Friday, May 30, 2014


He wore a mask. Jay didn’t see it that way as he wandered the aisles of the WalMart, hunting down some new accessory for his tablet. He hides his true nature as a creature from Outside the universe easier than I hide being a magician, but it is not always enough to avoid attention. He is small and pale and tugs on the hand of one of the staff, asking about a micro sync cable.

It comes out as ‘micro thync,” thanks to his lisp, but he’s sucking on his right thumb as he asks and people explain his lisp away as that, not thinking further about it. Not defining him by it. The staff member crouches down, smiling and asking what model Jay wants. He recites it, and they file it away as precious kid, perhaps eight. Maybe seven. Lead him to the aisle he wants and help him get the item. He gives them a huge hug in reply and bounds down the aisles to me, informing me that he found it firmly and dragging me toward the check-out lanes.

The staff member grins over Jay’s head and I return it and ruffle his hair as we walk. He’s far less ashamed than he used to be about thumb-sucking in stress; I caused the habit to emerge by drawing on his future potential to save a town, damaging him inside and out like the lisp is another echo of. He’s turning it into a weapon, using it to make people forget about him. Because a ten year old who lisps travelling with a magician is someone who can be noticed and Jay hates that so much he’s made masks to hide behind.

And he doesn’t even notice it at all, as innocents seldom do. I wonder how much of even that is a mask now, but keep the thoughts to myself as I pay for the cable and wonder idly what other masks he might someday use and how much of Jay is entirely a mask to cover how scared he is of his own potential.

He ceases sucking his thumb the moment we leave the shop with a huge sigh of relief and opens up the package, plugging the cord into the spare battery for his phone. “I can use it with my tablet now,” he says proudly.

“And that is worth that entire performance?” I say dryly.

He blinks, thinks about it, nods. “Yup!”

“There is a creature from Outside the universe hiding in the mens washrooms at the food court; how is this cable supposed to help us deal with it again?”

Jay grins. “I can put it up on youtube and make lotth of money!”

I cuff him alongside the head and he just sticks his tongue out and hurries ahead of me, tablet in his hands. I count to ten in my head and follow in silence.

Thursday, May 29, 2014


It is raining on top of the office building, a light rain dancing into an earth made artificial, the garden atop the JetSyne skyscraper existing to make some kind of statement. According to Richard, it is an attempt to be hip, which he said in a deeply sarcastic tone. Richard Brown is as drab as the name, the kind of person almost destined for management at some faceless conglomerate of a company. Though, on the face of it, I probably would be as well if my blandness was not an act of conscious choice as much as a statement of my nature. I have no idea what he did to owe favours to the magician Wu Ming, but he did so and she sent a messenger to me in turn.

Because, as she put it, if she could not destroy me – not even in her own city – then she could well use me. I am not like other magicians: I can wander, and I have bond myself to a creature from Outside the universe who bound himself to be first. Jay has been left in a hotel room with a TV and snacks and is desperately trying to hide his fear from me through our binding. Jay is very, very good at hiding and I’ve borrowed that power to walk through the JetSyne wards and sit in on a meeting about company productivity. Which as near as I can tell involves more work for less pay.

I am starting to think that anyone who wants to attend meetings should not be allowed to.

The current speaker is one Melissa Engelbert, the CPO. Chief Planning Officer apparently means co-ordinating events. It also means making arrangements for the wards and protections the company has against magicians, especially the one who is the city. I could take the wards down from inside and let Wu Ming in; I haven’t yet. It takes an interesting kind of courage to try and close a part of a magicians city from them, even if it only one office tower: there are many reasons to do so, and some of them are even benign.

It is, after all, a very quick way to get the attention of said magician if you want to.

Ms. Engelbert, the ‘Ms.’ thrown out into the room like a drawn sword, is talking about graphs and production values and the company pension plan. I have no idea if it is my being here, or something Wu Ming asked of Richard, but he raises a hand.

“Excuse me, but we import much of our products from China. Whose record in human rights is frankly appalling at best: I am not sure JetSyne can dare to claim that it is going to deny insurance to workers for moral reasons given that. At least not without being duly laughed at.”

She pauses mid-flow. The CEO, one Albert Spencer, lets out a low rumble of laughter from his vast seat at the end of the room. He is quiet, the kind to listen more than speak, and reminds me of a magician as he stirs in his chair. The stirring triggers a memory and I am almost certain I know what he is, which is all the more reason to keep quiet.

“We are about profits and productivity,” Spencer says. “People are a distant second to the accumulation of wealth, wouldn’t you agree?”

“I wouldn’t,” Richard says.

“Ah.” The CEO lets out along breath. “Recently married, are we?”

Richard looks confused but nods.

“That would explain it. It is unwise to let pangs of remorse limit oneself. Continue,” he says, waving a hand to Ms. Engelbert.

She talks about mining operations, though calls it datamining and apparently means the internet. Which is reason enough for a company to not want magicians to be involved in their affairs, but perhaps not enough to go this far. I listen for at least ten minutes to her lecture on a subject everyone else in the room seems to know before a man with no chin stands and begins talking about shareholder return and market value and the need to be trim and lean.

I cough. Heads snap about, suite rustling like scared pigeons. I’m wearing jeans, a cheap jacket, t-shirt. I don’t belong and as far as they can tell I wasn’t in the room a moment ago. I stretch from where I’ve been leaning against the wall and feel Ms. Engelbert draw up power. Practitioners aren’t magicians, but they can use magic. Enough time, enough effort, a large enough source of power and they can do small things in a small area. It took all her skill to make the wards, that and more beside. I feel out her power, and the sacrifices made to bolster it.

“You would solve a lot of issues if manpower and time wasn’t wasted on wards,” I say softly. “Or if half the interns didn’t have their own future drained out of them to help power said wards. There is this saying, you know that we borrow the land from our children. Which means we’re leasing it from them at a rather enviable rate, don’t you think? We are always in debt to the future, especially companies forced to straddle it.”

Ms. Engelbert speaks a Word and the air shudders under it, the other suits spinning to stare in shock. I don’t know how many knew of magic, or even her, until that point. Most large companies have at least one person whose job it is to keep out gremlins, leprechauns and the like. It tends to be uncommon knowledge at best.

I catch the Word and unravel it between my fingers. “I am a magician, Ms. Engelbert. I could unmake all the wards now, let the magician who claims this city know what you’ve been doing here. But you haven’t been doing anything wrong, just being too paranoid for your own good. Being a corporation instead of people. That, too.”

Richard has gone still and pale; whatever he expected of me, this wasn’t it. Neither will be this, I think.

I turn to the CEO and bare my teeth in a smile. “How has JetSyne been treating you, Albert Spencer? Is this an acceptable hoarde?”

He stirs, and for a moment I catch a glimpse of banked fires in his eyes and greed so deep nothing will ever fill it. No one else recognizes a dragon; myth conditions people deeply. They expect scales and wings, not a hunger without end, not glimpses of what a dragon must give up for power. A dragon’s fire can burn a magician to ashes but can’t he hot enough to replace where their heart, their soul, where they used to be. Only wealth touches that coldness, and it’s never enough at all.

“You could kill me,” I say, low and hard, for his ears alone. “But you would lose JetSyne and Wu Ming would kill you in turn. I would wound you enough for that at the least, and I am not without allies who would avenge my death if even my enemies like her failed to do so.”

“Magicians are not welcome here,” he says for everyone’s ears, and nothing more.

