Then go, January.
( Copyright nods; model is quite clearly the ineffable K.H. )
Then go, January.
( Copyright nods; model is quite clearly the ineffable K.H. )
When he happened upon Room 237, he did not knock. He whistled a tune from the mechanical follies (a specialty of the places with low line-speed) and folded the newspaper under his arm. The dirty man announced himself to the empty corridor this way—eyes streaming right and left beneath a bent hat brim—and was pleased to find that not a soul was there to acknowledge him.
He’d cased the course schedules correctly, then.
As for the door… he dropped his newspaper in a faked distraction and had to stoop, feigning stiff-limbed sorrows, to retrieve it. The security system he observed was an impressive one. Hidden behind the false wooden frame (intentionally roughed to look old) but heard: when he put his ear to the wall he could make out the whispered digits. They all had a signature.
He whistled louder. Flipping the newspaper open he admired the headline (“This Publication Ceasing Due to Low Sales” — and wasn’t that the fate of anything hard-copy) and soothed a sound at the device sitting square and pretty between columns. Just a black box, the same since the day he’d made it. Simple: think simple, it reminded him. So he did.
The dirty man hefted up the box (oddly heavy for its handheld size) and thumped it solid to the wall. It began to beep weakly. He altered his whistling tune to tap into the beep-beat. Slow, slower than a heart it started. Then it quickened and picked up an urgent volume.
Might be off the network, darling
but my little net works just fine.
The tune dropped out when the box beeps merged into a long tone. Yes, my little net works just fine. The dirty man stopped moving the device and reached his thumb around to flick the switch. The tone cut and the SEMP clicked over with an invisible pulse, another: one-two, a-one-two, it danced all the power within short range dead. Digit-stream stopped, fan snapped short, system went into cold sleep.
He expected the security system was top of the market. The problem with the tippy-top of the market is that it doesn’t pay much attention to the bottom.
Still, the door should have unlatched then. When it didn’t, he scrunched his sooty nose. Some kind of last stand? Then he noticed the keyhole and—he had to bark out one laugh at the brass of it. Damn academics, really. And damn him for not noticing it! Without a break he dripped a metal pin from his sleeve—just the right one, judging by the slot—and slipped it into the keyhole. One click-catch and the mechanical lock drove open. The door clicked free.
I am alive. I am not supposed to be.
( Copyright nods to creator and subject. )
I have secured the funds necessary to repay your generous loan. Please tell me when it would be most convenient for me to make payment. I should have no trouble delivering my appreciation to your shop.
I will be available tomorrow, possibly the day-next, or whenever you find yourself free for a visitor. Trust that I will keep our business brief, as I know you to be a man of many appointments.
Kindly accept my most sincere gratitude for your involvement in these matters.
Mr. M. Mitford,
Ship Street, Old City
I am honored to have been of service to you in a time of need. If you find yourself disengaged, be good enough to favor me with a call to-morrow at 3 P.M. I trust that we shall be able to settle the debt without difficulty.
I have included my card. It will guide you to the shop.
Your obedient servant,
The letter arrived thrice enveloped in heavy folded paper and scented with licorice. It was sealed with green wax—a flaming sun. The seal bore no resemblance to the card included or the suns displayed there.
The suns would sing at him. They would help him to happen upon the same gate and box Mitford had fatefully placed his own calling card in, not so very long ago. Many notes of a feminine nature and cards of a more serious make were lodged there, perhaps having accumulated over the time Doubleday had neglected his business.
A more poorly finished communication was composed entirely of a scrawling hand on the back of an announcement flyer. It flipped and fluttered on the edge of the box, threatening to escape: Mary told me you can make up years and I should like to have a particular one back— Then it did blow away.
From around the corner Anecto, the mostly-machine gatekeeper, would arrive and kindly request to see Doubleday’s card. Should the Locksmith present it he would welcome him by name (“Ah, Mr. Mitford.”) and flex his metal arm at the glossy keypad until it clicked with release. The Compie would pull the gate open and gesture that Mitford should proceed to the door alone. He might hear the gate shut and snap automatic locks, hiss with something other than technology.
Yet the shop itself was an ordinary building. If anything, it looked feeble. Wood and stone might have been blood and bone beside the two structures that flanked it, so agleam and grand they were, constructed with synthetic materials that either gave off light or reflected it. Shields banded the windows of those buildings, wires burst loose where they would not fit. Doubleday’s shop showed nothing of the sort.
It boasted no more than a simple, straight paved walk that would allow no more than four steps between the gate and door. In the yard trimmed hedges just touched the iron bars of the high fence. Geth had carved marks in the hidden trunks of the bushes, just for the purposes of viewing the street (from inside, from the cellar, with an eye that wasn’t his).
The door was bathed a dark green not unlike the color of Doubleday’s ink or seal. Around the centered brass knob the false sun—also seated in the seal—flared in golden paint. The door was indeed the only part of the shop that did not show such a weathered face. It was as if it was freshly painted every day. The stone walls had the look of being worked on by elements and the poisonous city air; the mortar between them crumbled in places and played at moss in others.
One window blindly faced the street due the heavy curtain drawn behind it. A circle puckered one pane of the glass window, implying it had been blown (unheard of). It wore no shield. The second floor did not exactly tower but crouched above—it could have been no more than a crawl space—under the reaching wings of the buildings surrounding it. The grey roof slating reflected nothing; it would have looked more at home near a sea, if such things still existed.
Just beside the painted wooden doorframe Mitford would find the bell button well-used. Above it, a small sign with letters that matched the gold of the door sun:
TIME LENT ON LIVES OF ANY LENGTH, CONSTITUTION, AND CLASS.
