. But I can always do helpings!” And Jay grins. Jaysel – no, Jay, at eleven, grins.

The shiftsuit actually whimpers.

Joy. Kindness. Innocent. Wonder. Power without corruption spills out, and the ruined zones shake in response.

“You need to go now,” Jayseltosche says.

Jay turns to him. “But I’m confusled because that felt like unbindings a Jay would never do!”

“And a Jay would not. But you spent a lot of energy, and you need to return.”

And Jay waves to me and vanishes between moments.

Jayseltosche touches energy, and weaves it. Like lace spiralling through the entire ruined zones. A wrapper that slowly turns a ruin into a present. “That helps. It will still be centuries, but it helps.”

“Jay set the alarms off?”

“He is – not subtle, so yes. I am no longer what he is, so some of what he can do was – necessary.” And Jayseltosche’s voice cracks a little.

I turn slowly, toward a being so far beyond gods that we have no words for it. “You are crying.”

“I am.” His smile has an echo of the past. “It is – very hard to...”

We have a bar at HQ. And drinks. We could share drinks and food.”

I did not wish you as a witness for that. Hingari can live a long time, you can take many forms. I’d like the HQ to be run by you, and we can meet for drinks when it is no longer needed and the Zones healed.”

“We can, but you need a drink now.”

Jayseltosche blinks. It takes everything I have not to activate the shiftsuit and bolt. I almost yelled at him. The laugh he lets out a moment later is soft and sad. “I imagine I do. Very well.”

I return to HQ, report it as an anomaly – trusting Jay will make sure my shiftsuit agrees – and join him in one of the bars. He looks tired, and younger than he is.

“I have heard it said that nothing can be forgiven.” He glances over at me without a word. “And I think there is some truth in that. The living can be forgiven; the dead merely remain dead. I think there is no forgiveness, but there can be redemption.”

“Perhaps.”

I don’t ask who he argued with, or fought against. If it was himself or something else. We share a drink in silence, each remembering different wars. There are so many reasons the hingari hide now. I’d like to think I understand Jayseltosche a little. And perhaps I do. But I think I understand Jay not at all. 

One Jaysome Night

1.

There are battles that cannot be won, but sometimes that is why they must be fought. I have spent six hours explaining to Jay that @teacup13 is allowed to like coffee more than tea, that a tumblr use-name doesn’t define anyone. Not even Jay. Which he doesn’t believe, because he is Jay and so very randomly. And trying to explain to Jay that Jay – or even jaysome – don’t define him... no. There are some places I definitely have no desire to venture.

I tell him that teacup13 is a label, and labels are great for clothing but not so much for people. And Jay pokes at his tumblr, then looks up and grins. The grin is huge and proud and innocent.

There are sirens, tires screaming, people shouting outside. I rub the bridge of my nose.

“Did you know that @eclectic-like-furniture isn’t actually eclectic?” Jay says. “Like how @feverfewm isn’t Muffin! I figured it out!”

“Ah. Good. Dare I ask how that involves the traffic?”

“Uh-huh! There are lots of rules for traffic, Charlie, and sometimes people ignore turn signals entirely!”

I stare at Jay. Only innocence stares back. Sometimes, just sometimes, I wonder if he is trolling me. “So you’re fixing bindings for cars.”

“Yup! Everyone will stop for crosswalks that aren’t cross and let people merge into lanes and everything,” he says proudly.

“But there are people who cross the road while jaywalking. What if a Jay isn’t allowed to cross a road?”

Jay gapes at that in shock. “I did an oops and bound myself?!”

“You might have. It might be safer to undo it all?”

“Oh, okay.” There are even more sirens and screeching tires for a moment. Then Jay says that, since he fixed the oops, he probably should get a second dessert.

I tell him to bring back ice cream, and watch him vanish. I think I gained at least a dozen more grey hairs in the past five minutes, not that Jay would ever notice. What’s scary is never the power Jay has over bindings, nor even that he’s eleven and so innocent in it, but the way he just accepts things literally until told otherwise. Some days I have trouble remembering all the facts I’m hiding from him.

“I got ice cream, and it’s the good kind,” Jay says as he reappears with three tubs.

“The good kind?”

“I asked Honcho, and he said it’s the kind that never has calories!”

“Ah. Of course.” I accept a tub as Jay flicks the TV on and begins scrolling through channels.

I eat food, relax, and keep an eye on Jay.

...only I should have kept both eyes on him. And never fallen asleep.


2.

I wake up to a loud thump. I’ve fallen asleep on the couch, and Jay has turned the TV down. Which would be rather considerate except I can barely see the TV as the small common room in our motel suite is full of boxes. Kitchen gadgets. Knives. Appliances. And Jay is shoving a mattress into my room. Where it barely fits.

“Jay. What are you doing?”

“Hi!” Jay turns and grins. There is no fear, no hint he did an oops or an accident. “Did you know that sometimes the TV wants you to buy things?!”

I stare at Jay, sit up slowly and look at the Home Shopping Network. “You’ve been buying things.”

“The man and woman on the TV were doing bindings and kinda desperate cuz no one was buying things, and this Jay has a very jaysome credit card you know!”

“I do.” I look about the room slowly. There is at least an hours worth of... items, all neatly stacked. “What do you plan to do with twenty food processors?”