“If we were, I would be worried.” I bow to him, and undo the wards about the place. It is easy from the inside, so easy that Ms. Engelbert grips the table to stop herself from crying out as how quickly I undo years of work. I don’t tell her she could have been a magician if she’d wanted it enough; I have no need to be that cruel.

I just turn and walk to the door. “We have no reason to interfere in your affairs, not truly. Your company is not doing anything other companies would not do if they could. But if you push this, I will call in the debts owed to the future and you will learn just how far your hungers take you and to what end they always need. It would help if you have less meetings,” I finish with, closing the door and heading down the stairs.

Security does not stop me when I leave.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Small Steps

In every large city in the world there lives a magician who has claimed and been claimed by it: the city is their place of power, and where each ends and the other begins is not an easy distinction to make. They are the magicians of stories and legend, who would raise up towers in a night or prison demons with a single wave of their hands. In the modern world, their methods tend to be subtler, quiet but no less terrible for it. Every city is a river of power and potentials, and the magician is the one who dams and shapes such flows.
        I do not travel to such cities lightly, but spending a month healing the ravages to a small town require a break from small towns, so I take Jay to the city of New Hexton, and a passing businessman with hunted eyes hands me a pile of fresh bills in exchange for the promise of a few nights of true sleep. Most people do not believe in magic, which is always safer. But desperation can make a believer of anyone, allow them to see a glimpse of other things.
        I give Jay the money and leave him to wander a mall the size of some entire villages. His hug is huge, and his grin even huger. “Thankth,” he says, and bounds off into the mall alone. He looks to be ten, but is not ten, and from far Outside the universe besides. We have become bound to each other by bindings of friendship and loyalty. I don’t worry for him. Much. I walk away from the mall, wandering off the bright streets onto the ones tourists never see.
        “I have imprisoned many demons below this city.” Her voice is soft behind me, when she finds me, all steel wrapped in kindness, or perhaps the other way around. “You are the Wandering Magician, the only one of us not bound to one place.”
        “The only one I know of, yes.” I offer up my name, then, and turn to face her.
        She is perhaps thirty, a few years older than I, though she carries her years with more grace than I ever have and her eyes are a shocking green as magic dances in them. I have put a lot of effort into being unnoticed; it seems she went the other way entirely. “My surname is Wu, and my personal name is Ming and I am not certain you are worthy know either.”
        “Perhaps not.” I don’t move, hands casually in my pockets.
        “You stripped another magician of their power recently, Wandering One. Without duel or consent. We would know how this was done.”
        “And if I ask who this ‘we’ are?”
        “I would not tell you. But the demons I have imprisoned can be called forth, cast loose to force answers from you, to batter down walls and barriers if you will not speak.”
        “And the world has so many true magicians it can afford to lose one?” I smile, and she hesitates at whatever she sees behind it.
        “You think you would defeat me. In my city.”
        “I think your jealousy will unmake you and that the demons you dare to cast free will consume you before anything else. That is what I think. And I think you have not been a magician long, or you would know I count banishment among my truest talents, and binding very close to that,” I say softly.”
                She raises a hand, and what comes forth from the air under the city is sickly sweet, smelling of ripened flesh and the cold that lurks behind the stars. It does not belong in this universe, imprisoned or not.
                I smile, and then wave to it. It sees me and is simply gone a moment later, unmaking all ties holding it to the universe. Even I didn’t expect the Entity to run away quite that fast, but I try not to let it show. She calls up another, and it is made of the light of newborn stars and the songs of migrating galaxies. And it sees me. And is gone, unable to touch me.
                Jay keeps saying that Something is coming, even if he calls it thomething. Whatever is in his dreams is enough to scare other creatures from Outside away from me, from whatever might be coming. Wu Ming has no way of knowing this and is staring at me wide-eyed, not even trying to hide her shock.
        “I wander,” I say as gently as my nature allows, “and that means all places are my place of power, when and where I choose.” I reach out, and touch the city, soothing the wounds calling up such things caused, and the other magician draws back in deeper shock, shaken to her core. It is no lie, though I doubt I could match her strength for strength here no matter what I did. But it is a very poor magician that enters into such battles if they can avoid it.
                I bow, turn, and walk away. She does not follow. I bury my disquiet deeply, enough that Jay doesn’t sense it when I return to the mall. Or if he does, he hides it well. He bought food, and a table, and a new phone and hands me a small handful of change after, looking worried.
        “You didn’t spend this much on that, did you?”
                Jay shakes his head, licking his lips. “I thaw people who needed the money to fix bindingth broken in their liveth,” he mumbles. “Tho I gave them it? If that’th okay?”
        “I guess it is,” I say, keeping my voice as stern as I can, “but in that case I should probably give your tablet away to someone who needs it?”
                He just grins at that and sticks his tongue out at me.
                I give him a light smack upside the head and head to the bus station, saying we’re going to head east for a little and grab supper later. He just nods and follows, not asking any questions at all. I could ask about his dreams, if they are getting worse. I don’t, and even I am not sure how much of my silence is cowardice.

Saturday, May 24, 2014


The town Jay and I find ourselves in when the car breaks down is hardly a town at all. Not that the car was much of one, but a car owned by a magician can continue to run under many circumstances. This one died when the engine entirely fell out of it and couldn’t be persuaded to become part of the car again; I didn’t push the issue. We had a tent in the back, so I left Jay to set it up, watch our belongings and grumble about having no internet access for his phone. For a creature from Outside the universe he did an eerie impression of being a normal ten year old at times.
        The town doesn’t boast a sign welcoming anyone and probably only appears on vintage maps, being little more than a collection of beaten-down houses around an intersection. The old gas station and corner store has no shingle up and is the only thing not a home in what is left of a town. I walk slowly through the evening’s haze and nothing draws the attention of the magic for almost an entire ten seconds.
        My eyes are drawn to thin dogs in mud-caked yards and children with wide and wary eyes that don’t leave the scant comfort of homes as they peer at me through grimed windows. The dogs don’t growl; neither do they speak. One old man is out mowing his lawn with an old push mower, his gaze flat and unfriendly as I walk past. I draw the magic up from inside me, not touching the energy of the world around me in such a place. There are sinkholes littering the earth below.
        People – even magicians – always speak about entropy but few realize that apathy is far worse. Things fall apart, but that is still movement and destruction is nothing if not creative. This is a dead place: too poor in every sense of the word and more as well, the kind that would never produce even a single ghost to call its own. Such places sometimes had darkness under the surface, the kind that reared up to consume wildly. This town doesn’t have even that.
        I circle the town twice in a slow walk in under five minutes, feeling out the heart of the absence. It turns out to be a small trailer half-rusted out in front of a house that was little more than a shade of what it had been. The trailer could have been pulled away; it hadn’t been, squatting in the middle of the town like a spider. The old man who answers the rusting door is balding, pot-bellied, a thing of sour breath and stale eyes.
        People’s names hover in the air about them like unsaid screams, walls between them and the world to say as long – as loud – as they can, “I am here! I exist!” He has no name, his nature having twisted so far from such things. There are ways to cast magic away from oneself, to break one’s will, to give up what once was claimed. He did no such thing. The magic inside him simply rotted away and what it left behind almost makes me take a step back as my magic recoils from him.
        “Go away.” There is no power to his voice, only the ugliness of a life lived too long and hard.
“You should know magicians aren’t good at that,” I say as gently as I dare.
         The earth whimpers far below us as pain gouges into it and he raises a hand as if to backhand me, then lowers it. “You’re the one who got away. The wanderer, the magician not bound to a place like this,” he spits out.
        “I am.” I let out a sigh. “These people can’t remain here.”
        He says nothing.
        “I can be your death, if that is what you desire.”
        “I would be dead if I desired death, magician.”
        “Perhaps. Perhaps not.”
        I feel what he is begin to gather in the earth like oil spilled in water: he had pushed the magic so far away, tried to destroy the very place he is bound to. I wonder how long it has been since he’s touched the power, but I have no desire to find out. I reach through the bindings I have with Jay: he sees the world as bindings spiralling up and down into infinity. I permit myself to see enough, then place my will upon it as Jay isn’t truly able to yet. I see, I reach, and I sever.
         The man staggers visibly, though there is no outward sign of harm. “What – what have you done?”
        “You are no longer a magician.” I don’t sound casual at all. My fingers tremble and won’t stop. Some things, even necessary ones, should not always be done.
        “What are you, to do that?” he whispers.
        I say nothing, letting go of Jay’s nature, letting the magic out of me to begin healing the world and people here. I turn and walk away.
        “There are rules,” the man screams behind me. “A magician’s magic cannot be removed without consent or a duel! No matter how far I placed it from me, it was mine and me!”
        “I don’t care.” I don’t look back but feel him scramble back. He is no longer a magician but he remembers what a magician can do, what my voice could command or compel from him. I could say other things, about what he did to his magic, how he drew people here to feed on despair. Nothing he does not know. “Go,” I say and he scrambles to his trailer and begins to hitch it up.
        It will take time to help this place and people begin to heal; I walk back to the tent and tell Jay we will be staying for at least a week.
        “With no internet,” he says slowly.
        “I could try and coax wifi here. That is the term, isn’t it?”
        “Yeth.” Jay rolls his eyes. “And it’th important.”
        “This isn’t about a high score in some game?”
        He grins at that. “Not only!”
         I shake my head, thank him for letting me borrow his energy and begin calling wifi to the area. If I were wise, I might destroy the ex-magician now, but there are kinds of wisdom I don’t aspire to, and a kind of person I have no desire to become. I let him run, sit on the ground, and begin the long process of healing this place.


