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Table of Contents

Go Gaily In The Dark (The Chronicles of the Cause, Parts Three and Four)

Part Three That Which Came Before, During and Immediately After San Jose

Part Four That Which Came After San Jose (April 1, 1973 to June 16, 1973)

Fiction By This Author

Author’s Afterword

Go Gaily In The Dark
(The Chronicles of the Cause, Parts Three and Four)

Pertaining to events before, during and after the two novels No Small Dreams and An Age Without a Name, but before the events of Blood’s Shadow (the 6th Novel of “The Cause”) and that which follows.

Randall Allen Farmer

Copyright © 2018 by Randall Allen Farmer

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work, in whole or in part, in any form. This is a work of fiction. All characters, events, organizations and products depicted herein are either a product of the author’s imagination, or are used fictitiously.

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Go Gaily In The Dark
(The Chronicles of the Cause, Parts Three and Four)

“The men of the East may spell the stars,

And times and triumphs mark,

But the men signed of the cross of Christ

Go gaily in the dark.”

G.K.Chesterson “The Ballad of the White Horse”

Part Three
That Which Came Before, During and Immediately After San Jose

Chronicle VII
Carol Versus The Cave

Visit One (reprise) (1/25/73)

“Here is the truth,” Beast signed, after he put me down. I couldn’t walk, and I didn’t understand what in the hell he wanted from me, short or long term. We hadn’t gone far, perhaps five miles, into an area where the mountains turned into a high plateau four thousand feet above our heads. I remembered this from our maps, the Ram Plateau, a former centerpiece of a long abandoned Canadian National Park, back from before the days of the Monsters. Beast stopped us in front of the opening to a cave, barely wide enough for him to squeeze through. The decidedly warmer air flowing from the cave meant the place housed one of the area’s hot springs. “Family, I guard this place.” Beast had already regained his grammar.

“You want us to go in there?” Sky said. He radiated young Crow terror all of a sudden.

“As I signed, here you will understand the truth.”

None of us could resist Beast’s demand, least of all me, as I remained broken-leg baggage. Beast picked me up, gently, and on three legs walked us into the cave. Sky and Lori followed, Sky complaining all the way, Lori quiet and concentrating on her metasense.

I didn’t understand Lori’s concentration until I entered the cave, or what was likely the entry-room of a large cave complex. To my eyes, the place remained dark. To my metasense, it glittered. The entry room was warmer and damper, but I smelled the warmer and damper sections beyond and below. They didn’t possess the metasense glow, though.

Only here.

A dozen old columns, once living cave formations but no longer, divided the large room, perhaps two hundred feet wide, six hundred feet long, and forty feet high, into sections. Every surface in the front room glowed in my metasense, intricate, complex and ever-changing patterns both mesmerizing and daunting.

Just the sort of fucked up place you should expect to find if some bastard drags you out on a goddamned quest. I hated mystical mumbo-jumbo even worse than I hated quests, and this appeared to be mystical mumbo-jumbo central.

“Wow,” Sky said.

Lori stayed quiet.

“This is the home of the aurora,” Beast signed. As he did, the aurora sprang up around us, emanating from the walls. Not a real aurora, but a dross illusion of one. This was like being inside something like my Monster amulet, or the Eskimo Spear. But this place was fucking huge! I took out my Monster amulet and it, too, echoed the aurora of the room. “This is where we all come from.” He led us to the side of the room, a collection of cut surfaces and carvings a mere sixty feet to the left of the entryway. One drew my attention, a roughly rectangular slab that some ancient Crow had incised with the same sort of gold, silver and copper ‘wires’ decorating the Eskimo Spear.

On the yard wide slab were about two dozen offerings. Spear points, arrowheads, scrapers, the marks of the warrior and hunter. The last one froze my aching body, as it was a Lee-Enfield rifle.

“Tell me this isn’t what I think it is,” I said, turning my head so I could see Lori, or at least the part of her not blocked by Beast’s shoulder.

“I can’t,” Lori said. “If what Patient Zero told me is at all correct, this is where he contracted Transform Sickness and became whatever he is. This is it, Carol. The heart of the Predecessors.”

The Lee-Enfield had been standard British issue from 1895 to 1957. At some point in that time interval, or later, our Patient Zero placed this rifle here. I couldn’t tell anything more than that, save that the rifle appeared to be undisturbed and new. As did the primitive weapons and tools, and I was sure they had been here for centuries.

“The Holy Man once left a worn pistol here,” Beast signed. “He replaced it while I guarded this place.”

“You met him?” Lori said. “Why didn’t you kill him?”

“He was Holy. Beyond my reach. He told me to stay here. Guard this holy place. So I have, and so I shall remain.” Beast paused. “And now, so shall you. You are a gift to me from the auroras.”

Bullshit. I took off my Monster amulet and tossed it on the slab, next to a spear point. I could practically see Beast’s wants and desires in the auroral illusions flowing across the walls. We were the Progenitors’ promised family reborn, Lori and I replacing the Madonna and Arm. “I am no gift,” I said. “I am…”

Beast did something to me to quiet my words. “No words. You are my wife. You all are my harem. My family. You will learn.”

With his free hand he grabbed the Monster amulet and gently placed it over my neck. I couldn’t stop him. “Wife, you will learn to please me.”

Well, fuck.

This time, I was going to change my fucking name to DeepDeepShit.

Visit Two (2/13/73)

Permission is a wondrous thing, especially when earned. So said my Arm instincts, my permission to hunt earned by Mizar’s appreciation of my lecture on how I, as an Arm, controlled my people. I couldn’t deny that we were making progress with Beast, now self-named Mizar. I only wished it didn’t remind me of the bad old days as Keaton’s student Arm.

The early days.

Such as when I had to earn permission to cook one of my more fancy meals, itself a favor to my old sadistic boss Arm.

Uh huh, still in the ol’ deep shit.