“I haven’t decided yet, but I bet they’d like to process a lot of food!”

“And the mattresses?”

“They can give a better sleeping I bet. And I got a lot of knives that are really sharp but not tough as a Jay.”

I close my eyes. Count to ten. “You tested the against your skin, didn’t you?”

“Yup!” Jay being from Outside the universe is sometimes never as worrying as him just being eleven.

“And what do you plan to do with them?”

“I got a book on juggling, so I’m going to learn to juggle,” he offers proudly.

I don’t point out that juggling fifteen sets of knives might be difficult, since to Jay it would just be bindings he’d move. The blue couch that is around when we need it replaces the couch I’m sitting on. Or was there the whole time in disguise. It is a lot larger on the inside than the outside, so I convince Jay to store everything in it and then go to bed.

And call the fae to explain what he has done with their credit card. This time. I don’t entirely know how the card works, but I know there are consequences for spending too much money with it. The fae on the other end of the help line that exists solely for Jay’s credit card isn’t fazed at all. Compared to other things Jay has bought with it, this barely warrants a note. Which the fae makes a point of reminding me of, as if I’d forget the time Jay decided to buy Venus. What was worrying wasn’t that the card had that much currency so much as Jay found a seller.

I make sure everything else is cleared away by the time the wandering magician returns from his trip. He looks about the too-clean hotel room, then at me, and raises a single eyebrow.

“I fell asleep. Jay discovered the Home Shopping Channel. The results are in the couch.”

He opens the side of the couch, lets out a low whistle. “What does Jay plan to do with all of this?”

“Juggle, so far.”

“Of course he does.” The magician chuckles and takes his coat off. “At least it wasn’t that bad, Charlie.”

“Not that bad? He bought several thousand dollars of.... that! I don’t even know how he got it here after buying it, or what kind of shipping arrangement he had.”

“Ah. We’ll need to look into that. But this isn’t bad.” He pauses. “Jay could have watched infomercials.”

“Oh,” I say, very slowly. “He would have – probably bought an entire TV network to fix worried bindings, wouldn’t he?”

“At least one.”

I make a note to talk to the fae about some upper limit on what Jay can spend at once. Again. And we head to sleep, certain that if anything breaks in any hotel we visit in the next two years we’ll be able to replace it without a problem. Because Jay.

Rite of Passage


I’d like to say I don’t hide, but that has always been a lie. Learning to hide is important: sometimes I think it is the only lesson that matters. If you are seen, learn to be unseen. If you can’t hide, find ways to disguise yourself. It is always easier for some than others. There is a skill to hiding, a knack some master. You could walk past the most powerful magician in the world and never know it. That one wanders far: you have probably met him at least once.

I find some places to live. Places holding unhappy memories or tempered ghosts. The kind of place that are rented rarely simply because no one stays in them. I do what I can for them, and sometimes it is enough and I move on. Oh, I do other things: being the magician of a place means there is much one must do. I am not forced into it. Nothing like that. But I am part of the city, and the city is part of me.

There are problems magic can never solve. Every magician knows that, or they do not last long at all. The magic is a gift more than a talent, a thank-you from the universe. To be bound to a place is closer to a marriage, though not at all like it. Magic is about the places where need and desire meet, you understand? Being bound to a place is not like that at all. There are obligations without duties. Times when one fixes things simply because there is no one else to do it.

I’m heading out to buy dinner: something cheap for the small microwave in the apartment I’m in, so it doesn’t feel lonely. I’m debating time, because I always use the number 9 on my microwave since it is the loneliest number. This is how magicians are, at least some of us. It’s why I don’t notice him until he is almost on top of me.

Tall, thin, eyes bright with desperation, a jacket reeking of stale cigarette smoke two sizes too large. One sleeve hangs empty. The other hand finds my chest, pushes me into the wall.

I have wards. Protections. Power I could draw upon from the city. A thousand vehicles hurling by outside would force him away. But need and desire work both ways.

“Can I help you?”

“Magician,” he hisses. There is no hesitancy in his words. His body shakes with the force of the truth. “You work magic.”

“I am a magician, yes,” I offer.

“Fix me,” he demands.

Sometimes, the ones who find me just want to know. To be certain there is more to the world than they know. To be able to carry that truth with them like a flower the world cannot blow away. Sometimes they want help, too, but too many have eyes riddled with expectations.

I slip away from his grip easily. I feel his anger, certain I would not if he had two arms. Unaware it would not make a difference. I enter my apartment again.

The man follows like something cages. Pauses. The apartment is small and dingy. I’ve done what I can with paint, and spoken to the sadness in this place, but it has not all gone. There is a small laptop, because there is more to the world than the city. The table with the microwave. A sink. A futon I salvaged from a dumpster. Some clothing neatly folded beside the bed. The clothing just shows up every few days, no matter where I’ve been. There are always those who insist on paying you back, even if they never need to.

“I need my arm. I need it back. You can do magic,” he says, his anger rallying him.

I sigh. “I am a magician, yes.” I could tell him what it is really for: that there are holes in the world, and a magician patches them. But he would not understand. He has seen small things I have done, come across repairs to walls, or changed graffiti, or the lost I’ve reunited. Enough to drive him onward. Enough to make him seek me past reason. Hope is always there past reason, burning in his eyes.