It’s unnerving the first time you look into a mirror and don’t see your reflection. If you are a magician, it means someone has stolen your face – identify theft can be very literal where magic is concerned. If you are not one, it is a yelp of shock and Jay running out of the bathroom.
        “My fathe ith gone!”
        He pointed to his head, then grabbed my hand and pulled me into the bathroom, pointing his left hand at the mirror. “Look!”
        I stared at the mirror, ran my right hand over it. No hint of magic, no sense of anything awry in the world. My reflection was visible in it, and made faces at me until I raised an eyebrow. Jay’s wasn’t visible at all.
        “Huh.” I drummed my fingers on the mirror, then glanced down at Jay. “Nightmares again?”
        He shook his head. “Nope,” he lied.
        I didn’t press him and walked back into the motel room. The beds were clean, which was more than could be said to the rest of it. Jay followed me to the window and looked out at the city, then back at me when he showed no reflection in it either.
        “Honcho?” he said after poking it with a finger and making faces closer to what my reflection had done in the mirror to me.
        He blinked, then nodded and hurried to his bed to get dressed. Jay looked human, even to magicians, as long as he wasn’t naked: few ten year old boys are as sexless as a ken doll. He pulled clothing on and hurried to the door, not hurrying into the hallway on his own even though he hadn’t had breakfast yet.
        I grabbed the duffel bags with out stuff and placed them sideways from the world. it took half a block for us to find a decent puddle and Jay peered into it, knelt, ran his fingers through it and stood up after. “I don’t have a reflecth – that.”
        “No, you don’t. And you’re good at hiding your nature, and very good at hiding.” He grinned pridefully at that; when you don’t have many talents, you appreciate what you have all the more.                 “Which means you’re hiding from your own reflection. Because?”
        “I don’t know,” he muttered.
        “It wath a bad nightmare,” he whispered, trembling a little as he stared up at me. “Thomething ith coming out of the placeth the dark ith thcared of,” he said, not trying to avoid a single ess.
        “Magic can come from places the light is scared of,” I said, and he relaxed visibly at that, not even trying to suck on his thumb to comfort himself this time. His reflection hasn’t returned, but I figured it would in time. I headed toward the nearest coffee shop and he hurried beside me, humming happily and tunelessly under his breath.
        Jay wasn’t good at lying to me at all; I could still manage to lie to him just fine.

Monday, May 19, 2014


There are things every magician knows, if they know anything at all: what lies Outside the universe, what might desire to be inside and how few and fragile our protections are against such things. And that we are a wall between such things in the world, and that this is what magic is for. Everything else we do in the world, be it need or desire or justice, is only passing time until we’re needed to bind and to banish, to close Ways others have opened.

There are days when it doesn’t feel like that at all.

There are lies everyone tells themselves, even magicians. Bigfoot are harmless was one, to me, until one of them embarked on a week-long killing spree in state parks. Bigfoot are loners unless it is mating season, each claiming a wood as their own and supplying companies and people with drugs they make. This one had experimented on himself and went crazy-mad, cunning-mad, killing campers and at least one other Bigfoot in the week it took us to find it. I executed it.

It is why I am lying in a bed of a small cottage near Yellowstone, wide awake at five in the morning. The cottage allowed Jay and I to stay in it as guests; he crashed in the other guest bedroom without even taking his clothing off; the bindings between us allowed me to draw on his strength for the week.

He never protested once – it wouldn’t have even occurred to him to do so – but he was so tired after the execution that I carried him all the way to the cottage. He should be sleeping; instead I hear him in the bathroom blowing his nose.

I move the covers off the bed and head down the hallway to the sound of Jay blowing his nose again. He looks to be about ten years old, even to magicians, but is something from Outside the universe who bound himself into my service. It hasn’t been easy, nor always safe, but he insists it is far better than returning home and being eaten by creatures far more powerful than he is.

“Jay?” I say his name softly and he turns, looking up. There are dark circles under puffy eyes and he looks miserable.

“I’m thick,” he says, and grabs another kleenex, blowing his nose again. “I’m leaking lotth.”

His lisp is thicker than it usually is, exhaustion radiating through the binding between us. Every part of his body is an ache he doesn’t know what to do with. I grab the tissue paper and his left hand, pulling him into the living room and onto the couch. It doesn’t take long to find a blanket; I wrap it about him and sit beside him, turning the TV on to morning cartoons.

Jay lets out a huge sigh and rests his head on my arm, sniffling and whimpering a little.

He’s tough enough to take bullets to the chest and get back up with only bruising to show for it; that he’s drained enough to catch the flu is more than worrying.

“You should have told me to stop using you,” I say softly. “You know I forget things when I’m focused.”

“You’re my mathter,” he says, as if that made it all okay.

“A master doesn’t treat a servant like a slave,” I say, and Jay squirms a little at the words. “If you’re going to call me master, I might insist you call yourself servant.”

He lets out a weak giggle at that. “That would be thilly. Honcho.”

“That’s better.” I wrap my right arm around his shoulders and he lets out another sigh and presses 
against my body. “Feeling better?”

“Yeah.” He lets out a huge yawn that turns into an explosive sneeze and yelps in shock after.

“That’s a sneeze,” I say, failing to fight back a grin. “People have those, you know.”

“I’m not people,” he says indignantly. “That thcared me!”

“I know.” I squeeze my arm a bit tighter. “We’re safe here. It’s okay.”