The real reason I wanted to hunt was to come back to this place. I stood in front of the Cave of the Progenitors, all senses open. The rocks were just rocks to me; I knew nothing of geology. Plant growth? Not fucking likely, here in the Canadian winter. Four snowshoe hares and a pair of spruce grouse were the only living and recently dead things within my metasense range, although something small scurried through the evergreens a couple of hundred yards away, too small to accurately identify. Didn’t the mice and rats know they were supposed to be hibernating or something?

No distractions, no other people. Just me and my hunting haul. The non-snow covered rocks around the cave entrance had an orange cast to them, difficult to see even with my enhanced Arm eyes. The air wafting from the cave was, as before, warmer than it should be, and wetter, enough to leave a few extra icicles dripping from the nearest spruce and fir trees. It carried a faint current of dross with it, a minor amount, less than you would find on a park bench or bus stop back in Chicago. Much less than in Mizar’s cave. It stank of unfamiliar chemicals, though I was able to identify several scents, that of rust and sulphur.

I went in. The damned place had been haunting my dreams in the three weeks since my first visit. It wanted me to return, I guessed. To get a better look at the fresh meat. Me, I wanted to bargain, if I could find anyone or anything to bargain with. I was feeling very Focus these days. If I had Transforms depending on me for their lives, I would be making them bargain for their juice. Or finding time to stab my best friends in the back.

Nothing had changed inside the cave. Dark, of course. I had visited caves with phosphorescent glows, at least glows visible to us Arms. This cave didn’t glow. To my metasense, though, the place was a fully lit cathedral. Nobody home. Just me.

“Okay, here I am,” I said. I expected a response, or at least an echo, but I sensed nothing but the faint sulphur smell hiding under the more standard stench of water on rock. The dross lining of the place didn’t react. I raised my Monster amulet and concentrated my metasense through it. Nothing. “Not even an aurora?” The cave ate my words again, no echo. I guess what the amulet did last time I visited was in response to Mizar, not myself. That was worth a sigh or three.

Time to try other things. I strolled through the metasense cathedral, marking everything in my mind, looking for patterns. My footsteps echoed from the darkness, tok-ta, tok-ta, tok-ta-ta-ta. Nothing showed itself except for the obvious-in-retrospect realization that the objects in the Progenitors’ cave guided the changes in the dross I metasensed as I moved through the place.

I stayed away from the metal-incised yard-wide slab that served as the altar of the Progenitors’ cathedral. It wasn’t the only dross object in the place, and it didn’t sing to me. It felt off, contaminated or something. Corrupted. However, fifteen feet to the right of the altar, among the figures cut and carved into the flowstone of the cave, something did sing to me.

I found a dross object, a hacked up outline of a human face on a cave wall. Homey and familiar. This, I opened myself to, and when it didn’t bite, I touched it.

She was striking, goddess-like and beautiful in a way only an Arm could appreciate. Like Eissler, and now myself, she was covered with fur, in her case black fur. The fur was thinner than you would find on a bear or wolf, or a chimp, but it was still fur. The apparition in my mind – no, this wasn’t something I saw, but a metasense vision – reacted to my unstated question and the vision changed to show her in what I interpreted as her winter fur – thicker, grayer, and sticking out away from her body. She was an Eskimo, of course, from one of the First Peoples tribes of northern Canada. She would have towered over me, almost Armenigar tall. Everything about her shouted ‘goddess’; her, you worshipped. Naked except for her fur, a primitive belt across her waist and one over her shoulder, for supplies and weapons. Black hair, black eyes, muscles hewn from the mountains themselves, and a confidence that dwarfed Mizar’s.

My hand yanked itself away from the carving before I realized what I did.

I was not worthy, even to worship her.

I laughed at the cheap juice trick and gave the carving the middle finger.

If this was why the Cave wanted me here, then it was wasting my time. The last thing I needed in my life now was another oversized boss to worship.

Visit Three (2/18/73)

“Okay, Sky, what’s your great idea?” I said. Phooey. He could have just told me, but he was more interested in some shared solace time with me than any actual purpose. As if I did solace? Hell, given the deep deep shit I swam in, perhaps I should learn.

The Cave of the Progenitors hadn’t changed. Mizar’s bête noir, the never-encountered Mountain with Eyes, hadn’t eaten the place, either. Too bad.

Sky didn’t reply, drawn to the crudely hacked face in the wall that gave me the Arm Goddess vision. Mesmerized. Typical Sky, though – awe didn’t fill his mind when he saw the vision, only lust. “Sky!” I said, with enough Arm sergeant charisma in my bark to wake a hibernating grizzly bear.

Sky yelped and vanished. “Carol, please,” he said, in a Crow whisper. Heh. I had gotten to him. Perhaps I was regaining some of my Arm nature, despite Mizar’s best efforts.

I waited him out while studying the altar with my metasense. Yes, something was off about this place, and the ‘off-ness’ came from here. Someone had fucked up, big time, not here but out there in the real world, and their failure was reflected here. Was this ‘off-ness’ what lay behind the split between the Progenitors and Predecessors?

“Blood,” Sky whispered. “Whenever Arm wanted to make things happen with the various do-dads she found on her quests, she used her own blood.”

The juice in the blood, that is. Quests and do-dads, though? Implying a fair number of them. There was a hell of a lot more history I didn’t know about the Canadian Major Transforms than I realized. Of course, Sky was a master of burying the real story amid a hundred other non-germane stories. He might have told me everything and I missed it on the way by.

Blood made sense, though, to an Arm. Consider the Arm and Chimera mythic antecedents from the myth hypothesis – vampires and werewolves – and how important blood was to both of them in their myths. Hell, one of Wandering Shade’s early crew of mind-addled flunky Hunters was a legitimate blood-sucking vampire.

Until we killed his ass.

“I can see that,” I said. “Any suggestions as to where?” My instincts told me not to put blood on the yard-wide slab of an altar.

Her face.”

Did Sky want to conjure up a ghostly long-dead Arm as a spirit guide? Fuck. Of course he did. I wouldn’t mind getting my ass reamed by her, either. An Arm challenge might help me break me out of my Mizar funk. Instead of commenting, I simply walked over to the face on the wall, cut the palm of my hand, and laid my palm on the face.

