Aphelion Issue 244, Volume 23
October 2019
 
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The Jazz-Jazz

by Dan Edelman


"I wouldn't get too close, I were you, Buttles. That's the Kai Ferracane, murderer of a million. Monster of the Modern Age. You'd never know he killed you."

"Dagian Guards don’t scare me. That’s all Mandy loudness. The RAITH War proved that."

"Heh heh, see how fast that green mouth changes color."

"Fast as Ferracane’s devil eyes."

Voices rippled the shifting black like the steps of ghosts. Kai Ferracane moved quickly from meditation to consciousness.

"His eyes, Buttles, watch. Is that loud enough for you?"

"They just change color? That isn’t Mandaroy."

Laughter.

"Welcome to Gaol Eerkes, Buttles. Welcome to Iso Block."

Five Scorpio Gemfire military constables stared at Kai from behind their weapons, standing side by side in the gaol cell. Four of them were smiling uneasily, the other, Buttles, A., stared with uppity disgust, poorly concealing green nervousness behind a scornful laugh.

"Dress, sir." The guard's tag read Hanisee, R.

Kai stood. Every Mark VI towered over him, each nearly half again as broad. He was darker -- clearly an Ambragé Plain Mandaroy with brown skin. They'd cropped his hair close to the skull. The Scorpio Gemfires had the rounded features of the Aralwyrd Houses -- that Western dullness. Kai moved in the angled flesh of a Weroncroften warrior, a Dagian Guard. He was Mandaroy except for the queer eyes. They said his father had been some kind of daemon.

He fought vertigo as he pulled on a pair of coarse gaol pants of blue canvas, which bunched up on the blacksteel ankle cuffs. The flimsy shirt went on easier, soaking up his sweat and maybe a little blood until it was splotched, caressing fresh scabs and raw welts. Equally flimsy slippers went on last. No cinches, no string ties, no zippers, buckles, or buttons. Typical Cloister thinking, that rectangular narrow mindedness. Nothing with which to hurt himself. Nothing with which to hurt others. But he could strangle himself with his pants if he wanted. Not to mention one or all of the guards.

No, Kai thought, they’d never know I killed them.

Hanisee linked the ankle cuffs with a short length of heavy blacksteel chain, then he slapped on wrist cuffs, backing away quickly for a large man.

Kai shuffled -- because they expected that -- toward the guards and they moved almost in unison to give him space, three of them backing out the doorway, Buttles and Hanisee moving to either side of it.

None touched him as they moved down the gray hall of Isolation Block, Subbasement C, one guard ahead, two on each side, two behind. Four locked and loaded antiriot sabot loaders pointed at him. Vidcams, the unblinking black marbles high in the walls and ceiling, gazed down from each end of the hall.

Kai rode the lift from Iso to Gen-Pop with two snubbed barrels gently pressed against his head, three others kissing his torso. He was the only solitary inmate allowed out to eat with the general population. Kai supposed it was some kind of humiliation, some kind of proof to the other inmates, and those on the outside who had inside connections and didn’t believe him secretly executed, that he, the outlaw RAITH, had not escaped justice.

How empty was that, when he had turned himself in?

As they entered the mess hall, the hum of conversation died in a crisp echo. Every prisoner, every guard on the overwalk, froze beneath the harsh light and stared at the brisk procession. Same reaction every day for the last year.

He was, after all, Monster of the Modern Age.

Kai kept his eyes on the solitary chair in the center of the room, which sizzled with the collective gaze and popped with the chambering of rounds in every rifle overhead. He sat, and Hanisee hastily chained him to the floor. A white-capped inmate gingerly offered Kai another meal the body machine couldn’t use.

Mucousy gruel, a foul waft, bits of something dark, puddled on a soft plate. Worthless. That morning in the showers, while Kai washed away his blood, he’d eaten a wispy nest of waeflies hanging beneath the showerhead.

"You want maybe to lodge a complaint with the chef?" Buttles asked.