Jay opens his mouth to protest, lets out another huge yawn and then falls dead asleep between moments, head resting on my shoulder. I wait until I know he’s asleep, and bind all my own exhaustion to him in order to make sure. He sinks into something closer to a dreamless coma as I stand slowly. I test each binding between the both of us gently, and then whisper words of command that make my throat ache. Jay’s body shudders, but other things become visible for a moment: deeper bindings, of his body to itself, the past to the present and the future into all of that. I don’t have names for most of what I see, and even most of that slips out of my understanding as I let the magic slip away, taking in deep breaths after to clear my head.

I retain enough to know he shouldn’t have got sick and let the rest slip away: knowing the future of anyone is a burden even a magician does not willingly bear, and he has so few ahead of him, each reaching hungry tendrils into the present. The cottage sleeps around us and I pull out all the exhaustion from the both of us and place it deep into the building, a ward and protection against the harm of time.

Jay yawns sleepily when I shake him. “Honcho?”

“Feeling better?”

“A little?”

“Okay. I need your talent.”

He blinks at that, eyes wide. For a moment I think he might say no, then he just offers up a small nod. 

“You won’t keep it, will you?”

“No,” I say after I find my voice. “I just need to borrow it.”


Just that, and I can see the bindings that make up the world as easily as anything else. A magician 
sees magic everywhere: Jay sees bindings, and now to unbind them as well though he hasn’t power enough to do much of that yet. I ignore the power and fall deep into the bindings that make up the world. The universe isn’t a binding, but there are so many holding the parts of it together, warps and wefts, magics and wills and other things I can barely sense at all.

I’m only borrow what Jay is, but it’s enough to feel an ache, a bruise, a sense of something other manifesting. Not yet, but soon, a boil on the skin of the world. Something is coming from far outside the universe, the mere potential causing wounds. I don’t attempt to fix the wound: I’m not near powerful enough a healer. I mark it for others to notice, let go of Jay and stare out at a world that seems smaller and safer than it ever did before.

“Honcho?” he says in a small voice.


“Y-yeah. There’th...” Jay trails off. “What ith it?”

“I don’t know,” I lie, and he trusts me because he always has. Jay sneezes a little, accepts another tissue, and curls up beside me to fall asleep again.

There are things outside the universe powerful enough to enter it thrugh every ward and protection; I know them only as stories. Even Jay would know of the Lords of the Far Reaches, powers so terrible that death and time have little meaning to them any longer. And if one of them is ever to seek us for any reason....

I wrap my arms around Jay, weave healing into him and wonder if he is sometimes as scared of me as I may someday be scared of him.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


I leave Jay in a cheap hotel room with pop, pizza and getting high scores at games on his phone. There are creatures from Outside the universe that can only be placated by blood or certain songs, or even the hearts of innocents – or so they claim – and compared to most, Jay is rather easy to please. That he bound himself into my service and I to his in turn helps somewhat.

There are few certainties in magic and less in being a magician, but one is that magicians are a wall between the universe and what lies Outside. Everything else we can do – and there is much we can, and many ways to bend the world to our needs and desires – is a distant second to that. There are many magicians who would kill me if they knew the bindings Jay and I have. But he was dropped into my lap, scared and afraid, terrified of being eaten and so damaged from his journey into the universe that the scars might never heal. He was scared, and alone, and I took him in. Because I can be human as well as a magician. It is easy to forget that; he reminds me of it each morning.

And it is not enough. I am tired, in ways the magic cannot touch. Because of the magic. I move from place to place, leaving small wonders and magics in my wake. Helping those I can regardless of their desires. I can do awful things, and terrible ones, but nothing that lasts. Magic is not love, nor even hope, but is like them – a poor foundation to stand on. Jay is solid: he knows who and what he is. I am changing, because magic is change. I am moving less quickly than I used to, keeping more of my magic for myself.

I need it, though I do not know for what. Or even to what end. So I walk, slipping through side streets and backyards until I reach the places where the town falls away and the wilderness remains. I let Jay know I’m walking, and step into the woods. Two steps sideways, one ahead. There are magicians who make magic circles or chants, or insist on finding the second star to their right and heading straight on ’til morning. I just walked, and the forest became a wild thing of ancient trees, animals heard of more than seen, insects buzzing in alien choruses or silent before the world. Vines twist and lunge, bright colours bloom and die to distract.

I wrap wards about myself, my mind as armour. This is a magician’s garden, perhaps, or the kind we would have if we had the time for such things. It is the old woods, the deep forests that probably never were. I cannot see the top of even the smallest sapling yet somehow twilight still finds its way through leaves and branches. It is always twilight in the forest, except when it isn’t. That is when you turn and run. A few vines try and snag me, some animals mimicking voices of enemies long dead and gone. It is a formality only: I have walked the woods before, and they know it just as they know my death is not theirs for the taking.

I walk a distance that feels far enough, raise up true wards, speaking in tongues as old as magic, words I won’t remember after they have been danced, been spoken, been sung. I am shaking and sweating at the end of the ritual but a silver light burns about me, holding even the deep woods at bay. I don’t give myself time to think about it, just take a step sideways and leave my magic behind.

It takes on my form, as I’d hoped it would, but there are no wrinkles on his face and his eyes have not been aged by seeing things one cannot unsee. “This is most irregular,” the magic said stiffly.

I pause. I hadn’t expected a British accent. “I know. I thought this way we could talk.”

The forest is darker without my magic in me, the silver ward about us seeming to fragile to hold back creatures even the dark is afraid of. The wood is old and primal and kindness is not a part of its nature.

“Talk.” The magic blinks, his smile small and cruel. “Whatever of? You cut me apart, left pieces of me all over the world like an unwanted meal.”

“And we’re stronger for the loss,” I say, because I can be a magician without magic, even when speaking to magic.

His smile doesn’t change, but the words he speaks are low and harsh. “That is not what you intended, and what we intend matters more than what comes of it. You buried me in a park, bound me to some old man so you could wander the world unfettered.”

“In the beginning, yes. I was scared because I couldn’t lose, because you made everything too easy. I am older now, and not near as wise as I was at sixteen. I understand the costs and limits of magic, what I’ve made it for, what we’re about. The things we do, and why we do them.”

“And how far will you go, magician?”

“I don’t know. There are magicians who give up their magic and walk away.” The magic goes still at that. “But I don’t think I can be one of those. It’s just that we’ve been doing more and more, travelling without rest and there is always more to do. For all that you make me and all that I am, I’m a pebble trying to climb up a mountain.”

“Or bring it down,” the magic says softly. “Avalanches begin with such small things as pebbles.”

I let out a breath. “Or that.”

The magic’s laugh is light and free. “Just ‘or that’ magician? You have bound yourself to a creature from Outside the universe. You don’t think that is an avalanche waiting to fall? We have walked the world for years, changing people, altering places, showing magic to a world that is all but starved of wonder that is not cold science and dead maths. Did you not think that other magicians might want to wander as well?”


“I no more wanted to be tied to that town than you did, magician. That is what we are, to be rootless and roofless. To wander, and to grow from wandering.” And his smile changes then, becomes almost gentle and mocking both. “We will travel places no magician has ever been and learn secrets that we can never share and that will be our boon and that will be our doom.”

“You’re trying to bind me?” I say, not knowing whether to laugh or cry.

“No. I am telling you the truth you always knew and would never speak.” And my magic looks away at that, staring out into the woods, wrapping his arms about himself.

I walk over. He looks at me, stiffens, and then relaxes when I unwrap his arms and squeeze his right hand gently. “You’re afraid.”

“Yes.” The magic doesn’t look at me.