The touch made me tingle all over, a not unpleasant reaction. Nothing else, though. I turned to where I thought Sky was, about to chew his ass for his useless suggestion, when my metasense dimmed and the cave interior began to glow to my eyes.

The glow localized itself at the altar and coalesced into that of a bewhiskered middle-aged and extremely weather-beaten man.

I recognized him from my one encounter with him, from back when I was a young and stupid Arm. The Man. This I didn’t need. “Fuck,” I said to him. “So, can you even talk, or are you here to gloat?” I was puzzled, though. Had he died? I thought these crazy juice apparitions were only of dead people. Not that I had met more than one, but I had heard far too many stories from Sky and Lori about this sort of thing. They all sounded like magic to me, which made them most suspect.

The Man being dead, though, gladdened my heart.

“I can talk,” he said. “I’m not what you think I am. I’m the Holy Man as the Holy Man had been when he became the Holy Man…and you are one hell of a specimen for an Arm, aren’t you?” His gaze went up and down my body, pausing at my crotch and boobs. So much for The Man being dead, though. It appeared that remaking was enough to allow one to be a ghost of the Progenitors. Or Predecessors. I didn’t know which ones sent him, though.

“Good. Then talk. I need guidance.”

I felt Sky come up behind me and cower behind my back.

“Guidance? A tall drink a water as purty as you don’t need no guidance,” The Man said. He might look like The Man, but he didn’t have the voice, the presence, or the ability to induce the fear that you were sparring with someone of intense brilliance and education. He also talked with a backwoods Canadian accent. “A roll in the hay, though, might do the trick.” His apparition sauntered up to me, leering. Licking his ghostly lips. His apparition wore a fur coat over an old-fashioned army uniform, foreign, as well as mud-caked boots, a crude knapsack, and a rolled up tent on his back. He carried a revolver in his right hand. A small miner’s pickaxe hung from his belt.

This wasn’t The Man as the Transform community knew him. No brilliant spider in the center of a web of deceit here, only an average intellect-challenged prospector. When he found this place, and transformed, my guess back around the turn of the century, he hadn’t been much of a man at all. Just the usual fungus on the rot of life.

“I’m looking for a bit of help with the Chimera who serves as this place’s guard dog,” I said.

“With Beast?” The Man said. He stopped, eighteen inches away, and cupped his hands suggestively, about tit high. “Beast is Boss. He’s got more than a few loose screws in his Beastly brain, though, hun. Air Oh Gance, that is.” He paused. “Show me a good time, and I’ll gets you a lot more of Beast’s secrets.”

“Fuck you.”

“That would be the whole point, sweetie.”

I growled. The apparition laughed.

“You’re of the old ones, the ones we call the Progenitors?” Sky asked, from behind me.

“Uh hun, scaredy Crow.”

“You aren’t an appropriate guide for us,” Sky said. “Gracious Progenitors, send us a better guide. Send us someone we knew who at least didn’t despise us.”

“No can do, scaredy Crow,” The Man said. “Not today, anyhoo. If you be willing to offer the blood, too, then perhaps you can parley with someone with more import.”

The goddamned apparition’s cupped hands slipped over my breasts, and I flinched from the unexpected physical touch. This was one hell of an illusion. “Get the fuck away from me,” I said, putting as much of my diminished charisma into my voice as possible.

“Too bad,” the apparition of The Man said, as he vanished, dimming, his image vanishing before his voice. “Now you’ll never know what a good lay I…”

I turned to Sky. He still wasn’t there. “I’m going to go punch some trees,” I said. “Care to join me?” I was beginning to think the Cave and I did not get along.

Visit Four (2/28/73)

“So, what’s the Crow equivalent of the crude Arm face?” I asked. Back again in the Cave of the Progenitors, yes, but this time I felt much better about myself. Mizar had taken responsibility for the rest of our extended family. I was almost out from under, but not quite. The only thing holding him back was this, his responsibility for the Cave. I hadn’t told anyone yet, but my fallback solution for the problem of the damned cave involved a case of dynamite and a long lit fuse. That would satisfy the responsibility issue.

Oh, and one other thing: Mizar still refused to take my tag or Sky’s tag. The look he gave Sky and me when we mentioned that part of the deal still froze my soul.

“I’m fairly sure it’s this set of petroglyphs over here,” he said. I looked. To me, these ‘petroglyphs’ were just random scratches on a rock wall.

“If you think so,” I said. “Give it a try.”

He smeared blood, as did I.

Today, the response we got drove me to my knees. The Cave vanished around us, replaced by a cold conifer forest glade, with the stars shining above. To me and my Monster amulet, it felt as if we had been bodily drop-kicked into the Dreaming…or, more likely, the pheromone flow.

A ghostly image of a Crow appeared out of the nothingness, on the other side of Sky. Sky didn’t notice, as he faced me. The blond Crow, tall and good looking, mouthed ‘shhh’ to me, then tapped on Sky’s left shoulder. Sky turned, startled, but the Crow had already circled around him to the right. I laughed.

“Wire,” Sky said, after twirling around twice. I knew the name. Dead Crow, killed by Enkidu and a baby Hunter going by the name of Grendel, way back in the Philadelphia Massacre.

“That’s me,” Wire said. He seemed far more animated than the apparition of The Man and the others I had heard about. “You requested a better spirit guide. Who better than me?”

“Nearly anyone else,” Sky said, with a sigh. He glared at the ghostly Crow.

“We want…”

“Help,” Wire said, interrupting me. “I know. Here’s the best I can do.”