Kai let the near smile linger beneath eyes shifting to dark.

"Buttles, you maybe talk too loud," one of the other guards said.

"We call that green mouth," a guard from the mess hall said. Over chuckles from guards and even some inmates, he said, "You’ll get over it, Buttles."

Kai knew by Buttles’ fresh look, the smart creases and tucks of his tan uniform, the soft arrogant flesh around his eyes, that this new con had earned his Gemfire Jewell and Lightnings through written exam and testing amid the artificial scenarios on the fields around the Gemstone. Earned the red Scorpio sigil -- the shepherd’s crook -- in whatever indoctrinating manner that the radical Umbral Split chose to train its minions. He'd never been truly baptized. Never faced a rolling Miniak warstorm or watched whole platoons vanish in a meaty mist or seen a Miniak warrior beyond those lame training vids.

The renewed drone of mealtime rose and fell around Kai. Light bars cast an ashen pall over everything, leaving only stark shadows gathering in squat blobs beneath crowded tables. The inmates ate and laughed with a feral gusto, and still, after all this time, cast glances at him chained to the floor in the center of the hall surrounded by antsy Gemfires.

He drank all the water they gave him.

After a prescribed amount of time, like every night, the guards escorted Kai back down to Iso and into the Chromeroom, a marvel of overexpenditure and nondisclosure.

The chain between his ankles was removed.

"Strip, sir. You know the routine."

Kai slipped out of the grimy pants and shirt. Cool air played over the gashed and tender flesh of last night's session, overlaid upon scarred and semi-healed wounds.

The guards backed out the door, which snicked close with a coffin inhalation that pressed silence into Kai’s ears.

It was that period, the interim before so-called evening exercise, when Kai felt not fear, nor any flavor of anticipation, but instead the initial jabs of rage, the merest spasm that vanished when the first sheathed and studded polymer balls popped from their rifled tubes:

FoomFoomFoom

The bug hum of well-oiled mechanism behind the polished silver walls ripped at Kai. Ripped at him like the whips that tore the air searching for his flesh, like the click and buzz of the clownish robot arms that emerged from ports at all levels swinging their clubs at his head, chest, and knees. A symphony, like the percussion troops of Aba Jamazula he'd once seen. With Keya. The first and last time they had actually done something together.

Archgeneral Guily Lanto had once said that the Chromeroom was the product of minds locked in the Seven Valleys, trapped by the ancient magicks of the Dagian Conflict that had rendered the surrounding land and sea and air of Cloister manic and outlaw. With access to the world beyond denied, technology and faith were inbred and ingrown, thinking became rectangular and narrow, limited.

Kai dodged and parried, blocked, and just plain ducked. The body machine allowed no anger, no fear, no concentration-breaking emotion, because after a while it became impossible to avoid everything the symphony threw at him and the only thing left for Kai to do was to cut his losses.

FoomFoomFoom

He swam around the Chromeroom, his arms flutter-cutting through the air to ward off the pelting balls and clubs. As everything began to strike lower, trying to take his legs out from under him, Kai began hand springing. While they surely kept vids of each night, what the guards couldn't record was the vision and sound from inside Kai's head: the solid thwack of the balls and clubs on flesh and bone and the white flash of a headshot that momentarily blanked out the glare of the room.

He’d like to see those vids.

A ball caught him on the knee as he flipped, and when he came down on his feet, he buckled.

Kai fell into a one-armed handspring that, while clumsy, kept him mobile. And, as always, the evening's event intensified until his blood whirled from new wounds and torn scabs in its own tiny red whips.

Down in Subbasement C, the low moan of the air circulation system vibrated the floors, a back beat to the incessant hump and crank of the water purifying plant that drew free labor from Gaol Eerkes. Kai walked, standing straight against the bellowing pain, a gulf between himself and the circle of generally polite Scorpios, who never quite caught his eyes, around him. Their shepherd's crook sashes swung in time, their sabot loaders gleaming darkly in the glare.