“Fuck,” I say, at a loss for anything else, and the magic lets out a small laugh at that and squeezes my hand in turn.

We say nothing, but the magic smiles almost shyly and stands on toes, the kiss gentle and soft on my right cheek. And I am whole again, alone in the ward. The forest waits outside, deep and dark, but I am deeper and perhaps darker than even it can be.

I dissolve the ward, bow to the deep woods, and step back into the world. We can stay in this town and I will not be bound to it. Which makes it easier to leave and easier to stay at the same time. I reach out into the world, feeling where the world needs me go to next, and poke Jay through the binding for him to start packing. I don't need to worry about being trapped in this place, and somehow that's reason enough to move on.

Monday, May 12, 2014


The convention centre is a small affair, the kind of place suited to large weddings and craft fairs. Locals are wandering about it in a daze as Klingons and Wookies exchange greetings in faux-alien tongues and people in blue paint and almost no clothing use any excuse they can to practise nudism. Jay is wandering the convention trying to find a hobbit because he wants to be one when he grows up. That, or Sauron. He marched off in a huff after I pointed out it’s rather hard to be someone you can’t say properly and muttering about being a Dalek then because I’d ruined his entire joke.

I’m wandering it trying to find out what a Dalek even is when I take the wrong corner and run into them. One table, two people in black hats doing card tricks for younger kids. The younger one is in his late teens, the kind of kid who spent his time at home learning magic tricks in his bedroom while other kids had lives, the older is stern and cold, the kind who believes magic is an Art and probably belongs to some magic circle dedicated to keeping their secrets private from the world when they can probably be summed up as misdirection and mirrors.

I’ve moonlighted as one once or twice, mostly for money and to bring a little real magic into lives. The one conjurer is rattling off his spiel seriously as he shuffles cards in and out of his hands with the skill of a surgeon performing an operation. The older spots me and goes still. Sometimes they know a real magician when they see it, though I’m not sure how. Or why they’d want to.

I walk past quickly but the magic finds its way out anyway. The younger conjurer lets out a small gasp at whatever he sees on some of the cards but doesn’t flatter at all. The older one follows me down the hallway, righteous fury radiating from him to empty it as he grabs my arm.

“Why are you here?” he demands. He doesn’t let go of my arm, which is mildly impressive.

“Oh,” I say lightly, “I’ve been roaming the earth, going back and forth on it.”

He gets the reference, even if I might have mangled it a little. “Your kind are not welcome here.”

“I am just passing through with a friend; I didn’t expect to find any conjurers in a convention this small.” I spread my hands; he tries not to flinch. “I’ll try to keep away from you but I can make no guarantees if you start using tarot cards. Magic gets downright sarcastic over those.”

His lips twitch almost into a reluctant smile as he lets go of my arm. “Joe doesn’t even know real magic exists, magician. What if he wants to become one?”

“You know, David,” I say, and he starts that I know his name, but names are easy to pull out of the air as most people scream theirs to the world unknowing. “I think that you wouldn’t have an apprentice who is that stupid.”

He lets out a sigh. “This is really a coincidence then?”

“Oh, no. I’m not sure anything is where magic is concerned. Is there a Lord of the Rings exhibit here?”

“No,” David says. “Please don’t tell me some of those actors –.”

I snort at that. “No. I’m just travelling with someone who is getting obsessed over the movies.”

He pauses, then decides not to ask questions. “I’ll send Joe to talk to you. He’s going to want to.”

I nod and wait as he goes back. He doesn’t look back once, trusting me to remain. His apprentice comes down the hallway a minute later, all pale and shaky but trying to hide it. “Joe, is it?”

A nod. Crooked teeth dig deep into his lower lip for a moment. “I saw things in the cards,” he stammers, all the patter gone from his voice.

“It doesn’t have to happen.” I don’t know what he saw; I could, but I choose not to. The look of relief on his face says I guessed correctly. “Magic can change the world, but that is not what it is for.”

Joe is smart enough not to ask what it is for, or too scared to. He licks his lips. “I saw fire in my hands.”

“And you think the magic wouldn’t burn your hands?” I have no scars on my hands. He stares at them and then up at me and waits, almost meeting my gaze. “Magic is change, and change is never welcomed nor wanted, Joe. There is no one, no matter how badly they need my help, who is not glad to see me leave. Magicians are necessary to guard this world against things that live outside the darkness, beyond the rational boundaries people build. But there will come a day when it will be too hard, when the costs will be more than I can force myself to pay and I will let go of the magic and walk away.

“I may die before that moment; many others have. And all I will leave behind is stories that will, if I am very lucky, convince others to not become a magician. You, conjurer, you will leave behind laughing children, baffled adults, apprentices, friends. Sometimes, when it comes upon you, the magic cannot be refused, but that does not mean it should be sought.”

“But you’re still a magician. Still – more,” he whispers, and there is a yearning in him for more than cards and tricks.

“Do you know what a Dalek is?”

Joe blinks. Almost opens his mouth, snaps it shut. He nods, finally, looking lost.

“I don’t. Magicians don’t use the internet or watch too much television; magic answers need and we might – do unwise things.” His eyes widen. All my talk of prices and if it comes to no televison or internet, it finally makes sense to him. “I am travelling with a kid who is threatening to be one: I need ammunition.”

Joe tells me about how Daleks are pepper pots, how Doctor Who was revamped, about Skarro where they came from, how Davros made them and other details off the top of his head. I try not to think of that as a king of magic and thank him.

“Magician.” I wait. “My –. I –. I can’t make them laugh, like other conjurers do,” he whispers. “They smile.” I wait and he finally meets my gaze, his smile a twisting of lips, forced and gone between moments. “Can you fix my teeth?”

“I can. So could a dentist.” He says nothing to that. “Would you still be you if I did it?”

Joe pauses. The pause lengthens and he finally says: “I don’t know,” proving David picked the right apprentice after all.

“Do you want to be you?”

He nods, takes a deep breath and tries on a smile. “Thank you.”

I walk away before he can question himself again and find Jay munching on a hot dog while watching people play act while wearing blue paint over their bodies. I’m pretty sure it’s not smurfs.

“Hey, kiddo.” He grins and makes room on the bench for me. “You know you can’t be a Dalek, either? They’re from Skarro.”

Jay start, staring up at me in shock. “Is there a reason you don’t want to be Jay,” I add before he can speak.

“I don’t know. It’th hard,” he mumbles.

“I imagine so. You’re not human at all. Being Jay is far harder than being a hobbit.”

“But they had to throw the ring in mount doom.”

“You have Charlie and I as friends, even if she isn’t around right now.”

He giggles at that. “Tho I win?”

“I wouldn’t call being friends with Charlie or me winning.”

Jay grins at that and lets out a happy sigh, resting his head against my arm. His right hand trembles a little.

“It’s okay,” I say, softly enough that he doesn’t have to hear it if he doesn’t want to.

Jay doesn’t move for a long moment, and then just watches people play games of magic and sucks his thumb, ignoring any stares he attracts entirely. Being Jay, as he has become. It’s not healing, not yet, but he can’t hate me for changing him and he’s trying not to hurt himself. It’s enough. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014


“You have to surrender to your mediocrity, and just write. Because it’s hard, really hard, to write even a crappy book. But it’s better to write a book that kind of sucks rather than no book at all, as you wait around to magically become Faulkner. No one is going to write your book for you and you can’t write anybody’s book but your own.”
— Cheryl Strayed


I didn’t mean it. I think I don’t mean most things I do, but you have to believe I didn’t mean that. It’s like this, you know: we do things, and there is always this voice saying: do more. Act out. Don’t walk around that person, shove them out of your way. Stick out your arm in front of the kid on a skateboard. Take scissors into someone just because you can. It’s the voice we always keep quiet, that we shove aside and never tell a single soul about. I forgot once. It slipped past all the – all the barriers we make with laws and rules. I shoved the old lady in my way on the sidewalk harder than I should have.