The forest around us changed and became urban daylight, a flash that brought a predatory growl to my lips. I now stood on a city street, along with Sky and the Wire apparition, only the street moved as I stood still. I crouched, unnerved and ready to fight, when three blocks away a creature slithered into view, an insanely oversized dragon-snake, covered with moss and seaweed. I shot out my right hand to stop myself as the street moved me toward a parked car…and my hand went through the car without a tingle. Oh. This was a dross-powered illusion, the best I had ever encountered. I examined the illusion as the scene moved us closer to the dragon-snake. My metasense worked, but not at my usual range, and as if I was a standard Arm and not me, with my ability to pick up juice traces. I put my hand on my Monster amulet, which worked as normal, and my metasense penetrated the dragon-snake’s metasense protections to reveal it to be a Monster. Or, perhaps, a MONSTER, as I had never metasensed anything of its kind before. I think its juice count, or what passed for it, was in the six digit range. It radiated age the way a tree trunk showed age, rings and rings of complex concentric internal juice structure. The MONSTER seemed familiar, and I realized this was the Lake Erie Monster, who I had missed seeing by about a half hour. Only this time it was out of the lake, slithering on land and laying waste to someone’s downtown. It really was a creature from the time of the Progenitors, alive and still slithering. The Monster grabbed a delivery truck in its mouth, picked it up, shook it, and then with a flick of its body tossed it through the second story wall of a brownstone. No people, though. The city streets stood alone, deserted, though I could faintly hear police sirens in the distance. I wondered how I had missed hearing about an incident like this.

Oh. This wasn’t a vision from the past, but a prediction of the future.

At my realization the world flickered. The gritty Cleveland (it had to be) streets vanished, replaced by the image of a quiet well-wooded city neighborhood. With a Disney fairy-tale castle looming over it. An itchy sandpaper feeling came over me, motion sickness-like. I recognized the locale immediately – Hilltop, the late Focus Shirley Patterson’s lair. From the bright leaves on the trees and the appearance of the cars, this had to be a vision of the past. This time the scene moved faster, quickly moving us toward a loose ring of bodyguards around an area a couple of hundred yards distant, a shaded park area. There stood The Man and the late Focus Patterson, and he was teaching her something. How to manipulate élan! As I metasensed and watched, she scooped up a mass of dross, using a juice pattern, and imbued it with juice. Which turned it into élan.

The Man had a hell of a lot to answer for.

My realization didn’t change the vision this time. We stayed in this vision long past the moment where we passed by The Man and Patterson and the far end of her ring of bodyguards. There, watching from a very safe distance of three hundred yards, stood a Focus with a crouching man wearing a dog collar, on a leash. I didn’t recognize the Focus, with hair so ash blonde it was almost white, but I did recognize the crouching man from Gilgamesh’s descriptions – Crow Echo. What was he doing there, way back when? How did he ever escape Patterson?

Who was to say he ever did?

The world flickered into a new vision, and the world whizzed by much more rapidly. This was another outdoor scene, a park with playing children and mothers and the usual. Out in the open, with no bodyguards no troops no nothing, I spotted the Hunter General, Loess. I would know that ugly walking cadaver anywhere. He and a striking woman with black leather skin sat on the ground, enjoying a picnic. They looked up from their eating – raw dog, my guess – and love filled their eyes, or so I interpreted with my metasense. Then they raised their hands to each other, fingers open wide, and began to manipulate some élan, the élan balanced between the two of them. As the scene approached I heard instrumental music – the two of them were somehow using the élan as a musical instrument. Amazing! Around a set of trees I saw water in the distance and a slap-your-face landmark, the Space Needle. Seattle.

While I attempted to work out whether this was a scene from the past, present or imagined future, I got a case of the need-to-recruit hots for the woman. She, Loess’ pack alpha, possessed the indefinable whatever-it-takes qualities to be a top member of my organization. As far as when the scene occurred, I couldn’t come up with a better approximation than ‘within the last two years’.

The vision ended faster than I wanted. The pack alpha I think was originally of Middle Eastern origin, and she had maintained a human shape. Her skin was black leather, rough and dimpled, and thick enough to stop a poorly thrust knife. She didn’t wear clothes, although everything that needed to be covered was so by her altered skin. Under her skin her musculature was almost Arm-like. Her eyes didn’t miss anything. I lusted.

The next vision was of a narrow street of three and four story tenements, altered by the additions of walkways and elevated hallways across the road and alleys. Behind the altered tenements smoke billowed and the occasional flame flickered, as if in the not too far distance a city burned. This was some Focus’s household, or a multi-Focus household, and this was a prediction of the future. The density of juice and dross in the area slapped me like a fish to my face, and everyone I metasensed was terrified and agitated. In the vision, a pack of thirty or so real juice zombies – stabilized male withdrawal victims – trotted into view as the scene zipped by, down the street, at about thirty miles an hour. The scene, not the juice zombies. A woman Transform ran from one of the tenements, screamed, and then sprinted in terror. The pack of juice zombies not only gave chase, they caught her, dragged her down, and began to eat her. As the scene flickered away, I belatedly realized that nobody controlled the juice zombies – they controlled themselves and worked together. Worrisome.

Flicker. Wandering Shade stood in a fallow field, somewhere in the Midwest, and old crusty snow spotted the ground. A half mile away lay a large rural village, surrounded by trees. Guru Snow – visible only as an indistinct shape in a personal snowstorm – stood next to him. “Watch this, my pacifist friend,” Wandering Shade said, and directed about two thirds of his ambient dross supply into what I metasensed as a twirling cigar-shaped torpedo. Then he launched it, and as it moved it started to dissipate, but when it got to the village it caused metasense flickers. People transforming, and far too many of them dying instantly of their induced transformations. And by transforming and dying, they gave power to the dross cloud. Terrifying.

Flicker. A pack of perhaps eighty Monsters, led by a Monster, raced across a ruler-flat farm. I think it was in western Texas, as the field was dryland cotton.

Flicker. A bunch of Crows talked together, one of whom was Chevalier and another, Shadow. Shadow wore an expensive looking fedora. I guessed this was years ago. They were doing something with the dross, but the scene moved by too fast for me to figure out with my metasense what they were doing.

Flicker. A Crow with his arms raised to an aurora lit sky called down the auroras. The called auroras turned to fire, which he directed at a distant group of a couple dozen well-spread-out normal soldiers and set them ablaze. Magic!

Too quickly, a flicker, a scene, and another flicker. The scenes now appeared and vanished faster than I could track. At least twenty more scenes flickered by before Sky yelled “Stop!” The only two I managed to understand at all were a scene of two huge Transform households battling with dross and juice weapons from over a hundred yards apart and a vision of a male Arm manipulating a piece of electronic lab equipment with what had to be Arm Shaman-style skills.