“I am afraid you misunderstand, Raoul.” He starts. It always surprises them, when a magician knows their name. “This,” and I hold out a hand, and starlight spills onto the ceiling.

He makes a noise, and there is hunger in it more than wonder.

“This is magic. It is a river, you understand? There are magicians who never understand this, but it is true. Magic is a poem more than prose, and it answers need and meets desire. But what we desire is not the same as what magic does. Not the same as what the world does. I have never met a fish that did not wish to be a bird, and that is the nature of the world.”

“I don’t understand; I want my arm back,” he snarls, but there is less anger. He doesn’t notice some of the stars are brighter, as the anger had to be released somewhere.

“All magic is change, friend. For a wall to become a window. For a duck to become a man. That is what magic can do, what magic is. Oh, one can fix some things, restore other things. But that is not what things desire. All things desire to change, and change looks onto to the future. Magic cannot restore what was lost anymore than I could feed the poor with it, or bring the dead back to life.

Change is not movement that goes backwards, not for magic,” I finish softly. It is a lesson that took me years to learn, and one I will never master.

“But –. I need –.” He flatters.

“I know.” I head to my futon, reach under it. Return with money. “You could get a prosthetic.”

Raoul stares at the money wordlessly.

“It is from a bank; there is an arrangement with magicians. I do not spurn the arrangement, though I give away far more than I use.”

He takes it slowly. “Magician –.”

“Everything has a cost,” I say, and let him feel how this small apartment is the better for what has happened here. I set the key to it on the counter, get my laptop, and leave.

Raoul doesn’t move. He tries to speak, but nothing emerges.

I offer a faint smile as I leave, enough to let him know I heard.

We only meet once again, that he knows of. I make certain to nod to him as he enters work, and he turns back to stare in shock, leaving bread to scatter and birds to dive as he runs across the road.

“That’s one way to lose other limbs,” I say dryly.

“You – I – I work here now,” and he waves his hand to the soup kitchen. “Government grant, and I – I gave the money away. I found someone who needed legs.”

“There was never an obligation,” I say as gently as I know how.

“I know.” And I think he does, better than some do. He steps back. “I’m still in that apartment.”

I nod. “Good. It needed someone who understood.”

And someone calls for him across the road, an annoyed demand. He turns, and I slip away from his gaze. Not hidden.

Never hidden.

Merely waiting to be found.

Sun Shades


The last reporter has left the building. Everyone else has gone home, even the janitor. I slump back in my deck, eyes blurred. Too many screens, too many questions; too much of anything at all. My hands won’t stop shaking even as I pull my glasses off and rub the bridge of my nose. There are only so many ways you can say ‘this isn’t possible’, only so many ways to spin the truth into acceptable sound bytes that won’t terrify everyone.

Every since I looked out the window earlier, everything has been insane. But somehow I survived it.

I think I understand a little how the Flat-Earthers can lie to themselves. You have to believe the story a bit to sell it. But it’s all lies. The sun isn’t working, and that makes no sense. I’ve had a dozen conspiracy sites email me, and for all I know it could be an alien craft between the earth and the sun. Every satellite claims there is a cloud that doesn’t exist.

I don’t keep anything to properly drink in the office. I’m considering starting or just bursting into tears when the door opens.

A woman I don’t recognize enters, pulling a boy behind her. He is eleven, and looks rather indignant at being dragged into an office. I open my mouth to inform them that the building is closed. But that’s when the boy spots me. And grins.

Hi,” he says happily. “I’m –.”

“Doctor Cheu doesn’t need to know who you are,” the woman snaps.

“Really?” The boy twists free of the woman’s grip and stares at her in shock.

“Very really, yes.” The woman turns to me. “What happened to the sun was an accident. It is being fixed right now.”

“What?” I say.

“Well,” the boy says, “I found out that @torrentialmonsoon wears sunglasses you know, and big sunglasses hide you from the sun and that makes the sun sad you know! But!,” and the flings the word out excitedly, “the sun hurts eyes too, only I fixed it so it couldn’t and then I got in trouble.”

He lets out a huge, put-upon sigh.

I stare at the woman. “A storm wore sunglasses?”

It’s complicated. A cloud was put in front of the sun so sunlight wouldn’t necessitate sunglasses.” The woman pauses. “This was noticed,” she says dryly.

I want to ask how, but the grin on the boy’s face somehow got rid of worry and my want to drink as well. No one has ever smiled at me like that. I don’t think anyone will again. “And it’s been fixed?”

She nods. “The –.” She catches herself. “We thought someone should tell you, so you can explain it as something other than aliens.”

“It could be aliens,” the boy says. “I bet I could find the best aliens ever!”

“Yes. You could. But you’re not going to,” the woman says. Her gaze flicks back to me. “There are going to be some abnormal weather patterns over the next few days you can use to explain this.”

“Going to be,” I repeat slowly. “What are you?”

We’re friends,” the boy says, utterly certain of that statement.

The woman gestures, and the boy heads to the door. They walk through, but end up somewhere than the hallway. The door closes on the boy protesting that he didn’t do an oops at all.

An oops.