She was in my way. Old broad dawdling along taking up half a damn sidewalk, so I shoved her aside. She hit the ground before her walker went down, the snap of breaking bone like a broken firework – no, just bones. Her hip, an arm. I froze. I could have run after that. I didn’t. I called myself some names I’ve never called anyone, not ever, reached for my phone to dial 911. Hands shaking. I was shaking so bad. There’d be police charges. Law suits. I knew that.

That’s when I heard him. A boy, couldn’t have been more than 10, in jeans and a t-shirt in winter, dragging – an older brother? Uncle? Dunno: he looked to be in his twenties but he was bland, unremarkable. You could have dropped him in the middle of a cubicle farm and he’d have blended right in. The kid was pale, with bright eyes, glaring up at me. Adults can’t get angry like kids do: they put everything into it.

“You broke the bindingth,” the kid said, like that. He lisped, odd for a kid that old. I told him to get to his therapy class and get lost. I did Karate as a kid, you know. Until I was fifteen, before I discovered girls and – well, you know the rest officers. You’ve seen it enough. The kid was faster than I’d ever been, grabbing my arm and squeezing it.

I yanked free. I didn’t hit him. I could have.

“Jay.” That’s what the man said, and I’d almost forgot him but the kid just went scared-still and backed away from me, saying: “He hurt her,” furiously.

“I saw.” The guy’s voice was dry and he just looked at me and said: “You’re staying, Martin.”

I don’t know how he knew my name. But I was, and nodded. There was something about him, about his voice. Like he knew I’d do the right thing and if I didn’t – I don’t know what. It wouldn’t have been good. That was in voice too. There was steel under it.

He crouched down beside the old lady and put a hand on her arm. He moved gently, and the kid was watching intently, practically dancing from foot to foot. Can I get a smoke or coffee, something? A donut? Fine. Okay. The guy touched her, she gasped and I saw bone snap back into place. Leg, hip, clothing mending itself, the walker’s dents fixing as well. Coming together like nothing had ever been hurt.

“You healed me,” she said, and her voice was small and strange, as if she didn’t want it, or was scared at the cost.

“You wanted to be healed.” He smiled, and the smile was so kind it hurt. People don’t smile like that. They just don’t. And he said her walker had walked to be fixed to. That even a magician can’t heal someone if their need and desire is against it.

“Like Emily,” she said, and he nodded. I guess she knew someone who took their life, kid or something? I don’t know. I guess she thought he did.

The old lady spotted me then. I think she needed to break away from kindness without limits. She grabbed her purse and the magician said no. But he said it like the kindness, in a way that couldn’t be ignored.

“He didn’t run away. We all make mistakes,” the magician said then, and his eyes – holy God. I’ve never seen eyes like that and I never want to again. They were too old. Other things, but old. I don’t mean like he’d lived centuries, just that – that he’d seen too much. Done too much. Like soldiers with that stare that goes through you because they’re seeing the past. Or a future of more wars. Only worse.

The boy squeezed the magicians hand then, tight, and the magician shook his head as if clearing it. He let out a breath. “He stayed. He was calling 911 and he stayed to take responsibility. That is all bravery is. And he won’t do harm again,” he said, and I swear his voice was deeper, stranger, weighted. Like he was making sure I couldn’t? I don’t know. I just know I fell back, turned, and ran. No one stopped me. I ran here, to the station. I think he might have made me do that.

I think that’s the least of what he could have done, so here I am, telling you about it all for the third time. I guess you can’t arrest me and none of this would stand up in any court. I don’t want to meet that old lady again, though. Or the kid or the magician.

I tried to kill a fly earlier. Couldn’t. I guess I’m going to go buy vegan cookboooks. Leave town. Find a new life. Try and forget what I saw in the magician’s eyes. If I’m going to do anything, it’s going to be that. Whatever he can do, it’s not worth eyes that end up like that.

Can I go yet?

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Fun experiments....

The Dar stories were done in response to a challenge, something I rarely do as it was a month were of prompts; I do a couple of weekly ones since it's once a week and a fun change of pace/source of ideas. The month-long one was fun and I discovered that I can write 2-3 short story treatments in one day, though novel productivity dropped to close to nil. On the plus side, I got some magician series bits done, and Boy & Fox (!) as well. The rest was all taken up by the 'dar stories', a series of sci-fi stories set in an undetermined date and time that involved the life of a mechanic and ended with the possible evolution of the human species -- without him along for the ride.

One thing I discovered is that I really, really like doing serial-stories of this nature. (The magician series counts as one, but so far as no definite ending in mind and has blossomed into something massive and strange.) This story had a definite ending and arcs planned out. It could have been longer -- the docking-station section transits too quickly to the characters being older and the arc-worlds segment really has no other characters to connect with -- but the overall story was solid and worked. And was sci-fi.

The end result was 22 Dar stories, 2 poems (it was a poem/prose challenge, after all), 2 Boy & Fox bits and the last being in the magician series.

I am definitely going to use this for future projects and trying to incorporate it into Boy & Fox a little which each 'scene' feeling like a story all its own, in theory. We shall see how it goes, but I will definitely do another challenge of this nature sometime in the future.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Remember me?

My name is Dar. I am a mechanic. I am on the surface of Arc-World 7. They arc-worlds had been made to remake humanity in the event of extinction-class events. I’ve lived through five on the arc-worlds, seen humanity shift and change. Make war against the alien hingari who closed most of hyperspace to us. Be destroyed. Repeat. Humanity is gone now. There were six other arc-worlds. They’re gone to, ripped apart like every other star and planet to litter a two galaxies with the debris of a species.

I’d like to say it’s not my fault. But I tried to help. They found me, the last version of humanity. I talked to some of them, to their powerful psychics, offered stories. Told them that the arc-worlds were far older than I, that humanity had been doing this dance with the hingari for a very long time. They knew I spoke truth but they didn’t trust me. I am a cylinder on treads; my human body died when I was just eight and I was tranferred into this body. I’ve changed it a lot over the years, but I am still me.

I never got around to making the human projection I can put up over my chassis able to cry. I think that says a lot of things about me now. I don’t know. I don’t even know how arc-world 7 survived; I helped the other arc-worlds desgin it, added data I knew, things I’d guessed and inferred from working on the arc-worlds for so long. But humanity is gone, and somehow I survived.

I pace when I am nervous, rolling about on treads over surfaces. I haven’t moved in some time.

It snows, finally. It always snows when someone tries to breach the defences.

I let them in. It’s not as if I have anything else to do.

The shape that appears – hurts. I shut off every detection system I can save for visual stimuli through my viewscreen and what I see still makes no sense. It has angles it shouldn’t, has depth and width and other things beside.

“Hingari.” My voice is scratchy even to my ears.

“We were.” And I feel it inside me, in my mind, my self, past every defense and block I have. “You know, then.”

It sounds surprised. I’m not sure what I should make of that. I speak anyway, spilling out words: “I didn’t know. I figured the hingari had to be humanity from long ago, who found a way to become something other. That’s the only thing that could explain humanity giving you the same name so many times. Why you let the arc-worlds remain. Because you needed us: because eventually another manifestation of humanity would find a way to meet you, become part of you.