A Compie at 87% Transmatter
(Work is © Martin McKenna)
“Why such a tedious title?” Madrigal asked his spine. She breathed a low-born, ground-grown language unknown to Old City. She clasped his bloodstained skin with prayers that preceded the Ancients, even the Ancestors of the Ancients—or so she claimed.
“Which one?” James raised his wet head. He pretended it was water that covered him; he would not open his eyes.
“Lender.” The Sada laid her fingers on his back and brought them down in ribbons of exposed skin, creating lines of power to pulse against the blood. “It sounds like a friend or a kind relative. It sounds like—“
“An Ancient?” he supplied. Unseen but stressed in the muscles of his neck, he smiled.
Madrigal paused her ministrations, hands poised. She produced a laugh. “Of course.
“But you should be more like the suckworms doing business on Slake Ridge. Those men with the pots of coins and numbers on cards they loan to anyone who asks. I take my trade to them on occasion—oh, be quiet.“
(James had snorted weakly.)
“As if one could really sell time,” he said loftily, so loftily it must have been an imitation.
“As if one could really loan it,” she countered seriously.
James lowered his head, then almost immediately raised it. The Sada could see his jaw setting from the side where she leaned, her red chin just touching his reddened shoulder.
“I require the funds,” he insisted. “And these people don’t know the meaning of an exchange. They wouldn’t suffer their pride to accept a loan. They understand commerce, darling. They require ownership.”
That day he had counted his fifth customer from the brighter part of the city. She had butterfly wings beating off her skin in various locations. She asked to have ten years tucked into one day so that she would have time to slim and prettify herself, make more modifications that marred her humanity. All for some gala with the reigning political party of immortals.
“So what of the others?”
Madrigal extended her arm, unfurling like a fern to its bloodied fingertips (but it was so hard to tell) until it reached to indicate the far wall flickering with light—some from above, some boxed within the parts that were projections rather than paper.
It was a map: it boasted an assortment of technology(modern and moth-eaten) pieced together, patches of smaller pieces: tourism maps, sewer charts, routes for riot police, known safe houses for the criminally elite, residences of the famous, future plans for demolitions, ancient layouts that predated the posh coffee houses and compie upgrade shops.
It was Old City as best arranged by Doubleday. The project had taken him some time to compile, but what was he if not a man with time? Well, that was not exactly correct. His body lived by a very finite clock based on star-pulse and decay.
Now he looked to the scrawled representations of Slake Ridge, Tullside, Rapture, Broken Harp. The last was arguably the worst. “I will be a lender to them.”
It pained him, at least. He valued that pain.
On the map red marks much like those his fingers would leave were scattered. They made a constellation. It would only grow larger, denser, until it would grow no more. It mirrored Doubleday in that regard, at least. He felt comforted to be together with it.
“James.” The Sada drew a spiral on his back. “Call Geth. It’s time to clear all this away.”
The Lender (and Dealer) shifted where he sat on the stone table, feeling Madrigal’s thighs slide up his waist from behind. He reached down for the third party on that table to touch skin.
To touch muscle.
To touch bone.
To touch the places scalded by the removal of time.
His bones were empty, so empty;
he forgot this at least while the marks streamed through him.
Without the sounds he may have found solace, but it was the solace of a ghost.
( Copyright nods. )
Mr. Flintlock reclined on a neat surgical chair. He had arrived promptly for his appointment at two o’clock, tucked into the shop on the invitation of Doubleday’s dream-eyed assistant (Lander or Leverson or—), and been shown to the Surgery. That name baked into black metal above the door at first dissuaded him, but on the advice of the assistant (Levoy or Lipton or—), he did not dwell in the hallway: “Mr. Doubleday does not like to be kept waiting.”
In the room, he found no sign of the Timelender. The surgical chair stretched back into a corner, surrounded by a wallpaper spray of the floral variety. It was yellowed with age (yes, wasn’t it) and curled back in places. Beside the chair a similarly upholstered stool perched on metal wheels, and a light bright with new technology that confounded the rest of the furniture stood nearby.
“But where is your Master?” Flintlock asked.
“He will come,” the assistant eased back at him. Strange, that he wore such an industrial apron as that. It looked rubberized. He gestured to the surgical chair with a similarly gloved hand. “Please sit.”
So he found himself on that very chair in the company of a man with a name he could absurdly not recall. Flintlock thought he smelled flowers; somehow he knew them to be blue flowers. He closed his synthetically enhanced eyes. Thinking naturally inclined his head and there he hoped to hold a conference with his nerves, scattered and shaking as they were. If he could not gather them himself, he could always flood his system with another Simper.
He might have done so, had he not opened his eyes and observed the hole in the ceiling.
It had not been there before. It balanced on the ceiling as a series of circles within circles, each darker than the one it occupied—much like a tunnel. And as he stared at it, the tunnel turned. Stupidly he traveled with it, feeling himself lifted from the reclining chair and be fed into the ceiling, into the black tunnel. It flexed and gripped him like a throat.
Below in the room he heard the assistant—Letter, that was it—murmur nonsense about lying still and staying comfortable, his words blooming with the earlier floral scent but much more strongly. He thought he felt a touch to his forehead, a finger- or tongue-tip, and it left wetness. No, that was not possible: he was traveling through the tunnel far away now, so far away…
Geth completed the mark on the man’s brow with a frown. Flintlock had said something about flowers. He wiped his writing hand on his apron, shifted it aside, and checked the ring of Forget-Me-Nots he’d attached to a belt-loop. They did not speak to him.
“Doubleday,” he reminded himself. He left the customer in the Surgery to slide through endless dark tunnels. Trudging down to the workroom, where the Lender had trapped himself for a day or more, Geth wondered why he kept the flowers at all.