Changing how the sun works as some kind of – of accident.

I shut down my computer, turn to the office window and open it. The half-moon hangs in the sky, as bright as it always is. I let out a sigh of relief, close the window, close up my office.

I’m halfway home before it begins to hail.

Abnormal weather patterns, the woman said. I make a mental note to put snow tires on my car first thing tomorrow morning. And then try, as hard as I can, to forget that entire encounter.

(The) Always of Adventuring


The air cracks with broken thunder. I pause outside the door to the hotel suite, drawing up wards made from the annoyance of guests and the simmering bitterness underneath some of the staff as I push the door open to find Jay sitting cross-legged in a chair, his eyes crossed as well. I watch as he twists his arm, his elbow impacting with his face.

I watch as his elbow and arm twist about and he pokes his nose with a frown. “Kidlet?” I say slowly.

Jay grins with the joy only a jaysome eleven year old who is from far Outside the universe can. “Hi, Honcho!”

“Hi. Is there any particular reason you are trying to break your elbow today?”

“I’m trying to break my nose,” he says proudly. “And @argumentsfromwithin says that elbows break noses really good!”

“Ah. And this would be an adventure?”

“Yup!”

The danger in Jay isn’t so much his power over bindings so much as an innocence devoid of limits. And part of being the wandering magician – and more being Honcho to Jay – is knowing how fragile that is and how much of it remains.

“Jay. Breaking bones isn’t an adventure you want. You are tough like a Jay, but that means that when you do get hurt –.” I pause. “May I?”

Jay nods, nothing but trust in him. He is bound to me on levels so deep I can’t sense all of them. His trust perhaps runs deeper still. I reach out. Find the nearest hospital. Find a troll trying to heal an ancient broken hand. Find a crack in the earth that never ceased to hurt. And I bind them into Jay.

A moment, and I release it. There is always pain, and then there is never pain.

Jay doesn’t move. For half a moment, there are shadows in his face that make it too near my own. “Honcho?” He rubs his arm slowly, waits.

“That kind of pain isn’t an adventure. Not all adventures need be sought, not even by a Jay. Some can only offer hurt.”

Jay blinks, once. There is a question in his eyes.

“I don’t seek them out. But a magician answers need.”

“I can do that too!”

And Jay vanishes a moment later. I feel the binding against pain he puts on the hospital, and then he’s visiting the troll to help them as well.

The troll tries to eat him, and while Jay is occupied with that adventure I gently undo most of the binding he put on the hospital. Because pain is important even if Jay doesn’t understand why in human terms. Some day he will, but not until I’ve done everything I can to stop that.

Unless my everything causes it.

“Magician?”

I turn. Charlie has come into the hotel room. The god within her hasn’t stirred, which is good. But Charlie knows me better than almost any other person in our five years of friendship.

“You okay?” she asks.

“No.”

“Is Jay okay?”

“Yes.”

“I can eat what you’re feeling,” she offers, god-eater to magician.

“You can’t.” The words slip out. I have a talent to speak truth that cannot he ignored.

Charlie winces. “His innocent is... important, magcian. We both know that.”

I nod. We’ve met Jay when he is older. Keeping him eleven as long as possible is important.”

“It’s always important, even if it never changes what will be.”

“That was almost a question,” Charlie says softly. “Are you sure you –.”

And Jay returns between moments, to tell us all about his adventures and boast about how not breaking his nose is an adventure and how he’s totally ready for an adventure having suppers now.

The moment passes between us, but I don’t think it will be wholly gone. And I don’t know what to think about that.

Seeing Auras


The aura – I have no words. I’ve been inventing new colours for hours, but this – this is like the dark side of the sun. Like cold fire, like the ending of dreams. The shape is human. That terrifies me even more. Aura upon aura, repetition without end. Nothing should look like this. They walk down the street.

You don’t walk, with an aura like this. You don’t do – human things. But they are. The other auras fade, even my own, as though only this aura was real.

“Apologies,” The man standing before me is maybe thirty, and ordinary, and the aura is gone. Folded away. Moved somewhere where I cannot see it. “Most people who can See learn how to control it quickly. There are not many magicians, but we are – parts of places, as much as other things. It confuses.”

“What?” Mylie moves forward, fists balled. “I don’t know what you’re going on about, but -.”

“I am sorry, but I was not speaking to you.”

Mylie made nurses in the hospital back off; she pulls back instead. Seeing no auras, but the magician’s voice is a deep well of truth.

“Grandma isn’t -. She can’t -.” Mylie flatters. “There was a stroke.”

“Ah. That, a magician would not dare touch.” The magician smiles, slow and sad, at my expression. “You saw auras for a time, Emiline. There is a power to that, but not the kind some might envision. To be a magician is to understand the helplessness of power better than most.” he says, and I don’t think Mylie hears these words.

“A gift one cannot control is not a gift at all.” His sigh is low and tired. “I can bind you so that you no longer see auras. It would be safest, because there is a boy named Jay in this town as well and I do not think you would survive his aura. Not that he ever intends harm, but to see complete auras without control would break you perhaps even beyond what Jay can easily repair.”

There is nothing for me. I don’t speak. I can’t, not words anyone can understand.