“Free you.”

“Free us, yes. You called us jailers every time you came to our prison with weapons and death and freedom on your minds. The irony was never lost on us.”

“And these humans – the ones who were here: Shino, Mulih, all of them – they have become part of you?”

“We have – changed, yes. Moved on. This part of the universe is no longer closed to anyone. Others will come in time. Humans may even return. Some did find a way past us without joining, without a becoming.” The hingari is silent for a long moment. “You could join us. We are enough to let that pass, to allow it to happen. If you desire.”

I don’t shut down. It’s a near thing. I am silent a good while. Finally: “I am fucking terrified.”

“You have been Dar a long time,” the hingari says, almost gently. “And a transfer for longer, I think, in your head.”

“Yes. I can remember being Dar. I can’t remember not being me.” I rock on my treads and then begin to pace along the world’s surface. The hingari waits. “Do I have to do this now?”

“No. Not ever. It is a choice, an offer: we do not mean for it to be a trap.”

“But you can’t undo it, if I wanted to become me again.”

“No. No, we cannot.”

I turn back, stop in front of the hingari. “If I became whatever the hingari – whatever you are all now – could I still meet the humans and aliens who come here?”

“We don’t know. Some of them may not be able to perceive us. Others might be harmed. It is – difficult to be here. Painful.”

“Oh.” I think about all that I could learn, all I could become. All I would lose. “I’d like to stay. If – if I change my mind, will you come?”

“We will. You helped humanity become us, free us: you will become us, once your body is lost to you. That is our promise and our gift.”

“Can I say no to it?”

“You may not.”

A giggle slips out of me that, unable not to. “I’m not sure a gift you can’t refuse is actually a gift?”

The hingari smiles at that, or does something close to that. “We do not care. Be well, mechanic.”

“Thank you?” I say, but find myself speaking to the empty air. I consider options, then head down toward the centre of Arc-World 7. A new Earth is one option; I begin designing a Docking Station instead. A place for people to visit, to learn from, altering the arc-world itself into this, preparing signals to broadcast. People will come, and I will tell stories, and listen to their own. And perhaps someone will take over when I am gone, or turn it back into an arc-world.

Perhaps not. For now, I am building. And I am content.

Stories told in storms

Arc-worlds don’t have weather like other worlds do. The ocean is a battery powering engines, the storms recycling of power sources. In the time I’ve been on the arc-worlds, I’ve seen it snow twice. Until now I’d never considered the worlds capable of producing a blizzard. Arc-Worlds exist to restart humanity if it goes extinct. I’ve been through four of those; I have no idea how often it happened before my time. The first arc-world was inhabited by the humans of this era; it is the oldest arc-world and humans lived on on in my time, too. Then they had a war.

That world is gone now. Only six arc worlds remain, including the seventh. The one I designed, the one I’m on now. It is snowing on all the arc-worlds, the psychic pressure of humanity seeking knowledge, weapons, power, pushing against ancient defenses. They won’t get through, but they could damage the arc-worlds. Cause the defenses to wake up and eradicate humanity without even noticing. The arc-worlds could be damaged, and there are limits to what I can do.

I’m a mechanic. A very good one, probably the best one there is in human space now, but much of the arc-worlds existed long before my time and uses technologies I barely grasp, sciences I can understand the basics of and no more. I was eight when I died, my mind placed into another body: a cylinder on wheels. Tranferring, they called it, and it became rare after my time. The people of my time died in a war against the alien hingari; I survived on an arc-world. I’ve lived on them through three more reboots of the human species. This one has produced psychics who use almost no technology, whose minds can tear wormholes in the fabric of the universe to travel between locations. But hyerpsace remains the domain of the hingari. Perhaps our jailers, perhaps not.

I watch the storm fall, and send out the invite on every open channel. It takes less than ten minutes for my request to be answered; the man I let in through the protections is older. Balding, tall, surrounded in a shimmering energy flux. He studies me for a long moment; I do the same, though I don’t bother with a viewscreen or projection for interaction.

“You are Dar?”

“I am.”

“I am called Mulih. We seek –.” He pauses. “We cannot get into your mind.”

“I am shielded,” I say dryly.

“We-I I apologize. using words is – difficult. Strange, with nothing behind them. The arc-worlds contain power that could boost our own; our seers have seen this.”

“You think you can claim them?”

“No. Even if we formed a gestalt we could not. It is humbling.”

“It shouldn’t be. There have been psychics before, and many other kinds of humans as well. The arc-worlds are here and they aren’t any longer. In my time, they weren’t used for war. Humans lived on four of them as a place of refuge from politics and wars for a long time. You don’t seem to have this problem.”

“We seldom do; it is impossible to hate what one understands.”

“You don’t understand me.”

“We wish to; Shino said we were not to fear you, and not to make war on the hingari. She has been dead for some time, and we have grown as far as we can without access to hyperspace. Without then power the hingari deny us. They may be right in this, they may not. Will you aid us?”

“No.” I don’t move.

“I could destroy you.”

“You could try. But I have a duty – chosen, yes, but still a duty – to see that humanity continues if you fail. If you think you are more important than that, then you are welcome to try.”

Mulih pauses and considers options, studies the falling snow. “Would you help us if you could, Dar.”

“I did when I talked to Shino. I told her about the previous reboots – incarnations, you would call it – of humanity. Left her to mull on that and where it would lead. Every other time, humanity has fought the hingari when it could, built weapons for that, forged entire societies around it. And we’re lost! I could unlock every secret, every technology here, and it might not make a difference at all. All the arc-worlds are for, all I can do is to say that you can find a better way. That there has to be one. That the hingari wouldn’t be there if they didn’t have a reason.”

Mulih is quiet, holding out a hand to the snow, and then is simply gone. I wait until the snow ends and go back inside, deep into the bedrock of the arc-world. And I wait. Oh, how I wait.

Thursday, May 08, 2014


The first thing, the truest thing that Boy noticed were her eyes. Pale ice over an artic ocean underneath, a dead-grey suit trying to blunt them, a plump body to disguise. He didn’t think the disguise was deliberate but couldn’t have said if that made it a good thing or not. The room he had been put in was small, off-green: a cheap table and cheaper chairs. There was a smaller table by the door with coffee and water; Boy didn’t understand coffee. The world didn’t need stimulants.

“You have been sitting here for an hour,” the woman said, her calm a cracking ice. “You didn’t have water once.”

Boy said nothing; there were rules about not taking gifts, about drinking and eating in strange places. That they might not be true didn’t stop them from being rules.

“The officer in charge called me.” She placed a small square of paper on the desk.

Boy picked it up, read it aloud to himself. “Arabetha Franklin, Social Worker.” There was more, but that was the important bit. Speaking things gave them power. Sometimes.

“And your name?” Arabetha said.


“That isn’t a name.”

“It’s mine,” he said, with some heat behind the words.

Arabetha let out a sigh. “We can’t help you unless you help us as well. Who are your parents?”

“I said I don’t remember.”

“That only happens in stories.” The social worker stood, staring down at him. “Do you want your face plastered over every paper and tv station in the city as we find your parents for you? Do you think they will want that?”

Boy went still at that. Behind Arabella, his shadow smiled against the wall. His shadow had hair, which Boy didn’t, and a smile that made Arabella’s eyes seem kind. Boy didn’t like the smile but he had no way to stop it as his shadow reached into Arabella’s and pulled forth ghosts to plaster them onto the wall like faded photographs.

Arabella’s smile was a flash of ugly victory at whatever she saw in Boy’s face. “Well?”