His cell was a converted storage room, damp despite environmental control, always lit, with a thick square of chewed-up foam filthy with years of humyn oils to sleep on, a stinking vacuum pit to relieve himself over, and a tiny black marble in the high gray ceiling to watch it all. Ventilation whispered through the porous gray walls, and beyond the hum of cheap light bars and the growl and gurgle of the water pipes, Kai could hear the nightmares of other Iso inmates.

He stripped again as the bruises swelled into rotten fruits and the whip furrows in his back and chest drooled. He sat on the cold floor and slipped into meditative deeps, what the Dagian Guard called the clean black, far from the buzz of the light bar, the gaze of the marble that mutely watched his daily physical and vocal exercises. That night, the deeps dripped a haunted gray.

Kai, have you forgotten what you are?

Guily Lanto?

Kai, off your dying ass.

Dying? I'm surviving.

Surviving. You're as wasted as a two-ducat punch whore. Time to get off that pillow of guilt. You are the Dagian Guard. You must fetch Kirsten Montroy --

Who?

The Hunter. As prophecy sings: a womyn will come I have found her and now you must drop the fugue of the daemons.

Fugue of the daemons?

The Koga Ram Fugue.

You want me to go to Earth?

####

In the morning, Kai roused out of meditation before the guards came. He sat in a tacky slop of blood and sweat, amid the faint cheesy funk of the damp, an ache needling into the muscle of his right shoulder.

The clean black rarely provided visions for him, he rarely dreamed, and he had but the remotest sputters of the collective Memory because, they said, his father had not been Mandaroy.

So he had to wonder if he’d truly heard Guily Lanto last night and not just his own self? But the body machine had certainly reacted as if ordered by the Archgeneral of the Weroncroft, the Mandaroy militia that everyone else called the RAITHs, and now it was war ready. Ready to act, react, proact as dictated by the Weroncroft pragmata, a doctrine of survival far different than anything Buttles, A., had learned. What the Dagian Guard called the jazz-jazz.

Five new Scorpio Gemfires arrived, as always, precisely at five-thirty. He -- the body machine actually -- kept time even after a year denied access to its artificial measures. Of the guards, one in particular, a giant of a man, cast a belligerent pall, which while not unusual from a Scorpio Gemfire, piqued the body machine. The guards paraded a naked and blood-crusted Kai down the hall. None of the Iso Block prisoners could see him from their windowless cells, the show was for the benefit of the black marble gaze.

In the gray concrete room, a single flickering light bar snapped the shadows of ten rusty showerheads mounted in one long stone wall that seeped green fetid muck.

There was never hot water for Kai, never any soap. He stood beneath the icy spray until a tiny red maelstrom formed at his feet. He could feel every pin of water nipping, smell the taint of the graywater, feel the heat transferring from his soles to the near-frozen stone floor.

"Enough, Ferracane," the angry guard said, throwing the valve on the water.

Kai ran a hand through his short brown hair, snarled and stiff from lack of a good cleaning.

"Quit your preening, you Mandaroy priss." The guard flung the damp, bloodstained rag at Kai’s face.

Kai caught it and flowed forward, whipping the stinking, abrasive towel out before him. To his ears, the five cracks of the towel were perfect orbs of sound suspended in the rank air. He glided forward through a crimson semicircle fanning from five neatly sliced throats, splashing him with welcome warmth. Bodies fell as he passed.

The violence pulsed within Kai's every ache and along every open wound.

He moved out of the showers, knowing that the tiny marble had caught his defiance. He expected the alarm and amplified voice:

"YOU HAVE ONE MINUTE TO DISARM, CEASE, AND SURRENDER."

Kai turned left onto Iso's main hall, catching his naked, spattered image in the round traffic mirror hung at the junction.

Two guards with sabot loaders cut off his path to the lifts, which were locking down in a whirl of blue lights.