“This isn’t what we want,” Sky said, after the cave of the Progenitors reappeared around us. “Nor why we’re here.” I bent over and nearly puked from motion sickness. I growled at the unfairness of the universe – I still wasn’t my former world-beating self.

“How much of what you just showed us was real and how much fairy tales?” I asked as I crouched. I would not puke. I refused to puke.

“In the visions lie everything you need to defeat the Hunters,” Wire said. “That is your worry, the reason you seek to lure Beast away from his responsibility to protect this place, isn’t it?”

I understood where this was going. “Thank you, Wire, and the Progenitors, for your help.” I’m not sure my attempted sincerity succeeded. I did manage to rise and look him in the eyes. Sweat collected on my forehead and lower back. “But the Hunters aren’t a problem for the future. They’re warring right this instant on the Transforms under my protection. We don’t have time for quests, solving mysteries or research. We need soldiers and leaders, now, and Beast, now called Mizar, is who we need.”

Wire shrugged.

“A little help in gaining dominance over the ambulatory fur rug might also be helpful,” I said. Mizar remained as uncooperative and undominated as ever, even if he agreed that, in theory, he did have a responsibility he needed to handle down south.

“Oh, really?” Wire said. He sauntered over to me, far cheekier than a Crow should be, even if he was already dead. So much for my attempted sincerity. I began to understand Gilgamesh’s insistence that if Wire had lived through the Philadelphia Massacre, he would have made, in time, a proper Crow companion for Keaton. He definitely had the ‘fuck you’ attitude down cold.

In this place, what passed as his body was as solid as mine. I gave him as good a Commander glare as I was capable of while still under Mizar’s thrall. He ignored it. “You overvalue yourself,” he said. “The spark you hold may well burn up your tinder, but your logs will not catch. The archetype you inhabit lives in the dreams of the American Transforms, not the Progenitors, and thus has no permanence. The problem is that your fellow Americans believe, deep in their hearts, that Commanders are male. You are doomed to lose the title.”

“And yet, here I am.”

“You’re not, and never will be, a top Arm,” he said. My glare grew hotter. “Not as a top fighter, or military officer, or juice wielder, or even as an Arm intellect. By the time there are two hundred Arms in America, you won’t even be in the top one hundred. For every rise you make, you will fall, and farther. You don’t deserve to be…”

Dominant. “Words, just words,” I said, interrupting his insult.

“You do understand why Beast controlled you so easily, don’t you?” Wire asked.

“Because he’s an omnipotent prick backed by the Progenitors,” I said.

Wire shook his head. “You owe him a debt of the juice, a debt incurred in the Dreaming, in the episode where the Clumsy Angel battled the White Witch for your soul while you battled Amy Haggerty in the real world for dominance. It was Beast, the Clumsy Angel’s quest companion, who defeated the White Witch and allowed you to remove the Inquisitor’s parasite tag. His help linked you for all time.”

Or so you say. I distinctly remembered paying for the removal of Bass’s tag with pain, not any of this magical crap. “How do I know anything you have said, or shown, is real?”

Wire stopped and snorted. “You wish an example of your self-overestimation?” I nodded with my eyes. “Very well. Do you remember what you had for breakfast back on December 4th, 1968?”

I blinked. “What?”

“It should be easy, given your often-stated Arm perfect memory. Breakfast? December 4th? Houston?”

I shook my head. I remembered the day, of course. It was the day Tonya offered to surrender and Gilgamesh and I set up her mind scrape. Lunch was at Thelma’s household, out on the back porch as to not disturb her Transforms. Meatloaf sandwiches, deviled eggs, peanut butter stuffed celery sticks, and crackers. I couldn’t remember breakfast, though. A sudden cold sweat covered my body.

“Not even a low juice situation,” Wire said. “I’m sure you remember your last kill before that day, though.”

I nodded. I remembered all my juice draws, who I drew, and all the hunts that preceded them. Except, as he said, when my juice was low enough to interfere. I had drawn juice two days before, on December 2nd, the day after I had given my presentation to Keaton about Tonya’s games that had gotten us at each other’s throats. In Houston, well, in my favorite hunting territory at the time, the industrial villages east of Houston. My victim lived alone in a trailer parked in the front lawn of his mother’s ramshackle home in the fourteen-thousand block of Bandera, in the east Houston burg of Cloverleaf. I never learned his name. I took him at night and burned his place down to cover up my kill, a body disposal method I used about once a year or so. He wore Ginseng cologne, which I suspected he had stolen.

“Breakfast, though?”

I shook my head. I couldn’t remember. Which was impossible. “What’s going on here?” Was he interfering with my mind?

Wire snorted again. I think he had a thing for snorting. “What’s going on is that you edit the crap out of your memories. Because, well, there’s only so much crap you can remember before you get sick of keeping crap in your memories. You only think you remember everything because that’s what you tell yourself, at least twice a day.”

Well, hell.

I never did remember what I had for breakfast that day.

“Is that real enough for you?”

I shrugged.

“I do have an offer, though,” Wire said. “One that would give you the stature you need to challenge and humble Beast, an offer we’ve given him that he has, at least this far, turned down.”

“I’m listening.” And not trusting.

“It’s the deal Lady Death proposed and we accepted. Your life, when we desire it.”

How she got the Eskimo Spear. I knew the story, though I had never believed the standard interpretations of those events. I shook my head. “You’ve got to be kidding.”

“Not in the slightest. Why do you say that?”

Why did I say that? It was more than instinctive Arm intransigence. I gave my instinctive response some thought, until I understood my motivations. “I’m not giving up my life until I’ve redeemed myself.” I had no desire to go to Hell. “Oh, and because I’m an Arm, I’m not giving up my life to just anyone, not for whatever screwy reason you might have.” Now that was pure Arm intransigence. In case you didn’t guess.

“It’s more than a ‘screwy reason’,” Wire said. “You, as an immortal, possess the power of your longevity. Given freely, it will balance your other great weaknesses.”

Well, gee thanks. “Immortal?” This conversation was getting on my nerves. “What the fuck are you talking about? And why would this give me any stature at all?”