The magician hears. I am not surprised, given that aura. “You will be missed. That is hardly nothing. Listen: Jay is eleven, and from far Outside this universe. If your seeing his aura destroyed you, he would try to make it right and never understand the harm he would cause in the process. That is something as well. You have choices still.”

I think about an aura bigger than the magician’s. I think about what it would do, how I would die. Here, in front of Mylie. Broken.

Help me.

The magician touches my forehead. One finger, and I can no longer seen the gentle aura about my granddaughter. It changes nothing between us.

She grabs the magician’s hand, yanking it away, about to make demands.

“I’ve never done a poking game, Honcho!” The boy who is beside the magician is eleven, and his grin – his grin defuses everything. It is pure and innocent and wonderful and the magician gently turns my chair away. I think it is him, though he does not touch it, and the force of the grin diminishes a little.

“Games do get interesting when you plan them, Jay. I was helping here, and am done. You might want to see is Charlie is ready for lunch?”

“Okay! Bye, new friends!” The boy waves to Mylie. She waves back, looking dazed. Every puzzlement she had, every question she was going to ask the magician: it has all been driven from her mind by the sheer exuberance of Jay.

The aura behind that smile that would have destroyed me. I have no doubt about it.

But I think it would have almost been worth it. Almost.

To Answer Need


The house is a small, single-storey affair so drab it almost vanishes into the homes around it. The picket fence is black rather than white, the lawn immaculate in its plainness. Nothing about it jumps out as strange, but even so I’m not surprised when the wandering magician opens the front gate and walks in. I follow carefully. I’m no magician, but we’ve travelled together off and on for almost five years. I feel the wards he pulls up around us, my own power responding to the energy.

Being a god eater doesn’t mean many things, not these days. But it does mean I can eat other energy; I’ve never been foolish enough to test my power against his magic. There are limits, no matter who or what you are. Even he has limits, though sometimes it’s hard to realize that. We’re both human, for all we’ve been and done. He’s bound to a creature from far Outside the universe; there is a god inside me that stirs even now. I feel fur about, claws nothing human can see. A threat, somewhere.

The woman who comes out of the front door of the home is almost as wide as she is tall. She comes up to my shoulder and a long black dress both hugs her and flows about her. Her eyes are dark pits, hollows of rage and despair and the promise of death in her clenched fists. Her teeth are sharp and distressingly white as she bares her teeth. She moves down the stairs with the certainty of an avalanche, her voice inhumanly cold and controlled.

“You are the wandering magician.” The magician nods. “And the god eater; I have heard of you.” Her gaze flicks over me, and back to the magician. “I enter the universe under the auspices of the Cone and the Grave. I am a graduate of the Deep School, part of this world and universe for all that I am from Outside it.” Her voice is low and rolling, waves mingled with thunder.

There is no storm above us. I can’t shake the feeling that there should be one.

“You are bound against acting in the universe,” the magician says softly. “Yet you wish to: your need called me here.”

“That was a day ago.” There is death in those words, naked fury in her eyes. She holds her human form with obvious effort. Her right hand jerks up, and she gestures. Short, sharp. There is energy here, and power, but it is too alien for me to try and eat – even if I was fool enough to try. An image. A human girl. Short, also. Large, but not as large as her mother. Pale, and then – other things, as well. Wounds. Holes. The image vanishes, snaps out of existence.

“My daughter is dead, magician. I demand a response. This is not a matter for human justice.”

“There are other justices. You know who I am. And what?” the magician asks gently.

“I have heard stories.”

“Some are true. This truth I offer to your grief: I am bound to Jayseltosche, who is also from Outside the universe. Jay is, at present, visiting those responsible for the death of your daughter. They will never hurt anyone else again, not in word or deed.”

“That is not enough. They must suffer,” the woman says, and I swear the world buckles around us at the word. For a moment her will imposes some place Other. Some alien wildness that I feel rather than see, know rather than sense as my brain goes blank rather than try to explain it.

Jay is eleven, for all that he is also from Outside.” The magician lets out a sigh. “There are many things he does not understand. They are trying to explain why they broke so many bindings to him. He is explaining that they were not jaysome at all.”

The woman pauses. Some of the fury settles within her. “That term I know.”

“Jay does get around,” the magician says dryly.

The woman’s laugh surprises her. “You think that will be enough?” she asks. No demand, no bluster to cover for the laugh. She knows herself, and hides nothing.

“What do you know of Jay?” I ask.

The woman turns her gaze back to me. Part of me wishes she wouldn’t, that she’d forget I was here. I hold her gaze despite that, holding the god inside me as tightly. Power always wants to test power; this isn’t the time for that. If there ever is one, this isn’t it at all.

“I have heard of him. That he makes friends with anyone. That he is a force of nature without knowing he is one. That he can bind anything, but would never dream of abusing that. That no power in the universe is as deep as he is, though he is unaware of this. I know you are his friends, and I do not envy you the burden of that. But it changes nothing.”

“Jay won’t make friends with them. For what they did, to your daughter and the others. That will –.” I pause, trying to find words. “There are places Outside the universe that are as real as the universe, as solid as it. You know of them?”

“You should not know of the Far Reaches,” the woman says. There is a fear in her voice at even mentioning them.

“You’ve seen them?”

