"Trespassing!" he exclaimed. "I'll be right back." Still struggling, Sara Carver broke loose and lost consciousness on impact with the mossy bed. The tendrils holding the boys stiffened into cartoonish branches. The children wagged their legs and hands, helplessly entwined fifty feet in the air. The moss below them became a floating lake of green, somehow liquefied or buoyant.
Alban and Stan ran up to the edge of the pool of greenish black. "Christ," Stan murmured, "Animated Bulbosa. Gee." He looked across to the opposite edge of the pool, " The mother looks safe on the other side. How do we get to those kids?"
"We build a boat," Fred Keele had come running up behind the two men, gun in hand. He stood wide-eyed and continued talking, "I saw a lot of dead wood north of here. We can lash some of it together and float out to them." He pointed down, "Look how it changes color from green to black."
Stan studied the lake, "When it's black, it thickens or stiffens. You can hear the air crackle out of it.
Keele backed off and said, "Come on, let's make a raft. I don't want to get tangled up in this stuff."
10.2 Bowed down by the weight of nebulae he crouches underneath the
hill. - A. Ginsberg (Pastel Sentences)
"My little Nanotribe! How lovely of you to visit! But I can't stay. I am busy juggling, heh, literally juggling people all day and I'm about to sail the tomby totemic tarpits to fun fungi funny family famished finished. Test the waters. Oooo, Ooooo, cooooold. Ha ha ha." The vaporous presence dissolved away into the rocks. Kerby and Ruby, stood frozen, unable to comprehend the horrific spectacle they had just witnessed.
From a far corner, in a shadow, a small voice spoke, "No time for joyous reunions." Ziggy Acetate sat amidst foil dispensers, a pile of #10 tin cans and stainless steel dollys with u-clamps and dust suits stacked for mobility. "I have to go after him. Right up his crack so to speak."
"Ziggy," Ruby smiled gently and went to crouch by Ziggy. "How can we help?"
"You're going to mess this place up after I leave. It's one of the nodal points. You'll know when to do it because part of this thing will descend upon you like Armageddon. You only have to take a little steam out of it, mess up his head a little and I can take him from the moss. And if you can find more nodal points we improve our chances."
Ziggy remained crouched a little longer and finally, with what seemed great effort, rose slowly, reached out and placed a hand on the stone wall. He lowered his head and closed his eyes. "I don't think I can do it."
Fiz walked down to Ziggy and put her hand on top of his, "Does it was?" she asked. Ziggy smiled softly at her and leaned closer into the cavern's walls. Then Fiz felt something like sand sifting through her fingers as he disappeared into the minute cracks that laced them.
Kerby looked up at Tinker, "Tink, take Fiz and Ruby back to the lab. Track down someone who can supply more information on these other nodal points Ziggy spoke of. Ask Estrogen to help. I'll stay here. There are enough chemicals and hardware here for me to rig up some fancy fireworks. Maybe send a message to Ziggy and his dance partner."
10.3 The Art of War
"Sleep." Linda Smith commanded as she made Qi sit down. She held the button on Qi's seat and pushed her back into a reclining position. Then she covered her with a blanket. They were in Wang's Lexus2 Shuttlejet. Wang had fallen asleep immediately. The Reverend Baker, immersed in biblical studies had also fallen asleep. Mary Joseph Carter shook him gently and said, "Why have you fallen upon your face?" Baker looked up, managed a thin smile and nodded, "Yes, still more to do. To prepare. Thank you, dear. And thanks for the quote from Joshua. I'm going to use that." He gripped her hand, sat up, and began leafing through texts. She quickly wiped away a tear.
There was a lull in the crackling, bubbling, living swirl of green. The lake took on a black hue then went completely still. Keele, gun in hand, helplessly glanced back and forth. Stan lifted his hand to quiet the group of frantic humans and remarked, "The presence of life behind the ocean of tar has departed. Whatever hellish entity was controlling all this, its gone. Maybe we can reach those boys. Free them."
"Is that a good thing? That it's gone?" Alban finally stopped shaking and continued, his own voice giving him a sense of self and safety. "I mean maybe it's playing with us."
"Oh it's definitely doing that," Keele added, "but Stan's right. We may have a moment to get to those kids."
Sara Carver had awakened and risen to her knees each hand clawing a cheek, eyes raised to her boys. She summoned all her courage and managed in a trembling voice to reassure them, " Je Jeremy, S S Sammy It's It's going to be ok ." The wind whistled through the pines and a vole shot out from them across the black into the forest on the other side. The two children were suspended half way up the length of tall Sugar Pines. "Thirty yards maybe more," Keele judged. "Maybe we can shake them loose. Or bend the stuff." They hung as if by whips of darkness on imperceptible threads. But they didn't seem hurt. Just dazed and in shock. They murmured or whined occasionally, looking about or reaching out toward their mother. "Let's get them down while we have a chance," Keele ground out the words with a determination that mobilized the other two.