“The pledge itself is filled with stature, given where you would be going. To enter the realm of dreams while still alive, your soul, your full self, would be able to live here and serve the Transforms as none of us who have entered after death can serve. A full suite of those such as yourself, willing sacrifices all, will finally close the cycle and become the proper guides to your Transforms, eclipsing us.” His eyes glanced to the sky and lit on one of the small number of constellations I knew, that of Orion the Hunter.

My turn to snort. “Hancock, the Commander?” I said, guessing the constellation’s new name if I took him up on his insane offer. Just what I didn’t ever want to be: the Arms’ mystic fairy godmother, spewing bullcrap advice and guiding things from on high. Sky muttered something vulgar in Canadian French. I turned to him. “You should take him up on this. I think there’s already a constellation waiting for you. Corvus the Crow?”

“Very not funny,” Sky said. I didn’t think he had realized that Lori’s pledge wasn’t just a metaphor.

“As that constellation lies in the southern celestial hemisphere, it isn’t ours to give away,” Wire said, apropos of almost nothing.

Ah hah! I bet that was a slip on Wire’s part, one which confirmed one of Van Schuber’s wilder speculations. According to him, there were two types of auroras, the northern lights and southern lights, and they weren’t connected. Or something equally scientific and well beyond my understanding. Van had wondered if separate organizations of ancient bygone Transforms controlled each aurora. I guessed now that he was right.

“So, immortal?” I asked again. “I’m an Arm, a Major Transform, with an estimated lifespan smaller than the number of my remaining fingers and toes.. If the bad guys don’t find a way to kark me first.”

“Yet the ancient Monsters still live.”

True. If you believed in ancient Monsters. I knew of only one possibility, the Lake Erie Monster, which Dowling encountered on one of his screwy quests, a quest I blundered into soon after the Monster’s short appearance. Which had to be the dragon-snake of the first vision. “But, me? What makes me special?”

“For that, we don’t know, but we do know that you are.”

His words betrayed something, though. Oh. “You know because someone out there is able to figure this out, and they’ve done so.” Likely with their metasense.

For a moment Sky stiffened. I turned my head to glare at him. “You?”

“Not me,” Sky said. He looked more than a little scared.

“Who, then?”

“I can’t…”

I glared harder.

Sky wilted even more. “Guru Snow,” he said, in a Crow whisper.

Oh. Of course. It had to be a Crow, given this was a fancy metasense trick. “Probably because he’s an immortal, himself.”

Sky shrugged.

“I’ll bet the rumored Focus he’s been shacking up with for years” love the rumor mill “is one as well. Why else would he have paired up with whatever loser Focus he’s paired up with?” It had to be a loser Focus, as all the good ones we knew down to their painted toenails and none of them lived with a Mentor-level Crow. Sky shrugged again.

I turned back to Wire. “This doesn’t help your case.”

“Perhaps yes, perhaps no,” he said. “Do you think, though, that all the ancient Monsters started off as Monsters?”

“So being immortal won’t save my juice structure from major mangling? This so-called immortality just means that major juice structure mangling won’t kill me, doesn’t it?” Wire nodded. I could see me, twenty years down the road, as messed up as Nora the Arm Monster or worse. Having a messed up juice structure didn’t just mean physical alterations. I could end up burbling and powerless as well. “Well, fuck.” Beat. “I’m still not taking you up on your offer,” I said. “I’ll take my chances and keep my free will, thank you very much.”

Wire shrugged.

“So, can you at least acknowledge that the Hunter so-called civilization is a threat to this Cave?” I asked.

“Can you at least promise that you won’t ditch Beast once the war with the Hunters is over?” Wire bantered back.

Could I? Yes. Should I? Perhaps a little Arm-greedy, I decided in favor of this. “Yes, I can promise that,” I said. “I want him in my family long term.” I wanted the benefits of a kickass four Major Transform family. I wanted more than one war out of all the work I was putting into this crazy farce.

I had a funny juice tingle feeling right about then. I didn’t think much of it at the time.

“Then,” Wire said, “we can not only acknowledge that the Hunter so-called civilization is a threat to the Cave, we can require that Mizar accompany his family to go south to end the Hunter threat to the Cave.”


I bowed to Wire. “I thank the Progenitors, then,” I said.

And I hoped I would never see this damned cave again.

Chronicle VIII
The Household Rules

(Note: several of these sections contain material first presented in “No Small Dreams”, in an altered form)

Gail Rickenbach (2/15/73)

Gail avoided her trashed office and worked up in her suite, a yellow legal pad on her lap, paperwork lying everywhere. Interviews with the media, including someone from the Washington Post. Network issues, the Transform Network all in a panic from the Hunter attacks. Holding hands with the Chicago Focuses, coordinating defenses, and covering for the young defenseless Focuses. Matchmaking between Focuses and Crows. Trying to figure out what The Man was up to this time. Personal development; Carol was going to kill her if she didn’t start making some personal progress soon. Helping her household hold things together, as they hadn’t lost anyone since the Battle in Detroit, and felt the pain badly now.

The funerals would be tomorrow. Only four Hunters had attacked them, not even the best ones, and they still suffered deaths. The Hunters attack proved the Chicago defenders couldn’t cover the Focus households, Littleside, the Branton, and Carol’s holdings all at the same time. Gail didn’t know where to even start to ameliorate this problem. And the best she hoped for was to ‘ameliorate’. Thinking they might be able to defeat the Hunters made her break out in barks of painful nasal laughter and hot tears of agony.

She welcomed the distraction when Sylvie Dejung knocked on the door.

“Come in.”

Sylvie opened the door. “Gail? Can I talk to you for a bit?” Sylvie was short and blonde, with a round face and a body that ran to fat if she didn’t train hard. She looked tired. No, Sylvie was tired, because she had picked up a bunch of Gail’s load.