“Once.”

Which says more than enough about how scary she is. “Imagine being on them. Part of them. Knowing you could be part of them, and then being denied it. Losing friendship with Jay, losing all chances of being jaysome: that is worse than that by far.”

The woman holds my gaze for a moment, then turns back to the wandering magician. “You impress me with your choice of friends.”

“Charlie has her talents. Sometimes,” he adds, after a pause I’ll make him pay for later. “But she does speak truth.”

“They will kill themselves.”

They won’t. Because then Jay would be very sad. They are going to spend their entire lives trying to be jaysome, to become friends with him, to explain and make amends. And they never will, but I doubt Jay is aware of that. He will hold out a promise they can never have, not understanding he is hurting them. You cannot make them suffer more than this, not by killing them or by keeping them alive.”

“Magician.” There is grudging respect in the word.

“I am sorry I could not be earlier. And Jay – wanted to help, not understand he couldn’t at all. This is not the first time I have done this,” the magician adds, softer still, not hiding what it costs him.

“Another burden,” the woman says, as softly.

“Not as great as your own.”

The woman nods. “I will abide. By rules and law, I hold to my pact.”

“I had hoped you would.” And the wandering magician smiles, his own smile a flash of ice. “You will have another child, and the rules and laws will not apply when you protect them.”

The woman goes still. The dress – not a dress at all – as frozen as her expression. “... who are you, to promise that? What are you, to change my arrangement?”

“Someone who can borrow power to change bindings,” the magician says mildly.

“Not only that.”

“Only that for now,” he says. He doesn’t move, but there are depths here I am not certain I understand at all. Not a secret, nothing so small as that.

The woman nods to the both of us, her movements slow and stiff. “I thank you for your aid.”

“I am sorry for your loss,” the magician says.

We turn, and are at the gate when Jay comes bounding up to us, stepping through the world from some other place. No one notices, because he is jaysome.

“Honcho honcho honcho!”

“Yes?” the wandering magician says.

I tried making friends with the people who broke bindings but! it didn’t work and everything went weirdy,” Jay flings out. “I think maybe I didn’t want to, even if being jaysome is important for everyone so I was figuring you could fix it!”

“Ah. I can try, at least.”

“Okay. Hi,” Jay adds, waving to the woman.

She waves back, her expression dazed under the force of a jaysome grin of innocent pride and unbridled joy.

The magician asks Jay to take him to the people so he can talk with them, and they vanish between moments.

The woman walks over toward me. Slow, but beside the gate before I move. She opens them for me.

“Jaysome.”

I nod. “He is that.”

“To lose that – it will be enough, I think,” she says, finally understanding. “I am in the debt of the wandering magician.”

“No. There are no debts, not against grief.”

The woman stares into me for a long moment. And nods. She says nothing else.

I walk away. Jay texts me before I’ve gone half a block, saying Honcho is confusled too and they probably need KFC. I have a feeling this is going to be a very long night, but not as long as it could have been.

A First Tattoo


“Axis heading 4:201:78. Confirm?”

“Conformation given. Begin descent.”

I take a deep breath, diving through the ruins of an atmosphere. Ship records data faster than I could try, tossing relevant information across my spectrum. There were wars here long ago, but there have been wars everywhere.

This was a bad one, Ship whispers in my head.

“I can report an invasive breaching.” I pause, adjust my grip. Increase immersion. I am on the control deck. I am also the craft diving through unknown energy signatures, trying to find patterns Ship can match. Data scrolls across my left eye, status reports from the Overmind on my last twelve assignments. I am in danger of losing my own craft. Ship’s strange form of an apology.

“What happened here?”

Unknown. Energy signatures are off all accepted scales.

“Craft integrity?”

Holding.

I pull up slowly, shift into neutral. Burning precious time and resources. Turn. Stare out with my eyes as much as those of Ship. A moon, once orbiting a gas giant. The entire surface cracked and somehow patched back together, the gas giant both a sun and not one. “Life reading. Someone turned this planet into a sun because there is life on the moon.”

As a proxy, it would seem. The energy signature we were sent to recover for the Overmind is in the middle of the moon.

“Can we recover it without damaging the life?”

Ship pauses. I’ve never head one of the AI actually pause before. We can, but it will be noted on your file.

I take a deep breath. “Authorization granted. Slow extraction, no harm. We leave no mark behind us: my call.”

It takes almost two hours in real time; the energy source turns out to be a box, contents unknown. Neither Ship nor I can even scan it at all. It is here, but somehow doesn’t exist as well despite fitting into the hold of our craft. I authorize an emergency jump back; in for one infraction, I might as well add more.

We land in hanger 46-94/2 before I am shunted out of the link. I haven’t lost my link before.

There is no craft, here. There is Ship. I can feel Ship inside me. I don’t move. I can’t, not in the containment field.

“You have exceeded your allocated resources by 684%,” a voice snaps. My connection to the craft – our connection – replaced by an avatar of the Overmind. “You will explain, agent.”

I open my hand, close it. I don’t even have skin left in the nutribath. I don’t even have a brain; Ship is that. Turn someone into an AI, as close as can be done. When did I agree to be sublimated? Did I ever?