Boy stared past her into the phantoms that faded even as his gaze took them in, listening to whispered words at the edge of hearing. Arabella’s hand slammed into the cheap table, shaking her coffee. She’s said other things.

Boy looked up. Her words flattered, faltered. He wasn’t sure how he felt about that. “You were kind to Zoe. She was lost, scared, had run away from her step-mother like they do in a children’s story. She went back home, after interventions with her parents, but it wasn’t enough. You were less kind to Joseph but still helped him get into a community college, gave him everything you could but nothing replaced the high in the end.”

“What?” Arabella’s voice is a knife blade, ugly and scared and other things Boy isn’t sure about.

“The ghosts we carry with us are the ones that break our hearts, until we have nothing left for them to haunt. I think it’s like that sometimes,” Boy said. “Danielle isn’t a ghost yet but she is terrified her parents will refuse to accept she never should have been Daniel, will never see the truth inside their son. Too many stories like his end badly, and those are the only ones she knows.”

Boy stood, and it hurt to see Arabella flinch back from him.

“How do you know that?” she said. “Is this some trick?”

“I’m not Mr. Fox,” Boy said, though she had no way of understanding that. “I think, I think I gained some things, when I lost myself. Or they gained me. I don’t know. I just know everyone carries anb echo of the Wasting inside them and sometimes I can see that.”

The social worker said nothing. Boy wanted to try to explain, but somehow ‘sorry’ didn’t seem enough and he had no idea how to explain what he didn’t understand himself. She didn’t move as he walked to the door, didn’t even react when the locked door opened for him (though Boy was unaware it was locked at all); he asked his shadow to take her phantoms with it but had no way of knowing if that happened at all.

No one stopped him from leaving the police station even though Boy was certain they should have tried. He found the nearest streetlight and just stood under it, as if somehow the light could make his shadow go away.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014


I am watching a world create cliffs when they find me: jagged grey cliffs towering above an ocean. The water is filled with datastreams, the pounding of waves on rock powering the ancient technologies that are building landmasses on a world. The air smells of fresh-cut grass, and will for some centuries yet as terraforming engines, applications and linkages piece themselves together into the most efficient forms.

I am seeing it all from white cliffs further away, among the first geological features the world had of stone, and in the centre of them the various strata spell out the names of friends I have had in languages long dead and gone. It is my only indulgence, and I doubt it will last. But that feels as if it is for the best, that the past is buried under changes. That we move on. That we can pretend to move on.

The human simply steps out of the air beside me. No spaceship, no disruption-engine. Just the raw power of the human mind to move her across light years from Braden’s World, the closest inhabited system. She is tall, skin shifting white to blend into the cliffs, air and nutrients brought from Braden’s World in a shimmering field about her body.

“Our seers did not believe it to be real when they found this place.” Her voice is deep and sure, pressing against my mind. “The technologies here are alien to us: alive, dead, aware. Too many to count, all building a world at the very edges of our reach. An akashic record filled with selves waiting to be born.”

“I know how they feel. I felt the same for a long time on the first Arc-World I visited.”

“There are more.”

“There are six; one was destroyed long ago and rebuilt; this will be the seventh. The others were approaching hard limits as to what could be changed, could be added, could be adapted. This one won’t have those.”

She moves closer, slowly, to circle me. She is human. I am not, a cylindrical shape of treads, with limbs and sensors inside my chassis. I was human once, before becoming a transfer, being placed inside this body. Humanity has destroyed itself four times, in wars or by their own hand, during my long life. In each, the arc-worlds rebooted the species, made a new Earth. That is what the Arc-Worlds are for and they are hidden even from the alien hingari. I think.

“I am Shino,” she says. “I do not know what you are. Your mind feels human, but – very strange.”

“I’m Dar.” It’s been so long since I’ve said my name that it takes a moment to recall it. I alter my chassis a little, shifting apps and linkages until I have a viewscreen again, flick it on so she can see a human face in it. “This is how my face would have looked if I was thirty or so.”

“You are not an alien.”

“No. What do you know of them?”

“We call them hingari, and they exist in the alpha-space, in the pathways that allow for true astral transit past the speed of light. They will not let us pass them in it, not let us explore beyond them to the rest of the universe. There has been talk of war, a seeking for weapons. Stories about worlds filled with ruins. And then the seers found this.”

“I didn’t mean for it to be found; I figured it was a possibility. I’m a mechanic: I’m good with tech, even the organic kind, but you’ve developed purely mental abilities and I had no way of being certain I could hide this from you.”

“Did you want to?”

I smile at that, rueful and tired. “Some days I don’t know.”

“Oh.” Shino studies me. “You are shielded from me. Even the GESTALT could not break your shielding, I think, if it still existed. We were forced to destroy the Whole-Mind. It was us and not us, too big to think of small things.”

“I know. Before you one group mind detonated itself. I was – pleased you avoided that.”

“Before us.” She stares down at the white cliffs under us, out at the grey ones being made. “These Arc-Worlds have been used, then.”

“Four times that I have been privy to.” She lets out a hiss of shock. “Mine was technology built from the world, taking stone and iron, electricity and gravity, forging tools out of that. I called it normal, of course, because for me it was. In one, organic technology existed but their craft were no match for the hingari. The third was the group mind that detonated itself, the fourth wiped themselves out in wars long before they left Earth. And now you.”

“And you have done nothing?”

“I have waited to be found. I have hidden myself, the Arc-Worlds. What they mean. The Arc-Worlds are mostly automated: they would run just fine without me, but wouldn’t learn as quickly from each new embodiment of humanity. I am sure there are some out there hidden even from these worlds, safeguards piled upon safeguards, hope stacked up against despair.” I extend a limb from my chassis to gently brush the white cliffs. “I am a mechanic, Shino. I was born one, I have been one, and I can fix things. People are not things. If I interfered, if I did things, or taught them –” I shake my head in the viewscreen. “There is no way that ends well. Better to be alone than be a god.”

“What do you wait for?” she says, barely a whisper of thought.

“I don’t know. The Arc-Worlds need me a little. I think they like the company, so stuff breaks down for me to fix. The hingari have always been called that, in every form of humanity I know of. I suppose I’m waiting to see what happens if we do move beyond them. If we find out what they are. I have a few theories but no way to prove any. At least not without risking the Arc-Worlds being noticed by them.”

“You have wisdom we could use, then.”

I snort; it startles her a little. “No. Most of the technology in the arc-worlds isn’t anything you could use, let alone understand. I don’t understand over half of it, and I’ve been studying and learning it for a long time. You’ve built an entire civilization based around the human mind. Everything I could show you would just limit what you can become on your own.”

“And if we force the issue?”

I blink. “You could try; others have.”

“So you will just sit here and be a second chance, over and over, never helping?”

I move toward her; Shino steps back. “What do you think being found is, if not a helping?” I snap. “I have seen humanity die out four times, Shino. Four. I don’t know how often it happened before I ended up on the Arc-Worlds, how often we’ve done this dance of discovery and forgetting. The Arc-Worlds aren’t a second chance at all but a whole new throw of the dice. Knowing this, knowing that every time humanity has been rebooted it has failed, that is the lesson. That is the message of this place. To be better, to do better.” I move back. “Think about it: you’ve beaten your own Gestalt, walk to to other worlds with a thought.”

“The hingari are still our jailers.”

“Then you’ve made your choice. You can leave now.”

For a moment a storm gathers about her and the white cliffs shudder under me, but the moment passes as she vanishes a moment later.

I can’t cry; some times, like today, I find it a blessing.