The surface of the pool of black tar was discovered to be hard as ice when Stan prodded it with a tent pole. The silence was terrifying. Alban and Keele abandoned their attempts to lash together a raft and picked up tent poles as well. The three tread onto the glassy surface. Keele called gently to the boys trying to get their focus, perhaps to aid the rescuers' efforts. The three men proceeded spider like, back to back towards the closest scythe dangling a dazed child.
Alban stopped sliding forward. "The wind stopped." Then they heard a soft moan, "Oh No," Sara Carver's two words carried such sorrow that Stan's knees weakened. But it wasn't his knees it was the ground below them. The three men had sunk down into the black tar. Or the lake had risen to their thighs. Either way it wasn't good. They held the tent poles up over their heads and squirmed to get free. They were held above the knees, rooted. A sizzling sound became prominent and turned to a vile bubbling. The tendrils holding the boys began to quiver. Keele's phone beeped.
10.5 The Art of War II
He twisted to reach his backpack thinking he was stupid for putting the cell there but he hadn't figured on another call so soon. He turned, mumbling complaints and saw Ziggy Acetate standing, naked, just in front of a redwood, red bark glowing behind him in gouged mappings of hundreds of years. Ziggy smiled sweetly and said, "I have come out from under my heap of stones to seek compensation."
Keele pressed the phone to his ear, "Yeah." It was Linda Smith's voice, "Tell Ziggy we need forty minutes. We're getting off a plane at Heathrow. I talked to someone at Kerby's lab, says her name is Ruby. They're setting up some kind of diversion. Ziggy's on his way to you. Ziggy's the artist you mentioned..."
"I got it," Keele barked. "Ziggy, We need 40 minutes!" But the bubbling, buzzing sound had risen and Keele wasn't sure Ziggy had heard him. He stuffed the phone into his shirt pocket and looked up at the boys. The tentacles, like silhouettes of a void, drifted back and forth. .
10.6 Small Dark Light
Ruby had tried to call Qi. Smith received an automatic communication from BC Intel that the tap on Qi's line had been activated. Not knowing what was going on except for Kerby's sick earth theory, Ruby was now sitting with Hooper. Completely recovered, Hooper had prepared some food for Ruby, Fiz and Tinker. They sat and discussed her conversation with Linda Smith. " Qi and Agent Smith are on their way to the Apostles. There's some kind of psychic connection between them and this guy we met in the WIP. I tell you Hoop, this is so unreal that I can't get freaked out about it. I'm just numb."
"Not as numb as you'll be when all the blood has drained from your bitch body onto that carpet." Lawrence Hardwickii and two Kongs stood in the doorway to the dining area. Ruby immediately activated her eye but Hardwickii was holding up a spectral filter. She would only endanger Hooper if she escalated the signal. A Kong walked up to her and, unceremoniously, smashed his left fist into her right eye. The fact that he had damaged the mechanism wasn't really on Ruby's mind as she spun out of her chair and crashed to the floor.
10.7 The Siege of Ai.
Qi and her father continued on to Wang's headquarters to stop the money siphon. Linda, Reverend Baker and Mary Joseph Carter walked into Planck and were relieved that no one opposed their request to visit the Apostles. Most people in the building were hoping for some help with them. There were ten now. They were all drawing on the white walls of a large living room. The walls and floor were covered with markings, all seeming to eminate from the television set where a representation of the Reverend Baker, looking much healthier and bright eyed than the one standing in the room, affectionately called for donations. From the television, veins of text and unrecognizable symbols wove together in a tapestry of incomprehensible scribbling.
Baker, took a breath and said, "I have given into your hand the King of Ai and his people, his city and his land. How wise are you old men?"
They acted as one, rising together and turning toward the Reverend Baker. They took a step forwards, a sidestep, a shuffle and a step back, then repeated the moves in a unison, oscillating dance of the synapse. Reginald Pointsman then emerged, splitting away from the group as if pushed ahead by an unseen force. "You are not here," said Pointsman, smiling.
"But I am. And I will not allow you to hide behind a craven image." Baker turned to Agent Smith and spoke out of the corner of his mouth, "Even if it is of me."
"In the flesh? What justification is that? The all powerful is commanding us to do his bidding. You are an abberation! Be gone!" Pointsman said this with finality. They all turned and went back to their minute scribblings.