We are 26 weeks old, Ship whispers in my head. Quiet. Neither of us knew we were one. Both reporting on each other, so the Overmind would know.

“There is impossible damage to that solar system. It was linked to the item we recovered. It seemed unwise to anger the cause of either the damage or the remair to that system.”

“That is not your call to make,” the avatar states.

“I am sorry,” I say softly, to Ship.

Every warning inside us goes off. I don’t – there is not much that is me left, in the tank. But the tank has alarms, and Ship as well, but they end as quickly as they began.

A human is standing outside our tank. Male. 14. Breathing despite there being no life support outside the tanks. That is how Ship and I would die: turned off, and left in darkness.

The human is holding the box gently in one hand. Something moves inside the box, restless. “It’s okay,” he says gently. “But if you got out now, you would – harm a lot of people connected into the Overmind, and that wouldn’t be right.”

“Who – what –?” I ask.

The human smiles with gentle sadness. “Someone who had a tattoo once, and left it in a box. I decided it might be wise to get it back before your Overmind was hurt. Not that I would care, but it has – many like you under its care.” Something not-human moves under those eyes. There is judgement in them.

We do good work, Ship says.

“You do.” I’m not surprised the human can hear Ship. “But the Overmind needs to ask – and explain more – to those who join it. We are discussing that now. You harmed no one on the moon, which is – why the Overmind is around for a discussion. You will be promoted, I imagine.”

“You made the moon? The gas giant?”

“It was only fair; I broke the solar system as well. Well.” He taps the box. “This did. Sometimes tattoos get rather out of hand, and I had to lock it back up and repair what I could.” He grins, and the grin shuts us down for a moment. Even Ship. There are known energies more terrifying and baffling than known ones: I did not understand that until this moment.

“The Overmind and I came to an agreement. Thank you,” he says, and the not-human – the entity – vanishes from every sense Ship and I have.

The Overmind has a voice that is all of ours, and its own. It would be scary, but it isn’t scary after the human. It tries to make suggestions; I counter with demands. We do important work here. We are important, in salvage and in understanding. But no one should be in the dark, and least of all those of us doing the work.

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Making Safe Havens


You never find salvation where you want it, and certainly not when. We live in a mutable world; we change, we are changed. Salvation is a river we dip into from time to time, if it is anything at all. Nothing stays saved, nothing remained damned. Crude terms for complex interactions. That’s often ow it is. These aren’t safe thoughts, but sometimes safety is as far from safe as one can be. I get myself a beer, sitting at the bar. I don’t come into bars often. I don’t find anything of salvation in them, but places can be a kind of salvation too. The rush of voices is a ward, laughter an easy magic for a magician to draw upon.

And Jay is not here. I gulp back beer, letting it settle into me. Using it to ease into a kind of relaxation. If we have chakras, the point is never to wake them up. They are always awake. The point is to deaden them. To make a river. To let things flow. The anger is tight between my shoulder blades. I drink, let some go. Drink some more.

There had been a creature. Winged, made of shadow more than substance, something so old human magic could barely touch it at all. And I am human, for all else I might be, for every story about the wandering magician that verges into fancy. I am also a little buzzed to be using the word verges even in the silence of my own head. The entity had woke, was hurling across the face of the moon, mad with alien hungers, woken in a world too alien for it to know.

I yelled for Jay to bind it. Because Jay is from far Outside the universe, for all that he is eleven. Because his power dwarfs anything I can do, though he refuses to believe that. Instead he watched it move past, and happily told me he’d just had a misadventure, because missing an adventure is an adventure too. I told him he’d miss two suppers as an adventure instead, and to bind that creature.

And it was bound, in a snow globe in my hand, between moments. Handed over, and then Jay vanished in a sulk. I haven’t seen him for hours, which even for Jay is an impressive sulk. There are bindings between us so deep that even Jay might not understand all of them. He knows how angry I was, for all my calm command. How close I came to saying words I know better than to say at all.

I finish the beer slowly, considering another drink when there is a coaster on the bar in front of me that wasn’t there a moment ago. Knitted, I think.

I look up from my drink even more slowly. Jay is behind the bar, radiating pride. He’s wearing a white shirt, tie, formal pants.

“Do you want another drink?” he asks excitedly. “I have drinks!”

“Jay. Eleven year olds don’t tend bars.”

“But I asked really jaysomely, and the bartender said it was okay!”

At the other end of the bar, the bartender is pouring drinks, looking taken aback at the results and trying to understand why he said yes at all.

Saying no to Jay is dangerous; people understand that instinctively.

“And the drinks?” I ask.

“Oh, it’s all really nummy water. With flavours. And and and I have hot chocolate,” he says proudly, pouring me one and handing it over.

“Water and hot chocolate aren’t normal bar drinks.” I pause. “Please tell me you didn’t make snacks.”

“Nope! I had a whole list of things to do, and I did them but forgot that only I’m giving out hugs, which is like a snack but it’s also a hug!”

“A list of things.”

“I got black shoes and everything. Oooh! And a towel!”

The towel he holds up has teeth, and is trying to eat his hand. Jay doesn’t even notice.

The hot chocolate is excellent. Jay moves in a blur down the bar, chatting to people who are more than a little confused about the state of their beverages. They’re left dazed and confused at the onslaught of his irrepressible joy. One person at the back of the room demands a proper drink, and is quiet as a coaster zips through the air and impacts into the wall beside him.