From out of a deafening burst of yellow, two subsonic clusters of shot rushed toward Kai. He danced between the twin expanding swarms and whipped the guards’ faces with the towel. The lifts’ bulletproof polyplate slammed shut with a boom.

"YOU HAVE FORTY-FIVE SECONDS TO DISARM, CEASE, AND SURRENDER."

Kai tasted someone else's blood. He quickly killed the two guards writhing on the floor and sized them up. The boots were too big, as were the pants. He took one of their crimson shepherd’s check sashes, tasseled for rank and accomplishment, and wiped his face with it.

"YOU HAVE THIRTY SECONDS TO DISARM, CEASE, AND SURRENDER."

Beneath the blare of alarms, he ran down the hall past the Iso inmates’ impotent howls of riot lust.

Between the war and his surrender, Kai had memorized every schematic of Gaol Eerkes he could get his hands on. He stopped beneath the gaze at a maintenance plate in the wall. Draping the towel around his neck, he used the edge of his hand to shear off six of the twelve hexbolt heads in rapid succession.

"YOU HAVE FIFTEEN SECONDS TO DISARM, CEASE, AND SURRENDER."

He pulled steadily on the plate, popping it free of the headless bolts and bending it enough for him to see inside. Gripping the towel at either end, he eyed the fat, sweating pipe that carried the sourwater from some nameless, foul subterranean river through the maintenance tunnel.

"TEN… NINE… EIGHT… "

Up to a firestorm or down to the utter unknown? Down or up?

North.

Kai frowned.

"FOUR… THREE… "

Don't forget what you are. Never forget. Find Kirsten Montroy. Find the Hunter.

"ONE."

Kai heard inmates screaming, a moment before his body machine told him to vacate.

Kherris nerve agent.

How festive, Kai thought, a weapon outlawed forty years ago. He’d expected antiriot gas or something else a bit less, well, permanent. Kherris agent killed in hyper speed.

Like an electric breeze across a field of flowers, the body machine swept its nerve endings, and Kai convulsed once as his motor control and involuntary muscles reacted to self-decontamination.

He squeezed into the maintenance tunnel and scurried up the coarse cuprik pipe, the body machine urging him to hurry; Kherris gas dispersed like light and, under these conditions, not even he could smell it.

Kai had counted the third access plate when the tunnel abruptly narrowed at a huge valve. The pipe turned down a tight conduit, curving to the northwest in the direction of the purifying plant.

The direction of the Koga Ram Fugue.

Where he had to go.

Except his tunnel trip was over.

He heard alarms rippling up and down the floors and the insistent murmur of commotion. He sported a score of open wounds, all taking in the sourwater that sweated off the pipe and hung in the tunnel.

Because Kherris gas was heavier than air, it shouldn’t rise up the tunnel, and the body machine concurred that the tunnel was clean. Wouldn’t do to be twitching and a-prickle in rapid decon during an impromptu escape. Got to be stable and clear for the jazz-jazz.

From that side of the plate, Kai couldn’t access the hexbolts. He considered a moment, then gripped the valve’s wheel, so big it would usually require a large spanner to turn. All he had was a reeking towel around his neck.

He double-pistoned his palm against the edge of the fat blacksteel wheel.

TUNG-WHOOSH!

The wheel shot off with a blast of water, warping the access plate on impact. Kai backed his feet against the opposite side of the tunnel, bent his legs, and launched himself through the roaring sourwater, striking the access plate with twin fists. It crumpled but most of the bolts held; he fell amid the battering water, blindly grabbing the edge between wall and loosened plate.

With his left arm, he pulled himself up and applied pressure against the plate with his right hand, fingers splayed so that just the tips touched. A bow of leverage followed the curve of his spine down to curling toes. He pushed on the plate, keeping his head down to avoid aspirating too much of the bad water seething around him.

Through his fingertips, he felt the polyplate yielding deep in its structure, a breakdown spreading away from his exertion toward the stubborn bolts. His flesh also gave around barely healed gashes. He imagined burning mouths splitting into smiles all over his body.