Linda Smith twisted her mouth into a smirk, "I hate that 'His' thing when they refer to the all powerful. Really pisses me off. Let's get in for a closer look at the writings." She took a mini-dv-cam from the inside pocket of her blazer and zoomed in on a wall. Baker walked up to the television and watched his avatar. He put his hand up to touch the screen and the ten apostles immediately rose, and surrounded him. "Stay away from the word. You are not Brother B." They spoke together in a low, threatening monotone. Baker backed off. Smith pulled her gun and aimed it at the screen. Mary Joseph put up her hand and gestured to Linda as she looked at her husband, "No, let my husband speak to them. They want the word, dear. Give it to them."
Baker closed his eyes, "You have sought the familiar territory of serfdom. Now six hundred chariots, eighteen hundred warriors descend upon you and you lie down in a 'Sea of reeds'..." As he spoke the writing and scribbling became feverish. Sometimes an Apostle would look up, frustrated, distracted and then tear himself away, back into his task. One mumbled, "Brother B" but the others hissed and shook their heads.
Smith nodded at Mary and said softly, "Keep talking, Rev." She backed into the hall and took out her cell. After failing to reach the number Ruby had given her, she talked to her communications centre in BC. They transferred her to Dr. Rudolph Kerby, head of a research facility in Connecticut. The call was routed to Kerby's laptop in Nevada. "Let me see the video of their drawings," Kerby knew this was the sign he was looking for; the one Ziggy alluded to. Smith attached a cable to the dvcam and played back the video through her cellphone. Kerby watched it on his laptop, "Looks like, yes, it's identical to the map in the chamber adjacent to this one! The Apostles will let us know when. We must all act together. Watch them work and let me know the moment they all drastically change what they are doing. I must log off to finish my end of it and only, I repeat, only call me back when it's time for me to act. Any word from Ruby?" Smith said "No" and disconnected. She returned to the Apostles and put her hand gently on the Reverend Baker's shoulder, "It's okay, you can let them finish." The Reverend stopped talking and slouched in exhaustion. "I think I slowed them down a bit for whatever it's worth." Agent Smith smiled and said, "Probably a lot, Rev."
10.8 Ziggy watched the scene with a sense of deja vu. A comic vignette. Three midgets with tent poles jiggling and twisting ineffectually, two sleeping children floating around in the air above a kneeling woman. He noticed he was naked.
Used to be a time when modesty would prevail but he was way beyond that now. The scene was so 'known to him', so comfortable, that he felt only a gentle exhaustion. He was home. It didn't even startle him when a tree to his left literally uprooted itself and walked onto the lake of madness. It sunk into the tar, sprouted lips and spoke in a boomy hiss, "Sorry to keep you waiting." The tree continued to sink until its enormous mass has shrunken and transformed into a pudgy, fully dressed man who stood there looking more like a car salesman than the demon everyone had anticipated. The unimposing salesman smiled at Ziggy and spoke, "My name is Alder. I am your personal consultant for the afternoon. You, my nerdy nakedness can use some BB bell bottoms and an orange CK T-shirt, sir. Change rooms to the rear." Ziggy didn't respond and this made the pudgy man pinch his face into a grimace, "What do you think you can do?"
Ziggy remained level, "I'm not here to hurt you."
"You're a bag of bacteria. Any of you campers bring the lysol spray?" Alder, speaking to himself now, walked about on the pond of darkness. His feet made little sucking noises as he grimaced and gestured looking much the way a child might, acting out an inner fantasy. "OK, let's just get this done. Big blanky under the blank...Hey! Hugs! Hugs for ebbyone!" Alder stopped and a dead silence followed. Keele looked at his watch. Smith had another twenty minutes to get something happening.
Alder broke the silence with, "I really don't know what I'm doing here either. Just that it's the right place to be. My big pet wanted some smoochin' right? " The entire forest shook. "Mmmm. There there. It's ok now. Papa's here. Wanna go out? Want a cookie?" Then with a smile that was easy to interpret as sadistic, Alder sneered, "Time to let the doggy out."
Keele leaned in to Alban "We have to stall him."
Alban shuddered, "Right. Uh, It's Tuesday!" Alder paused and cocked his head. Alban continued, "Linen or cotton? Rayon or..."
"Rayon?! What self respecting white trash would even consider rayon what with the new microfibers coming down the pipe. I'm shocked! Wad it up, stuff it in your pocket, voila! A perfect fit every time. Lays across the body like it was sprayed on. Less than point ten micron threading! Fully flame resistant. But don't quote me on that. And the color! Have you seen the Dominican Pink? Key Largo Grey? Venice White? PC Purple? Mojo Maroon? I love those colors!" Alder continued his enthusiastic tirade. Keele looked with admiration at Alban. Alban raised his eyes and shoulders and turned down the corners of his mouth in a surprised shrug.