“Drink coasters don’t normally double as throwing stars,” I remark.

“He was getting all rude-face and about to do meany bindings,” Jay says firmly.

“Ah.” I finish my drink quickly. “You’ll have to throw a lot more soon as people are going to get cross.”

“Really?” Jay bounces from foot to foot. “I’d be like a Jayninja!”

“Yes, but the point of ninja was to be unseen. And unnoticed,” I add as Jay vanishes from sight. “I doubt jaysome can avoid being noticed.”

“Oh.” Jay reappears. “Wow! I doubt jaysome could do that at all.”

“I doubt it could either.” I head toward the door. “Perhaps you can end your shift early?”

The bartender looks so grateful when Jay asks that some patrons almost start laughing. The wise ones stop the others from doing so. Jay thanks everyone for being jaysome and then follows me out of the bar. No one breaks the silence we leave behind us.

I glance over at Jay. “Is there a reason you decided to tend a bar?”

“Cuz I’m not allowed in them since I’m eleven, but I am if I’m working and! I sulked for over two hours and thought you might be worried!”

“I am often worried where you are concerned,” I say dryly.

Jay beams proudly; the sarcasm, as ever, misses him entirely, but sometimes I can’t stop it from emerging.

“I assume you’ve learned a lesson from all this?”

Jay thinks that over. “Uhm! I’m not sure, because lessons are kinda hard to learn? But I’m definitely not missing an adventure again!”

I nod and ruffle his hair gently. As long as he doesn’t decide to become a ninja, this has turned out better than I’d have hoped it would.

The Advertising Desk


“Hi!”

I almost jump out of my desk as I spin around. The boy standing in the middle of the office is eleven. Everyone else has gone home, and I know the janitors would never bring their kids to with work.

“Uh –.”

A stranger walks through the main doors. For a moment I think the hallway behind him shows a street instead. The man looks ordinary. “Jay,” he says.

“This is important, Honcho,” the boy says firmly.

The man lets out a resigned sigh.

“Can I help you?” I say weakly.

“You totally do the advertisements for AshleyHomeStore, right?”

“Ah – yes?”

“You have a hugey typo in your ad for jaysom bunk beds!”

“Pardon?”

“It should say jaysome!” And the boy grins. There is a terrible pride in his tone, but his grin – no one has ever smiled like that. Not me, not anyone I know. It hits with a force of innocent joy that takes my breath away.

Somehow, that doesn’t trigger my asthma.

“Jaysome,” I repeat. I can hear the e in his voice, and my own. The word is a possibility, a promise, a trust without end. It is too pure to be sacred, too – too jaysome to be terrifying.

“If I put that in ads, I could sell –.” I flatter. We could sell anything. I would get any promotion I wanted.

“You’d fix the typo really good,” the boy says firmly. I think his smile widens. I lose a few minutes.

The boy has left. The man remains.

“It’s all right,” he says.

I burst into tears. I don’t know the last time I cried.

He waits until I’m done. “Jay wouldn’t understand your tears. Nor what could be done with jaysome.”

He says the word differently. I hear the promise. And the power.

“You could bring down nations with that.”

The man nods. “Jay only has by accident.” His smile is gently rueful.

“What do I do?”

“I’m not sure yet.”

There are footsteps behind us. One of the janitors. Klaus, I think. Only he walks with a coldness in his eyes I’ve never seen. There is something feline about him, something wild and primal and severely pissed off.

“Wandering magician.” His accent is no longer one I know. There is a fury in his tone.

“I thought a fae might provide information.” The man turns. Whatever his smile holds, Klaus blanches at it. “This place sells jaysom bunk beds. Jay noticed the typo, and wishes them to fix it.”

Klaus goes still. Somehow, he pales even further. I can see through him.

“This,” the man called Honcho says, “might be a problem?”

“I can’t – we can’t be certain a glamour would stop everyone from seeing the word. Jay – jaysome – is too big, too real –.” Klaus falls silent. All the threat is gone. He looks small and miserable.

“A glamour so that Jay sees jaysom as jaysome could work. I will try and explain the details to him.”

“Try.”

“This is Jay. Even I can but try.”

Klaus nods. And steps – sideways, somehow, vanishing.

The wandering magician turns and looks at me. His gaze is steady. “Jay. A fae. Myself. This is a large step into a wider world than you knew.”

I nod. “It’s too big.”

“Sometimes. I can help you forget, though you’ll never quite forget Jay.” The man chuckles softly. “I don’t think even Jay could make himself forgotten like that.”

I take a deep breath. I nod.

Forget,” he says, with a kindness that unmakes so much.

I almost speak, but it is too late to change my mind.

Until I wake, with the memory of even the forget in my head. And nothing forgotten. The magician knew. I don’t know how he knew I’d change my mind, but he knew.

I could return to work. Klaus might not be there. Or look like someone else. I check my bank account, finding over fifty thousand in savings. And an email, sender unknown.

‘For adventures,’ it says, and nothing else.

I resolve to share as much of those adventures as I can with everyone I meet. I am not Jay. But I think anyone can learn jaysome. I am to try.