Hexbolts pinged away, the access plate shuddered in a mild death throe before clunking forward. Kai flowed through the harsh cascade over the edge, bringing the towel to bear. From about a pace away, three Scorpios staggered against the rush of water, firing sabot loaders wildly into the walls.

Faster than sound, the now sopping towel ripped the air, a blade of cheap cotton. Its journey disrupted by the first Scorpio Gemfire throat, the towel shredded the second throat as it lost speed and poignancy and missed the third, flaying the right side of the guard’s face.

Naked and dripping rank water, Kai moved up the wide hall of Block A, three levels of cells linked by overwalks, bellowing with alarms and the falsely unified Gen-Pop voice. He rat-tailed the towel as Scorpios fired from the overwalks and hall in front of him, and jetsam and howls flew from barred cell doors. The weapons’ fire was a forest of snapping metallic branches. Kai ran, cracking the towel to pick off bullets and blossoming pepper loads that scattered in screechy harmonies. Bullets, singing ricochets, and loader shot bit his flesh, and the towel was a slur of gray light flashing in defense and offense.

Kai passed out of Block A, entering the corridor that lead to the bright rotunda he was never supposed to see again. Behind him a massive polyplated door slammed shut with a boom. Bullets and shot spattered against its other side.

Four guards blocked the last gate, a time-locked, doubled monstrosity of wrist-thick blacksteel bars and polyplate sheet.

Three Scorpios wielded sabot loaders; the other had a fat-barreled antiriot gas launcher. All of them wore full hazard gear and masks.

The launcher plonked! Kai easily batted away the canister that tumbled toward him. It clattered against the wall, hissing angrily. Kherris gas spewed in an invisible flashflood.

The body machine deconned and Kai stumbled, the ludicrous towel wavering in its gyrations.

The three Scorpio Gemfires pumped slugs and shot at him almost casually, waiting for him to drop.

Kai’s eyes and head began to hurt. Then his breathing shut down, nearly making him miss a belly-bound, fist-sized load of shot.

Blood leaked, then poured from every fresh wound and some of the old ones, mixing with sheets of sweat. His nose spurted mucous, his eyes flooded, and his nerves burned.

The body machine denied the gas access. It was the Weroncroft pragmata. Survival. The jazz-jazz.

And beneath it all, his belly cramped from the sourwater he’d taken on while climbing the maintenance tunnel.

Behind a silvery haze of tears, Kai allowed the body machine to guide him. He danced up the hall toward the four guards, who yelled in that agitated way when uncertainty reigned.

Crack! Crack! Crack! Crack!

The towel picked four masks off, and Kai tossed the panicking guards one after the other back down the hall into the killing heart of the nerve agent. He slung the towel back around his neck and gripped two of the bars, unable to wrap his fingers completely around them. Kai heard flopping and coughing, quick death.

Through visualization, he focused, feeling the body machine marshal its strength once more. His forearms swelled, his upper arms striated; he felt his back muscles rise and separate. Blood poured, blatted around and on his bare feet, his nerves sputtered with the body machine’s cleaning. He drew as deep a breath as the body machine would allow.

His force equaled that of the bars, then surpassed it. He gritted his teeth and growled, not so much with effort as with dominance. The bars parted like two rubber tubes. Muscles screamed, but the body machine wasn’t waiting around for the Kherris gas, bleeding out while it recovered from a bit of work.

The second gate stood directly behind the bars. A sheet of polyplate, 20-mic-thick blacksteel, standard security/hazard door with a forty-by-forty centi-mic pane of ten-mic-thick safety glass about head height.

Visualization. Focus.

Kai snapped off a forehead strike and followed it through the diamond cloud of shattering glass. He tucked and rolled and hopped upright, the towel licking at targets.

He slid and pirouetted through the howls and erratic weapons fire of two guards; they hadn't expected him out there.