Gail carefully metasensed Sylvie’s juice structure and saw in it the stresses of the last few days. The baby was just fine, though. Sylvie was two months along, and so excited about it she bubbled like a community fountain subjected to a bottle of dish soap. Kurt and Sylvie wanted children so much, for so long, and the Transform infertility had been such a tragedy for them, it was a beautiful thing to see that tiny beginning of life inside of her. It took a male Major Transform to give a Transform woman a baby, and so that baby was Gilgamesh’s, like all the other incipient babies in the house, but Kurt and Sylvie wanted that baby so badly that they didn’t mind that Kurt couldn’t be the biological father.

Gail wished Van could have managed the same attitude.

“Come on in. Sit down. What’s up?” Gail said.

“Just a couple things about the household.”

Gail looked away. Sylvie was Gail’s household president. She had a right to judge Gail. “Yeah, I’m sorry about the mess. Look, maybe in a couple of weeks, things will ease up and I can do a better job…”

“Gail.” Sylvie reached out across the gap between the chair and the couch, quickly, and put her hand on top of Gail’s. Gail turned back towards her. “It’s fine. Really.”

“I’m sorry,” Gail said, and wanted to throw something. Or cry. She was trying to handle everything, an entire mountain of problems, only there was so much work.

“I mean it. It’s fine. We all know about the load on your shoulders. You’ve got the entire Cause, holy mother of God, along with everything else. We’re going to do what it takes to get humanity through all the hell that’s coming. Together. You concentrate on the job you’re doing, and we’ll cope.”

“Sylvie, I don’t have any right to…”

“And don’t you dare try and deny our right to contribute.”

Gail sighed. She wanted to protect her household, but they were always so damned cranky about it. They kept wanting to jump on grenades, literally and figuratively. “You really all right about how awful I’ve been? I’ve been a terrible Focus the last few weeks. About all I’ve been able to do is move the juice.”

“Well, yes, and that’s why I need to talk to you.”

“Okay.” Gail cringed. The household had every right to call her on her dereliction of duty, and Sylvie was the household president.

“Gail, relax,” Sylvie said. She leaned forward, still holding Gail’s hand. She squeezed it, hard. “You’re busy, and you don’t have as much time for the household. And that’s fine,” she said hastily at Gail’s wince. “But the situation’s changed, and we’re going to have to adapt.”

“Adapt? What kind of changes are you thinking of?” Gail wanted to pull her hair. Not again. It seemed like only yesterday that she changed from her old unique training-the-current-household-leader model to her version of the corporate model. Not even six months!

Sylvie took a breath. “Delegate. A lot more. We need to be able to get things done when you’re not available. That means someone else needs to be able to do the things you do.”

“Move juice?” Gail said, eyebrows up. Gilgamesh had commented that he thought he had a way…and Gail freaked out. At least a little.

“No, no, not move juice. The other stuff. Decision making. Discipline.”

Gail crossed her arms over her chest and leaned back into the couch. “Like Inferno.” Her household! She cried inside. Sylvie wanted her to give up her household.

She had even come up with several ideas for how, with Gilgamesh’s help, to allow other people to use her like a tool and move the juice, remote, without her conscious control. Far less radical than Gilgamesh’s insane inspirations. She hoped she could cope. She had been a Focus for waaaay too long.

“Like Inferno. I’d take on a role more like Connie Yerizarian. It will let you concentrate on outside responsibilities.”

Gail shivered. She was trying to do so much, and so now Sylvie was here to say she failed. Here is came, she thought, Gail the Weak Focus. Gaaah.

Sylvie, unfortunately, was right.

“I’ll think about it.” As if I could resist if Sylvie pressed the issue, Gail thought.

Sylvie nodded. “There’s something else I want you to think about.”

This wasn’t enough? Gail nodded and pasted on a Beth-like smile. Nope. No tears. She refused to cry. She would expend juice like water to keep from crying.

Pregnancy hormones. She didn’t even need Dr. Fucking Mengele to tell her that. Zielinski could rot in Hell with Inferno for all she cared.

“Household membership. We’re not as strong as we could be. Consider Inferno, if you can cope with the thought.” She couldn’t, but she didn’t let Sylvie see her reaction. “Every Transform in Inferno is a volunteer. Voluntarily joining Inferno and giving your all to the whole household. It’s why their superorganism is so strong.”

The ‘superorganism’ wasn’t one of Gail’s favorite subjects, at least not since Inferno figured out, as a household, how to tag their Focus, meaning Gail at the time, and experimented on her for a few hours. The experiment turned Gail into a first Focus, personality wise. She still had nightmares about the experiment, even though she later found a way to block off the personality effects during the brief periods when the Abyss tagged her.

“What about it?” Gail said.

“Inferno’s strong because they aren’t carrying a bunch of deadwood. We’ve got a bunch of strong, really committed people, but we’ve also got a bunch of people who aren’t interested in the future of humanity, or at least not in committing their lives to the Cause. People who don’t fit in.”

“If you’re suggesting I let some of my people die, you’re nuts.” Gail heard her voice go cold.

“No! Not at all.” Sylvie’s round face looked horrified at the thought. “All I’m suggesting is that we transfer more people out. People who won’t carry their weight. People who just don’t want to do what Abyss is trying to do. Like the Spacks. They’d probably be wonderful somewhere else. They just make a mess of things here, and they make us weaker than we could be.”

“They’re my people.”

“Look, we’ve got lots of people that have been in the household forever that are great. All those people the Commander gave us last fall are fantastic. But you know as well as I do that not everybody we’ve got really belongs. When we were starting out, all we got were the ‘next Transform transformed’ and all that. What I’m saying is that we find other homes for them, and get some other people in who fit the household better.”

Gail squeezed her arms around her torso and glared at the blank television screen.

“I’m not asking you to agree just now. Just give this some thought.”

She nodded, and charismatically willed the tears not to come. Sylvie’s words hurt. Of course they hurt. The truth always did.

When the phone rang, a half hour later, the message chased away all her worries about her household.

“Calgary?” Sylvie said. Gail had called her back and told her to bring the team. With her were Helen Grimm, the household finance director, Sylvie’s husband Kurt, who was the Abyss chief of security, Trisha Bluen, who served as Gail’s personal assistant these days, and John Guynes, filling in for the hospitalized Melanie, a bodyguard with a good feel for the household. She hadn’t been able to get in touch with Gilgamesh, as he was out doing diplomatic duty with some recently arrived Noble reinforcements. “That’s in Canada, right? Somewhere way out west?”