10.9 Obedience to law is the dry husk of loyalty and good faith... - Lao Tsu (U. K. Le Guin, translator)
Dr. Kerby sat in a bright chamber in the Waste Internment Project under Yucca Mountain. His laptop calculated the correct combination and weight of Beryllium and Polonium he had found in small quantities throughout the WIP. "There's enough U-235 and Pu-239 to power the World Iridium Games," Kerby snarled. He had patched into a command bay getting mobile waldos to do most of the physical work. "This has to be timed to help Ziggy when he needs it and not sooner." He talked to the waldos. The arms on wheels were as close as he could get to the comfort of a partner-in-crime. He hadn't been able to get through to Ruby. There was definitely something wrong but he couldn't dwell on that now. He began programming his laptop to detonate the device when the internal modem was activated. He would occasionally look up at the scribblings and scratchings on the walls. Each time he checked, certain ends had grown. The mappings were mirrors of the efforts of the Apostles. As they drew on the walls at Planck, the inscriptions somehow appeared here as well. "I hope those Apostles let us know when it's the right time." A couple of two-wheeled, gyro-stablized waldos brought in the remaining pressurized tanks of CO2, fire extinguishers, oxygen and even some two-fours of beer.
10.11 Pulling Porcupine Quills
Ziggy moved toward the molten mass that slowly pulsed between a human form and a shapeless void.
Director Wang accessed the system bus where all incoming commands were bottle-necked before siphoning off to proper data-pools. He had logged in from a local network terminal inside the Hong Kong Travel Service's recently acquired HKDVTV Broadcasting Corp. Security thought his image on their monitors was the Ai and ignored him. It often 'visited' the staff that way. Had they known that he walked down the hall and physically entered the data room, he would have been immediately killed.
Alder the Clothing Salesman momentarily shivered, "Ooh, got a chill. The money's run out. Imagine that!"
In London, at Planck Headquarters, the 12 Apostles looked up at the monetary readouts on the Telethon Network TV Show and bristled. They then began feverishly scrawling away at the floors and walls with pens, pencils and markers. "It's just pouring out of their pens", Smith remarked. "I'd better call that Dr. Kerby guy... "
Ziggy opened his arms and walked onto the mossy lake. "Let's discuss this, shall we?"
Keele stood up and smoothed the wrinkles on his jacket, "There, that's done. Now to get out of here." His notebook rang.
Alder looked backwards, then turned to face Ziggy, "The back door has shut. What's this all about? My house. My blanket!"
The children began to lower to the ground. The three men felt the ground loosening around their legs. "My eyes! My..."
Ruby was counting to ten. " six, seven..." Hardwickii lowered his gun, "What the fuck are you doing?"
Ruby looked up at him, "I'm counting to ten so I don't lose my temper with you. Seven, Eight, ..." "TEN!" shouted Hardwickii as he raised his gun. But that was also the moment that both of Fizz's feet connected with his head. As the Kong turned to see Hardwickii fall unconscious to the floor, Tinker planted one fist into a kidney and the other hard across the jaw. The Kong never knew what hit him.
"My glass managerie! My pet!" screamed Alder as Ziggy embraced him. The two bodies joined and twisted into something vaporous and everchanging. No one at the scene was sure whether they had sunk into the ground or dissipated into the air or simply merged into transparency.
10.12 Unreal City
Under the brown fog of a winter noon
They sat outside with a pot of tea, two cups, a dish of cheese, a small knife and a game of chess. The air was crisp with the late Fall, and the sounds of the city were muted. The rose bushes had turned a burnt orange, the climbing vines, yellow. Nicotiana still bowed white flowers to the walk. The Fleece flowers were red towers, a miniature futurist city surrounded by shell and stone.
"Kerby's body was never recovered." Keele first poured tea into Linda Smith's cup, then his own. "But I can't think of a place he might rather be buried than in that undergound testament to man's technological hubris."
Smith nodded and moved her rook to the center of the board. "The Reverend Baker quoted T.S. Eliot: "The river's tent is broken: the last fingers of leaf clutch and sink into the wet bank." Then he delivered a fiery sermon on the need to make good on time lost. Now that the apostles are delivered there's a lot of cash to be used for good causes. I think they are going to reconstruct that underground city, Thunder. I feel like I'm drowning under the wave of relief. "
Keele smiled slighlty, his hand hovering over a bishop, "What will we do now?"
Smith, waiting for Keele to make his move, crinkled one eye "Whatever happens next."
Back to the present.