The rotunda entrance wore a welcoming marble façade of tabernacles embracing Aralwyrd statues representing Justice and Harmony in robes, burdened by old scales and wreaths and other vague symbols. Sunlight danced the spectrum through the stained and leaded glass of the giant doors. He stepped into natural light for the first time in twelve months.

He spun in defense. But sound and assault had fallen off.

Through the bee-hum haze of the towel, he saw the two guards. One crawled, pleading with outstretched arm for something, then tipped face first into a trembling heap.

Of course the Kherris gas had followed him into the rotunda.

Kai pushed through the huge doors, wounds weeping and gulping a bit as if trying to speak. The first true day he’d seen in a year exploded down on him in shit-streaked indigo.

And exploded again as a stinging curtain of earth leapt at him to his right. Now he registered what his body machine had already heard: a heliunit. Kai sprinted toward the motor pool, part of the converted rectory along with the armory and vault that held the inmates’ personal belongings. Towel up and whirling, he ran backward, shuffling off to his left, watching the twinkling spill of brass from the Roc heliunit’s cannon ejector. Blade wash swirled dirt and dust and flogged the low, green heads of the ever-present weepwaits speckling Gaol Eerkes’ bailey.

Kai continued sliding to his left, dragging the roaring brown wall with him. He faked a step forward, flinging the towel in that direction and turned in a full gallop.

He leapt the two-pace-high decorative wall that ringed the rectory, flipped tightly, and landed in stride, with the wall’s old stone dissolving under the 32-mic storm of rounds. The grounds were unkempt, overrun with weepwaits and shriveled tufts of spidergrass. He hurdled a scummy pond, kissing off its crumbling slate rim to launch toward a partially open casement window. Twisting sideways on the fly, Kai slipped through it, allowing his momentum to take him forward toward a desk and a gaping Scorpio guard cowering behind it with a sabot loader. The casement gave way with a splash lost beneath a roar and a razor line darting like the tongue of something huge hunting meat in an old tree trunk.

Kai rolled left and the bullets lapped by, scathing floor and desk and guard.

He was up in an adjoining room split by a polymesh wall. Reopened wounds puckered as they clotted; fresh bullet nicks and gashes stung all over his body, painted with sheets and runnels of blood. A bullet nestled in the meat of his right thigh. He stood in the property vault. The Roc hovered outside, probably querying the warden’s office, seeking permission to raze the building.

Kai stared through the mesh, scanning deserted aisles, listening, feeling a need not born of pragmatism. But then you never knew where the jazz-jazz might take you. He flicked a cube of glass embedded in his forehead, heard its tick-tack on the floor, uncoiled a furl of flesh over a seeping bullet gouge in his forearm, wondering, then staring some more. He sliced a hand through the polymesh. He ran down the first aisle, then a short way up the second. He found it, halfway up the ceiling-high shelf: an unsealed paperfiber box marked FERRACANE, K. in smeared blue stencil. He swatted the box, and it burst its corners when it hit the floor.

Frivolous. Not at all practical.

But then protection from exposure was critical to survival. Right? But then the body machine had denied him so many other things. Right?

He pulled on a pair of faded combat pants that, although musty and stiff, fit much better. The olive drab combat jacket with the Midnight Sun and Weroncroften sigils on its sleeve also had the musty smell and stiffness of abandonment. He eased it on, sharp creases biting his wounds and slipped on the pair of cotton-lined boots that he’d walked up to authorities in so long ago. His knife was gone of course. He hustled back to the threshold between the vault and the main room.

The heliunit still hovered, but now Kai heard voices raised to the pitch of the dutiful kill. Scorpios were surrounding the building. He sidestepped between the desk’s ravaged halves and took the pistol from the dead guard before moving into the dimly lit motor pool. It was deserted. He passed a short row of personnel carriers, hoping to find a biwheeler or even a hover, but found instead a two-door Azrael. The dust veiling it confirmed the fact that there’d be little use for an interceptor at Gaol Eerkes.