Gail nodded and pointed to the atlas spread out on the coffee table. As she pointed, it slid an inch toward her, as it lay on the stack of bureaucratic paperwork already in place. Sylvie’s bafflement showed the problem Gail faced. She swore half the Focuses she talked to thought Calgary was in Australia!

“While Enkidu’s thugs were here in Chicago and killing our people, he attacked Calgary with what appears to be his full army. At least a dozen Hunters were involved in the fight. They took Calgary, and there’s more.” Sylvie and Trisha paled. Helen shook her head, while Kurt whistled and John looked stunned at the news. “Calgary is Armenigar’s territory, the territory of the entire planet’s senior Arm, and they took it from her.”

If Gail’s audience paled any further, they would die of anemia. “They’re going to win, then,” Helen said, far too many seconds later. “The Commander would gather an army and go after them, but we can’t do that. They’re going to go after us and trounce us one tiny stronghold at a time.”

Gail nodded. “That’s Tonya’s guess as well. She doesn’t know what to do, and all the ideas she’s come up with require the Transform community to be more unified than it is now.” She paused. “I’m going to go into the Dreaming and talk to the Commander. Getting to her isn’t going to be easy, and it’s likely to make me less useful than I already am. After that, I’m likely to be even busier trying to figure out how to keep us and the other Chicago Focuses alive. So, Sylvie, consider this a trial run for your proposal. Until I can get this sorted out, Abyss’ll be working as a weak Focus model household, and you’re the boss. All the household decisions, even the life and death ones, they’re all yours now.” Sylvie, now bloodless pale, nodded. Helen absently patted Sylvie’s cold hand. “Do you need to make any changes to the leadership team?”

“I don’t know,” Sylvie said, voice cracking. “Let me think about it.”

“Whatever decisions you make,” Gail said. “I’ll back you up.”

That’s what weak Focuses did.

Gail Rickenbach (2/16/73)

“Besides the Nobles, I’ve got Arm Naylor involved, both for advice and for protection,” Gail said. She paced across the floor of the River Room, attempting to ignore the one wall that remained nothing more than taped and floated sheetrock. Her household filled the comfortable chairs and spilled over, standing along all the walls. The room smelled of old newspapers and stressed Transforms. “She’s not a military specialist, but she’s got Arm Keaton’s ear. I’ve also started negotiations with Tonya’s Philadelphia crew of Transforms to get them here, including Mercury Catering.” The late Focus Polly Keistermann’s old household. “That isn’t guaranteed. Even this won’t be enough.”

Gail paused and gathered herself. Sylvie preferred a spare office near Gail’s, with a small desk and lots of file cabinets. She kept it immaculate, save for her current project, whatever that turned out to be. That’s where Gail wanted to be, either there or in her office. Unfortunately, neither her office nor Gail’s was large enough for this meeting. “I’ve talked to Occum and Earl Sellers, the Commander in the Dreaming, Arm Keaton and several others, and the consensus is that if we evacuate, the Hunters will just hit us wherever we end up, because, as Director, I’m too large a target to ignore,” Gail said. The household crammed themselves into the River Room, because the undersized Branton ballroom was filled with cots and people. “Worse, from the Arms’ records of the Clearing of Chicago fight, we know the Hunters are nearly twice as strong outside of cities than inside them. It turns out the Commander maneuvered the Hunters into the Quad Cities area on purpose, to cut down on their fighting strength.” She paused and took a sip of orange juice from a glass on the nearest end table. She was on her third bowl of stiff oatmeal. The attack pushed the household budget into the red again, and next on Gail’s agenda would be a visit with Ying, the Commander’s go-to woman, to see if she could wheedle her out of some operating expenses. “Militarily, staying here is better. Doing what we’re doing – that is, taking in Focuses fleeing the Hunters and training and arming their people – is the best thing we can be doing.” If only she had gotten more time to train up her student witches in battle-usable juice patterns. Her teaching days ended in the Littleside attack, though, exactly one week ago.

“No problem with staying,” Sylvie said. She sat in the nearest chair, barely on the edge, leaning forward with her elbows on her knees. “We’ve got this covered, Gail.” The household remained glum, and terrified. Several, including Bart Wheelhouse, looked like they hadn’t had a full night’s sleep in a week.

“So, is there anything you need me to do today?” Gail asked. “I’m fully booked, but if you people need anything, well, you are my household and you do come first.”

Dead silence. Awkward dead silence, of the sort reinforced by a quick hot glare by Sylvie at the rest of the household.

They all knew they were in big trouble.

“I don’t know of anything that will help us in the war, Focus, but I’ll tell you what I want to do. Did you all see Focus Nicosia’s household?” Gretchen said.

“Not now, damn it!” Sylvie said, twisting to point a finger at Gretchen, who stood in the back. Gail noticed that Sylvie’s nails were ragged and showed far too much cuticle. “I thought we weren’t going to bring that up!”

“Bring what up?” Gail said. Sylvie crossed her arms and glared at Gretchen.

Gretchen pretended not to notice. “Have you looked at Focus Nicosia’s household, Gail? Really looked? That woman treats her Transforms worse than slaves!”

Gail nodded, suddenly wary. “Crap like that happens.” Focus Nicosia was one of the many Focuses who came to Gail for help. She was in a dead panic because of the Hunters and wanted protection, and she and her whole household were here as refugees from Minneapolis.

“So? It still isn’t right,” Gretchen said.

Sylvie shook her head. “Gretchen, that’s enough. Gail is too busy to deal with any side issues.”

Gail understood exactly what Gretchen wanted, though. “You want to rescue those Transforms.”

Gretchen nodded and Sylvie sighed. “Inferno’s off rescuing Focuses who’ve been enslaved by their households, but who’s out rescuing the Transforms? The fact we allow Focuses to abuse their Transforms is crazy!” The room rumbled with a growl of sympathetic anger.

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