He popped the door release in the rear wheel well and dropped into the cockpit. He placed the pistol on the passenger seat. It wasn’t ignition-secure, and the fuel cell was whole, but the stub-tailed, fastback interceptor’s lack of use was apparent in its draggy, coughing burps. He let the fuel pump run a moment, then tried again. The big angle-8 fired up with that pleasant bowel-massaging rumble. Wipers scraped over chalky dust on the windscreen as he slapped it into reverse, got it rolling clear of its mooring. He dropped the first shifter.

The Azrael swerved all over the smooth stone, almost ceasing forward motion with all four tires spinning until Kai backed off the accelerator. Once the tires hooked up, he eased into it and cruised the Azrael out of the motor pool, screaming through an unprepared blockade and under the ancient arch in the massive walls, shattering the arrogantly unassuming gates that prisoners only ever saw one time on their way into Gaol Eerkes.

The heliunit was on him, but Kai had some play on the flat, open terrain of the Valley of Judges’ northern desert. Cannon fire whipped the rocky terrain to either side of the Azrael as Kai zigged and zagged, and rockets struck harmless paces away. The Roc lost ground to the much faster and more maneuverable Azrael.

Gaol Eerkes vanished behind him, its low profile quickly melting into the horizon beside the skeletal workings of the water purifying plant. Soon only the titanic cloud of rusty brown pollutants from its dozen smokestacks marked his former residence. Nothing else took up the chase because they would not want but essential personnel knowing about the first escape in history from Gaol Eerkes.

The body machine rolled off its combat high, and Kai fell into a black daze. His back muscles ached like two wings of meat stretched nearly free of his spine, and weeping wounds burned. Others' blood scummed over his own and his belly cramped from ingesting the sourwater. He farted long and loud.

He ignored the anxiety boiling in his gut to the march of bodies that had fallen by his hand. Not bodies, humyns. Humyns, reptilian Miniak, it no longer mattered. Ever since Keya died -- killed herself really -- Kai had taken his work to sleep with him. The hundreds of damned faces beneath Tower Lyseth, the reptilian Miniak invaders, the million of the Fugue War, the thousands of Weroncroften slaughtered at Medley. To feel such things would eventually destroy a Dagian Guard. To feel anything aside from physical pain would eventually destroy a Guard.

Kai brooded instead over the fugue of daemons and someone named Kirsten Montroy, also called the Hunter. Guily Lanto, if that had been him, had called Kai the Dagian Guard. Because he was the last one alive after the purge, the so-called RAITH War? Or was there some other reason? He distrusted the blurriness of prophecy. Who was this person, this Hunter? Why did he have to find her? What was he supposed to do if he did?

But he would make the fugue drop anyway; he would hunt the Hunter. He was a Dagian Guard.

The body machine ached, and he thought, good, fucker, hurt some.

Kai reached the Koga Ram fugue with the sun just cresting midday.

Six regular Gemfires with autorifles and an assault hover waited. Kai focused on the fugue, a rhomboid of shifting, inky black plates framed by yellow-and-black-striped timbers, open in the side of a dome of granite.

Leading to a universe of daemons, they said, the route of the Mandaroy Haj’jim, forbidden trespass since the Adalandak Dynast’s reign during the King’s Millennium.

The Gemfires may have been waiting for something, but they weren’t expecting Kai Ferracane, Dagian Guard, Monster of the Modern Age to be climbing the path at full speed.

You were supposed to stop at a fugue and take stock of yourself, recognize proof of the Jewell’s marvels if you were Mandaroy, or its sinister unknowns if you were plighted to the Aralwyrd faith. You were supposed to hesitate at a fugue because it defined your limitations by intimating a mystery that destroyed those limitations.

So they said.

Kai swept past the guards without them firing a bullet, and the last thing he saw before the fugue enveloped him was the Gemfire, too stupid to recognize a for-keeps game of chickbird, slamming into the windscreen.

The drop took Kai’s breath away.

THE BEGINNING


© 2005 Dan Edelman

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